The bullfight and Ollantaytambo’s 137th Anniversary

We were once more “lucky” to be at a certain place at the very right time: just a couple of days after we got to Ollantaytambo, the little town celebrated its 137th Anniversary. The celebration started on a Thursday and continue all the way until Sunday, with parades during the day and concerts and party in the main square during the night. We went there on Friday with the gang at the lodge and had a huge and most delicious trout sold by mamachas on the side of the road (we realised later that was one of the things never missing at any big celebration, together with the chicha and the rivers of beer flowing down pretty much everyone’s throat). After having the trout and chicha and watching some parades (people from 35 different communities in the mountains came down that day dressed up in their traditional clothes and proudly carrying the community’s flag) we went back to the square during the night with some of our guests, Dave, Jess and Dave (another Dave). There was a concert going on, the Andean version of Britney Spears, and once she was done (and boy were we happy she was done) another band came on stage. Our happines was short lived, as for the next hour they sang a few songs that to us all seemed to be one single song with different lyrics. The melody was exactly the same for all the songs, and only the lyrics seemed to change every now and then. Nobody else by us seemed to mind though, and the square was full of people drinking beer, dancing away and enjoying themselves as best they could.

By the time we went back, just after midnight, the spirits were pretty heated and some people were already starting fights with eachother. We saw only one, two guys who were so drunk they couldn’t even properly fight, but they were more just falling on each other and then to the ground, punching the air and shouting some indecipherable swear words to their opponent. A couple of policemen were there too, but they seemed more amused than alarmed, and we later found out this was every day reality for them,:people getting ridiculously drunk then starting fights with each other. One man said as we were leaving: “Oh yeah, this is when it begins, but wait until later, there’ll be fights everywhere!”

We clearly did not wait, but the next day we met Craig, a texan we had befriended who was managing a restaurant in the plaza, and he told us that when he got up for work in the morning the plaza was covered in drunkards sleeping on the pavement, locals and gringos alike, nothing under them and nothing over them either, even though the nights do get pretty chilly in the Valley. We talked about the alcohol madness in the region and we couldn’t reach a conclusion about why people drink so much here. Some said boredom, others said habit, culture, “children do what children see”… In any event, it made me think of this really sad fact I’ve noticed during my travels: that too many people all over the world constanly feel the need to drink themselves happy.

Sad? You bet.


Our first bullfighting experience

Another thing that was happening during the celebrations was a bull fight – something neither Boca nor I had seen before, and something we were even unaware was so popular in South America. Well, I guess it would have been hard for the Spanish not to leave such a strong tradition behind. Even though we’re definitely not fans of seeing animals being killed, and especially purely for entertainment, we decided to go and experience a corrida in the hope we would understand it better and be able to form our opinions and judgements after. In the end we can’t realy judge something we have not ourselves experienced, right?

We were lucky we had Miguel with us, as he seemed to be a bit of an expert on bull fights and he explained everything we needed and wanted to know. We had no idea how many little rules there were and how complex this “art” or “sport” actually was. How the bulls have to be grown to 450-500kg before being used for a fight, and that takes up to 5 years. How when a bull is taken out for a fight, that is its first time out in the ring, and it’s never used for “training” purposes before. How the only way you can tell if the bull is going to be a good fighter is by testing the mother and her fighting instinct. How if the matador does not perform the killing smoothly, he is given a fine. How if he performs it really smoothly he receives one of the bull’s ear, both ears or both ears and the tail. How the clowns are there to entertain the audience, but mostly to intervene when a matador is in trouble, distracting the bull. “Their job is very risky”, Miguel told us, “they are very brave to be taking up such jobs”. Or maybe they’re just adrenaline junkies, I though. Or might be full of guilt for something in their past and that’s how they make themselves feel better about it. Or they are suicidal. Or… who’s to know, anyway…

The show was supposed to start at 3pm and Miguel said we should be at the place early to get good seats. We got there after 2.30pm and the place was still close to empty. We got some great spots, in the front row so very close to the action (the arena was very small anyway, not even close to a “real” one) and also just near the lady selling beers from a bunch of boxes. What else could you desire? People starting coming in more seriously after 3.30, and the first bull came in just before 5pm. Latin American time, indeed!

We were happy to realise the show that day was not an official one, so none of the bulls were going to be killed at the end. That made us feel so much better, as the moment the first bull was led into the arena both Boca and I already wanted to cry at the though they would be killing that beautiful creature. The show lasted for about 2 hours and it was definitely an interesting experience – not one that made us change our opinion about the cruelty and unnecessity of killing the animals though. No matter how much Miguel tried to explain to us that is was nothing but “art”, we just did not see the point of all the killing.

What stunned us (and what actually made the show more exciting) was the fact that random people were allowed to go inside the ring and take a shot at the bull. There were plenty of macho men eager to show off their manhood and impress those present (and probably themselves). The first guy who did it was hammered, so the bull stepped on him quite well a couple of times, to the mad crowd’s delight. He stayed in the arena until the end, but mostly hidden behind protective screens, not nearly as brave as he had been in the beginning. Another guy jumped in drunk as well and picked a fight with the clown. His little girl, who was not more than 6 or 7, jumped in to help her daddy out. The crowd gasped – the bull was still in there! We all held our breath as the policemen came in and took the girl and her crazy drunk father out. We the foreigners seemed to be the most alarmed ones though, as probably for the locals this was again nothing out of the ordinary.

That was our first bull fighting experience, and probably the last one for a long time to come.


Full moon at the Full Moon Lodge

On November 10th, a full moon day, Vince and Carlo decided to organise the first of what would be a monthly celebration to honor the full moon. It had everything – great food cooked by Gabriel, good music played by us, a lovely local band that played Andean music, beer and Pisco Sour, really lovely guests and a big fire to celebrate it all. The highlight was a shaman who talked a bit of Andean traditions then performed a ritual in which we all used coca leaves to put in our wishes and then offer them to Grandfather Fire. The other highlight was a night tour to the ruins nearby, to see the moon lighting up the whole hill with its bright and lovely shine. The moon that night was spectacular, and the celebration memorable. We thought it was a good way to introduce and prepare us for 11.11.11, the day we had been looking forward to since we first came to South America.


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