Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2/29/11 Sightseeing and Rooster Fights

So after my day trip to Managua, I came back to Leon and continued with my Spanish lessons for a few days. However, I was staring to get pretty burned out. I was also having trouble deciding when and how I was going to get some motorcycle parts shipped down here, which affects when I plan to leave Leon. The original plan was to stay until the middle of March, finish Spanish school after 200 hours, and from now until then, get any parts mailed and maintenance I needed done here. However, being burned out and finding how difficult it would be to get parts shipped down here all conspired to make me take a sudden but much needed break from school. I figured I would take at least a few days to sort things out and check out some sights I had not seen.
I started by returning to Managua for the day to pick up my customs paperwork. The place was packed this time and when I signed in and took my number, I was figuring on at least a 2 hour wait. However, I was immediately called by someone in a back office and after showing my receipt for payment and passport, she went over to a desk and came back with my paperwork. Whole thing took less than 5 minutes and I was out of there. I still can't believe it. Spent the rest of the day taking in some sights I had missed before like the huge silhouette statue of national hero Sandino at the top of a big hill in the center of town, and some landmark statues dedicated to the Sandinista guerillas, peasants, and other folks. Also made it a point to check out the Peace Park, where a bunch of AK-47's and a tank are encased in concrete, symbolizing an end to violence after the civil war. Too bad all the bronze plaques have been stolen, its filled with trash and a few junkies, and smells like piss. When I got out of the cab the cabbie advised me to take a couple of quick pictures if I had to and then to hurry up and get the hell out of there. And this is in broad daylight. At one point I had to hit the local mall for a coffee and some AC. It is HOT in Managua. Took the shuttle back in the evening and was back in Leon in 90 minutes.
In the meantime, I have also been checking out some things I haven't seen right here in Leon, mostly in the Sutiaba neighborhood about a kilometer west of the center of Leon. This includes most of the 20 or so churches and ruins, a local art gallery, a couple of small museums including the Museo Entomologico (big ass bugs in there), and a sacred tree, El Tamarindo which the local chief was hung from a few hundred years ago by the Spaniards. Unfortunately, it's just a stump as of 3 months ago (apparently it used to be huge) due to the local insect population. I even found a poker room in town and played in a small tournament. When I say small, I mean really really small. Like 2 bucks to get in. The main game held afterwards was a 200 cordoba max buy-in, which is less than 10 bucks. I was so bored after 10 minutes that I just pretended I had to be some where and went all-in against 5 other people, lost, and rolled out.
One interesting thing I did is to visit the Sandinista museum beside the central park, which shows the Sandinista victory in 1979 when they defeated the Somoza dictatorship, including much fighting in Leon. The victory and struggle is documented by hundreds of press clippings, photos and posters, including the aftermath (American involvement, Iran-Contra scandal, etc. ) Naturally the museum doesn't address the corruption, censorship, failed socialist experiment, and overall really bad fuck-uppery of the Sandinista party in the decade following the overthrow of the dictatorship. Case-in-point: the museum is covered in slogans proclaiming victory for current Sansinista president Daniel Ortega in the upcoming elections. Only problem is, he is not eligible according to the term limits set by the constitution, but of course he has managed to get around that, Hugo Chavez style. There are slogans on the building also proclaiming solidarity between Ortega, Chavez and Fidel Castro. Although I think the Sandinista party went to compete shit, you can't deny the amazing accomplishment of being the only Central American country to overthrow a dictatorship, succeeding in this regard where the other countries in the area failed. I was shown around personally by an older gentleman, Jose, who I found out was actually a guerrilla in the war. He even pointed out a picture of a soldier by himself behind some sandbags, getting ready to fuck shit up. Through his rapid-fire Spanish, I managed to figure out that it was him. After he showed me around, he pointed to a scar on his head, said he had headaches and asked for some money for medicine. How could I refuse? I gave him a couple of bucks, for which he thanked me profusely.
Of all of the things I have done the past week, nothing was quite as cool as the Pelea de Gallo I attended the other day.Peleas de gallos, or cockfights take place every Sunday in the outskirts of town in a couple of different locations. The first place I went to in Sutiaba was closed, but I was directed to the neighborhood of La Colonia on the other side of town in the outskirts. A 2 dollar cab ride later, I am down a dirt road and in front of the place. This is definitely a poor neighborhood by Nicaraguan standards, dirt streets and shacks lining the sides of the road. I pay 50 cents to enter a gate and the atmosphere is electric. There is a ring with 3 rows of small bleachers and I take a spot and watch a match taking place. It is REALLY violent, these birds attacking and pecking the shit out of each other, jumping around all over the place, with the owners in the ring egging them on. There is also a ref with a bell in the corner, directing the fight. Imagine a boxing match, but with birds. Birds with razor blades attached to their legs. Soon one of the birds is bleeding so badly the owner picks him up and concedes. People (almost all guys) are yelling and screaming, this is a bet-heavy atmosphere as one might imagine.
I walk around a bit before the next match and take some photos. There is a kind of roulette wheel people are betting with, a bar, and a grill with a woman cooking up all kinds of delicious smelling beef and naturally, chicken. Probably a final resting place for the losers here. Also, I check out the stacked cages where the contenders are kept, including some which have previously fought and are standing in pools of their own blood. BTW, this is all an outdoor spot, don't know if I mentioned that. I observe the birds being weighed in a scale, and having a razor blade affixed to their legs. The birds are then brought into the ring and placed in leather carriers with handles on them, which their owners use to swing them in front of the other birds to get them all riled up. The birds are then released in front of each other after a timer is set and let loose. In the meantime up to this point, the betting around the ring is fast and furious, people taking and exchanging money with the various bookies, hoping to double up.
This match was quicker and even bloodier than the first fight. When the birds would get locked up, the ref would blow a whistle and the owners would grab their birds and tend to their wounds, mostly on the face and head. Using blood soaked rags to clean them up, I also watched the owners actually place their mouths AROUND THE ROOSTERS HEADS and suck out the blood and spit it out. I found out that this was to clear the air passages of all the fluid. Finally, one of the birds collapses on the ground in a pool of blood, and the owner concedes. The crowd, which has been screaming the whole time erupts, as the winner was a smaller underdog, which had been getting beaten badly the whole fight. Look at the pictures I put up to see what the winner went through!
I gather around the small crowd and get up close to the owner of the winning bird to watch the removal of the razor blade. Everyone is interested in my camera, and especially the video I shot of the fight. They are more than happy and quite proud to pose with the winning animal (who looks pretty close to death himself). Then I head to the smaller losers circle. The loser has croaked, and is hung unceremoniously off of the handle of a bicycle nearby. I catch one more fight and a kid named Moses latches on to me and asks me to buy him some food. I do, and then another guy introduces himself to me and asks for the same. He is not a little kid though, so I have less sympathy but I do buy him a Coke. I hang out and check out one more fight which goes the distance this time and lasts much longer, maybe 15-20 minutes.
I take a cab back into town after walking down a dusty path to the paved highway and reflect on what I have just seen. Yes it was reaaly brutal, violent, bloody and arguably cruel and inhumane. However for me, it was nothing but excitement, I loved it. The people, betting, food, drink, and atmosphere was the most exciting thing I've seen down here. I went just to check out something I had never seen before, but now I know I'll be back every Sunday that I am here to give it another go. I'm going to place some bets as well next time, which will add even more to the excitement. Much more than going to that crappy poker room, anyway.

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