Day 47: Pamplona: A Bloody Long Day

The night in the bus provided only small spurts of sleep as I constantly faded in and out of consciousness. At one point I had a vivid dream that I was driving a car but happened to be paralyzed from the neck down. The car was speeding out of control as I could only sit back and watch my impending death. As the car was about to crash into a wall I let out a moan and came back to reality. The person sitting next to me gave me a weird look as the moan actually happened. I kind of laughed to myself afterwards over the ridiculousness of it all. Anyways, we arrived in Pamplona at about 4:30 in the morning and found the city completely trashed. Plastic bottles were crushed and trash was strewn everywhere. Since I had no idea where I was going, I followed around a group of Americans that I had met while waiting for the bus to depart. After getting lost in the city’s mostly vacant streets, we stopped at their hostel. From there, we continued on towards the city center where the bull run and ring was supposed to be. In the still early morning, we walked past what can only be described as the walking dead. Spaniards half-conscious from all the drinking they had done during the day and into the night wandered the streets and parks slowly in packs. Also, I stumbled across people calling it a night under numerous trees from having passed out after the previous night’s festivities. Most of the guys I was with bought the entire expensive outfit of white pants and shirt to go along with the red bandana while I just bought the bandana. As the early morning dragged on from my anticipation for the run that has merged man and beast, I was getting tired of dealing with these Americans who turned out to be some of the most unfriendly travelers I had met on my trip. With their choice to go back to the hostel to change into their San Fermin outfits, it was as good of a time as any for us to go our separate ways. I still didn’t know where the bull run took place but I figured I was bound to find it. After asking a few drunks that were no help (honestly, what did I expect? haha) I managed to find my own way. Eventually, I discovered the bull ring where the masses were beginning to converge in increasing numbers, which meant the winding streets that held this famous stampede was nearby. After getting startled by an idiot who threw down a firecracker right in front of me and others, I continued walking through the ever growing mob of people. Soon after, I spotted the street graced by the wooden barricades which were used to guide the bulls into the ring; I followed it all the way up to their city hall where the run would officially start. The run itself would not start for another hour or so, so in the meantime I lucked into meeting and talking with a couple of Americans and a Canadian. Two of them came to Spain strictly for this festival and paid heftily for it. Since I couldn’t bring a camera with me I got one of the guy’s email address to get some pictures of the festival. Knowing that I would be sleeping on a bus for two straight nights and trying to pull off the ultimate day trip I still need to bring along my essentials. I chose to fill a small plastic grocery bag filled with my glasses and contacts’ case and strap it to my back like a backpack under my shirt. Within the city hall’s square, a video composed of silly animated characters revealed all the different things the runners shouldn’t do including carrying a bag and slapping the bulls from behind among other things. Police were constantly taking people out of the area for having backpacks with them which got me worried about my own situation. At that point I didn’t want to take it off to risk getting exposed so I hoped and prayed that they wouldn’t catch me. As the moment slowly approached we talked about how we were scared yet excited at the same time; the adrenaline rush of a lifetime was literally right around the corner. After everyone got bunched up together for one last briefing, we were released to go to the spots where we would start the run. Since I enjoy living, I chose a spot after dead man’s curve which is where the bulls tend to slide and crash into the wooden fence and wall. An American around my age who I met in front of city hall turned out to be a really cool guy and decided to join me to this spot. After talking awhile, we seemed to have a general understanding that we should hang out and drink after the run was over. With roughly seven minutes before the alarm would be sounded (to alert the runners that the bulls had been released from their pen), I was grabbed from behind. The rest of these details are heartbreaking to relive but I will try my best. Police had grasped my tiny bag from under my shirt and took me towards the gate to leave the street. I pleaded with him incessantly and begged saying “por favor” after trying to explain I would throw it out but he wouldn’t have it. He took me around the barrier and shoved me out. Having something taken from you when you are so close and have traveled so far to reach, I can’t even summon the words to describe such a horrific experience. I ran to another nearby gate to try to watch what I could of the bull run but I only found a narrow portal through the many heads, legs, arms, and torsos that did very little to justify for what I traveled to experience. I got a quick view of the shuffling hooves of the bulls charging past but that was all. I followed everyone else towards the bull ring in hopes that I could somehow spot the American I had met