Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Granada to the Running of the Bulls

Wow over the last 2 weeks since we left Granada have been really intense. As of today we have slept in a car or in a park 7 out of something like 13 days. Needless to say we have gotten pretty tired because of this and also very stinky. It´s actually kind of crazy, just to get away from it all and relax a couple of days we have taken trips to Bilbo, Spain and stayed at a Formula 1 (accorr hotel) that is really cheap. We went there once right after a couple nights stay in a car in San Sebastian (where we partied like crazy for the 4th of July) and then once after the Running of the Bulls (Pamplona, Spain). I can defiantly say the last few weeks have been full of excitement and crazy stories.

Even before all of this craziness, not that long before we left for Granada we were in Morocco, which in itself was one crazy experience. As I posted before the people were interesting to deal with but overall the experience was great. One thing that I failed to mention in my previous post about Morocco was how upon exit from the country, all of us but Nithin had our asses kicked by the food and lets just say we had a lot of toilet time. One of the funnier things about this is that immediately when we got back to Granada we had a bunch of Couch surfers stay with us. The first one, Kat, came on the night of our arrival. She was an instant hit with us and she even went with us to the Fiesta de Agua that Nithin posted about previously. The next day we had 2 crazy kids from Quebec come stay with us (also very cool) and then a day later when Kat left, we had 2 girls from California come. So at one point we had the 5 of us and 4 couch surfers in our apartment. This wouldn´t normally be a huge problem (we had a decent size apartment) however, we only had 1 bathroom. Thus, with the existing condition of our stomach problems from Morocco and 9 people living off of one toilet it seemed like the facilities were constantly in use. The funniest part about the whole thing is that for a couple of days it seemed like Aaron, Mr Ryan, Brandle or myself were making nasty smelliness round the clock. I think this freaked out the California girls because after their first day at our place they left early and used their entire second day to plan their escape. Luckily the Quebec kids were much more understanding and cool and they dealt with our problems for 4 or five days.

Anyway, this pretty much takes us up until our departure from Granada where we rented 2 cars from Eurocar, who at the time we thought was a great car rental company. We held them so highly that they were one of the few unofficial sponsors of our trip. One reason for this was because previously when Nithin and Ryan rented from them they were never charged the under 25 driving fee (which they said they wouldn´t charge us but they did anyway). So things started off kind of upsetting with Eurocar this time which only became worse (read Mr. Ryan´s post).

As Mr. Ryan said we drove through the Pyrenees mountains which was incredible. The views were awesome and I was the one driving.... Oh, here is an interesting side note. The only experienced stick drivers coming into this trip were Aaron and Mr. Ryan. Brandle and Myself have done it before, but I would say were started a long way from being experts and Nithin was at the time just a beginner. As of today, I´d say each and every one of us can drive a stick and do it pretty damn well. Nithin drove the least out of all of us but when he did, it was a damn fine job.

Anyway, our stay in Andorra was only for a few hours (I bought a new digital camera = PICTURES) as Mr. Ryan said and then crossed over to the France border. A funny thing about this was that before we went to Andorra (a tax free country), Aaron was told that at the French border the security is very tight because they want you to pay taxes on all of the things that you purchase and bring back to France. This got us all a bit worried. Our concerns grew even higher, when we arrived into Andorra from the Spain side and there was a long check point where border patrol was searching cars. This was especially alarming because the border patrol in Spain everywhere else I´ve entered (Granada, Algeciras(back from Morocco)) was just like absolutely a joke. Because of this, before we left Andorra I threw away the box to my camera, a lot of the manuals (most of which were not in English) and I hid all of the warranty info and receipts and all that kind of stuff. This however was completely for nothing because when we got to the France border there was not even a border patrol. There was hardly even a sign that said welcome to France.

Moving on the Fete de Vine, it was a sweet experience. As Mr. Ryan said we had a great time. We drank a bunch of wine, saw a great French city and met a lot of ex centric french kids who had a great time speaking with Americans. One of the highlights of the trip was when we watched the France vs. Brazil football match from the Festival. France wasn´t supposed to win, but once they did the festival became insane. Football fans are crazy to party with, and whoever said that Europeans don´t drink to get drunk doesn´t know what they are talking about. Tons of kids were going crazy after the game and there was even a huge techno dance party right after that was very cool. I´ll post some of these pictures at the end here. I´ll have to go more into the Festival at a later time because I really want to talk about Pamplona and I´m running out of time here at the cyber cafe.

Anyway, from here we went to San Sebastain and found ourselves sleeping in a car for another couple of nights. This wasnt´the original plan, but since we couldn´t find any affordable hotels, hotals, or hostels this was the obvious choice. We were here for the 3rd, 4th and we left on the 5th of July for Bilbo (our resting safe haven). On the forth of July, we decided to do the best we could as Americans to be American by eating American food and getting trashed. This worked almost flawlessly, we got some hamburgers at a restaurant (not nearly as good as the states though) and we partied hard in the bars after watching the Italy, Germany football match. It was a good night.

