Juarez ,Mexico, is just a few steps away from El Paso, USA, but I've always balked at going there due to all the horror stories I've read about its drug violence. However, as a seasoned traveler, I know that the news doesn't necessarily represent the real conditions of a place. As somebody once commented: "The fact that somebody massacred 17 people in a Colorado movie house doesn't mean that the moviegoers in the rest of the 50 US states are being massacred as well." So when I received an invitation from my friend Javier to go to Juarez and watch a bullfight, I thought: "Why not?" It would be my first time to visit Juarez and watch a bullfight. I had been in Spain several times and came close to watching bullfights in Malaga and Barcelona but I never did. I preferred to spend my time sightseeing and dining at the fine establishments in those places. So this time, I decided not to let the opportunity pass by. It was going to be bloody, I knew, but it would also be a window into the culture of a Mexico that had embraced this Spanish bloodsport.
So, on a warm but not overly hot Sunday afternoon, I and Javier parked the car across from the border crossing on Oregon st. in El Paso and walked across a checkpoint manned by a few relaxed Mexican guards. We paid 50 cents entry each, and then, just like that, we were in Juarez. We walked along a nondescript road not unlike that of a provincial town in the Philippines, and presently came upon the bullfight arena. In its heyday, they used to hold corrida de toros (the Spanish name for bullfights) almost weekly in the cool seasons of fall or spring. Now dwindling audiences and tourists have limited the bullfights to four times a year.
The corrida is not so much about the killing of a bull as much as the fiesta surrounding it. This fiesta is full of good spirits. Unfortunately, like cockfighting, it involves killing the animal. Barbaric this may be to some, especially PETA, but to the countries that espouse bullfighting, like Spain, France, Mexico, Peru and other, it is a part of their culture. No wonder that, while the E.U. has abolished the death penalty, it has not, and probably will have much difficulty eliminating bullfighting altogether.
The arena had two sections: the sol (sun) and the sombra(shadow). On the sol side, you get the hot afternoon sun and pay less. On the sombra side, you are shielded from the sun and pay a bit more. Most people opted to sit on the sombra side, which gave the arena a half-full appearance. Make no mistake about it, though: the crowd was loud, passionate and vocal in their olés whenever a torero made a fine pass (say, a veronica, wherein the bullfighter stands in front of a charging bull and lets the cape drift over its horns), or when a feisty bull gains the upper hand and downs a picador on his horse, as happened during this bullfight.
Hawkers were out in full force, selling everything from chips, soft drinks, beer, tamales, margaritas and boxed paellas.One enthusiastic vendor who wielded a tray full of clamatos (clam juice drinks, which looked like Bloody Marys) stumbled on the steps beside me and splashed clamatos juice all over my shirt. The heat dried the shirt not long after that but I now have a funny story to tell about clamatos.
Bullfighting is all about pageantry and music. Two bands played various mariachi music and bullfighting songs. Needless to say, Espana Cani was played to death. A senorita danced the flamenco, accompanied by a guitarist. She twirled, stamped her feet and clicked her castanets, bearing the full brunt of the afternoon sun on her body.
The bullfight opened with a pasello (parade) of the toreros, bandellieros and picador, fronted by a man and woman on horseback in colorful ranchero costumes. The bandellieros wield two decorated spears that they imbed into the back of the bull to weaken it. The picador drives his lance into the bull to weaken him further for the sword of the torero. By any measure, the bull doesn't have a chance.
The toreros, also called matadors, proudly marched towards the box occupied by the judge. The judge wore a gray jacket and what looked like a Prohibiton-style hat. The judge's implements of power were two large white handkerchiefs. He decided whether to award one or two ears to a torero by raising his handkerchiefs accordingly. A torero who did especially well was awarded two ears and a tail.
I could see that this bullfight was a mainly local affair. The tourist element came from the people of El Paso who trudged over to see this event. I did not see many Gringos here. It was, to all intents and purpose, pure Juarez.
As to Juarez itself, the little of downtown I saw told me that I shouldn't linger there after hours. But I could also see how, in its heyday, before the drug violence had taken a hold of it, this was a fun place to be. My friend Javier told me that in times past, the sidewalks were so crowded you had a hard time getting through. Now it was all dark and deserted, with a few clubs open and women of the night standing outside the bars impatiently waiting for customers. I hope that one day, Juarez will regain its fun times again. In the meantime, you might consider giving it a pass, especially after dark.
Finally, regarding the ethics of bullfighting in general, I leave that to everybody else to ponder and argue about. This is such a contentious issue that one friend of mine almost accused me of being a bad person for attending a bullfight. Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. However, that sort of feeling doesn't really wash with me. As a Filipino, I have been to a cockfight or two ( which I detested because of the noise) and have assisted in slitting the throats of chickens for dinner. I grew up watching pigs being slaughtered in preparation to being roasted. In essence, bullfighting was nothing new to me. What was new (and admittedly disturbing ) was the entertainment value attached to it. Everytime a bull got impaled by a bandelliero or lanced by the picador, I winced. It is a cruel sport.
Life and death in a few minutes: this is all played out in a corrida de toros. Here are some pictures of the bullfight in Juarez.