To olé or not to olé? Bullfight at Feria de Cali, Colombia

Bullfights are controversial to say the least and never having been to one I thought I might see what it was all about when the opportunity arose at Feria de Cali, Colombia. I had plenty of preconceived notions about bullfighting and have turned down many opportunities through the years. In my life I have gone from vegetarian to hunter, “Save the the Whales” to helping Native Alaskans cut up subsistence hunted whales, but wasn’t sure these educated changes in myself would prepare me for the art of killing for entertainment.

The bull entered the arena with several men that would begin to tire the bull out using muletas (capes).



Then came the man on the horse who stabs a spear between the shoulders of the bull. And the crowd goes wild.

The next man comes out and stabs banderillas into the back of the bull.


Enter the matador



Meanwhile I notice the clouds building.  I mentioned it to my friends but there was no response.


  ‘Olé!”. A large group near us drinking copious amount of Aguardiente (a Colombian classic booze and see some ther Colombia highlights here) went absolutely crazy. They made us all laugh with their hysterical shouts.  All around everyone smiled at each other and laughed at them.  All in the midst of blood sport.


The matador tries to kill the bull with one fatal blow.  In this case it was 2 swords and 5 blows.

I never said, “Olé!”. This is not my thing but like anything you don’t know unless you experience it. It’s not my place to judge someone who enjoys bullfighting either. The sense of the local community being together at an event to transcend daily life and enjoy themselves was palpable but somehow ironic. I have always found the enjoyment of watching violence by humans to be odd.


To answer the question, I will not “Olé!”

Feel free to leave your thoughts here, on my Facebook page, or Twitter

Saludos from Cali, Colombia


114 thoughts on “To olé or not to olé? Bullfight at Feria de Cali, Colombia

  1. I spent six months in Sevilla, one of the big cities in bullfighting. Having studied it the entire time I was there (I spent time on a farm where they raised fighting bulls. Fascinating experience if you can get it), I feel that I gained a different understanding than your regular spectator. I won’t go into details, otherwise my little comment will turn into a book, but I can and will still olé at a good fight whenever I catch one.


    • I have never been to Sevilla but would love to visit one day. I obviously am not into bullfighting but clearly I see how many are into this tradition. Thanks for your comment and stop by anytime or tell us more about Sevilla. Have a fantastic 2013. Saludos!


  2. I have grown up around hunting and guns. The kill has always been done cleanly and quick. This (bull fight?) method is not acceptable, but it is the culture and these people have every right to enjoy their own culture of course.


    • I grew up around guns and hunters but rejected it as a young boy (it might have been the hunters I knew then). As an adult I saw the value in collecting my own food. Not a trophy guy, I just like getting my own food and not buying processed meat. I can’t even compare hunting and killing an animal for fun. This was just gross. I contemplated even posting about it. Yes, and the locals, they grew up on it and they love it. Everyone was all smiles and extra friendly. Many going out of their way to say hello to the gringos and welcome us to Colombia. It is one of the friendliest places you can visit. And the rest of the Feria was fantastic. I will post some videos once I can get proper upload speed. Take care and have a great ’13.


  3. I’m with you guys, I don’t like the thought of bullfighting either. It seems like unnecessary and prolonged cruelty to me. Like you, though, I’d like to think that if I had the opportunity to go along and watch I would. I believe you can’t really have a balanced opinion until you’ve seen the argument from both sides. I don’t understand the enjoyment of fox hunting or pheasant shooting either, but after growing up in the north of England I understand the importance of it to some people and their culture.


    • I had never had the desire to go. I have had opportunities so many times but always passed. I knew I would not like it but just went. It does not even come close to hunting in any way for me. It is cruel to say the least. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and have great ’13. Cheers


  4. Mike,

    Very well written. I echo your sentiments. Although I have never been to a bullfight and never will because I am against that type of gratuitous violence. It’s nice to know your feelings about bullfighting were confirmed when you witnessed the show. However, I’m sorry you have those horrible images in your mind now.

