next-to-final moment for the bull



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.

First Time

This is my first ever bullfight in Mérida Mexico. First time ever anywhere!

map of Mexico
Map of Mexico showing Mérida

Animal Activists

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. 

Plaza de Toros, home of bullfighting in Merida
Plaza de Toros, Mérida, Mexico, home of bullfighting

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).

waiter serving botanas during bullfighting
Botanas! Botanas anyone?

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.


El Toro

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.

Picador ready to enter ring
Picador with heavily padded, blindfolded horse about to enter 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. 

The Matador

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.

The Matador & the bull - classic bullfighting pose
The matador and the bull

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.

The final stroke about to be given
The next-to-final moment

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.

COVID updates:

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.

bullfight in Spain during Covid
Bullfighting in the time of Covid (photo courteous The Economist)

Sights and Sounds of Mérida

Read another of our blogs from Mexico

Travelled: Fall, 2008

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