15 September 2010

Hey, Toro! - San Sebastián de los Reyes [Day Seven]

My nights sleep in one word; restless. I was constantly waking up, whether because I was worried about missing the run, or I was so nervous about it, I'm not sure. Maybe a mixture of the two. I was up at 7:15, donned the traditional while shirt and red panuelo. While banging and crashing I woke up Kent, who had already run once in Pamplona. It didn't take much convincing to get him to come down with me.

By 7:45am we were on the course and pumped. It was a strange feeling, the senses seemed heightened, and time slowed down to a crawl. Those 15 minutes seemed to take an eternity. Then the shot went off. I jumped about a meter in the air. Compared to the next 30 seconds, the previous 15 minutes went by in a flash. My heart was racing, head thumping, brain telling me to get the hell out of there. People around me started running, but I held firm. Seconds later I could see a mass of people sprinting straight for me. I stayed right where I was. Then I saw them. HUGE bulls with massive horns and hooves pummelling the streets. I made a snap judgement, they seemed to be heading down the left hand side of the road, so I quickly sprinted over to the right, and I was off. I could literally hear their hooves behind me. I turned for a split second to make sure I wasn't going to be run down, and in that time some idiot stopped directly in front of me. I stumbled, almost falling. The bulls were right on me now, the first already making its way past. A girl slammed into the back of me and couldn't keep on her feet. I saw her go down and cover her head, the bulls hooves just inches from her. I tried to stop but there was no going back, a tide of people were pushing me forward. A second later the bulls had passed. I turned to see the girl on her feet (phew!) and chased the bulls right down to the stadium, where the doors were literally shut right in front of me.

I met a couple of others from the group and we decided to go in and check out what was happening in the stadium We paid our €3 and sat down in the stands. There were quite a few people milling around in the centre of the bull ring. Then one of the side doors opened and they let out one of the steers. Although nowhere near the side of the big bulls, he definitely was not small. What follows is a whole lot of people pretending they are bullfighters. The funny thing is, when the bull turns to them, they are all shit scared and run for the wall. There were a couple of guys that were completely crazy - actually jumping right over the bull! There was also one quite old guy who couldn't move quite as quickly as everyone else. He must have been doing it all his life because he was overly cocky. He was dancing around near the bull. Turns out the bull didn't like that too much, and decided to run him down and trample over him. He is quickly picked up and carried out. The shenanigans continue until the bull is so tired it can hardly stand, then they take it away and bring out a fresh one.

After about 30 minutes we had had enough and decided to go and get breakfast, then headed back to the hotel. Feeling a lot better than the previous day, I was not content to waste the day in bed, so decided to go out for a walk. I wandered around the park, saw some of the workers having a siesta and decided that wasn't such a bad idea. It was so freakin' hot! I picked up a couple of souvineers and bought a ticket for that evenings bull fight. There really wasn't a lot going on so I made my way back.

We had been told there was a pool not too far from the hotel. A trip to the pool sounded like a perfect idea - so Gil (one of the girls from the group) and I decided to head out and find it. Maybe it was the heat, but it seemed like forever to get there. It was out in the middle of nowhere!  But it was all worth it - a huge complex with about five pools, awesome green grass to lye on with plenty of trees for shade. It was like paradise. We spent most of the afternoon there, lazing around on the edge of the pool, and when we got a bit hot just rolling in to cool off.

That evening we headed out to the bull fight. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but it was still pretty gruesome. So much so that after two of six bulls I had had enough. If you don't know how it works I will give you a quick run-down. don't want to know, just skip ahead to the next paragraph. About three trainee matadors come out and play around with the bull for a bit. Some run behind the barrier as soon as the bull turns their way, others are more brave and draw the bull in close with their cape - drawing applause from the crowd. They have the bull run between the three of them, by attracting it with their capes and yelling 'HEY! TORO!'. After a while there is a special guy that has these spears - he has to run up to the bull and stick them in his back (check out the video below) I know that sounds quite bad - but I think the bulls hide is really thick, because it doesn't seem to bother them at all. Then guys ride out on blindfolded horses that have thick leather covers over them. The blindfolds are so they don't freak out, and the leather cover because they get the bull to charge at the side of the horse! The guy on the horse has a huge spear - and this is where it starts to get bloody. They spear the bull a few times, then finally the matador appears carrying a long, thin sword. He has the bull charge at the cape just inches from his body. Even though the bull is wounded it still has plenty of fight left. And the matador is fearless; sometimes turning his back on the bull and walking away! If I was in the ring my eyes would be glued to that bull and nowhere else. Once the bull is really tired the matador stands just in front of the bull and gets him to lunge forward. As it does, the matador drives the sword down between the bulls shoulder blades, in attempt to sever the spinal cord. If he is really good, the bull drops down dead straight away. This didn't happen while we were there... The trainee matadors appear within seconds and stand on each side of the bull, taking turns to wave their cape, getting the bull to look side to side. This is signed to help cut the spinal cord. Usually the bull will slowly drop down and die. If not, the matador has a small knife which he drives into the back of the head just below the skull. Then it is all over. The matador cuts the bulls ear off and parades around the ring showing it off. If the crowd thought he was good, they wave a white handkerchief, and if he was really good, they throw down flowers. Horses are led into the ring to drag away the body of the bull. It does sound really gruesome, but it seemed to me that the bull isn't really in a lot of pain throughout the fight. And when they do go to kill it, it is over really quickly. Well, most of the time anyway - Kent went to the fight the night before, and said the matador had to try three times to get the sword in the right place and finally kill the bull. He had to leave the ring in shame as soon as the fight was over. So overall, not as bad as I thought it would be, but still really not nice. I actually felt a bit sick afterward. I am glad I went, but I would never go back. For those with the stomach I took a couple of videos (nothing too gruesome), one of the guy with the spears, and one with the matador and the bull (but the bull is really tired by this stage).

Later we went out to watch the fire bull - a guy wearing a metal bull with fireworks attached - but missed it! We decided to check out the main street with all the marquees. It was absolutely rammed, so many people! Young and old, even whole families were out and about. We checked out a few of the tents, got some drinks, wandered around just enjoying the atmosphere. Then the fireworks started. One of the best displays I have ever seen - truly awesome.

On our way back to the hotel we went through the carnival and saw these two lovely ladies. What a great way to end the night.

Next Post - 'Lost in the Souk'

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