Featured in issue 4 of Marker.
Yeah, travel is good, I guess. Self-discovery, yoga on the beach and all that crap. Being a privileged twenty-something of the upper middle class social strata, I recently had the good fortune of doing the same thing as pretty much everyone else in my age group— taking a trip whenever possible and capturing finely tailored aspects of it on Instagram as evidence. Although most of my excursions these days revolve around surfing, I found myself stuck inland between shuttles in Leon, a city without a break of any kind (or even beach for that matter). So when the opportunity to take in a cockfight came along, I didn’t really have anything better to do.
Before I get into the details of artisanal poultry melee, a bit of pseudo-intellectual history for your troubles:
In a matter of decades, Nicaragua went from being a country torn by civil war fraught with US-backed guerilla Contras, to a tourist hot spot and hipster surf Mecca. Because of the country’s sordid past and the fact that it has changed in a relatively short amount of time, Nicaragua is still somewhat elusive as a mainstream getaway. Rather than being an out-and-out tourist retreat like so many tropical locales, it has become something of an ex-pat paradise for privileged Gen Ys. But unlike the Lost Generation of yesteryear, struggling to seek out a creative living in the prohibition-free backdrop of 1920’s Europe (see: Midnight In Paris), Nicaragua is a cheaper surf getaway than Hawaii and is mostly attractive to fashionable indie travelers with deep pockets and a penchant for cheap rum.
A group of about twenty such types including myself boarded a canopied, decommissioned military vehicle that arrived at our hostel and made our way to the main event. The only thing worse than the roads and the collective body odors of everyone mixed together was a drunk Aussie who singled me out of the group and pointed at me while shouting that I liked to “take it in the ass.” Don’t know why; I just have that sort of look I guess. Upon our arrival, our cock-tour guide greeted us warmly as we exited the truck. He was an average sized man from the Netherlands with a nose that left him with a resemblance far too close to Dr. Evil. He walked us through the grounds where a substantial mob of locals had already gathered, crowded under a tent at a makeshift roulette wheel, placing bets and drinking beer. The arena itself was nothing more than a janky circular ring about the size of a backyard skating rink, pieced together from pallet wood and corrugated metal roofing. As someone who grew up in the early ‘90s, ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to be a part of a hideout or “base”—like the Foot Soldiers lair where people just plan jewel heists and practice martial arts all day—and this wasn’t too far off. This place had everything necessary to build a Never Land for miscreants: cheap booze, gambling and feats of strength—not to mention regular and menthol cigarettes.
[pullquote]”Although it must be understood that at least one rooster could die, no trainer would dare believe that this would be the fate of his rooster.”[/pullquote]
Up until this point I was certain that despite its name, “cockfighting” had little to do with dueling penises. However, what took me by surprise was just how less barbaric the ordeal was than expected. Although violence is undeniably integral to the whole system, the shock factor really failed to present itself with any true poignancy. Whereas I was expecting a violent demonstration of animal cruelty—on par with how I imagine dogfights or Japanese cartoons—in reality, the combat was quite anti climactic: composed of infrequent pecks and the odd flippy-kick maneuver to the face. Whether this lack of effect had something to do with me personally, such as desensitization through violent video games or just being an asshole, I think closer to the mark; fights were well organized and accompanied with a tone of cultural familiarity, making them less exotic and therefore socially acceptable. If nothing else, cockfighting more closely resembles modern day ritualized animal sacrifice than a recreational blood sport… which is still pretty bad, I guess. I honestly couldn’t say the purpose of the fights wasn’t so much sheer entertainment as it was appeasement from the drudgery of a six-day workweek— and maybe the opportunity to make a little beer money on the side. Of course, violence is violence and I suppose there’s no excuse, but compared to the most dominant use of poultry in the western world— a system composed of mass produced chickens with chopped off beaks, mutated by growth hormones as they ride on conveyor belts awaiting to be deep fried and packaged in a box as part of a meal that includes a cheap toy from China that probably has just as much salmonella and more nutritional value— it’s really tough to say who takes the moral high ground between the two cultures.