The Day I Became A Man

Pamplona Travel Blog

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San Fermin 2009

It was a chilly morning, the cold temperature came up from the wood floor to where I was sleeping. Even though it was Spain in July, I was still bundled up in a sweatshirt and a few blankets to stay warm. I hit the snooze button on my host's cell phone but sprung up quietly and with no intention of snoozing. It was 6:15AM on July 9th and I was in Pamplona. Shivers came over my body as I got dressed in my white pants, shirt, red sash and bandana, my nerves were loose. I grabbed the borrowed phone and map and headed out the door and down the elevator of the 15 story apartment building just west of city center. I pulled the crinkled map from my pocket and navigated towards "El Centro". As I nervously paced forward I saw more and more people wearing the white attire and after 10 minutes of walking, everyone was in matching clothes. Bandanas neatly hung around our necks and tied in a small knot with the exception of 40% of the crowd who were too intoxicated to stand nevertheless care about appearance. I was headed towards the Ayuntamiento to overcome fear and change my life, I had thoughts of turning back but with the benefit of hindsight, I'm glad I stuck with it. Thousands of people packed into the street that ran from one end of town to the Plaza De Toros. I spoke to no one, I had to keep myself occupied for one more hour, it was only 7AM and this part of the festival didn't start until 8AM. I planned how it would all go down, I felt confident about what I was going to put myself through. Police remove most of the ready participants leaving only a few hundred of us and minutes later come back through looking for anyone acting inebriated taking the numbers in the eager crowd down even more. The crowd was moved together, so tight that my feet came off the ground and I moved wherever the crowd moved. I overheard a small group of Irish guys talking about Dead Man's Curve and how it would not be a good idea to run on the outside of the curve because of the lack of room for error. I noted it wisely. The police released the roadblock and we were free to choose our starting positions, I stayed where I was, just between the Ayuntamiento and Dead Man's Curve, I wanted to run in the curve. Time went so slow, I tied my shoes tighter and stretched my legs as my last thoughts rolled up deep inside of me and all I could think of was the terror about to come down the street towards me. The time was 8:00AM, I had thought of this moment for months. The first rocket fired. People all around me started jogging, I held my spot, I would run when I felt it was time. The second rocket fired, it may as well have been firing right into my chest, I felt the pulse of my heart through my finger tips. The crowd was running now, but not full sprint, I held my spot. I had no more thoughts, fear was written all over my face. I first felt it through my legs, the ground began to rumble. I was looking for them, not sure what part I would see first or if I would even see them before they got to me. The ground was shaking to the sound of running, it wasn't the humans that caused the sound. I stare down the road, I see what I was looking for, white tips, sharp and long. They bounce along the same patterns of the heads of the people running towards me, their faces are all in panic, every single one of them. I ran, I didn't stop to think, I didn't remember to pick up my feet or watch for other people in my way, I didn't remember anything at all, my mind was blank. I looked back, they were incredible. Eight massive, angry bulls with horns as long and as sharp as swords were running directly towards me, no escape for myself or the bulls on this road. I had imagined them large and with large horns, I've never underestimated to this extent. These bulls were over six feet tall and the horns stretched across the entire road, it was either that or the fear made them larger. I started thinking again, my first thought was "Where Am I?" and I realized I was in the outside of Dead Man's Curve. I was so far past the point of scared that survival mode kicked in, you know the one that God installed in you in case of hurricanes, earthquakes or any large forms of natural disasters. The bulls were right behind me, I've never ran so fast and come to think of it, I doubt any white boy has ever ran that fast. These bulls were fast and merciless, I was through the curve and on the straightaway that led to the Plaza, I knew there was hope for survival but my instincts had not shut off, I was still on full alert. My right shoulder felt a slight heat, and then again. I knew what it was, the leading bull was so close that I could feel his breath. I froze...

...To be continued...
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photo by: brettjayhawk