Prior to the actual running of the bulls, the livestock which participate in them have been brought cross country on what are called Veredas. The cattle are taken to the Casa de Cristo and the little chapel on the hillside, where they rest, prior to being brought down into town.
Whilst the bull running forms the core of these celebrations, there are other events taking place, the full programme for which can be obtained from the tourist office, normally a mixture of events for the participating peñas. After this, the fiestas enter into their main phase, the non-religious core of them being the Moratalla encierros.
These take place between Wednesday 11th July and Tuesday 17th July in 2012.
The weekends are busier, the streets are packed with a real atmosphere, and the night-time encierros are very atmospheric with more participants and spectators than the morning encierros during the week.
What actually happens at the Moratalla bull running?
This isn't San Fermin. The bulls don't run a set course with runners before them, but are released into the streets loose to run around within a contained area for a specified time.
The centre of Moratalla is closed off to traffic, the shops, houses and bars protected with wooden bars across them, and huge slatted stands are pushed into place to seal the centre of town in.
The week before this section of the fiestas, the livestock are brought across the Region on foot from the breeders and herded in a holding area by the Casa de Cristo, high up on the hills above Moratalla, from whence they are brought down by riders on horseback when needed and hundreds of followers, a throw back to the days when the breeders would bring the best of their young livestock down for sale.
Once safely down, they wait in a holding area until the encierros take place.
The encierros take place all week, some in the mornings and some at night.
Having been resident in Moratalla at the time of this fiesta, the first day was a real culture shock, having no idea whatsoever what was going on as our Spanish was non-existent at that point and there were no other English for miles around.
We watched the barricades going up and wondered what on earth was happening, so went down out of curiosity at 9am on the Sunday morning which is when the neighbour had indicated by pointing at her watch that we should be in town.
It was all a bit odd. The streets were empty, although there were people in the houses peering from between the bars and we were nearly in the town centre before a man we regularly bought bread off darted out from a bar and dragged us inside.
Good job he did, because about 30 seconds later a group of cows with big horns and young bulls pounded around the corner, pursued by a group of lads and disappeared into a neighbouring street.
Emboldened, the lads became a bit more vocal and the bulls got bored of the abuse, chasing them, furiously ramming at the bars across windows, pawing the street, angry at the taunts and poking, and the cows with big horns continued to run around looking for some grass and a way out.
Our guide dragged us from peña to peña, bar to bar, insisting on a little ham and rough wine at each stop, finally taking us through somebodies' bedroom, to watch the next thing which was about to happen, the SUELTA.
The first part, with assorted bulls and cows running around is the ENCIERRO.
The suelta doesn't happen every time there's an encierro, so check the list, as it's the most dangerous part of the proceedings.
We watched, fascinated as a tractor dragged in a crate, which was rocking and roaring. Whatever was in this crate didn't want to be in there and it was making it's feelings very obvious.
A man climbed on top and stuck spikes into the contents of the box, which vibrated and shuddered in rage at this uncalled for treatment.
Gingerly the bolts were undone, a rope fastened around the door and the man scooted behind the safety of a bar, and as the door crashed to the floor a massive bull came screeching out of the crate, and shot off up the street in hot pursuit of the idiots who were positioned half way up, roaring and furious, hooves skidding on the cobblestones.
The crowd screamed and leapt back, we screamed and leapt back, even though we were on a balcony 3 metres up in the air, and no matter what your feelings about bullfighters, from that second on, they'll always have your respect.
The next time we saw him he was angrily ramming a bar whilst the occupants squealed with delight inside and young bloods darted around behind him, prodding him with sticks and running for safety.
We were personally uncomfortable with this, but it's what happens.
People get hurt.
Normally it's because they fall over and the bull gets hold of them and when he does, they can be very badly injured, or too many people go into the street at the same time and all run for the same gap, which just isn't big enough for them all.
As the young bloods get drunk, they get careless and sometimes don't dart away quickly enough, or they just get too cocky.
And people die every year at this type of event, which happen in many places across Spain: these bulls are very, very dangerous, even youngsters like these.
By the end of the week, people are just getting on with their normal business, trying to buy a loaf of bread and pop into the butchers while cows run around in the street outside, and we laugh now about being stranded inside the bank for nearly half an hour as we just couldn't get out due to the young bull who didn't want to move away from the exit, but at the time the novelty had worn off and we were so exhausted from lack of sleep we could barely stand.
NEVER buy an old town property anywhere near a building which has the word peña painted on the wall next to it.
During the fiestas these are filled with youngsters who drag old sofas into the street, erect massive speakers which were probably salvaged from an outdoor world-size stadium somewhere which their cousin used to own, bring in a barrel of beer and set up a ham and a few loaves of bread, then proceed to play music at megawatt volume throughout the night, competing with the other penas two doors up the street to see who can play the most antisocial music loudest.
It's very entertaining the first night, but at 6am the brass band come marching around the streets letting off cohetes ( big , noisy rockets, which are released from backpacks worn by deaf residents, formerly residents with full hearing) to wake everyone up to come and enjoy the fiestas, so by the end of the week the unsuspecting ex-pat is hanging out of the window in a state of bleary eyed exhaustion screaming at the band, which gets smaller every morning as the week proceeds, "yes..... I know it's your r........y fiesta........and no, I don't want to come and play with your bulls....... I just want to go to sleep....."
Anyway, that's what happens in Moratalla during the running of the bulls.
Tourists love it, visitors love it, young Spanish visitors from Madrid and their friends love it, young Spanish residents love it.
Those with a sensitivity to animal rights and anything bull-related don´t, so if you are concerned about this type of thing, don´t go, it's as simple as that.
This year the council has issued a special order to try and tame the unruly behaviour of the peñas, banning most of the activities which make these youngsters love these fiestas so much, ie playing loud music in the street, dragging out battered sofas, painting graffiti on their peñas, and keeping the neighbours awake all night........
Schedule of Encierros and Sueltas in Moratalla, 11th-17th July 2012
Wednesday 11th July 9.30am-1pm Encierro with 5 bulls
Thursday 12th July 6pm-8.30pm Encierro of 5cows
At 6pm vacas ( cows ) are escorted on horseback to the town centre
Friday 13th July 9.30-1pm encierro with five cows and then in the evening there are 3 cows released and at midnight 2 bulls are released.
Saturday 14th July 11am Childrens encierro. Then again in the evening 5 bulls are released between 6pm-8.30pm,
Sunday 15th July Encierro of five cows 9.30am-1pm
Monday 16th July 11am, second children's encierro. 6.00pm-8.30pm 5 cows set loose
Tuesday 17th July 6pm-8.30pm 6 cows set loose.
You'll find your own bolt-hole. It can be a bit boring on the big stands in Calle Calasparra waiting for something to run past, so many end up in hidey hole bars in the centre of Moratalla, with a bit of tapas watching most of it on Moratalla Tv. You can see on the tv where the bulls are, and the locals will all get excited when one comes near your bolt-hole, so you'll know when something is about to happen. Follow them. If they dart into the bar across the street, go as well, that way you can work around town, and just take care, wear extremely sensible shoes and watch that rough red wine. It's pretty potent.
And if you accidentally brought a characterful town house next to a place with the word peña painted on it.......the Mar Menor is a lovely place to be during the heat of July......
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