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Suggested Revisions to Bolivian Travel Guides, Part 2: Bolivian Bullfighting

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Key bullfighting vocabulary:
Corrida de Toros: Bullfight
Toro: Bull
Capear: To bullfight (literally: to use one's cape)
Capeador: Bullfighter
Chicha: Homebrewed corn-mash beverage

1) When the local Pasorapa men explain over their 10th bucket of chicha the night before the festival begins that the bullfights are no big deal and are actually pretty safe, they are lying. No amount of questioning, however, will get them to admit the truth.

Note: The confident assurances that a few weeks of cow-milking is sufficient preparation for any and all bovine-related activities are false.

2) On the day the festival begins, do not casually inquire if it's perhaps possible to enter the ring with an experienced capeador after the corrida ends. This will be taken as a binding contract pledging your participation in the actual fight.

3) Prior to the bullfight, do not casually inquire if it's perhaps possible to try some of the specially brewed bullfight chicha. This will be taken as a binding contract pledging the consumption of a dozen large gourdfuls.

Note: when the Pasorapa men promise that the chicha is really not very alcoholic and you shouldn't worry about drinking, they are lying. It is very alcoholic, and you should worry about drinking.

4) When offered a chance to take a graceful exit from said binding contract by fighting a calf, do no let said chicha goad you into demanding to be allowed to fight the full-grown bulls.

5) Do not, under any circumstances, accept more chicha while waiting for the bulls, no matter how strongly the Pasorapenos assure you that you are not buzzed because the chicha really isn't that strong and you must just be nervous. You are, as they suggest and with good reason, nervous. You're also buzzed.

Note: The chicha drinking may or may not be a ruse to distract gringos from noticing that the bulls keep getting larger, faster and angrier over the course of the afternoon.

6) When the final and most intimidating bull of the day enters the ring and none of your chicha drinking companions enter to fight, this not a cue that it's your turn. It's a cue that none of them want to fight Large Brown Bull, because he's known around town as being muy bravo.

Note: The word "bravo," when applied to a bull, does not mean brave. It means "wild" or "uncontrollable."

7) When Large Brown Bull enters the ring and does not appear mad, that does not indicate that he was not previously mad nor that he will not become mad. It just means he's momentarily confused and hoping his cow-harem mates or some fresh alfalfa might suddenly appear.

Note: Assurances by your now quite large circle of drunk Pasorapenos that Large Brown Bull is really quite playful in his little bull heart are in no way to be trusted.

8) Unlike in the movies, you will not be given an elegant red cape or flag with which to capear; come prepared with a broomstick and a red article of clothing.

Note: The red article of clothing should preferably not be a Colombian ski-jacket that weighs ten pounds.

9) Unlike in the movies, you are not expected the kill the bull with a sword, but simply to incite him into charging you with your makeshift flag and, while he is charging, simply untie a sky-blue bandana wrapped around his horns, into which has been tied the prize money.

Note: The bandana will be so tightly tied that, even if you actually manage to get your hand on the fabric during the charge, you will not be able to untie it without a pair of scissors and a magnifying class.

Note: Absolutely nothing about this process is simple.

10) The loud shots of "gringo" from the crowd, while intended as encouragement for you, will merely enrage Large Brown Bull to a fever pitch of intensity.

Note: Rocks thrown by the local boys are not supposed to be encouraging. They're just trying to further enrage the already raging bull.

11) When Large Brown Bull lowers his head and begins pawing the ground, that is not a sign that he's admitting defeat and wants you untie said bandana. It is a sign that he's about to charge, horns first.

Note: The bull is not actually charging the Colombia jacket; the jacket has simply attracted his attention to you.

12) Be aware of large rocks in your general vicinity: tripping while backpedaling rapidly is a very good way to get hoofed in your ribs.

13) When, after 20-odd charges, your broomstick breaks in half, do not attempt to continue fighting: the relationship between flag length and danger is inversely exponential.

14) Take advantage of your first goring to quit the ring, and do not be fooled by the clapping of the crowd into thinking you're doing a good job. They're just excited about seeing a little blood.

15) Remember that style counts for everything: if, after your third fall and nearly fatal stamping, when the bull handlers race in with lassos to gingerly trap the steaming, fuming bull, you stand up with a smile and give a bow, you will receive a standing ovation. And then more shouts of "gringo," and taunts about how you didn't even get the prize and how you should get back in the ring.

Note: Be aware that virtually no one ever actually takes the prize off the bull's horns, a secret that will only be shared after the fight is over.

16) If you've fought bravely and/or been gored, you will receive the prize money for which you vainly strove, once it has been pried off the still-angry-but-now-safely-tied Large Brown Bull.

Note: Any and all prize money must be immediately spent on buying your extremely drunk chicha drinking companions another 10 buckets of chicha while they ask you to admit that the-bullfight-wasn't-such-a-big-deal-after-all-and-why-were-you-so-nervous-you-silly-gringo.

17) Be prepared to receive a minimum of two proposals from drinking companions for their daughters' hands-in-marriage. It will not be clear if they were (1) impressed by your bullfighting skills, (2) impressed by your prize money, or (3) just really drunk.

Note: unlike discussions of bullfighting, marriage proposals made while drunk do not carry legally binding status, no matter how many enthusiastic handshakes have been forced on you.

18) If you ever have the opportunity to capear en una Corrida de Toros, do not, under any circumstances, pass it up.