The moment you arrive into the square at the beginning of the running of the bulls, you arrive analogous to life into a tiny portal of the great wide world of the unknown. Learning almost immediately the tension the crowd all share is a very unique of tension. A collective snowballing of human tension exponentially builds just like a runaway snowball and as if blasting down the side of a mountain.
The combination of the steepest of mountain and the largest of spring snow sets up the perfect environment conditions for the tension snowballs most gigantic of growths path. Setting your foot and taking your place in the square with all your nerves the snowballs journey then begins. It thunders down the mountainside leaving in its trailing path a straight scare of destruction. While in motion, is more reminiscing to ripping a vein from the arm of mother earth.
Paths have cut through forests ripping trees from their roots, embedding to the growing force, and leaving a snow track at least three meters deep all the while gathering a thunderous of speed. Within destiny’s path is the waiting two-kilometre cliff face that drops towards and into the deepest grandeur of canyons. Deep at the bottom of the canyon is a jagged shattering rock floor bed that patiently waits for the falling snowball as it blasts through the air giving off a roar that sounds more of a meteor towards its final explosive end.
Awoken by the energized atmosphere is the martyred patron saint Fermin and offering some hope to the crowds mounting of tension is the cosmic force that whips up overhead. Streaks of cosmic dust and colourful clouds, at first appear like a large mystic guardian and as if a clashing of clouds shoots straight bolts of lightning into the snowball. From a trillion volts a deep purple field forms transforming the self’s and collective tensions in to a perfectly sphered ball of glass. Fooled by the guardian’s whip snapping hope clouds the crowd’s collective consciousness enlightened together and now faced with the multiple of realities, bound together inside its own thoughts and the protective fragility of sudden glass.
Now that you are in the square and close to the starting line, you will have to face your own self-doubts and the many emasculating of questions. And a fragment of the unknown is that this kind of tension, is only heightened by the very nature of a large collective crowd. Together and as individuals, the crowd all face demons in their own mind. All thinking the same and similar things, with death at the very edge and attached to mostly all thoughts. Standing in the crowd, I cannot imagine there would be a soul or conscious being who now wishes for this run to be over and alive in safety of the conclusive bullring.
Beggining of my second running with the bulls
The year is 1999 and I am standing in the square doing my best to keep my **** together. My head slowly bows as my eyes glance towards and follow what felt a weakening of energy that flowed filling from my hips down into my legs. A sensation that began in my stomach and now was streaming through my ankles into my feet and like the effects of any poison in the circular system, causes a spike in my annexed of nerves. Nerves that now feel hijacked on their highest alert and overly reactive by the worst imaginable timing. Almost buckling beneath my legs are suddenly numbing, feeling as if in a dreaded of dream.
Unable to cut through any air as if on a moon held back by a tethered end bungee cord the dream is of running from a pursuing demon. In the dream the demon is yet unseen and is known only by its presence, casting an energized blocking spell over your legs and separating the connection between leg and mind. Almost frozen in time the legs remain all numbingly slow as your escape remains in a battle of the will over the mind. The minds only task is torturous by its desperate attempts on trying to re-establish the connection to feel again. Feeling the force of gravity standing strong, full of energized life and really up for a short run is how imaginatively I would have preferred the legs with the chancing auspicious challenging of runs ahead.
Decorating the cobbles
Asking of my little legs over the next few minutes of life, not only to steadfast weaving amongst the ducking and diving but to do their earnest and save my little life. Combining the sleepless night and the emotionally charged occasion right now legs and body is more like wobbly shaking jello. All the while, my butterflied internals stir up on the inside.
In opposite direction to the demonic spell over my legs an embarrassing movement rises through the torso and threatens to paint the cobblestones in a green streaked piece of art. Immediately I buckled, placing both hands on knees as my empty stomach turns over regurgitating within. The attention from the post-modernist of art I avoid with the reactive quick shun back on the throat. And blocking it firmly right at the back before secondly sucking in with a gulping chunk of air.
Luckily, amongst the tightly packed crowd this time the embarrassment stops just short. But not avoiding a taste that rose up and coming out through the sensitive nose was a sickliest of odour. The erroneous air drifted up causing the eyes to spring and blurring over with a thick milky-layered vision. My vision was in direct contrast to the previous night, where thoughts and everything had seemed extraordinary clear.
On Sun Up
Before arriving into the beginning of Pamplona’s running of the bulls, the new days light shinned down waking all who had not slept at the camping ground located ten miles outside of the city. The sun rose radiating the hot amber warmth, only typical for this part of the world and the middle of Spain. While gathered in small groups in the tabled courtyard are the young travellers from all over the world.
During the night, the atmosphere was one of the more pleasurable states of being. Like an awoken cosmic flow and an oneness, bipartisan to the favoured experience when taking an LSD trip. The vibe had engulfed all who sat there for the night’s entirety. A collective cultural mix of people flowed through time, as all chatted away until the dark of the night disappeared virtually unnoticed. The sun above a cloudless sky popped up above the horizon with the inevitable speeding up towards the end, when the brakes on the festive atmosphere suddenly slammed. Stopping with an abruptness, so much as if an exterior force, an almighty god had hit some kind of higher awakening simulation pause.
Starting this day there was no time to prepare. Not once the female voice sang out from the edge of the large courtyard. In unison with the new days light, a loud and radiant pitch screeched between and underneath the lengthy sheltering vines. “The busses are ready to leave now!” The ‘now’, she had really emphasised and sounding with a controlling authoritative schoolteacher’s voice with that little touch of a witch, “now all you kids.”
