Gut checks and gorings

For some strange reason, all these celebrities who make appearances or get “mugged” on Skid Row inspired me to finally write about my experience in Pamplona this summer. Maybe it’s the whole “asking for trouble” or “playing with fire” correlation. While privileged actors hit up Skid Row looking for the hard stuff so they can get their own personal thrill, I hit the streets of Pamplona to experience an adrenaline rush like no other—without the stuff.

The thing is, I forgot that danger isn’t always where you think it is.

After a few relaxing days in gorgeous, upscale San Sebastian, we rode a decidedly less upscale bus to Pamplona. Even though I’d mapped out the 10-minute walk from the train station to our hotel, I knew the friend I was traveling with didn’t want to make the trek with her gigantic rolling suitcase. So when we arrived in Pamplona, I broke one of my cardinal rules of travel—only take registered taxis from hotels or airports. After traveling through the war zone of former Yugoslavia and a few scary experiences in Egypt, yeah, I have some rules. Despite the little tingling in my gut, we jumped in this creepy little man’s cab.

We handed over our luggage so he could put it in the trunk, and carried our purses in the car with us. He didn’t know English, so we gave him the address and that was it. He called someone on his Bluetooth, which we could hear through the car speakers. I thought it was weird that, when the person answered, he just punched in a couple of numbers and hung up. Whatever. Crank call to your heart’s content. Just get us to our hotel.

Once we arrived at the hotel, he didn’t quite pull all the way up to it. The streets were packed with thousands of people in their white and red, but there was still enough room to take us all the way there. We paid him and then he went to the trunk to get our luggage. When he opened it, we realized that my bag wasn’t there. Still speaking no Inglés, he held up his hand to signify that we didn’t have two pieces back there. Obviously, I know how much luggage I have. After wasting time way too much time arguing with us in Spanish, he drove us back to the station at a snail’s pace.

There it was. Three police officers were surrounding my luggage. I’m so lucky. I got out and talked to them while one of them seemed to be arguing with the driver. They saw the entire thing go down—the driver left the bag in the street and another man quickly ran out to try and grab it. But they stopped the wannabe thief and confiscated my bag until either we came back for it or it was deemed property of the bomb squad.

At this point, we just wanted to get back to the hotel. Our driver took us back and as my friend got out of the car, he shouted, “50 euros.” That wasn’t going to happen. I was super incensed by the whole almost-losing-my-luggage experience, so no, I told him, I’m not paying you for taking us back to where you left my luggage in the street. “We call the police!” he threatened. Perfect, call the police!

Suddenly, his English was perfect. What a surprise. We continued to argue and since he wouldn’t open the trunk to give us our bags, I wouldn’t get out of the car—it was a total stalemate. But all of a sudden, the next thing I knew, he jumped back in the driver’s seat, simultaneously igniting the door locks. Somehow, I had the forethought to throw my purse out the cracked window to my friend. It had my money, passport, cellphone and map in it. This idiot was not going to rob me.

He made a maniacal three point turn as I watched our hotel and my friend disappear from my sight. Now what? I tried to stay calm as he yelled even more maniacally than he drove. Once I got past that immediate rush of panic, I realized we were getting further away from the hotel. I needed to do something. Clearly, he wasn’t calling the police, but I didn’t think he had a backup plan for his little robbery-gone-wrong. I could tell we were both thinking, what now?

I started messing with his head. You’re screwed now, I told him. You don’t kidnap an American and get away with it. And I promise you, my friend is inside that hotel calling the cops.

He snickered and sneered. So I went a step further.

By tomorrow night, you’ll be someone’s bitch. Guys your size don’t make it far in prison. You’re screwed.

“Give me 50 euro,” he repeated.

My friend has my money, my phone, everything. You’re screwed. You’re kidnapping an American. Your life is over.

This probably only went on for five minutes, but it felt like five hours. Finally, either he came to his senses or got sick of listening to me. A little luggage theft and an international kidnapping are two very different things. He stopped in the middle of traffic, threw our bags out of the trunk and let me out.

Thankfully, I have an insanely good sense of direction and somehow made my way back to the hotel with our two rolling suitcases—but I was sweating and p*ssed by the time I got there. Police were swarming. Apparently, the hotel got the entire incident on video and there were many witnesses.

We probably should have just given him the 50 euros—I know you’re supposed to just give up your purse or wallet in situations where you feel threatened. Obviously, that gene is just not in my pool. While I would never recommend someone do what I did, I can’t take it back and I don’t regret it. They caught the culprit that very night, so as a result of my irrational behavior, he could no longer run his luggage-theft scam on other tourists for the rest of Pamplona’s most popular week for tourism.

Once the police were gone, I unpacked and decided this would not ruin my time in Pamplona.

The next morning, as I was waited in the throngs for the run to start, we kept attracting attention from American guys in the crowd. I’m not sure whether it was my red-white-and-blue makeup and headband or the fact that we were two of only six girls who ran that day, out of almost 4000 people. People kept asking me for advice on the run, thinking I’d done it already, because I looked so zen and didn’t seem nervous. That’s because I wasn’t nervous. After avoiding a near-kidnapping, I figured, these bulls are nothing to be scared of.

I was right—running with the bulls is one of the most amazing things ever. You feel so alive and you totally bond with the people you run with. The adrenaline rush is like nothing else I’ve experienced, every sense is just awake. There were no gorings the day we ran, but like every day of the Encierro, a few suffered minor injuries.

What did I learn from this experience? Listen to your gut and don’t mess with the U.S. Or girls from the U.S., anyway. Would I do it again? I’ve already booked my ticket for next year.