Running of the Bulls!
First-Person Up Close to The Annual Pamplona Party
The writer (front) and group in the stadium during the Running of the Bulls.
• Running of the Bulls Dates: July 6-14
By "Beach Cat Kel,"
Hermosa Beach, CA
This was a long journey from Los Angeles. It took about 30 hours to get to Pamplona, including a layover in New York and a flight to Madrid. On top of that, it's a nine-hour time change.
Because of this, our first day, a Saturday,was pretty low-key. Knowing we had a lot of activity in front of us, we felt it was smart to stay subdued. At least for a day.
It's best to be in your seat before the bulls enter the stadium.
The fun American group prepares to party in Pamplona!
We were certainly excited to be there. July in Pamplona is high season for the tourists as well as the the locals because of the tradition of The Running of the Bulls. It is actually called "The San Fermin Festival," or as they say in Spanish and Basque, 'Los Sanfermines' – which is a fabled festival surrounding the annual running of the bulls. It's an entire carnival, complete with Ferris wheels, bumper cars, fireworks and loud and colorful parades.
Sunday, we we were up early – 6:30 a.m., in fact. We we wanted to be sure and get a place in the Plaza where the bulls – El Toros as they call them here – run through on their way to the stadium. They run at 8 in the morning and we wanted to have our vantage spot secured well in advance of that time.
Seated in the stadium, she's ready for the bulls after running through Pamplona.
Even without the bulls, it was quite a scene. The locals are very much into the festival. All ages join in by wearing the traditional costumes - red scarves and sashes draped over white shirts and pants. Likewise, the tourists were similarly attired and not wanting to be left out of the crowd we, too, participated in this tradition.
The run starts at the bottom of a sloping street called Santo Domingo. The total distance is short – less than 900 meters.
The first stretch is considered to be the most dangerous because this is where the bulls burst out of their pen, full of energy. As a result, they are immediately on on top of the runners. It concludes at a plaza the Spaniards call 'la plaza de toros.' (Note: for safety reasons, PubClub recommends runners position themselves in the Plaza, rather than at the beginning).
We had a nervous moment just before the start when we almost got stuck on the street. The guards would not let us behind a barricade and The bulls would be coming through here any moment. Finally, we managed to sneak past the guards, but it was a close call!
With that little adventure behind us, we decided to head to the stadium. That's the bull ring where matadors fight the animals. Those who either run with bulls – such as our friend Jason, who did it wearing a Superman outfit – or watch the run from the Plaza follow the bulls into the arena. Not everyone gets in, however, and we didn't want to miss the climax of the festivities.
t's only about $6 (USD) to get into the arena. After all the hysteria of the run, a Matador starts the bullfight, then slaughters one of the bulls. This is one tradition we could not tolerate and exited the stadium so we wouldn't have to witness this atrocity.
Running With the Bulls is a party on a world-wide scale. People go wild until dawn and it's mass hysteria everywhere. We found it very similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, except everyone was speaking different languages.
The people were from everywhere, mostly from Europe. And boy do they smoke a lot! (We are not used to this, since Los Angeles is pretty much of a smoke-free environment, especially at the beach.)
We found the area around the festival to be very charming with traditions we liked and beautiful, historic buildings. The food, however, was less appetizing. It was very simple and rich with fats and enriched processing. I didn't care for the food at all.
TIPS FOR RUNNING WITH THE BULLS
• Stay at the head of the pack.
• Position yourself near the stadium. The bulls are let go at the other end of town and charge toward the stadium, so it's best to be close to the stadium when they start their run.
• As the bulls approach, run into the stadium AHEAD of the bulls.