    Happy thoughts for 2013!



  5. Wow- this was a really interesting post. I kind of felt the same way about bull fighting, but am always hesitant to completely dismiss something before I fully understood it. Kind of think you have for me! Well done.


  6. I’m Colombian and I had a hard time looking at the pictures. I will not ‘Olay’ either. Funny, it’s the first time I see that in written form from an English language perspective.

    I don’t think I could handle going to one of those and contain the urges of wanting to jump in the field and hug the bull.


  7. I will have to be part of the quiet tide of the minority.

    After going to the bullfights in Mexico City, studying the subject in book after book, writing about it, photographing it and even getting into a ring and coming out with a broken wrist, I will defend it to my dying day. I never bring the subject up with anyone because I know people are not comfortable so I will say this: if you do go, I highly recommend you go with someone who knows. It may not make it easier to stomach but it will help you understand the “whys”.

    I see, however, that you were not swayed and I respect that. I do appreciate you posting this (probably against your better judgement, as I imagine it was difficult to do).

    There is not much in English on the subject. Ernest Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” is an accurate account for its time but it was written before the men on horses with spears (the “picadores”) were not required to have their horses wear the protective padding.

    I will have to say that for us aficionados, if a matador takes that long to kill, he is really bad. I would almost want to know his name so that I can choose not to go and see him.

    Correction: the pink cape in the first photo is a “capote”. The “muleta” is the red serge cloth. These two items are used in different parts of the “faena” (the individual fight) with the “muleta” most notibly being used in the final part.

    I feel bad you had to suffer like that, Mike. I’m really sorry.


    • Thanks for sharing all that. I was going to make sure my terminology correct as I like my posts to be educative but I really lost my steam. As gruesome as it was for me to watch I don’t feel I suffered as much as the animals in the ring. And your are right about these matadors. They were chumps. I know the good ones take care of the kill more efficiently…I appreciate your concern as well. Thanks.

      Do you live in Mexico? Did I ask you already?


      • I don’t believe you have but yes, I do live in Mexico. And I have seen many a fight. You are correct in stating that in Portugal is one of the few places that does not kill the animal. They are physically wounded but are not killed. There have also been fights in other countries where it is not a traditionally occurring event (Japan, China, Saudi Arabia) where the animal wore a patch of velcro and the banderilleros and the picador basically had velcro sticks. As far as I know, the ones in Japan were shipped out to Japan from (I believe) Mexico and they are now grazing in pasture land near Mt. Fuji.

        If you do happen to have the inkling of going again (hear me out), I would recommend you see Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza. He is the finest horseback matador of this century and a brilliant horseman.

        I know I am of a minority so out of respect, I will say no more on the subject unless asked.


    • Fumi,

      Thanks for the spelling correction. Funny, I churned that post out much more quickly than normal. I wanted to capture how I felt. I am pretty anal about spelling but I suppose I did not give the spelling much thought and lack a Spanish spell check. I corrected it as per your notice. Happy New Year to you. Hope you’re feeling better.


      • To be fair, in Mexican Spanish, it does sound like “olay”. The Spaniards tend to not linger on the “o” and rush through the word and put more emphasis on the second syllable.

        I do feel better. Had some homemade spaghetti sauce over some penne rigate and rumbling is down to a bare minimum. 🙂


      • I must have defaulted to “Oil of Olay” (from my mothers medicine cabinet?), otherwise I have no reference to the word. Entonces, hablas Español? Glad you are feeling betts.


      • Llevo desde 1996 viviendo en México. Hice mi maestría en la UNAM ahora me encuentro en Cancún, donde me he desarrollado como una triatleta. Es una combinación bastante rara pero funcional. Vivir en el cáos del DF era fenomenal. Vivir en la tranquilidad de la Riviera es una bendición.

