On Friday, the Benidorm Bull Ring once again came to life and was used for the purpose it was built. Bull fighting is a very controversial and sensitive issue, particularly for the Brits - who are largely a nation of animal lovers. I have always been of an open mind on the subject - what right do I have to criticise what is a deemed a national tradition and part of the heritage of the country I have adopted as my home. So together with my family I dragged them along with me to see how I would feel... I have NOT posted any graphic images which may upset some.
Ticket prices ranged from 15 euros for seats further back in the arena all the way up to 90 euros for the most expensive - and its cash only, no credit or debit cards! You could hear the crowds inside as we approached - it had already begun. Parking was a real problem but eventually we managed to find a spot.
The place was probably only half full, but even by conservative estimates I would guess there was a few thousand there - and a real mix. I saw many children there too as part of big family groups - obviously they are introduced to "culture" at a very young age here. We made our way up towards the top... obviously I wasn´t going to be spending top dollar for our seats! I did notice that all the tower blocks surrounding the bull ring had people hanging out of the windows of the upper floors and even standing on the roof!
We sat on the cold concrete - I noticed that you could hire cushions for an extra 2 euros or many seasoned spectators bought their own!
Throughout the event attendants walked around the rows of spectators selling cold drinks and freshly made up baguettes full of serrano ham for 5 euros... it obviously stirred peoples appetites!
The entire "process", I don´t really know what other word to use only lasts about 10 minutes. Just prior to the bull coming out a man walks around the ring with a placard detailing the name of the bull and its year plus some other information. When the bull is released it charges out from the hold and is full of aggression and energy.
Each Matador has an entourage of 6 assistants - 3 banderilleros - like matadors to be, 2 picadores - lancers on horseback and a mozo de espadas - sword man.
The three toreros initially taunt the bull to tire it out and the the fully protected horses comes out too - I noticed that their eyes and ears were covered otherwise I would think it would be too scared to enter a ring with a charging bull - can´t say I blame them!
The atmosphere was pretty electric and you could almost feel the excitement surrounding you. There was even a brass band sitting at the top which played whilst the toreros danced around the bulls with their pink capes - only the main matador has a red one. Their costumes are exquisite and date back to the 17th century - I can imagine that they cost well into the thousands to have made with all the beading sewn on by hand.
In the final stage, the main matador re-enters the ring alone with his red cape, known as a muleta and a sword. It is a mistaken belief that the colour red angers a bull because they are in fact colourblind! The cape is thought to be red to mask the colour of the blood and is now part of the tradition.
As the final act of killing the bull is performed - in Portugal it is illegal to kill the bull in the arena, the band play dramatic pieces. Now I must say that at this point I gave the game away that I was not Spanish as I sat with my daughter, hands covering our eyes and trying to squeal quietly - that and the fact that I was dressed in heels and virtually everyone had jeans, trainers and fleeces on!
Once the bull is killed the audience all wave something white such as a handkerchief or piece of paper, directing it at a stand overlooking the bullring - this is where the president and panel sit. Not being up on bullfighting etiquette we asked a couple sitting next to us what it signified - it´s to show that the crowd are "alegra", happy and for the president to award the matador the bulls ear if it has been a good fight! The bull is then removed from the ring by two horses and after a 5 minute break the next one begins with another set of matadors.
We stayed for three fights..... I couldn´t last any longer. It was certainly an experience although Im not sure I would go again. It was a lot quicker than I though and apparently I was told that one matador got gouged by a bull - that must have been after we left. It is certainly a very dangerous activity but apparently very well rewarded for the fighters, who earn the same as top footballers!
As we left the ring I asked at the door what they did with the dead bulls..... "We eat them" he replied as if it was not obvious. I suppose at least the meat is used and not wasted - although the process is different, at the end of the day its no different to an abattoir.
It obviously didn´t put me off as I still went and had a very rare steak for my dinner....
It is a great shame that Benidorm. Bullring is blacklisted as I am sure proper bullfights here would get more British fans for the sport