From here we went to Bilbo as I´ve said to rest for a day (didn´t even see the city). However, on top of a reward for getting ourselves all showered and fresh we decided (except Nithin) that it was time for some good old fashion Pizza Hut pizza. I have to tell you that it was one of the best pizzas that I´ve ever experienced. The next morning we left Bilbo and went to unbelievably crazy city of Pamplona.

I don´t know the history behind the running of the bulls, but i know that it´s been going on for over a hundred years and that it´s absolutely crazy. Upon arrival I was pretty dead set on running. I figured, hey how can you go to pamplona during this fiesta and not run. It would almost be a crime. Plus, people have been doing this for so long and nobody has died for like 10 years or so.

Once we got there we quickly saw that this festival was not just about running with bulls, but probably more about getting absolutely trashed for days. I´ve never seen so many drunk people having a great time. The streets were packed with people holding liters of beer, sangria or champagne. Once we checked our bags and dropped off our Euro cars we quickly joined the ranks. It was only a few hours of drinking until we were just another group of people in a huge crowd. I´ll i can say is that from the month or so I´ve spent in Spain, this was defiantly the craziest party I´ve ever seen. Plus, any party that you´ve been to, seen or read about in America doesn´t even come close to the craziness of this thing. The party lasts all night, till 6 AM when the music finally stops. Some people pass out at this time, but the majority position themselves to either run with the bulls or to watch people get trampled by the bulls.

I found myself asking tons of locals (a lot of the younger kids spoke broken English) if they have run with the bulls, or what they think about it. No matter who we talked to everyone who was from Spain, especially Pamplona said that running with the bulls was the stupidest thing that they have ever heard of and most of them said that they had friends who have been hurt while running. This kind of got us all thinking that maybe this wasn´t as safe as we originally expected but I still didn´t have any plans on not running at the time. We figured that a lot of the kids probably say this just so stupid tourists don't run and mess things up for the locals or expert runners.

So after I´d had enough partying for the night we decided to go to sleep for awhile. Our plan the entire time for accommodation in Pamplona was to sleep in the park and at the time I went to sleep, it still seemed like a great idea. This was all good and everything until it became absolutely freezing out, to the point that it was very difficult to sleep and all I was wearing was a tee shirt and shorts. I would have gotten my jacked out of my checked bag but the bag was checked under Aaron's name and I had no clue where he was to be found. Anyway, after a night of horrible sleep that was mixed with me walking down to the party a few times just to warm up next to the crazy drunk people and their body heat, it was finally around 7 AM and time to watch the running of the bulls. Unfortunately, getting up an hour early to see such a event didn´t get us anywhere and we barley saw what was happening. I was saw a small crack between a bunch of people and every once in awhile I´d see a brown-black blog run by a group of people dressed in white. Anyway, it didn´t look all that bad but later on in the day we heard about the injuries. Few people got hurt decently bad and one guy got paralyzed. After hearing this my views on the running took a slight turn but still I kept telling myself this is something that I had to do.

After watching the running it was time to sleep for real. The sun was out and it was finally warm enough to get some shut eye. We did this for a few hours and once we woke up we checked out the city and eventually started to party again. We met some cool couch surfers (there was a meeting point set up in one of the parks) and one of them had run the first day. Upon hearing this Brandle, Mr. Ryan, Brandle´s friend Hatcher and myself determined that we were going to run the tomorrow. Because of this we didn´t party too hard and went to sleep relatively early so that we wouldn´t be hung over or tired for the race. Out of all of us I could tell that Brandle was the most concerned about the next days events but I was trying not to think of it.

During the night as we slept something common for pamplona but unfortunate happened to two of us. Mr. Ryan and Brandle´s friend Hatcher got pick pocketed while they slept. In all I think 70 euro was taken. Pick pockets were rampant in pamplona and the second to last night we where there 2 of the couch surfers got their stuff stolen during a fireworks show. Their losses were much worse than ours. I´m sure someone else will talk about the theft, my stuff wasn´t stolen (although I saw a lot of the thieves) so this doesn´t concern me so much.

