Monday, 14 July 2014

Pamplona - how I ended up in Spain, Part 3

By the time we got back to the camp from the fireworks and debriefed, it was 1am before I made it to bed. My alarm was set for 5am the next morning and I had had a little bit of sangria the night before. After an eventful and sleepless few hours (note: my tentmate's mattress being sneakily stolen as I watched it sliding through the tent opening, not with my tentmates voice on the other side ;) ), I woke up about 4.30am and figured..this'll do. I'm not going to get any more sleep. Let's get this show on the road.

As I emerged from my tent, a figure dressed all in white stumbled past me to hurl at the tree base. This was off to a good start. I made my way to the shower (got in straight away, *fist pump*!) and realised that I was suffering from a mild-medium hangover. Back at my tent and a nurofriend later, I packed up my things and played the waiting game. Surrounded by a lot of seedy faces, we slowly made our way to the bus. I, for one, was wondering what the hell I was doing. I was dressed all in white, red sash around my waist, red neckerchief tied tied, arms crossed against the bitter cold. I was intending to run with the bulls that morning, and I was petrified.

I ran into Bec as I was boarding the bus. "Are you running?" I squeaked. Affirmative, and so we made the pact to meet before. Amy, too was prepared to run - but I couldn't find all the other brave girls who had sworn they were joining in too. At the conclusion of the nausea ting bus ride (reminder: I was battling a mild hangover), the girls and I grabbed some water and made our way to the town square. We pushed our way towards the centre - the crowd at this stage tight, but not claustrophobic. Somehow amongst the madness, we spotted the boys who were running and made our way over to them. Again, here stood a few unwell faces, tired eyes, nauseous souls. I shook. I was scared. I didn't know what to expect. We quizzed a boy who had run the day before. "Where do we go to start? How should we do it? What happened yesterday? Did you fall over? How many bulls do they release?"

The generally agreed tactic was to make our way past Dead Man's Corner (at Dead Man's Corner, bulls often lose their footing and slide out, crushing people against the side). After Dead Man's Corner it was. The next pointer was to wait until the first lot of about 6 bulls had past, run like hell to try to make it to the arena before the second lot of 2 bulls.

Suddenly the crowd surged and we got to know our neighbours a whole lot better. The crowd packed in. Obviously the police had begun shaving people from the edges and setting up the barriers. We stood pressed together, making small talk. Myself being so little, I was generally around armpit height, which is always fun. The instructional video continued to be broadcast on repeat: a cheerful cartoon with strangely calming music. The video made one think that the Running of the Bulls was a leisurely stroll in the park with a couple of non-threatening fluffy cows, not adrenaline filled madness with unpredictable, mad enormous bulls. Interestingly, one of the reasons that I was apprehensive about running with the bulls was that traditionally, women are not welcome. I had absolutely no problem from the Spanish men and was met with smiles, not spitting or bottles hurled at me as others had described. The instructional video also had changed with the times and each instruction alternated between a male cartoon (leisurely strolling in the park with a fluffy cow) to a female cartoon (leisurely strolling in the park with a fluffy cow).

The crowd surged even more than I thought humanely possible. If arms were up, they stayed up. If you were facing backwards - backwards is how you were going to remain. I lifted my head backwards in the vain hope of breathing some fresh air. Almost as suddenly, the crowd eased and I realised it was time. Absolutely no backing out now. Bec and Amy and I, along with the boys began to make our way down the track. In a few minutes, the cannon will sound, indicating the bulls have been let lose. We quickly made our way down, with a small startled sprint when someone beside us began to sprint. Lots of jumpy, nervous people around. The slightest twitch would set the people off on a scattered run.

We found a doorway vantage point down past Dead Man's Corner and nervously waited, chatting with another Aussie who we also found in the doorway. We heard the cannon, and then we waited with baited breath to see when others would start running - that means the bulls were there. People soon ran past us and pushed us closer to the wall. With a single layer of people between myself and the bulls, they powered past. I screamed as I watched two people fall and get tangled beneath the bulls hoofs in front of me. I hope they were ok. I began to run to try to keep up with the bulls but I fell behind. The pathway opened and the remaining two powered past. Sadly I wasn't quick enough to make it into the arena as the gates closed - a fact I feel conflicted towards - I'm not sure how I would have coped in the arena as once in, there's not a lot of escape. Maybe next year, now I know what I'm doing ;)

Bec and I had stayed together, and we tried to find another way into the arena. All tickets were sold by now and scalpers no longer to be seen so we started to make our way back to the meeting point to see if Amy got into the arena or not. On the way, we ran into her and made our way to a cafe that was already showing life replays of the run that just happened. Lots of ooohs and aaaahs and oh my god's later, we'd seen the replay from a few different perspectives (the whole course was rigged with cameras; above, on the ground, on the shops). We were starving by now and went to try to find some tapas, but ended up getting some chocolate and churros instead.

Back at the camp, it was all lazy times, naps and packing as we were to be leaving that day. What a crazy ride. I couldn't bring myself to drink any more sangria. We packed and sat around, some nursing hangovers, reminiscing on crazy last few days of our lives and dreading the upcoming 20 hour coach ride. Rumour was spreading that there were exactly half as many people coming home with us, allowing everybody to have a full 2 seats to themselves.

The coach ride was painful as to be expected and nothing out of the ordinary happened. We arrived back to the coast of Calais where I was let back in the UK without a second glance (unlike my first eventful experience getting into the country) and we made our way back to the Walkie, where the adventure had begun.

Spain, you had me. I feel had. You're a crazy, crazy place. I'll be seeing you soon.