Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Encierro, part 2 of 4: The Stand

I wrote my bull run experience in four parts. The second part was the most interesting to me. Out of the entire run, this was the most intense, and certainly the most heart pounding. At no other time was the fear more palpable than this. The tension of waiting along with the decision to stand my ground as others rushed past me increased to a crescendo at this point, breaking only when I turned and began to run. I hope that this tidbit will help to share with you the experience I had.

"Run! They're coming!"

And just like that, people everywhere exploded in a running frenzy.

I ran about 20 meters before I started to slow down. At 30, I stopped completely. I turned around to look. People continued to run by me. I thought to myself, I didn't hear any rockets yet. (The first rocket signifies that the door has been opened. The second signifies that all the bulls have left their pens). I then asked myself, was I too far away to hear them?

I looked back to where I previously stood. There were still a few people standing there who had not moved an inch. "Crap. Another false alarm." This was shredding at my already exposed nerves.

Like a fish swimming upstream, I jogged back to my previous position while other people were still running past me. I asked one of the guys still standing there what time it was in Spanish.

"One minuto" he told me.

The tension in the air was thick. Many people were jittery. Some of the other runners had realised it was a false alarm and stopped as well. They did not come back. Others continued to run anyways.

Then I heard it. A faint, but clear explosion. The crowd in the balconies surrounding us let up a great roar. Seconds later, a second explosion was heard.

People began to run again. All around me, people were yelling and running down the path.

I stood my ground. Several others stood their ground with me. I refused to run too early. I refused to be one of the first to enter the bull ring. I refused to compromise this experience by running before the bulls were even near me. I needed to see them.

More and more people began to pick up and run. The running crowd grew thicker. People started pushing past me. I was an obstacle to them. If I was a fish swimming upstream before, now I was a rock withstanding the crashing tides of the ocean.

I heard the people up in the balconies let up a great roar again. "The bulls must have just come around dead man's corner and made it onto my street," I thought. I heard the roar in the balconies slowly make its way up from the end of the street towards me, like a wave of sound.

"They getting closer. It is almost time," I thought.

By now, there were so many people running around me that I couldn't see anything. I was blind. I didn't see anyone standing still anymore. Everyone was running.

"How far away were the bulls?"

I started to jump up as high as I could. I saw people who had climbed up walls and were now hanging onto the second floor balcony. They were waiting for the bulls to pass before they started running. I saw a wall of people coming at me, thicker than the rest. They were about 50 feet away. I couldn't see the bulls. Were they behind them or in front of them? I kept jumping.

All around me, it was madness as people were desperately running past me, shoving me around in the process. Shouting. Fear and panic were painted on their faces. Hundreds of people have already run by.

40 feet away.

"Nerves of steel. Nerves of steel." I kept telling myself. I breathed deeply and forced myself to stay. It dawned on me that the bulls are running faster than that wall of people, and when the bulls pierce through, they would be right upon me, standing right in the center of the street. "I need to move soon."

30 feet away.

Seconds passed. Then I heard it. The sound of cow bells.

I turned around and began to run.

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