Sunday, April 21, 2013

Facing fear: Inside a Nicaraguan bullring

My latest guest in my blog series on the topic of fear has provided a fear-themed excerpt from his newest book, a travel memoir. In this scene, he enters a bullring in Nicaragua. As one does. (And by "one," I mean, "apparently my guest author, but definitely not me.")

Bullfighting in Nicaragua, from One Year Lived
by Adam Shepherd

“Screw it,” I said. “Give me the sombra.”

I reached for the red cloth—nay snatched for the red cloth. I wanted in. These brave guys, juvenile to grizzly, bolting into the ring, teasing and taunting this wild bull, a balancing act between valor and a gutted belly. I had scouted enough. I snatched my improvised red sombra. I peered up into the crowd of spectators: a gang of teenagers, some whipping their shirts in circles above their heads, a family—mom, dad, daughter—a group of ladies dressed in pink and yellow sundresses, another gang of teenagers. Seven hundred people, at least—eight hundred, more likely. I lowered myself from the support of the bleachers. I sucked in a deep breath. I strode out into the sphere of fervor. And I stood, legs braced and every muscle ready for action. Six feet away, this great hulking beast stood in a similar stance, head low, horns tilted toward my chest. He scraped the earth with one hoof, hugging and snorting like something out of a nightmare.

I can’t properly explain the feeling. I was a trembling wreck. This was scary. To say that I’ve never been struck with so much fear in my life grossly understates the terror of the moment. A thousand things could go wrong, and in that first moment, as I stood six feet from the fuming nostrils of that bull, I was convinced that each one of them would. “Another story to tell,” I reasoned, as if “Yeah, y’know, I can’t process solid foods anymore because I was gutted by a bull in Nicaragua” is a story worth its price. I imagined myself as the next casualty tossed under the bleachers. My heart raced, blood pumped furiously through each vein and vessel in my body. My breathing came ragged and short, but I was somehow able to steady my feet and hands.

A man in a white tank top in the first row to the right shot both of his arms in the air in violent thrusts, screaming.

And then my mind cleared; I focused. I was in the ring with the bull. And that’s all that mattered. Laser focus.

My nerves still tense, muscles coiling painfully in my calves and thighs, readying me for what lay ahead. I steadied myself.

“Closer!” Jhonas yelled, and the gallery standing around him echoed his advice. “Más cerca! Más cerca!”

Closer? I thought. Closer? You sure? Really? Hm. Closer.

But they were right; and I edged closer. The bull’s rolling black eyes met mine, and he let out a deep guttural snort. I thought my heart might shatter my sternum. At last, he charged. His powerful hindquarters propelled him toward me—fifteen hundred pounds of deadly muscle. Every nerve in my body thrummed, quivered.

Silly bull, I thought. Bring it on, compadre. You don’t want none of this.

But he did.

ONE YEAR LIVED front cover for BN

Adam Shepard's newest book, One Year Lived, recounts the year he spent out in the world: seventeen countries, four continents, and one haunting encounter with a savage bull. More information (and a picture of the mullet that Adam grew on the trip) are available at

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