I met Flor, the receptionist, at 5 pm in the lobby. She was off work, her 7-year old neighbor girl by the hand and we went downstairs to have a beer. Flor insisted on buying and got the little girl a treat, too. She told me why she had offered to go with me to the bull fight.
As a immigrant worker, living alone, she knows what it is like to be in a strange country as a single woman. Since she came to Spain a few years ago, she has learned enough Spanish, English, French and German to work at the reception desk instead of in the kitchen. I asked how he got to the little village in Spain. It seems she has a woman friend who married, and came here and invited her to come, too.
She made a phone call on her cell phone, then we went out to the bull fight. We walked up the block, around the corner, where there was a portable metal bull ring set up. This is not the old part of town, with large adobe-type apartment buildings. That is across the river and truly charming with cobble stone streets, old quarried red stone buildings and spectacular churches.
Standing on the corner for a few minutes, we waited for her friends to join us. These two women worked in the restaurant of the hotel and were about the same age, early 30’s. But not nearly as attractive as Flor, who has the latest frosted blonde hair style and beautiful make up. She tells me she doesn’t like the bull fights, but they are the culture.
There are four nights of fights. Tonight, the first night, is for amateurs. There are no capes, matadors, or killing of the bulls. The ring fills with young men, picking their defense. Some are in the two stacks of huge tractor tires stacked three high. A pickup truck drags in and drops a small grand stand with about 6 steps and about 20 feet long in the center between the tire stacks. The ring itself has a metal bar about 18 inches off the ground that runs around the entire ring. It is a toehold for the men to step on as they vault over the high wall to escape the raging bulls. On the other side of the inner wall is an alley, then the wall on the grandstands. We sit three seats up from this wall. Great view.
Raging bull is not an exaggeration. The first animal charges in, not a big one, but the horns are formidable, arching up and out and with sharp points. Reaching the center of the ring, it pauses, not sure what is happening. All the animals are allowed only one time in the ring, by order of the pope in 1063 (or so). Bulls quickly figure out there is a man behind the cape and if they are not killed in 15 minutes, they are taken from the ring and slaughtered outside. Otherwise, they charge the person directly. One bull killed 16 people and wounded several before the Pope had to make a decree. I guess the locals needed a really higher authority to control the killing by the bulls.
But tonight there are only young men hanging from the side and the tires. At first the bull blasts the ring, trying to catch an amateur. After a few minutes, the bull tires, standing and staring. Now the young men come out a little farther, and the bull charges them. One man jumps up, tucking his feet up under him, and the bull passes under him. It was fantastic to watch. Some leap for the ring wall. But some brave men cleverly make a simple side step, with the bull’s horns passing by their knees and it passes. I guess the bull cannot turn that quickly on himself.
The bull gets slower and the young men braver. After about 15 minutes, a huge old blonde granddaddy bull, with great horns and a big bell around the neck enters, the young bull goes directly to him and they are herded out of the ring together.
The next bull comes in so fast I let out a yelp. It goes directly to the stack of tires, butting it and almost dislodging the stack. I can see the men inside. When the bull turns to the other stack, all evacuate and go to the sides, putting a hand on top of the wall, ready to vault over quickly.
This animal is not a bull at all, but a female. It acts as deadly and is very fast. One man makes spectacular jumps onto and off the top of the tire stack. Flor points him out, saying he is Pakistani. I had noticed several women in traditional Muslim dress and she says they have a community of Pakistanis in Najera. The animal leaves with the granddaddy, easily and quickly.
When the next bull entered, it went to its right, tilting its head toward the wall of the ring, so the tip of the horn nearly brushed against the wall. Since the previous animal headed straight to the tire stack in the center, the men were now all against the wall. The bull ran around the entire ring with its horn tilted to the wall and the men vaulted over the wall with breath-taking speed, like dominos. Tired, the bull went to the center and the men teased her. The Pakistani, who was very tall and slender, enticed the bull to charge him. Instead of side stepping away from the horns, the man leapt up, spreading his legs and the bull passed under. It stopped abruptly and stared at where the man should have been. It was so comical we all laughed.
In all, there were six animals, teased by the young men, then ushered out by the granddaddy bull. Each time their fast charge into the ring and deadly aim for the men made me yelp in fear. I have never seen any animal so vicious. Not surprising, as these are wild bulls and don’t compare to my Dad’s domestic Hereford bulls at the ranch in Wyoming.
Flor told me some of her story as we waited for the next bull to enter. She is from Romania, but has no family there. These Spanish people are now her people. She is welcome in their community, the neighbors are kind and the little girl is like her little sister. Flor tells me her two friends would like to talk to me, but they have no English. And my biggest regret the entire trip is I was too lazy to learn more than a few phrases of Spanish before coming.
By 7 pm the fights are over. I go back to the hotel for dinner and Flor heads home. I am going to figure out a way to walk tomorrow and return to see the first night of the real bull fight. Flor says these are not the good fighters. The best fighters are the fourth and final night. But I will be three days down the trail by then.