I’d been dying to see the bull fights in Bogota ever since moving here. There are only a handful every January – early February. I kept putting it off until this year, when the animal rights opposition was at its highest. This time, for the first time, most bogotanos believed this would be the last year for corridas de toros in Bogota.
I first heard of the opposition to bullfighting on my Bogota Bike Tour with Mike Ceaser. There are protests outside the bullring for every fiesta brava. Police are needed to keep protesters separated from the stadium and fans. The protests have increasingly grown each year. From Mike’s latest articles on the bullfighting controversy:
No More Olé!
(Great pics of the protests in this article)
Bogotá’s annual bullfighting season began this weekend, and with it the annual protests against the practice. The animal rights protesters, who call themselves anti-taurinos, were bolstered by new Mayor Gustavo Petro’s comments that Bogotá should consider banning bullfighting, and that the city would no longer provide financial support for it.
Bullfighting certainly is cruel, and the spectacle of people cheering an animal’s killing can’t be healthy. But bullfighting, known as La Fiesta Brava, does also involve skill, courage and tradition. More broadly, it seems to me that other, much crueler practices, such as cockfighting and factory farming, cause much more suffering to many more animals, but receive little attention.
Earlier this year, Bogotá’s new Mayor Gustavo Petro said that the city should consider banning bullfighting and other public spectacles which include killing. That could make this the last day ever of professional bullfighting in Colombia’s capital, although the fiesta brava will continue, for the time being, in Cali, Medellin, Manizales and other cities.
In my article on Petro’s mayoral victory I explained how Bogota is the liberal mecca of Colombia (like New York or Los Angeles in the States). If any Colombian city will ban bullfighting, it’ll be Bogota. And from what I know of paisas and costeños, greater Colombia won’t be banning bullfighting anytime soon.
The folks at the Santamaria Plaza, Bogotá’s bullfighting stadium, tell me that the city’s ordered them to stop selling tickets for next season of corridas. A long, but cruel and controversial, tradition may be at an end here. Mayor Gustavo Petro said months ago that the city should consider banning all public spectacles which involve the killing of animals.
An end to bullfighting in La Santamaria would also be a heavy blow to the already-beleagured sport. It is the most important bullfighting stadium in South America, and Colombia is the third most important bullfighting nation, after Spain and Mexico.
Bullfighting Interests Fight Back (sort of)
When all this was heating up, I noticed these propaganda posters on city walls. They’re sponsored by bullfighting interests to promote awareness of how many jobs bullfighting creates. They feel it’s an important part of not just Colombian culture, but also the economy. It’s not a scholarly economic picture, as you can see a handful of jobs are replicated several times. The sponsors’ logos are on the right. The posters on Septima at 52 were torn down within days, so I got pics just in time.
Despite their wealthy clientele, the bullfighting interests seem to be losing.
My Opinion on Bullfights
Expat Chronicles is more likely to insult bleeding hearts and politically correct than validate them. So it should come as no surprise that I don’t really care about bulls’ rights. Nothing against bullscourse. It’s just that they’re going to die anyway. In building up the fights to my gringo buddies, I argued it was more humane given these options. Which would you prefer:
- Be killed quickly in the slaughterhouse assembly line, meekly waiting your turn behind all your buddies and cousins and countrymen.
- Enter the stadium to die like a gladiator, with the opportunity to take one of your oppressors with you. If you impress the spectators, there’s a chance you’ll be retired to a stud farm.
I’d take #2 every time!
My buddy Daniel told me he didn’t like bullfights because “the bull doesn’t have a chance.” Mike Ceaser has called it “an ugly sport.” Here’s the problem with those two analyses: (1) the bull’s not supposed to have a chance because (2) bullfighting is not a sport. I’ve never heard a Colombian refer to it as ‘deporte’. It’s a show, a performance.
I’d also argue that they DO have a chance, as seen here:
That’s Julio Aparicio Diaz, a Spanish bullfighter who may go down as the most famous of all just because of that image.
Aparicio fought this particular bull in his later years as a torero. He slipped while performing a pass. This is what happens if you slip during a pass.
Amazingly, after completely rebuilding his destroyed mouth, Aparicio was back fighting in a bullring just ten weeks after his goring!
Here’s a video of the incident:
There’s no shortage of YouTube videos showing bulls fucking dudes up in the bullring. Here’s one, another (Portuguese audience claps), another (face gored off), and another (bull gets into the crowd). So the bull may not have much of a chance, but he’s still a 1,000+ lb animal with horns in a ring with 150 lb Spaniards wearing tights. He has a chance.
