I was awakened at 2:30 a.m. by thunder, lightning and rain. No problem. I went back to sleep but was awakened again at 4 by numerous flashes that were bright enough to penetrate both the tent and my closed eyelids. The lightning was accompanied by an ominous and unbroken rolling thunder that hovered like a hummingbird and sounded like a low flying 747 jumbo jet. It was at this moment that I knew this was going to be the storm that would drive us from our tent so I turned on the video camera to record the flashes and rumbling. Within moments the pattering rain began, slowly then with more exuberance, transitioning to a pounding. Then a mighty shifting wind kicked up. I was truly enjoying myself at this moment. But then I often like to experience the power of nature without sacrificing my own comfort.

Well, this time I sacrificed. After a few minutes the tarp-bottom of our tent felt as if I was lying on a waterbed. Soon after I discovered my pillow was wet, then my sleeping bag, then Mike's camera. It was time to go. It was indicative of this trip that the most powerful storm I had ever experienced occurred while I was camping in an already damaged tent, at 4 o'clock in the morning, two miles outside of town -- in SPAIN!

So we madly packed up in the dark, hoping nothing of significance was left behind (goodbye stack of New Yorkers, orange, apple and bottle of water) and bolted to the covered dorm patio (joining a small group already there) where we stood until the wind began to blow the rain horizontally. We then woke up the dorm occupants, went inside and congregated in the center of the room. Cold and wet we waited. Someone asked if the 5:30 bus was still picking us up for the first day's encierro. At this point running with bulls was the last thing on my mind.


By 5:15 a.m. the monsoon had passed, but not before flooding the camp.




You can make out my water bottle floating (yes, floating) inside our tent.




No more futbol now that the soccer field has become a small lake.




Some of the campers were actually heading down to the bus, which had kept its appointment. Mike and I had just finished discussing taking a bus straight to Madrid later that day and flying home early. But now the sky was showing stars, the talk around us was of the bulls, and I remembered the two grand I had dropped on this "adventure," so I talked to Mike about going into Pamplona. Tired and soaked, he was not enthused but agreed.




Once in Pamplona I found a doorway on the way to the bull run and changed into the traditional garb of the runners.




Apparently others had their own special apparel (it must be a religious thing).




Before the real thing began I stopped in front a famous statue celebrating the encierro next to the bullring.



After making myself to the route I waited, changing my position several times. At first I was at the center, then the curve, then at the beginning. While I was near the beginning a recording over a loudspeaker explained, "It is impossible to complete the entire run. Position yourself in a place you feel comfortable running from." So I headed back to the middle.

There I stayed for the next 10 minutes, wedged shoulder to shoulder within the crowd, unable to move. After a while the crowd thinned a bit and I was able to edge toward the side. An old Spaniard sitting on the fence warned me not start early, indicating that he would tell me when to begin running using his vantage point. All of this without words.

At 8:00 there were thunderous booms and the crowd surged ahead, but I was stayed by the old man. Then as the crowd surged again the old man tapped me on the shoulder and off I went to join the panicked mob. I ran maybe 20 steps when a guy flew by me in mid-air, landing on his face like a plane without its landing gear.

Just then I turned back and saw bulls blur by me as I threw myself against the wall, just out of death's reach. I cannot accurately describe my fear. Just know that the most common word I have heard associated with the encierro was "stupid." I can now attest to the understatement of its meaning and usage. It was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything but one day was more than enough.

After the bulls ran by I tried to catch up to them but they run fast, much faster than they look on television. Besides, there were too many idiots still lying on the ground after falling or jogging at an old smoker's pace or simply stopped in the center of the narrow avenues. All this made it difficult to keep up a quick pursuit.

I finally entered the Plaza del Toros in time to see the last bull being corralled into a tunnel before the door was closed behind it. I encountered about 40 or so guys in the arena. "A small group," I remarked to myself. After standing there for a few moments wondering what was going to happen next there was a cheer from the arena spectators. I looked to the plaza entryway to see a burst of runners, then a pair of bulls! A few more moments brought another throng and another brace of bulls!

It was then that I realized that the bulls that had passed me were only the leaders of the pack and that the other four had evidently broken off and taken a bit longer to make their way to the arena. I had actually run in between the bulls. ¡Idiota!


While I found a place in the stinking mass of humanity Mike situated himself at the end of the bull run to record the screaming throngs sprinting by.




These guys ran into the bullring well before the bulls themselves. I call this running without the bulls.




Check out this nutcase. I call this standing with the bulls.




Once the last bull ran in they closed the doors. The only way to get inside is to be with the bulls.




Inside the arena the bulls were released one by one and allowed to wander around, knocking people senseless.




Since I had been told cameras were absolutely forbidden I had no way of documenting my run. Fortunately Mike was able to get some shots of the bullring and I was able to find myself in the crowd. Yes, that's me way over on the right.




A close-up of me far from the bull. But before you brand me a pussy...




...let me recite some of Hemingway's observations from The Sun Also Rises: "In bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger." Word, Papa.




After the bull ran around tooling people for about 15 minutes it was taken in and another was released. Some of the guys piled in front of the door forcing the bull to either jump over them or "bull" its way through. Yep, that's me way over on the left, again out of harm's way.




Another close-up of me heeding Hemingway's words of caution: "They're only dangerous when they're alone, or only two or three of them together....They only want to kill when they're alone. Of course, if you went in there you'd probably detach one of them from the herd, and he'd be dangerous."




Upon our return from the bull run we were greeted by the camp drying out.




By the looks of this tent that was one hell of a storm.




So much more the beautiful pool.




I approached Bob, the camp leader, and showed him our flooded tent, damaged beyond repair, and asked where we would sleep that night. Until he could figure it out he pointed me to the message on top of the board...




Fuckin' Aussies.




OK, I need to address this nasty smell seeming to emanate from this smokestack and was a constant nuisance as it enveloped the camp. With the rest of the day to kill Mike and I decided to investigate.




Dammit, our camp was adjacent to a fertilizer factory.




This was a seriously big pile of shit.




We decided to head into Estella and find out what the Spanish do for fun.




The flooded Rio Ega.




You know the cliché of a guy backpacking across Europe to find himself. Michael Vincent Sandoval did just that.




And then he geeked out again when he discovered his obsession in Spanish.




Then we had some ice cream.




Apparently this woman was not quite as impressed as I was with my triple scoop.




Mike was so happy with his that he snapped a photo which actually amused the ice cream lady so much she laughed out loud.




Meet Suzanna, the ice cream lady.




Doesn't this trashcan remind you of that Simpsons episode where the dolphins take over the world? Creepy.




When we got back to camp we saw that all was returning to normal.




Why are these guys so happy considering they are less than 12 hours separated from the worst storm of their lives?




Because thanks to Bob they're sleeping in the dorms tonight, baby! Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, Oi, Oi!




To celebrate Mike and I got really drunk. Actually these were left by 5 guys that drank all of this and also barbecued. Now that's a party.