Thursday, July 9, 2009


It's running of the bulls week in Spain!

The full force of the festivities won't hit until the weekend, when something like 25,000 people will pack the streets of Pamplona to party all night and watch the bull run in the morning, but already the scene there is thrilling -- five people were hurt during Thursday morning's record-worthy run. The race through the city's narrow, windy, cobblestone streets was 30-60 seconds faster than normal, according to reports.

Seven years ago, I was in Pamplona for the festival. We were studying in Gijon, about six hours southwest (by bus) and decided to skip class to see the event made famous by Hemmingway's "The Sun Also Rises."

I fancied myself a good candidate to run, but was strongly encouraged by locals that this was not a good plan, as I was American, a girl and likely still going to be drunk when the gun went off. Of course, all of these things were true. Another Oregon girl, Grace, and I had spent the night drinking in the street, then dancing in a dimly lit night club with some skeezy guys who tried to separate us in a dark alley. When we left them, we found some other men bent on teaching us how to drink red wine from leather canteens -- arcing the alcohol more than a foot from the mouth of the canteen into our own mouths. Our white pants (a requisite for the running of the bulls) were never the same.

These guys also taught us how to roll spliffs. It's fair to say neither lesson stuck.

Regardless, by daybreak Grace and I were ready for bed, not a three-minute stampede to safety. Some nice teenager (probably a drug addict, we decided) kindly help us find the race. Instead of entering, we found perches on a wooden fence that walled-in the race course that promised fantastic views of the action.

However, this was not meant to be. Some police, or at least men in uniforms with weapons, told us to get down. Apparently the fence was not intended as a spectator area, but rather a safety feature so racers in imminent danger of being gored could fling themselves over the wood to safety.

We had no idea.

This left Grace and I in front of a throng of people -- many still drunk like us -- anxious to see the marquee event. The gun went off and the crowd surged. We slammed against the fence. For a brief moment, I thought we would have the second-best vantage point (after losing out on our fence-top seats).

Then the cops came through, wantonly swinging their batons to urge the crowd back. Grace took one in the arm. I got it in the jaw and went down hard. Luckily, there were so many people around me, I never hit the ground, just fell on top of others caught in the trample -- and we weren't even on the bulls' side!

I righted myself as fast as I could (while holding my bloody lip) but the white- and red-clad runners had passed. I snapped off one photo of a white bulls' ass shuffling away from me.

It was one time the book was better than being there in real life.

Since then, I've thought about going back in hopes of having a more positive experience -- people know how to party at week-long Spanish street festivals -- but still think this is one race I would never consider entering.

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