but in a sea of so many people it was practically useless. I watched the highlights of the run at a nearby bar and kept kicking myself for losing out on experiencing that adrenaline rush. In one clip on the screen, I noticed the American in his yellow shirt running along with all the crazy Spaniards; I couldn’t help thinking that I should have been there running along with them. I went to eat some breakfast and attempt to clear my thoughts. Walking around Pamplona, the feeling of despair could not escape me. I was glad to be here for the San Fermin Festival but the reason I traveled out of my way from Barcelona was to run with the bulls. I got out of the city center to take a nap on a bench. With many other Spaniards doing the same whether in tents, sleeping bags, or nothing at all, I was fitting right in. Taking naps in the parks in Pamplona to tide yourself over to the next wave of partying is practically a rite of passage for the festival. With surprisingly very few English speakers around, I had a lot of time to myself and I mean a lot of time. I walked through the narrow streets of the older parts of the city and found homes colored very similarly to the ones in Cinque Terre. In America, I am so used to the vanilla, plain colored neighborhoods with homes that rarely stand out from the rest so this has been a pleasant sight. Every once in awhile I checked into churches to keep me busy and as a way to take a nap away from all the noise outside. In one church, I sat up close to the altar and quickly found myself apart of a Spanish baptism. The seat I chose ended up being where the rest of the family sat so I was literally apart of the whole event. The only thing missing was me pouring the holy water over the child to seal the deal. After that, I actually went back to the bus station to see if I could switch my bus ticket for an earlier time but found out everything else was booked so I would have to wait till 1:45 a.m. to leave. Since I had nothing else better to do for the rest of the day I figured I might as well join everyone else and drink. The drinks of choice were either sangria or sangria (those served in smaller containers from the bars or the 1.5 liter cheap plastic bottle variety from the grocery stores). I’ll let you guess which one I chose. This sangria was not like the drink I had back in Barcelona; this one tasted like the naughty cousin of Franzia with sugary juices mixed in (basically a great way to get drunk quick). While I drank this potent elixir, I watched and listened to the street bands performing. Everyone got into the beats of their drunks. I don’t know if it was the sangria talking but the music was damn good and did its best to put me into a good mood. The scene was basically drum line but infinitely better and it even got me jiving, haha. Parades also went by with more traditional Spanish music being played. I walked the full bull run course and ended up where they release the bulls initially from the dirt and sand filled pen. Near the pen I got a grand view of the city of Pamplona and came away surprised that the city was so large; I always had the impression of Pamplona as this small Spanish village. As the day rolled on and began to blend with the night, more and more people shuffled into the streets ready for a good time. I have never seen so many people packed together that it began to become a bit too much but seeing one of the biggest festivals in the world was pretty crazy to think about. Knowing these people partied this hard for a whole week seems difficult to imagine but Spaniards know how to have a good time. I spent most of the time soaking in the spectacle of the whole event perched on top of the wooden fencing that made up part of the bull run. Away from the hustle and bustle of the historic center I found a temporary exhibition that had posters revealing artists’ various interpretations of the festival. As you might expect most of the posters centered around imagery of the bull along with the crazies that dared to run in its path. Back at city hall I watched a crowd of people join together in a chant while onlookers began throwing their sangria into the air and onto the participants. I wish I could have done the festival properly but as social as I wanted to be the language barrier was too much to overcome. After getting my fill of the festival I headed to one of the main squares to look for a television to watch the 3rd place World Cup match. Nothing particularly noteworthy happened except for the sight of a leg of Jamon Iberico ham resting on a table right in front of me. After halftime I couldn’t wait any longer so I asked for a sample of this much hyped and prized meat. Not gonna lie, the meat was delicious; salty, tender, with a touch of fattiness. After the game ended, I headed towards the bus station. On the way there, I watched an artist make beautiful paintings using mostly just his hands. I thought the historic center was packed but the bus station seemed just as rowdy. Outside the station people were bunched together in what looked like a Woodstock concert, standing, sleeping, drinking, and pissing everywhere. I can’t imagine doing that night after night. I finally got on the bus back to Barcelona and slept like a baby (while hopefully not talking or moaning during my slumber). As tired as I was, I could have slept on a bunch of piled up plastic Don Simon sangria bottles in the park and it wouldn’t have made a difference. A close-to-24-hour day can have that effect.

 

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