This is on a bucket list of most Europe-stumbling Australian vagabonds – hard to avoid when they show it on our national news every.. single.. year.. – during your prime childhood years of learning about the world! (Yes, I blame prime time morning and evening news for being a part of it).
(This and the La Tomatina tomato throwing festival – I wasn’t going to miss it either!!).
There was the Opening Festival, the several consecutive days of bull running – options are to choose to watch the first day (decide if it’s for you) or face the bulls straight up, or run with the bulls on one of the following couple of days. Each day after they release more bulls. We were warned about the risks of course – jump down the page to my day at the Bull Run, or read on.
Anyway, I was booked and paid, let’s do this!
I have to say this one one of a few hyped events I have been a part of this lived up to more than described, it was exceptional..!! Being in my 20’s it was right up my alley.
Firstly, there is the opening festival – a day of Don Simon 2 Euro sangria and general shenanigans.. The Mayor opens the week long party, and salivating participants are ready for run.
We start dressed in matching whites, red scarf (around the wrist until the opening when you can move it to your neck), and 2x 2L Don Simons – 1 for drinking, the other for spraying or emptying into an open mouth of an unsuspecting stranger!
It was hilarious, the drinks were cheap – yours is mine and mine is yours – everyone was your best mate for the day and the white kit soon turned purple.
Arriving from our base at San Sebastian, it was a 7am start, a long drinking/playing session until the Mayor steps out to open the festival at 12pm.
I was with a good group of friends and the frenzy to leave saw one break a rib from the mosh pit. Until that point – even after that point – let it all go and have a good time!!
By the mid afternoon, you either kept going after a quick pizza or didn’t make it any further.
We kept going:
The ones that didn’t make it!..
This festival went into the night, there were 2 bus return options, and we make it back for ~11pm to HQ at San Sebastian. By time you hit the sack it was a looooong day.
The Bull Run:
Backing up is tough the day after the Festival opening, and this time we had to arrive at Pamplona for 7am, I think we got up somewhere around 4:30am!
Again, we were told the risks on the drive there; you can run or just watch, choose when you get there but know it’s dangerous and people die.
I’ve never seen a group so nervous!! I was going to do it, I had my buddy Vic and we were ready to roll.
En route to the start.. It had been an even bigger night for some:
In the pen/corral as the streets were blocked off we waited for our release to move down the skinny street and choose our start spot (you can choose to be close to the bulls or towards the gates of the end Arena, the aptly named “Plaza del Toro”). At this point Vic (Spanish speaking) picked up a local paper which had the mug shots of each bull and the vital stats – age, weight, top speed,etc! Just to freak you out a bit more!!
In our spot – not too close to the bulls/get cut off by the gates that close behind them, and in the thick of the action to have a little fun and a decent run down to the Plaza to feel… Alive!(!?). Also away from Dead Man’s Corner which is a sharp bend that causes grief every year either by getting clipped or slowing the bull around so it looks for “options”.
In the distance we hear the start gun go off. The bulls were loose! The second gun went not long after – the last bull had left the corral and was storming down the street.
People started jogging, the jog turned into a frenzy run… THEN BULLS BULLS BULLS!!!
They were fast!!! Really fast!! People panicked, people got pushed over, trampled, hurt and how many bulls had gone past us!? Were there strays? Were we safe? Just keep running!!!
Eventually we broke free of the narrow street alley into an open area towards the Plaza del Torro.
Turning into the plaza Vic and I spot a human stack, a screaming desperate pile up of bodies – made worse every moment with the rush of people coming from behind. We were smart, we were going to avoid that, until – someone tripped me. And at the same time I got shoved from behind. My ankle twisted between someone below and crushed by the weight of people above.
I had flashes in my mind – 1 week into 2 months I’m going to die and not even from the bulls… Oh dear!
Vic to the rescue. What a legend… And you can re-live it all right here on Vic’s headcam. All the glorious moments from hiding in the street window frame to freedom of the human stack – in first person!
Afterwards, in the arena we count our limbs and count ourselves lucky.. There would be no running by us tomorrow that’s for sure.
In the stadium it’s a full crowd and a big screen TV has been following the run, and everyone is ready for part 2!
In a bizarre twist, the runners from the street now have an “opportunity” to dart around the plaza arena and tempt fate again with another set of bulls.. I definitely 100% opt to sit this one out!
After a bit they launch baby bulls, that in turn run around trying to plow people into pulp, whist keen showman attempt to vault over it (= get kicked out of the arena immediately) or take it on like a bullfighter and dodge it at the end.
Over the course of a good half an hour, they send 5 bulls out one by one, bring it back in, send another one out, gradually smaller in size until it’s all done and people dust themselves off.
Some were not so lucky, and they can have it!! Think twice about this one..
After all that, we need a beer, it was maybe 9am, and it tasted great.