It’s hard to believe that my month in Pamplona, Spain for the Running of the Bulls has already come and gone. It whizzed by in a blur of red and white, leaving me only with the lingering scent of the city streets after a long night out and a fuzzy memory of running for my life.
For the whole month, we were situated on the side of a mountain at Camping Ezcaba. This site is about half an hour from the city via bus, or 15 minutes driving. My home was a single man tent, with zero tree cover and high winds. To say I am weather-beaten after a month is an understatement.
On the bright side, the campsite had an amazing pool and was right next to a little creek which offered shade, waterfalls, and lots of rocks for skipping. Our siestas were spent partaking of said activities.
The opening ceremony of Bulls was about two weeks into my month in Pamplona. We checked in about 500 guests to our little Stoke Travel site and showed them a great time. Opening ceremony includes Spain’s favorite activity- a wine fight! My brand new white shirt and pants were forever stained purple from the “vino tinto.” NO RAGRETS.
For the next week, bull runs were held every day at 8 am. At first, I was 100% not going to do the run. But after three days of hearing about all my friends who had run, I decided why the hell not?! So on July 10, I woke up at 6 and made my way to the streets.
When I arrived in the city, people were still in the bars from the night before. People were puking on the sides of the road. And they did this every night. If any culture can show you how to party, it’s the Spanish.
The police at the bull run are pretty strict about who they allow in the barricades. For one, you must be dressed in red and white. You must be wearing appropriate footwear. You absolutely cannot have a camera. (Bring one, for sure, but under no circumstances take it out before the Bulls begin to run. You will be kicked out immediately.)
When the first cannon sounds, it means that the Bulls have been released. The police leave the area ASAP because they’re like “I don’t wanna die today, you crazy people.” Now, you can take out your camera if you must. The second cannon means that all of the Bulls are out of the corral. Now, you wait.
This is the hardest part. Once you’re in the barricades, people start to panic. Then the cannons go off and people really start to panic. But you gotta hold your ground and wait. Once you see the first bull, you run like hell and don’t look back.
Now, this cultural tradition is pretty controversial. The purpose of the Running of the Bulls is indeed to herd these Bulls to the arena to be slaughtered later in the day. I’m not saying that I condone this practice, but this is a part of Spanish culture and when in Spain, do as the Spanish do.
Many people think that the point of the run is to run in front of the Bulls. Don’t be stupid, please. You cannot outrun a bull. Period. The purpose of the run is to keep the herd together as they are transported to the arena. The Bulls don’t want to hurt you, unless they become separated from the pack. That is why we are there to keep them together.
So back to my run. Here I am, clinging to my friend for dear life while we hurdle fallen runners and narrowly avoid bull horns (my friend pushed me out of the way and a horn missed me by about two inches. Shout out to you, homie). The first pack of six Bulls runs past in a blur, then the second close behind. At that point a lot of people slow down, but we sprinted even harder because we needed to get into the arena. Once all the Bulls are in the arena, the doors are shut and the real games begin. We made it just in time and with only a few scratches.
Once the doors are closed, one baby bull is released at a time. They have corked horns and are not killed after the run. These Bulls are the same six every day. For about ten minutes, the crowd is able to “play” with each baby bull to the thrill of the audience. I lasted three baby Bulls before chickening out and hopping the fence.
Overall, I have no regrets about running with the Bulls. I would likely never do it again, though. The odds of getting gored are slim, but the odds are even slimmer if you don’t run at all.
My month with Stoke Travel was unforgettable. I met some amazing people and had nothing but good times. It’s hard to believe that I got so lucky to have a job like that. I can’t wait to go back for one more festival this summer- La Tomatina in Valencia! But first, I’m in for a month of traveling through the UK, Hungary, the Netherlands, and France.