Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Bullfight in Juarez, Mexico

 Sunday, September 23, 2012
     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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


From Lake Caballo to the Gila National Forest
Highway 152
Day 2
September 3, 2010

After taking a shower in the Caballo State Park's public bathrooms and breakfasting  beside the Rio Grande, I swung back to  Highway 25. Just before the city of Truth and Consequences, which used to called Hot Springs but changed its name after NBC promised to air the first episode of a game from the first town that did so (and won), I made a brief stop at an RV park that advertised gas. My gas tank was half-full, so I topped it off. The RV park, aptly named Caballo Lake RV Camping was for sale. It looked decent, with cottages and all. Maybe the owner wanted to retire to somewhere warm, like Miami or Hawaii?
After filling up my gas tank, I drove out and hit left on highway 152. I had thought, mistakenly, that I would go on the 256 freeway. However the signs pointed this highway as going to Silver City and the Gila Cliffs, so off I went. What did turn out was that highway 152  would bring me through the Gila National Forest , up the mountains and down over into the high country of Southwestern New Mexico. The topography changed from flat to hilly to mountainous and rocky. The shift in scenery was dramatic. I was glad I took this route and would recommend it to anyone who wished to escape the monotony of the flat plains. The highway made several switchbacks and numerous hairpin curves. I was glad that my rented Chevy was brand-new, with presumably strong brakes. Nothing like brake failure to spoil the fun: for good. This was the New Mexico that I loved.
Highway 152  to the Gila National Forest. Traffic-less, as usual.

I didn't know it then, but the rocky landscape that greeted my way as I drove up to the forested uplands of the Gila National Forest was the result of violent volcanic activity. Around 20 million years ago, a grouping of volcanoes in a 100 mile area formed a supervolcano that  erupted continuously for thousands of years and created several calderas. The remnant of one of these calderas became the site of the Gila Cliff dwellers.  I saw the evidence all around me: in the rocky monoliths, the red rocks and the layered outcroppings made of tufa and ash. There are hot springs in the area, so there is still some volcanic activity here. Who knows if one day this area is going to erupt again? Just look at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
I passed by several towns along the way: Hillsboro, Kingston, Cuchillo, Monticello: very colorful , quaintnames. One or two of these towns seemed to be effectively ghost towns, with a few dozen residents in them. Shaun and Holly, a couple who I made friends later at the Gila cliff dwellings swore about the lovely bed and breakfast they stayed in at Kingston. Must check that out, sometime in the future. The towns were created due to mining  and cattle activity. Oftentimes, when passing by these sort of towns, I'd ask myself: "Who would live in this remote place?" only to catch myself thinking later: "Hmm, maybe I could stay here if...." The scenery can do that to you.
Ah, the scenery. Here they are:

When I had gone through the forested portion of this part of the Gila National Forest which is 2,710,659 acres in area (cf. wikipedia) and started to descend down to the Mimbres valley, these were the sights I saw:

I passed through the town of Mimbres on the way to the Gila Cliffs. Here I went through private land and  the Gila National Forest  at several points. It had been raining in the area in the past week, so wildflowers, mainly sunflowers, were in full bloom, carpeting the fields and meadows in a blanket of yellow.

And any high country would not be complete without a lake: Lake Roberts, in this instance. I read that there was good fishing here, especially of native rainbow trout.

I stopped so often to take photographs with my trusty Canon Rebel XS, I wondered if I would ever make it to the Gila Cliffs. I did, eventually, and thereby hangs another tale.