Angel, our current host-papa, makes his living raising bulls. At first I thought this made him a sort of matador, but turns out, he has just converted parts of his property into pasture land to fatten them up, and then sells them in Ibarra about five times a year at the animal market. The buyers are local meat plants that will turn his toros into burgers.
Just as his profession was starting to seem a little less Hemmingway and a little more Safeway, he started telling us about his plans to take the bulls to the feria, which meant contending with El Bravo. I had heard this word before used by a beekeeper in Colombia to describe his Africanized ladies as “mas bravas” than my bees in the states, which I took to mean aggressive, though my dictionary defines it as brave. Nice, I knew Angel was a bullfighter.
El Bravo, he went on to tell us, was more aggressive than his toro friends and we were told to avoid him the following morning when Angel would corral them into his truck and head off to the animal feria. Sort of dismayed, I asked how we would recognize El Bravo amidst his other bulls and he said he’s “el pequeño cara blanca.”
In the morning, Dave and I walked up to the holding pen that was usually empty, but now it contained about 10 sorting, jostling, huge bulls. They were having trouble turning around in the small enclosure and had created a small circle around El Bravo. He was like the celebrity we came to stare at in awe, surrounded by his burly bodyguards. And he actually was the smallest one, but made up for it with his cara blanca that made him stand out and gave him a more unstable presence.
When it was time, the truck driver backed up to the entrance of the holding pen and lifted up the metal sliding door. Angel and his 16-year-old son hopped over the wooden fence and took a stance in the back of the pen, armed with long sticks. Two more guys hung out inside the truck ready to usher in the future burgers.
The whole process was over in about 30 seconds. Angel and his son began whacking the bulls with their sticks and eventually the herd decided the truck-bed would be a nicer environment. Unfortunately for the toros, the guys on the truck kept whacking them – this time in the face – to keep from getting gored, and to corral them toward the sides. As El Bravo approached I stumbled backward mostly due to fear and partly because I slipped off the fencepost that Dave and I were sharing. I jumped back up just in time to see El Bravo get a face-full of stick as he hopped on board.
With the bulls ready to travel, Angel dashed back home, changed his clothes, washed his hair, and de-mudded his boots – essentially transforming into a certified salesman. But in the end the bravado, aggression and courage didn’t count for much at the feria where kilos reign. Angle’s biggest bull would sell for about $800 that day. And El Bravo, about $550.