Running of the Bulls
Jul 14, 2006
I'm back. I intitally wrote this entry like 5 days ago, but for some reason it didn't save. So all of the work I did was deleted. Because of this, I'm only gonna give you guys an abbreviated version of everything that has happened over the last week and a half.
RUNNING OF THE BULLS.
The Running of the Bulls, or Encierro (en-see-air-o), as Spaniards call it has been taking place for hundreds of years. It is part of an annual festival called San Fermin, that lasts 7 days. During this time, millions upon millions of people flood into the small city for the biggest party of their lives. The earliest recored run was in 1591, and has been run by Spaniards ever since. Over time, more and more tourists have taken over, to the point where 90% of the runners are from other countries. Lot's of runners do it for the adrenaline rush, for others, it is to impress a girl. But for most Spaniards, since the earliest days, "the running" has signified a sort of ritualistic pathway into manhood.
The celebration and the encierro wasn't well known until a famous author named Ernest Hemmingway came along and immortilized it in his book called "The Sun Also Rises". In it, Hemmingway actually warned against doing the actual "running", but said the best was to experience the festival was through the bull fight at the end of the day.
The encierro is very dangerous and works like this. Hundreds of people are packed into a small area . A single cannon shot is fired into the air at 8:00 exactly. At that point everyone starts walking at a steady pace down the street. About 2 minutes later a second shot is fired. This indicates that the bulls have been released. From then on, it is a frantic run for your life. A total of 8 bulls are released in 2 groups of 4. Each bull weighs about 600 pounds and runs between 23 and 25 mph. Not to mention that each bull has two long spiked horns that rip through practically anything including flesh and bone. Each bull is starved for a couple days and a belt is tied tightly around its testicles, so it is extra angry and will run faster.
If the run is successful, then the run should only last about 3 to 4 minutes total. Unfortuanately, not every run is successful. A single bull will sometimes lose the rest of the heard and will look for large crowds of people to find company. This is where bulls do their most damage because they are unpredictable.
6:00am.....After sleeping outside in a park, I am absolutely miserable. I wake up shaking it's so cold. I look at my watch, only 3 hours of sleep. I feel completely "out of it". I wake up Steve who is also next to me....it is time. Kenny earlier in the day decided not to run. He didn't want to sleep in the park, so he decided to stay up all night with the other hundreds of thousands of people that don't go to bed.
* For the past half hour, two roosters have been "cocka doodle dooing". I want to find both of them and break both of their necks I'm so cranky.
6:30....Steve goes to check in his bag and tells me he'll see me on the track. I don't see hm again the rest of the morning. The Sun has risen not too long ago and there are still thousands and thousands of people in the streets. I remember thinking to myself "What the hell is wrong with these people?! Don't they ever sleep"?
7:00....I enter the gated-off track. It is shoulder to shoulder, I can barely move. The running is still an hour away but the tension is THICK. So thick you can cut it with a knife. I meet a really cool guy from California who arrived to Pamplona just an hour ago. He is wearing jeans, brown dress shoes and a button down and looks very outta place. I laugh at him as we talk.
7:10....A group of American meat-heads, wearing Steeler's jerseys start chanting "Here we go Steeler's, here we go". I was disgusted. i didn't come all the way to Spain to hear the Steeler's theme song.
7:30....An announcment starts playing on a speaker. It plays in 3 different languages before it gets to English. The english is horrible and I can barely make it out. The message was giving runners last minute tips in case they find themselves in trouble. Me and my Californian friend start laughing. We make the joke that the guy is probably saying something more like this, "Dear American idiot's, don't die, we will not pay for your medical bills, otherwise, I'll see you in hell". hahahhaha
7:50....Ten minutes to go, there are too many runners on the course, they need to spread out so someone doesn't die. Police start violently pushing people so they move foward. I see a police officer grab a man by the throat and throw him toward the side of the street. Everyone is thrown into panic-mode.
7:58....My heart is racing. The inevitable is coming, there is no way out. I look around one last time, Steve and Kenny are nowhere to be found. In the middle of hundreds of people, I feel completely and utterly, alone.
7:59....The last thought before the shot goes off runs through my head, "What the hell am I doing here"? I'm not a religious person but I say a quick 30 second prayer. It is time!
8:00....The first cannon shot reverberates off the buildings and echos through the street. People freak out, they start running at a slow jog. 200 yeards behind me I hear yelling and shouting. Everyone is scared.
8:02....Second cannon shot goes off. All the bulls have been released. People start sprinting, but the bulls are still far behind. I can't see them. I start side-stepping and eventually slow down to a stop. I glare down the street. It is pure chaos, people are fleeing everywhere like a prison break. In my peripheral vision, I see flashes of red and white as frantic runners dash by me.
* My Californian friend turns and looks at me standing there. He yells to me "KEN COME ON, COME ON"!!! The only thing I hear is my own heartbeat pounding in my eardrums. He leaves me and starts running again up the street. I wait about 5 more seconds before I turn and start sprinting as fast as I can. As I run up the course, I see a guy my age facing the opposite way, toward the oncoming runners. He is jumping up and down in the middle of the street like a sprinter waiting for a baton. He has a rolled up newspaper in his right hand. As I run by him I look at the intensity on his face. It is slow motion as I pass him. I think to myself "He's dead".
* I get toward the top of the inclined street and glance over my left shoulder. I see a mob of people running for their lives. Sheer panic everywhere. They are getting closer and closer. 70 yards, 50, 25....I hear the clatter of hooves on the cobblestone street.
* I am still sprinting but wearing out fast. My glucose reserves in my body are quickly being depleted. I feel my calf muscles tighten as my burning lungs pump much-needed oxygen to the rest of my body. Adrenaline is just coursing through my veins. I'm scared.
* I glance over my shoulder again and finally see them. I see a wall of people running. And behind them I see black humps rise and fall rhythmically as the bulls thunder up the street. They are gaining, gaining, and I can't seem to run fast enough. It's like that one nightmare you have were you find yourself being chased down the narrow corridor by the big, ugly monster that is catching up by the second. At that moment I found myself in a real life nightmare.
* 15 yards behind me and I finally see them in their full glory. Beady black eyes and sharp, protruding horns. A massive black body, with 4 muscular legs and shoulders all in full sprint. In the blink of an eye they were on top of me, only 10 yards away.
* The bulls crashed onto the rest of us like a wave onto a rocky shore. I hear an American yell, "There they are"!
* I start to desperatly search for a way out. I see a gate about 5 yeards ahead. I didn't bother looking over my shoulder again. I could practically feel its breath on my back as I hear its labored breathing getting closer and closer. 10 yards, 7 yards, 6, 5....without hesitation I dove through the bottom opening of the gate like superman. Before I could even process what was happening, I felt two large hands grab my shirt by the shoulders and yank me backwards. I looked up to see a flash of black and a clatter of hooves as the bulls passed by. I then looked up in awe to see a man in uniform with a red beret looking down at me. Like someone who just witnesses a car accident, I was frozen.
* Then it dawned on me, I DID IT! I ACTUALLY DID IT. I MADE IT THROUGH THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS WITH LITTLE MORE THAN A SCRAPE ON MY ELBOW.
* I was safe.......but not for long.