Pamplona: Running with Bulls
A common worldwide misconception is that being Spanish means that you are of course crazy enough to have run with some bulls. The image of the runners in their white clothing and red scarves being chased through the streets by a heard of bulls is so famously attached to Spain that it’s difficult to explain that this happens in just one town during one week each year. However, the atmosphere looked fun so it was time I lived up to the stereotype and went to see what this was all about for myself.
If there’s one country that knows how to fiesta, it’s Spain, and each July over a million people descend on Pamplona to join in the San Fermín celebrations. Rooms book up a year in advance, but I decided to go much sooner to the date, so while my heart was adamant it was going, my head didn’t have a room to rest itself until…2 days before! 2 days before arriving in Pamplona, a room in a 4* hotel within the old city walls became available and I realised luck was definitely on my side for this run.
Arriving into the city, there is such a buzz. The run takes place every day for a week, so arriving just after lunchtime meant that the people who had already seen the run that day had already had enough time for a siesta and were ready to get the fiesta underway.
First stop: costume change! There are small shops all over selling white and red perfect for the occasion, so I was quickly in uniform and ready to run.
As is typical of Spanish fiestas, there are local bands playing all over the streets as the town gears up for another day of San Fermín. The town is alive with people of all ages, families with small children, elderly people who will have celebrated decade after decade, it’s a true Spanish fiesta in every way.
Being slightly out of Spanish training, I wasn’t able to stay up all the way until 8am when the corrida began, but instead incorporated a second siesta into my day by resting my head for a few hours before the 7am alarm signalled it was time to take to the streets to secure a viewing spot. People rent out their balconies so I had thought there was going to be more trouble getting a view, but there is plenty of space along the route and it’s even possible to sit on the fence lining the route (disclaimer: I survived this but I don’t want anybody else's blood on my hands).
And so as the the clock strikes 8am, the sound of the hooves can be heard with the butterflies of not knowing what to expect along the 875m route. Within seconds they arrive and even quicker, they are gone as the moment everyone had waited for all night, comes and goes in a flash. We follow the crowd to the Plaza de Toros which packed to see the bulls in the ring and anyone who dares the challenge (/is crazy enough) running around being chased. I’m very anti-bull fighting, so it was a concern for me at this point what was going to happen, but no harm came to the bulls who run until they are tired and then are let out to rest ready for another run of their lives the following day.
And with that, the corrida for the day is over. For me it’s back to bed, for the Spanish it’s off to bed for the first time, to get just enough sleep ready to do it all again!
(There is a bull fight later in the afternoon at 6.30pm but this isn’t something that interests me.)