Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 29: Pamplona, Spain

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Andy and I both woke up at the same time to a group of Americans talking about how “Lebron is going to Miami” (funny how that's the one possible line that Andy would immediately jump to attention for).  At around 6am we went to the back-check toward the center of town to leave our stuff as we did the running.

Background on the actual Running of the Bulls: the course is 825 meters long.  It starts at a corral and ends at the Bullfighting arena.  Every day of the festival, at 8am there is a run with 6 bulls and 6 steers.  While the steers are naturally less aggressive than the bulls, they can still easily run you over and/or gore you with their horns.  Every year at the festival around 300 people get injured, but deaths are relatively uncommon.  Fewer than 20 deaths have occurred since it’s been documented, starting in 1924.  I would say that every day about 5-6 people get sent to the hospital with rather serious injuries.  The course is completely closed so the bulls only have one way to go.  The majority of it is closed off by buildings on each side of the street but in plazas and any intersections, fences are erected.  These are the prime viewing areas, as well as an opportunity for the runners to duck under, or climb over the fence if the bulls get too close.  Because the bulls are much faster than any people, you pick where you want to start running.  You’ll pretty much hang out there until the bulls come close (you either see them or see the huge waves of people running your way) and then just take off as fast as you can.  Plenty of people start their run toward the end of the course, and make it to the stadium before the bulls even get there.  When this happens, the locals who are in the stands of the bullfighting ring  boo, throw bottles, fruit and whatever they have at these people because there’s no risk whatsoever if the bulls don’t even pass you; anybody can run 100 meters down a street.

When Andy and I got to the course it was an intense sight.  So many people were drunk and sleep deprived (the worst combination when literally running for one’s life).  People were stretching and tying their shoes… walking the course to see where the best place to start is, taking pictures.  You meet a ton of people walking around… all waiting in anticipation for the rocket to go off, announcing the start of the run.  Throughout the entire event there is a huge police force there making sure everything is under control.  They walk amongst the crowd and pick people who look too drunk, are messing around, have backpacks on, or aren’t properly dressed (you don’t have to wear the traditional outfit to run… but closed-toed shoes are a requirement) and forcing them to leave the course.  I, rather unfortunately, was one of those people forced to leave; about 10 minutes before it started a policeman saw my camera in my hand, which isn’t allowed during the run but I just hadn’t put it in my pocket yet and kicked me out.  I was rather upset about the situation but at least I had the next day.  Because I hadn’t secured any spot along the course to watch the running, I went to a local bar where they were showing it on tv.  Andy stayed to run.

After the run I made my way over to the Bullfighting arena.  When all of the bulls are safely in their pens, they let out 6 younger bulls, one at a time to run around the arena with all the people in it.  These young bulls have their horns padded so they can’t actually pierce you, but they are still a good 7-800 lbs and can easily knock you over.  Most of the people who ran get out of the arena to watch this but a few hundred stay in and try to run away from the bulls as they charge.  The brave ones try to touch it as it’s facing the other way.
I watched this for a bit… it’s really funny yet sadistic how the crowd completely cheers when people get taken out.

After the running, Andy and I had agreed to meet at the bag-check place (which was in one of the more central plazas.  We said we were going to meet at 9am, which was 15 minutes after festivities with the young bulls.  I got there a bit early and waited for Andy.  He hadn’t showed up after 10 minutes… then 20… On this trip Andy had previously yelled at me for being late so I assumed he’d be on time for this.  After half an hour, I figured that was enough time to  use the excuse of: I lost track of time… or there were big crowds… or I got lost.  So at the half-hour mark I ended up getting really scared that something happened and ran to find a police officer to ask them if any American boys had gotten stabbed by a bull or something.  They said no and I should just wait a bit more… I was still unconvinced that Andy wasn’t in the hospital or something (and people say I don’t care about my brother).  I ran back to where we were supposed to meet and Andy showed up 5 minutes later… claiming he had gotten lost for 45 minutes.  I don’t really understand how that’s possible because the entire city takes about 20 minutes to walk across… and the plaza were met at was around a 5 minute walk from the bull ring.  Either way: he’s incompetent.  Eventually we went back to the train station to get online for a bit and take a nap.  After sleeping for a bit Andy and I split up for the afternoon/evening.  I needed a bit of a break from him and found that I’m not nearly as social/outgoing if I’m with other people that I know.  Mainly because I’m not forced to go out and meet other people.
On my own I ended walking around for a few hours, checking out the sights and environment.  I loved how many people were always dancing and having fun.  Men drinking and singing songs… street performers hoping to get a crowd’s attention… it was a great time for everyone.

Andy and I met up again to watch the fireworks at night.  Every night of the San Fermin festival there is a firework show and it is a competition among different people/companies to put on the best show… so it really was a good show every night.

Andy and I tried to sleep out in a park that night but it was just too cold, and we stupidly didn’t bring any sweatshirts or anything so we barely got any sleep out there.  We then went to the bag-check area and tried to get some sleep around there, but it was too loud and didn’t really work out.  Oh well… I’ve gone plenty of nights without sleeping before, and I got a nap or two during the day so I was fine.  The most amazing thing about the night was just how many people were out and partying at 5 in the morning.  The streets were absolutely full with people partying.  There were more people out at 5 in the morning than there are during the day.  It was crazy. 

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