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Running of the Bulls – San Fermin Festival

In Festivals and Events, Travel Storiesby Brodie DeverellLeave a Comment

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OK, this one started off a few years ago, when I was leaving Australia to live in London a mate and myself jokingly said see you at Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls festival. We kept the joke going via Facebook whenever we saw a bull or something appropriate to tag each other in relating to this. After a year of mucking around it, all got very real when we convinced another 2 of our mates to do it with us as part of a month long trip to Europe. Before you knew it we had booked the trip with a tour group and were heading to Pamplona to take on the running of the bull event for ourselves.

Man V Bull We didnt think this through

The first morning we met our bus at the location given in Barcelona, we were certainly not in a great headspace as the night before was the first time we had seen each other in around a year and a half. Let’s just say we had made up for lost time and not a lot of sleep had come our way since we all had met up. We introduced ourselves to the tour leader from The Fanatics and found out some required information. One mate and myself quickly snuck away to grab emergency coffee’s and ham rolls (not just any ham rolls, these are the Spanish amazing sort) for ourselves and our other mates then we piled on the bus for the 5 odd hour trip to get to the home of the Running of the Bulls, Pamplona.

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We managed to get some much-needed sleep during the time on the bus and once we arrived in Pamplona, the home of the running of the bulls, we were all feeling a little less dusty. We found our way to the Hostel that we were staying at, which was included in the price of the tour, and chucked our bags in the rooms. Our next assignment was to meet an Australian guy that had done the bull run over a dozen times. This guy was our key to survival he was going to pass on to us all his tips and hard-earned knowledge, which I have, a feeling would all be required to make it into the bullring, which is where the bull run finishes. He shared his advice and some nervous stories, which personally I could of done without hearing considering I was about to do the exact run. We then got an orientation walk of the actual running of the bulls track, he pointed out where and where not to get caught being on the track as the bulls started to get close to you. The most obvious hint was to get yourself away from “dead man’s corner” when the bulls were approaching it, otherwise, the result was pretty obvious. After the walk, we were able to enjoy some Tapas in one of the many eateries and sample some of the local sangria. This continued well into the night and we had a great evening dancing and mingling with tourists and locals alike.

The next morning was the day running of the bulls opening ceremony. We got our traditional white kits on that were supplied as part of The Fanatics tour and brought ourselves something that turned out to be the best investment of the trip. It was a Spanish Bota, which is basically a soft pouch that you store your sangria in. It has a strap you can put over your shoulder and is by far the best purchase we made. We then headed into town and gathered at the Town Hall ready for the Opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony celebrations at the running of the bulls Pamplona, Spain.
The opening ceremony celebrations at the running of the bulls Pamplona, Spain.

The square in front of the Town Hall was full of mostly tourists and basically what happens for about 2 or 3 hours is a massive sangria fight between everyone. It is a sticky and delicious wine fight. You load up your Spanish Bota with as much sangria as it can hold then pick your targets and go for it. After you run out you make a mad dash to the local store to by another pre-made bottle and get back involved. Don’t worry a bottle of Sangria isn’t going to blow your budget, 1.50 euro is about the going price. This is pretty much all done by tourists and the Spanish sit up on balconies overlooking the square and just laugh at us all wasting so much sangria. It is advised not to intentionally spray any locals with wine as they don’t find it as amusing as us visitors. My mate almost found this out the hard way when he tried a smooth move of spraying sangria on a local lady, only for her to turn towards him and load up with a massive slap. Luckily he caught her hand before she connected and they were able to discuss things and laugh it off. As midday gets closer the locals start to squeeze their way into the square and things get very very tight. If you don’t like tight places then this is certainly not the place for you. It turns into one huge mosh pit and things get uncomfortable for a period of time. People lost phones, shoes and other belongings during this time. It all stops once the Mayor of Pamplona lights a firework, officially opening the Running of the Bulls festival. That afternoon is spent being part of one huge street party where tourists and locals alike drink champagne, sangria and anything else you can find moving from the Town Hall to St Cecilia Fountain and then finally up to Mirador del Caballo Blanco (White Horse lookout). By now a lot of people have enjoyed lots of sangria and the mood is one very festive. As things started to quieten down we made our way back to the hostel and had a much-needed shower. That night was spent in the streets partying with the locals until the early hours of the morning.

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OK, now it’s the morning of the bulls run…. We are all pretty anxious about what could happen but also still have enough sangria in our body that things are still just a big joke. This all changes as soon as we get to the track and find our position, my heart started pounding and we all started saying what have we been thinking, why would we want to do this? We had decided to start our run from just before the Town Hall, which meant we had a few hundred metres head start on the bulls.

Our last group photo before the start of the running with the bulls
Us getting what could be our last group picture of the trip just before we start of the race

There is a sequence of fireworks that go off to alert the runners of the count down until the bulls are released, with each passing firework my heart was beating faster and faster and my mind was racing with mostly not-pleasant thoughts about being gored to death on YouTube. Then BANG…. The bulls had been released. The crowd and the runners let out a huge cheer, and everyone starts to commence their run. It was a pandemonium I had never felt or witnessed before, our plan was to run together but almost instantly when the bulls were released we had all lost each other in the jungle of people. I was running past Town Hall and towards “dead man’s corner” and was thinking “please don’t catch me now”, I got past the corner and then the spectators on the balcony started to make one hell of a roar. I knew the bulls were close. The streets were so narrow there was literally know where to hide. I looked around and seen that the bulls were 4 or 5 wide and taken up the width of the street. I thought f#ck this has not gone to plan at all. On the side I was running there was a small shop front so I quickly managed to get into that opening with other equally shit scared people as the bulls rushed past us. It was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life. It was all a blur and I didn’t manage to count how many bulls had gone past me out of the 6 that were released. Everyone was shouting there was still 1 more to come so I left my little nook and picked up the pace and got myself close to the bull ring. Just as I was about 100m away the second set of steers run past me (these are used to guide any stray bulls to the arena and are not considered a threat). Once these steers enter the arena the race is officially finished and they shut the gates to the arena. I started sprinting to keep up to these for the last few metres and managed to get into the arena when they are entering.

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Running of the bulls

Inside the arena is a buzz of excitement, everyone is just looking for their friends and trying to calm themselves down from the events that just took place. I managed to find one of the blokes I was travelling with and few of our tour group members. We relive the race again and get to watch it on the big screen TV in the arena. After that they release some smaller steers into the arena and people can try and slap the steer on the rear end. We didn’t engage in this and decided to watch from the arena fence. Once this had finished we left the arena and found our other mates at a bar on the walk back to our hostel. Much to their disappointment, they had not managed to make it to the arena on time before it closed.

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That night, as you can imagine by now, was another big street party where everyone celebrated and shared stories of how they run or survived the race. It was a great trip and the feeling of running with the bulls will stay with me for years to come. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever participate in again but I would certainly go along again and watch the race and enjoy the street parties and overall buzz of the city during this time. After all, the Spanish are famous for being able to hold a good street party and with good reason too.

The next morning we left Pamplona and the running of the bulls festival, we made our way to Madrid airport and continued our trip by heading to Ibiza. Stay tuned and I might let you in on that part of the trip soon.

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San Fermin Spain
San Fermin Spain

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