I wait for the bulls to run towards me, glancing at my watch. It’s five minutes before eight a.m.; all the maniacs focus their attention toward the gate of the corral ahead of us. My heart beats so fast, the thumping that rumbles through my body resemble hip-hop bass and punk drums. I can’t believe I am standing here in the front line of a sea of runners in the Encierro in Pamplona, Spain. Around me, some faces hold looks of excitement, while others appear frightened. I can’t help but wonder; are we in this together or is it everyone for themselves? I imagine it would be even crazier if I could somehow get a close-up photo of one of the bulls. Is that even possible?
At eight a.m., the gate will burst open unleashing a pack of raging bulls ready to barrel through us like a train with no brakes. I am a solo traveler here, standing in the middle of a crowd of runners, feeling isolated like a displaced tourist who is lost in the middle of a wild jungle. I am anxious and hesitant, because I still have enough time to sneak out of the event before it starts. I tug down the tip of my red bandana to loosen it as it dangles around my neck; I am ready to yank it off and crawl out of here to participate as a spectator instead.
But it all didn’t start here. Within all this madness, it’s easy to forget how much culture I’ve come across and how many people I’ve met during these last two weeks. I conjure up memories of my experiences. Sure I’d wanted to travel this summer, but I wanted more than just another trip. Like many, I yearned for adventure, excitement, and endless possibilities.
Just a month ago, I typed in an online update to friends, “I want to see the world, meet different people, do what the natives do, and learn about their culture.” I wanted to assimilate with other cultures, be part of the excitement, and make my own tracks in history. I want to be able to tell stories that would last a lifetime. After careful planning, I was set for Madrid, Greece, and Pamplona.
The versatility of Madrid was impossible to not notice. The city is historic, cosmopolitan, and alive. As the capital of the country, Madrid is where the Spanish government and the royal family reside. Madrid is arguably one of the most admired cultural and artistic centers in Europe. There are few other places where you would find three of the world’s most popular art museums within walking distance of each other. Madrid is a curatorial nirvana that is home to: The Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums in the Golden Triangle of Art. Here, I found spectacular works of some of the most renowned artists such as Picasso, Goya, El Greco, and others. Whether you are an enthusiast or just a casual observer, you will no doubt be enriched with a deeper respect for these creative minds.
I took a break from sight-seeing and enjoyed an assortment of gastronomic treats. I recommend starting with tapas, which are a small food items. If you go to the bar to order a drink, the bartender will give you tapas free of charge to go with your beverage. But I paced myself, because there are so many types of Spanish dishes. The most popular dish is Paella, which consists of rice, seafood, vegetables, and chicken. While you are here, make sure you try “chocolate con churros” which are churros served with traditional Spanish hot chocolate.
Spaniards are gregarious people filled with the joy of life; they socialize and relax in cafes, regardless of the time of day. At night, sandals and walking sneakers were exchanged for high heels and designer shoes as the city prepared to dance. Among the pleasures of the night life were numerous rows of contemporary dance clubs, bars, and restaurants that beckoned as the city continued to pop until the sun came up. They featured a variety of musical tastes including variations of hip-hop and punk music from around the world.