Cusco Cockfights

For our first seven weeks in Peru, my daughter and I lived with the Chavez family in the Santa Monica suburb of Cusco. The family is very well off by Cusco standards; they own a large 3-story house with a maid in the nicest suburb of Cusco and they also own a 35-acre corn farm in the Sacred Valley. Alfredo, the husband, has a large dental practice and drives a SUV, while Zulma, the wife, is from a wealthy family and enjoys having foreign students stay in their home. They have made a concerted effort to include us in all the family activities.

One Sunday morning at breakfast, Alfredo turned to me and said “Vamos a Gallos?” (Do you want to go to the Cockfights?) Even though Alfredo is a professional and a doctor he definitely has a macho streak in him, so I interpreted his question as “Eres Hombre” (Are you a man?). Not wanting to disappoint, I agreed. He said to be back at the house by 3:00 pm.

Alfredo and his son Alfredito, along with Alfredito’s friend and I left the house at 3:00 pm and started winding through the suburbs of Cusco. We arrived at the “Coliseo de Gallos”, situated in a dusty area behind the airport. We paid the entry fee and entered a courtyard with food stalls, beer vendors, a smelly bathroom and the cockfighting arena itself. There were about 400 people there, 90% of which were male. The entire arena was about 50 feet in diameter and resembled a pit, with the circular, central fighting area ringed by ascending seating rows. The fighting area itself was a sandy surface about 25 feet in diameter surrounded by a chain link fence. Inside the cage were signs on either side, one saying izquierda (left) and one saying derecha (right). Since most roosters look the same, especially when the feathers start to fly, these signs help during the betting process. Prior to each fight when the betting happens, each trainer stands near one of the signs, poking and agitating their roosters (sometimes biting them on their backs) so that they become more aggressive.

As we arrived I bought four large beer bottles and quickly learned how men in Peru share beer. Despite all the news coverage of the swine flu, everyone shares a glass and drinks one bottle at a time. When the beer bottle is passed to you, just hold on to it and wait until the drinking glass is passed to you. Once it’s passed to you, fill up the glass and then keep the chain going by handing the bottle clockwise. When you finish your glass, hand it to the man with the beer bottle

Once the beer protocol was understood, I watched the trainers carefully tie the sharp blade to the rooster’s right leg and then hold them up to the crowd. Suddenly, the arena went crazy with men shouting bets. Alfredo explained to me that the betting process isn’t terribly scientific…just pick the one that looks stronger and shout out your bet to the crowd and wait for a response. The first round I watched Alfredo as he shouted veinte derecha, held up 2 fingers and scanned the crowd. A young man looked up at him from the first row and held up his 2 fingers and shouted veinte izquierda: Alfredo had just bet 20 soles on the rooster on the right side of the cage.

The fighting was now set to start with Alfredo yelling "vamos derecha!" Most of the fights followed the same pattern as this one: the roosters carefully stalked each other for 4-5 minutes until they got close enough to pounce on one another. Then after a about a minute of flying feathers and blood, one of the roosters stood above the other, the loser with its beak resting on the sand floor. Alfredo’s rooster lost this fight and I watched him settled up with the young man in the first row. After observing Alfredo, I tried a few on my own.

Over the course of the evening’s 15 or so fights, I ended up winning about 15 soles ($5). As the night wore on, more and more cerveza was consumed and the men in the crowd became filled with drunken bonhomie. A man near me affectionately babbled indecipherable Spanish to me throughout the night and I occasionally babbled something indecipherable back, to which he laughed loudly. After almost 5 hours of drinking beer, we all stumbled out of the Coliseo and went home.

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