Let me assure you, no cute furry guinea pigs were harmed (Ok, they were frightened) in the writing of this story.
Jogo do Bicho or “Guninea Pig Game” was a big hit at this year’s Summer festa in Chinicato, our home a stones throw from Lagos (Portugal). The festa featured some great food, good local music, lovely handcrafted Portuguese sweets and items crafted by artisans and of course the vinho verde (summer wine) flowed freely. But the Jogo do Bicho was the best of the lot.
A nice “Bicho” ring with plywood planks to place bets was built. Sand filled the ring and boxes with holes were placed in a circle surrounding a tube that was lifted by a pulley and rope. On each box stood a bottle of wine and a playing card, for 50 cents you pick a card from the face down deck presented by the Bicho handler. When all bets are placed, the tube is lifted, the cute little Bicho blinks it’s eyes and scurries into one of the boxes. If the box had the same playing card on it that you have in your hand, you have won a bottle of Portuguese wine!
I headed straight for the Bicho ring once I hit the festa, in a cozy box a couple of Guinea Pigs were resting up for their turn in the ring. The Bicho handler was a damn good carnival husker, before I knew it I had two playing cards and I only wanted one. The big moment came and the tube was lifted…a flash of fur, then a happy woman with a nice bottle of white wine. Unfortunately it wasn’t me.
Three Euros later and no wine to carry home I went for a sure thing. A big home made chunk of caramel cake to eat while bopping to the band’s Portuguese rhythms. The Bichos let me down, but a nice cake made in Grandma’s oven…never!