The gate to the arena, or coliseum, in Pamplona has just slammed shut. I can not leave. What would happen in the next 45 minutes or so is what would make San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls such a terrifying experience.
This is when they let bulls run through the arena, with all of us runners stuck in the middle…
After the gate to the arena was closed, I, along with many others, were not entirely sure what was going to happen next. The arena was so crowded that it was difficult to see much other than a see of white and red. People were just mulling around and had started to calm down a bit and relax and to wonder what would happen next.
And, just when I had started to let down my guard, a bull was released into the arena, into the middle of the crowd! People panicked and we parted like the Red Sea commanded by Moses.
Now, there was a bull running around wild in the arena with hundreds of people just trying to avoid its horns. This bull was smaller than the ones that actually ran down the street to the arena, but it still had huge horns and was fast as lightning.
As soon as I saw the bull run into the crowd I didn’t think it would be such a big deal, but, the scary part of being on the floor of the arena is that you cannot see where the bull is in the arena. The bulls are shorter than everyone and there are hundreds of people standing around and trying, for some ungodly reason, to get as close to the bull as possible. All of this combined means that you only have a split second before the bull runs through you to move out of the way.
I can see that the bull is somewhere on the other side of the arena, so I imagine that I am safe. Then I see a massive crowd of people shift right, then left, then, as it seems that the bull is approaching from straight ahead, it decides to turn to the right and come around in a semi-circle. Due to the number of people around, it was impossible at first to determine the direction of the bull until I saw the people just to the left of me panicking and scampering away. Once the wall of people between myself and the bull was only two or three deep, I was able to see the bull. But, Mr. Bull, doesn’t just come straight towards me so I can move out of the way. He runs closer, stops, turns in place in a circle, faces to the right of me so that I am to his side, chooses his running path far away from me, but, then, just a split second after starting his sprint, he make a 45 degree turn towards me.
“F**k” and “time to go” were the only things running through my head. At this point, I ran as fast as possible 8 meters to my left and hurdled myself over the wooden barrier wall that surrounds the arena.
Lesson learned: Bulls are fast and unpredictable. Stay away from them!
To interrupt the story, the way that it works is that a bull is released into the ring for 5 minutes or so and it can do whatever it likes during that time. Once the time is up, the bull is led back into its pin by using a GIANT bull, to which the little bull will run. The giant bull is slow and doesn’t run or charge anyone and its sole purpose is to get the bulls back into the pin. (at the time, I did not know any of this).
So, once the second bull was back into its pin, I jumped over the wall and back into the arena, thinking that the insanity was now over. I think too much.
A large crowd starts to form near the opening of the bull pin, from where the bull will enter the arena. I still have no idea what is going on; though, I later learned that people would line up all around the opening in an attempt to either get a good photo of the bull or, OR to lay on the ground so the bull would have to jump over them to enter the arena!!! Needless to say, I did not do this, and in particular, that’s because of what was about to happen.
After the crowd has formed, I am looking in that direction to see what is going on. Then, the crowd runs in all directions just as I hear a loud “smack” and the entire arena lets out a gasp and then goes silent. The normally cheering and jeering crowd is now completely silent.
What happened is a man that was standing behind the crowd that had formed at the opening to the bull pin did not notice exactly what was happening. Remember when I said that you can’t see well past two or three rows of people? He was a few rows back from the action and didn’t notice where the bull was or when it was coming out. He was turned to the side and, just as the crowd in front of him parted and scattered, he turned to the left to face the bull that was in mid-air jumping over the morons on the ground. The bulls head hit this guy’s head straight-on.
The loud “smack” that I heard was the bulls head smashing into this guy’s head. There was blood pouring down his face and he was nowhere near conscious. In fact, it was so bad that, for a couple days, everyone thought that he had died. I later heard that he did not die. Though, this brings me to an interesting point, which is that a person is not considered to have died from the Bull Run unless he or she died in the arena or on the run. If they die later at the hospital as a result of injuries sustained during the run or in the arena, that doesn’t count towards the statistics for deaths from this festival. WTF?!
Now, let’s get back to the arena. After this guy was almost killed by the bull, I firmly planted my ass back on the other side of the wall until this bull was back in its pin. By the time the third bull came out, I had a nice spot from which to view the action on the inside of the wooden barrier wall. But, I just felt compelled to get back out there for the full experience and it took every ounce of strength I had to force myself back into the ring.
Once in the ring, I tried to keep my distance from the bull while still staying in the ring and letting him run by me. There were people in the ring who ran after the bull, who ran right in front of the bull, and who even taunted the bull. Needless to say, this is insanely stupid and many of the injuries sustained during this event were to these people.
However, even trying to play it safe, the bull made his own choice to come way too close to me. I was close, about 5 meters, to the wall when the bull started trotting in my direction. As it got closer I inched closer to the wall. This did not help though, as the bull decided to get closer to the wall as well. But, I wasn’t too worried because I had seen that the bull just usually runs by you if you don’t provoke it. So, by the time the bull is running by, I am standing near the wall, but still inside the arena.
He slows to a trot and turns his horns right at me. F**k this, I leaped right onto the top of the wooden barrier wall and hung on for life since there were so many people standing on the wall that I could not get all the way over it. But, then the bull turns around and just backs up against the wall and faces the crowd in front of him. I am now sitting on the wall and resting my feet on the back of the bull. This terrifying monster is just right there, chilling out, literally under my feet. Wow, these beasts are unpredictable and scary, but, now I feel pretty comfortable and the bull just seems to be resting.
Then, as usual, some moron decides to taunt the bull and get close to him. The bull basically says “f you” to the guy and, with no effort at all, throws the guy into the air. This would have been funny except, the guy was thrown six or seven feet into the air and onto me. I was immediately knocked off the wall and back onto the concrete floor. Thankfully though, I managed to hold onto the wall with one hand, which had the effect of lessening the impact of the fall onto the concrete.
This was the last time that I was in the arena. I had enough and I didn’t have enough adrenaline coursing through my veins to keep me making stupid decisions. I had run with the bulls, not in front, not behind, but with them; I had been in the arena with them; I had seen people get seriously injured by them; I was done.
The next day, I was in the crowd at the coliseum in Pamplona and watched from above what was going on below. Here is my highlight video from that day: Running with the Bulls in Pamplona – Chaos in the Arena.
This was probably the craziest experience of my life, certainly as a traveler. I recommend that everyone go to this festival at least once. But, I don’t recommend running with the bulls. If you stay in the crowd at the coliseum and just watch, you will still have a great time! Also, there is a bull fight that takes place later in the day, but I was unable to attend that.
Have a great day and remember, if a giant bull is running after you, step to the side 😉
Here is Part 1 of this story: Running with the Bulls in Pamplona 2013 – Most Terrifying Experience of My Life – Part 1