How to Run With the Bulls in Pamplona…and Miss the Horns
Pamplona (ESP) 7AM – A mixture of brave and foolhardy volunteers are herded into a narrow alley, shoulder to shoulder, waiting to run from what may be described as a stamped of fully grown Spanish monsters. We were assured the night before that only the meanest bulls run on the last day, the midnight black bulls of Miura, but that was probably just an old Spaniard trying to scare us…just the beer talking, right?
The morning air hangs dead still with anxiety, adrenaline and nervous laughter. Spaniards slap each other on the shoulders, Australians stained with wine from the night before look around wildly, a Russian with a GoPro strapped to his chest fidgets and bites his nails, a Frenchmen with his arms draped over his girlfriends shaking shoulders, whispers reassuring things in her ear.
“Have you done this before?” A small, female, British voice asks from behind me. “Once,” I said. “15 years ago, but I was much younger and more limber then,” I say half joking, trying to ignore my heart hammering in my chest. Then there’s a loud boom, signaling that the bulls have left their pen and are on their way to the course. You forget how many minutes you have until they arrive, was that the 2 minute or 5 minute warning? Then you begin to forget your crudely thought out strategy. “Don’t try to out run them, find a doorway, leap for a fence, if you fall down don’t try to get up. A chant begins in the crowd, the chorus from A Seven Nation Army; “Loo lo la lo , lolo looooo, looo, Loo lo la lo , lolo looooo, looo,” then a second boom!
Like a flooding river, all at once, a wall of white and red begin streaming towards you, and the sound of cow bells and heavy hooves come thundering your way. Reflex takes over, there’s only one way out, you turn and run.
You run and run, and try not to run anyone in front of you over. When you hear the bells of the bulls are almost at your back you do the smart thing, you get out of the way.
1) Never stand or run on the exterior of a turn, the bulls tend to slide out on the cobble stone
Only the brave, bruised, and bloody run directly in front of a bull for more than a few seconds.
2) Avoid running directly in front of Bulls
And if you think you are brave…maybe you are, but you may also have deal with the consequences. During the 2016 festival we attended there were 16 gorings, and 52 different people needed to be hospitalized.
3) No toca los Toros
4) Have an exit strategy, a nook, a doorway, a fence
But the fence can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Make sure you can scale the fence completely.
The run ends in the bullfighting arena, but be careful, next to the sharp turns, this can be the most dangerous portion of the race.
5) When entering the stadium do not linger in the doorway
6) Be smart
You mess with the bull, you get the horns. If you don’t taunt the bulls, stay away from the curves, and plan a safe place like a doorway, or alcove, you will be just fine…probably.
Once inside the stadium they release one bull at a time with dull horns for the runners to test their bravery on, and for the crowd to get their kicks.
Oh the things white people do to get their kicks! The crowd applauds when someone avoids the bull, and roars when they get the horns. But this isn’t about being safe, it is about testing your mettle, it’s about feeling alive so close to death, it’s machismo, and tradition, it’s man vs beast, it’s Hemingway, it’s barbarism, it’s romance, and…it’s a bit of crazy.
The San Fermin Festival in Navarra is so much more than just the running of the bulls. It is a street party full of music, drinking, eating, dancing, and celebration every year from July 6th-14th. It’s about meeting those other crazy people from around the world and feasting with friends and strangers. It is a two week period when an entire city (Pamplona) comes together to celebrate tradition, and rub elbows in the streets nearly 24 hours a day. It is incredible, and should be witnessed at least once in your life.