Tag Archives: spain

Running of (NOT with) the Bulls


Pamplona in July: an estimated one million people pour into the usually small, calm Northern Spanish town, all dressed in the traditional white clothing and red scarf. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was an odd-themed, massive pub crawl. But then there are the bulls running through the street. And then there are the people running away from said bulls. It’s quite a sight to see.

The world-famous festival celebrates Saint Fermin, who was the first Bishop of Pamplona. He was decapitated in France on a preaching voyage and is now considered a martyr in the Catholic church. There are many different explanations as to why people wear white and red, but most agree that the red handkerchief symbolizes San Fermin’s blood that was shed.

This week-long fiesta attracts people of all ages—toddlers in strollers smile alongside grandparents in wheelchairs who smile alongside burping, cussing young men who chug a beer every ten minutes and scream, “SAN FERMIN!” Not to mention, people travel from all over the globe to run, watch other people run, or do neither and just enjoy the merriment! I can’t even count how many different languages I heard—Spain alone has three languages technically: Spanish, Catalan, and Basque.

July 6th is opening day, complete with a flour and egg toss, which I somehow managed to avoid. The fact that my clothes were still white by noon is incredible, especially since people have taken the egg and flour tradition and added a few twists. Mustard and ketchup can be seen on many once-pristine outfits, but most popular seems to be a nice sangria soak. Within minutes, people’s crisp, snowy get-ups are transformed into light purple dripping things. Why anyone would want to waste wine is beyond me, but then I realize that you can buy one and a half liters of sangria or tinto de verano (red wine and soda) for a mere euro. Most people can be seen carrying these colorful bottles around like infants in their arm, many times with a loaf of bread in the other arm—the perfect two-euro meal!

Opening day really kicks off with a ceremony in which everyone removes the red bandana from their wrist, holds it above their head, and chants “San Fermin!” until a rocket goes off. Then, everyone cheers loudly and ties the bandana around their neck, where it is supposed to remain for the rest of the festival.

For the remainder of the day, music, dances, and parades fill every hour, as they do every day for the entire festival. Souvenir tents are everywhere, along with food and drinks of course. All shops are closed, except for a few supermarkets, which must sell more in one day during San Fermin than one entire week at any other time. Restaurants and bars are open and thriving, with bathroom lines wrapping around buildings and waiters hustling to take orders. It’s hard to imagine that Spain is in the middle of a major economic downturn.

All of this fun is leading up to 11 PM—the massive international firework contest. Each night, a different “fuego artificiales” company puts on an incredible show. Every inch of Citodel Park is covered with people sitting extremely close together, waiting for the entertainment. It is most definitely worth the wait and the claustrophobia. People stare, entranced, at the sky for nearly an hour.

July 7th is the first day that the bulls run through the streets. Six bulls and six steers (which act as herders) are released at 8 AM and runners shoot forward. Runners have to wake up extremely early to get in line, where the daredevils are supposed to be over 18, sober, and properly dressed. If you don’t line up in time, you might be one of the people running behind the bulls, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but I guess the point is to “run with the bulls” not “run from the bulls”.

If you want to get seat to watch the run, you also have to wake up quite early—the “good spots” along the street start filling up by 6 AM. Because of this, many people simply stay up all night instead of going home. The parks are covered with trash and campers. Some people come prepared with tents or sleeping bags; others simply curl up on a bench or in the grass. Many people do this simply to save hundreds of dollars—even hostels, which are usually only 20 euro a night, more than triple their prices during the festival. Not to mention, many are completely booked over a year in advance! I found a gem in Elizondo, a small town outside of the city, with AirBnB, which is similar to Couchsurfing, but with AirBnB, you pay to rent someone’s extra room.

Fences line the traditional half-mile route that the bulls take, which leads to the huge bullfighting arena, or Plaza de Toros. Many people are crouched on the fence, standing on top of garbage bins, and sitting on shoulders in order to catch a glimpse. The priceless seats, however, which everyone eyes jealously, are the small balconies above, where people leisurely stand outside, sipping coffee.

