Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Festes Day 2, Bous a la Mer (Bulls by the Sea)
Today we headed back to the port to partake in one of the craziest aspects of Spanish festival culture – the interaction of humans versus bulls. Most people are familiar with the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but what we did not appreciate is that every town has it’s own version. In Javea, they host an event like nothing we have ever seen. Basically, they built a large grandstand right on the dock with a large rectangular center area below surrounded by three sides with jail-like bars big enough for people to pass through, but not bulls! The edge of the dock acted as the fourth “wall”, with a 6 foot drop into the water below. People (mostly teen-agers) began to gather in the center area and then suddenly a pen opened and a very large, angry bull with huge horns rushed out into the center. This bull clearly did not like humans and began to lower its horns, paw at the dirt and charge at the people at random. People would either duck back through the cage, hide behind one of the center barriers or jump off the dock into the water as the bull charged past. The braver kids would wait as long as possible, some holding brightly colored shirts or towels to taunt the bull to go after them. They would see if they could touch the bull as it passed by, avoiding the horns. Now why I decided to go out and join these kids is probably worth a psychological workup at some point, but ultimately the excitement of this event got hold of me. I feel it important to point out that I did this of my own choosing and surprisingly with Suzanne’s blessing. As I walked into the center, it occurred to me that 1) I was much too old for this, and 2) the specter of daddy being gored by a giant bull in a foreign country would certainly cause irreparable emotional harm to my children - but it seemed like there were enough safety measures in place to avoid problems provided I stayed alert. Besides, there was always the option of jumping off the dock! Thankfully, I was joined by Eric and we worked our way to the edge of the dock. It was like a game of “chicken” where you had to decide whether the bull would come all the way at you or would just pass by. These bulls were incredibly agile and quick in spite of their size. The adrenaline started to kick in as the bull made its pass. I had to quickly gauge how close the horns were and the first time I did not jump, while others did. The subsequent times, the bull charged directly at me and I opted to jump to safety off the dock along with everyone else. There would be no grabbing of the horns today! It was actually quite fun, but we were reminded of the imminent danger when one of the bulls caught an unsuspecting bystander (aka drunken 20-something who had stopped paying attention in the ring), lifted him up into the air, dropped him to the ground and started to pile-drive him. There was a gasp from the crowd and the safety crew ran in to distract the bull so that the kid could get away. Turned out he was okay. On a lighter note, a few times the bull would chase someone right of the dock and then plunge right into the water. These bulls are surprisingly good swimmers! They had safety boats in the marina that would herd the bull back to the steps leading out of the water and everything would stop for about 10 minutes while they got the bull back into the pen. Then it would start again. There was one particular bull that jumped off 4-5 times after people. As I jumped into the water, I had an image of a giant black shadow falling out of the sky on top of me, but fortunately nothing of the sort happened. After a while, Eric and I pushed our luck enough and decided to call it a day. We walked off, both in disbelief that we actually chose to do this. Yet another thing you just don’t see in the States! For anyone who has a burning desire to become a rodeo clown, I strongly recommend spending time at the fiestas in Spain first. There is nothing quite like being in front of an angry bull charging at high speed directly at you!