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Tonielle's European Adventure "It's always better on holiday, so much better on holiday. That's why we only work when... we need the money." - Franz Ferdinand

Running with the bulls - really!

SPAIN | Sunday, 12 July 2009 | Views [2266] | Comments [2]

From Madrid to San Sebastian was an early train, but the first travel day without dramas! Who would have thought that was possible in Spain? I arrived in San Sebastian looking forward to the beach – but the whole time I was there, it was cloudy and rainy… typical when they have the best beach I’ve seen in Spain! I decided instead to go for a wander around old town, and ended up doing a four hour walk around the headland and up the mountain in town to visit the biggest Jesus I’ve ever seen! I was getting high from breathing in the salty air and walking through trees - the most greenery I’ve seen in a while… it was really nice.

Afterwards, I retreated to my hostel and started meeting my fellow Fanatics… 90% of which were Australian… it was the most Aussie accents I’ve heard since I’ve left, but it was kinda nice, no effort required. That evening, we all met in the hostel for a briefing and the first thing Shano said, one of the leaders, was “Ok, first things first, we need to get you all alcohol, you all need to be wasted for the opening ceremony tomorrow”.  Haha… I definitely knew I was on an Aussie tour group when he said that!

That night (and every night after) was tapas and sangria at a few of the local bars. The bunch of people I was with were fantastic and we had so much fun. There were 30 in our hostel, 30 in a second hostel and 60 camping in San Sebastian (an hour outside of Pamplona) and then a huge amount camping in Pamplona – there were about 1500 Fanatics all up I think.

The next morning – the Opening Ceremony of the San Fermin festival. We were up by 6am, and on the bus, huge bottles of sangria being passed around already! We were all decked out in our whites – tour shirts, white pants, and our red scarves tied around our arms. We were in Pamplona by 7.30am, and got more alcohol – I was carrying a bottle of champagne and a bottle of sangria just for myself. The atmosphere in town was infectious… the biggest party I’ve ever been to (and apparently the second biggest in the world, behind the Carnivale in Rio). By 10am, a small group of us made our way into the small square in front of the town hall – where the party was at! It didn’t take long before our white’s were no longer white and we were dripping with sangria! Most of the sangria bought is to go on others, and it didn’t take long before we were yelling “too clean, too clean” to passers by in white shirts and throwing sangria on them! Plenty of it got in the mouth though, it was definitely the earliest I’ve ever been pissed before! The most fun I’ve ever had… the crowd was screaming and yelling “Olay, Olay” dancing and throwing sangria. Apparently, its custom to bring flour and eggs into the square to throw also, but the police were on the side streets checking everyone’s bags as they walked in and confiscating it… which I’m so glad for… the sangria was fun, but eggs and flour would have been nasty!

By 11.30, the square was absolutely packed, the craziest mosh-pit I’ve ever been in. Our small group got split up, and as it got closer to 12, we were slowly getting dragged further and further into the centre, which wasn’t good. I ended up with a few of the crew from the San Seb. campsite, and two of the smaller girls almost got dragged under a couple of times, we had to pull them back up. I ended up with this guy in a Fanatics shirt, and we were pretty much holding onto each other for dear life. It was a couple of minutes of being the closest to anyone I’ve ever been to in my life before we introduced ourselves… Dom saved me in that square! And then he lost his shoe! It got pulled off by the crowd, and he was trying to hop along without it – the ground was covered in glass, my ankles got all cut up and I still had my shoes on!

When 12pm came, the rocket went off, and everyone got their red scarves and held them into the air facing the town hall and chanted “San Fermin, San Fermin”. I was so squashed that I couldn’t even move my arms to try to undo the knot on mine that I’d tied around my arm. Eventually Dom and I got ours undone and raised ours up… a few minutes after everyone else! That was what signaled the start of the fiesta, and everyone now wore them around their necks for the week. I was still somehow holding onto my champagne bottle, and shook it up into the crowd, and got about three mouthfuls! Eventually the crowd moved and we had space again, and this guy came up to Dom and said, “is this your shoe?”… it was his exact one! We couldn’t believe it! So then we started collecting the shoes we found on the ground and holding them up for people to see, and we reunited one girl with hers!

I ended up back with my group and we made our way to a bar on the hill called the White Horse… where parts are quite blurry! There was still a lot of sangria going around, and I remember at one point, one of the girls from our group was sitting on a chair outside of the low wall that surrounded the bar, and this Spanish guy came up to her and started pulling the chair out from underneath her, yelling at her in Spanish. She was holding onto it, yelling back at him (we knew he didn’t work there) and he ended up punching her! We couldn’t believe it… that’s when the boys got involved and he left, but it was all quite messy. Bec (another girl from the hostel) and I also went to pee along a wall at some point also… I’m quite glad I don’t remember all the details of that bit! Haha.

That afternoon, Hughsy (the other tour leader) took a group of us around and we walked the bull run, he pointed all the trouble bits out and explained different parts. By the time we got on the bus, it was 5pm, and we were all trashed and exhausted. I think we all passed out on the bus back, and we didn’t have a big one that night – that shower was the best one I’ve ever had though!

