Adam Shepard, author of One Year Lived, is in the spotlight as Wednesday’s Guest. His book recounts the year he spent out in the world: seventeen countries, four continents, and one haunting encounter with a savage bull. If you would like to see a picture of the mullet that Adam grew on the trip visit his website at www.OneYearLived.com
Adam is sharing an excerpt from his book about his time in the bull ring. So without furthur ado….
After a hiccup at the border, I had a feeling that Nicaragua was going to present a rousing experience. Upon my arrival at Ometepe Island, the largest island on Central America’s largest lake, Jhonas, my trail guide, asked me whether I’d like to ride on top of the bus instead of down below, and I leapt right up there with him. I tore eighty córdobas out of my pocket, and the guy in the orange hat up top with us swooped into a store. He reappeared a few moments later balancing four beers in his arms, one for each of us riding topside.
We hiked the volcano, a grueling six hours indeed, and returned to the bottom to the rousing cheers of eight hundred fans in the stands of a bullfight.
“I want to go in there,” I yelled to Jhonas over the roar of the crowd. “Inside the ring.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I’m telling you, I do.”
“No, I’m telling you, you do not.” I could see the mirth slipping off his face as he realized I was serious.
We were reliving Tom Sawyer’s first encounter with a stranger in the street, the fledgling newcomer to the neighborhood, as they childishly and eternally argued about who could lick whom.
I started to ply him with beers—a couple tall, two-liter bottles all to himself. I pumped him full of chicken and rice and fries. I slipped him a handful of córdobas so he could buy a ride home if the buses were no longer running. We brainstormed ideas for a sombra.
“A towel?” he asked, leaning back in his chair. “A shirt? A blanket?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied. These were good ideas, but where could we find a red towel or shirt or blanket?
I spotted a red tablecloth at one of the tables behind me.
“One question,” I muttered in Spanish to the lady running the restaurant. “I would like to buy that red tablecloth. How much is it?” Whatever number came out of her mouth next was soon going to be hers. Expenses mustn’t be spared for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. She could have named my watch and my left shoe as her price, and I would have pretended to think about it two seconds before handing them over.
“Veinte,” she said. “Veinte córdobas.”
I paid her and tipped her. I made Jhonas fat and happy for ten dollars, and for less than a dollar, I’d secured my red sombra.
Moments later, there I stood as a bull readied to clear his way through the ring. It was a lot. Tension and excitement boiled in my stomach. My head started to vibrate. I gripped my red sombra with shaking fingers.
I started to back up against the wooden bleachers.
Subconsciously, I expected Jhonas to take the sombra, now in his hand, and go first, inspiring me out there. But Jhonas was no hero himself and hung back with me. I watched the brave—or foolish—men dance out in front of various bulls while I cowered in the corner. And I hated that I couldn’t bring myself to step away from the edge—that I was once again too afraid to step up to the challenge.
By the time the fifth bull burst out and into the ring, I’d had enough of the waiting. Enough of the torment I’d inflicted upon myself.
“Screw it,” I said. “Dame la sombra.”
I snatched the scarlet tablecloth out of Jhonas’s hands and stalked out to the center of the ring. Take action or go take a nap.
I can’t properly explain the feeling. I was a trembling wreck. This was scary. To say that I’ve never been struck with so much fear in my life grossly understates the terror of the moment. A thousand things could go wrong, and in that first moment, as I stood six feet from the fuming nostrils of that bull, I was convinced that each one of them would. My heart raced, blood pumped furiously through each vein and vessel in my body. My breathing came ragged and short, but I was somehow able to steady my feet and hands.
I remembered that I didn’t know my way around with a bull. These guys see bulls every day, I thought. My naïveté led me into the ring, but I wasn’t sure what to count on to get me out.
A man in a white tank top in the first row to the right shot both of his arms in the air in violent thrusts, screaming.
My nerves remained tense, muscles coiling painfully in my calves and thighs, readying me for what lay ahead.
Have you ever had the urge to get into an arena with a bull? What is the wildest thing you have ever done?