Last weekend, I went to my first bullfight!
I don’t really know what I expected. I honestly knew nothing about bullfights. I knew they involved: a guy in the arena, a red blanket thing, a bull, danger. That they were stories with a man vs. nature plot line. I’ve since learned that there are different variations of bullfighting. Bullfighting in a city is far different from bullfighting in a town (juego de toros de pueblo). In the city, it’s much more expensive and serious. Bullfighting in the city of Riobamba is different than bullfighting in Quito or Guayaquil. This is because, earlier this year, a law was passed in those cities (and many other parts of Ecuador) banning the slaying of the bull at the end of a match. In Riobamba, the law was not passed, so if I wanted to pay to see an animal teased relentlessly, then finally slaughtered, all I’d have to do would be walk 10 minutes down my street to the Plaza de Toros (Place of the bulls).
I’m happy to say that no bull blood was shed at my bullfight! This bullfight was part of a 6-week long fiesta in the town of Calpi. The director of my school in Pulingui was raised in Calpi, so he partakes in the festivities every year. I spent a good chunk of my weekend with him and his family, who did everything in their power to make sure I was filled with the sights, sounds, and spirit of the Santiago de Calpi festival! Saturday morning, we went to a parade, ate delicious street food, spent time with his family in Calpi. Saturday night, my gringa friends (the 2 other volunteers) joined us for fireworks and dancing. Sunday, I returned to Calpi for the bullfight.
Here’s my explanation of a town bullfight: It began with people dancing in the arena in all kinds of crazy outfits: drag, gorilla suits, and devil costumes, to name a few. Then, the dancers seemed to clear, but the arena was still loaded with young men. I kept wondering when they would leave, so that the one bullfighter could face the bull. But, then, much to my surprise, a bull was released with the fifty or so men in the arena. All of them, then, proceeded to try to get the bull’s attention, try to have their scary little dance with the bull, try to tease the bull. When the bull zeroed in one one of the many matadors, they seemed to regret seeking the attention. Whenever the bull began charging at a group of guys, they ran like little girls as fast as they could, then shimmied up the wooden railings of the stadium, so that they’d be out of reach of the very animal they had just been trying to reel in.
Each bull was in the stadium for about 5 minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder how the bulls perceived their time in the limelight. I’m guessing that even before making it into the stadium, each bull felt pure rage at being kept in a dark, crammed trailer for the afternoon. Then, when it was his time to shine, the bull exited the trailer and that anger mixed with annoyance at the bright light of the afternoon. Once his eyes adjusted, he would be able to see dozens of men surrounding him. Perhaps the rage blended with fear and confusion at this point. If the bull stood in one place for too long, trying to process what was happening, the men would start yelling at it. I’m sure the bulls don’t speak much Spanish, but they would be able to tell by the inflection that these men were being cruel with their words, trying to entice the bull to anger. If their words didn’t do the trick, the men would throw trash at the bull (which would not have been hard to find- Ecuadorians are bad about littering, so trash was all over the stadium). Finally, the bull would have had enough and would charge at someone, maybe the last guy to throw something at it, maybe the guy wearing the brightest clothes (they really did seem to be most attracted to red). Then, all of the men who had just feigned fearlessness so well would run as fast as their legs could carry them, away from the bull. The bull would either have the satisfaction of making contact with one of its pesky flies or it would be decide that it wasn’t worth the effort and stop running. At this point, the cycle of taunting would begin again. Not a fun time for the bull.
I read somewhere that in town bull fights, the bulls all wear saddles containing a little bit of money. So, the men are competing against each other to try and lure the bull in close enough to grab the saddle, but not be injured. It really was rather entertaining. More than anything, I loved the crowd’s reaction to the dance between the bulls and the metadors. Whenever the bull actually caught one of its enemies, the crowd would scream bloody murder, as if every spectator was the trapped man’s mother. Nobody was seriously injured, but there was one guy whose pants were ripped by the bull’s horns. Another few men were knocked down by the bull. It seemed like the bull was going to trample someone a few times, but the guys always seemed to move in the nick of time. There was also one time when the metadors worked together to kind of… tackle… the bull. It began with a few men who managed to grab the bull by its tail. I had a really hard time watching this. As the poor bull struggled to be free, more and more men crowded around it, and then worked to wrestle it to the ground. .
I don’t know if I’ll be going to another bullfight. I felt it was culturally necessary to attend at least one. I definitely don’t think I’ll be going to a bullfight in Riobamba. If men wrestling a bull and pulling its tail made my stomach churn, I don’t think I’d survive seeing a sword thrust through a bull’s body. I leave you with a clip from the bullfight that took ridiculously long to upload to youtube…