Despite the opposition, part of me wants to experience this slice of Mexican culture originating from Spain. Yes!
The smell of fresh blood mingled with red dust wafts up my nose. Wanting to ward off the unwelcome stench in the bullfighting ring, I close my eyes. Slow down my breathing. No! I do not like this.
This is my first ever bullfight in Mérida Mexico. First time ever anywhere!
We wind our way into the stands at Plaza de Toros. Pushing through polite but determined animal activists, we read their signs to abolish bullfighting. Not all Mexicans love this spectacle.
On High Alert
My senses are on high alert. The hot sun beats down mercilessly while around the bullring sit spectators on cement seats; some are families with small children. Higher in the circular stadium is a Mexican brass band. Vendors hawk botanas (snacks).
Majestic, Beautiful Beast
On the announcement board is the weight (536 kg.) of the first bull, bred in the Yucatán.
The band strikes up and a roar from the crowd announces the release of the black beast. A regal animal with mean, curved horns. Decorated on his back with the breeder’s colours.
This bull is angry and shows it. Rocketing from the door marked toril he charges into the ring. Paws the dirt. Snorts his disapproval. He is all energy, wound up like a clock. Warily sizes up his surroundings.
First to work on El Toro is the matador’s assistant. To give the matador an idea of how the bull reacts to certain moves.
Picadors and Horses
Next come the picadors: two heavily padded men on heavily padded blindfolded horses. Their job is to stab three sets of elongated lances into the bull’s shoulders.
El Toro is not amused. Uncooperative. Head down, he charges one of the picadors who hastily dismounts, retreats to safety. He leaves his horse to take the bull’s repeated gores.
The horse goes down against the wall of the ring. Crowd holds its collective breath.
From behind safe wooden barriers, costumed assistants bolt forward to distract the bull from his current quarry.
El Toro moves away from the downed horse.
Miraculously, the heavily padded horse scrambles to its feet. The picador leaps back onto the shaken animal. Together, they exit the ring.
Now come the banderilleros. They must thrust two 75 cm long wooden spears (banderillas) into the bull’s back. They approach the bull in a straight line and deliver the spears from a height.
How much more torment can El Toro take? Despite the provocation, he is still regal.
His coat glistens in the beating sun. He shakes his great head defiantly. But his energy is diminishing.
Time for the matador takeover.
Resplendent and confident. Wears an embroidered sequined outfit dazzling in the sun like flashing golden nuggets.
Throughout the initial stages of fight, he has studied the bull’s movements.
Now with his muleta (cape) and sword, he begins the foreplay. The muleta swirls and falls and teases and flutters. The matador displays his artistry. Seduces the crowd. Seduces El Toro.
Classical Form and Passion
His classical form and passion enhance the dance. Show off his disciplined, graceful movements.
Hear the swish of his muleta as El Toro passes under it.
See the arched back and quick movements of the slender matador.
Closeness and oneness are attained by both bull and matador.
Now there is eye contact between man and beast.
Dance of life and death
So begins the dance of life and death. Captivating. Mesmerizing.
The bull will lose this dance. But when? How?
All eyes are trained on the beast, El Toro Bravo. He is magnetically drawn to his flashy performing antagonist.
El Toro is exhausted now.
Matador faces spectators
The matador turns to face the crowd. His move to ignore the near-beaten beast is deliberate. He is showing spectators he will conquer.
La Suerte Suprema
The crucial moment, La Suerte Suprema, is near. Before he can deliver the final blow, the matador must be sure the bull is standing with his four feet together. This way the sword can easily pass between his open shoulder blades.
Eyes of man and beast connect, locking one another into a world of their own.
Then, at the right moment, a sudden swift movement as the matador lunges forward.
El Toro Bravo
Where a moment ago he was pawing the ground, El Toro Bravo now falters and falls. See the pool of dark liquid in the dirt. The only evidence of a valiant fight lost.
Food for the Poor
In what seems a moment later, the once-noble warrior is unceremoniously dragged from the bullring by mules.
Immediately butchered, his meat is delivered to the poor.
Plaza de Toros, Mérida, Mexico
Temporarily closed due to the virus.
Plaza de Toros, Ăvila, Spain
Open with restrictions. Social-distancing rules mean the arena’s capacity is reduced from just over 8,000 to 2,000. Masks are mandatory. Security teams ensure a distance of one and a half metres is maintained between all spectators. Bullfighting continues with restrictions.
Sights and Sounds of Mérida
Read another of our blogs from Mexico
Travelled: Fall, 2008