Those sitting all ushered to one and other, ”oh ah, wow man.” Including myself all seemed to take a moment to register with a “where the fuck am I?” The night had simply disappeared to this deterministic and in the now, unexpected morning. Nobody sitting escaped the utter surprise of this day sneaking up on all, like the cheetah to its prey.
My thoughts slowly gathered as if just woken from a dream into a sudden realisations, ‘Oh shit this is why I am here and how did us arrive so quickly?’ I step from one realising thought into the next. I’m not just astounded on how the night has raced by but also a flashing of images run in behind my closed eyelids as I watched the previous week whiz by. One by one, the images evanesced at the deep dark edges of mind.
Feeling only cheated by times perception as the adventure travelling in vans had been together freeing and chaotic but now was more of a robbing of memories as if sands in the finished hourglass. An unpredictable van trouble had turned our journey into a race against time to make the opening days festivities, which was yesterday. We had had to drive continuously for 24 hours and I had done over my fair share, mostly all of it because I did not want me or my compatriots, Bevan, Dean, and Jeff, to miss any of the begging festival. This made this morning sneak up on me with now missing two nights of sleep.
The reason for joining my London friends on this journey had arrived, leaving barely enough time to check wallets are in pockets while racing for a bus.
Stumbling towards the buses and adding to the abruptness of the morning was when confronted by the sheer number. Starter motors fired from every direction and from down the longest of lines. It was an extra-large paddock allocated and needed as parking area for the event and already the smell of diesel engines filled the aromas of air. Amongst the confusion as I did not belong to any of the touring buses, I took a moment to question why I did not listen to my rational mind.
Whilst peering down on the piece of cardboard held between my fingers. I inspected it for any defects, a signal, or any sign that clearly spells out (bad trip). Repeating in the words I am sure of many, as if the little picture should have a happy or sad face. You know as you do, even though you cannot identify shit, you still do it anyway.
That tiny piece of cardboard I knew had the power to go wrong, very wrong. Exploiting all at once your insecurities and turning you into an instant paranoid schizophrenic cat and there was the rumour of the girl who upon taking a polluted batch then became stuck on all fours and never came back. Alternatively, the ego and sense of self disintegrates only to transform in to something equally manic, an Einstein alien creature from planet Zolecopherrinoidorgus. Totally forgetting about tomorrow’s agenda, short sighted I think it over and come up with a suitable argument. ‘There is a chance it might go extremely different, a mystical experience that might only feel right. Without any delay, sticking it on my tongue, and leaving the mirage of fearful doubts back there where I once stood.
What is done is done and keeping in with the spirit of this adventure, moments are rarely preconceived and most certainty nearly always lacking in any planning. On these types of fortuitous breaks from reality things just happen and there is no going back once that little piece of cardboard has connected to the saliva on your tongue. Nothing ventured, nothing gained has to dominate the thought of mind.
A demonic clue
“Uh which one Jeff, we don’t belong to any of these busses” I ask. “Don’t matter, just get on any they will not mind.” So we both head for the closest with a door open. Every seat has a body occupied and taken by those who have had the benefit of a good night of sleep. The all-nighters, trippers mostly have to stand in one of many busses organised and all fired up ready to go for one of Europe’s largest yearly festivals.
Positioned at the front of the bus assuredly capturing everyone’s attention the monitor screen is on repeat with the running of the bulls from 1984. Any coincidence to the year was like a glimpse in to the future and reading as the most demonic of clue. Soonly I felt an all-powerful second wave, exploring another dimension as my being from the middle of the bus disintegrates my consciousness and hyper thrusts [WARNING: hit this link leading to another dimension and another story that will loop to return.], a second me back to the front. Stopping with my face full on wide-eyed attention planted immediately in front of the monitor screen.
Pixels gateway to hell
An instant reality was to land in my mind with the sight of that screen. Setting off a rapturous of thoughts and questioning on myself, over my now fragile and dubious state of mind. “What the fudging heck have I done?” Had I really thought this through? No Oliver Banks you did not, you idiot hadn’t even remembered that this day was next. The night, the trip, all just turned on its head and I was having the thought patterns that usually come half an hour after your badass decision. But this was 8-10 hours later “what the fudging heck have I done?”
All eyes on the bus transfix to the screen on the right of the centre Isle and nobody would have escaped the thoughts I am having. “Is that going to be me? Am I maimed brutally next?” The realisation of what was ahead now exposed in pixel clarity. In clearness that only showed the rawest of un-avoidable realities. Exposed to all that were on the bus and probable fate would have it, on all tour busses. And for all who up until now thought they were going to run.
C A R N A G E
To the rear, the unstoppable flow of runners has forced a random group of people to the front. Those un-fortuitously chosen were seriously lacking in any luck. When suddenly cast into the bull’s destruction path and finding their frightful reflections only a clear image in the bulls’ big bloodshot eyes. The wildebeests have selected those for the sacrifice and to the waiting starved crocodiles.
The bulls assimilated like a herd of starved crocodiles and as a collective charged with a ferocious display of muscle power. For those caught in front there was no avoiding. A frantic of elbows and arms connected to hands that looked more of a spooked swarming of flightless bees. None wanted the outside of the swarm and in desperation grabbed, pushed, and pulled one and other. Screening themselves from the raging pin pointed horns. All in a chaotic self-defence to his or hers own attempt on avoidance, and all wanting to survive.
Some would find this the most ridiculous position to put oneself in, when a runner is helpless but to accept a dangerous and painful fate. When in a split seconds of change the chances of avoiding the stampeding bulls and a, shoulder-to-shoulder entanglement of panic-stricken people is suddenly hopeless. A hopelessness that only multiplied with all odds diminished when he/she with hope scrambled for the safety and climb of a timber barrier.
