Sunday, 24 July 2016
I hesitated about adding this one, it is a controversial subject, although not as inflammatory as bull fighting. Whilst Pampolma is by far the most famous, and possibly also the largest and most dangerous to both man and beast of the bull running festivals, there are thousands of towns and villages across Spain that have their own annual events. I attended one in Benitachell some years ago from sheer curiosity.
Part of the town is shut off to cars and strong cages set down both sides of the street. The cages are for people, not the bulls! Some are two storey with seating areas on the roof of the cage. These seats are usually reserved by a local business or groups. In some villages the ‘cages’ are built fresh each year from local tree felling instead. We witnessed a case in an inland village a few years ago where tree trucks were set upright into the pavement each year instead of cages – that year one was placed outside the bank, the doors of which opened outwards so the tree trunk prevented the door from opening. Instead of moving the trunk the bank manager opted to keep the bank shut for the whole week so the bull running fiesta could proceed unhindered!
The foolhardy or brave, depending on your perspective, gather at one end of the town whilst the young bulls are in a large pen. Once the men start running the bulls are ushered out of the pen to chase the men. The idea is, of course, to get to the end of the course before a bull gets you! Along the way people cheer the runners on from the safety of the cages. The gaps between the bars of each cage are wide enough for a person to slip between for safety when a bull gets too close for comfort, but not for a bull. Except one very enterprising youngster during the Benitachell run which somehow managed to get his head and horns through by turning his head sideways, then straightened his head and tried to pull his now stuck head back out – the bull shock the cage so hard the people on the top couldn’t get off quick enough as the cage below rapidly emptied! Encountering an angry bull that close up is not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry!
Generally these small village events end with no injuries to either man or bull and are generally not opposed even by the anti-bullfighting lobby. However 2015 was quite different as several fatalities were reported during the larger events (including Pamploma), bringing the matter very much into the news. It may be a nightly event for a whole week in the town. Whether ex-pats actively oppose these events as animal cruelty or accept it as a cultural activity is a very personal choice and one on which I do not wish to comment here. Having experienced an event of this nature I personally would NOT choose to go again.