Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ronda, Spain: Running with Legends

Synopsis: I first decided I wanted to run with the bulls when I found out I was moving to Pamplona back in November 2014. Of course, everyone I meet in Spain mentions how great San Fermin is and then asks me if I will run. 

Via some friends of friends, I have been extended the opportunity to train with bull-running professional, Julen Madina, at matador Rafael Tejada's finca (ranch), Reservatauro Ronda, in Ronda, Spain. The training will be filmed for a promotional video for San Fermin.


Alright Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up
Alright Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up



Day 1: Go to a local store and buy the San Fermin outfit: panuelo (bandana worn around the neck), pants, polo shirt, and faja (sash/belt). I need it for the video. Drive with Emilio and Julen and Siham, Julen's girlfriend, to Zaragoza to catch the train.


On the train we spend more than half the ride in the food cart, talking and getting to know one another. Everyone has a new and unique story to share and the time flies by. Julen and I have some conversations alone and based on his first impression of me, he says I will do well and enjoy the entire experience.


Arrive in Málaga and we have time before our driver picks us up, so we walk down the boardwalk and end up at a really nice chiriguito. We enjoy a nice meal (fried eggplant with honey, espeto de sardinas (skewered sardines), veggies, tomatoes and garlic, and grilled fish for the main course) plus a surprise - the waitress brings out a birthday dessert for Emilio, who's birthday is tomorrow. 


The driver picks us up from the restaurant. We stop by the train station to pick up the camera crew (Jose and Alberto) and the director, Alberto. We are cracking jokes (Jose should be a comedian) and getting to know one another, as we head to Ronda.

Arrive at a rustic hotel, Camping el Cortijo, clearly once a ranch, where we meet the producer, Pedro. We chat a bit and then we head to our rooms. 

Thoughts: 
Julen is a well-known professional bull runner. He has been running for 41 years and is known as el calvo (the bald guy). People stop him in public to take photos. Really nice guy. When talking about running he is very intense and passionate. Makes great analogies of bull running to basketball to help me und
erstand, and only speaks in Spanish. Siham speaks English fairly well and is fun-loving and always laughing.

The hotel has a really nice layout and a beautifully restored farm feel.  However, there was no a/c and it was hot. You know it's hot when you dream about sweating.

They say Ronda is the third most visited city in Andalusia behind Sevilla and Córdoba. 


Zaragoza train station, ready to start the adventure
Zaragoza train station, ready to start the adventure


Happy birthday Emilio!
Happy birthday Emilio! Yes, that's my hand

Day 2: After a typical Andalusia breakfast: toast with olive oil and tomato, we h
ead to the ranch early to start shooting the video. Meet Rafael Tejada and some of the others working and training at the ranch.

We film all morning repeating the same scenes from different angles. The premise is that I am the protagonist and I have several different trainers, according to their speciality, and they each have their turn at preparing me to run at San Fermin.

I start with Rafael Tejada who shows me around his ranch. Then we go for a run and we see toros (bulls) grazing, but there is nothing between them and us. Thankfully, they don't pay us any mind. Then I train with Chema, Rafael's personal trainer, an we do some workout montages.


Later in the day, we have a small break for a few minutes, and then I practice running from bulls with Julen. These things are huge! The toros are super aggressive, while the cabestros, or mansos, (bueys), castrated bulls, are not aggressive but still massive and intimidating. 
Julen teaches me the three things I need to know: First, analyze the space and situation around me. Second, be able to make a decision under pressure. Third, make that decisions and adapt to the consequences. The toros do not cooperate so we only film with mansos. We run nine times to get the necessary footage. I planned to run only once in my life and I ran nine times already just today. 


After 7 hours of shooting, we finally eat lunch, made by the staff at the ranch, who were all really nice people. After lunch we shoot a few more scenes and some interviews. Then I have to do some acting (I'm expecting an academy award nomination) and then feed an entire herd of young toros with the help of the psychologist and Rafael.


