At Last: The Cows

        My day begins with a waiter nudging me. It’s 5:30 in the morning and the shop’s closing for a few hours, so I have to leave. 2 and a half hour to go until the bulls. I wander around in the cold, asking people for more advice, debating with myself and other runners the best spot on the course to start from. As the time passes, more and more people stumble out of bars and to the course, both watchers and runners. Nervous talk about strategies abounds: which side of the course to stick to on “death corner,” when to start sprinting, why there don’t seem to be many Pamplonans partaking in the running. Around 7:00, I finally settle on starting near the front of Plaza Consistorial, which is a crowded area where I’ll have a nice head start on the bulls. This spot lets me avoid the narrow starting alley at the course’s beginning but is supposedly still far enough back that I’ll be passed by the bulls. I become more and more nervous as it gets closer to time, wondering how many hundreds of people would step on me before the bulls even got there, laughing as people cheer pretty girls coming on to balcony and booing when an older man, probably their dad, walks out onto the next balcony, cheering “ole, ole” without feeling annoyed by it for once, ready to run as fast as I can. Definitely shouldn’t break any laws while here: a guy argues with a cop on the ladder to the balcony and is punched then kicked to the ground. Maybe the bulls shouldn’t be my biggest worry!
        5 minutes left and extremely nervous. The police blocking the road move out of the way, the people in front of me start running, so I take off. No rocket, the signal for the bulls being released, has been fired, but I still feel like a bull’s right behind me. I book it for a few blocks and then am stopped by another barrier of police. After a third cop stop, I realize I’m like three-quarters done with the course and no bulls have been released. I start walking back and notice 2 guys confidently standing alongside the course, in the indentation formed by a doorway. Both have run before, so I ask them for advice. Good luck in guide choice on my part: “Watch the balconies. When you see the camera flashes start going off, you know they’re coming.” I found out less than a minute before they arrived that steers run before the bulls, differentiated by their possession of bells and lack of goring. Following the experienced runners’ leads, I waited until the steers had passed and I saw the flashes going off. Nervous as hell, I somehow made myself wait a few more seconds after seeing the bulls to take off. I had been scared just thinking that the bulls were somewhere behind me; knowing they are right on my ass was a whole different level of frightening. Seeing people fallen down in front of me as I sprinted scared out of my mind didn’t exactly ease the fear. I ran full of adrenaline and frightened that I’d feel a horn in my back any second. Past fencing on both sides. Should I try and jump out? Nah: too close to the end and I might get pushed back in or hit by a bull while I try to escape. Just gotta keep sprinting these last few feet.. down the corridor towards the stadium.. shit how am I gonna fit through these doors how far back are the bulls too tight of a squeeze run run run… into the arena, shit gotta get to the side bulls where are they watch out… on the side, against the wall, people between me and the bulls... whew. Whoa, why are those people parting is there a bull where’s the bull jump up on the side ready to dive into bleachers if I have to. More bulls come and run across the arena into the pen, how many is that? Second rocket goes off… they’re all in the pen! Run to the middle of the ring, cheering “ole, ole” as the crowd cheers and loving every word of it.
        Where’s my watch? Must have fallen off as I ran. Looking around the stadium, I find a watch: not mine and the strap’s broken, but I’ll hang onto it until I get my own back. Wander the streets as the celebrations begin to refill them, looking for my bright orange Swatch that I just bought this week to no avail. After walking to the train station to meet Riad and Mike, I fall off the adrenaline rush and in to sleep.
        Twice, people walk by being jerks: loud “buenas noches”es at me as I snooze. I wake up and swear at them in English, not realizing to call them “putas” until they’re half a block away.
        Mike and Riad meet up with me after half an hour or so. Apparently, I missed wrestling with the bulls: one at a time was let out of the pen to run among those still in the arena. Some brave soul tackled a bull too tired to protest, taking it down by the horns. He got whacked with newspapers by Spaniards for this, which I really don’t understand: they’re gonna let a matador slowly kill the poor thing in a couple of hours. Anyways, Mike and Riad haven’t slept at all and I’m puttering along on 2 hours, so we head to a nice, sunny, crowded park to nap on a comfortable-looking patch of grass near the middle. Under a minute after laying down, I’m out cold.
        Rude awakening: my bookbag’s gone! I put my shirt over my sweaty face and just lay back down. The camera was one thing, but this is a whole different story: changes of clothes and other things that prevent me from looking / smelling too much like a bum, PASSPORT, phone: I’m screwed. Regardless of how hard I try to prevent it, this is definitely going to put a damper on the celebrations. I consider trying to set up a sting operation, with Mike and Riad feigning sleep with their bags casually tossed alongside them as I sit on a nearby but hidden bench, ready to kick robber ass. Understandably, neither of them are too fond of this stupid idea.
        Instead of pretending that I’m some movie superhero who’s going to get the bad guys, I head to the police station. Misery had lots of company: many people I spoke to had lost all their luggage and money, literally left with nothing but their current outfits. Worst was the story I heard of a Lithuanian traveler: left penniless, without luggage, and unable to speak any Spanish or English, he simply walked out. “Probably went to get a noose” was one traveler’s analysis; I really doubt he was too far from the truth. As egoistical as this may sound, seeing people worst off than I was made me feel significantly better.
        After I finished filling out a police report so meaningless that it didn’t even ask for a description of the stolen bag, I was robbed for dinner. Always check prices before ordering, or you may end up paying 19 euros for a water, plate of fries, and salad like I did. This just definitely isn’t my day… oh well. We wander around, making the best of a shitty situation.
        Bus it to Barcelona in the late afternoon. Only interesting part of the ride was a couple from South Africa I met. Hippies in their early 20s, they were bussing all around Europe, taking some time off after having worked promoting Greenpeace. It's pretty bad that I had no answer for them when they asked how to go about touring America... come to think of it, I know more about London than any U.S. city. American roadtrip next summer?
        I wake up in Barcelona. We wander around in the dark, looking for a hostel after midnight. Someone advises us to head towards Las Ramblas, a main strip that supposedly is rich in hostels. Wandering around, I ask some Argentinian guy where I can find a hostel; he's also in search of one, so we have a fellow wanderer and roomate for the night. It takes another hour, but we finally find a junky little place that costs as much as the heavenly room in Madrid did. It sucks, but not enough for me to take more than a minute to pass out.

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