I ran with the bulls in Pamplona in 2013. It was INSANE, INSANE, and did I mention INSANE! First and foremost I want to say that I decided to do the running of the bulls without learning much about the event beforehand. This was a mistake; or, maybe it was a good idea since I don’t think I would have done this had I known exactly what happened before I went.
Now, let’s talk about what the Running of the Bulls is really like!
I knew that you actually ran with the bulls through a street and ended up in a sort of arena, but that is about it.
The day that I arrive, I and the other people staying at our campsite are led to the start of the run. We manage to climb through the gates to get inside of where you will actually run; otherwise you have to watch. It is so cramped in there that you can fall asleep standing up, literally. In fact, this was the second most horrible part of the experience due to a few reasons.
We were staying far away from the bull-run and, therefore, had to wake up at 4 am to get to the run around 7 am and then wait in that crowd for an hour before the run started. My campsite had a lot of partiers and it was blasting music all night and morning along with a free-flowing all-you-can-drink alcohol policy. Plus, the breakfast consisted of a small and horrible portion of something with potatoes, a hot dog bun, and a midget sausage link. This was all you were given even if you had been drinking all night with no food… On the way to the run, people were vomiting in the bus (this won’t be everyone’s experience, especially if you stay in a hotel, but it was mine).
So, we arrive at the start of the race hung-over, tired, and feeling as bad as you can before one of the most important moments of your life where you should absolutely be as coherent and alert as possible. We are uncomfortable, sick, and waiting, smashed together with hundreds of other people, for an hour. The moment my friend Pita Pocket, who is right behind me, steps into the crowd her iPhone is stolen from a zippered satchel around her neck. In the next moment, a wallet is stolen from the man to the left of me. It feels like we are in a war-zone of pick-pockets and we are essentially helpless because we can barely move and we can’t leave the crowd if we want to run with the bulls.
Finally, after about an hour, they open the gates and allow us to enter the area where the bulls will run so that we can position ourselves along the walls of the street in order to prepare for the arrival of the monsters that will be careening down the street in just a few minutes time.
In the chaos that is the pushing and shoving to get down the streets, I lose my friend Pita Pocket, which really worries me because she can literally fit into your pocket. Then I lose my other friend Dave, but I’m not worried about him as much because he is a big guy. I find a place along the wall and actually start to get a little bored; I’m hungry, tired, and have been waiting for over an hour. Are the damn bulls ever coming?! But, I start to change my tune when I see one of the locals bless himself and kiss the cross that is hanging from his neck. It was easy to identify him as a local due to how he was dressed, where he was standing (in the middle of the street), and the fact that he had a rolled-up newspaper in his hand.
Then, the last firework (used to signal the start of the run) goes off and the bulls are being released. I start to slowly jog past the dead man’s corner – I certainly don’t want to meet the bulls at a place that is referred to as the “dead man’s corner” – and try to find a safe place along the side to await the arrival of the bulls while still slowly jogging. At this point, everyone is on edge so much that even a loud shout or knocking on the metal doors that protect the shop windows is sending everyone scattering. About a minute after my slow jog, we can see the monsters approaching. It’s not a fucking slow jog anymore; I can guarantee you that!
It is now a mad dash away from the bulls and this might actually be quite easy if there weren’t so many people everywhere. The streets are in fact so crowded with runners and people on the side that you end up running into people, being pushed by people, almost losing your shoes due to people stepping on your feet, and frantically looking back to see when the terrifying monsters with huge freaking horns are going to run you over.
The most terrifying moment here is when you see everyone parting behind you and you see the horns of the bulls. It is not exactly terrifying because they are approaching you, but, because you have to shove and run into people on the side to make enough room for yourself so that the bulls can get by you. The terrifying moment is that specific moment when you are not certain you will be able to get to the side of the street far enough for the bulls to pass by you. If there was plenty of room on the street, it turns out that it wouldn’t be so bad at all. When the bulls did actually start to pass by me, I realized that they tend to pretty much run in a line in the middle of the street and that they don’t just indiscriminately run people over and then gore them.
When the bulls started to run by me, I merely joined them. I was actually running next to the bulls, running WITH the bulls in Pamplona. It was great; it was crazy; it was an experience of a lifetime.
My goal now was to get into the arena. I knew that the bulls ran into an arena and that you had to get there before a certain time or they would close the gate and so I was now on my way to the arena, which seemed much farther than it should have been. But, I made it, after a few log-jams and some people being trampled not by bulls but by other people.
I arrive in the arena and it is full of people. You feel like you just cheated death and you are excited. Everyone is taking photos and smiling and high-fiving each other and we are having a good time all around. After the second group of bulls runs through the arena, most of us (the runners were mostly tourists) thought this was the end. But, no, it was not the end. The gate to the arena then slammed shut, and the real terror was about to begin…
Part 2 is coming soon 🙂