Perhaps I was too safe when I went to see the toritos at the Fiesta de Luces y Música in Santiago Zapotitlan, because not only did I go to see the “Pamplona” event in the Mexican fireworks capital of Tultepec, I was down on the plaza ready to get punished !
The Pamplona (named after the running of the bulls in Spain, of course), is held on March 8th in honor of John of God, the town’s patron saint. It is the oldest and largest part of the National Pyrotechnic Festival, which ends this year on March 13. However, the size of everything, from the crowds, the number of participants to the sheer monumental size of the bulls, drawfs what my husband and I saw in Zapotitlan. There were only about 5 or so of the traditional small bulls that can be supported on a single person’s head, but that didn’t stop the gentleman below from getting the most out of his, chasing people off the plaza bandstand…
The rest were giant monsters all…
The day started quietly enough. Participants spent the morning and early afternoon making final preparations on their bulls then getting them up to the La Piedad Chapel, up a small hill just north of the main square. At 330pm the bulls begin to make rounds of the streets of the town, effectively using up the rest of the daylight hours in this pursuit. Because of the number of bulls, over 100, they split up to cover different neighborhoods. The vast majority of these bulls are on wheels for this purpose, but I did see two or three which were carried on litter-like contraptions. No mean feat given that these 2.5 meter-tall-and-up cartoneria figures on metal frames can weigh 30 kilos or more. The purpose of this is to show off the artistry of the bulls, which gets lost in the night and the exploding fireworks.
In the end however, they are all lined up on the streets northeast of the main plaza to be burned after dark, with the exception of a couple of smaller ones that jumped the gun a bit. The fireworks are arranged on a frame over the bull figure proper, and the number and kind of fireworks will vary, but the bulls are heavily judged by the crowds of mostly young men, who hurl cuss words and other insults to a bull whose fireworks don’t set off well or are otherwise unimpressive.
Like in Zapotitlan, these spectators are not there just to watch the fireworks and the movement of the bulls they are attached to, the main point is to be enveloped by smoke, high-piercing whistles and volleys of rockets going every which way. The more, the better.
Because of the size of the event, I was unable to secure a spot on a adjoining roof to safely photograph and film. I got hit/burned twice bad enough to cause small blisters by the next morning. Injuries at this torito event are common, not only because of the size and number of fireworks involved, but probably in no small part that this event is definitely not dry. (Huge cups of beer, pulque and other beverages were freely drunk all over the town.)
Not to mention the number of bulls. They were led onto plaza mostly one at a time, sometimes two, meaning that hours later, bulls were still be set off to thickening crowds during the night demanding more. I left at 1030 when the party was still going very strong, but not only did I have to get back to Mexico City before the trains stopped …. I honestly was in sensory overload by that time.
(All photos and video by the author)