As I stood behind a wooden fence watching a ginormous bull charging at me full speed I had more than a few thoughts (and expletives) running through my head with RUN, of course, being first and foremost. But as the bull took a sharp left and gave me a momentary reprieve I looked around at the crowd surrounding me, most of whom were laughing, cheering and most of all, far as I could tell, not looking to flee and I tried to quiet my momentary panic. Instead, I just shook my head in disbelief and, since I was trying to fit in as much as being the only gringo around (besides Jason) could allow me to fit in, tried to act cool and like this is something that I see all the time (I definitely do not).
It wasn’t how I had imagined my Saturday night going. Or, for that matter, any night in my life ever. We had arrived at our new housesit in the tiny town of Baca, Yucatan a couple of weeks ago, and had spent time getting adjusted to the new house, new puppies and new town. Before they left, the homeowners had shown us around and at one point as we were driving by a field that was mostly empty but had a few workers erecting some sticks, had mentioned that the big annual fair was coming to town and this was going to be the location for some of the events. Without thinking too much about it we moved on. Then the fair came to town and everything else just stopped. This fair was a big deal. Cultural dances and processions in the square, big dance parties that went all night stopping only as the sun started to appear and, in a newly built arena on the outskirts of town – bulls.
Notice I said NEWLY built arena. As I mentioned, just over a week ago there had been nothing but a few sticks in place, and now? Well, the new multi-level arena that was erected in a week was made up of wood, some sheet metal, some rope and…well that was about it. That Gran Corrida de Toros was what was supposed to contain a raging, bucking bull.
So we got settled in, continued to look around in awe about what had been created in such a short time and prepared for the action to start.
Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect. When the friends we had made here in our new home town kept telling us we had to go watch the toros, I wasn’t so sure because I wasn’t sure what that meant. Bullfighting has a long and storied history here in Mexico, and as we’ve criss crossed this country by car we’ve seen countless plaza de toros along the way. But, as with many things in Mexico, the ongoing struggle to maintain and preserve culture and tradition while trying to reflect societal issues and concerns means the sport faces increasing scrutiny and controversy. While passing some of those bull rings I’ve pondered my moral and ethical touchstone and wondered if, in the interest of immersing myself in the culture of the country we are lucky enough to be visiting, I have the stomach to watch such an event (nope, I’ve decided, I don’t). But after a bit more questioning it sounded like this wasn’t bullfighting after all and so we made our way to the arena with every intention of leaving if we weren’t comfortable.
Thankfully that decision didn’t have to be made because this wasn’t really bullfighting, no killing or bloodshed of any animal. Instead of a matador with a cape and sword it was cowboys on horses attempting to lasso a bull. So it was bull roping, I guess? And I’m not talking about calf roping here, these were massive, full-grown bulls!
The cowboys either lined up in the middle of the arena and waited for the bull to be released into the ring or they headed outside the stadium, the bull was released and then they came racing in with lassos flying. This was repeated over and over again and it was fascinating to watch each and every time.
I believe that points were awarded every time someone was able to lasso a bull and I believe that there might have been a winner. Then again, maybe I made all of that up. My level of understanding Spanish does not extend to the announcer at a bullfight. But who cares? The whole experience was wild, and weird and wonderful. Oh my god, you guys, it was so incredibly wonderful. The fair ended last night and I have no doubt that as I’m writing this the arena is being dismantled and next time I drive by there will be nothing but an empty field. We had to push well beyond our comfort zone (including putting our trust in the engineers who put up that arena and get over our fear of being trampled by a bull) and as a result were rewarded with an amazing experience. I think I’m going to like it here, I really can’t wait to see what next Saturday night in Baca brings.