- I'm just now back from the Feria... still trying to process what happened up there. I think the clinical term for what I witnessed in Tultepec, and I say this with awe, respect and affection, is "fucking nuts." I've seen a lot of crazy shit in Mexico, but this has to be at the top of the list.
- I remember years ago the first time I saw the Mexican fireworks-bull thing, the guy with a small bull on his back shooting off sparks and firecrackers, chasing people around. I thought that was pretty nuts. In Tultepec, the bulls are up to 4 meters tall, on wheels and maneuvered around by crews of 6-10 people. The whole community gets involved with constructing and decorating these things. Some are mechanical, with moving parts, some glow, breathe colored smoke or shoot confetti. All are heavily-ladened with explosives. This is Tultepec.
- The main Tultepec bull pyro-'weapon' is the 'busca-pies', AKA 'cohete borracho', a stickless, whistling rocket that emits a large trail of crackling sparks. Each bull is ladened with hundreds of these. They can also be armed with any other explosive contrivance these lunatics can think up.. multi-shot cakes, flying coronas, or whatever. When ignited, the bulls are rolling fire-tornados, and they purposely unleash these on a large crowd of people in the towns central public square. Over and over again. This year there were over 200 bulls..
- March 8th, crews parade their exquisitely decorated bulls miles through the streets around the city all day. Its a high-energy affair, with cheering and chants. Many of the bulls have their own marching band. Each neighborhood hosts a mini-party with music, booze and dancing, waiting for the bulls to show up. The crews, at least the ones that push and steer, are almost all young guys and they know how to move these giant creatures with precision over the city's uneven pavement. But things are risky from the get-go -- theres an expectation to act crazy and reckless, and the bulls are careened toward the crowds at high-speed, turning unpredictably. By the late afternoon everybody is pretty drunk and happy, with spectators egging on the giant bulls to do ever-crazier stuff. Favorite is the 360 spin in the crowded street. "Vuelta! Vuelta!" I almost lost my Nikon early when it got clipped by a revolving bull tail. Not yet dark, and things are already barely under control...
- When the bulls reach the main plaza around 6pm they start lighting them. On arrival, the bulls are rolled into the small, crowded square, one-by-one. The bull drivers, pumped on bravado and adrenaline, lunge these machines, big as microbuses, some much bigger, straight into the throng. They turn quickly and move in any direction, making trajectory very difficult to predict. These things are big, they can move fast, and there are a lot of people. The bull comes at you and you just have to guess where its going and step the right way. Not getting run-over is entirely your problem. The bull is king of the square. After a minute or two of this kind of fun, the amped-up mob starts yelling for fire, and it must be appeased. They light the fuse.
- When the bull explodes it's total mayhem -- a massive popping, blinding flash and geyser of sparks...smoke, ear-splitting whistles and dozens of rudderless sparking rockets flipping out wildly in every direction, bouncing off the crowd, the plaza, the buildings. If they hit you, they burn. For a moment, the bull lights up the plaza like a sun.
- Theres an instant of total panic as the crowd, the ones crazy enough to actually be inside the plaza, tries to escape the flash and projectiles... but as the fire peaks and steadies they stop and turn... and they dance. What a scene... dozens of crazy young Mexican fuckers, hunched-over, shielding their faces, hopping up and down in the flaming rain, around a giant lit-up painted paper bull, dodging rockets, yipping, howling... the howl on the plaza equal parts terror, unleashed aggression and euphoric exaltation.
- As the people start the dance, the bull-drivers, hunched over in hooded ponchos but somehow immune from being burned, go completely bonkers and gun the burning animal further into mass of revelers and spectators. There is no safe place. They can turn that thing fast. Thinking you are in a safe corner, the bull does a quick 180 and here it comes, skipping across the plaza stones, crowd scattering, and suddenly you are face-to-face, the horrible painted thing erupting pure flaming hell, bearing down on you at high-speed. Ni modo. Try to guess.. which way will it turn? Avoid the bull, the fire, the rockets, the drunk stampeding crowd. Choking on sulfur.
- The bulls often jump the curb, and head down the street into the 'safe' zones near the shops, where the more timid are hoping to avoid it. Those merciless drivers know just how to evoke maximum panic...feeding on it... grinning masters of pandemonium. While the bull is in motion, no one is safe. Finally, as bull loses steam and sparks sputter out, the plaza erupts in a massive cheer. The beast is defeated. A moment to breathe. And then they wheel in the next one.
- The last of the bulls is rolled into the plaza around 3am, its about 8 hours of pyro-combat total. The cops later told me that 'hundreds' of people were treated for burns and injuries of various severity. My burns were pretty minor, some blisters, but dark scorches and quarter-sized holes in my army pants. And some nice bruises from the rocket strikes. 2 years ago, a 17yr old kid wasnt so lucky. He was killed when a bull flipped over on him. And I heard various stories of lost eyes, etc. Ironic that the fiesta is in honor of San Juan, protector of the town's pyrotechnics makers. I really don't know what to make of any of it. But I gotta admit it was fun. What could be more exhilarating than being almost-killed by a giant exploding paper-machete bull? Or 200 of them..
a guest Mar 20th, 2012 42 Never
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