Sunday pasado was the running of the bulls in Granada. In the weeks and months leading up to this event, I heard many stories. Nicaraguan men speak about the tradition of the event. Locals assure me that it’s controlled and safe because the bulls have ropes that are used to control their movements. Extranjeros tell me it’s pure craziness, with bulls being allowed to roam the streets at their will. Everybody has a story of a friend of a friend who was gored by a bulls’ horn. They’ll tell this story as they make slashing marks across their abdomen, thigh, or buttocks to explain where the unlucky fellow got too close to the bull.
Listening to these stories had me in a mind to avoid the event altogether. I am an animal lover, and I have the impression that events of these types usually don’t bode well for the animals involved. So I planned to spend a quiet Saturday away from the festivities.
The day began well. I worked the morning at the Finca Market at Hotel La Bocona. This is a monthly event that features produce from organic farms, local charities, and businesses selling items from bracelets made by prisoners to support their families to imported perfume and incense from India. It’s a nice opportunity to connect with the extranjero community. I was there with my friend and fellow yoga teacher to talk to people about Pure Gym and to sell delicious homemade chocolates. We had some great conversations and I walked away with a luscious bag of organic spinach for less than $1.
On returning to the gym, I sat down to practice my yoga. I sat in sukhasana and calmed my breath, working to clear my mind and gaze within. As I sat in stillness, I realized that I did not want to miss the day’s festivities. This life is about following your heart, so I rolled my mat up and took off for the streets.
On leaving the studio, the energy in the streets was palpable. Granada is a town that caters to tourists, so the streets are seldom empty. This weekend though, they were packed. People were in high spirits mingling on every street throughout the city. I made my way down towards the Calzada, the main strip of restaurants and artisanias. I encountered many of my friends there who warned me of the danger of going further. At this point, though, I was intrigued. I wandered towards Parque Central, meeting more friends along the way. One sweet chavallo friend was manning a grill with with whole ears of corn while his mom sold other delicious treat for cheap and tasty sustenance. The crowd grew thicker as I worked my way towards to park. I began to hear swells of trumpets and drums and made my way towards the music.
At this point, I began to really relax and take in the good energy surrounding me. I love being among groups of people in such high energy! The spirit is contagious. The park was CROWDED! People every which way. I felt as though I saw almost everybody I know in the city – each time I turned around there was another familiar friendly face. After walking around the perimeter of the park, I began to work my way back through the crowd in the hopes of seeing the bull when it ran by in the street. Moments after I got into the park, the crowd began to move. People towards the street started to run and the crowd surged forward. Having no interest in running, I ducked behind a tree and hung on while the crowd flowed around me. False alarm. People soon calmed down and returned to chatting with friends and peering over heads to try and see the toro.
Each time I felt the crowd had calmed and began to move out from behind my safe tree, the crowd would begin to move and run again. I quickly made my way to another safe spot – stopping to hide behind trees, a parked truck, and vendors’ carts. Anything that looked like it wasn’t going to start moving along with the crowd. In this way, I made my way to within spitting distance of the bull. The Bull. The bull who was clearly in the park, and not running by safely in the street like I’d expected. Sopresa!
The bull seemed a little lost. Unsure of where he was expected to go, and did not appear anything at all like the enraged animal I was expecting to see. In an effort to rile up the bull and display bravery, several boys would run up and swing shirts at the bull and slap or punch it’s backside. One crazy chavallo ran up to the bull and grabbed one horn in each hand, shaking his head from side to side. This was difficult to watch. I felt a great sense of empathy for the bull and an anger that the culture allows this treatment of animals. I’ve observed this relationship with other animals too here in Nicaragua – from dogs to cows, goats to chickens. Rough treatment of animals is commonplace and accepted, though not something I see every day. Luckily, it seemed that most people were loathe to approach the bull, standing and watching and preparing to run when he started to move.
With the bull so close, the crowd was skittish, moving back and forth like the ocean on a stormy day. At this point, I had been standing beneath the same tree for some time. I decided to follow suit of several other locals and climb the tree to sit safely in the branches. Two boys were already up in the tree and were eager to help me, pulling me up with almost no effort at all. I felt much safer arriba en el arbol, and enjoyed the show from on high watching the crowd interact with each other and the bull.
The bull was attached to a rope, but a rope that was often dropped and then picked up again. For the most part, he was given reign to go wherever he wanted in the city. In fact, the next day I heard a story about one woman who came into her front room to find a bull had barged in, then luckily barged right back out without causing damage to her family or home. Many men on horseback followed closely behind each bull, and there were firetrucks and police cars placed strategically throughout the city both to block off roads and to be close to help when people found themselves injured. Even though the two bulls I saw that day were tranquillo, I did hear stories about injuries and some deaths the next day.
After their run, the bulls were herded down by the lake, and the fiesta in the streets continued. Music swelled and the men on horseback gave a preview of next weekend, Hipica, by getting their horses prancing and dancing in time to the music. I’ve never seen an animal move so elegantly as these thoroughbred horses, drawing their hoofs up and in quickly in time to the beat of the drums, xylophones, and guitars of the street muscians. I grabbed a table on the Calzada to sit and watch the dancing of horses and people erupt around me.
Overall it was a good day. I’m happy to say that, unlike bull fighting, the bulls are not killed in this event. This is the beginning of a celebration that will continue next weekend with a Carnival and Hipica, with many more horses and people dancing in the street. All to celebrate la virgen de la Asunción. The Nicaraguans love to party and celebrate, so Wednesday, also, is a part of the month of celebration. I don’t know if I’ll be here for the bacchanal celebration next weekend as I plan to be in the beautiful island of Ometepe this week. In the meantime, I’ve increased my street cred by having sat in that tree to watch the Tope de Toro.