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Moving to San Miguel de Allende: Chapter 6: Bulls, & the End of the Adventure

Chapter 6: Bulls, & the End of the Adventure

September has been the month of fiestas here in San Miguel, beginning with the 15th of September and a lavish re-enactment of the “Grito” – Padre Miguel Hidalgo’s cry to arms against the Spaniards – and culminating in La Pamplonada, aka the running of the bulls on the 23rd.


The festive Jardin aglow at night.

The town has been decked out in red, white and green since September 1st. I have never seen any place so magnificently decorated. Flags flutter in front of every building; red and green tinsel decorations embellish every street; every restaurant and home is strung with paper bells in the same tricolor scheme. A large glittering portrait of Ignacio Allende – a revolutionary general and San Miguel’s eponymous native son – graces the facade of the house where he once lived. I don’t think San Miguel is sleepy at any time of year, but during September it seems to have insomnia!

We joined the thousands of Mexicans from all over the nation on the night of the 15th to watch the festivities, which began with dazzling fireworks displays and the lighting of balloons filled with explosives (it was so loud it was nearly impossible to hear oneself think, let alone have a conversation!), and ended with us being squashed beyond recognition in the square surrounded by Mexican flags and the thunderous cries of “Viva Mexico!”

Feeling incredibly claustrophobic and a little too close to our fellow humans for comfort, we finally managed to push and shove our way through the thick throng into the open air. I have never been quite so physically close to utter strangers before! We got home, completely exhausted, at about 1 a.m., and immediately fell asleep, despite the fireworks and explosions of dynamite-filled balloons that continued incessantly all night long…

We hadn’t planned on attending the Pamplonada, but it seems that the best-laid plans always go awry and we did end up going. It was absolute insanity! We are still recovering!

We waited under a cloudless sky and a fiercely burning sun for an hour and a half before they released the enormous, enraged bulls into the largely drunken crowd. As they charged towards the throng we were trapped behind everyone backed up so suddenly and so forcefully that I thought I would suffocate, pressed between the screaming crowd and the 20-foot stone and wrought iron fence behind us. All I remember thinking is, “crushed by a crowd of drunken teenagers – what a ridiculous way to die!”

Trying to keep Annie and Laurie from the same fate, we climbed up the fence where several other people were clinging tenuously and tried to squeeze them through the bars. Leigh managed to get near the top of the fence where there was no mesh, and we pushed Laurie up to join her about 12 feet above the ground. Leigh somehow pushed Laurie through the bars, where she jumped into the arms of a policeman on the other side. Once Annie was pulled up to Leigh’s precarious position, we came to the horrible realization that she couldn’t fit her head through the bars.


La Pamplonada.

The minutes seemed like hours; the bulls charged, the heat burned, the crowd surged. Mom and I were barely maintaining our grip on the mesh, our feet hardly touching the ledge, our mangled fingers slipping every time the bulls charged the crowd and initiated the crush. I saw people running; one man was gored right before my eyes, tossed 20 feet in the air by those fearsome horns. Leigh and Annie were still clinging to the bars above us, terrified that we wouldn’t be able to get out of the melee.

Finally, a man, not a policeman or a Red Cross volunteer, with tremendous courage, balanced a ladder on the fence and carefully climbed up it. He lifted the terrified Annie over the sharp pikes that line the top of the fence and managed to get her down the ladder. Leigh followed. When I saw them all hugging and kissing on the other side, I felt the first ray of hope that I would get out of this and survive.

I felt my fingers losing their grasp on the mesh, and I knew I would fall back under the crowd. Then someone directed my hand to a belt a policeman had looped around the bars. I gripped it, though my sweaty hands slipped on the leather. As another man was gored only yards away, I heard a voice with a thick Spanish accent say, “take my hand,” and I was pulled from above by the hand and pushed from below by Mom and the other people clinging to the mesh. I reached the top of the fence. The man who had helped Annie and Leigh to safety, and whose hand I had grasped, wedged his feet between two bars and lifted me over the wrought iron pikes to the ladder. I managed to squeak out a “gracias” and, trembling, I climbed slowly down the ladder and went to my sisters. We hugged and kissed each other – so glad to be alive and together.

I looked back at the fence and saw Mom climbing the fence through sheer willpower, rivulets of blood running down her legs. We ran to her as she stepped down the ladder. We had survived! Someone brought us water bottles, and a policeman directed us into a church. The peace and aura of reverence in the cathedral, so welcome after the chaos and terror outside, brought a surge of relief to my heart and a surge of tears to my eyes. I grasped Mom’s hand and thanked God. In just one day, I wondered at the survival of humans as species, considering their stupidity, and also managed to marvel at man’s humanity towards his fellow man when it is most needed. Now that this experience is behind us, we all find it uproariously funny – I wonder what that says about us…

Not too long after our Pamplonada experience, our Dad drove down to San Miguel to take us back to Denver. Our house in Denver hadn’t sold, and keeping up two houses was becoming difficult. So, after six months of adventure, new experiences and immersion in a foreign, yet now wonderfully familiar culture, we left our villa morada, our views and our new friends, and drove north for four days. But we are determined to return to beautiful, friendly, quirky, magical San Miguel de Allende, and someday, we will.