They scrambled for and up the sides of the 7-8 foot barricades. In the prime focus of the monitor, none of the climbers saved by such a thing as a welcoming angel’s hand. Waiting and guarding the tops is the somewhat opportunist and evils pushers. As if this is there moment of shinning, in a chaos where there are no rules. Enabled without any consequences to their actions to show the darkness their hearts swim and only thrive in. Through the monitor screen, the hedgemen line up to staff the barriers that set blocking the narrow side streets. The camera angle from above shows a chaotic madness on either side of the barricade as the hedgmen clamber all over each other, in their own sadists of efforts to be on the front line.
Upon reaching the top, the runners' attempts at an escape where quickly halted with their hands ferociously ripped from the top timbers by the waiting hedgemen. Throwing them back on the unavoidable path and hurtling, grasping at nothingness before crashing back into fates path and the hardness of the stone cobbles. Fellow human beings do not discriminate between young females and old. The human types, who purposely guard to make those pushes, show the absolute of no mercy because they love to push as if in these moments they are the rulers to the turning bulls sacrifice.
Knowhere to hide
Every recess has a hoarded covering keeping the street almost perfectly straight. If you were a rat between these buildings and amongst this kind of chaos, your fate hangs in finding a large enough crack between the cobbles because largely there is no escape or tiniest of recess to hide. And every exit to side streets are firmly shut with solid timber barricades keeping runners and bulls contained. As far as those whom push are concerned, if you are foolish to start then you have to find a way to finish. When the true chaos has formed, there is no such thing as half journey’s in the running of the bulls and leaving only one thing, your destiny.
Three foot horns
There was no escaping fate for the many who attempted the run of 1984, they were ravaged, maimed and some killed from the mad charging one tonne beasts. The people caught in front as if in a cartoon. When caught in the catchment between both horns they are flung metres or pound into walls and ground. All who are on the bus now have the same image impregnated as if a bull's branding scorched on the back of our brains. The image is of a massive 3-foot horn, driven up piercing straight through the man’s centre thigh.
Gouged from the rear through his hamstring almost down to the bulls crown leaving two and half feet of horn protruding the front of his thigh muscle. It appeared only possible the horn has passed straight through his femur because of the centred wide horn exit. Surprisingly there was not a lot a blood but still managing to smear the bulls head. The man then flung side to side as if a ragdoll tightly fixed and battered while used like a fly swat on the century old stonemason walls. Further irritated by the stuck and added weight the bulls head shakes like a hyena feeding on the toughest meat. From the power of the crazed bulls neck, the man’s body now used as an extension and tool as his weight is ignored when it continues after and mowing down a smorgasbord of people.
Back in the edgy of crowds
Mostly all are anxious who wait for the starter gun, the gun that begins an initiation into another world. Firstly, they will channel down the narrow streets into the corridors that act like a chancing gateway and initiation in to a potentially most feared of chaos. A world where the reality is if there’s a reverse turning by all of the bulls that can happen in an unpredictable split few seconds, suddenly true chaos is formed.
The bull disorientated and confused further becomes enraged into a monster. Suddenly in the narrowest of street acts of saving others becomes rear. When all beings feel cornered in the bull’s destructions path a world dominated by individualism and saving only one self dominates the chaos. For those who have decided to run, an each to their own possessed mentality will enlighten their consciousness and along with the doing your best to avoid a gouging by a bulls horn the biggest more than ever threat of all, unluckily could be because of others.
The percentages/chance of the worst chaos may even be slim but if you have ever seen or felt that chaos, the slim remains ever predominant at the forefront of your mind. Most have been drinking through the night and the hugely unwanted attention from puking right now I should imagine has a dominos effect. Although it would be a little amusing and probably relieving to see all throwing up just now, personally, I do not want to be the first domino to fall.
My head is flooded in adrenaline pumping through my body as if an endless supply was flowing wall to wall via all networking veins. Adrenaline on steroids has put my mind body and soul into a fight or flight curious of battle. I see myself on the edge of a crumbling before me ice ravine, conspicuous of a tripping hallucinogenic state. On the edge, a very real place exists where everything including your now vulnerable perceptions of the world can go either way. Avoiding a falling from the edge in to a darkest fragmented bottom is only a struggle fought for in a game in one’s own mind. Almost desperately, I hold onto peace, love and sanity while I hope nobody can see how my hands are shaking underneath their sheath skins.
This pre-destined moment feels personal with knowing you are in something more than just the running with the balls. Just what that something is, will only be found via a journey through the unknown and hopefully in an injury free conclusion. So no matter what, even if wiser and safer to do so, you will not back down. As the struggles rebound over in your mind, there is a swinging back and forth between the heavens and the hells.
This game of fear had built to new heights than ever previously felt. Throwing all my thoughts, reasons, doubts, wants and desires all into the one big turbo powered washing machine. A duo of parallel emotions rose as equal, fear and wonder built with a rising anticipation as in any journey into the unknown.
Contending with the negatives
Gravely over simplified I have descend into the realms of shock while this, only a segment of the journey is about to begin. Is this going to be the worst imaginable day my mind continuously asks. Stuck in a loop and circling the most negative of negative thoughts. Is the worst of this day only the beginning to my end?
My thoughts feel edgy already feeling the impact via a flux of returning visions. Standing motionlessly and frozen, blindly with my back turned. As the one-tone beast, that looks more of a fast moving big red bus. Only then mows me down from the rear with an instant lights out of a thud. On queue with the thud, the atmosphere darkens inside my head and I instantly recognise it as another precursor to a slight drifting, almost pulling me towards a hell. Like the closing in of a tsunami, you are exposed, watching, and will never avoid.
