I was sitting in my hostel, it was a regular slow day, like any other in Las Peñitas when the topic of cock fights came up and an invitation to attend one in the afternoon was extended. At first I profusely declined, as a Westerner I can confirm that cockfighting is a heinous disgusting sport. Watching roosters claw at each other until one dies for entertainment is just as bad as it sounds. However, I’m not justifying it in any way, but, it is a large aspect of the local culture here and furthermore the meat and dairy industries in Western countries like at home, actually treats many more animals far worse. But this, of course is turned a big ol’ blind eye to.
I have a fear of missing out on things, which is actually a great way of living in the moment. If I go to bed too early, I’ll miss out on a party, if I don’t eat at the restaurant, I’ll get food envy and miss a great meal, so in the spirit of not wanting to miss out on everyone talking about it later, I went. Not a good excuse, I know but to be completely honest, I’m glad I went. Not saying, you should go or support it, but it was one of the richer and most memorable cultural experiences of my trip, and furthermore it concreted many ideas on animal rights, meat consumption and production that I hadn’t quite developed.
We caught a taxi from Leon to a dingy house in what seemed like the middle of no where. The road was thin and dwindled lazily as if it knew it was going no where. On the other side of the house was a big paddock with long grass probably harbouring snakes and run away cocks.
The ground was dirt, the fences were spindly and enforced by a guard. He took a $1 entrance fee to get inside. The front yard was big, big enough to house a big roulette ring, wooden arena, sitting areas and random animals. The house was all wood other than the metal panels across the roof. From a sectioned off area workers (who I assume to owners of the house) sold drinks. Looking into their backyard were pigs, horses and of all animals, chickens. I couldn’t help but wonder if they could sense what was about to happen.
The arena was circular and wooden. The seats (slabs of wood) weren’t that secure, the higher up you got, the higher you'd fall from. It looked as though it was lazily hammered together in a week. It was hard for me to stand at the top, mostly because I had a foot swollen to the size of a soccer ball and couldn’t walk on it, courtesy of a stingray and a nasty infection (read that story here).
Beside the arena, there were crates of roosters individually boxed behind wood and mesh to be weighed. They had tags on to tell which belongs to who. They didn’t look happy. Every once and a while someone would empty a crate carrying the chicken by it’s feet to a scale. The scale was crowded by people pushing and shoving to see how much the rooster weights. I can only assume this aspect of the ‘sport’ is so people can make a more educated guess on where to place their bets.
For those of you who don’t know, roosters will challenge each other to display dominance and access to females if they come into contact with them naturally in the wild. The difference between the wild and cockfighting as a sport is they anger them and then attacj massive barbs/razors/ spikes which are tied to their feet for the purpose of seriously maiming the other, again for humans entertainment. At this particular place they used large metal spikes.
As the fights drew nearer the arena started to fill, other than my friends and I there was only one other small group of tourists who seemingly found one of the flyers on the street and joined. Other than that, the whole crowd was local and almost all men.
The fights began with a bell, the ref grabbed the rooster by it’s feet and started swinging it towards the other rooster in the ring in order to get it angry. They were both pretty fired up and I’m sure one was dizzy by the time the fights began. If I were to have bet on it, I would bet on the one that wasn’t just swung around upside down. But I didn’t bet. I couldn’t find enjoyment in what happened. Those who did bet just did so with those around them. Cockfights are an opportunity for Nicaraguans to make up to 10 times their daily wage in one fight.
It was loud, the crowd was yelling, cheering and rambunctious. The energy was similar to a regular sport. I only watched one fight before sitting out but it seemed to go on forever, the roosters jumped, pecked and clawed while the crowd egged them on. The ref would ring the bell for breaks. During the break the owner would grab their chicken wipe away the blood and take away the feathers which had bettered out. One even put the roosters bloody head in its mouth in what looked like an effort to suck the blood from it’s face.
The roosters then went back in the ring. There was inevitably a winner, the saddest moment for me was when the chicken gave up, the other kept attacking and as it’s legs gave out he sat, taking all the beatings. The rooster had given up it’s will to live and could only wait for death. The rooster didn’t die though. Not at that point anyways. The fight was called off before then. The winning rooster was tooted around by it’s owner who held it high, smiling and proud above his head. The loser was spat on by it’s owner who topped that off with a little kick. I think that was around the moment it died. The owner left and someone else removed it from the ring. I’m not sure about in Nicaragua, but I’ve heard after a cockfight, roosters are nursed back to health and treated like kings. It may sound naive, but really, I didn’t expect to see blood. After the fight the arena was empty again, the only remnants being feathers and drops of blood, a foreboding for the next fight.
As I said, I could only watch one fight, after seeing the fight I sat out, I waited for my friends to stop watching. They all stopped one by one. Each fight testing their tolerance little by little. The last two there got really into the spirit, they bet and drank with the locals. They wanted to stay and we waited. We all left with something, some drunk, some with a few more dollars and some with disgust, sadness or that feeling when you lose faith in humanity. For an Australian watching, it comes quick to condemn those who watch animals suffering for a sport, but should really make you question it at home. The same suffering and worse is done similarly, for your pleasure, only behind closed doors.