08.19.2009 - 08.20.2009
I'm a big sports fan. And growing up, ESPN's Sports Center was a daily staple. It was how each day would start off before school, between bites of syrup-drenched Eggos and a glass of OJ. It was my source of news.
And during those seemingly short summers, during the month of July and the Fiesta de San Fermin, there would always be a segment on 'The Running of the Bulls' - the encierro - Pamplona, Spain. I was intrigued. I wanted to be there. I wanted to witness six fully grown (and agitated) bulls rumbling down an 850 meter building-enclosed course at upwards to 24 kph, while a thousand or so people would voluntarily put themselves at risk to run 'alongside' them. I wanted to run.
I was late. A month late. But I was in the neighborhood, so I decided to run in and out of Pamplona to do some course research, knowing one day, I would be back.
Bulls were everywhere. It was an easy sell, a town mascot, the country's trademark. All the shops and restaurants ran with the theme, especially in Old Town. A five minute walk from my hostel and I was at the Plaza de Toros, the end of the run and the start of the fight. The bright red door and coral-like fence at the end of a sloping concrete ramp marked the finish line, as well as the entrance to the stadium and ring. I imagined the chaos. Thousands upon thousands jamming the street-sides, all adorning white with red sashes. The music, the chants, the party. An ultimate atmosphere. On this day, I was the only one in site. It was quiet and calm as the sun slowly set.
I walked on, following the route in reverse. I looked up at the balconies and imagined onlookers cheering as I made my dash. I looked for possible places to dive out of the way if a bull was bearing down on me. I looked for a stretch without dead-ends or nooks to get stuck. I looked for my straightaway.
Off the main drag, I got distracted at the Plaza de Castillo. That's where all the people were. A carnival-esque aura roamed about. Mixed crowds of locals and tourists taking in a perfect summer evening.
I finished the course and doubled back to the stadium. By this time, sunset was closing. I took the long way around and stumbled upon a small park with a stunning scenic view out over the surrounding valley. The stadium darkened and street lights began to glow. A month ago, the party was just getting started. I hungered for that excitement, to live out my own Sports Center highlight with the bulls in Pamplona, but for now, I was just hungry. It was time to eat.