The words in this piece were slow coming. My broken hand does not lend itself to writing.
Please don’t think that I consider a spiral fracture in my left, third metacarpal, to be a badge of honor. Running with the bulls just got the best of me.
From now on, when I hear “trip of a lifetime,” it will be tough to take the description literally.
My intention is not to demean you, or any meaningful vacations you’ve had. But, for me, an all-inclusive resort does not appeal to my nomadic tastes.
My excursion consisted of three dudes (my father, my brother and I) sleeping in bunk beds, sharing washrooms with strangers, fighting through crowds, eating crappy food, and avoiding pickpockets and getting gored. I wouldn’t change a thing.
It all started on Christmas Eve when my dad, Philip Metz, opened his Christmas present from my brother, Alex Metz. Underneath the wrapping paper were a white shirt, a red bandana and a travel guide to Spain. He knew right away.
You see, as long as I can remember, there is only one international destination in which my father has ever expressed interest: Pamplona, Spain.
There, the festival of San Fermin (Pamplona’s patron saint) is held annually, from noon on July 6 to midnight on July 14.
Since 1591, the city has celebrated the life of its first Christian bishop, who was martyred by beheading in the Fourth Century.
Bullfighting began 200 years prior to the festival’s summer existence, and the first full week of July was already used as time for cattle merchants to sell their livestock.
So, for the last 400 years, San Fermin and commercial livestock have been intertwined.
“Running with the bulls” was initiated to move the animals from their corrals to the ring on the other side of the city. Every morning during the festival, at 8 a.m., there is a run. And this unique tradition is infamous globally.
After spending a couple of restful days in Madrid by myself, my dad and bro flew in, and we went straight to Pamplona. There was no messing around.
After a three-hour train ride, we arrived to find that the whole city was already drunk, at about 3 p.m. Imagine Mardi Gras, minus American fatties, plus attractive Spaniards, minus fighting. Seriously, I did not see one fight amongst all that intoxicated mayhem.
Upon arrival at Hostel Hemingway, we threw on our white-on-white, tied our red bandanas and sashes, and hit the streets. There was beer to drink.
We spent the rest of the day walking the course, brew-in-hand, plotting our run; considering the path of the bulls and identifying potentially dangerous areas.
After that, we went to a bullfight, and spent the rest of the night drinking. You know, just getting our heads right for the most dangerous morning of our lives.
Something I didn’t know before I got to Pamplona is that San Fermin’s Sunday run is always crazy. A majority of the people who are in town during the weekend do not have a place to stay. Everyone parties all night, and the run is the nightcap. So, after the morning festivities, they all board trains back to their Spanish and French towns.
By 7 a.m., we were shoved, like sardines, into a corral of the drunkest people in Europe.
At 7:45 a.m., they opened the second half of the course and we found our spot.
At 8 a.m., the bulls were released.
At 8:01 a.m., approximately, I saw horns coming my direction and I started shoving my way through the crowd.
And that’s when it happened. Some drunken punk fell on my right, as I was looking left. Before I knew it, I had done a back flip and landed on my left hand. As I raced to get back to my feet, because there were bulls headed at my butt, I pushed off the ground and heard the bone snap.
It was easy to ignore the injury at the time. I managed to run alongside a bull and place my broken hand on his back.
That was enough for my first time. Unfortunately, I had to depart the next morning to get back to work in New York. But my dad and brother stayed for three more days, with some runs that were better than others.
I know I can speak for all three of us when I say that our trip to Spain was one of the most special times in our lives. The fact that we are some of the rare few to partake in a historic activity was only half the fun. We were able to approach this experience as three friends, just trying to survive each day.
“You’re insane:” We’ve heard it over and over, before the trip and ever since.
And I’m not going to say that we’re enlightened for doing this. Bulls, especially those that run in Pamplona, are killing machines.
But now I sympathize with the plight of the adrenaline junky. Running next to those bulls was the worst drug I could ever take.
And, now, all I can think about is how I would do it differently.
I’ve got unfinished business in Spain. I am going back to Pamplona.
Andrew Metz writes a weekly sports analysis column for the Destin Log.