Summer in Europe is a dream for so many. Not only to enjoy the beaches and see the monuments and history in sunny and warm days, but also to celebrate some of the craziest festivals in the world. San Fermin – better known as the Running of the Bulls – is one of those crazy festivals. A Spanish man’s right of passage, it involves running through a 825m track, navigating through narrow and winding cobblestone streets… oh, and did I mention whilst being chased by six 500kg+ bulls?!?
A tradition from centuries ago, it has intrigued and attracted many, including Ernest Hemmingway (who visited for many years and immortalised the event in his novel, The Sun Also Rises)! Kicking off annually on the 6th of July, the Encierro (bull run) commences on the 7th of July and runs (excuse the pun!) to the 14th, where a big party is held in Plaza Consistorial to close the event and look forward to the next year.
We visited Pamplona and went to San Fermín in 2009. Guy even ran with the bulls while I watched from the safety of the bullring. To celebrate this crazy festival, here is our ‘His and Hers’ account of our experiences.
|05:00 AM||Dawn breaks on possibly the greatest day of my life, my defining moment as a man. This day, I will run the gauntlet of life with six bulls and emerge a different, better person. As early as it is, a mixture of anxiety and destiny mix to wake me up instantly. What will this day hold I wonder?||So tired. He’s blabbering on about some “mystical force” that’s brought him to this point. I just want Starbucks…..|
|06:00 AM||We step off the tourist bus in Pamplona dressed in the traditional costume: white pants and shirt with a red bandana draped around our necks, a red belt and holding rolled up newspapers. The town is heaving with partygoers still powering on from the night before. There is an intensity and excitement in the air as we walk down the narrow, cobblestone streets towards destiny itself.||Can anyone else smell piss, or is it just me? Still so tired. Remind me why I got out of bed again?|
|07:30 AM||Having walked the track, we settle on a final position at ‘Dead Man’s Corner’ and make inconsequential small talk to fill in the time. Some nearby Spanish gents gleefully show us newspaper pictures of a foreigner being gored the day before. Bastards. It doesn’t deter us, the waiting is the hardest part.||Ok, I’ve gotten myself the perfect spot in the bullring. It was pretty sweet to see the sun rise from front row seats in a monument filled with history (and somewhat the smell of cattle). All of us nervous girlfriends are chatting away, trying to hide how anxious we are about potentially going home solo. They are currently playing the bull stats on the big screens around the arena. No. 19 weighs 615kgs – oh hell no!|
|08:00 AM||The first rocket is fired off to signify the opening of the doors to the corral holding the bulls and some people start running, anticipating a herd of stampeding bulls just around the corner. We stick to our original plan though: no one runs until we see a bull. We wait.||The first rocket is fired off… and now we wait… There is a nervous buzz in the air as we wait to see our partners, friends and family running on the big screen. Some of the crowd have already started drinking for the day. They are going to be in a world of pain tomorrow! I’m in the prime position to see Guy run through the gates, victoriously… at least he better… travel insurance doesn’t cover him for this.|
|08:01 AM||The second rocket explodes in the air to signify the bulls have left the corral and are moving along the track toward us. Butterflies in my stomach become pterodactyls desperately trying to break free. A mass of people are running past now, every so often glancing behind them waiting for a glimpse of the bulls. It won’t be long…||We see the bulls running ferociously and with velocity up the street on the big screens. Some of the people in the bullring are cheering and placing bets as to when the first injury will happen. I still can’t understand what compels people to try to outrun them. Have you seen how fast and how big they are?|
|08:02 AM||The crowd grows thicker and more desperate until, through a large gap we sight the lead bull in all its splendour. Jeez, it’s big. I suddenly realise I’d never seen a bull in real life before, and this shouldn’t be the way to do it for the first time. It’s bristling with muscle, head down and coming right for us. We turn and run forward amongst the frantic crowd all pushing and shoving their way to the outer edges of the street.||The screens light up with these monstrous beasts running through the streets and plenty of men running. It’s quite amusing seeing grown men run like little boys down streets. I wonder if they’ve realised at this point that there are better ways to prove their masculinity. The atmosphere in the bullring has certainly picked up and the coffee has finally kicked in.|
