Pology Magazine  -  Adventures in Travel and World Culture.
Travel and World Culture   
Travel Image: Baja, Mexico
Photo: Ogen Perry
Travel Image: Baja, Mexico

Mexico: Letting the Derby de Gallos Wash Over You (cont.)

Then it was time for the first real match. The trainers proudly carried their colorful, elegantly coiffed roosters to Luis' table, where our host and a referee performed a careful weighing (wouldn't they all be in the bantamweight division?) and inspection, the point of which was impossible to ascertain. Checking for illegal steroids? Pine tar?

Once the birds were certified as suitable for combat, the trainers returned to their corners and began the elaborate process of outfitting the cock with a spur. Each had an ornate, locked box with dozens of razor-sharp blades. After choosing a blade, the trainer casually tucked it behind his ear before tying it to the bird's foot with several yards of twine.

The roosters were then bought into the ring and introduced to a third bird, a non-combatant whose main job seemed to be inspiring the other to a fine edge of fighting pique.

By this time, the crowd had grown in size and volume. About 200 hundred spectators--mostly men decked out in cowboy hats and freshly laundered jeans, plus a few women outfitted in Sunday finery--cheering more noisily with each new can of beer and wager of pesos transferred to Luis’ locked box.

After another close inspection by the referee, who seemed to take his job very seriously--wouldn't want to sully the sterling reputation of cockfighting--the birds were introduced to each other in a manner not designed to encourage collegial behavior.

The birds were then thrown to the dirt, and the fight was on. Painstakingly trained and pumped up with avian anger, the birds took a few energetic flying leaps at each other, aiming the knife-like spurs at the throat and eyes. It only took a few charges before both were wounded and bleeding, and the attacks became less pointed, with the roosters often leaning on each other between jabs, like punch-drunk boxers trying to make it through the round.

The crowd was on its feet with the first charge, loudly arguing and cheering, responding to critical changes in the balance of poultry power that we were unable to perceive. From our vantage point, neither rooster seemed destined for prosperity.

After a few minutes, however, it was clear that one bird was dishing out more damage than he was taking. Before long, we could tell that one of the birds was doomed, barely able to stay on its spindly legs.

The other bird was too tired and damaged to make more than an occasional jab, with the referee occasionally interrupting to give the avian version of a standing ten count or to yell "Tiempo!," signaling a time-out in which the trainers tended to their winged gladiators.

It was then that the owners engaged in a peculiarly striking ritual, lowering their mouths to the birds and gently kissing and licking the wounded head and neck. The idea may have been to clean off dried blood or some form of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but whatever they did, it worked, reviving the birds enough to fight for a few more seconds. The process looked at once tender and cruelly calculated, an intimate act intended purely to keep the bird fighting.

Before long, the more mangled of the two roosters was barely able to move, and the referee declared the contest over. The loser was carried off in a bloody heap, its owner warily trying to explain the outcome to supporters and bettors. We had little doubt he was destined for the cooking pot before nightfall.

The "winner," who looked to be in only slightly better shape, was held aloft by its owner and briefly paraded around the ring before it was carried away to a fate we could only guess. Noble retirement was unlikely to be an option, however.

By that time, we had already been at the mini-stadium for several hours. The serious competition was just getting started, and while it was hard to imagine the fighting getting any uglier, the audience seemed likely to as beer ingestion and wagers rose.

And we had seen enough. I can't say we were morally offended by the contest, but it certainly wasn't our idea of entertainment, any more than visiting a slaughterhouse would qualify as a fun vacation detour. Or watching a boxing match, for that matter.

We tried not to begrudge a cultural institution entrenched with such needless cruelty--a person's relationship with animals is no doubt different when one lives so much closer to the food supply and sees the real process involving in ensuring the availability of leather shoes, chicken mole and chicarrones. But our safe, urban perspective wasn't going to change, and there was a lovely sunset to savor from our hotel room.

But first, we were hungry, despite lingering queasiness after a day of sun and chicken blood. We rode our bikes to a nearby restaurant with a breezy patio, charcoal grill and friendly dogs. We both had fish.

Page 2 of 2   Previous Page


All contents copyright ©2005 Pology Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly prohibited.