Time to Run With Bulls

It turns out that running with the bulls is not a once a year occurrence. The little town near us has “festivities” at the end of September that involves a lot of partying and a daily “capea” with bulls. Austin and I never really got a straight answer in english or spanish the history behind festivities or what everyone does (other than partying) but we did have a chance to explore the capeas (running with the bulls) and try to understand why everyone loves running with the bulls.

During Festivities,community organizations nominate girls to be the “Damas de la Fiesta.” These girls play a special role during the capeas and have to attend all of the other events during fiestas (sometimes singers come and give concerts and such, the girls get to sit in the front row). Apparently the tradition is dying a little because the girls have to buy outfits and such to wear so it’s rather expensive to be a Dama de la Fiesta but we were still able to see a few. Before the let the bulls run wildly down the street, the young damas are brought into the ring. These girls are 7-8 years old. The first day they were brought in a carriage, the second day in a fancy red convertible.

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Here are the older dames coming to watch the capea in the horse-drawn cart. These girls are 17-18, and I was told it’s harder to get older girls to be damas de la fiesta because their families generally prefer to put the money towards schooling and such. As with the little kids they came into the ring, took some pictures and were escorted up to their front row seats.

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Behind the girls in that picture you can sort of see the set up of the arena, it’s a square with people sitting along the outside in raised stands about ten feet off the ground. Underneath them are places for folks to stand, the bars keep the bulls from coming into the area so you can pretend you’re safe and still get a bit of an adrenaline rush from being in close proximity to bulls without actually being in danger.

Then a gun fires, the crowd cheers and everyone waits….

And then the men run into the corral….

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You can tell by their scared expressions that the bulls aren’t far behind. One man hit the sand and fell, it was heartening to see every man immediately grab his arms and get him back on his feet and out of the way.

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Austin and I were told that these were little bulls. We kept telling them there was no way that these were little bulls but they insisted. However, they do distinguish these bulls from the bulls that run on midday on the weekends, those actually are much smaller than these and “are for the women and children.” I was so insulted that I almost decided to run with the men.

Don’t worry mom and dad, the part of brain that does risk assessment is fully formed at this point so I stayed safely behind bars.

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Taking a break from bulls, classes did start last week, Austin and I spend a lot of time prepping our classes. With some of my older kids, I don’t necessarily need the internet so I hang out on the wall of the castle and prep there. Now that it’s not as hot, I expect I’ll do that more often — more on teaching english later.

Austin and I decided we wanted to get a different view of the bulls, so we joined the folks watching from the parade route. Here, we climbed up on the fence so we got a great view over it.

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Once again, you can see the expressions of the men as they run from the bulls, the silver fence on the other side is offset from the spectating fence so the men can jump onto it without running into any spectators.

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After the first bulls came around the corner, hugging our side of the fence, Austin and I realized that our shins were at horn height. At the exact same instant we both leapt from the fence and out of the range of those horns.

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We still hang out at the castle during sunset, so here’s a nice montage of sunset castle photos. The sunsets are incredibly hard to photograph here but I’m getting a little better each time.

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Encouraged by having watched the men running so often, I decided to run down the parade route myself.

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Without any bulls.

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Here’s another picture of the stadium-level standing area that Austin and I hung out in. We had returned to see the little bulls that were for the women and children partly to see the size difference and partly because that was the only other capea that fit into our schedule. As you can see, they say women and children run with these bulls but it’s mostly children, and they’re mostly boys.

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It’s hard to tell since they’re alone, but these bulls are a good two feet shorter than the others. Their heads were about even with my stomach, far less intimidating…until they run right at where you’re standing because one of the young men was taunting it.

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After running the circle a couple of times the men scare the bulls out of the arena and the party is over. It all happens very quickly and then the arena is converted into a stage for a concert or some other fun event that doesn’t involve bulls.

Bulls have their own place in spanish culture that’s practically sacred, so while the festivities in our town do their best to not completely abuse the bulls, they don’t kill them for instance, they don’t totally succeed. The bulls are so ingrained in their culture that I’m not sure they’ll ever fully be able to get rid of the practice, I expect people still watch for tradition, for the spectacle, and for the adrenaline rush. Even being in the stadium when the bulls run in gives you a bit of the rush without doing the running. While I’ve heard about protests against bulls around Spain, our little corner of Extremadura hasn’t seen many protests, I think that’s largely because we’re too small and small town politics here get in the way of people feeling like they can protest.


In an effort to get to know Trujillo better, Austin and I took advantage of a free day on the weekend to take a segway tour of Trujillo. We’d never been on segways before so we had the time of our lives! The tour was private so we were able to understand our tour guide really well and get all of our questions answered.

