Part of the festival celebrations involved bull taunting – a cross between a rodeo and a bull fight. We sat in a makeshift stadium (that looked like it would fall over in a strong gust of wind) and watched with a mix of awe and horror as the event unfolded. It was a total free for all on the field. Most of the guys were drunk, fighting each other to ride the bulls, only to fall off and get trampled. Several people were injured, some seriously. There was no security, no management or control. The treatment of the bull was completely cruel for the frightened animals. The only saving grace was that the bulls were not killed like they are in Spain, and at least some of the bulls evened the score.
As the afternoon progressed and the alcohol sank in, the bull fighting degenerated and more and more people started getting injured. There were so many people on the field that the bulls had no option but to plough into someone who was too drunk to get out of the way fast enough.
There was one old guy, affectionately known by us as Stumbles the Drunk, who could hardly stand and spent his time zigzagging across the arena, occasionally waving his shirt in the general direction of the bull. He didn't seem to know where he was and occasionally looked up at the crowd with confusion. We knew this wouldn't end well. Sure enough, a bull ran straight for him, he froze and they head butted each other. Poor old Stumbles ended up unconscious on the ground and was carried off by his arms and legs to a waiting ambulance.
The more drunk they got, the more the guys had to show off how macho they were. Shirts came off, insults were fired, people clawed at each other to get onto the bull first and pulled the slow ones off. Then they started actually throwing punches, which involved crowds of people joining in and quickly forgetting about the bull running loose behind them. All chaos broke loose when a second bull came free of its tether and ran into the crowd!
Towards the end of the afternoon a bull ran at the fence line where men where clinging to the side hoping to avoid contact. Unfortunately, one guy was punctured in the stomach by the bull horns, thrown in the air and then fell to the ground. A crowd surrounded him and we couldn't see what was happening until they tried to carry him to the edge of the field. Only then did we see a pile of intestines lying on his bare abdomen. He was quickly put in an ambulance and taken to Trinidad (3 hours away). We asked around the next day to see what had come of him. One person said that they managed to put his intestines back inside him and sew him up, but another said that they thought he had died. We never found out for sure.
After this incident, people began to lose interest and the general drunken behaviour took over from the revelry of the earlier celebrations. The bullfighting was wrapped up, followed by more parties late into the night. Some people came off second best but to be honest, we didn't feel too sorry for them after the way they were tormenting the bulls. The safety standards are not what you expect elsewhere, but that's Bolivia in a nutshell!