"Olaaaaay.... olay, olay,olaaaayyyy......," the crowds behind the wooden barriers echo out harmoniously. The faint smell of sangria on the ground pierces my nostrils as I rub the sleep from my eyes. It's early... a little TOO early. The run starts at 8am, but I've been up since 6am in order to get there early enough to be able to run. It was about a half hour walk to the old part of the city from where I was staying, so my muscles are nice and warmed up.
The shops on the street have been boarded up and they've hosed the streets down and cleaned up the trash from the chupinazo the day before. But, this has left the ground slightly damp. I wonder to myself if it will be dry in time, or if I'll have to add the slippery cobbled stones to the long list of dangers that this run entails. The run is about a half a mile in distance but I'm sure the added pressure of having the bulls behind me will make it feel like the longest run of my life. It only takes the bulls three minutes to reach the plaza de torros, which is a bull fighting ring at the end.
There is only an hour left now until they release the bulls. They release six lead oxen and six bulls with dagger sharp horns. In 1996, a 25 year old man was gored straight through the middle and died within minutes. The people I was staying with had been nice enough to show me the clip of this, so it was now running through my mind over and over like reruns of old horror movies on Halloween day.
The running of the bulls is an old tradition that had begun for a variety of reasons. During July in Pamplona, the cattle merchants would bring their bulls to town and bullfights were popular at this time of year. However, October 10th is when they would celebrate the Saint Fermin, who was said to have met his end by being dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls. They ended up moving the san fermin festival to the same time period in July in order to have better weather. So, the combination of these two celebrations are what gave the San Fermin festival its start. It is now one week of bull runs from the 7th until 16th of July. It was made famous, however by the writer Ernest Hemingway who was quite fond of the festival. (He was also a fan of the famous iruna cafe in plaza castillo where I had an unappetizingly overpriced lunch the day before. It hadn't lived up to the hype).
"WHIIIIZZZZZ....POP!!!!" The sound of the first rocket wakes me from my daze. That means the bulls have been released. My face turns as white as the clothes I'm wearing and my mind completely goes blank except for one word "RUN!" The crowds of people begin to run. However, it is so crowded that there is a lot of shoving. The people behind me are shoving me forward while I am pushing the people in front of me in order not to fall forward. It is like molecules of a gas colliding and ricocheting trying to escape out of an open container. As the gas is heated, the molecules gain energy and collide at a faster pace. The heating source of this particular experiment appears to be the bulls!!!
As they approach there is an uproar of commotion and panic. You could cut the fear in the air with a knife. Men are trying to trip each other, people are losing there footing and falling, and an occasional person jumps over the barriers themselves!! Most are pressed against the sides of the buildings themselves creating a wall of people along the street. This is where I've found myself......pressed up against the sides. I can't seem to escape, but it is probably for the better since the bulls run by shortly after.
I see a flash of bulls, horns and people from the safety of my wall of humans. People begin running after the bulls in order to get into the ring at the end. They close the ring shortly after the last bull makes it into the arena. If you make it into the ring, the dangerous bulls are safely tucked away and smaller bulls are released into the crowd. The smaller bulls have their horns wrapped, but they do charge the runners and it is mostly for amusement of the crowds in the stands. If you make it into the arena too soon however, the locals throw carrots and things at you.
I, however, was not lucky enough to make it into the ring. This is because the last bull of the run decided that the tunnel into the arena was a great place to lie down, which blocked the path of the runners. The guys with the big sticks who are in charge of making sure the bulls are running and that no one is harming the bulls, were hitting anyone who tried to sneak along the side of the bull into the arena. It reminded me of a nun in school smacking the bad students with a ruler.
Overall, the bull run goes over without a hitch. The next day, the headlines read "Clean start to San Fermin," since besides a few scrapes and bloody noses no one had been seriously injured. Later, I met someone on my bus who had been trampled and had his arm dislocated. There were also a few more gorings later in the week but no deaths. I had survived. I had taken the bull by the horns, so to speak and lived to tell the tale. So, in my book, this san fermin had been a success. Now, onto rest and relaxation on the beaches of San Sebastian.
Video of bull run from that day:
Miles traveled so far: 8,053
Hours traveled: 33
If you are not the adventurous sort, you can actually safely simulate running with the bulls with a virtual reality run in the san fermin museum on Estafeta street. But if you do decide to run, I would suggest walking the course before the festivities begin like I did. You can even view the different breeds of bulls that will be in the run for 3 euros at the beginning of the course. Also another little travel tip is that they sell the professional photos of the run in the plaza castilla. You can go there after and look at the photos to see if your in any of them but it's a little like playing "where's Waldo."
Highlights of pamplona:
-adrenaline rush of the run
-the biggest party festival I've ever seen!
-the prices of food and clothes is one of the cheapest I've seen
-They've also got a carnival where you can go and ride some rides
-The town smells of urine since people pee in the street and any other place they can find. Also bathroom lines are ridiculously long.
-The sticky sangria everywhere.
-The danger of getting robbed, one of my travel mates got distracted by a cigerette burn and his camera taken.