As a deterrent to overcome all fear and to keep the vision clouds at a distant distance, my mind focuses on the least drastic outcome of an injury free fate. Opening a tiny gateway to another reality, I look skywards to see the relieving sight. In full field of vision was the perfectly sun lit clear marble blue sky and the atmospheric beauty, our gateway to the infinity of space.
Time for hope & God
I ask god; please go gentle by letting me survive while I notice through my eye pupil is an almost agonising to watch slow nervous movement of both hands. My vision was as if running in a picture, ultra-slow frame rate and the motion is all jittery up and down. It felt as if that same god I prayed too was bending the world in my vision with a deliberated stuttering of time. Swallowing to push back the remaining sandpaper taste as I take one hand off my supporting knees and reach out to hold on to my friend for extra steadying and slowly pulling myself back up. Jeff, a young easy going Australian and travel companion asks.
“You ok mate?” “Absolutely” I reply, “but I do not think it was the greatest of timing you know what.” Not wanting to shear with the immediate crowd what the “what” exactly might have been.
“Need food” I say to Jeff trying to redirect and cope with my thoughts. The nervous atmosphere flows amongst the crowd but only amplified by the loud and silent Spanish murmuring. Murmuring all my senses seem ignited under. Thinking of an appetite served as a go too as I imagine a large shrimped paella. I pretend the food busies my taste buds, preoccupying my mind and preventing the infectious atmosphere from getting the better of me. Seems silly but the distraction works as i get some feelings return to my legs but now just need to remove the army knife stuck in my mind.
Surrounding us, everyone is mostly dressed in white with their red bandanas tied around heads, necks, or hinged on the hip and belt, hanging down at the side. “Me too” Jeff replied in our cocooned separated by dress code and isolated by language world. As if the two of us are the only aliens on this crazy mad planet.
Decision on hell
Of course, last night's festivities and the dropping of an acid trip did not now seem the best of ideas. Nevertheless, we are wide-awake because of the drug and our senses hijacked into hypersensitive mode. In full flowing slow motion, as in Spielberg’s saving Private Ryan. While they hit the beach a mental shock took over, surrounded by explosions and the half but still moving bodies.
Our scene, nowhere near as horrifying but there was no guarantee that what too truly fear, waits with fate just around the corner. How did I get here? Why am I here? Does this really make you a man or a fool? After all, this is a position only self-inflicted where mortality played with like any game of chance.
Hell yes I have to do this, nothing could stop me. I was going to run with the bulls and by this, I meant with them. Not, way out in front, only with them. Not even the onset of what now felt like a descending towards a paranoid schizo cat would deter us. Jeff and I are the only ones standing and ready to run from our groups. Which consist of an old ambulance filled with the girls, none foolish to run, and nine other Kiwi and Australian blokes, our convoy of three vans from London down to Spain.
Why dont run in running with the bulls
From the centre of the square, Jeff and I can see the others perched on the wooden barricades that surround us and setting the perimeter on all four sides. Calling out to them, not one of them wanted to run. On the journey down, I told them of my mission motivated by a previous experience and the combination of a friend Anton’s story. The story I had witnessed of his run. At least having been told and given the choice to run safely or not, was only beneficial to those who listened I had thought.
Explaining their decisions not to run was they too might have watched the video of 1984. Truthfully, if this was my first time and someone firstly explained the choices and then watched 1984. I would have found peace in every reason why I had not needed to run. Then throw in a sleepless night on acid and you have a question blocked by a telepathic reactive (no). Long before, you were able to ask.
Why run in the running of the bulls?
Jeff, who back in London was working as a cycle courier and now decided, the story only fuel for why he was going to run. Nothing was ever going to stop him, not even the sabotaging of our memories now smeared over in blood and the shocking and if nothing, evil brutality of human spirit that remained from the hedgemen of 1984.
The challenge and Spanish tradition we both just had to experience proper. From where the challenge grew and why only explained via the fuller picture, with Anton’s almost accidental but the most bravado’s of runs and journeys beginning 2 years previous.
Warning - Some animal cruelty
As far as decisions go this decision only took two minutes to go yeah I am coming. I hadn’t suspected that this decision to leave home for London on our big OE that was only supposed to be for one year, would be the most consequential as far as decisions in life go. Decisions, decisions, decisions, did I even make that decision I might never know.
My unravelling of dreams began the moment I got on the 747 airliner to my destination London. The story of the two life's, firstly from NZ growing into adulthood and then moving to London are clearly divided. It is like comparing Tom Sawyer with the story of, Oliver Twist. The Oliver Twist story, and my rollercoaster of a life, dreams and hardships come true all started when I left behind the Tom Sawyer life.
Throughout my teenage years, I had had an infatuation with bartender work and seemed the most obvious position where all the girls came to you. Pulling beer would fulfil all my young desires and of course with nature overly motivated by sex. On that account of sex, I would not think I was any different to the next bloke but that a side due to coming from a tiny population, possibilities only hindered by a small economy. The way things were either your Dad owned a pub or you knew someone well, otherwise this was a job difficult to obtain.
Therefore, when David, my best mate of the time, arrived at my house and excitedly told of his new plan to go to England on their big OE. After much stress, I thought of bartender jobs in abundance and the possibilities of many girls wanting a drink." The biggest decision of my life popped out of my mouth and said, '' I'm coming” leaving only planning to think over from this moment on.
Fast-forward 5 weeks with the arrival of my ancestry visa, my house rented out, a years leave from work, everything organized and behind me. David and his new wife Wilma had already departed two weeks prior. I joined two friends Anton and Frodo at Christchurch airport. Excitement was extremely high, the emotions that airports naturally incite. Over the next few years, airports quickly became like any addiction in life. Each visit would weld up with anticipations as if the beginning of a new adventure and many would begin with your journey to and time spent within the airports.
