Why the hell would anyone drink two liters of beer at 6 in the morning before running with wild animals through the streets of a strange city?
This was the first of many questions I posed to myself upon dusting off a journal from 1997, the year I (kind of) ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
I went looking for the journal after photographer Clint Alwahab and I were assigned to cover a rendition of Pamplona's famed Festival de San Fermin in Conyers, Georgia.
This wasn't Pamplona.
That was apparent as soon as we arrived at Conyers' Georgia International Horse Park, a far cry from Pamplona, where the "encierro" is run on a half-mile of cobblestone streets through town.
There's a good deal more pageantry in Pamplona, as you might expect, with the rockets, or txupinazo, counting down to the running, the Giants and Big Heads Parade and afternoon bullfights. Conyers had free beef jerky.
But was it ever going to measure up?
Relying on a journal from a seemingly constantly inebriated 22-year-old, I realized that outside of bulls and beer, the events are nothing alike.
(Author's note: Many of the revelations in the aforementioned journal were long forgotten by the writer until it was discovered in his home office last week. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from the journal.)
The Great Bull Run is nakedly a for-profit event. It will visit nine more cities between now and August before returning to the Atlanta area in October 2014.
To merely spectate cost $10, while running alongside the bovine herd cost anywhere between $45 and $75. Those enchanted by the experience could run again for $25.
This isn't to say Pamplona isn't a moneymaker. There just isn't a fee for anyone bold/dumb enough to get in the street with bulls, but the encierro is still a major cash cow for Pamplona (terrible pun intended).
Pamplona's infrastructure is so unequipped to handle its San Fermin visitors, which can quadruple the city's population, that makeshift shops and beer stands pop up all over town.
The hotels are booked far in advance, so my cohorts and I "walked down to the park (Vuelta del Castillo) and found a nice corner under a tree where we'd reside for the weekend." The park was packed with revelers, most of them charming, but one who "was sniffing cocaine off of a paper plate" and another "bastard who tried to pick (my pal's) pocket while we were sleeping."
Taking in all the revelry was great fun, but sleeping in the park took its toll, as washing up in a plaza fountain over a long weekend left me feeling "like I'd been dipped in mayonnaise."
But I digress. The purpose, as it were, for the festival is to honor the patron Saint Fermin. It dates back to the Middle Ages, as opposed to 2013 for Conyers, and many locals told us at the time that Fermin was killed and dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls.
It appears he was actually beheaded. Which also sucks.
Traveling to Conyers involved driving 25 miles east of the city in a Saturn. Done and done.
Pamplona, however, required a hellish trek after a language barrier resulted in us showing up two hours late for the express train. The slow train took 10 hours to make the 250-mile trip from Salamanca, where I was attending school. Fortunately, it had a bar car where we imbibed Cruzcampos and Carlsbergs before returning to our train car for a siesta.
We continued our naps in the Castejon train station, where during a two-hour layover, I awoke to find "a guy with a Mohawk and a safety pin through his cheek who had decided to micturate on the floor of the train station."
On the last leg, we hopped a "train full of ... Spaniards who sang all the way to Pamplona," then caught a bus downtown to find "(expletives) partying like it was Dec. 31, 1999."
The Conyers bulls were pansies. This isn't merely my observation.