Sunday, July 24, 2005

Paul's poncho in the pamplona portico

Part 1 of how ever many parts it takes me to write about running with the bulls



Feeling someone’s hand resting on my cheek, I startled awake. Much to the amusement of the attractive brunette standing over me, I instinctively shoved my hand toward my cargo pocket to check for my wallet and passport. Still there.

She stepped back and giggled, then moved to my left and woke up Paul and Mike. The three of us had drunkenly decided that the tile floor of a bank portico would be the safest/cheapest/warmest place to spend what was left of the night.

Paul, wrapped in the hideous Ecuadorian poncho he had bought from a street vendor a few hours ago, slowly unwound from the fetal position and sat up. A knitted mesh of yellow, orange, red and brown, the poncho included a large pointed hood that when donned made him look -- if such a thing could exist -- like a Rastafarian member of the KKK. The poncho cost him around 25 Euro from a short, squat, weathered, but smiling Ecuadorian-looking woman, who surely based her refusal to bargain with him on the observation that he had nothing on beside a loose-fitting button-down shirt to protect him from the freezing wind.


It was probably around 4 a.m. when, dressed all in white with a red bandana around her neck, Melissa or Vanessa, we couldn’t figure out her name because of her heavy accent (and because we were drunk and disoriented) came into our portico. She asked us in Spanish where we were from, then switched to English when we told her de los Estados Unidos.

She said something about how we all had beautiful blue eyes, then knelt down and kissed each one of us on both cheeks. After telling us to sleep well, she left us and joined the torrent of San Fermin revellers streaming passed the bank window. “She was hot,” Paul said, not straying from the fixation he had frequently exhibited during the less than 10 hours I knew him about wanting to hook up with a Spanish girl. The more he drank, what he would do to said Spanish girl became increasingly vulgar. If it was possible to be more uncomfortable in his poncho-wearing presence than I already was, his dirty proclamations did the trick.

Before Melis/Vanessa came in we had been trying to sleep on the floor of the 10- by 20-foot glass-enclosed space that housed two 24-hour automatic teller machines. Lit by florescent lights linked to a motion sensor, the room would stay dark if we held still for more than two minutes, or if no one came in to withdraw cash. The lights stayed on all pretty much all night.

We found the bank and passed out around 3 a.m. I initially protested the location, in favour of sleeping in the park, because I figured if the local policia were going to kick out people from sleeping on private property (and probably literally kick them), they would clear the banks first to make sure the tourists had unfettered access to cash. However, by this pattern of logic, I was the one being irrational. Out of the tens of thousands of people we wandered the Pamplona streets with and got drunk with, we had not seen a single officer of the law, nor any semblance of the concept of law I’m accustomed to in states and the streets of Isla Vista. The tourists and locals did not hesitate to step over us to enter their pins, and as we figured out later, we were stumbling in the wrong direction if we had any intention of actually finding the park.

Paul and Mike, Americans from Miami, had just come to Pamplona for the night from Madrid where they were studying Spanish for a year. I met them on the bus as we rolled out of Santander around 6:30 that Friday night. They brought nothing with them so they curled up on the floor. I propped my large hiking backpack against the metal security fence that separated the portico from the rest of the bank and slept against it while sitting up and facing the window. Whenever I had my eyes open, drunken Spaniards would press their noses against the glass and make faces at me, or they’d yell to try to keep us awake as they passed by. Some, however, realized our good fortune to be sleeping inside and followed our lead. By the time we got up Saturday, just after 6 a.m., the small room was packed with Sangria stained Spaniards and at least one other group of four Americans, from Huntington Beach of all places, who proceeded to pack a bowl and pass it around the room.

Apparently, Paul and Mike had to shake me to get me awake, as I had actually managed to fall asleep while the non-stop festival de San Fermin raged in the city around us. As we made our way in the twilight through Pamplona’s narrow, trash-strewn streets, the party, only in its third of six days, showed no signs of slowing down. People were opening new beers, and the pre-7 a.m. crowds, as densely packed as Del Playa Drive on Halloween night and worse, were approaching the same levels they were at when we passed out around 3 a.m.


The three of us did our best to stay together as we shoved through to find space to watch the morning’s 8 a.m. ‘Encierro’, better known as the Running of the Bulls.

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