We’d heard about these “fiestas” in Costa Rica where entire communities get together for carnival, food, and Bull Riding. Us American’s are no strangers to Bull Riding with Rodeo’s being a nationwide event. Usually they take place in large arenas with cowboys saddling up to see who can ride the largest bull. TV cameras are everywhere, grown men dressed as clowns await to protect any fallen rider, etc etc. In Costa Rica it’s much different.
We pulled into a residential area down a rutted out dirt road to an open plot of land that must of not been any larger than a little league baseball field. There was dated carnival rides, the intoxicating smell of amazing food from vendors, beer stands, and in the distance what looked like a “bull ring”. As we got closer, and closer, we noticed the fence of this bull ring was in fact tree trunks, with branches extended horizontally to complete the enclosure. We were floored. How could this be? We’re used to steel and aluminum separating us from the 1 ton beasts adorned with gouge-hungry horns. Inside the bull ring was what looked like the entire surrounding community, hanging out where battle was about to ensue. We could hear the announcer via megaphone counting down until the event began, but noticed no body exiting the ring. The opening processions began, with a string of bull riders walking out being introduced. Next, what looked to be a soccer team was introduced. However, they were in fact the “rodeo clowns” that we knew back home. When I say soccer team, I mean a YOUTH soccer team. Kids, 12 – 15 years old, wearing cleats and soccer uniforms. We were floored, thinking where are their parents?!
The bull riders returned back to their staging area as a large truck backed it’s opening up to the pen that separates the ring from safety. Still none of the spectators leave the ring area. The first rider climbs onto the back of a snarling beast and struggles to get situated within the pen. Still, no spectator leaves the ring. The MC announces something we couldn’t understand over the megaphone. We all look at each other, wondering what he said. The crowd begins to cheer. The bull kicks and snarls again as the brave rider gets situated. The buzzer rings, the gate opens, and we realize that crowd is apart of the nights festivities in a way we never could of imagined.
As we watched in complete fear as this bull kicked, lashed and bucked straight for us, we bolted for the nearest tree fence, scrambling over the top of it to safety. Once above, we turned and looked back at the crowd still inside the ring as they taunted the bull as they simultaneously ran away from it. Each of our jaws dropped at what we were witnessing. Imagine for a second you flip through channels on your TV and see a bull riding event, except the crowd is inside the ring as the bull rider tries to reach his 8 seconds! As the night rolled on, we remembered the “youth soccer team” of rodeo clowns. They have their own separate game made up as well. One in which they try to SLAP the bull on the head between the horns without getting hit to gain points. Points for what you are thinking? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, other than the right to brag to all your friends that you are king of the night. The ultimate example of youth creativity in our minds.
Numerous times throughout the evening the reality of what we were apart of became apart. We witnessed and pregnant woman getting rammed into the tree fence when she was unable to get over it quick enough and a spectator in the ring get gored through the back of his leg by a bulls horn, resulting in the event be stopped for a brief moment only to remove him from the area and load him into a car. The event lasted two nights, with the next evening resulting in worse injuries from what we were told. The experience we were left with was one we can never forget. The bravery for the sake of bragging rights was oddly inspiring, reminding us that sometimes doing things just to do them is reward enough. Or something like that…