Screams of encouragement ring off the tarped homes and closed businesses in a barrio on the island once home to dozens of sugar plantations in 20th century, Puerto Rico. Under the full moon and wet soil from a recent passing rain storm the rhythmic song of the coqui frog echo off the cars and trucks that overflow the parking lot at the Gallera Guayabal, a cockfighting arena in the barrio Guayabal in between the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villalba. It's been months since Hurricane Maria carved her path into the soil, ravaging the foliage, as well as the lives of the island's Southern Coast and the Cordillera Central.
With access to electricity scarce, the number of patrons flooding the gallera is surprising. The concrete castle, with its metal-sheeted roof, is a symbol of the island's Spanish heritage, filled with holding pens line the walls housing dozens of roosters. All of them groomed, fed, and raised with the sole purpose to make their owners and the arena’s gamblers and enthusiasts a few bucks.
On the outside, the gallera resembles a small prison, with a black iron barred doorway and black metal bars lining the windows. Inside, under the erratically placed flickering fluorescent lights, patrons drink Medalla's, a local beer of the island, and eat empanadas while they scream out their bets of $20 or $ 40. Sometimes, the ones who are bold enough declaring bets in the $100's.
This is the scene of a sport that's been entwined in the island’s culture since the early days as a Spanish settlement, and seen by many as one of Puerto Rico’s most popular and profitable past times. Despite the island owing billions in debt and suffering one of the deadliest natural disasters in recent memory, Gallera Guayabal’s popularity and attendance doesn’t appear to be dwindling soon. It seems even with the recent catastrophe hanging over the island and the lives of its inhabitants it still can’t eclipse the power of tradition.