My Day at the Corrida de Toros
Enough politics and controversy. Let’s get to the show!
I cycled down to the Plaza de Toros and bought four cheap tickets (but not the cheapest) in the SHADE for 96,000 pesos each. Joey, Mark, Paul (a guy The Mick said will be dead in a year), and I met at the liquor store on Cl 53 and Kr 13 for some early morning aguardiente. We put down a fifth of Antioqueño and some beers before going to my place, where we broke into this bitch:
We were dropped off Northeast of the bullring, where we would never even lay eyes on the protest – something I was worried about since Colombian protests can turn extremely violent.
Instead, we passed through a gauntlet of independent vendors peddling bullfighting paraphernalia. Salesmen sell botas (leather boots to hold booze), seat cushions, ponchos, hats, snacks, horns, and more. I insisted on a bota as you can’t bring bottles in, and it’s tradition. An entire two liters of guaro (what we’d drank at my place was replaced with lemon juice) fit into one bota.
Paul bought everything he could get his hands on. He walked in wearing a poncho and paisa hat with the bota around his neck. He’d have passed for a paisa if he had dark hair.
We missed the beginning of the first fight. They don’t let people come and go from the seats as they wish – only between fights (so not good for snorting cocaine). We waited around mingling with the other late arrivals until the fight ended. It was an upscale affair. Several fans spoke Englihs. Paul and I wore clean dress shirts, as bullfighting calls for. Joey and Mark were in t-shirts, but gringos can get away with more than locals. Other groups’ botas were filled with wine or a mix of whiskey and wine. We were the only ones we met with guaro – and probably the only ones in the entire bullring with Nectar (middle class brand).
The first fight ended and we found our seats. As I predicted, seat cushions were unnecessary.
I’d read up a bit on bullfighting before the big day. One thing that always stuck out with me, besides all the varied versions, was the emphasis on “a quick and clean death” for the bull. This ran in direct contrast to what I’d seen on television, but I went in with an open mind. Even if it was a slow, agonizing death, I didn’t think it’d bother me.
However, the first fight did shock me. There is nothing quick and clean about it. It’s a long, drawn out, torturous death. I’m not against bullfighting, but I am against sugarcoating and bullshitting. So I’m telling it like it is – a torturous death. First, a few monosabios (the teasers) provoke the bull into sprinting around the ring a few times. The big strong bull makes it seem easy, but you try sprinting two laps around a huge bullring before you start fighting. The torero (gringos incorrectly use the Spanish word ‘matador‘ in English) has him do a few passes, then they make room for the picador.
The first picador on a heavily-protected horse comes out to stab the bull. The horse is completely protected with thick padding everywhere the bull could get him. They blindfold the padded horse, which makes no sense to me. It’s blindfolded, but completely protected with a jacket they may be able to stop bullets. This picador stabs the bull with a giant lance – the kind they used in knight jousts. Here are pics of the first picador on blindfolded, padded horse joust-stabbing a bull:
After the joust-stabbing, the torero does some more passes, more teasing and provoking. He runs the bull some more.
Then it’s the bandilleros‘ turn. These guys stab the bull with long sticks with knives at the end of them. The tips of the knives are actually hooks that, once penetrated, open up and catch the bulls’ skin (leather / rawhide) so they don’t fall out. The bull continues with the knives stabbed inside him, plus sticks hanging from the wound.
The bandilleros demonstrate the most athleticism in bull-stabbing. While others do it from horseback or through trickery, the bandilleros rely on fleet of foot and vertical jump. They run up to the bull, jump up to stab him over his horns, and sprint away. It’s the closest thing to sport in the whole show.
Here are pictures of bandilleros:
Then there are more passes from the torero, running the bull out of energy even more.
In some fights, there is a second picador. This picador is on horseback, but his horse is neither blindfolded nor protected. I can’t imagine the amount of training it takes to get a horse to get near that bull, and even dance in front of him. This video shows how incredibly disciplined the horses are:
Watch another video of that picador stabbing the bull from horseback. He headlined the show.
So that picador stabs the bull a few more times. At this point, if the bull has been successfully stabbed by every bullfighter that made an attempt, he’ll have 8-10 wounds. The blood is visible on his coat – even if it’s black – and the dirt of the ring.
This is when the torero comes in to finish the job. He does several more passes, toying with the animal. Then, at the sound of the bugle, he raises his sword. When the bull goes after him this time, the torero jumps and plants the sword through the bull’s shoulder blades and into his heart. This is supposedly the “quick and clean death.”
