I have always wanted to see a bull fight. It is not so much the violence I have craved as much as seeing a guy in tights try and dodge a massive raging bull. I got my wish this past week during the town festival of Socota – a tropical site only an hour away from my own. I arrived with a lot of assumptions and left with a lot of disillusions.
For example, I had always assumed there is only one type of bull fight. From the rare glimpses I have had of this “sport” in the media I had thought that it was mostly a show of acrobatics – much like a modern western bull-riding is about the strength and skill of the cowboy, so to is bull-fighting about the abilities of a torero (matador). I assumed they would put on a show of how easily and gracefully the matador could manipulate the bull. I didn't expect there to be actual violence. Apparently, my idea of a bull fight does exist, but in Socota I went to the latter.
However it felt less like a bull fight and more like a bull slaughter. They start things off by arranging various matador “assistants” around the ring. These assistants (for lack of a better term) are basically the rodeo-clows of the bull fighting world. Their job is to distract the bull when necessary. The bull is released and it is pissed... I have no clue what they might have done to it behind the arena to achieve this but it is out for blood – or the color red, for some reason. It charges at anything moving and red, which the assistants happen to be waving.
After they have spent a good chunk of time teasing the bull a man on a blinded horse trots out onto the arena. The horse is equipped with some special equipment for this phase. It is blinded with cloth so it doesn't realize that a pissed off bull is rampaging around it trying trying to catch a red clothed clown. It is also wrapped in heavy leather to protect its legs for said bull. Finally, the rider has his legs inside of pvc piping to protect his legs as well. The rider carries a long and menacing looking pike. It is now the job of the assistants to maneuver the bull next to the rider so he may critically wound it behind the neck. I should also point out at this point that the bull was already exhausted from the teasing and was frequently falling to its knees and panting... but it really wanted to kill a clown (can't blame it really).
So now the rider, having wounded the bull, trots his horse out of the arena, leaving the bull literally spurting blood out of its back. Now the brave matador struts in to the wild applause of the crowd. Seriously, these guys are like rocks stars here. He grabs a big red piece of cloth and the assistants run for cover so he becomes the target of the dizzy bull's aggression. This part was pretty cool. He would deftly dodge the bull and as he gained more confidence he would get to his knees and taunt the bull that way. It's really something you have to see to understand how crazy it was.
After playing around with the bull for a while he gets up and grabs two small spears (about a foot and a half long each) and as the bull runs straight for him he must lunge these into the back of the bull's neck and at the same time avoid being run through by the bull's horns. I would say this is the closest part to actually being an equal fight between matador and bull (not forgetting of course the bull is already weak and wounded).
Now the matador turns his back on the panting and wounded bull. The crowd goes wild. I mean, they go absolutely nuts at this blatant and bold turn away from the dangerous bull. He plays off the crowd by walking around the arena as the bull, now standing in the middle of the ring, looks around almost confused at what he is supposed to be doing. Apparently, if there is no guy taunting him with red, he is one lost bull. The matador struts to the sidelines and gets some water, takes a brief break, and grabs a sword.
Now is the part where I get flashbacks of the movie “Gladiator” where the hero has been drugged so the emperor can defeat him the the ring. The bull is bleeding to death from the pike wound and the two to four tiny spears sticking out of its neck. It is struggling to breath and is more often than not falling to its knees from the exhaustion of the last 20 minutes of fighting clowns and a jerk with a red towel. I have no doubt this bull is wondering where it went wrong in a past life to deserve such retribution from a clown army.
Anyway, the matador plays around with the bull a bit more – sword hidden behind the red cloth. Eventually the bull and the matador stand face to face. The matador raises the sword from its hiding place and aims it over the bull's head and taunts the bull to charge one last time. If the matador's aim is true the sword will slide almost effortlessly to the heart and the bull will lose its strength and fall to its death. Unfortunately for the bull, its heart is a small target in comparison to, lets say, its lungs. The matador misses, the crowd and the bull are instantly aware of the mistake as the poor animal's eyes go so wide you can see their whites in the back rows of the arena.
The bull begins to violently cough up blood, backing up away from the sight of it. The blood is spraying everywhere and the audience becomes quiet. That silence made it so much worse to watch the bull struggling to breath – literally drowning in its own blood, now totally unaware of the matador or clowns surrounding it. Finally it falls to the dirt, convulsing between gurgling gasps as a merciful clown approaches it from behind and severs its spinal cord. Four legs kick and twitch as the blade makes its way through the sinew, fat, bone, and nerve. At last the eyes, only a moment ago wide with panic, roll up into the bull's head. It is over. The crowd politely applauds the not-so-great job of the matador and the clowns reset for another bull.
I watched three fights that day and I would only describe one as a fairly clean kill. I fulfilled my wish of seeing a bull fight and in that I also got my fill of bull fights. I don't need to see a wounded and outnumbered animal be stabbed to death over and over until it is finally put out of its misery. I am not alone and it is not just me speaking from a cultural gap as I have spoken to many peruvians that are not so wild about the sport either. From now on I think I will be sticking to the bull fights where the matadors show how well they can dodge a bull and call it a day. But hey, try everything at least once, right?