        Can’t say it’s a hard knock life, to tell you the truth. It’s only hard if I let it be. 🙂


      • Mi maestría (aún tengo que presentar un examen de francés y la tesis) fue en relaciones internacionales.

        Y por favor, no soy tan vieja que tendrías porque usar “usted” conmigo. Como digamos en mi rancho, no me tienes que “tutear”. 😉


  8. That’s a brave post Mike and you’ve done it really well. Communicating both the tradition and community aspects as well as the brutality of the event without judging it. Gives people the experience, if that’s the right word, and then judge in their own mind. I certainly would not “Olay”. Thanks for sharing.


  9. I saw a bull fight in Mexico many years ago…one was enough, it was very disturbing…I realize in Mexico it has a cultural significance, but it isn’t something I understand the reasons for. Hunting for food is something I understand.


    • Me too in regards to hunting. Bullfighting aside I think Mexico is one of the most interesting and diverse countries out there. I have spent about 9 months of my life there (3 of which was studying birds). Have you been back?


      • Yes, returned about 15 years later… only been there twice, would love to go again someday… I didn’t really see the country as it is meant to be seen,but I enjoyed what I experienced. You are fortunate your work takes you to such wonderful places…having said that I’m sure Alaska is beautiful in its own way!


  10. Pingback: Feria de Cali, Colombia: Cultural parades « ExploreDreamDiscover Talks

  11. The first bullfight i saw was after running with the bulls in Pamplona. I was very young and naive, it was eye-opening for me. I found no pleasure in watching violence in the name of sport, and its such an unfair fight. After that, I paid more attention to the treatment of the bulls on the runs and was saddened by the taunts and hurt inflicted upon the animals throughout the festival, and then the outrage if someone was gored. In general the festival de san fermin was a fantastic experience that I relish to this day, but I feel for those poor animals at the center of it all.

    Flash forward a few years and I had another opportunity to go with a group in Barcelona. I was hesitant but gave it another try, convinced by a local colleague. As you and others have said: friendly people, everyone having fun, but just not for me. I left, killing time walking around the outside waiting for my friends, when I saw the first dead or dying bull being dragged from the arena to {somewhere}.

    That’s enough for me for a lifetime. I’ll reserve my ole’s for futbol games 🙂


  12. The Minoan equivalent would have been more interested – where they didn’t harm the bull but had to either vault or somersault over its head as it charged – that’s provided the young men were able to do it without serious injury which may have been another matter.


      • Yes, I would think not something I’d choose to watch.

        At Knossos, remembering a bit more, the idea was to grab the horns as the bull charged and somersault over. Probably they would have a couple of people behind the bull to grab the somersaulter and whisk him away if necessary so the danger was probably more in a half-hearted attempt.


      • I actually had to refer to my bullfighting literature in reference to the Cnossos fresco to refresh my memory but the theory is, according to Jose Maria de Cossio, the best bullfight historian par excellence, grabbing the horns was probably not done. Given the relative size of the animal, it would be very difficult to vault yourself off the horns safely. And since bulls are very sensitive animals, any touch, sound or smell will make them react and buck their head, making touching the head a very dangerous option. Cossio reasons, therefore, that the animals were most likely domesticated and had undergone this exercise previously. I would not state that this would make them less dangerous; just a little easier to anticipate reactions.

        There was another version of the explanation I had read that stated that they were priestesses who vaulted off the back of the bull. To tell you the truth, even if it were domesticated, you would be a fool to try and hold a bull by the horns like in the fresco.

        I almost feel that the bull was being vaulted from the side, as if it were a pommel horse. I can’t remember if perspective in 2D paintings was actually used in art from 5th century BC Cretian art but it would be a very humble guess on my part.


  13. My thoughts exactly. We left after the first round, from a fight in Madrid when we realised it wasn’t going to be a fair fight. Wasn’t a clean kill then either.
    I chickened out of doing a full post, but did include one image for the red and curves challenge. I understand it is now banned in Barcelona.


