The first weekend in May is a very special weekend in Spain and even more so Madrid. May 2nd, 1808, to be exact, marks the day that Madrid rebelled against Napolean’s rule and was freed from the French regime. In addition to Dos de Mayo, Spain celebrates mother’s day on the first Sunday in May and on May 1st the church celebrates the fiesta of San José Obrero (Saint Joseph the Worker) which coincides with Spain’s Labor Day.
To spend our day off wisely my Spanish teacher and his girlfriend took a group of 15 of us to a town called Las Matas, located in the northern part of the Community of Madrid, to get an authentic taste of Spanish culture. The day was filled with food (free food), drinks (free drinks), and bulls. After we arrived at the center of town we were greeted with chorizo sandwiches, fresh off the grill, to kick-start the morning and prepare us for the encierro and capea.
Encierro means “running of the bulls” and comes from the verb encerrar which means “to enclose”. People who choose to run position themselves on the path and the spectators can view the event from behind either of the fences. There are three gunshots that advise the runners and spectators the current status of the bulls. The first is to announce that the bull is at the gate and ready to begin running. Adrenaline is high and the runners are jumping up and down, anticipating the next shot. The second is to announce that the gate has been opened and the the bull has started running, therefore the people should run too! The people take off as if their life depended on it, well it actually does, and the bull follows closely behind. They run all the way down the path which leads into the bull ring, plaza de toros, and then runners disperse around the walls of the ring. The bull then gets directed by steers to turn around and makes it way back to the beginning. The third and final gunshot means that the bull run has ended.
The next event after the bull run is called a capea, which is like a baby bull (vaquilla) fight except these bulls do not get killed. The object of the game is to provoke the bull and not get killed. This is done by waving flags or objects of clothing at the bull, running toward the bull and quickly dodging left or right, or if you’re a practicing professional, running toward the bull and flipping over him! It was quite incredible to watch. Anyone and everyone can choose to participate in this event, but it requires quick footwork and agility skills. If the bull comes toward the outer parts of the ring there is a ledge to step on to help hoist yourself up high enough so that the bull cannot reach you. There are also a few different slots, wide enough for people to fit through, but too small for a bull to get behind. I wasn’t daring enough to go into the actual ring, but sticking my big toe in was enough of a rush for me.
The last and final part regarding the bulls is the bullfight, which some of us opted not to stay for. The bullfighters are professionals and are supposed to kill the bulls with a clean swipe, causing the bull to die in the least painful and quickest way possible. Despite this, it still is not p a sport or activity I would like to see. Although bullfighting has a big historical ties in Spain, it is a very controversial sport.
After the capea we had a typical Extremaduran dish from for lunch called migas which translates to crumbs, but is made up of chorizo, day-old bread and spices such as garlic and paprika. Two volunteers had been cooking it all morning in the biggest pan I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a beautiful day to eat lunch outside. The rest of the afternoon was well spent, getting to know one another in the group, walking around the town, or having our own botellón on the grass.