In travel, just as in life, one has to make choices. Last week I chose to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. You may think that doing so makes me crazy... and cruel. Because while bull running and bullfighting have their roots in Spain, their continued existence also make them a controversial part of Spanish tradition.
You may think that I am a bad person for participating in an event that many consider tortuous and barbaric, and if so, that's okay. Because here's the truth: the bulls that run every morning during the 10-day San Fermin festival are goners by nightfall. Six of the 15 bulls that run are set to spar with a matador in the bull ring at 6:30 in the afternoon, until only the matador is left standing.
I knew all this and my girl crew and I did it anyway. Why?
There was the selfish reason: Yes, I wanted to test my mettle and push my personal limits by doing something as unthinkable and fear-inducing as running amongst a herd of wild bulls.
And there was the selfless reason: Yes, I wanted to show other female travellers that they, too, could engage in such a potentially dangerous, daunting, male-dominated task- and that they could do it smartly and safely.
But there's also something else. Something I was unable to verbalize or articulate before I arrived in Pamplona.
In brief: I am someone who longs to witness, experience, and understand the culture of "the other".
Bullfighting and bull running are a significant and important part of Spain's culture. Tourists may flock to San Fermin, but the event is still inherently and overwhelmingly Spanish.
It is their culture and tradition and as a traveller and an observer, I respect it. I also, selfishly again, want to indulge in it first-hand, bite into it and taste with all my senses like I would a ripe fruit. As such, I don't judge them, at least not until being there, seeing it, feeling it for myself.
Also, I'm not going to be a hypocrite. I eat beef and a whole host of other animals that are mass-produced and mistreated before they make it on to my plate. I use makeup and hair products that have been tested on defenseless animals, wear leather shoes made of cowhide, scarves made of rabbit fur, and gloves made of lambskin (all of which are often produced via brutal, disgusting methods). Flat out: my current practices indicate that I'm not particularly fussed about animal welfare.
I'm simplifying the issue, of course, but the result remains the same: I chose to run with the bulls last week. And for the record, as terrifying, brutal, and mentally exhausting as it was, and as heartless as it may be to say it, I enjoyed the experience. But I'm torn.
This is not a justification, but an explanation that will hopefully encourage examination and reflection on where we draw the line when it comes to animal cruelty. Because I would imagine that not many of us are free from reproach. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.
Where do you stand when it comes to animal cruelty, bullfighting/bull running, and social responsibility? Do you think that culture, tradition, and necessity/practicality override animal rights?
Follow Oneika's adventures around the world on her blog: Oneika the Traveller