Anyway, after we figured out our losses we got up and went down to the main square to meet Aaron, Nithin and the couch surfers who partied hard the night before and slept in another park. The idea was that we were going to give them all of our belongings (my cell phone, watch, jacket) and they were going to try to take pictures of our running. The problem was that nobody showed up. So while we waited for them, I decided to go to the bakery and pick up a couple of baguettes for us to split and brandle, hatcher and Mr ryan waited for the others to show. Once it seemed like this was not going to happen is when our plans started to fall apart. I was in line for the food and Brandle came to me to say that he was going to run to the park, find aaron and nithin and give him our stuff so that we can run. He said that he was going to meet me back in the square asap along with the other guys. So i waited in line 10 or so minutes to get the food and then went back to the square to meet back up with the guys. However, it turns out that I didn´t see anyone anywhere. Mr. Ryan had gone inside a building, Brandle was still gone, and I didn´t see Hatcher at all. It turns out he was there sitting on some steps but since I had just met him the night before I guess I didn´t recognize him. Anyway, because I felt that they had left me for the race I started to look around and try to find them myself. I failed at this and eventually waited for them at the square because after the race we were supposed to meet up there. When we finally met back up they had run, I had not and they were totally psyched about what had just happened. All three of them seemed like the most pumped up versions of themselves that´d i´d ever seen (especially brandle) and from their stories the experience was absolutely crazy. I´m sure they will post about their experience here asap. Anyway, after hearing their stories of ¨near death¨ I was jealous but kind of thinking maybe it was a good thing that I didn´t run. From time to time I feel like things happen for a reason and I was thinking that maybe had i run something bad would have happened to me so it was fate or something. Either way, all i knew was that I was fine and I hadn´t run. This feeling stuck with me for the rest of the day.

After hearing their stories I kept thinking to myself that I need to run this race. I had to prove to myself that I can do exciting crazy things even if there is an element of danger. I kept thinking that one of the points to this trip is to break out of comfort zone and do new things. Of course this particular thing is kind of crazy but I knew that once it was over I would have one hell of a story to tell and I could say that I had run with the bulls. I wasn´t worried about death because people haven´t died from running in about 10 years. However, i had recently found out that on the first day a 31 year old American man from New York was paralyzed from the waist down. That obviously scared me but I also thought that he was probably one of the crazy stupid people who try to touch the bulls or he was drunk. My main concern was that I didn´t want to have to leave the trip with some injury that sidelined me for a few weeks or even a month.

One issue that was staring me in the face was that we had a bus out of Pamplona at 9:30 in the morning the next day. This wasn´t a big issue because if i did run without injury I would be able to get back to the meeting square around 845 or 9 and we would be able to make the bus if someone had previously gotten our bags unchecked from the baggage claim. With this thinking, this became a non issue and I decided that I was running the next day. Later on in the night we were talking to the other couch surfers and we found out that one of them was celebrating his 21st birthday the next day and that although originally he didn´t plan on running, he decided that it would be the birthday that he would never forget. After hearing this, Aaron, Nithin also joined the ranks and the plan was on July the 9th 2006 we were running with the bulls.

Just a small side note, Pamplona has some of the greatest fireworks that I´ve ever seen. I didn´t take pictures because my camera was checked with the rest of my stuff, but their fireworks blow anything i´ve seen in the states way out of the water. They have this competition among teams from all over the world who put on a show each night. It´s incredible, better than any OP show and even better than the show i saw in New York City on the 4th a few years back. During the show on the 8th is when the other couch surfers got their stuff stolen.

Anyway, back to the race. We once again went to sleep in decently early on the 8th so that on the 9th we would be prepared for the run of our lives.

In the morning everything was set. Aaron actually got separated from the group this time but ended up running anyway. I don´t have time to go into that right now so hopefully he will later.

Anyway, once we walked onto the course we made our way up as far as the police would allow which is just in front of the death corner. (check brandles blog in the future for more info). We had to wait here for a good 30-40 minutes until about 7:50 (10 minutes before the running). Just from talking to all of the people around us I could tell there were a lot of Americans in the crowd, most of which had no idea what they were in for. I had actually done some research on the race so I knew which side of the street was ¨safer¨ and where not to be. Although what i read gave me slight knowledge of what was going to happen I still had no idea what really to expect. When running with live bulls that weigh at about a ton it´s hard to predict and plan accordingly. Anyway, as time grew closer I could feel my heart beating faster and faster.

Finally, once the guards let up the barrier the streets became less packed and people spread out. A lot of people who didn´t know what was going on even started to run with furry. They must have thought that the race had begun when in fact it was still at least 10 minutes before the first shot (opening of bulls door) was even to happen. We decided to position ourselves on straight away of the race, similar to the same place that Brandle, Mr. Ryan, and Hatcher said that they started the day before. As we waited here you could see people praying, stretching and doing all kinds of other preparations that needed to be done before such an event. It was probably one of the most nerve racking moments of my life. As I said before, I had no idea what to expect... other than the fact that 6 huge bulls and about 6 smaller bulls are about to run by me with no regard for my well being.

I´m running out of time at the computer right now. thus i will finish this post here either tonight or tomorrow... suspense is killer isn´t it?



Blogger Whitney Mathews said...

It's BilbAo. Bilbo is the Hobbit.

I got a job, and a brand new Prius - and my sister lives in Madrid, so if you need a free place to stay let me know. She has a huge apartment.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

bilbo is the way to spell it if you are from bilbo. it's bask

2:56 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

yeah so as you can all tell (if you are reading this) that it's been well over a day or two since i posted this... and there has been no additional info. Thus i've decided that if you want to hear about it you'll have to ask me in person because It's too good of a story to tell online.... also because i don't have the time to write it all out... until then... enjoy portion two of our trip

3:35 AM  

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