The Real Fight Club

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Another belated entry from our time in the mountains.. Internet access doesn’t work often out here on the island…

Sweat, blood, broken bottles, skin charred with the remnants of gravel and asphalt… On any given weekend there is a roughly organized cluster of working men fighting out the previous week’s aggressions. In this case, down a gravel alleyway outside a bar with walls of towering plastic beer crates. As it goes with any story worth telling, we made it here by chance, in summary, because we hitched a ride up here with the right people. Two nights later we find ourselves at the local fights. The real fight club: undoubtedly preceding the big box movie by decades.

We walked in as a group of four men and two women, weaving through a crowd wrapped tightly around two entwined bodies in the process of willingly beating each other. The bar was nothing more than an enlarged concrete chamber- a simple interior selling 75 cent beers and specializing only in the low alcohol versions (the fighting men here apparently don’t handle their alcohol well).

Our approach to the fight club was shorter than expected. A stone’s throw from the hostel bar, one would assume that the chaos ensuing around the corner would be audible from our room, but if it is we never noticed. The chain link fence at the end of the alley chimes its upheaval every time a pair of bodies hit the metal. The masses of onlookers are surprisingly low key considering the ongoing events. A swarm of men surround the fighters and fluidly move with them as they swagger across the gravel. The yelling and cheering one would expect is minimal. People watch rather intently. The focus here is on the current fight, and those eagerly awaiting their chance in the ring. A few grow anxious and start side fights, which get quickly broken up.

The bar itself is nearly empty– with the exception of a cluster of men sleeping off the evening’s festivities, the crowds stay outside where the fighting ring centers. A man approaches Dave and offers to schedule him for a fight- our presence appears to have caused some excitement. Dave politely declines. The man disappears into the crowd only to come back with a fresh beer, which he offers to me with a welcoming smile. It’s then that we both realize that we can’t yet interpret Spanish spoken with a slurred drunken accent. We spend a good portion of the evening smiling and nodding, trying desperately to understand the conversations people have with us. Luckily they don’t seem to notice our confusion.

Inside a clang of a broken bottle deflects the attention off of us. Heads turn toward the noise inside. A bar stool on it’s side. A man sprawled across the concrete floor, comfortably asleep on a pillow of spilt beer. The shattered glass seems to have missed him. The bartender mosies over with a broom and nonchalantly sweeps up the glass around him, taking no notice of the napping person. It is there on the floor where he will be allowed to remain.

The crowd quickly turns their focus back to the fights. I get panicked momentarily, wondering if the over-served man has been hurt. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that he’s not the only one sleeping on the floor. I gulp a sigh of culture shock. I accept. It’s a world with a different set of rules than I’m used to.

PS: as you likely guess, photos weren’t allowed in fight club… Presumably to protect the innocent.

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