This is the second post in a series about the tales of Juan Blanco and his adventures in Spain. You can read the first one here.
The year was 1995. I had just graduated from high school and was on my second trip to Spain, where I would once again be spending the summer.
I remember the exact moment when my host brother, Manuel, turned to me and asked me if I wanted to go to "Los Sanfermines." I didn't know what he was talking about. He said, "you know, where they do the running of the bulls." I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew I wanted to go. It was only a couple of days away and he warned me that all the hostels and hotels would already be full.
We would be spending two days on the streets.
Later that day we bought our bus tickets to Pamplona. We packed our bags, I didn't bring much:
- Backback (Doubled as a pillow)
- Sleeping Bag
- 2 changes of underwear
- a pocket knife
- Red Scarf (this is traditional)
- Huge bottle of vodka and equally huge bottle of OJ
While still on the bus, we talked about whether or not we should run with the bulls. I just assumed that we would be. It sounded like fun! However, Manuel told me that every year several people get gored, trampled, and end up dead. Besides, we were going to be out all night and the running of the bulls happens at sunrise. We decided it was best to watch it from behind the fence.
Image: El Mundo
It's Quite a Party
Once we finally got there and got out into the streets you could feel the electricity in the air. With over one million people in attendance in a city of 300,000, there were literally people everywhere. You see, there is far more to Los Sanfermines than the running of the bulls. Every bar in the city was overflowing. The streets of Pamplona were alive with music, fireworks, folkloric events, dancing, singing and traditional ceremonies. We spontaneously joined parades that were winding through the city's streets and plazas, singing songs (that I didn't know the words to) and chanting at the top of our lungs.
Dancing With Tigre
We met people from all over the world in Pamplona. I think before the two days were over, we partied with people from every content (except Antartica of course). We partied with the thousands of other people that were on the streets and didn't have anywhere else to go. It's funny that I would remember someone who I couldn't even have a conversation with. Tigre (not his real name) was from Japan. He couldn't speak either English or Spanish, I couldn't speak Japenese. There are three things I will never forget about Tigre, his bleached blond hair, his funky dance moves, and his infectious laugh that made everyone laugh even if we didn't know what the hell he was saying!
Time for the Main Event
We had partied all night, over half the bottle of vodka was gone, and the sun was starting to rise. The bands had stopped playing and the parades were over. The people were all making their way to watch the running of the bulls. As you can see from the picture above, getting a good spot to watch can be difficult. We found a spot behind a fence where we could peek through to see the street and had a good view of the madness that was about to unfold in front of us.
I turned to Manuel and said, "I want to do it. Come on, let's jump the fence!" After drinking half a bottle of vodka, I was hardly in a condition to be walking, much less running away from huge animals with sharp horns all the while avoiding the hundreds of other humans that are running. At that moment, Manuel grabbed my arm and pulled me in so that I knew he was dead serious. He looked me right in the eyes and yelled, "John, it's almost always a drunk American that that gets killed Don't do something stupid." I decided he was right.
My Reality Check and Aha Moment
Once our two days were up, we boarded the bus to go home. We were tired, hung over, and ready to get back home to our beds. On my seat, there was a newspaper that someone had left behind. The headline, "22-Year-Old American Killed in The Running of the Bulls." That could have easily been me. Thank goodness for the sense of my host brother, Manuel.
Always surround yourself with good people that can provide you with a reality check when you need one.