There are moments in life when circumstances catch you so surprisingly that you can’t even react. Even if you understand what happens around you, you just can’t close your eyes and pretend that this is not happening. This is the story I want to tell you today. The story about me witnessing rooster fight in Cuba.
It was beautiful day (as all days in Cuba are) and we, my husband, me, the driver and the tour guide, were on our way to visit Cuban farm.
In the printed program was written:
“A former Spanish farm spread over 1000 hectares of pasture, forest and wetlands. It was built next to a lagoon in beautiful surroundings. Here we can experience the life of the elder days’ landlords’ life in the country. The estate is functioning until present day; it is famous for its horse breeding center: they raise here Pinto Cubano and Appaloosa horses. After lunch we go for a walk and the manager of the estate shows us the plantation, the animals and the best of the breeds. Those who already met horses can ride them and observe the estate on horseback. This ride is an easy ride, easily accessible for everybody. Those who like to stay on the ground can go boating or bird watching in the nearby forest.”
Well, we’ve got all that, and even more!
“La Guabina” is a state owned farm with professional staff and beautiful sceneries. It was one of these places that you feel at home without knowing why. A little after we arrived, the lunch was served. We, four of us, were the only customers this day. And that was totally fine as we could walk and speak with the people working around and feeling as we are part of this whole small farm world.
The lunch was exactly the same as every day – the menu consisted of roasted chicken, rice and beans. Yeah, but what a chicken! That was the most delicious roasted chicken I have tasted since I was little girl and my grandmother had her chickens walking free in the garden. In Cuba the domestic animals have very much ‘free life’. I will say that both people and animals in Cuba still have very close to nature life that we have forgotten and I obviously miss a lot.
After the delicious lunch and strong coffee Cubano in the company of these two girls we had a walk around to get to know the place better. Meanwhile they are preparing the horse for me because I was decided to make my first horse ride here, in Cuba.
The nature on the whole Cuban island is beautiful and as the Cubans themselves say: “In Cuba only the women are poisonous”. I like their sense of humor. The farm was beautiful with its high palm trees and nearby lake shores, the bougainvillea in pink color and simplicity in every corner. The few bungalows in rose color added some Western charm, again in a simple way.
It looks like I am not ‘everybody’. I was supposed to ride the horse but its stirrups were so loose that I couldn’t keep balance. Surprisingly, they said that it is not possible to adjust them. Well, what I do now?! In addition, the old man who was supposed to accompany me on another horse didn’t speak even a word of English. I just imagined how I fell and smash my head. No way!
Finally my husband went to have a horse ride around the estate and I and our tour guide stayed with the manager. I saw that he was wondering. And then he asked: “Do you wanna see rooster fight?” And me: “Huh, yeah.”
I have never heard before that one of the popular “sports” in Cuba is rooster fight. And I didn’t expect at all to be allowed to see something that it is forbidden by the Cuban authorities.
So, I see myself and the Cuban lady who is my guide, walking after the young manager of the farm. We approach metal door where guard let us in. Walking across the garden we reach the entrance of a big wooden barn. I follow the Cubans and in a sort of blindness (because of the sudden change from daylight to dark) keep me from realizing what’s happening around me.
I feel myself excited but I don’t know why. I know I will see something I am not allowed to see, especially as I am a foreigner. Gladis, my Russian speaking guide prepares me for the show. She says that rooster fights in Cuba are traditional and popular from centuries. But the authorities don’t like Cuba to be seen in this perspective so they don’t favorite the fights. However, as it is sort of addiction, there are two or three places in Cuba where the rooster fights are allowed and apparently controlled. I nod and look around with wide open eyes. And finally start to see in the dark.
The barn is full of men, at different ages and even colors. They all look like addicts before taking their dose. Sweating, impatient and nervous, all men look the same despite the physical differences. To my relief, the farm manager looks more curious how I see the place than intrigued about the forthcoming fight. He says that normally tourists visiting the estate are not allowed to see this ‘show’. I don’t know if that’s true but I don’t care. I feel like what is coming up will shock me. That this rooster fight in Cuba will shake me up.
Well, it did not. And not because it was not terrible, bloody and cruel spectacle but just because I was so busy observing and photographing the spectators. I saw how they made the bets and how they all felt like one family. Obviously, they were seeing each other here, at this place, often.
While looking around, my mind stopped working. Am I really seeing this?!
Right of me, just few meters from my first row sit was sitting a woman. On her knees was sitting small girl, her daughter. The mother looked just like all the men in the barn – anxious and drinking beer. My brain couldn’t understand how a woman can bring her young kid to watch such cruelty.
The curiosity to my unusual presence stopped at the moment when the two roosters were brought inside. They looked calm, almost ‘cool’ in the middle of the manege. Their long beautiful tails were brushing the floor. I remember I was thinking that they are probably drugged.
At the moment the fight started, everything in the barn became alive. I felt awaken from a deep deathlike dream. Suddenly the men around me started sweating even more, their faces became red and their eyes focused on the roosters. They were absorbing every move with their eyes and all faces were very serious. It is not a game. For the Cuban rooster fights are very serious matter.
With the time and more bird blood spread on the floor, the men became more and more excited. They looked as they are not controlling themselves. I felt save as I was not alone but my place felt like the only calm spot in the hole barn. The masses of men on the amphitheatrically placed sits were weaving like a sea. The noise was unbelievable. I don’t think I have ever experienced such situation in my life. The place in the middle where the roosters continued their hopeless fight was like a black hole that was absorbing all those men in the shed.
And then I pointed my camera again at the roosters. Oh, poor creatures! How they can do this to you?! I could see now more skin on their small bodies, the tails were like a tails of a dead squirrel – not like a dignified cocky rooster.
They barely could stay on their feet. No sign of their rooster strut. Then I realized, this fight is till death. Only one will survive. I couldn’t look more. Thanks to my curiosity of photographer I focused on the people during most of the “show”. But now, it was too much. It was time to go away. I didn’t want to see how one of this gorgeous birds will be defeated and killed for the pleasure (and money) of the people. Rooster fights, like everywhere else in the world, are bloody and cruel.
Thanks to the Olympus Stylus 1 that I had in hands, I could take clear shots and to seal the moment. I am happy I had the opportunity to see this so typically Cuban entertainment. And the same like the Spanish bullfight, I don’t like it, I think it is cruel to the animals but I accept that this is part of the national culture. Who am I to judge?
I was not sure how to write about this experience. And still am not. But experiences like this make us understand and see the world not through the glossy magazine covers and the tourist brochures advertising heaven on earth. This is the real life. And these are real people. In every country there is something odd, culturally odd, that maybe foreigners do not understand and don’t accept.
And while I would like these rooster fights become forgotten in the future, I can’t not admit that now I know the Cuban people better. It is somehow connected with their passionate nature. But I definitely like them more when they share their passion by dancing!
Have you had such shocking experience? What did you do to overcome the shock?