This is part 2 of a series of articles on Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic. To read the other parts of this series, go to Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic.
RURAL SOSUA, Dominican Republic- The crowing of roosters filled the air and the pickup truck bounced and rattled over the stones and potholes of an ill maintained driveway. I bounced around in the back of truck as it tore quickly into a round about and came to an abrupt halt.
I looked around to find myself, literally, in the middle of a cockfighting training camp. A flag that read PRCR in yellow letters stood over the camp and hundreds of cages filled with pecking, alert roosters blanked the entire area around a circular dirt clearing. Beyond this amphitheater of cages was only thick tropical forest.
I had made a friend in Sosua a few days prior who I serendipitously asked if he was, perhaps, a cockfighter. He was, and as it turned out, he was a professional. His name was Gritino, he stood well over six feet tall, was built up to around 300 pounds, and he invited me to accompany him to a cockfight.
We were now at his training camp far outside of Sosua in the forested mountains of the upper flank of the Dominican Republic. There was a stove on the near side of the camp, and its flame was quickly sparked into life as the men in the truck joined three younger men and began cooking a pre-event meal with feverish haste. I could tell that this was a regular routine, as each person seemed to have occupied a roll: one guy ran and got some eggs, another opened a package of sausage, and another man who I did not previously notice tended to a pot of boiling yucca.
The yucca was being cooked in a large aluminum can that, at one time in the distant past, contained two galleons of sunflower oil. At our arrival the camp came to life, and amidst the perpetual cry of roosters, we prepared for the cockfight: we ate, talked, and talked about betting. The roosters continued to crow all around us, seeming aware of their fate.
I was still unsure if the cockfight was going to happen in this area — which was in a very discreet location in the mountains — or if we were just meeting up with Gritino’s allies, and would later travel to the fight as single unit.
I did not want to ask what was going on for fear of looking like a moron. I became aware of the fact that it also mattered little if I knew what was happening or not. I was more or less inconsequential, though I was trying to hold my ground.
“You like Obama?” one of the young men asked in halting English.
“He is alright,” I answered, knowing that the government that does the least is the one that governs best.
“Noooo!” the kid responded, “Obama good, Obama black!”
I shrugged, knowing that he said that just because the skin tone in question was the one that he occupied.
The kid continued, “Black is better than white,” and then reach a forefinger up to the corner of each of his eyes to make a Chinese face in mockery of white people.
I can’t say I got it. But the black guy, apparently, was making fun at white people. I was being provoked.
I looked around at my surroundings: I was in the middle of a mountain forest in the north of the Dominican Republic, the nearest anything was at least ten miles away. I was not going to allow myself to adhere to the provocation. Rather, I just laughed with the group.
The man who was cooking the yucca in the can offered me some food. It was the last thing that I wanted to eat, though I accepted some on the grounds of being polite. I was given two greasy eggs, a slice of cooked stiff sausage, and a pile of boiled yucca. I tried my best to consume my first taste of Dominican ranchero food, but feel short of eliminating all of the boiled, yet very dry, yucca.
Though I must have ate enough, as the man who offered me the feast quickly asked me if I was going to play.
The verb play — or juegar — is the word used to mean bet at a cockfight. The real players at a cockfight are in the stands, these men don’t just go to a battle of roosters as spectators — no, they go as players.
I was being invited to join their team.
“I don’t have much money,” I answered in Spanish.
“You not rich? You not have lots of money?” the man asked in rough English.
I repeated myself in Spanish.
“You play for your cooking!” the man then exclaimed with a laugh.
I just laughed at him. There was not much else that I could do. I, apparently, was not the best chosen teammate.
I then walked away from the team of cockfighters, out to take a closer look at the camp. There were at least 200 roosters in cages, a couple dozen more jumping on top of their companion’s enclosures — they all were crowing. At the center of the camp was a large flat area that was cleared of rubbish and vegetation. It seemed to be a place where a defacto cockfight — or the training for such — could occur.
On the far side of the camp was a huge cylindrical shaped, chain link walled enclosure near a roofed in coup of cages full of pecking, crowing, and very alert roosters. Around 20 pariah dogs covered the ground, ever vying for shady places of refuge from the tropical sun. Sometimes they would bark to join the rooster’s chorus, more often they just seemed to get in the way.
This camp in the forest was were the fighting roosters were raised and trained. Cockfighting is a serious sport, and the combatants are not ordinary barnyard fowl thrown into the ring for kicks. No, these roosters are well fed, highly trained, and exercised for strength and agility. Only the best food will be given to a fighting cock, and they will generally live a life on the upper rung of their species. From birth, a rooster that is choosen for the ring will be pampered, bulked up, and strengthened. They are their owner’s livelihood.
A passenger van soon arrived, and tall, athletic, light skinned man with a couple younger, muscled, darker guys filed out. For a moment it appeared that I had ended up at a bush cockfight, in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.
The men gathered together in circle to discuss their gaming strategy, I continued walking around the camp. There was a small ring in the camp amidst the rooster cages, and the battle and the betting seemed as if it was all going to happen right here — in the middle of the bush.
There was nowhere to run.
Read the next part of this series: Cockfight Preparation
Read the entire series at: Cockfighting in the Domincan Republic