A long day with bulls:
We wake up at 4:00 a.m. to hit the road by 5:00 on a coach bus with other students from other programs. We are given strict instructions NOT to run with the bulls, and in fact, they make us sign a form promising that we will NOT run with the bulls, and that if we do, we will not hold the University of Deusto liable. We must be in the bull ring before 8:00 a.m. so that we don't miss the "encierro," which is when they let the bulls out of their pen on one side of town and run them through the city streets to the bull ring. Interestingly, they have to train the bulls to do this and actually practice it the night before when the streets are relatively empty. But before 8:00 a.m. people dressed in white and red line the crowded route in front of the bulls and then run with them all the way to the ring, trying not to get trampled. This goes on for seven straight days in July, and the hospital usually takes care of between 30-50 injured people every day. Some people have even died. It seems barbaric, but when you see the crazy and often drunk young men (yes, only men as far as I know, because women generally are smarter than this) acting like something from the animal kingdom, you kind of get the feeling that these bulls are playing an important role in teaching "men" about limits.
Bravery and machismo fascinated Hemingway, and this town personifies those human traits. Some men really come across as macho by the way they can handle their interactions with these beasts. Others look like utter fools, way out of their league, like they have no experience at all. This is poetic expression of "learning the hard way." The "encierro" begins promptly at 8:00 and it takes about three minutes for the bulls to get to the ring. What surprises many of us is what happens at the ring. The ring is full of people, spectators like us in our seats, and crazy runners pouring in before and after the bulls arrive. The bulls are immediately guided out of the ring for the bull fight later in the day. Then, they let out some young bulls called "novillos," one at a time to "play" with the runners left in the ring. This is where you see several people get trampled, tossed around and injured. It is a random act of roulette as the young novillo charges anything moving. The crowd eats it up and cheers for the bull as well as for some of the men. The crazy ones who pick on the bull by pulling its tail or slapping it from behind are booed. The brave ones who use their strength, finesse and brain to challenge the bull are cheered. It is quite a sight to see and worth the price of admission. Check it out!
After the "encierro" and seeing the six "novillos" tame the runners, we take a walking tour of the city and do a scavenger hunt of sorts. My favorite part is when I ask a little old nun where I can find "el caballo blanco." She points me in the right direction, and then I ask her if it is an actual "caballo blanco" = white horse, and she laughs because it's really just the name of a restaurant. Making a nun laugh still gives me pleasure. We have time to stop at Hemingway's favorite cafe, have "churros con chocolate" or a "cafe con leche." For lunch we travel on the bus to San Sebastian known to locals as Donostia. The awning says "Araeta Sadargotegia," which is the Basque language, and I have no idea what it means. It's a huge place that can accomodate a large crowd, but the food is mediocre at best. Downtown we spend some time walking the old part, visit the beach and relax a bit before returning to Bilbao. It is a full day, and we are tired.