Waking at 8am on 31st July to the sound of the ever more incessant bells of the Jesuit Mission, I immediately realised something was wrong. It wasn’t the mud on my clothes, the burn holes, the 18 mosquito bites on my right arm or even that I’d gone to sleep wearing a head torch. No, it was the unnecessary pounding in my head, which at first I put down to the incessant bell ringing, but which upon further inspection was confirmed to be the result of an unfortunate mix of Pacena, Cuba Libre and hours of intense Amazonian sun. After tentatively testing the water by standing up, it was apparent I would live.
It transpires that the day after a large fiesta in a small village in the middle of nowhere it’s quite difficult to find breakfast or coffee. All the people who may have been able to provide these things are also feeling the effects of Cuba Libre. This meant a visit to the village market, where it was possible to find two life-saving deep fried cheese empanadas, and the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever had, while watching a woman hacking some indescribable part of a cow to pieces. At least I think it was a cow.
Fortunately, we also bumped into our Australian and Dutch friends from the previous evening, also seeking the life-giving qualities of the cheese empanadas. Refreshed, we walked back towards the plaza, where it quickly became apparent that Bolivians don’t need sleep – a parade around the plaza was already underway. This was a more sombre affair involving many of the district’s most prominent citizens.
This proved to be a sedate start to what would turn into another big day of drinking and fun, this time involving large bulls.
As the procession made its way to the Mission, the big question on everyone’s lips was, “Will they let the Macheteros into the bloody church, and, if they do, can we all go back to bed?” This man has been walking around the village for 3 days, he deserves to be allowed into the Mission…
Perhaps what this needs is an intervention from an Achus?
One mighty explosion later it finally happened, the Macheteros were allowed into the Mission.
No one was more relieved by this turn of events than me. This terrible injustice finally resolved, we could now decamp from the plaza and head towards the Plaza de Toros, where the day’s main event would take place.
I’ve never been to a bull ‘fight’ and never will go to one, but bull ‘teasing’, as this was described, seemed a bit more benign. After all, what could be fairer than having a large bull face off against a group of highly inebriated people without guns, swords or common sense?
The day passed without much incident, no bulls died, a couple of people got gored and/or tossed into the air on the tip of a bull’s horns, and much Pacena was consumed.
Of course there are inevitable casualties, although during fiesta these are not all bull related…
I have to admit that my support was all with the bulls, which is why I’ve included these photos:
Of course, there is a darker side to all this frivolity…where an innocent Gringo bystander, stood on the bull ring fence believing it to be safe, is sent flying by a herd of bulls who just want to go home…
…first, a very unhappy heard of bulls, barely being controlled by their ‘handlers’, are being ‘herded’ back to their home for the night, and a Gringo stood on the bull ring fence.
What happened next is open to speculation, but I believe the course of events went thus: one of the bulls made a run for it into the street, causing one of the cowboys to give chase – no one wants 2 tonnes of bull careering down a street full of drunk people on their way home from the bull teasing.
This left just one cowboy to control the other 6 or 7 bulls. Needless to say, they stampeded, taking with them a large chunk of fence and one Gringo stood on said fence. Mercifully, some Bolivians pulled me to safety before I got trampled to death. By the time I got to my feet the bulls were out of sight. Lesson learned.