I find a decent spot somewhere in the middle of the route, but I still have to peer through bodies and over heads in order to see the street. Two ambulances sit nearby, which makes me nervous. There have been 15 deaths since 1922, the most recent in 2009, all caused by being trampled or gored by a bull’s horns. The amount of injuries is much higher—the count for this year is already six and it’s only day two of the running.

When I hear the people on the balconies start to cheer, I crane my neck and see a massive amount of runners, most of which are flying through the street at an epic speed, not looking back. However, I see some looking behind them, purposefully slowing down, waiting for a bull to get closer because they want the thrill of running right in front of or right beside a bull. The bulls are flashes of tan hide and then it’s over. The crowd goes wild for less than a minute and then the runners are out of sight, hopefully making it safely to the bullring. The entire run usually lasts for about three to four minutes.

Later in the afternoon, the bullfight takes place—matador, waving red flag, the whole deal. I didn’t go, but I wasn’t too disappointed because apparently I’ve been living in a naïve dream world—I had no idea they actually killed the bulls in front of the crowd. At least the meat is sold and eaten.

My summer voyage ended here, but the festival continues with the same schedule every day until closing day, July 14th. To make this experience even better, my birthday happens to be July 7th. Since middle school, when we read about San Fermin in Spanish class, I’ve been telling people that one day, I’d be traveling through Spain for my birthday. I was told that if I had been born in Pamplona on the same day, my parents would have named me Fermina—a tradition. I contemplated introducing myself as such during the trip, but I realized my Spanish isn’t good enough to pass as a true Fermina. Oh well, maybe next year! Until then, I’ll occasionally wear my red scarf while drinking tinto de verano, reminiscing.

Men in Spain v. Men in America


I really hate to break this to you ladies, but I’ve learned that men are the same everywhere. I thought maybe I’d find some tall, dark, and handsome Spanish man to sweep me off my feet (for the summer) but surprise—assholes, creepers, and boring dudes are everywhere. Here are the differences and similarities that I’ve calculated and recorded. It’s all very official.


Men in Spain: It’s ok to wear a pink shirt with purple pants, half a bottle of hair gel, half a bottle of cologne, leather loafers, and Gucci sunglasses. We like to look pretty too.

Men in America: I’m with you on the hair gel. But throw on an Ed Hardy shirt and some ripped, faded jeans, bro.


Men in Spain: Let’s go find an American who only knows how to say, “Hola! Cerveza, por favor.”

Men in America: Let’s go find some foreign chick who only knows how to say, “Hello! Beer, please.”


Men in Spain: Maybe if we stare long enough without blinking, she’ll take her clothes off.

Men in America: Maybe if we stare long enough without blinking, she’ll take her clothes off.


Men in Spain: It’s ok to live with your parents until you’re 30 years old. It’s also normal to not own a car (possibly not a bike either).

Men in America: Definitely. Being poor is very “cool” these days.


Men in Spain: Let’s get wasted! I also have cocaine.

Men in America: Let’s get wasted! I also have weed.


Men in Spain: I went to Miami last year. Is this a good enough connection to wherever it is you said you were from? Because that’s all I can think of that we have in common.

Men in America: Oh, Texas, cool. Yeah, I’ve never been. Yeah, I’ve heard that Austin is cool. Yeah, I have nothing else to say really. Oh, I thought of something—do you say y’all? That is hilarious.


Men in Spain: You sound like a Mexican.

Men in America: You’re Mexican?! Never would have guessed.


Men in Spain: My girlfriend is very, very far away tonight.

Men in America: No, of course I don’t have a girlfriend!


Men in Spain: I would just like to have sex with you.

Men in America: I’m just not emotionally ready for a real relationship, I can barely take care of myself, and you deserve more than that. I still want to see you though…


Men in Spain: We don’t use AC or fans here even though it’s unbearably hot, so I’m just going to take off my shirt. What I can offer you is a place to put your clothes, if you would also like to survive the heat.

Men in America: Do you want to get more comfortable? I can give you a thin, white shirt or something.


