According to Spain-Info.com:
“Every year from July 7th-14th thousands pack into Pamplona to start Spain’s most famous bull-running fiesta to honour Navarre capital’s patron saint, San Fermin … [on] July 7th, runners (mainly young men) gather at the bottom of Santo Domingo, which is the starting line. Then, as a rocket goes off, a number of fighting bulls are let out onto the streets. A second rocket is then let off to make sure everyone knows the bulls are loose in the street. The bulls run along the narrow street 825 metres (half a mile) to a bull ring. The runners dash along in front of the bulls, aiming to feel the breath of the bull on their backs, getting as close as possible—all whilst trying to avoid getting gored by their sharp horns.”
Bulls are kind of a big deal in Spain. There are even bull silhouettes that lines the highways (which turns out to be a sherry advertisement). There is bullfighting, bull running, and just love for bulls in general. (But ham, ham is what they eat. Don’t let yourself be fooled. Beef will never measure up to a good salchichón or serrano ham.) I had the pleasure, so to say, of experiencing this on Saturday.
I traveled with Mario to Manzanal del Barco, which has a population, according to Wikipedia, of 194 habitants. I would venture to say it’s less than 100 in the winter. Mario’s family has another house there, and his parents like to go there on weekends. It’s very rural, with no grocery stores. No fear, though. There is indeed a bar where you can get tapas/beer/wine/soda. And a truck comes round with bread from the village next door, Carbajales. Carbajales is where the bull spectacle, if you will, was held.
According to its website, they celebrate their patron saint from September 8-10. The best event is called “Espanto,” which literally means “Horror.” Yes, the Spanish like to scare. On the 8th, they release the bulls from the famous cannon corral. A rocket goes off to let the spectators know they have been released. A few dozen men on horseback accompany them, carrying spears, which they use to prod the bulls into action. However, not all of our amateur lancers are filled with courage, as I saw.
Surrounding this are more spectators in cars. We followed in the car and got out when it didn’t seem too dangerous. But the damn bull was quite content to do absolutely nothing. I mean, I can hardly blame the poor fellow. Here he was, probably just hungry and bored under the hot Castilla sun, and there were around a dozen men only pretending to poke him. That’s nowhere near enough to get his hackles up. He just watched, we watched, the men on horseback pretend to spear him … this went on for about an hour.
Then, suddenly, the bull moved. So we followed. I had no. idea. why. I suppose I’m not Spanish enough. I just didn’t get the excitement of seeing a bull trot away from men with semi-sharp weapons. Also, it was hot, dusty, and bright. On days like that, this American likes her air conditioning and drinks with ice. Lots and lots of ice. Did I mention air conditioning?
All this was made better by new friend, María. María is five years old and very verbal. However, my name, Kaley, was quite the test. She kept calling me, rather inexplicably, Marlin, like the father from Finding Nemo. After a while, I ceased objecting and became, simply, Marlin. (However, the next day María claimed not to know who Marlin was. I was now Kaley.) María vacilated between enthusiasm and fear. When the bull first came near us, she bolted to the car, yelling, “Me first, me first!” Upon closing the car door, she breathed, “I’m safe.” However, at times, she whined and whined to be let out, which was not allowed. I loved learning little kid Spanish from her, which, by the way, is much better than mine. (All language students will understand the amazingness of little children’s language learning. It is, quite simply, a miracle.)
The day ended, of course, with tapas. We ate pinchos (appetizers) standing up, off a stick, amidst a rowdy Spanish crowd. It was a day that could not have been more true to Zamora, to Castilla, to Spain.