Wednesday, July 11, 2007

San Fermin in Pamplona

Well, we weren´t injured running with the bulls in Pamplona. This is probably due to the fact that we didn´t actually run with them. Tuesday afternoon after we arrived in Pamplona, Paul told me that after thinking about it, he didn´t think he wanted to run. Especially since this was at the beginning of the trip where we´d be walking the entire time. Any injury, even a twisted ankle could make quick work of us out there on the road. He thought there was just too much to lose if something were to happen to either of us. He was right, really. He asked me how badly I wanted to run. I thought for a moment. I was both excited and terrified at the prospect of being closed into a tiny street with a mess of people wearing white and red and a dozen angry bulls. I didn´t really want to do it by myself, but if Paul came with me...

We had already bought balcolny seats at an English language school to watch el Encierro, the name for the running of the bulls, from above Calle Estafeta for the following morning. If we watched and decided it was safe enough and we really wanted to run, we could postpone the start of our camino and come back the next morning.

At about 5 minutes to 8 in the morning, the barricaded street in front of our balcolny was slowly flooded with runners getting a head start on the bulls. People stretched and jumped around preparing themselves for the chaos that was about to take place. The air was thick with anticipation. A few minutes later a cannon sounded and the people on the street began to move, some running, the more daring jogging or walking hoping to get a little closer to the charging animals. After about 2 minutes another cannon sounded and the bulls were released. A TV behind our balcolny showed the news coverage of the Encierro so we were able to see the entire path of the bulls as they ran the gauntlet taunted by runners to what would be their final resting place. The folks in the front of the pack probably made it to the bull ring to safety without seeing a bull at all. Others in the back ran along side of the bulls, making a game of touching the bulls massive sides or holding on to their horns. People ran into each other and fell every possible way in the street. One bull decided a runner was in his way and promptly flung him against a wall with his horn. Another guy trying to climb a wall was pulled back into the street and under a bull. Bull testicles in his face, the guy clung to the beast´s legs for dear life. The bull tried to stomp him, but was eventually prodded along by the bull chasers. All of this happened in a matter of minutes.

I really didn´t understand how much I wanted to be down there running until I was not. Some of you will probably think I am crazy after the scene I just described, but I envied those people who stood there in anticipation waiting for everything to get started while I watched from the sidelines. Not so much the guy who got stomped on, but the group in the front we could see from our balcolny, the 3 women who braved it down there in a sea of men, the group of buddies from London who wore matching green shirts and took off awfully quickly when the cannon sounded, the young couple about my age who ventured to the front of the pack. They all found a way to have this experience that they will probably remember for the rest of their lives. They took a risk, but found a way to make it a smarter risk and were rewarded with a story that they will probably tell for the rest of their lives to their children and their grandchildren.

I felt a profound sadness sitting in our room that afternoon in the aftermath of San Fermin. I´m not sure it even had anything to do with the bulls exactly. I just felt I had made a choice that was at odds with the way I want to live my life. Do I really want to watch life go by safely perched on a balcolny from afar? Or do I want to take life by the horns? If I choose the latter, I may get a little bruised and beat up along the way, but at least I will then have battle scars to show off and I think be better for the wear.

Then I began thinking about the Camino and why Paul and I are here in Spain in the first place. To have an adventure, to do something that will challenge us both physically and mentally. I suppose deciding to walk 400 miles on your summer ¨vacation¨carrying an 18 lb. backpack is not exactly sitting on the sidelines.

We didn´t go back the second day to run with the bulls. We did what we set out to do, started our camino. I was really OK with that. If I´ve got something to prove to myself about taking risks to gain great rewards, it doesn't need to be on a street in Spain with wild bulls. There will be other bulls in other towns. Maybe next time someone else will be watching from the balcolny and I will be the one running by.

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