This bucket list item was completed on 8th July 2017 in Pamplona, Spain.
This post continues on from the story in #54 Run with the Bulls in Spain: Part 2.
As a forewarning, I will describe what I witnessed at the bullfights. For those of you who don’t know, the bulls are killed in the ring during the fights and it can be gruesome.
As I sat on the bus on my way back to camp, all I could think about was finally getting some sleep. I began chatting with the girl next to me and explained what had happened to me in the ring. I told her about the doctor and all the checks he performed on me. She mentioned that it would be a good idea to assume concussion protocol for the remainder of the day and avoid drinking or sleeping. It was a long time since I had a concussion and forgot the simple rule that a person should try to avoid sleeping after a concussion or potential concussion. Unfortunately, it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to sleep after all.
Since I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, I decided I should at least have a shower and clean myself up. I had half a sandwich from my bus trip the day before so I had it for breakfast as I sat on the picnic table in the morning sun. I looked around the campsite in a daze as I watched people waking up and going about their routines. All I wanted to do was sleep but I knew it wasn’t a good idea as I had no one there to keep an eye on me.
The bullfights did not start until 6:30 pm but I figured the best place for me to be, if I wanted to stay awake, was in the heart of the festival in Pamplona. I jumped on the 11:00 am bus and arrive in Pamplona around 11:30 am. I had pre-ordered my ticket to the bullfights and had to meet the ticket operator at a bar in the middle of the city. I picked up my ticket at mid-day and once I held it in my hand I knew I was going to cross another item off my bucket list.
I was genuinely excited to watch a bullfight. Similar to my dream of running with the bulls, many people chose to have an opinion about me going to watch a bullfight. Some people said it was cruel and that they could never watch it. Others told me that I should be ashamed of myself for supporting it. I was told that since I was going, I openly supported the unethical treatment of animals. I never argued with them. I simply tried to share my opinion on the subject, without refuting their opinion. It didn’t matter though; you can’t talk to people who don’t want to listen.
I knew exactly what happened at a bullfight. I knew they were stabbed, I knew they were killed and I knew the whole process. Also, I grew up in a hunting family. From a young age I was out shooting birds and rabbits, which my family enjoyed for special dinners. I had watched animals die before and I did not think much of it. In my opinion, I was as mentally prepared as possible to watch the bullfights.
I killed time by walking around the city and buying a few souvenirs for myself and friends. The city looked quite a bit different in the day time because I could see all of the buildings and streets more clearly. However, not much had changed regarding the atmosphere. There were still thousands of people running around and partying through the afternoon. As with the night before, there were people sleeping on many grassy areas around the city.
I walked to the edge of the city and found some shade under a nice row of trees. I sat down by the tree and video-called my parents. They had not heard from me in a while and, after what had happened earlier that morning, I figured I should give them a call. I told them the story of what had happened to me, in great detail. They were glad I was okay, but after raising my brother and me, they did not overreact when I told them the story. There were no broken bones so there was no need to worry, in their opinion.
I made it to 6:00 pm and it was time to enter the bullring. I entered through the gates and the ushers helped me find my seat. I sat alone for a few minutes while others began to fill the seats. While people were filling the stands a guy walked up to me and said, “Hey man, how are you feeling”? I recognised him. He was one of the guys on my bus from Barcelona. I responded by saying, “I’m a little tired and a little sore. I ended up getting hit by a bull today”.
I hadn’t told him anything new because it turns out he was standing beside me when I was hit by the bull. He saw the whole thing, right up until when they carried me off, under the stands. The fans cheered every time a bull managed to hit someone but he said I received the loudest and longest cheer of the day. I am still not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing but I’ll take it.
The crowd filled the stands and then, at 6:30 pm, things were ready to begin. The spectacle began by showcasing some of the brave men who would be entering the ring that evening. The picadores rode around the bullring on horseback. The bottom half of the horses were covered in gold armour and the picadores wore a matching suit.
When the first match started, the bull entered the ring, followed by a few apprentice matadors in brightly coloured clothing with yellow and magenta capes. The apprentice matadors, played with the bull and danced their capes in front of him to tire him out and let the matador observe the bull’s tendencies.
