Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Feast of San Fermin

Or better known as Pamplona's the Running of the Bulls.

Been there, done that, back in '94. Although it's been 16 years since my friends and I ran, the memories of Pamplona and the run are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.

Some think it's dangerous and it is to a degree but not as much as it appears. Over the 100 years since the running of the humans, to look at it another way, there have been only 15 fatalities and for the most part injuries aren't that serious. Danger aside, it was incredibly exciting and a lot of fun.

I ran one day and watched the other (the running occurs everyday for a week).

The first day's plan was simple: watch the mayhem and figure out how to avoid the business end of a bull's horn. But plans are easily broken, we got caught up in the revelry of the moment and decided what the hell, let's do it.

The run starts early in the morning, which is odd since almost everyone in Pamplona is up most of the night drinking and partying in the streets. Nonetheless, at 7:30am there was a huge throng of still quasi-drunk folks, mostly guys, dressed in red and white hanging around waiting for the run to start. Around 7:50am a firework is shot off which signals that the creatures, six bulls and six steers, have been released or to put it another way, it means to start running your ass off.

The entire run is about .5 miles. On average they say is takes three minutes but I find that very hard to believe, maybe time slows down when your running at your top speed on slick cobblestone streets with thousands of half-drunk guys and a pack of bulls and steers inches away from turning you into their version of churrascaria. The reality is that the danger doesn't come from the bulls but from the possibility of tripping on the cobblestones and being trampled by the sea of humanity running behind you.

The end goal, other than avoiding any extra holes in your body, is to get into the bull ring before the last bull or steer enters and the doors are closed. For the nimble few hundred that are successful, you get the privilege of being chased around the bullring by "baby bulls" while being cheered on by spectators in the stands. Maybe it was a lost in translation moment but I'll never again trust a Spaniard's description of a baby bull. What I had in mind as a so-called "baby bull" looked nothing like these massive snorting behemoths (that's a baby bull in the last photo above).

In any event, I ran fast enough to get into the bullring. Once the bullring doors closed and the big bulls and steers were in their pen, they began letting the babies out...first one, then two at a time, then three, etc. I was hanging out on the periphery doing my best not to tempt fate when one of the "babies" came barreling toward me running his horns around the inside wall which was supposed to be a quasi-safe zone for us humans, but apparently the baby didn't get that memo.

With the bull's horns inches away from guaranteeing that I'd hear a bunch of "I told you so-s" upon my return to the U.S. I took the only route open, up and over the wall and into the stands. The Spaniards being the extraordinarily friendly and helpful people that they are promptly cheered me loudly and then confident in their belief that I wouldn't want to miss a minute of the action proceeded to push me back over the wall and into the ring.

Thanks a lot.

The remainder of the bullring experience was fairly unremarkable, except for the guy on the other side of the ring who I saw get flipped up into the air, presumably by one of those small, gentle baby bulls.

The next day, I watched from the stands which was a completely different, although enjoyable, experience.

People have asked whether I'd do it again. The answer is no. Not because of the supposed danger or because I've lost a step or two. The reason has nothing to do with the actual run itself, that part as well as the evening celebrations was amazing. I wouldn't run again because of what happens after the run. Each evening, all six of the bulls who run in the AM are inhumanely slaughtered in a bullfight and after seeing a bullfight for myself a couple years ago I'm now staunchly opposed to that.

We left San Fermin after a couple days, traveled through the south of Spain and into Morocco for awhile but that's a story for another day.

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