Day 27 (Jun. 30):
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
A Community Outing:
The town of San Juan del Sur has a special feel to it today. There’s an extra hop in everybody’s step as they hustle to finish their early morning tasks and the topic dominates the breakfast table conversations. Locals and travelers alike, it’s all they want to talk about. “Are you going to the bull fight today” and “I’ll see you at the bull fight” seem to be the new greetings for the day as people pass by one another sharing a few friendly phrases of chatter. I was first asked the question as soon as I sat down to enjoy my early morning coffee. A bull fight in Nicaragua on a Saturday! Of course! It’s a no brainer.
Upon approaching the hand crafted, wooden arena, the scene is reminiscent of a stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of gladiator games. The entrance to the arena consists of a narrow, wooden tunnel that leads directly into the action. The wooden stands stagger back and forth as hordes of prepped spectators fill the plastic chairs that surround the ring. Young men hoot and holler as they straddle the railing of the front row waiting for the show to start. Finally, the scene is capped off by the local band that plays upbeat music to rouse the crowd. Our group settles in to the front row and prepares for the start of the show.
By mid-afternoon we rally a rather large group of excited travelers from within our hostel- a group who has become rather close friends over the last couple of days- and pile into the back of the designated pick-up truck that doubles as a local shuttle. The pick-up whips through the local roads as our group sways in unison hanging on for our lives with one hand and our beers with the other. Quickly, the road to the event turns into some sort of local race as countless groups of similarly packed trucks share cheers and chatter as they zip by one another. Arriving at the farm, the scene is perfect. A full community gathering with food stands and activities that surround the local bull ring. The swarms of people flow in and out of the food stands to grab some quick bites before surrendering to the sweltering heat that awaits them in the arena. There is no doubt in my mind that the event is the place to be today in San Juan del Sur.
In due time, the tune of the band changes and the gate retaining the bulls bursts open. The first event has begun. A large bull shoots out of the wooden carrel with a young rider on its back. Wildly thrashing from side to side, the rider tries his best to hang on only to be thwarted after a few seconds of intense struggle. Falling to the dirt, the crowd gives a loud gasp of concern as the bull trounces the ground next to the vulnerable rider. With a quick roll the young man shoots up and sprints towards the arena wall. The crowd roars in excitement as he frantically scales his way to safety. The bull continues to wreak havoc in the arena as random daredevils jump down into the ring to taunt the wild beast. The bull aggressively runs its way around the outer ring of the arena sending up a wave of human bodies who climb the walls to avoid injury. The men in charge of the festivities let this action play out for quite a while and eventually corral the bull safely back into its pen. Our group turns to one another and gives a collective nod of relief once we realize that we will not be witnessing grotesque animal cruelty today.
After a few minutes, the gate shoots open again and a much larger, more aggressive bull tears into the ring. The scene plays out in a much similar fashion as men surround the bull with their red capes- each displaying an advertisement for the local beer company- to taunt the bull and test their courage. Once again, the crowd releases nervous gasps followed by raucous screams every time one of the young men escapes a close encounter with the fierce horns of the bull. The bull makes it rounds through the ring and charges toward one unsuspecting antagonist who appears to have enjoyed a few too many pre-event cervesas. The drunken stupor slows his ability to react and he is sent flying 6 feet into the air by a quick flick of the bull’s massive horn. A silence falls over the crowd and the inebriated chap falls to the ground with a loud thud only to be gored and trounced by the bull one last time. After a few wild lashings, the bull loses interest in the mangled body and leaps in the direction of a new group victims. Two men sprint into the ring grabbing the legs of the unconscious man and routinely drag his lifeless body out of harms way. The crowd rushes to the edge of the stands in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the aftermath, but we can only manage to sneak a peek through the cracks of the floorboards. The unconscious man lays there for a few minutes until a group of spectators scoops him up, dumps his body into the back of one of the pick-up trucks and drives off in the direction of town. The crowd glances around, shares one last look of concern, and returns to their seats to catch the next bout of action. No one really knows what happened to that young man, but if you ask the locals they will tell you; “I’m sure he is fine and will be back at it in a few days.” The glib response to the possibly fatal event reveals that what we experienced at the bull fight today was nothing out of the ordinary for this fantastic community event.