  14. Ran with the bulls in Pamplona once. The whole buildup to it: partying in the streets, out-maneuvering the cops so I could get where the “serious” runners were, right where the bulls come out, everything was so much fun. But the actual running with them turned quickly anticlimactic. Most of the participants were wimpy about it. For some people, their fear led them to taunt and such as mentioned above. This made these people look even more lame than they already looked leaping over the barriers. You’re supposed to try to slap one with a rolled up newspaper. I did this (on the back and not too hard), then that same one later slipped on the wet cobblestones ahead of me. He got turned around and headed the wrong way. I had to act quickly to avoid being trampled I never felt endangered by the bulls, even though I ran right beside them, only by the over-frightened spectators. I gave up about half-way through the run because I started to feel sorry for the bulls. Great party, but any mistreatment of an animal arises from a person’s deep insecurity and weakness of character. Culture schmulture! Eat them if you need the food, but mistreatment (or trophy hunting) robs both the animal and yourself of all dignity. There was absolutely no way I was going near the arena that night for the fight. I did my part to make a dent in Pamplona’s supply of sangria for the rest of the week, but I never ran again. It was an interesting post. Colombia is a beautiful place.


      • That’s a great reason to go there. Madrid was my first landing outside North America at 19. I met a young doctor on the plane who took me around the city with his friends. We went straight to a bar/cafe and ordered beer and tapas. My Spanish was quite bad and I had no idea what was being said. The tapas all had meat. I had not eaten meat in 5 years. I was raised in a home where if someone put food in front of you, you smiled, thanked them, and ate it. I did just that and never looked back. We later had dinner in a stone chamber lit by torches. I never told them I was a veg. They ordered a traditional meal. I recall a large leg bone with meat at one end. Lamb? It was amazing. What a great memory. Nice place. Saludos!


      • Saludos!
        The jamón iberico (some great Spanish ham) is the most amazing stuff on the planet. My dad always orders a leg to have at the house when I’ll be visiting.

        How’d your stomach take eating all that meat at once?


      • A surprise to me, it was fine. I never looked back after that. My vegetarian friends were disgusted with my animal breath. Jamón iberico, I will have to see if I can get some somewhere…Saludos


      • Saludos! How’d your stomach take eating that much meat at once for the first time?

        My dad always has a leg of jamón iberico (some great Spanish ham) waiting for me when he knows I’ll be coming by. Man I need to go back now. 🙂

        Whenever I go to Madrid, we drop my luggage at dad’s place and immediately go eat. Eating is the highest priority in Madrid for me. 🙂


  15. Thanks for liking “body language” and for sharing your experience and thoughts about bullfighting. I’m not vegetarian. I suppose bullfighting is a celebration of the superiority of humans (an idea I have yet to accept)..


      • I’ve always felt that bullfighting is a celebration of life and death. It is so difficult to actually get a fighting bull to the bullring and someone who can actually interpret the bull. I’ve always looked at it as how to interpret the actions, whether they are those of the bull or of the matador. The matador must always watch the bull’s every move and the bull can react (or not) to certain actions. It is quite the science.


  16. I Know what you talking about , al live in Spain , so this is cultural party here.
    I do love the country but this is the one thing I can’t understand.


  17. We went to a bullfight in Madrid in the 80s, not really knowing what to expect. I was appalled at the cruelty. It is not a fair fight, and I don’t consider it an act of bravery to torment a cornered wounded creature. There is no way for the bull to win, and so it is no contest. I understand that it is a part of their history. Slavery a part of ours, but we don’t keep doing it for old time’s sake. Interesting post, and a good dialogue.


    • I agree about the bulls and the U.S. history but not sure I can put them as parallels because of the sheer volume in the latter practice. I can tell you I grew up in a fairly racist community where equality and intelligence are the subjects of scorn.


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