The family vacation in France continues… we are spending a week in Provence, and I’ve managed to fit in a couple day trips to the Rhône Valley. I went to Crozes Hermitage and Cornas in the Northern Rhône (I do not really recommend these as day trips from Provence – although meeting Guillaume Gilles in Cornas was worth the drive!). Chateauneuf-du-Pape however is very doable as a day trip. But more on that in another blog.
We are staying in a lovely farmhouse located between the two small towns of Mausanne-les-Alpilles and Mouries. One of the highlights of our stay was watching the ‘running of the bulls’ in Mausanne. These are the wild bulls from the Camargue area, just to the south of Provence. They hang out in the marshes there are and are herded by the cowboys (or ‘gardians’) on their small, white, native horses of the Camargue. There aren’t many wild horses anymore, and they are often inter-bred with Arabian or Barb horses, as the cowboys are not as small as they used to be (along with the rest of us!) and they need their horses to be a little bigger.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect – my daughter and I had seen the bulls quite close up when we took a horse ride in the Camargue. They are very respectful of the horses and as long as you are on horseback you can get close – we were within a few feet of a herd of 20 or so. The younger ones are not too imposing, but they and their horns get bigger after a couple years. Unlike in Spain, the sport is not fatal to the bulls; here it is a ‘game’. One of the games is apparently having them run up and down the street herded by cowboys on horseback.
We got to the town around 6:00 PM and they were just finishing putting up fences/barricades along the street. They were high enough that you couldn’t climb over them, but the bars were wide enough that people could slip through, which a lot of kids and adults were doing, putting them on the same side as the bulls would be.
A lone cowboy rode up and down the street a few times and then he was joined by a few more ‘gardians’ who galloped up and down the street on their Camargue horses. People were now paying more attention but didn’t seem to feel the need to get completely off the street and that continued through the evening – the horses would come galloping through and people would jump aside at the last minute. After the first few times, the bulls were amongst the horses. They went quite fast and it was hard to see much beyond the bulls hind ends once they were past and heading away from us. From time to time a group of teenage boys would run after them, attempting to catch them. One or two would grab hold of the bull’s shoulder and horns, and another would pull its tail. Although this was definitely more dangerous for the boys than the bulls, we were secretly rooting for the bulls.
At one point my mother and I walked down to try to get a dinner reservation and got a little bit better view than we had bargained for. When the horses and bulls raced past us, we took cover behind a stone gatepost – they were much too close! We also saw the cattle car that they herd the bulls into – right up a ramp into the truck. Going out, the horses and gardians form a line in front of the ramp, with the horses tightly against each other. There were about 5 in front, with 2 or so on either side, so the bull or bulls could run in the midst of them without escaping. Hopefully anyway – apparently one year, a bull did escape and ran into a house, destroying everything! Once the horses were in formation two men would lift a door, and the bulls would race down the ramp. The horses would then gallop off, and the cowboys would keep the bulls where they were supposed to be. Sometimes they only run up and down a handful of times, but I think they made at least 15 trips – tiring out the boys but not necessarily the bulls! Exhilarating to watch and the horses definitely enjoy their job.