Anton and Frodo appeared calm as the massive jet engines warmed and roared entering the bottom of the runway. I was a nervous wreck and it would not go without notice. The digging of fingers and nails as if pulling the rests out of situe. I turned into a white Maori. Pale and several times Frodo asked me "are you ok"?
Openly I displayed my displeasure of flying. I had thought my fear of flying stemmed from the unnatural act of a potentially explosive lump of aluminium hurtling through the air. Little did I know what that fear or any fear was actually about.
First stop Singapore, and because it was our first time to make the 24-hour flight to the other side of the earth. We decided to stop for 2 days and 2 nights. Breaking up the monstrous journey and taking the opportunity to experience our first foreign country and culture. I had already experienced Australia but this to me did not feel foreign. Guess I had seen many of the great Australian films with Ned Kelly, Gallipoli, Mad Max, the TV series flying doctors. Or was it the teaching in school of Waltzing Matilda, they seemed like us.
Expectations were high, action, excitement, and adventure were about to begin on alien earth Singapore. Our romantics were deeply embedded in our naïve New Zealand minds. Like pieces to a puzzle, our travels would bring us a step closer to a natural euphoria and find us happiness for all eternity. Did I mention my naive NZ mind!
Exiting the airport, where the humidity burnt the inside of our lungs with such ferocity, they felt to explode. Feeling like one of those anti-smoking posters, the one with a hundred cigarettes jam packing the mouth. After much ducking and diving from one air conditioned shop to the next, this small adventure had left us a humidified out. Singapore had not lived up to our overly exuberant youthful expectations but you just know it was, just a stopover.
Our big overseas expedition as planned moved on to the almighty famous London, a completely different eel pie and fish. As in the strange combinations of food life was a tad different to life back in good old NZ. Greeting us at the airport was David & Wilma accompanied by a bunch of new friends. One of the friends' Hammond, a mischievous tester of reality and a cheeky likeable character, who shared a couple of traits that might have also been in me.
Hammond liberalised us to what had become his London. He was so well adapted to London life, London now appeared as Hammonds own creation. He was a god who knew everything we needed to know, the ins and outs. An expert with what all was possible to this town called London.
He guided us on technics used for jumping the underground gates or existing only in those days the fortuitous obtaining of a counterfeit travel card. He guided Anton straight into work as a chancer carpenter. Not to be underestimated chancing will put extraordinary pressures on you to learn. Hammond further advised on every loophole including ports of entry for those wanting to avoid deportation. Anton for a second time was a major beneficiary, surviving four years after the expiration of his visa, and surviving as an illegal alien.
The very best of knowledge and the one of Hammonds leads that really grabbed my attention enabling me to question all that was possible was when he bartered for the remaining chicken at the late night chicken shops. The Indians just smiled at his audacity and eventually always gave in. The chicken was a considerable downgrade to kfc and best eaten only after a few beers. The best of deals and making them bearable at £2 for a bucket full with chicken & hot wings. By this time, most of us would have settled on a 7 pence tin of baked beans, so the chicken ends up a somewhat greasy fingered upgrade.
With Hammond and his girlfriend Gillian on board as great travelling companions, we quickly settled down to planning our next travel adventures. First stop was Pamplona and the running of the bulls. The eight-day festivals held in honour of the Saint Fermin, the holy patron saint of Pamplona. Held annually on the 7th day of the 7th month and started from the 7th hour. To give the bulls an extra hour of sleep on the day in which their destiny is to die at the competent or not so competent hands of a matador, the starter’s gun goes off at 8am.
On each of the evenings and after the daily run more often than not, the death is cruelly slow. The matador's dance is not so poetic and aim is not accurate resulting in the most brutalized of brutalism’s death. The worst of those deaths I nicknamed the savage BullsEye.
First, up in the formalities of the fight and requiring a sick sense to see a moment before it has happened is the junior matador while aiming to intersect the bulls charge. His shoulders held back over his heels keeping the back form in a slight arc. His hands held high directly above the shoulder and down hanging from each are two pujas spears. In what looks like an impossible pose, he runs what looks to the eye as perfect acute lines accompanied with an ability of gazelle like speed to timely intercept and cross the bull’s charging line. On passing the head of the bull, the points swing from down to the front and a thrust that is generated with full use of the bodies uncoiling power piercing deep into the bulls back and shoulders.
Displaying an ability to make snap calculations and all reactive from the moment the rushing bull has spotted the junior matadors first pre-emptive running line. He makes a judgment over the bull’s ability to change direction given the speed the charging bull is running. Reacting to any slight deviations by the bull and foreseeing the bull’s most likely manoeuvre, he then flies through the intercepting line.
The puja's harpoon type spear perfectly engineered to break at the pronged head, leaving a colourfully decorated handle to dangle to the one side. The spears cause much of the bleeding internally back into the gut and largely contribute to the final spiralling in to the BullsEye and deaths end. But not before the main matador fails to finish the bull with a swift sword. Sometimes the matador will have two and three goes and following failures, they bring in the armoured horse with a rider. The armoured horse and rider takes side on all the charging life out of the bull until abled by the further exhaustion technic to stab him in the back of the neck and finishing the fight off.
In between the Matadors failings and before the armoured horse and rider, the bull all too often descends into a spin of a clock. As if centred on a pin the bull spins round continuous in the same direction and throwing through the bull’s outstretched mouth are all of is its internals. The bull finally drops in the circle but not before spewing out and completely circling the bull with a few meters of painting the sand floor thick and red. The ‘BullsEye’ now formed and over. The sight shocking and so huge leaves you questioning everything you had witnessed. There looks to be enough red for two bulls and not the one and by the enormity of the spectacle, all of it seems surreal as if artificially produced. This is a description of the worst possible outcome to any fight.