The first day of the bull runs! We were all up and on the bus by 4.30am, and got into town by 6. There were a few people who were running that morning, so they left and the rest of us all went over to the arena where the run ended. Now a few notes on the bull run for you…

• The legend goes there was a bull herder that one day had a few too many sangria’s and ended up being dragged through town by a couple of bulls, killing him – San Fermin – he is now considered something of a saint, and is the reason why the running of the bulls came about, its also said that they used to have to move the bulls through the town to get to the bull fighting arena, and the youths of the town would race through them.
• The bulls are sacred animals. While running, you aren’t allowed to touch the bull (especially the horns), this is why all the runners carry a newspaper, because that is what you can touch them with – you can be fined or beat up by locals if you touch the bulls – especially in the arena where they can get a good group into you!
• There are two types of bulls that run – 6 bulls and 6 oxen. The bulls are generally black, are scared out of their minds and are the aggressive ones that attack people that are in the way. If they get separated from the pack, they become dangerous. This is the first and only time that they run the track. The oxen are castrated bulls and are the grey coloured ones. They are a bit bigger, and have run the course for years, so they are there to guide the bulls through the track. They aren’t dangerous unless you are in their way, because they’ll run over you.
• At the beginning of the run, the local hardcore runners will crowd around the start of the track where there is a statue of San Fermin. They chant and pray for a good clean run.
• A good clean run is when all the bulls stick together in the pack, and they run straight through. Generally this is when there are few injuries, and the run only takes about 1.5/2 minutes.
• At 8am, a rocket will go off signaling the bulls being released from the pen, then another will go off when they are all out of the pen and on the track. They will race through the track, everyone running with them, until they reach the arena, where they are hearded into another pen. When all the bulls are returned, another rocket will go off to signal the end of the run. Another three oxen will also be on the track, to make sure all the bulls are through, and they are the last to finish. After they go through, the gates to the arena are closed.
• Dead mans corner is the most dangerous part of the track. It is a sharp corner that all the bulls lose their footing on, and hit the outside wall – so you always want to be on the right hand side of that corner!
• The run ends up in the arena. You don’t want to arrive at the arena before the bulls because that means you’re a coward and you get booed and things thrown at you. But you also don’t want to be too much later because they shut the gates after the last three oxen come through.
• Only 15 people have ever been killed in the race since records were started in the 1920’s

So we got seats in the arena, and as it got closer to 8am, the crowd was going crazy. There were some men behind us that I think were still drunk from the night before, and we heckling us with “Yankie” and “Blondie, Pretty”… eventually they threw a cup of sangria onto us, hitting four of us. I was in my dirty whites from the day before, so that didn’t matter, it was so cold though… yeah it was fun yesterday, but not today! People that were running started entering the arena before the rocket even went off… the bulls hadn’t even entered the track yet, so naturally they got booed and had things thrown at them. 8am came and the rocket went off! They had screens in the arena, so you could watch the run. A few people got hurt, but it was one of the cleanest and fastest runs in history! It only took about 1.5minutes and it was all over.

When the first oxen entered the arena though, it ploughed into a runner – he was out cold! What had happened was, when he entered the arena, he started to run to the left, then changed his mind, and as he was running right, someone ankle-tapped him, and he went flying. As he was getting up, the first oxen came through the gate and ploughed into him, knocking him out cold. The huge group of bulls then came through, and we were all cringing thinking he’d be trampled for sure, but somehow they just missed him. Someone then grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him to the side. Apparently he was taken to hospital, but was ok.

That was when the real fun started. With everyone in the ring, they would release a baby bull into the crowd with its horns corked (so it couldn’t do too much damage) and they would have a play. It was hilarious! Most people were just running out of the way, but some were taunting it and trying to get close enough to tap it on the ass (with the newspaper of course!). When the bull had had enough, they would herd it back in with an oxen, and then another one would come out – six in all. It was like gladiators, except no one got seriously hurt. One guy got hit pretty bad though, he was in a Fanatics shirt too. He was hit by the bull straight in the chest and fell back and didn’t get up. A few people grabbed him and pulled him over the fence, and when he was on the stretcher, we saw him convulsing! We were all freaking out, wondering who it was… turned out he was from the Pamplona campsite, and he was ok, but they took him to the hospital anyway.

And after that, its all over… and its only 8.30am! The rest of that morning, we walked through town, listened to the stories from the runners and checked out the photos taken from that morning, back on the bus by 11am. Nothing much exciting for the rest of the day, just siestas, and chilling out. We all went out that night, and most of them had a big one, but a few of us went home by 11.30… knowing we’d have to get back up at 4am again the next morning.

I hadn’t decided I was gunna run until that morning. It was interesting how it happened because I’d planned to come to this months earlier (it was the first thing I booked for my trip) and whenever I told people I was going, their first question was “are you running?” and I was like, hell no… I don’t have a death wish… I’ll be quite happy spectating. But then you get there, and I somehow decided that I could do it, and I would really regret it if I left and I didn’t.

