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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
Every year around this time the little town of Machachi comes to life with a huge festival, centered around a horse parade and bullfighting. The locals have been talking about it for weeks, so I had to find a way to get down there.
I skip off “work” for the afternoon and race down to town, to find it overflowing with thousands and thousands of people each desperately trying to consume alcohol and street-meat in enormous quantities. I, of course, dive right in and join the fray, with the intention of sampling at least one of everything on offer. It really is hard to beat a cold beer with mystery meat-on-a-stick especially when there is more than one unidentifiable kind.
I miss out on the horse parade through the town, which I’m told is spectacular, so I move down to the bull fighting ring.
Before I say more, let me clarify this is not the kind of fighting where the bull is stabbed and eventually dies – here it’s free to attack as many people as are stupid enough to get in front of it, before it eventually tires and is roped and taken out of the ring.
Imagine for a minute a rough soccer pitch, half mud and half weeds, surrounded by a two-story grandstand circle made from planks of wood, rope and anything else left lying around. Now put a very large, angry bull in the middle with a few hundred people and fill the stands with thousands of drunk people jumping up and down and screaming for action. Surround the stand with tens of thousands more people, add torrential rain, copious amounts of mud and hundreds of street vendors selling all manner of objects that drunk hordes inevitably crave.
Yep, it’s a lot of fun
I start to wonder if I’m a little too close when the bull slams into the fence not thirty centimeters from my face, but soon realize it’s all worth it when a matador gets tossed like a rag-doll a few times before running away intact. It becomes clear there are two kinds of matador here; the drunk, dared by his buddies, get close and run-like-mad garden variety and the pro. The pro stands more or less still, has his left arm beside him in that funny manner with fingers spread and can easily have the bull running in circles for up to 30 seconds at a time while never once looking scared or the least bit out of control. It really is an art form very close to dancing, and simply stunning to see up close.
As day turns to night I decide to get out before things get really crazy and pickup one more little snack for the road – a bag of french fries with chunks of pork, beef and chicken, cheese and onion all smothered in ketchup and mayo.
OK, fun doesn’t quite cover it.