Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Trip - Day 30: Pamplona, Spain

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Today was my day to run with the bulls.  I got into the course at around 7am and this time gave the camera to Andy to take pictures from outside, as well as the arena (I was stupid for asking him to, because he ended up taking 0 pictures whatsoever… thanks bro).  The build-up to the run today was similar to the day before except that because it was a Saturday, there were more people running.  It was really crowded.  I met some guy from New York (Mark) who I decided to “run with” (I put the previous words in quotations because you can’t really run WITH someone… as soon as the running starts it’s a complete free-for-all.  I picked my place to start the running (kind of toward the middle of the course) and hung out there for a while even after it started; I wanted the bulls to get close to me before I really started running.  The start of the run is indicated by a cannon going off, and as soon as it starts a lot of people start running, but some of those people probably make it to the arena before the bulls do (as I previously stated, that’s lame).  I waited for 30-40 seconds until I knew the bulls were close; you know this by the wave of people running around the last corner at full speed.  When that happened, I ran as fast as I could down the street in an absolute free-for-all.  You end up pushing people to the side as you sprint pass them… jumping over people as they fall down in front of you… it was really an intense experience.  Then all of a sudden as I wasn’t really paying attention to anything but the path in front of me, the herd of bulls ran past.  When the bulls came, anyone who was running toward the middle of the street moved off toward the side, then they kind of close the gap behind the pulls after they pass.  I was one of the people that ran in the middle of the street after the bulls passed us, because there was more space.  After a few seconds of this (the whole thing was happening so quickly) I saw people in front of me turning their heads back, as if to look at something behind us.  Immediately I realized that there were more bulls to come (two of the bulls had gotten separated and were running a bit behind the rest of the group).  I immediately moved to my left and within 2 seconds, the last two bulls ran through the spot I was just.  When they ran past, I pulled a running faux-pas (but something I wanted to do) and touched one of the bulls on the back as it ran by me.

Ironically, after the bulls passed was when it really got crazy; because everyone running wanted to get into the arena before they closed the gates, you sprint to the end as fast as possible so as to not get locked out and, without the bulls to worry about, people were allowed to run wherever they pleased and push people out of the way as much as they wanted.  It was really brutal getting through the people in this latter part of the run and I ended up getting tripped as I jumped over a pile-up of 3-4 people.  I fell down, skidded a bit (cut up my pants), and got right up to keep on running.  As I explained, the very end of the run goes into the bullring.  But the entrance to the arena is much more narrow than the majority of the road, so running in the entrance when the bulls are behind you is very dangerous.  Although all of the bulls had passed me on the run, there were still a few steers that still had to go through so as we neared the entrance to the arena, everyone slowed down and looked behind them to see if the steers were coming… and then when you get to the point of no-return, you sprint as fast as you can into the ring and immediately go to the left or right.

The feelings of exhaustion and accomplishment when I entered the arena were amazing.  As soon as all the bulls were penned away, everyone in the ring, regardless of nationality, was high-fiving each other and were all connected by this crazy experience.  The relief, however, was soon taken away by them releasing the young bulls into the arena to, yet again, run down as many people as possible and give the crowd a little entertainment.  I joined in with most people, running around the arena and testing my own limits of how close I dared to get to the bull.  As evident in actual bull-fighting, the bulls charge at distraction and movement so people quickly realize that huddling up against the outer wall of the arena is a safe-haven and for the most part the bull will ignore people standing against the edge.  My first very close encounter to the animals was when one of them charged in my direction… forcing me to run toward the outer wall and wait for the danger to pass.  The bull, however, stopped right in front of me and turned toward the center of the ring, trying to pick out its next victim.  In the few seconds it waited there, I was able to reach off the wall enough and give it a little tap on its side.  Mission accomplished.  Throughout the course of the 6 bulls each taking their turn in the arena, I was able to run at one looking the opposite direction, touch it, and immediately get out of there as fast as possible.

One of the most thrilling things, however, is when they first let the bulls out from the corral, into the arena.  As soon as the previous bull gets put away, everyone huddles around the entrance to (and I am not kidding here) crouch down in front of the entrance way and let the bull jump over you as it runs into the arena.  On the 4th bull of the morning I got myself into a good position and was in the 2nd row of these people.  We all huddled down (probably forming up to 5 rows of people) and waited for them to open the gate and let the bull out.  One of the scariest sights I’ve had in my life was when they first opened the gate and you saw the young bull in the entrance way.  It only took about a second for the bull to realize which direction to go and it started charging at us.  At this point everyone puts their heads down, but tries to keep their eyes just high enough to see the bull charge at us in one’s periphery.  I had seen this happen plenty of times before, but still prayed that the bull would actually remember to jump over our heads instead of come crashing straight through.  Sure enough, things went as planned and the bull jumped over everyone as it came excitedly into the arena (the bulls are much more dangerous and energetic toward the beginning of their 7-8 minutes in the arena).

After all of that was over Andy and I met up and just walked around a quieter part of town to look for food and take a nap outside.  The grassy park we picked to nap happened to be the location of some strength-events taking place as part of the festival.  We saw a tug-of-war contest as well as a variety of strong-man challenges.

After that we went back to the train station to hang out for a bit before our train back to Barcelona.  On this train we ended up sitting next to a guy who was wearing his Oregon shirt… so we started talking about the Pac-10.  Well this Oregon guy (Ted) was traveling with two girls who went to Oregon and Washington State.  My brother’s going to ASU… there was a USC kid in the same car, and a bit into the train ride someone walked by and gave me a “Go Bears” after seeing my hat… talk about a Pac-10 oriented train-ride.
When we got back to Barcelona, we went over to Francesco’s apartment to pick up our bags again.  We were, of course, still wearing our San Fermin outfits, completely dirty, sweaty and gross from having worn them for the past 48+ hours… as we took the metro and walked around Barca a bit everyone gave us looks and/or commented about San Fermin.  Although I was very happy to shower and change that night, it was still kind of cool having everyone know that you just partook in the Running of the Bulls.  That night Andy and I crashed on the couches of the same hostel before our morning train to Madrid the next day.

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