So that morning, I headed out with the runners to the track at 6am, we started at the town square (where we’d had the opening ceremony), which was about 1/3 of the way down the track, just before “dead mans corner”. There were about 8 girls from our group that were running, so Shano ran with us (even though he’d run for his second time yesterday). Something we were worried about was getting bad attention from the Spanish guys or the police taking a big group of girls out of the track, so I bought a hat from the hostel and tucked my hair under that. The guys that ran the first day said it was a lot more packed, and by 7.30am, we could hardly move.

At 10 to 8 though, the police opened up the barricade that held everyone in the square, and about 300 people moved through… and were subsequently ushered off the track. We knew better though, and stayed put, so with five minutes to go, there was room to move again. Everyone was quite nervous by this point (I’m feeling nervous again just writing about it), the nervous energy was crazy, everyone chanting, clapping, singing, everyone watching the clock.

8am, the first rocket goes off – all the girls ran for it (the boys were to stay there for about 20 seconds before they ran). Luckily Shano was wearing a bright yellow headband, so he was easy enough to follow through the crowd. Already everyone was pushing, and I was definitely doing my fair share also. It took a long time before the second rocket went off… and that made me more panicked – did that mean they were all spread out, what had happened? We passed “dead mans corner” and the started bolting up the street. I kept running until I saw a good gap in the crowd beside a wall, so I stopped and about 3 seconds later, the group of bulls ran past. I can’t even try to explain to you what that felt like… there was only one man in front of me and those bulls, were so big and they were going so fast!
After they had run past, I got a move on again, but still looking behind me, because there was no way to count how many had passed, so we didn’t know if they had separated or not. I don’t think I will ever see that many men’s panicked faces again in all my life. So many people were jogging up the hill, and I was like “stuff that”! I sprinted like I’ve never sprinted before, pushing people out of the way, trying to make it up to the arena (there was no way I was getting locked out!). I was on the home straight heading into the arena when the three end oxen passed me, and then I was through! Omg, again, I can’t explain it to you, but I’d really like to know what my heart rate was up to, because it was pounding out of my chest. I couldn’t remember how long they waited till they started bringing the baby bulls in, so I was running through the crowd, trying to find my mates, hugging the edge of the ring. Eventually I found a couple of them, and I found a spot on the fence – there was no way I was playing with any bulls, I’d had enough fun for one day.

I started to feel really sick from all the adrenalin pumping through my body, and when the first bull came out, it didn’t take long before I’d jumped the fence and stood on the outside. A few times the bull came close to where we were standing, and everyone tried to jump the fence where I was… but it wasn’t until the fourth bull that it got hairy. A bull decided to run for the fence where we were standing, and actually rammed one of the guys that was standing right in front of me.

From the seats, you could see quite clearly where the bull was, and watch the sea of people part when it came close, but being down on ground level, most of the time you could tell about what part it was in, but you had no idea until it was almost on top of you. The day I ran, there were a lot more people, too many people, so it made the arena not as fun. By the time that was over, it felt like a whole day had gone by and it was only 8.30am! It was only after I found some breakfast that my body had started to settle back down, and I didn’t feel so sick anymore. We checked out the photos, but I couldn’t see myself in any of them… and then we headed back to the bus.

Running with the bulls… I can’t believe I did it. I picked a really good day to do it on too, it took just over two minutes and there were only three people that were injured. The bulls did separate a little, but that was further down the track, after they had passed me, which was good. Doing the run, I got a little nervous in the 5minutes beforehand, but it wasn’t too bad. When I started running, that’s when it was basically sheer panic… trying to run as fast as you can, while looking back waiting for the bulls, pushing people out of the way, but trying to keep your footing so you didn’t get pulled under. It took about an hour before the adrenalin and my heart rate had started to go down, and then I was on the biggest high for the rest of the day. I didn’t get any footage (the police kick you out if they see you with a camera), but I’ve found the video of my run online, and a few of the group have photos of me, so when I collect them, I’ll put them up.

I was so lucky that I didn’t get hurt, and I’m so glad I did it and experienced probably the craziest thing I’ll ever do in my life!

As a side note, on day four (yesterday) a man was killed doing the run. One of the bulls got separated and panicked, goring a Spanish man while he was trying to escape under the fence. The horn got his throat, and he died almost instantly. The footage is horrifying… and is a definite reminder that it isn’t a game. His is the first death by goring since 1995 (another man was trampled in 2003 and died in a coma months later), and the 16th death that’s been recorded since the 1920’s.

Well I can definitely say I’ve got balls now!


photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2021020&id=219300161&l=c324a3fbe5

running of the bulls 8th july (the day i ran) video: http://esp.kukuxumusu.tv/html/index.php?lang=eng&idv=1210

Tags: fanatics, pamplona, running of the bulls, san fermin, san sebastian, sangria



Hey tonielle_krisanski,

We really liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others could enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Jul 14, 2009 9:54 AM


Hey hun,
That was an awesome story!! Can't believe you actually did it, what an amazing experience. Wish I could have been there. Ya giving me heaps of places I gotta check out while am over there next year.

Look forward to the next installment. Speak soon. Miss ya heaps...xo

  Natalie Jul 16, 2009 11:39 AM

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