Unlike man’s barbaric struggle with man, sometimes the bull has a real chance via a meeting with a skilled and brave Matador whose courage and skills often never matched. He is one who as described by one of the greats, dances with god and takes the bull on early. He will display courage early in the fight before the formalities of the fight have resulted in the draining of much blood and weakening of the bull’s spirit.
With a spirited bull, the matador is poetic in dance showing off the human anatomy with a poise, timing, and elegance of beauty. The bull is ferocious in determination and has a chance of a kill for itself. Towards the end, the bull now exhausted and hypnotised by the dance, the head hangs motionless and low, down in submission while the matador stands directly in front. Firstly, sighting the bull down the swords blade then raising the sword and arm that rises high while forming an arc. Turning slightly to the side tall as tall, he rises on to his tiptoes. Straight at the bull, the matador takes one wide skip and finishes with one quick decisive plunge of the sword. When on target the blade severs the spine between the top vertebrates behind the bulls head. Instantaneously the bull drops, flopping down on its belly lifeless and finally dead.
It does not take the formality of chopping off an ear then tossed back into the ring at the matadors feet and in recognition of a great fight. You will know well before the end of a fight and this for me was on the 14th bullfight held over 2 sessions and two years apart. It was the last fight I would see and up until that fight, I thought like everybody else. That it was plain wrong, the most barbaric and cruellest of death.
In the 14th I developed what personally I felt as a healthy respect for the tradition and an understanding for those who keep this tradition alive. Who am I to judge when I have witnessed so close to an edge of the fine line of danger and death, only to produce some of the most poetic dance and movement capable of the human anatomy. A place that will punish mistakes by death produces a dance you will not see anywhere else. Under the extraordinary extremes of pressure, the Matador's ability to hold posture and poise, as if tip toeing on a tight rope and construct a styled finishing technique with the finest millimetre of finesse.
Paradoxically and with that respect, I only hope and pray humanity can develop to a day that does not need to remind himself of his barbaric appetite for submission combined with a whole lot of blood.
We travelled down via one of the many bus tours arriving on the eve of the opening ceremony. Arriving at the campsite El Molino located 10-15 kilometres outside of Pamplona. Our travelling party stocked up on extremely cheap horrid headache lager and sangria. We were all slightly intoxicated and pleasantly surprised to a party in the camping ground disco. To be around so many exuberant like travellers wasn't without painful consequences.
Jumping from table to table around the dance floor, weighted down with a belly full of Sangria, my vision blurred as I came up short of a table. Only to rip my thigh muscle over the table’s edge. I crashed into it with an almighty thump.The outcome a bruise covering the full length and width of my thigh and the disfigurement took years to regain former shape. The bruise massively big went hand in hand with my later purchased Pamp's t-shirt showing an image of the raging bull. This left all to think this injury was from a bull run and I chose not to let on anything else.
The festivities start with the opening, the day before the running of the bulls. Showing us how to address the opening festival and leading us again was Hammond. Approaching the crowd holding at the ready his red sparkling wine, emulating a fearless armed soldier walking into battle. On this tour, there seemingly were no rules, at least where Hammond was concerned. He shakes his bottle and rips off the top, spraying anyone if not everyone in his path. Nobody spared and to everyone’s astonishment, those doused in red had not seemed to mind. Covered in wine they just smiled whilst we passed.
I assure you this was uniquely Hammond. Maybe it was his young hip face sided with waving blond hair and the way he participated in having a laugh always speaking to them after the cheeky act, he had his ways and just got away with things. Beyond the initial popping of champagne and sparkling red wine and the tossing of sangria Hammonds tradition is not always the norm as stupid me was to find out.
Hammond then leads us to a square nicknamed the muscle bar. A small square and in the centre is a 3+ meter high monument. Three storied buildings form the perimeter and customary from some point in history, the antipodeans decided to climb the centre monument. Not taking a liking to the newly formed custom are the Spanish who launch tomato’s from the balconies while the climbers only see this as another challenge to overcome. Another obstacle introduced by the Spaniards and further attempted to stop the climb is the smearing a grease substance to make an already difficult climb almost impossible.
Dangerously positioned at falling distance and circling the monument are hexagon shaped pillars. Standing 60 centimetres high from the stone paving floor. Over the years these pillars have cracked many skulls. During the festivities, the young antipodeans stand on top of the monument and if they at first do not slip, jump blindly into their new found and hopeful friends that form the below crowd. Sometimes they catch them and sometimes they don't and their new awoken reality is only assured by the doctors in the hospital. Only luck or destiny plays there part by the missing of stone pillars.
Looking at those perched on top of the monument who hang their fate on those below. There is a good chance many of them right now are seeing double or triple. I easily preferred the tradition of coaxing young women to bare their chests. Only this day not nearly as dangerous and pleasantly a far greater site compared to the insides of a Spanish hospital.
The first morning of the run, we found ourselves bunched in one of the city squares. On one side and behind big gates are the ginormous bulls and on the other is the opening to the street, the starting direction of which you run all of 800 metres to the arena/bull ring.
The Spanish polizia form a barricade until exactly 8 am. Signaled by a gun the polizia break hands, standing aside to let the fleeing pools set off towards the waiting arena. Waving their hands to the floor the poliza attempt to prevent any running or initial stampede. In our group of friends, we at first slowly head off up the street arriving at the first right hand turn. There is an almighty cry "here they come" provocative to the panic of a crowd and starting the mad dash. The dash is quickly diffused halfway to the arena when obvious, there are no bulls in sight.
"Here they come '' roars for a second time and mostly all set off for the final 3rd of the run, dupte again. With the tripping of people, elbows and arms left to avoid, full with adrenalin we make our own way up the remainder of the run. And that was that, it was over.