|08:03 AM||Running in a mass of people, I turn to glance behind me, like I’d seen so many runners before me. THE BULLS ARE 15M AWAY. I freak out a little and duck to the edge just in time as a herd of determined bulls screams past. As they pass at breakneck speed, I thank the Spanish man I am spooning with fear and take off after the bulls to get a better look but they quickly disappear down the streets.||Is that Guy spooning a Spanish man on the big screen?|
|08:05 AM||Buoyed by enough adrenaline to wake the dead, my friend and I run hard towards the Plaza de Toros at the end of the track, where the bulls will be held until the bull fights that night. We make it into the plaza just as they are closing the gates, and join hundreds of others staring at the packed crowd in the stands. We wonder to ourselves, what happens next?||People are now streaming into the bullring. Those who run into the ring before the bulls are booed by the crowd and rotten food is thrown at them. Apparently it’s a faux pas to run in before the bulls, as it’s a sign that you are weak and scared. The fact that you made it in alive though, should be something to be celebrated. These guys however, got here long before the bulls and are now just standing around awkwardly, covered in rotten tomatoes and stinking of shame. I spot Guy running in to the ring and after the bulls (no rotten food for him!) but just in time before the gates were closed off. No sign of blood or limping – Good!|
|08:15 AM||The revelers in the plaza start to face the other direction, and a small group of them brace themselves in front of the gate leading to the corral. Suddenly, the gates fly open and out jumps a baby bull, energetic, determined and… big enough to bring down the wannabe torreros (bull fighters ) who attempt to play with it.||Why is there a group hustling up by a gate? Woah! A young bull has just jumped over these crazy peeps and started running and bucking anyone stupid enough to get in its way. The crowd erupts in laughter as one male is thrown into the air like a ragdoll. Whilst the people on the ground are cheering on each other, the crowd in the seats are cheering on the bulls.|
|08:30 – 10:00 AM||At least 4-5 baby bulls are unleashed on the crowd, some with hilarious results and others make you cringe. None of the baby bulls are hurt – they are just a taste for eager tourists of the life of a torrero.||I catch glimpses of Guy keeping a safe distance of the young bucking bulls. Thank goodness. Meanwhile, I’m laughing at the ones being pulled out of the ring on stretchers for thinking they had a chance at dodging an over-enthusiastic bull coming straight for them. What did they think would happen?|
|10:00 AM – early hours of the morning||Exhausted but feeling 10 feet tall and officially bulletproof, we leave the plaza with our heads held high and spend the day partying with locals, watching a traditional bullfight, drinking sangría from traditional botas (leather wine skins) and listening to marching bands wind their way through the streets of Pamplona.||And now I see the newspaper Guy saw this morning. Lucky I didn’t see it before he ran or I would have had some crazy wife moments! Traumatised after witnessing my first (and last) Corrida de toros, it’s now time to party! All of the women are being sprayed with sangría by locals. What was once a white shirt is now red and burgundy. Good thing I enjoy sangría! The square is filled with revelers singing “San Fermin”. Time for a toast to celebrate life and hope that Guy never decides to do anything that crazy again…|
Pobre de Mí / San Fermín songs sung at the closing ceremony
“Pobre de Mí, Pobre de Mí, que se han acabado las fiestas, de San Fermín.
Uno de Enero, dos de Febrero, tres de Marzo, cuatro de Abril,
cinco de Mayo, seis de Junio, siete de Julio San Fermín..
A Pamplona hemos de ir,
con una media, con una media,
a Pamplona hemos de ir
con una media y un calcetín”
“Poor me, poor me, the parties of San Fermín have just finished.
1st of January, 2nd of February, 3rd of March, 4th of April,
5th of May, 6th of June, 7th of July San Fermín.
To Pamplona we go,
with tights, with tights,
To Pamplona we go
with tights and a sock”.
(I don’t really understand the significance with the tights and sock!)
What are your experiences of San Fermín and Running with the Bulls? Tell us all in the comments below!