International Writers Magazine:Bull:February
at the Bullring
the weeks leading up to Carnival, (which began on February 3rd this
year) gobs of Ecuadorians like to carry out the long-standing, juvenile
tradition of water-throwing, which is executed with balloons, squirt
guns, and buckets. In fact, sometime between receiving sopping blows
from two separate, roadside water balloon bombings, I got sick.
Constantly fearing additional drenching and further illness caused
by passing cars full of adolescent boys, I, therefore, opted to
visit the only city in the nation where water-throwing was officially
A 7-hour bus ride
brought me from southern-situated Cuenca to centrally-located Ambato,
the capital of Ecuadors Tungurahua province. Not only did the
long road trip introduce me to the heart of the country, but it also
reunited me with Andrew, my pal from Loja (five hours directly south
of Cuenca), who was waiting downtown. Furthermore, the two of us were
actually supposed to meet a few chums from Quito later that evening.
No water and catching up with old friends; I was really looking forward
to the next couple of days.
everyone arrived, my fellow English teacher and I spent a good part
of that Saturday night reminiscing with Liz, Nick, Nicole, and Rozana,
our TESOL classmates from the nations capital. On Sunday morning,
the six of us then observed Ambatos famous Fruit and Flowers
Parade, captivated by the electrifying, colorful, and packed procession
until about noon.
Pooped and penniless,
Nick and Nicole chose to return to their hotel after having lunch with
us. Andrew, Liz, Rozana, and I, on the other hand, needed something
else to make the already excellent day complete. And so, we decided
to take in the bullfight scheduled for that afternoon.
A short while later, the four of us were sitting in Ambatos boisterous
Plaza de Toros La Merced. There were half a dozen fights on the card
and the first few ended as expected. Highly outnumbered, wounded bulls
entered the rowdy arena to be stabbed to death by costumed men. Acting
like they saw each killing for the first time, the inebriated spectators
also never failed to scream at the top of their lungs.
The fifth stud, however, was different from his predecessors. It did
what I normally do whenever faced with choices: stood quietly, motionless,
and hesitant. Be that as it may, indecisiveness leads to restless onlookers
when the wooden doors swing open and an apathetic bull meanders to the
center of the ring.
"Change the bull," was the most common cry that I heard from
the irritated spectators.
While the gripes grew louder from the Ambato crowd, several bullring
employees tried their best to remove the indifferent animal from the
plaza. First, three female cows were released into the ring to lure
the macho out of the spotlight, but the raven beast hardly moved. It
was perfectly content in the center of the vast dirt circle, standing
flatfooted and staking his claim to the bulls-eye.
"Gay bull," shouted one of the men sitting in front of Andrew,
Liz, Rozana, and me, happy to use the English term that he asked us
how to say just seconds before.
"Run! Save yourself," blared his wife repeatedly, obviously
opposed to the usual outcome of this bloody tradition.
a handful of men wearing bright red Porta (a popular cell phone
company) jackets, as well as a few bullfighters, tried to call the
toro to the exit by yelling. Or, they attempted to scare it out
of the ring with their swords, spears, and daggers. When those strategies
didnt work, the men gave the cows another shot. Albeit this
time, only one was let onto the dusty stage to carry out the mission
of enticement. Still, as the seductress circled her target, the
bulky, black mammal seemed more concerned with admiring the plazas
architecture instead of chasing tail. Nothing seemed to work for
these jittery gentlemen, who were evidently growing more fearful
of the impatient audience.
the afternoon shade grew larger overhead, Andrew, Liz, Rozana, and I
almost forgot about the unending bull-removal process because we were
enjoying our company. In front of us, sat a slightly older, fun-loving
group of Ecuadorians (including a man sporting a long, curly mullet
and his chubbier, equally sloshed buddy), who all seemed to know each
other through relation, friendship (some newfound), or acquaintance.
Moreover, the pair of couples who sat in the row ahead of ours knew
how to make the most of a bullfight. If they werent turning around
to share plastic cups of boxed wine and conversation with us four, they
were trying to convince our section of the stadium to start a wave,
a chant, or a get the band to play a song. In fact, we pulled off one
of the best waves that I have personally seen in years as the lame stag
continued to lollygag on the blood-soaked earth. Hardly a butt in the
stadium stayed on its cement seat as the wave, ever-increasing with
strength, loudly orbited the ring. Even the instrument-laden band, who
ignored most of our song requests, reached for the sky.
The disinterested creature had moseyed in the middle for almost a half-hour
when I overheard a teenage boy, who was seated in front of us, propose
"Theyre gonna have to get a lasso and play cowboy,"
he stated as the workers and costumed men continued their efforts to
remove the rarity (a surviving bull) from the circle.
Shortly after, a man dressed in traditional bullfighting garb began
to swing a lasso over his head near the perimeter of the dusty ring.
He spun that rope for several seconds, waiting for the right moment
to cast, while the suddenly excited audience cheered him on. Finally,
the wrangler made his move, perfectly snaring his lasso around the horns
of the surprised bull on his first try. It almost seemed scripted.
"Oreja, oreja," our section jokingly chanted to the hero of
the afternoon. (Oreja, which means "ear", is normally shouted
when a bullfighter makes an impressive and efficient kill. In these
cases, the crowd-pleaser is given the cutoff ears of his victim).
The stubborn stud was finally reeled out of the ring and his replacement
was quickly sent to the next life. There was another fight after that,
but I honestly cant remember much about it because I, along with
Andrew, Liz, and Rozana, was too involved with our fellow spectators.
We continued to have fun with our neighbors, sipping wine, singing,
and chanting as the sun fell behind the Sunday horizon and the final
bull checked out.
After the show, Andrew, Liz, Rozana, and I separated from our gregarious
pals and gathered outside of the rapidly emptying Plaza de Toros La
Merced. Making the long, downhill walk back into night covered Ambato,
the four of us couldnt stop talking about the convivial group
with whom we had just spent the afternoon, recapping the highlights
and reciting the best quotes of the day. Andrew, Liz, Rozana, and I
also established our strong dislike for what happens to the animal during
this gory, yet enduring custom.
However, thanks to the people that we met in the crowd, none of us could
deny that we had an excellent time.
© Tyrel Nelson May 2008
It was a beautiful day. The Tuesday morning sun brilliantly shined over
the tiny pueblo
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