Do you think you have what it takes to compete in Ecuadorian soccer? What if someone brought a bull onto the field? Keep reading to experience “toro-bol” with WorldTeach Ecuador volunteer Amanda McCarther!
Yesterday was one of those days when Ecuador smacked me square between the eyes. Here I was finally starting to think, “Yeah, I got you, Ecuador” and then smuh-ACK! I was blindsided right outta left field.
After living anywhere for long enough, you adjust. All of the differences and strange little idiosyncrasies that just seemed so weird at the beginning become just another part of the daily grind. But then, just when you’ve fallen into a happy little routine, you come face to face with a brand new bit of ludicrous-ness that you just weren’t prepared for.
CECAMI is a community school run by the municipal government of Ibarra. That makes me an employee of the city. This past Friday was the annual municipal workers “field day,” if you will. We all walked, drove, bussed or taxied it out to La Plaza del Toros to spend the entire day eating concession stand food and participating in the festivities. Having never been to such a soiree before and only being able to understand part of my boss’s explanation about the schedule of events due to my limited Spanish, I had no idea what these “festivities” were going to entail.
It all started off innocently enough. One of the bigwigs in the municipal department spent a solid 30 minutes getting the crowd warmed up by leading them through a series of motivational chants and dances. The concession stands were doing a lucrative business and, in spite of the drizzle, everyone seemed in high spirits. (I believe this was largely due to the amount of alcohol being imbibed at this time. Please note, it was well before noon.)
Recall that the name of the stadium was La Plaza del Toros. I originally dismissed this as being nothing more than a name. I mean there are lots of parks and stadiums and such named after animals, right? Not a big deal. I’ve visited a park called Bear Mountain before and needless to say I didn’t encounter a single grizzly.
Minutes after the pep rally ended, the ring was suddenly filled with a group of men waving pink and red blankets. And, sure enough, there was Mr. Toro. Okay, fine, so clearly there was going to be a little matador-ing going on. While I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of aggravating a poor animal, I had seen and heard of this before and it was nothing new.
Thankfully, this activity only lasted for about five or ten minutes and the following activity simply involved a bunch of grown men running up a greased plank of wood to try and grab a ribbon secured at the top. Silly, but again, not a huge deal.
Once all of the ribbons had been “won,” the ring was cleared and two teams of men entered the ring to play what appeared to be a basic game of futbol. It’s Ecuador so I knew futbol was going to come into play at some point. Nothing weird there.
What I wasn’t expecting was after five minutes into the game for a live, raging bull to be let loose in the ring with the soccer players. While the rest of the crowd roared with excitement, I felt my jaw completely unhinge itself and began to desperately send up prayers for divine intervention for those crazy souls in the ring.
The game quickly dissolved into chaos with players still desperately trying to move the ball across the “field” while also keeping an ever-watchful eye on the bull who kept charging the men at a moment’s notice. I’ll admit it was a bit comical at times to watch the way the players scrambled to haul themselves over the nearest wall to avoid getting a solid headbutt from the bull. The problem was that the players didn’t always make it out of the way in time. Over the course of the three (yes, three!) games of “toro-bol” that were played, there were at least five times that some poor guy got headbutted or worse by the bull. It was terrifying to watch the men being knocked around and trod on by the bull with not a soul to save them. And yet each time, the players got up, dusted themselves off and kept right on going. At one point one of the players took his shirt off and you could see the huge, red, soon-to-be-killer bruises covering his torso.
I have no doubt that a large part of this insanity had to do with the “machismo” culture here in Ecuador. The more cracked ribs and plate-sized bruises you can show off at work the next day or use to impress your girlfriend, the better. All I can say is that when the finally whistle blew to signal the end of the “toro-bol” championship and all of the men where still alive and un-gored, I remembered what it was to breathe again.
I’m still not entirely sure what the purpose of our little “field day” was. Usually companies and organizations host these type of events to encourage cooperation, friendship, and trust between co-workers while giving them a chance to let their hair down a little. I don’t know that watching grown men being chased by a bull quite did that for me.
– Amanda McCarther, WorldTeach Ecuador ’13