One man died and 24 people, including one women, were injured in Huamantla’s amateur bullfighting festival in Mexico this weekend.
Each year, the small town of Huamantla in the state of Tlaxcala celebrates the day of the Virgin Mary by creating brightly-coloured designs and draping the streets in colour. But it’s the amateur bull-fighting event that follows the solemn religious procession rather than the local craftsmanship which makes the headlines.
Thousands of Mexicans – both locals and tourists – flock to the town either to sit in the stalls and watch their fellow country-men tempt death, or to challenge the bulls themselves.
The smell of wet paint is still in the air from the wooden hoardings which were erected the night before to protect the crowds from the marauding bulls, two of which are let into each of 18 streets in the town. Entire families from old men and women through to tiny babies made themselves comfortable before the spectacle began and paid for prime position.
Street vendors paced along the outside of the hoardings selling umbrellas to keep off the sun, nuts, soft drinks, ice-cream souvenir T-shirts, sweets, hats and fake, fuzzy bull’s horns.
Next to me, a couple of young men discussed some business matters as they supped from enormous, special edition bottles of Sol, one of the sponsors of this annual event. The heady mix of alcohol, hot sun and adrenalin creates a dangerous environment in which it’s very easy for things to go badly wrong, and many of the young men and women milling around in the midday sun are already drunk.
Suddenly a scream goes up, and the bulls are upon us – or so it feels. It’s the first time your humble correspondent has been so close to a 500 kilo, angry panting bull that is being mercilessly taunted by the frantic crowd, and with every pass its sweaty flanks brushed against the wooden hoardings – 50 cm between me and certain death.
The black beauty began by pacing the road, sizing up its adversaries. As it trotted along the side of the hoardings, people standing in the road scattered in every direction, some of them leaping onto the hoardings, others finding tiny gaps to squeeze through in the wooden barriers to get themselves out of harm’s way.
Taunters are all around – every man and his wife screamed at the animal as it stood bewildered and sweaty in the centre of the road. The first serious adversary arrived, dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt sporting a silhouette of a proudly standing toro. He dragged his feet behind him in the dusty road as he eyed his challenger, the bull switching his eyes from the solitary Mexican to the crowd and back again – unsure of who to focus on.
The aspiring matador opened his old, dusky pink cloak – probably passed down to him from a former glorious matador family member, or perhaps picked up in a junk shop – and the battle begins. The bull, already tired from running, plunged for the cloak and the Mexican matador moved graceful to the side. This exchange went on for some time, the bull alternating his attention between his adversary and the maddening crowd.
Finally, in an act of triumph, the Mexican kneels whilst making eye-contact with the enormous animal standing before him, reaching out and to the side to touch the tip of the bull’s horn before retreating in victory.
He will live to boast the tale – others won’t be so lucky.