Men in Spain: Yeah, I’m going to University, but I’m just going to take over my dad’s business. Why would I try to do anything else?

Men in America: Yeah, I majored in Business. A lot of other bros were picking it, so it just seemed like a good choice.


Men in Spain: Can’t hang out, soccer is on. SOCCER IS MY LIFE!!! Blah, blah, blah World Cup.

Men in America: Can’t hang out, football is on. FOOTBALL IS MY LIFE!!! Blah, blah, blah Super Bowl.



Men in America: I’m sure I can find some excuse…hold on…IT’S MY LANDLORD’S BIRTHDAY, LET’S GET NAKED!


Men in Spain: You can be my American girlfriend!

Men in America: Just so we’re clear, I don’t do long distance.


Men in Spain: I can get my grandma to whip us up some paella, croquettas, salmorejo, and pan real quick.

Men in America: Do you want to order a pizza or something?


Men in Spain: I’m going to just call you “guapa.” Or Alicia, take your pick. Because I sure as hell can’t say or remember you actual name.

Men in America: It’s a lot easier for me to just call women baby. Or just never use names, that works too. Avoiding catastrophe.


Men in Spain: No, I don’t know how to do laundry or clean, or any of those other woman things.

Men in America: I agree completely with that guy.


Men in Spain: I am a very uninteresting person, so I’m just not going to talk to you.

Men in America: I am a very uninteresting person, so I’m going to ramble about a very uninteresting topic…


Men in Spain: Kissing on the cheek in greeting is normal. I’m hoping you won’t know the difference if I kiss extremely close to your mouth instead.

Men in America: I’m going to put zero effort into this hug. Then, later, you’ll be dying for more.


Men in Spain: I’m going to touch you inappropriately and blame it on the European culture and sense of love.

Men in America: I’m going to blame it on my penis.


Let it be known that I’m not giving up. Next stop: I’m thinking Canada. Somewhere that I’d never expect anything good to happen. Maybe that’s where all the hotties have been hiding.



Things move a little more slowly here. But not in the annoying, nothing-gets-done, “island time” Hawaii fashion. More of a relax, be happy, love people, eat pan and drink vino kind of slow. I am obsessed to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, people love other people in places outside of Spain…but not the same way. And people eat bread and drink wine in those places too…but not in the same way. People relax and people are happy…well, maybe not. Not in the same way, which is the best way.

People here…are seriously the nicest, happiest people I’ve ever encountered. The lifestyle, the culture…is amazing. Taking naps and eating every few hours is simply normal because it eliminates stress. To them, there is no other way. Wake up before 8—why? Wait to drink any alcohol until nighttime—why? Go to the gym—why not just ride horses for a bit and swim a few laps in the pool? Diet? Never. Why not just have one piece of bread with dinner instead of the usual four? Work 8-5? No way! They work the hours that they’ll be most productive—which also means they take a large break in the middle of the day. So 9-2 and 5-8, roughly. Or whatever they feel like that day.

Everyone kisses, which made me uncomfortable at first. In Hawaii, it’s easy to handle because only some people do it and it’s always on one cheek, usually not even touching the lips to the cheek anyway. And in Texas, it’s only with Hispanic close friends or family. But here—EVERYONE, and I mean everyone, kisses you (as in full mouth contact) on both cheeks. “Es Ali-Cha,” (we’re still working on how to say my name), “Es Americana!” is said to the grocery store cashier, the maid, the gardener, the doctor, and every other random acquaintance, friend, family member, or passerby that we’ve come across. This is followed with a huge smile, a hug, and two giant kisses. After only a few days, I’ve gone from uncomfortable to loving it—especially when there are so many attractive men that seem to know my host family… The point is, they’re overflowing in a way that Americans don’t understand.