Entering the arena, you could be mistaken for a football match. Fully dressed in the white and red they whistle as if a foul just committed and their home team on the receiving end of now three goals down. All ready sensing that the whistling was a cowardice cry and feeling duped by the yelling of ‘here they come’ you savour your moment and lift your arms in appreciation anyway. Feeling the fool can sometimes feel good too as this is still your moment and you get to imagine what it must be like for all those sports or rock stars we usually view from the side or through the TV.
Once inside the arena our group together again watched on as the running bulls guided by bull handlers wielding large bamboo canes. With a cane either side they direct the bulls straight to the other side and out to safety.
Paying attention to previous instructions from our tour guide was David, as he then instructed us to grab newspapers or magazines and to roll them up. Then used as a tool and for a bravado touching of the baby bull. The bull yet to be released amongst the many people hanging in the arena. Given the shameful disappointment one felt when finding out we hadn't really run with the bulls, this was a chance of redemption, to regain that little bit of honour.
"Where’s Anton" and simultaneously as the question was asked, I saw the pale green face and 6/4" frame of Anton. He is head n shoulders above the crowd and spots us while walking our way. "Where have you been?" he’s asked. With a worried distant gaze in his face that might have easily read, what a stupid question, he answers with a simple "running with the bulls” as the frown on his head only grew.
Without any consideration to Anton’s still pale green face, he’s told "well grab your paper and prepare to touch the bull". He replies as walking away "fuck that, for a life time I've seen enough bull." He jumps the fence and disappears off into the crowd. Later he told us how at the start a Spaniard said to him, “not now, don’t run yet,” he quickly summarised the Spaniard seemed to know what he’s was doing and decided to follow.
There’s a crowd cheer and bursting through the gate from the side heading towards the centre of the ring a little in height but by no means in muscle bulk is beating up dust from the arena floor. On the charge from the outset, the gates had opened and on its radar, is a drunk antipodean.
He’s standing gigging from side to side and only determined to be the first on the bulls charge list. He’s made himself big enough to capture all attention and the bull heads straight for him. It appears as if he’s aspiring to the crowded arena with the waving and lifting of arms and having time to show his hands either side. The crowd respond with an encouragement but cheeky of cheers. He has no paper and has no purpose but to show he is also obviously not frightened in any way of no baby bull.
He leaps into the air as the spirited bull collects him head on, wrapping horns either side of his waist. He’s blasted backwards with such force completely buckling at the waist, his body clanging down on the back of the bull’s neck. He holds on until the fired up ferocious young bull tosses him to the side. The bull leaps spins on its four feet, head remaining low to the ground as it charges grounding the man further into the ground. A cloud of dust forms from the ruckus and the bull comes back out into the clear. Then easily distracted by circling Spanish men. Like the clown in the rodeo, the bull heads off after many others who run.
Unfortunately, the antipodean hadn’t used a rolled up paper and touching the bull in this way would not go without punishment. Instantly he’s mobbed roughly twenty angry young Spanish men, who kick and beat to the crowds roar. They stomped and punched, kicking up as much dust as the bull had previous and assuring this man’s journey was next in an ambulance to the nearest hospital. If he lived, that assured a life lesson he never forgot. When in Rome do as the Roman’s do, an analogue that should never need spoken especially when it comes to century old traditions.
The next day we as a group head out sightseeing the old town Pamplona. The narrowest of streets as if pathways for connecting one square to the next. The small balconies with curved black iron balustrades stack up the streets and lining the base of each are yellow and red flowers in small red ceramic pots. Random buildings will have bullet holes and a remembrance of the 1936 Spanish revolution.
We were casually strolling when the cause of my jealousy spotted "hey that’s Anton, check out that picture of Anton." In the centre of the display window is a A4 picture of Anton's head and top shoulders protruding the top side of the bulls front shoulders. It was a professional photography shop and the positioning of his photo held exclusively for the bravest of runners from the previous days' run. All surrounding photos took a back seat and elevated center front was Anton, their most prestigious and honourable photo from the day.
Given his height of 6"4 and the angle to which the shot was taken would make the height of the bull almost 6 foot. His face was a sick pail and green, the same colour as the day before but this time fright and fear painted on as if spreadable green cheese. It was truly a classic and purchased immediately. Later posted back to NZ where it found the penultimate home behind the bar of his, I am only sure proud Mom & Dads pub on the outskirts of Christchurch.
I've rarely ever been the type to get jealous of others, or if at all. The moment I spotted in the shop window, that picture, jealousy was all I felt. The moment cemented the fact we had not run with the bulls. And in that moment, I only hoped to return one day. Signifying like the becoming of a Man as in Spanish tradition, I needed to prove to myself that I would overcome my fears proving I wasn't afraid of life no more.
Eight am and the Spanish polizia break all joining hands, standing to the side as the crowd of runners slowly fill the streets. Jeff and I make our way to the first corner and stop. A minute or two passes and the flow breaks from walking to jogging. Heads are pointing to the rear over left and right shoulders causing much of the jostling for stability, as standing on the backs of heels and trips becomes increasingly frequent.
We creep up the side round the corner keeping to the left straddling the building's edge. Already knowing what I already knew (if I were a rat), did not stop me from looking for a threshold or any recess to hide. In the most desperate of ways, I look for anything providing a safe spot for keeping out of harm’s way. Upon the previously known discovery of absolute none, extreme exposure rushed through the body as if a ghost in the streets passed through me while crossing my path. The crowd is still thick with runners, entangled all trying in desperation just to maintain a footing.
