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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Run

San Fermin kicked off and it had been up until that point like a gathering and a sizzling of little bubbles until the pop off the cork of a champagne bottle. People by the thousands assembled all wearing their whites and their red sashes around their waists along with their red handkerchiefs about their necks. I slipped into this festival wear as well.

Sangria with Coke was thrown about the crowds often converting th general white festival uniform into slaphappy pinks and purples. Everything seemed to have exploded, and the result was the biggest party that I've ever seen.

All day and night long the party was constant and never ending. The streets late through til morning were packed with the Spanish youth. Many of these drunk, many dancing, many bouncing from bar to bar not collecting dust in one corner of this old Spanish city. The music and the tipsy clamor constantly crashing in the air. Whole procession bands and sometimes the most incredible drum lines banging and clanging through the streets packed people dancing like they were dancing the Tarantella. Bitten by some poisonous spider that made people hop and prance madly through the streets long ago during the Middle Ages. Bottles, cups, trash, and an occasional party-goer strewn haphazardly about the alleyways. It was wild. And put any frat boy attempt to shame.

This was the first night of San Fermin; there was to be 6 others. The Running of the Bulls takes place so early that instead of going to bed, I reckon I'd stay out all night. That way by 5, i could start to claim my position. I also had to study the famous route of the bulls to know which way to go. Sometime after 4 in the morning, while the first night of partying was still going strong, I began to survey the possible positions. I even made it to the corral and took a look at the huge bulls that were to be the stars of the morning.

Near the start of the route, I came to a large group of Americans. All young men in their early twenties. And all from New York City. None of these guys had run before. They were a little nervous. So I started to speak to them. And because I had done some research, they began to bombard me with questions as though I really knew anything about what we were about to do.

The area where we were at, was called the Ayunomiento, or the City Hall. It was regarded as one of the best places for beginners. Because there is this steep hill from where the bulls are coming from. The advantage is that you can actually see the bulls coming. That, and running up the hill the bulls are a little slower than usual. The area also has lots of places to exit. So for the next two hours, we stand in this area waiting, while more and more runners assembled.

The sun finally rises and shines, bringing a pinch of commonsense to what I was attempting. One New Yorker kept wrestling with the idea of getting out of the run. That he didn't want to die and so forth. But everyone encouraged him and told him that he'd only regret missing this opportunity seeing how he was leaving Pamplona the next day.

Closer and closer, the time got. 30 minutes turned into 15 minutes. 15 minutes into 10 min. And then 5 min. And all the while I'd been standing for so long, and had been dancing with Spanish girls the whole night through. I begin to wonder if my feet would hold out; they were so tired. And then that one golden minute arrives, and everything hangs as though the universe stops expanding during that one minute. The streets are packed with white-dressed runners. Many worried looks and anxious glances at watches. And a brave tightening of the red sash. And the "BLAM!" the first rocket shoots off. People begin to cheer. That's when the corral doors open. There is a certain strange anticipation not just perceived within myself, but within the entire crowd. Then the 2nd rocket goes off, which signifies that all the bulls are out of the corral and into the streets, running my way. All eyes are strained towards the road. Some people begin to run early before a bull is even seen. But then, up and around the slight turn advances these huge white creatures. Maybe it was my imagination, but what seemed to be even a cloud of dust behind them. And in that glance I saw where people used to be, vast spaces. Everyone in front of the bulls was scurrying. I didn't waste my time either. The bulls would be here in no time. I began sprinting up the hill, people rushing every which way. When running its hard to tell how close they were behind me. It didn't take me too long to get to the large space in front of the City Hall Building and cut a sharp left next to the fences. Though swarms of other people were doing the same thing. I ended up getting packed next to the fence by other people. One person jumbled up onto the sides, as soon as everyone had packed themselves up against the fence, said, "Ok. Now everyone keep still." Just then, these massive white blurs whizzed past. Totally oblivious to all the people bunched up to either side of them, with nothing to separate us from them.
The first group had rushed by, and I had just craned my neck around, and almost decided to chase after the bulls, when 1 or 2 other bulls passed by. As soon as these passed, I rushed out from the wall of people and began to chase after the bulls at full throttle. I didn't know I had it in my poor, poor feet to run that fast that far. Of course, the bulls had already long gone left my sight of vision. But if I kept on running I just may be able to make it into the arena. I knew there was a slight chance in that.

While running, I do recall full vaulting over someone in the middle of the street. Further down on the other side a worker was trying to hold off the crowds from running, due to keeping someone who fell from getting trampled on. By the time, I got near the arena, the crowds were thick. And it looked like I was going to make it. I picked up speed and made it into the tunnel which led into the arena. When, I got this sense of panic from people behind me. I heard people begin to yell and scream in fright. And then I realized what it was, it was the steers that follow up the run. I heard their large bells clanging. And I also knew that being in the tunnel was the worst possible place to be with a herd of enormous bovines plowing through. Though, they were not as wild and ferocious as the bulls, all it takes is to get knocked down and trampled on by these "tamed" animals to complete a visit to a hospital. The end of the tunnel was near, and from what I could sense the steers were right behind me. There was this random girl to my right, who began to yell, and as we finally exited the tunnel into the arena, I cut an immediate left and grabbed the girl by the shoulder and pulled her with me. Fortunately doing so, for immediately behind us were the steers, which charged straight out of the tunnel, just barely missing us who cut over out of the way just in time.

Then the feeling of elation arrives. I found myself in the middle of an arena with thousands of people watching and cheering with all the runners that made it into the arena. It isn't too long before, the cows are unleashed into the arena which means all types of more fun and more mishaps. But I will share more about this later. Thus, this concludes my first running of the bulls. I was going to detail my 2nd run here also. But seeing how I am in an internet cafe in Ireland and its really expensive. I will hold off on my 2nd run, which I think I rank it above my 1st run. Until then,


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