The legend of Malacrianza is a fantastic story of one of our famous bulls here in our local area that has carried himself to legend. This writer truly captured the story and understanding of the local rodeo.
The sun has not risen yet over Garza, a tiny fishing village on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, but already there is movement. On one side of the town’s dirt road, the tide folds itself over the shore, and a monkey howls from behind the pink blossoms of a roble beech tree. On the eastern side, where pastureland stretches into to the mountains, two men on horseback are gathering the bulls.
“Ya! Asi!” one man urges from his horse as he chases a ghost-white Brahman bull from the pasture into a round paddock, where he will be kept with the others until it is time for the show.
Tonight — a Sunday night in March — the townspeople will empty out of the local Catholic church and congregate in a nearby field for an affair held in equal regard. They call it acorrida, which literally means, “run.” What it actually means here is rodeo — and these events largely resemble a typical American rodeo — but some people would call it a bullfight. They would not be entirely wrong.
As in Spain, Costa Rican bullfighting is sometimes a fight to the death, but there are distinct differences. There, bullfighting evolved as a sport for the elite: man slays bull in ritual sacrifice and is revered for taking dominion over nature. The bull never lives long enough to wrest the spotlight from the matador.
Costa Rican bullfighting began as a diversion for farmers who couldn’t afford to kill cattle for sport, and the spectacle is more about man’s lack of control. Montadores — bull riders, not matadors — certainly aim to subdue and conquer the beast, and they are applauded when they manage to remain on top. But the bull reigns supreme. Those most adept at tossing, goring or even killing riders are celebrated more than even the greatest montadores.
If that seems like treachery to the human race, it is. Of all the bulls in Costa Rica, the most celebrated and revered is the bull people call “Malacrianza.” Translation? “Badass.”
The name appears throughout the country on storefronts, restaurants, T-shirts and even the sides of school buses. Malacrianza also inspired a recent documentary film and several cumbia-style songs — Latin American dance favorites involving flute, drums, the accordion and claves. One of the songs turned into a music video features a saxophonist who serenades the bull and a busty cowgirl who seduces him with dance.
Ask a regular rodeo attendant what it is about Malacrianza that makes him so beloved, and you might hear about his style and grace. Ask anybody else why Malacrianza is famous, and the answer is different. “He killed people,” explained a 7-year-old Costa Rican boy.
Back in Garza, the sun has crept over the Pacific, and all of the bulls competing in the evening’s festival have been rounded up but one. Far over the hill, at the edge of the horizon, cowboys come into focus, and then something appears in tow. Malacrianza has been lassoed. His silhouette — horns, body and hump — is only just visible. Yet even at that distance, his mere outline seems somehow sacred.
His 1,700-pound body struts closer, revealing intricate patterns of black and white speckles sweeping under his neck, over his colossal hump and around his haunches, from which a hefty pair of black testicles droops to his knees. His stunning coat and physique, along with his elegant stride and girthy, skyward horns, make him seem otherworldly, oversized, iconic. It’s no wonder that his image is used to sell its own brand of craft beer, a smoky Scottish ale that pairs well with steak. He’s so much more than a bull, and even the cows — about a dozen of which have come running down the street to watch him corralled — seem to know it.
In the slant of the morning light, Malacrianza appears even more majestic than usual. Perhaps it’s because tonight’s run may be his last.
Inside the home of Malacriaza’s owner, Ubaldo Rodríguez, two enlarged, framed photographs of Malacrianza hang opposite one of the Pope. On an afternoon in March, Ubaldo, a blue-eyed, 63-year-old Costa Rican man in a pressed plaid shirt and jeans, is seated cross-legged on the living room sofa across from his giddy, curly-haired wife, Amelia Goméz, who reclines in an armchair and does most of the talking.
“Ooh, he loves mangos,” she says of Malacrianza. “He’ll come right up to you and eat them out of your hand.” Unlike any other bull on the farm, she says, Malacrianza responds to his own name. And because he is the favorite, he is often kept in his favorite pasture — basically the penthouse suite of grazing ranges — that features plenty of shade, an ocean view and a hill tall enough to look over not only the farm, but all of Garza. Right now, though, because of a renal infection, the aging bull is in isolation.
If you ask Amelia, the gentle old bull should have been retired last year. “But Ubaldo just can’t say no,” she says. “He isn’t ready to give it up yet.”
Of all things Ubaldo owns — a well-kept country home, two vehicles, 40 bulls and nearly 2,000 acres of land — Malacrianza is perhaps the most valued and loved.
Back in the 1950s, Ubaldo’s father Esaú Rodriguez saved money working as a ranch hand and bought most of the area’s pastureland. He then united his parcels of land into one farm called Hacienda Nueva Esperanza, or, the Farm of New Hope. After Esaú’s death nine years ago, his four children inherited the farm, splitting the profits from its rice growing and cattle operations, as well as the hacienda’s well-known contingent of rodeo bulls.
Ubaldo continued his father’s tradition of buying, raising and breeding bulls. Although the farm had always produced quality bulls, and several had gained renown in bull riding circles around Guanacaste province, the family never imagined a Malacrianza would come along.
“Everyone always talks about how spoiled Malacrianza is by the farm, by the whole town,” says Ubaldo’s sister Jeannette Rodríguez. “What people don’t realize is … Malacrianza came to the farm just like any other bull.”
Back in December 2003, Ubaldo received Malacrianza as part of a bulk purchase of livestock. The bull and his companions had proven too aggressive for farm work at the Urbina family farm, El Palmar, just down the road from Hacienda Nueva Esperanza. For the Urbinas, aggressive bulls caused problems in the pasture and injured the other animals. For Ubaldo, though, an aggressive bull meant a better rodeo performance.
These days, news stories often reference Malacrianza’s grandfather, a rodeo champion famous for violently decapitating a horse after its rider tried to lasso him. But the story is a myth. Ubaldo has no idea where it came from.
It is only one tale of many that adoring fans have spun about the bull, securing his place in the culture and elevating him into a kind of deity.
Actually, Ubaldo recalls nothing remarkable in the history of the legendary bull that Costa Rican children now hear tales about from the time they’re old enough to ride a horse. “Honestly, you just can’t tell when they’re young,” he says. “I suppose he seemed aggressive with the other bulls, but you never know until they run for the first time.”
Ubaldo waited until August of 2004 to debut the bull at a corrida, taking him to Los Angeles de Nicoya in Guanacaste, a popular festival. The then-anonymous bull entered the ring on one of the earlier days of the festival, putting on a graceful and belligerent show worthy of an encore later in the week. “Normally bulls don’t get to go twice in the same festival, especially their first one,” Ubaldo said.
Soon, Malacrianza’s distinctive style began to earn him accolades and nicknames, for instance, “El Corazón de Garza” (the Heart of Garza) and “Su Majestad” (His Majesty). The most popular name, though, was as yet unearned: “El Toro Asesino.” The Bull Assassin.
To read the full article go to http://www.sbnation.com/longform/2013/5/14/4312042/legend-of-malacrianza-costa-rica-killer-toro-bullfightin#top