by Anna Idler
“There is a man reading a newspaper front of us.”
Rachel poked my arm and motioned to the front of the crowd. Though my five-foot frame doesn’t allow me to see much in these congested situations, I managed to locate him: she was right. An elderly man in a red “Pamplona” bandana was standing in front of the crowd with a newspaper, leisurely reading and looking around. Almost bored.
“He’s calm. And if he can do it,” Rachel confidently asserted, “then we can too.” Meanwhile my mind was on an American from New Jersey that got gored in the leg by a bull’s horn the day before.
I nodded, excited and terrified at the same time. I glanced at the clock above us, fixed on the stone walls of the alley where we stood. Ten more minutes, and we would be running with the bulls.
The Running of the Bulls occurs in Pamplona during the eight-day festival of San Fermines. We were there for the last three days of it. Rachel, her friend Erika who was visiting us from New York, and I secured a spot on the fences our first day at the festival to watch. The whole race lasts three minutes, probably less; bulls are fast.
Rachel and I knew we had to run it.
Our hotel provided a shuttle to pick up guests at the festival and drive them back to the hotel. The morning the three of us went to the race to just watch, Rachel and I asked our shuttle driver where a “safe place” was to start the race. He chuckled.
“There is no safe place,” he said, seeming appalled that we would think there was.
Five more minutes. The crowd was antsy. Everyone near us was animatedly chanting and clapping, ready to get going. The police were letting people move up further, those of us who who wanted to be far away from where the bulls would be freed. Rachel and I jogged closer to the stadium, where the race ends.
One minute. Rachel hastily, intelligently, set a meeting place in case we get separated. As I’m thinking we’d better not the gun goes off signaling the bulls have been let loose.
We stay where we are, thinking we can time it so that we’re running closer to where the bulls are to make it a little more thrilling, but are still playing it “safe” by being near the stadium.
Our shuttle driver was right. There is no safe place. Within seconds we heard the bulls pounding their way down the street. Refusing to look behind me at what was coming, I sprinted into the stadium and leaped over one of the barriers to the right side.
I didn’t know this at the time because, of course, we got separated, but Rachel ran to the left and couldn’t find a free barrier to jump behind to protect herself from the bulls. She was rescued by a Spanish man who screamed “AMIGA” and grabbed her by the arms to pull her over.
From each of our sides we both saw the bulls come rushing in, the unlucky runners near them covering their heads as the bulls stampeded over them. The stadium was deafeningly loud with people yelling, fear mixed with elation mixed with relief that it’s all over.
Rachel and I found each other and breathlessly recounted our stories from either side of the stadium. We were laughing as we ended our morning with another sprint, catching our shuttle right before it left for the hotel. Our shuttle driver said he saw us on TV before the race, all smiles as we walked to the start. I don’t think he could believe we did it.
Participating in this experience made me feel connected to the runners in Pamplona. All different cultures and backgrounds were there that morning at dawn to feel something powerful: maybe it was accomplishment, or adventure, or danger, or a little bit of all of that combined.
I loved being a part of that kind of energy.
26 year-old Anna Idler lives in Montgomery County, PA and is a freelance writer for Montco Happening. To learn more about her travels, check out her website Outlaw Summer.
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