Los Arcos, Spain Comes Alive – No Bull!! A Short Story

In a recent post, I commented on how “sleepy” the town appeared to be – no people, cars or any movement, thick wooden blockades in front of closed doorways – it was a bit eerie.  One hour later  everything changed!

After hiking 21 km, we had about an hour to prep for the running of the bulls. At least we now understood why the streets had been cleared.  The bulky wooden barriers in front of all the shops and homes were for safety and protection and the empty streets became a beehive of activity! 

Crowds of people gathered everywhere – restaurants bulged at their seams, folks jockeyed for position behind blockaded streets around the square and down the street while others remained safely up on their balconies.  

We walked side roads from the hotel to get back to the town square – but just before arriving there, we witnessed a group of people surrounding a large truck.  At the time I wondered what one lady was taking a photo of.  The truck had JUST unloaded several bulls.  Fabulous timing!

Then, about 10-15 young band musicians decked out in their dress whites gathered and prepared to march the “bull run” route.  Further down the road, smaller kids kicked a soccer ball around, young adults gathered with their friends at pre-planned hot spots, and older folks were hanging with family and friends behind their own thick-bulked wooden barriers.

I don’t consider myself a portrait photographer, but now I’m in a situation where people abound – legs dangling from balconies, a little dog scoping things out from his personal balcony, a neatly dressed elderly lady stood for the occasion as well, everyone found any place they could sit or stand while awaiting the running of the bulls.  This event in Los Arcos was nowhere near Pamplona’s hype, so it was all the more sweet being small, up close and personal.  So much better and richly rewarding.

A slight mishap on my part – I mistakenly grabbed the infrared camera vs. the other DLSR.  Infrared photography is best saved for landscapes; not at all “human-friendly”, so in post-edit, I converted all of those photos to B&W.  Not a bad idea after all said and done.  

Also, I’m not a fan of my own selfies, but my friend, Nancy, and I had to take a few sillies because neither we nor anyone else could move out from behind the barriers to take our photos during the runs.  You’ll see we couldn’t contain ourselves!  Were we really at this place, on this day, at this time?  So thoroughly engaged, amazed, amused – we cracked up and were having a time of our lives!  

Too, because we were “not from around here”, we took the liberty of gravitating toward a barrier where one gentleman stood – tall, dressed in black, smoking a cigarette, beer in hand – dare we approach?  Sure did – asked him if we could watch from there, to which he nicely swayed his hand toward the barrier – and voila!! – an immediate ring-side seat!  Some of the locals got a kick out of our sandaled feet (stupid pilgrims, dontcha know the bull may not gore you, but he’s heavy on the foot!), a couple stared in wide wonder perhaps thinking we were a bit bold, but honestly, most didn’t care a bit, and soon there were smiles all around.

Get this!  The dark stranger who allowed us to hang with him was not the owner of the home!  The owner was somewhere down the street enjoying a cocktail with his neighbors.  A 3rd man came from just across the way and planted himself to our left; we quickly learned he would become our guardian during the 2 hours of the bull runs (we’re so clueless!); he put himself in harms way.  (Then again, he probably does this all the time, they probably have bull runs every week with pilgrims passing through.) 

The true homeowner eventually made his way home, smiled and nodded to us and his pals – didn’t bat an eye about us invading his turf!  We were so busy watching the street and trying not to be nosy and look inside, but my eyes followed him in, and it took no less than a second to see we were literally standing in his kitchen.  Sink, table, chairs, frig.  I watched as he prepared some kind of brew for him and his pals, but couldn’t see what he was pouring in the glass”flask” before the beer was added – perhaps a boilermaker.  As nice as it would be to share and enjoy a hearty cocktail, we said thanks and passed on his gracious offer.  A bit jittery for just a few moments, but the 3 of them were truly good guys.  True caballeros (gentlemen).  

At last, we saw boys and young men running madly down the street toward us, staying one step ahead of the bulls; some even had to jump up on the the wall of a home.  Wildly entertaining!  We knew we would witness a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Several groups in our immediate vicinity were ready for action as well with their colorful matador’s cape of orange and pink.  Such pros!

Two hours later, it was over.  The crowds meandered back toward the square in front of the beautiful Church of Santa Maria, many headed home, the kids started up soccer kicks again, and the restaurants filled up to the brim.  We, stuck around for just a short while, then headed back to the hotel.  Another hike tomorrow, so up early.  But my oh my, this was SUCH A DAY!!    

A truck pulls up and empties something, but what? And what is this lady focusing her camera on?

 

Toril translates to “bull pen”. Aha! Excitement is mounting! AND, we now know what the blockades are for!

 

Daring fella dancing with the bull; others look on.

 

Gathering the musicians in the band.

 

Three balconies.

 

Bull hangout.

 

Literally hanging OVER the bulls.

 

More musicians.

 

Locals and weary pilgrims alike gravitate to the Los Arcos town square.

 

The stone church, aka Iglesia de Santa Maria, and it’s ornate belfry.

 

It begins! The band plays and starts their route through town.

 

Strike up the band! Looking great in their dress whites.

 

Not sure what everyone else is doing…

 

… but we’re following the band!

 

And we’re walking… walking… walking…

 

First row, balcony!

 

Waitin’ on the bulls.

 

Onlookers. Googled “Agonias.com”, but found nothing.

 

All dressed up and somewhere to stay!

 

Canine fan.

 

Wake up, Pinocho!

 

Some quick soccer moves before the street is cleared.

 

Some people head back toward the square for the bulls’ release.

 

Others are catching up with neighbors.

 

Game on!!

 

Wooly bully with amateur matadors.

 

What are you lookin’ at?

 

Ruh-roh!!

 

Close-up.

 

One of the older boys climbs a wall as the rest stay barely ahead.

 

Don’t look back! Just go!

 

Mama matador knows the ropes. No sweat!

 

This group is just across the street and to the left of us.

 

Incoming!

 

Big guy!

 

Little guy.

 

Whew! No worries! Yet.

 

The bulls reverse course and head back down for another round.

 

Olé!

 

That was easy! Ok, we’re loosened up and immensely thrilled. Tee-Tee!

 

Wow! Another round? Really? Yippeeeeee!

 

Ready and waiting for more…

 

… as you wish! That bull to the far right was in our faces that time.

 

Hmmm… A bit too close.

 

Caballero translated = gentleman. This caballero has the left flank covered!

 

Our “guard on duty” keeps watch. He was really quite protective of us. No bull!

 

Bird’s eye view from our barrier.

 

Anxious? A little. Impressed? Very. Being here now? Priceless!!

 

Slowing to a stand-still.

 

Behind us is the owner’s kitchen…

 

… The owner returns from down the street and proceeds to stir up a cocktail of sorts for his pals. Simple living. Sink, microwave, frig, table/bar.

 

Wondering what’s in that clear bottle just out of sight.

 

The tall, dark gentleman who ok’d us watching the running of the bulls from his friend’s home. Muy bueno!

 

El caballero y guardián takes a well-earned break and a swig.

 

Make that a long swig. Love the glass. Looks fun. While our host graciously offered, and we could’ve accepted and enjoyed a taste as well, we somewhat regrettably passed.

 

Several more bull runs thoughout the afternoon, and then the band played on.

 

And in two hours, the running of the bulls was over.

 

Returned to the Church of Santa Maria and the town square, where the masses gathered once again for food, libations, and good cheer.

 

A few more parting shots.

 

B&W parting shot.

 

BUEN CAMINO! Such a rich and remarkable day forever etched in our memories.

   

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