September 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions

It’s that time of year again when the residents of Spain’s bigger cities flock to the beaches leaving urban epicenters like Madrid more like ghost towns. People skip pueblo like it’s Armageddon. The same streets that are usually buzzing with booming Spanish voices and horn honking (I never really escape it) are eerily quiet on August afternoons. Aside from this mass exodus to the coastline, August is also often the time of year that towns celebrate their fiestas – a week of celebration in honor of the city’s patron saint.

It just so happens that our town, San Sebastián de los Reyes (a part of the community of Madrid), celebrates its fiestas during the last week of August. Essentially this entails a week-long carnival of chocolate covered churros, concession stands where you can win a jamón (just what I’ve always wanted – no, really!!!), roller coaster rides, and….the running of the bulls! Always out-shined by its more popular rival in Pamplona, the running of the bulls, or “encierros” as it is called in Spanish, in San Sebastián de los Reyes is indeed the second largest in Spain. I like to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona as the run for tourists – while this may not be so true, I can guarantee you that non-Spaniards are far and few between at the encierros in my lovely town just ten minutes away from Madrid.

Early in the morning for a week, people eagerly mount the fence-guarded streets of SanSe (an affectionate abbreviation of the city name) to witness all the Spanish crazies that decide they want to run along side the bulls. Perched on top of these fences you wait wobbly as the designated shepherds of the race stretch their legs while clasping on to their sticks that will be used to ensure the bulls keep on the move. At this early Spanish hour, drunken teenagers with mullets and abnormally large numbers of piercings are a more likely site than bulls, but just as entertaining nonetheless.

Despite the potential chaos, as the clock approaches 8am, everything falls into place – fence watchers brace themselves (I clutch onto Jacobo for dear life), runners take their final calm breathes, and silence ensues as the firework man (I’m sure he has some fancy Spanish title like “fireworkerero” – I’ll do my research and add that to a follow-up post of Awesomely Spanish Jobs) prepares his rocket. What’s this you ask? It signals the start of the run, and let me tell you, this is not a normal firework that bursts into an array of beautiful colors and is accompanied by a friendly boom. The first few times I heard it while lying fast asleep in bed I legitimately thought it was a bomb and that the world was ending – no, really, I did. This sensation still hasn’t changed, but at least now I realize a few moments after I wake up that in reality it is not a bomb and, no, the world will go on for another day, or at least long enough for the bulls to do their run.

With that, the bulls run and charge, probably as lost, confused and angry about the sound of the firework as I was. The majority of the runners (particularly those with mullets and peculiar piercings) run way ahead of the bulls, out of harm’s way, only to secure their free spot in the Plaza de Toros (where later they let younger bulls chase around these same young, invincible-minded teenagers). After this first group of people staggers its way to the Plaza, there are seconds of deafening silence before the real deal begins. Then, in the flip of a Spanish tortilla, you see a rush of people sprinting as though their lives depended on it (oh wait, they do!) intermixed with several hundred pound bulls and the alarmingly peaceful sound of cow bells strapped around their necks.

And then it’s over. People plop off the fences like rubber duckies in one of the carnival games, rushing to the cafeterias that line the street in order to watch the never-ending loop of run-replays. While folks sip on their coffees and chow down on their chocolate and churros, their eyes remain glued to the television as though each replay of the run were the first they’d ever seen. Then you go home and inevitably every time the news comes on they passionately show the run again just in case you missed it the first 50 times. And heaven forbid there be an accident or injury – this will be played in slow-motion, close up, multiple times so that the viewer may carefully analyze exactly which bones were broken and what puncture wounds may have been incurred.

Welcome to Spain my friends. Until next year, felices fiestas!

3 Responses to “The bulls are back”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Wow. I can totally imagine all of that. Thanks! I had no idea they did another run near Madrid. I think iI’d like to see it, but it would probably freak me out too much. Oh, and about the mazceltá… the first time my dad heard it, he was talking to me on the phone and said it sounded like I was in the middle of a war zone.

    Noise,adrenaline, and then a coffee to wash it all down. Gotta love Spain.

  2. Erin Says:

    The runs aren’t really too scary to watch, but participating would be a whole other story. To be quite honest, the random fireworks (mazcletás I suppose? Jacobo has just informed me that that is a Valencian word, which of course makes sense!) being set off by the local hoodlums freaks me out more than anything else! On a separate note, I’m loving your new site! I’ve wanted to learn more about photography, and reading your posts is the perfect way to explore it! A shameless plug for anyone reading this:

  3. Sabrina Says:

    I think just watching from the fences up close would totally freak me out. The fiestas however sound like fun 🙂

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