A Portuguese Bullfight

We had sailed into Nazare in Portugal. We try to experience local custom and culture as we travel around, so with a certain amount of trepidation, we bought tickets for a bullfight.

The trip to the bullring was in itself interesting as we chugged up a mountainside in a funicular railway. The view over Nazare and our marina were spectacular in the gathering dusk.

We found the bullring without difficulty as we just followed the crowds.

Outside we met up with and photographed some of the young men who were later to be the stars of the show. They were elaborately dressed in beautiful suits made of tapestry, though not the suits of lights as seen in Spain

Portuguese bullfights are very different from Spanish ones. For a start, (or perhaps I should say, at the end?) they don’t kill the bulls. They do still taunt them and stick things in them though, and we were rather wary of how we would cope with this.

However, when the show started, we were enthralled by the skilled horsemanship shown by the picadors. Their dress was colourful and flamboyant, with frock coats and lots of frills. There were no matadors as in the Spanish corridas. Every dressage skill was on display, as well as fast and very skilful manoeuvres of avoidance and attack.

When each bull was deemed to have been vanquished by the horseman, there was a shrill signal on a horn and seven of the young men we had met earlier jumped into the ring to face the bull.

Each time, one of these took the lead, pulled his red woolly hat down over his ears, and stood facing the bull, with his supporters in line astern, at a slight distance.

With arms akimbo, the leader threw his head back, stuck his thighs forward and strutted towards the still strong and rather angry beast, shouting: ‘Hey !! Bully…., Bully Bully Bully’ until the bull gathered its not inconsiderable weight and strength and started to thunder towards the little figure now watching and trying to judge the best way to avoid being gored or knocked down and crushed.

At the point of contact each time, the front man jumped between the bull’s horns and his followers jumped on top of him to pull the bull to the ground. The ‘tail man’ caught hold of the beast’s tail to help to subdue him, then all the men walked (or sometimes ran) out of the ring. Some were injured. Any who were not could be considered lucky. Then the herd of cows, bells clanging on their necks, were ushered into the ring to persuade the bull to go back home with them.

Later, we again met up with some of these foolhardy youngsters and asked them:

…‘Are you very very brave, or just completely mad?’

This caused a lot of hilarity. When we asked how they would manage to get the blood out of their beautiful clothes, they laughed and said they didn’t know as it was their mothers who did their washing for them. They were very young.

Then they asked us how we came to be in Portugal. When we explained that we were just two retired Welsh pensioners who had sailed across the Bay of Biscay on our own sailing yacht, and were now, continuing down the Portuguese coast towards the Mediterranean, they said with one voice:
…’Are you very very brave or just completely mad?’

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