Then we go back to the house for dinner. We eat so well. The staff really takes care of us. We had chicharrones, a fried pork sausage, that is delicious, like for real, like a lot... delicious. Salmerejo, tortilla, and two kinds of pork sandwiches - one was chorizo a la sidra. We have a great time talking and relaxing after a long long day of working on the video. After dinner we head back to the hotel and have a drink and talk outside before heading to bed. 

Thoughts: The cape they wave in front of the bull is heavier than I thought. Filming is quite complicated and requires a lot of time for little footage. Learned that bulls are color blind so attacking red is a myth - they respond to movement. A good link to learn more about the world of bullfighting.


Alberto, the director, smokes like a chimney. Feeding the young toros was probably the scariest thing I did because I was alone in a field with about 50 of them. 

I said in my scripted post interview that I was more confident about running in Pamplona, but actually after this experience I really am more confident about doing it and having a good time. I am super grateful to have had this opportunity and I have enjoyed every bit of the experience. 



Andalusian breakfast in the rustic hotel
Andalusian breakfast in the rustic hotel


video
Practicing my torero skills


Looking at the bull ring from a different perspective
Looking at the bull ring from a different perspective


Training with Chema - and it's not easy either
Training with Chema - and it's not easy either

Getting instruction on how to not die
Getting instruction on how to not die

First time running with the bulls - mix of excitement and terror
First time running with the bulls - mix of excitement and terror

In their profession, this is like being between a NFL quarterback (Rafael) and running back (Julen)
In their profession, this is like being between a NFL quarterback (Rafael) and running back (Julen)


Relaxing and having a good time
Relaxing and having a good time

Great times with interesting people
Great times with interesting people

The food was so good
The food was so good

Day 3: Happy Independence Day! Wake up early to head to Ronda to Rafael's house to do some filming. He has an impressive home, which used to be a 4 star hotel.


While the crew is filming some shots at the Puente Nuevo (a beautiful bridge), Emilio and I run around Ronda and see the old town and the Tajo de Ronda (a steep cliff that has an amazing view) from below on one side. We have to run uphill to get back to Rafael's house, where we shoot some several wine toasting scenes.


Then we head back to the finca to shoot some more scenes, including me learning from Hugo, a recortador, how to recortar (to dodge) bulls. What an adrenaline rush. Once we finish filming, Siham, Julen, Emilio, and I rush to the train station to catch our train.

Thoughts: I received 5 times as many texts and messages from my European friends wishing me a happy independence day, than my fellow Americans. 


Emilio and I did some tourism on the run (literally running) in Ronda, and I do not recommend it with pants because it is hot. I felt like an alcoholic drinking at 10 in the morning. 

Hugo has three different scars from bulls yet still works with them. Cool guy though. While filming I got stung by a wasp and it hurt so bad. I'm ok now though, thanks for asking. 

All the people we met that work at the finca and that were helping out were all super friendly, provided help and support, and enhanced the entire experience. 



In the casco viejo (old town) of Ronda
In the casco viejo (old town) of Ronda


At the main square in the old town of Ronda. Do you see what I see? #questionshandstandersask
At the main square in the old town of Ronda. Do you see what I see? #questionshandstandersask


Simply breathtaking view of Tajo de Ronda from below
Simply breathtaking view of Tajo de Ronda from below


And an amazing view from the top
And an amazing view from the top

This is less recortar and more just running away
This is less recortar and more just running away


Hugo recortando (dodging) like a boss!
Hugo recortando (dodging) like a boss!


I think there is a connection
I think there is a connection
These guys are pros
These guys are pros

Final thoughts: It was harder filming than actually performing any of the training. Toward the last day of filming, everyone was exhausted from the working long hours - and we still have some filming to do in Pamplona! 


That Andalusia accent is still super hard to understand. This whole experience in Ronda was just as meaningful to Emilio because he is a fan of "the art of bullfighting" (he corrected me when I said bullfighting was a sport). I have a whole new respect for the world of bull fighters and runners. This was all just a warmup for the main event - running with the bulls in San Fermin. 


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Location: Ronda, Málaga, España

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