We got to see a few places in Trujillo that we hadn’t stumbled upon yet including this little pool that dates back to the romans. They used it as a quarry from which to pull rocks in order to construct their buildings. When the Arabs came along, they turned it into a nice bathing pool that the kids still use today, apparently. The tour guide assured us that the presence of fish inside the pond meant that it was clean water; I’m not sure the presence of fish is a great indicator of cleanliness but I didn’t argue. I mean, they’re still alive so it’s not toxic…

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He also took us on a path that runs along the outside walls of the “Old City.” The castle is at the top of the hill, surrounding it are palaces where all of the rich people lived, those are all enclosed by this ancient wall that has four different doors to enter through. Outside of the walls are where the peasants had to live, farming the land. We’d never been on this path before, and riding along on our segways may have made this the most anachronistic photo that I’ve taken so far.

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For anyone considering going on a segway tour, please be advised that they are QUITE the calf work out.

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A couple days after the segway tour, Spain had its national holiday celebrating the military so we had the day off school. Austin and I went back to explore the parts of the city that we hadn’t had a chance to see or wanted to return to. I wanted to come back to this gate, which is one of the four that leads to the city. It was the only one Austin and I hadn’t found before the segway tour. It’s also my favorite one because you can sit on it and it has a great view of Extremadura in the background.

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On the other side of this wall is the cemetary, which Austin and I have visited but that’s a story for another blog.

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The education system in Spain provides for kids beginning in preschool all the way through high school. Going to preschool in Spain actually begins when kids are two (sometimes less than two) and there’s a huge amount of societal pressure to put your kid in preschool starting at two years old. The spaniards think it’s best for two year olds to have exposure to the other students and be with teachers who (hopefully) know what they’re doing. If someone doesn’t have their kid in preschool, the other parents they know will begin questioning why they aren’t sending their child to preschool as well.

From there, their system deviates a little from ours so I’m going to give you a quick rundown and then I’ll just tell you the equivalent grades whenever I bring them up in the rest of my posts. Preschool goes through kindergarten so elementary school, called primaria, goes from first through sixth grades. They call it first of primary, second of primary, third of primary, etc… After primaria students go to secondary school which is the equivalent of our seventh through tenth grades, so seventh grade is first ESO, eighth grade is second ESO, and so on. After tenth grade they can legally quit school, just like we could get a GED and drop out but most continue on and finish the final two years called bachillerato. The B-1 class is the equivalent of eleventh grade and B-2 is equivalent to twelfth grade.

My time teaching in the public schools is split between two schools, I spend six hours in a primary school and six hours in an ESO school (secondary, grades 7-10). They run on slightly different schedule during the day so while I started right away at the primary school, the secondary school took an extra week to put my schedule together so I haven’t had as much time with those students. At the primary school I teach 2 classes each of fourth, fifth and sixth graders. While it’s not supposed to be our job to design lesson plans, the majority of my teachers have told me that I should come up with ESL activities to do with my students for the hour I’m with them. One of my teachers literally turns the class over to me and then occasionally leaves me alone with them, no matter how many times I tell them I’m not a teacher they just tell me that the students think I’m a teacher so I am. Luckily, my tutor gave me copies of their books so at least I have a general idea of what the kids are learning so I can design activities around that.

My high school got around to putting together my schedule this last week and they have me teaching english classes for three hours and art/music classes for the other three hours. Unfortunately, my music teacher is away on maternity leave and so they’ve combined the bilingual and nonbilingual music sections. Until she returns, I’ll be teaching extra english sections with a different teacher. My teachers at the high school have a variety of different approaches. Some want me to plan an hour of activities, some literally just have me read out loud to the students. Neither of those are ideal situations for me, I feel like a fish out of water when I’m tossed in on my own and the students hate listening to me reading aloud as much as I hate reading to them. Luckily I have a few teachers who work with me to create the activities and learn how to teach and they are a lot of fun to work with. So it’s the first week and I expect things will get better once I get into the swing of things.

At the beginning of last week I learned that one of my teachers at the elementary school had injured his leg. Unfortunately, he’s going on medical leave for it and will be gone for a couple months. Now I bring this up beause it was interesting for me to learn about the way the education system here works. In the US schools have set subs that they call, in our school it was always the same two or three substitutes, though I’m not sure how they chose which ones. Here, they like to do things by lists, all of the substitutes for the region (the entire region, which is like the size of a small state) are on one list ranked by their qualifications. If they have certificates showing they speak English, they’re higher on the list (because of that, the demand for english teachers here is incredibly high). Once they have an opening for a substitute, they call the next one on the list so I could have a sub coming from a completely different part of the region. And they might not speak english. For an english class. In the meantime, they’ve put whichever teachers have a free period into my classes, so I’m now teaching english for three hours a week with teachers who don’t speak a word of english. One of my teachers told me she was just there to maintain the silence. My other auxiliar friends have told me it’s not my job to teach them grammar from the book, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. My job is to teach english, and I have copies of the book, and I was already designing hour long lessons….Anyways, that’s for me to figure out this weekend.

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