The following weekend, Uge, Agus and I packed up the van with Sergio and Marc (whom I should have mentioned by now because they went to Lourdes with us and have been generally present for all of my time here), a really nice girl named Bea, and two guys I had never met before but who ended up being awesome: Alberto and Juan. Because we were headed to Pamplona to participate in the most highly-stereotyped Spanish culture activity there is: San Fermin! More commonly known as . . . running with the bulls!
Like the one above, every picture in this entry is taken from the Internet, because the weekend proved to be one in which taking your phone anywhere was as good as asking someone to steal it or dropping it in the toilet of a dirty restaurant bathroom. Pamplona was a giant party.
Bea very sweetly invited Uge and myself to stay with her in her friends’ apartment in Pamplona, while the boys stayed in another one. Unfortunately, I had come down with a cold after my trip to Madrid, and was not feeling great. When we got there at about eleven thirty, I thought: “Excellent! It’s not even midnight yet. I’ll get to bed now, sleep in in the morning, and then we’ll head down to see the bulls in the afternoon.” Implicit in that thought are several assumptions about the plan in which I proved to be mistaken:
- The bulls run in the afternoon.
- You can see the bulls.
- We are sleeping now.
- We are sleeping in in the morning.
- We are sleeping.
I half-fell out of the car with exhaustion, which drew a reaction out of Sergio that brought reality crashing down: he laughed and said, “You’re already tired . . . and the party hasn’t even started!”
So there were some things I hadn’t been totally clear on when the plan was forming. But it ended up being okay. I did choose to stay in the first night, though, and clean those poor girls who had graciously extended their home to us completely out of medicine. Uge came home at six in the morning to wake me up so that we could go see the bulls. I brought my phone so that I could take a video. When we got there, we were met with these huge fences lining the street that must have been eight feet tall. The people who had all-nighted it had already taken their places straddling the fence, and a large crowd had gathered beneath them to watch through the gaps between the railings. Neat as it was, it did mean that Uge and I couldn’t see anything. Between someone’s leg dangling from above, two bodies, and a head that bobs in and out of frame, I managed to capture one or two bull legs on camera. I think I also may have gotten a horn in there.
The next night-day, Uge, Bea and her two friends and I hung out a little bit in Pamplona. But since they didn’t wake up until four, we really didn’t do much but eat and prepare for the coming night-day’s festivities. The tradition of San Fermin is to wear all white with a splash of red, and you’ll appreciate how morbidly poetic the word “splash” is when you understand why: it symbolizes the blood from the killing of the bulls. Don’t worry; they don’t kill the bulls anymore, but it didn’t detract from the irony of wearing our little red scarves to Mass. After Mass, we went sans Bea (who was with her friends) to get döner kebap, which is one of my top two favorite new foods that I’ve discovered upon coming to Spain. Now, you don’t have to tell me it’s not “Spanish food,” but the experience essentially mirrors that which I would expect a Spaniard to have if he or she came to the US and tried Chipotle: life-changing. So even though I was a bit sniffly, I perked up right quick at the thought of eating what essentially is Chipotle, only Turkish. Kebap is incredible.
After kebap, Uge and I went to watch the fireworks show, which was beautiful. Then we went to meet up with her friend Inés who is an absolutely lovely person and who I’ve gotten to know throughout my time in Spain. We met her at a concert being held in a plaza with a famous Spanish artist, Huecco. I love to dance, and if I’m at a venue playing music in real life, I will dance to just about anything; but I really loved this guy. His style is best described as something “based on rock but mixing in Latin music and rumba, creating unique new styles such as rumbatón and rumbia” (and that ought to be considered the best possible description, because it came from the Huecco website). So while it’s largely an ode to Spanish culture through sound, it’s also got the rock element that, when combined with the horns section sprinkled throughout some songs, almost resembles the ridiculously danceable and oh-so-energizing genre, Ska. It’s so upbeat and funky that it’s impossible to dance to unless you’re content looking like an absolute moron. One friend of Inés’s asked me, “Do all Americans dance like that?”
After the Huecco concert, we stuck with Inés and her friends as we searched for our group. We found ourselves amidst a huge crowd in the streets of Old Pamplona that had gathered around what we knew to be a drum based on the sound, but couldn’t see thanks to all the red-and-white-clad bodies. Then by some strange instance of divine intervention, I looked over and saw none other than Alberto (who is quite tall) standing not far from me in the crowd. Uge and I joined back up with them and then almost lost them again when the crowd got so congested that it physically regurgitated itself, pushing people into strangers and out of the middle of the road. It would have been funny if it weren’t so scary and if trampling weren’t a legitimate cause of death. Fortunately, Alberto is as tall as he is, and we were not lost for long.
We went to a discoteca and danced for a bit, which was a total blast, but which is nearly impossible to elaborate on. So, yeah . . . we went to a discoteca, and it was a total blast!
Finally, we went to see the bulls. Only this time, we were prepared in advance. We waited in line at 6:00 AM to purchase entry into la Plaza de Toros, so while we wouldn’t get to see them running in real life, we would watch on a giant screen and get to see the really fun part: the bulls in the ring! I mentioned that they don’t kill them, and at this event, they don’t do the matador show where they stick enormous pins in the bulls, either. However, they showed us a couple of videos of the previous night-day’s bull-pinning activities, and it really made me uncomfortable. I was glad we weren’t going to see that part, but it didn’t escape me that participating in an event where bulls are goaded into running through a city of screaming people into a plaza of jackasses who run up and hit them to impress their friends was just as bad. That being said, it was always exciting when one of the bulls turned on some hipster with orange, lenses-popped-out Raybans and a cigarette – it sort of made you go like, “Okay, Nature! Do your thing!” It was also really funny when they brought out the baby bulls with their horns taped up, because it gave the aforementioned jackasses a lot more courage, which invited them to do a lot more stupid stuff. And those baby bulls messed them up! One that was filled with a particularly acute rage actually lifted guys into the air on several occasions, and in others, used his horns to trap people on the ground and proceeded to beat them with his hooves. It wasn’t fatal to anybody; he was just a calf with a Napoleon complex that he was actually able to entertain for the first time in his little life.
Pamplona was totally worth it, even though at the beginning I thought I had made a huge mistake by coming to such a high-intensity event with a cold. In the end, I persevered, though not without infecting half the group and likely instigating a widespread epidemic in Europe (I promised myself I wouldn’t make any tongue-in-cheek history jokes, but by saying I wouldn’t, I have just done exactly that).