Friday, May 14, 2010

The Quick , the Lucky, and the Gored!

The sound of the rocket exploding sends chills down your spine, instantly forcing people into shear panic. Most take off running like scared mice escaping down a half mile maze,cowardly fleeing for their lives. Those who welcome the challenge stand their ground, hopping up and down to prime their muscles. Your heart pounds to the roar of the crowd, thump thump thumping so hard it feels like it is trying to burst from your chest and save itself. Adrenaline pulsates through your muscles, forcing natural self preservation instincts of fight or flight.

The last rocket explodes causing even more panic,reality sets in. There is no doubt now they are on their way, 1600 pounds times 12, charging toward you at 18 miles per hour, and pissed off. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. You have been locked in, buildings keeping you tight, fences blocking every direction except one. You have two choices, to run like hell, or to dodge.

Those of you out there who love adrenaline packed adventures, love drinking at crazy festivals, love getting crammed in with thousands of other strangers, or just enjoy watching people getting badly injured, then the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, is the one stop shop for you. This festival made famous by the deadly "running of the bulls", begins every year on the 6th of July and runs till the 14th. A religious festival dating back to the 13th century, this event has drawn thousands of dare devils each year to push their luck, 26 people most recently last year, have been killed trying. Made world famous by Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" published back in 1926. Ok, enough of the history. You can look up more about it on your own. I'm here to share you an experience that you will never forget and one you have to do at least once.

The day I retired from professional sports and no longer had rules for what I could and could not do, I started checking things off my bucket list. I was already planning on traveling through Europe during the summer of 07, so I made sure I wasn't going to miss the running of the bulls. Like any other adrenaline experience your anxiety increases the closer you get to it, thanks to videos like this, you start to think of all the ways you could get injured.

The fun begins on the 6th, with people gathering in the city squares to await the mayor, who gives the official announcement that the festival has begin. After a quick speech and the lighting of a rocket, all hell breaks loose. Crammed into small squares the town celebrates like they just won the world cup. Sangria, beer, what ever else can be tossed, ends up in your eyes and all over your body. Songs and cheers break out as everyone becomes your best friend. If you really want to have fun make your way the square in front of city hall, where the mayor gives his speech, and get ready for the "big crunch." Wave after wave of people trying to squeeze the living shit out of you, big beach balls dropped to whack around, and locals throwing buckets of water down on you from the balcony. Make sure have enough alcohol to last for a few hours. You ain't going no where.

This video is from the year I was in this square.

After hours of feeling like an anaconda has wrapped it's body around you, even lifting girls off their feet, the crowd starts to pour out into the town and you can finally breath. Make sure you wear shoes to this, other wise your feet will get F@#ed. Trust me! Broken glass is everywhere. The rest of the day go get hammered, try out local restaurants and have a marry of a good time. Don't miss the idiots smashing themselves on the ground, trying to stage dive from the top of a fountain into the waiting arms of strangers. If you have grande pelotas, feel free to stay up all night partying your ass off. Those of you wanting to be able to make life saving decisions, without being hungover or drunk, sober up and get some rest. The next morning will blow your mind.

The next morning get up around 6 am and make your way into the bull run. Fight your way through the crowd still drunk and partying from the night before. I had to fight my ass off to make it through the crowd to get into the run, because I waited to long. Once in the run make your way as far up the course as possible. They start to put up the fences early to keep more people from entering the course. At about 7:30 a group of policia, form a line and and beat half the crowd down the course like riot police, trying to thin out the number of people in the run. If you have a camera hide it, if you are a girl cover your face, they will kick you out. Don't be a dumb ass like some guys I met and hold beer in your hand or look hammered the policia don't have the same rules that police over here have, you will get beaten.

At 8 am they release a rocket that scares the crap out of everyone because you know they have released the bulls. Six bulls and Six steers, charge out of the gate and down the course. Some people panic and run down the course without ever having any bulls pass them, entering the bull arena to the boos and whistles of disappointed fans. Don't be one of these pussies, they will throw stuff at you. Wait till you see the real panic on peoples eyes when the bulls come, it's a better experience. They are faster than you think, so make sure to run as fast as your can or jump out of the way and get in behind them and enjoy having them plow the course for you. I laughed my ass off running behind a group of four bulls, as they acted like a bulldozer smashing over people and causing me to leap bodies on the way down the course.

Here is a glimpse into the danger of the run.

If you're fast enough and or lucky enough to not have gotten gored, stay close enough to the bulls to make it into the arena before they shut the gates and lock you out, another challenge awaits you. Inside, if you really want to push your luck, line up near the back gate and squat down, make sure to duck your head..... Trust me you will thank me later. I won't tell you what happens but when it does you will shit your pants. Don't fall for the line and take a group picture prank like I did.

If you don't want to do this. Have fun playing run away from the crazy younger bulls, as they try to smash every single person in the area. I was completely worn out after about 30 minutes of trying to get run over and flipped. If you get run into, don't hold onto the horns if you do, you will get your butt kicked by the locals. It's disrespectful to touch the bulls, unless of course you have to pound on one like I had to save a poor older man who kept getting stomped on.

If you make it through this last test, which a lot don't, ( I watched as a guy broke his neck being flipped) then give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself. You made it! Enjoy standing in the middle of an arena packed with thousands of people and sing with the crowd. It's the closest you will ever get to felling what it must have been like to have been a gladiator in Rome. Good Luck!

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