COCKFIGHT! SOME WILD BIRD-ON-BIRD ACTION IN VIGAN, PHILIPPINES
I once believed cockfights to be a somewhat-mythical ‘sporting’ event that was confined to old late night movies and Hunter S. Thompson novels. Like others my age, the term ‘cockfight’ really burrowed it’s way into my vocabulary in 1997 with the “Little Jerry Seinfeld” episode of Seinfeld. Yep- the episode in which Kramer buys what he thinks is a hen (for fresh eggs) only to find it’s a rooster (cock), and then the whole group subsequently gets taken on a journey through the New York City cockfighting underbelly. Must.resist.temptation.to.simply.write.about.Seinfeld…
My good friend Stephen (the Shameless Traveler) and I recently caught a cockfight in Vigan, on the island of Luzon, Philippines. It was an anticipated event for both of us. Before we could arrive, we needed the ultimate cockfight viewer’s accessory: not a fistful of cash, but rather a badass cockfighting hat. We hit the markets and malls of Manila and finally settled on some straw fedoras from the local Bench clothing store. Happy with our purchases, we caught a Saturday bus up to Vigan, ready for our Sunday cockfight.
Around noon, we caught a 50-peso trike ride from our accommodation: the quirky Grandma’s Inn. We soon found ourselves about 8km from old town Vigan. It was in the lush green countryside and under a perfect blue sky, but there were still some dark clouds approaching from the mountains along the nearby coast. The trike driver stopped, we paid him, and we stood in front of the gate; ready to take in some international shadiness. Walking through the gate, we saw a greasy spread of unappetizing food and snacks. Through the flies, we grabbed a bottle of water, maneuvered within the captivated crowd, and made our way to the arena.
At first site, it was a perfect ramshackle cockfighting platform; a kind of Philippine Thunderdome, complete with viewers’ pumping fists and dangling ankles. It was better than I’d imagined; like a backyard wrestling ring you’d build with your childhood friends.
We climbed up the makeshift plywood bleachers and found a good spot to view our first full cockfight. The whole thing happened so fast. A bit of jumping, kicking and limping and it was all over; a lifeless bird being carried out of the ring by his feet. After each fight, crumpled-up cash would be balled up and thrown around the audience, apparently eventually reaching its intended palm. It was time to take a look around the premises.
We came across a bird, skin torn and in the midst of a surgery. It’s pink wound was being sown up by a father/son team eager to get the hen back in the ring; the hen waiting quietly, looking somewhat eager himself.
We were then invited to watch as a rooster was dressed to kill. Two handlers, the first man restraining the hen while the other did the tying, applied sharpened knives to the ankles of an upcoming fighter. It was a long, intricate process, with the second man criss-crossing line around and around endlessly, crouching slightly and biting his lip in focus; his hands weaving into a blur.
We watched the championship fight, but had little idea what was happening in the ring. The spectacle of the cockfight was what we were here for and we got it aplenty.
In a trike, we made our way back to a streetside café atop cobblestone in old town Vigan and finished the Sabbath with some overcooked pan-seared tuna and cold San Miguel pilsner. An almost-perfect ending to a bloody good day.
Vigan is an 8 hour bus ride from Manila ($9). Cebu Pacific flies in. Your hotel staff can arrange transportation to the cockfighting ring ($1.25)
Every Sunday afternoon
50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett Go South of the Border
Cockfighter (1974); The Rum Diaries (2011)