The video below was the first bullfight I saw. I titled the video “Slow Death.” My buddies and I had convinced ourselves we didn’t care about animals. But after watching this death, everybody was silent and feeling a little guilty. It wasn’t a good performance for convincing people bullfighting is OK. NOT RECOMMENDED for faint of heart:
Note the torero had to give him two stabs in the heart with the sword. Then, some helpers had to stab him in the brain with a knife a few times, all the while the bull is coughing up blood with its tongue hanging out.
Also note the “¡PETRO!” catcalls from the audience, which flew for the whole show.
In another fight, the torero did his job so well the crowd solicited the powers at be to award him the bull’s ear. The crowd waves white handkerchiefs, and the judges (seated directly above us) decide whether the performance was worthy. If so, they wave their handkerchief and the torero gets the ear. Here’s a 30 sec video of the episode:
Here are pics of the torero making his rounds around the bullring, ear in hand, while being showered with approval, hats, and flowers.
After the bulls are killed, they’re loaded onto dollies and pulled out by horses. They weigh 1000 lbs, so it’d take true strongmen to pull it out by its legs.
I recorded an entire fight. It lasts twenty minutes, so it’s split into two YouTube videos:
Entire Fight Part 1
Entire Fight Part 2
What I’ve described is classic Spanish-style bullfighting, but there are other variants. The Wikipedia article for Bullfighting describes the Portuguese, French, Balkan, Indian, and Oman styles. The Balkan version is how it’s done in Arequipa, Peru, where I lived my first year in South America. Two bulls fight each other. There are no humans with weapons, and the bulls don’t die. I never saw a show but there’s plenty on YouTube. In many parts of Spain and Portugal where killing the animals has been outlawed, there are bloodless bullfights.
There’s also the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Similar to the Running of the Bulls in the coastal regions of Colombia and Medellin is the corraleja. In a corraleja, a bull is let loose in a bullring for the drunk campesinos to play with. These morons line up to provoke and tease the bull before running away. Here’s a description of a corraleja in Sabaneta from a gringo buddy in Medellin, Zac:
There were 2 sections you could get in: the grandstands up above the action, or down below where the only thing between you and the action was some shittily nailed boards to posts. They’d keep getting knocked off and dudes with hammers would run around fixing shit all over. I thought wow, PETA would shit. There are kids up in the grandstands with silly string, and they shoot it all over the bulls. Dudes stabb them with little spears, just straight torture, I loved it. Who the fuck am I to pass judgement on another culture? I was up in the grandstands the first night, but the next day Justin and I sat down below, and you had to go through the mandatory “you get hurt its your own ass” disclosure. Both days I saw incredible acts of athleticism from some of the costeño dudes. Dudes pulling out like a wooden desk, 2 sitting on it and just waiting for the bull to come and cream ’em, self regard completely out the window. After 6 liters of Aguila and a media of rum, I had to get in there my damn self. Outside of the arena was a huge, bierstube area and stage and it was a fucking drunken mess, bitches falling down, people puking in random places, just chaos. They didn’t have it this past year here, I hope the animal nuts didn’t ruin it.
He got a video 0n FB of some drunken paisa getting gored and trampled by a bull. Go to the Expat Chronicles FB page, the video was posted on the wall on June 13, 2012.
What are the chances I, Colin, will be ever run with the bulls or participate in a corraleja. ZERO! Fuck with the bull, you get the horns.
More on Colombian Bullfighting
As Mike Ceaser said in regards to a Bogota ban on bullfighting:
And what will happen to the handsome and historic bullfighting plaza, with its Moorish architecture? Even now, the plaza sits empty, except for young bullfighters training for a future which may never come, for nine or ten months of the year.
The handsome building, located in the heart of the city, would be great for lots of uses – but hopefully not fast food restaurants.
Indeed, the Plaza de toros de Santamaria is a Bogota landmark. What would become of this beautiful building? Here are some of my pics of the architecture. Also on display is the social class of those in attendance (Johnny Walker Black, not Red).
Note the apartment buildings overlooking the bullring. Surefire way to be bad-ass: throw rooftop parties overlooking bullfights in Bogota.
For easier viewing of all the featured pictures and more, see the Fiesta Brava: Corrida de Toros album on FB.
Before deciding to become a painter, Fernando Botero wanted to be a bullfighter. Here are some of his best depictions:
Don’t necessarily agree, but an interesting quote nonetheless: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi