Friday, July 13, 2007

Spain - Running with the Bulls

Bien si usted quiere que una manera rompa un rato seco va simplemente a España!!!

It’s a Tuesday night (well it's actually Monday night a week later and I'm recovering from a massive weekend in Nottingham and JB's birthday drinks), CSI Miami is on, I am typing on my laptop in the kitchen with my infected foot – the calf is basically double the other one - in a bucket of salted hot water and I’m popping antibiotics. What has done this to me?

Fiesta de San Fermin, or as Hemingway titled it in The Sun also Rises; The Running of the Bulls. Well that and a cheap 48 year old Bolivian prostitute - but back to the point...

Nine days earlier

Sunday morning 8am. Rolling out of bed, the celebrations of beating West London in all three grades combined with Clarke’s birthday meant I was sore. A quick few calls and the boys weren’t in much of a mood to get to Gatwick. But march on we did. Flopping in to the plane it was an arduous 2 hours to Barcelona with Crossy and Becks by my side, but safe and sound we arrived and it was straight to the usual tourist sites mixed with sangria and tapas.
7pm – time for a siesta. Rising at 11pm it was time to hit the clubs. A random night saw Crossy disappear with in 11 seconds of us leaving the club, Becks and I get into a random car with an invite to some dodgy bar by two German girls – only for is to be convinced we were going to be robbed and dumped in the streets (so we ditched them at the door) – a walk around the city looking for food, and stumbling in at 7am to the abuse of our new roommates.

I knew immediately I was going to like this town

Monday we slept. Beach from 1pm to 6pm. Bart burn from 2pm to 8pm. Bar hopping and tapas from 9pm to 1am then Bart had to go home to nurse his third degree sun tan. More tourist stuff and bar hopping, blah, blah, blah, let’s get to the bulls.

A six hour bus drive meant we finally got some sleep, arriving in the afternoon and partying through the evening.

Walking the course in preparation for the next day was the plan follwed by exploring the town before it stunk of piss and drunk people, which was very quick mind you, and then a lazy day by the beach in San Sebastian before heading back to the camp site for fun and frivolity.

The next morning things started well. We had our Sangria and it was time for the Fiesta De San Fermin opening. Basically, thousands of people crowd in the Plaza Consistoriala and at midday the mayor fires a rocket into the sky to signal the opening of the festival. It starts well. People are happy. You are soaked in champagne, sangria, beer and flour. Strangers turn in to best friends and more, and there is a huge festival feel.

Before sangria

After sangria

Then at 11am the pushing begins. The pushing becomes so intense and ferocious that it is actually dangerous. You can’t move, breathe and if you fall you’re fucked. With 20 minutes to go KiKi (a girl travelling with us) fainted in to my arms, eyes rolled back and lips started turning a different colour. Crossy seeing the same started pushing through the crowd, which is basically immovable. After 10 minutes we had moved 3 feet, Crossy had been separated from the pack and I was alone holding KiKi. Luckily right next to us was an Aussie nurse – Graham – who took her while we literally fought out way through the pack by punching, eye gouging, biting and - my favourite - stomping on the ground so glass sticks in your shoe and then running it down the legs of people who were pushing back. Even with this it took us 30 minutes to get KiKi three metres to a wall so that we could barricade our way around her so she could breathe. You may think this is an exaggeration, but remember a lot of the people that were there are reading this, so I can’t really talk crap. By the end of this the city is so crowded with pickpockets, drunks and everyone groping (well, the women anyway), you don’t push past people when you’re walking but you drop your shoulder and charge them. It’s really difficult to stop this habit once you start. I even started bowling people over on the way to the pool at the campsite, and the first day back on the tube was fraught with tempatation!!!

Back to camp for a siesta. We were rooted. It was a 5am start the next day for the bull run so we were ready to get an early night. A day by the pool followed by a live band and flowing bar at the camp site meant we ended partying with some very funny Sydney girls who were in the tent across from us, including Deb, my verbal jousting partner for most of the trip. Turns out her ex-boyfriend is the media manager for the Wallabies so she was well trained in the ways and tricks of a shit spinner and more than capable to banter.

The two hours sleep that night meant I wasn’t really refreshed to throw myself in front of a 700 kg beast. But march on.

The next morning I was pumped, sick, quiet, loud, excited, scared and nervous. Crossing over the double safety fencing, past the wide eyed spectators and in to a feverous sea of red and white, I was numb. Everyone was. It was strangely quiet with a lot of people fidgeting and shuffling. I started to dance to the trumpets being played to get rid of the nervous energy.

Walking to the course - I believe shit scared is the correct term

It’s 7am and the safety demonstration comes on. Am I the only on that finds this pointless? I’m going to throw up. I need some water. There’s an open shop 40 metres back so I head in there as it is about to board up. Heading back I hear commotion. The Spanish police – with no explanation – have decided to start hitting people with batons and rolling tear gas in to sections of those assembled. This was their way of clearing the crowd as it had become too large. I’m locked on the other side of Dead Man’s corner; where the Mercaderes and Estafeta streets join and form a 90 degree turn where bulls and people go flying and are most in danger. In 97 years there have only been 15 deaths and 200 horn injuries in the run. Twelve of those deaths have been on this corner. This was where my race was to begin. At 8am the rocket to go was due to fire, but confusion and panic meant people sprinted for the Palza deTores (bull ring) with out the bulls being released. Not seeing any bulls a few of us waited while hundreds ran off. We didn’t come all this way not to see the damn things!

Then you hear them. A clip clopping in the distance is drowned out by shouting, but it gets louder and is soon the only thing you hear. All of a sudden the balconies around you are ringing with ‘Toro, toro, toro’ and then that excitement turns to sheer terror as coming around the corner are 700 kilogram giant steaks with horns. These things are massive. Head to ground you’re looking at 6-foot plus. But you don’t see that. You just see horns rising above the crowd. Then it becomes a scene out of Braveheart – how long can you hold. Then the crowd splits and you run for your fucking life. Sprinting up the middle of the street you soon realise how fast these things are. Looking back I got the fright of my life when I realised how close a big black one was to me. Hearing it snorting as it ran, I peeled off to the side as a steam bulls ran by to my left. Running with them soon became difficult as the amount of people means you get pushed out. So slowing down and stopping for breath, I shared a laugh with the Spanish man in front of me. Smiling and joking his face suddenly turned to ash white.

Quickly turning around I got the scare of my life as a bull, which had been separated from the pack after falling at Deadman’s corner, was flying through the crowd hitting everyone in it’s way in a panic to find the herd. Before I had time to move it collected the man next to me who was tossed to the bull’s right and, with a well placed elbow, hit me in the face and knocked me on to the ground filled with broken glass, sangria and other assorted nasties. Rising from the ground I started to head towards the area before realising that I had a 2 inch piece of glass protruding from the achilles heel. Pulling it out I thought: ‘she’ll be right, no need for antiseptic cream on that’, hence my current predicament with the antibiotics.

My race was over. I’d survived.

Returning to camp after watching the action in the bull ring post-race (where they release bulls with corked horns in to the crowd simply to injure people – alright!!!!) it was pool and siesta time. That night we were off to party in Pamplona down San Nicolas and watch the fireworks. Trumpets, sangria, joining parades – I joined one that had a rainbow flag and jeez they were friendly – fire works and general frivolity and our running with the bulls experience was complete.

Leaving the next afternoon this was our goodbye to sweet Emma who was departing for Australia for good. So, farewell Em, you know we’ll all miss you even though it’s only be 8 months I’m sure we’ll all remember you. While you may think we’ll remember you like this:
It’s more like this that will stick in my memory.
Good luck and see you soon.

For photos and videos click here.


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