There was 700 meters left to run, 600 is straight with the final 100 meter left sweeping bend. The sweeping bend nicknamed the neck is barricade on either side with a 7-foot timber fencing and narrowing at the closed together end, the squeezing aperture of the corridor gate. The narrow corridor approximately 15 meters long opens up into the safety of the large round arena and bullring. And the most dangerous part to the run squeezing the crowds together with the bulls. The neck is where the photographer had shot the green faced Anton right up the side of the muscle bound beast.
Jeff is educated with our agenda and game of staying put, patiently standing remaining at my side. We would not start running until a bull, or bulls were with us. It was difficult and taking some energy not joining in with the crowd while playing this game of avoidance. You had to separate from your emotions as contagious was the panic of the crowd. You could strongly feel it and could easily have joined in early at this point. Staying put, holding position, remained our focus despite amongst any amount of chaos. There was really no way of knowing if the bulls were there coming or not.
Springing out of nowhere at 90 degrees and passing quick, we see the first bull with one deep of runners between a monstrous it and us. Jeff and I looked at each other and synchronized yelling out “shit.” I take off with Jeff in behind and immediately I feel my t-shirt stretching from the back. I take a glance looking for the trailing bulls, also to see what is up with my t-shirt. Jeff is holding on restricting only a little of my movement and what in the moment felt like my own chances of survival. I have no time to say anything, as I am jolted to the side. He was being ever careful not to pull me down despite a couple of times a slight catching of my heels. His tripping and struggles from behind felt as if I was doing the run in two running soles.
Looking again forward and to the sides it was utter chaos. Each to one’s own mentality quickly took over. As sonly, I went to work fending off hands and elbows that flew at my head and a defending took place to maintain feet and balance. Bodies clashed and knocked off balance twisting onto the one foot before swivelling back to the next. The first bulls butt is just ahead and to the right, with a small clearing in the road and on the bulls left side. I squeeze between two runners bustling into space and the tugging to my shirt persists.
Right in front, five or so meters a mass of people are down. They had already piled on top of each other spreading out from the left barricade. At the beginning of the neck, a runner had tried to stop and who knows tried to escape via a holding onto the fence. Preventing the flow as one trip, followed by more until the pile three and four high had formed.
Many times on the rugby pitch, I have seen before me, a scrawling of bodies but every time failed when I tried this. I cannot slow down and I can’t get to my right. Leaping straight into the pile and the first thing in mid-air felt, was the ping to my shirt as Jeff let go with perfect timing.
From behind, he's able to avoid the mass and swings to the right heading round the edge. My first footing and left leg lands perfectly on someone's middle back. On the rugby pitch, this is where momentum would have ended leaving a good sprig marking to his back and followed by a face planting slip. My stride is not broken as my right in search of luck flies while aiming for the very top of the pile. Unable to sight what part of the anatomy I landed but this time it was unstable causing a partial slip. The slip almost stops me crouched over the right thigh, pausing momentum making it impossible to straighten my right leg. In an attempt to regain balance, my hands, and arms thrust forward.
In synchrony with my arms, my left leg loops almost 90 degrees to the side and my body rocks over my crouched right leg and back onto my left foot that freakishly found a target perfectly crossed on someone solidly positioned and centre neck. Not believing my luck, this one on the down side of the pile regaining balance, and with a big leap my right again finds stable flat ground on the other side.
Immediately I feel my shirt stretch and peer back to see Jeff back again holding on. Keeping just in behind all the way until the end. This time we both afford a chuckle and he yells, “Fancy meeting you here!” “Shit Jeff, did you see that.” As if I survived magically over impossible odds and altogether forgetting about the big bulls. Jeff with a laugh replied, ”yeap, ahh look out!”
The crowd crammed together flowing for the final stage and under the gate into the arena. I don't know if it's because this position, the narrowest of the run, is now the least likely a place for the bull to turn. Some time for man and beast had passed and maybe they were getting used to their surroundings. Maybe the bull has had sight of the open arena calming his own journey and no longer on the slippery cobbles do his hoofed feet need to make a sudden turn. Both man and bull squeezed together with far less pushing and elbows rested down at sides for these final few meters. Maybe it was just Jeff and I together who felt calm as the fast moving total chaos suddenly turned in to relief and order.
The morning sun shone down over the bullring reflecting a bright heat off the musty yellow fine sand covering. Upon reaching the safety of the open space, you just wished you in this moment were a gladiator. That was a joke, now I felt lucky to breath. Back to the land of safety and the relief from such a short journey was enormous. Did I feel like more of a man? No! Did I feel better for facing a fear in life? No, as one day I realised fears are plentiful and keep on coming and the mysteries of fate will always only keep you guessing.
It gave a natural dopamine high that would activate in the brain every time I thought about the run and long lasting for at least a two to three months. A unique high that can not be experienced anywhere other than running with the bulls. I'm not an adrenaline junky or a junky of any sorte but having experienced many types of adrenaline rushes this was definitely unique. You find yourself having to just let go and take whatever fate has for you. It gave me a sequence of memories I will never forget.
The most satisfaction I gained was from telling Antons story, with my adopted mission, and knowing I motivated just one person to capture his own story and memory. He himself had to overcome the fear provoked from such a sequence of events and not letting that moment pass. Jeff making sure he experienced it by my side, made the occasion just that bit more special and I am sure he too will never forget.
Analogous to life only fate would have it that the bulls did not turn in the street this day as they did with the worst of showing from 1984 and whether I had taken an acid trip or not it was always going to feel as if I had. That is a guaranteed flux of emotion reflective of the one decision, if you are going to run with them or not? If you too one day find yourself at the running of the bulls, irresponsibly taking acid the night before is not advisable but do run with respect. Respect for a century’s old tradition that who really knows probably will not last most of our lifetimes.