Surviving the “Running of the Bulls”

The Running of the Bulls crew
The Running of the Bulls crew

I survived the “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain. Barely.

Pamplona, Spain | 7/6/15 | 12:58 PM
“After I got to Pamplona yesterday, the guys and I toured the city a little. Tomorrow we are actually running with the bulls, but today is just the opening ceremony. I figured today was going to be the ‘fun, mellow day.’ Boy was I wrong.”

San Fermin festival breakdown

DSP takes running of the bulls
DSP takes the bulls

If you aren’t familiar with the San Fermin festival, it’s one of the largest fiestas in Spain, held annually from July 6th-July 14th. The first day is the opening ceremony, and then each day following hosts the running of the bulls, the bull fights, fireworks and more. I had agreed to meet up with some friends for the festival, but I had no idea what to expect.

Chupinazo – The opening ceremony

July 6th was the opening ceremony. This day was different from all the rest. The extent of my knowledge about this event was basically:

1. We drink sangria all morning
2. Everyone sprays sangria on each other

So you could imagine my surprise when I realized this was the day I would encounter my near-death experience. I may be exaggerating a little, but believe me, things went downhill really fast.

sangria to the face
I didn’t have any photos of myself, so here’s one of my friend Reese taking sangria to the face.

Let me paint you a picture. The guys (7 of my male friends) and I woke up bright and early, dressed in our all-white attire with our red belts and bandanna’s on (standard Sanfermines attire). We walked down to the city square, armed with liters of sangria. We began to drink, meet other travelers, get sprayed with sangria and take part in hitting giant car-sized balloons up in the air. It was all fun and games. The city square was lined with apartment balconies, with locals and travelers looking down upon us to watch the madness unfold. We stood close to the front, near the news reporters (remind me to track down the Pamplona newscasts of this). The highlight of the event would be when the city mayor said a few words and launched off rockets from city hall at noon.

The moment I rivaled death

As the time drew nearer to noon, the crowd drew nearer to us. At about 11:45am, what was once a fun, rowdy crowd had turned into a full on mosh pit. And just a side note, I was surrounded by really tall guys. This put my face at about armpit level, body to body in the middle of a hot, sweaty crowd. I was dehydrated and drinking alcohol…not a good combination.

Chupinazo at noon, when they launched the rocket

I was counting down the minutes until noon so I could get the heck out of there. Things started getting blurry and black, and I could feel myself about to pass out. This scared me, because I knew if I passed out, I would be trampled by people like a Black Friday Sale. I screamed to my friend Nick to help hold me up *shout out for saving me haha* He grabbed my arms to hold me up, but bodies eventually pushed between us so I could no longer see him. Come noon, everyone went crazy, I chucked my mostly-empty sangria bottle into the crowd (my apologies to whoever I hit) and bee-lined out of that hell-hole… and by “bee-line” I mean pushed and shoved.

It’s funny, because when I tell people I thought I was going to die at the running of the bulls, they probably assume I was nearly trampled by a bull. But it was actually the people.

Running of the bulls

600 words in and I’m sure this is the part you came here expecting to read. Well, let me preface it with: I wore Toms to the Running with the Bulls. Toms. *Note: We were too late for the run on the 7th, so we went on the 8th.

Scared selfie before the run
Scared selfie before the run

Pamplona, Spain | 7/8/15 | 1:52 PM
“This morning we ran with the bulls. We arrived at the run at about 6 AM,  even though the run didn’t start until 8 AM. The suspense was the worst part. My nerves were out of control.. I wanted to $#!t myself.”

To give you a frame of reference, the run is somewhere under 1 mile long, and the bulls run it in about 3 minutes. It is down a narrow, boarded up street, with crowds sitting on bordering posts to watch.  At the end of the run is a large arena. Little did we know, that was where the real intensity happened.

When the first rocket sounded, I began down the street with hundreds of other antsy people. I ended up going further down the street before the bulls were released and lost the guys I started with. We all agreed to meet up at the “right side of the arena” after the run. Once the bulls and people were running, I tried not to look back. I focused on getting to the arena, and I did just that.

The arena (the best part)

In the arena, I found a few of my friends. We stood in the middle of it, laughing and talking, oblivious as to what would happen next. A few minutes later, a bull came charging into the arena. This was the best, most intense thing I’ve ever experienced. We ran around the arena frantically, while people got charged, trampled, thrown and hooked by the angry bull.

Eventually, after some too-close encounters with the bull, I took to safety and climbed the little barrier wall. This was roughly a 4.5ft wall in which participants could hop over to catch their breath and watch others run about. Behind this wall, there was an even taller wall in which the massive audience was safely seated.

Near the end of the run, I told my friend “I’m done. I’m going to stay on this side of the wall where I’m safe from the bull.” I spoke too soon. Moments later, the bull jumped the barrier wall, about 15ft to my right, and started running in my direction. In a panic, I basically fell over the wall, into my friends arms. Our other friends caught a video of this happening. If you look closely, you can see us fall to the ground 😛

The fireworks like magic

Every night, the city of Pamplona hosted the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen. I was upset about missing the Fourth of July in America, but Pamplona did it better. I swear they must not have firework regulations, because they were intense… and borderline questionable at times. They definitely made for an amazing ending to an exhausting, crazy, adrenaline-filled trip. You go hard, Pamplona. I’m not sure I could handle all 9 days. 4 was enough for me.

Do you plan on going to the running with the bulls? Comment below!

[Photo cred to Nick Amoroso and Reese Hinton. Thanks for letting me steal some of your pictures]

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