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The International Writers Magazine:Bull:February 3, 2008

One Fine Day…at the Bullring
Tyrel Nelson

During 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 banned.

A 7-hour bus ride brought me from southern-situated Cuenca to centrally-located Ambato, the capital of Ecuador’s 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.

When 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 nation’s capital. On Sunday morning, the six of us then observed Ambato’s 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 Ambato’s 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 bull’s-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.

Next, 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 didn’t 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 plaza’s architecture instead of chasing tail. Nothing seemed to work for these jittery gentlemen, who were evidently growing more fearful of the impatient audience.

Nevertheless, as 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 weren’t 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 a solution.
"They’re 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 can’t 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 couldn’t 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
Doing the Mandango
Tyrel Nelson

It was a beautiful day. The Tuesday morning sun brilliantly shined over the tiny pueblo

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