In the States, when we decide NOT to eat or drink, it’s because a) we want to save money, b) we don’t want to get fat, c) we don’t want to get drunk, or d) we don’t want to be sleepy. In Spain, saving money is not a priority, “fat” means extremely obese (everything else is curvy and sexy), getting drunk is never a bad thing, and if you’re sleepy—nap! There is never a good reason not to have one more beer or one more bite of paella. Trust me, I tried. They are very convincing. Oh, red wine is good for me? You’re right, I’ve heard that, sure I’ll take my fourth glass. Oh, it’s tradition to have rum at the end of the night? Well, I don’t want to break tradition. Oh, this restaurant serves the best ice cream in town? Ok, I guess I have to order dessert then. And so on.

We are obsessed with working, becoming rich, famous, or remembered. We are obsessed with exercising, dieting, looking better than everyone else, and doing whatever it takes to stay young. We are obsessed with the material. We are obsessed with ourselves, really. In Spain, the word beauty is understood and used in its intended format. Generosity is everywhere, compliments are constantly oozing out of every mouth, affection and appreciation are never concealed but rather lavished. I haven’t seen a single argument. Not even a frown, come to think of it. If you love someone, you tell them, immediately, in that moment, even if it’s every two minutes. If you want to touch them, you do. In fact, most people don’t stop touching. And yet, somehow, they are not “showy” in the way that most Americans are. For example, my host family is filthy rich but they all wear the traditional plain gold wedding bands, no diamond. People work for them, but not beneath them. They are not “too good” for anything or anyone. They are open books—what do you want to know? Sharing, divulging, honesty, having no shame—these are all part of love—and they love everyone.

Americans hide everything—every emotion, every thought, every little detail that could possibly, one day, maybe be embarrassing or awkward or expose any part of our true selves. We are the land of the free, but we do not live freely, the way they do here.

Libre: I wish I could bring this word and everything that comes with it back home.

The Wait for June


So it’s almost time to escape the island for a while. Six more days, and I’m free from 7th graders for two whole months. One week from then, and I’ll be in Spain. Yes, Spain. Ecstatic cannot even express my most minimal surface emotion. I’ve literally been crawling out of my skin here; I’d say that if I had to teach for seven more days instead of six, or if I had to stay on the rock past May 31, I might have a psychotic breakdown. I’m talking full-out: dye my hair, get a piercing or tattoo, sleep with that roid-head trainer at my gym, and send in an application video to one of MTV’s many shitty shows. So let’s hope my flight doesn’t get delayed, right? I’ll be teaching conversational English to a rich family all of June, and then making my way, by bus and hostels, to Pamplona for my birthday gift to myself: Running of the Bulls.

Here’s what I’m escaping:

  • 100 pre-teens that are causing extreme stress, gray hair, wistful thoughts of corporal punishment, and pessimism about this nation’s future.
  • Beaches. I know, I know, I live in a beautiful place. But I’m looking forward to the architecture, museums dripping in Picasso and Dali, and, of course, a good ol’ bull run. I never thought the sun and sand and palm trees would get old, but I guess that’s just something tourists say.
  • Disappointments. All of them, all the different kinds, big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, slimy ones…however that nobodylikesmeeverybodyhatesmeguessi’llgoeatworms song goes.

Here’s what I’m hoping to find:

  • Myself. Hahaha, just kidding. Couldn’t help it.
  • The best summer of my life. Last summer will be hard to top (Europe, moved to Hawaii), but dammit, I’m going to try.
  • Español fluency, finally? Or at least closer to it. And this time, I won’t come back to the States and stop practicing and forget everything I learned. I’ll teach in Spanish everyday if I have to. The kids can just deal.
  • Some fantastic stories. My friend suggested seducing a member of the royal family, going back to his villa, and swimming laps in his infinity pool as he occasionally feeds me grapes. I’m thinking more along the lines of slumming it with a stable boy (my host family owns an equestrian center), learning some secret enchilada recipe from a cranky old woman, and somehow waking up in France after a night of too-much-tequila. Ok, fine, whichever comes first.

If I don’t elope or get abducted, then I’ll be back in early July, probably right when I would’ve started missing teaching and beaches. But until then, GET ME THE HELL OFF OF OAHU, get me on a horse in the Andalucia region, and hand me a glass of vino. No, make it a bottle. Summer, I’m a comin’.