Their act was followed by two picadores. They were armed with a lance that had a blade on the end of it. The objective of a picadore is to weaken the muscle between the bull’s shoulder blades to make him drop his head as he became fatigued, later in the fight. I was ready for this and watched as the bull moved toward one of the picadores. As the bull approached the picadore, he drove the blade of the lance through the shoulder blades of the bull. Blood began to gush out of the wound and run down the side of the bull.
In that moment, all the emotions and sensations I was feeling changed, like a light switch. I did not think I was going to have any trouble watching the bullfights but when he drove that blade into the flesh of the bull something inside me told me I did not like what I was seeing. I was surprised by the sensation and unsure of what to do. I continued to watch the fight as I wanted to see the whole process.
After the bull was stabbed a few times by the picadores, they left the ring and three banderilleros entered the ring. The banderilleros wield two long sticks called banderillas. These are brightly decorated and have barbs on one end to hook into the flesh once driven into the bull. The banderilleros took turns as they lined up the bull. The first one ran at the face of the bull and then jumped to avoid his horns as he drove two banderillas into the shoulder blades of the bull. This also served the purpose of weakening the neck muscles of the bull.
After the first banderillero was successful, the other two followed his lead and inserted their sticks, until there were six of them protruding from the bull. If the banderilleros had been unsuccessful and one or both of the sticks fell out of the bull, they would have been booed and ridiculed for the disrespect to the bull. If they were successful, the crowd would cheer and applaud them. The purpose of the colourful sticks is to add to the theatrics of the fights as they bounce around as the bull runs around the ring.
Once the banderilleros were finished the matador stepped into the ring. The matador had the brightest clothes of all of them and had a red cape. He held a sword behind the cape as he goaded the bull and danced the cape in front of him. This continued for several minutes. The matador waited for the bull to come to a rest and positioned himself in front of the bull, looking into his eyes. They were separated by about 5 meters. As they locked eyes, the matador drew his sword and held it above his head, aiming in at the bull.
Both the bull and the matador remained frozen for several seconds until the both began to charge at each other, as if it was rehearsed. The matador ran towards the bull and with a flying leap, similar to Achilles signature move in the movie Troy, his torso avoided the bull’s horns as he drove the sword between the shoulder blades and deep into the belly of the bull. Had the matador been unsuccessful, he would have been booed by the fans, as mentioned with the banderilleros. As the bull ran around the ring, the only thing that was exposed was the handle of the sword.
With the sword still in the bull, the matador continued to dance with the bull. This process continued until the bull became fatigued and slowed down. As the bull slowed down the matador wiped the cape along the sand, below the bull’s nose, to make him drop his head to the ground. This set the matador up for the Faena, the final part of the fight.
Once the bull had dropped his head to the ground the matador stepped in close and held a second sword toward the bull. He aimed for small area on the back of the head and thrust his sword. The bull jerked his head and jumped back, but did not die. The crowd erupted in disappointment and began shouting and booing the matador. This was viewed as being very disrespectful toward the animal and is shameful in the Spanish culture. The matador regained his composure and danced his caped until the bull assumed the same position as before. On his second attempt, the bulls legs locked up and he fell to one side. This time the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. It was interesting to see the polar switch from the crowd in a matter of minutes. That proved to me how deeply rooted bullfighting is in their culture.
There were six fights scheduled that evening, but after the fourth fight, I thought I had seen enough. The Spanish people view bullfighting as a test of bravery, skill and grace. I could understand their view, but growing up in Canada does not give me the same appreciation for something like this.
I left the bullring with just enough time to catch the next bus back to the campsite. As soon as I got on the bus I pulled out my phone and posted the photo to my bucket list album on Facebook. My comment read as follows:
“I know everyone has their own opinion on bullfights and, to be honest, I did not know whether I would enjoy the experience or not. The only way I was going to find out was to go and see one for myself. Well, I have gone to see one and decided it is not for me. I can appreciate that it is of cultural importance in some countries but it is not for me and I don’t believe I will go to one again”.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion regarding bullfights and I would never try to change someone’s mind. I think I will leave things there as nothing more needs to be said on this subject.
Have you been to a bullfight? Let me know in the comments below.
Make sure to check back for my next post, which will discuss the lesson learned by completing this item. Want to be notified when new blog posts are uploaded? Subscribe below.
Dave has been on a mission, since 2010, to cross off the 100 items on his bucket list. The stories of his adventures are complimented by life lessons learned along the way and his travel tips are unique to his experiences.