Running With the Bulls-An Adventure-Up the next day and getting ready to visit Pamplona for the first time. Today is the opening ceremonies for San Fermin, that is the true reason we are here. The running is a sideline to a festival held in honor of the patron saint of the region know as Navarre. Over 1 million people visit Pamplona each year for the festival and the running.
Our whole group was led up one side street to the main city square by our guide Pete. We get a great place to stop and visit while waiting for the ceremony to actually begin. Not really that much to see or do at this time, other than watch the people and hit a few beach balls into the air. When the rockets that signal the festival’s opening are lit, that is when everyone starts spraying each other with wine or sangria. Note from Laurel: Several young men from our group huddled around me, protecting me from the sprays. (Chivalry is not dead!)
Next on the agenda, after the opening, is the Mussel Bar. This is a statue in the center of 3 roads that merge into a circle built around a monument. Each year Aussies, New Zealanders, and South Africans head straight there after the opening to climb to the top and dive off hoping to be caught by their comrades at the bottom. Both men and women make the dive, which actually leads to more injuries than all of the bull runs combined. The Mussel Bar will be the meeting and drinking ground for this group as long as they are in Pamplona — gathering there to party, sing and drink sangria each evening. Throughout the day and each evening of the festival people will climb the 20-foot tall statue to make their leap of faith. A little out of my comfort zone but I am not from the three countries mentioned earlier so that is not a “Bucket List” item for me.
My ‘thing’ is to take place the following morning, I board our bus at the campground and get ready for the reason I came here, “To Run With the Bulls”. I am not sure why I came all these thousands of miles to do this, it is just something that I have wanted to do my entire life.
Running with the bulls is not quite as dangerous as reputed, although a number of people are hurt and sometimes killed doing it, but for the most part, your chances of injury vs the number of runners is actually quite low. The night before each run 8 to 10 bulls that have been raised on a mountain top from fighting stock are brought into the city and put in a pen at the bottom of the hill. The trick is, there are also about a dozen domesticated cows put into the pen with them, and they have made this run for a number of years. The females know that as soon as the gate flies open they run up the hill to the bull fight arena. Then they will be fed and taken back to their barn. The wild fighting bulls in the pen with them, for the most part, will follow and run along with them without any mishap other than knocking the occasional runner down. Once in the arena, they will be taken to a separate barn to get ready for the evening bull fights where they will meet their road’s end.
Running with the bulls is made up of three distinct parts. A long run of perhaps half a mile straight up the street. Then the second part, which is where almost all of the problems occur. The street here makes a 45 degree left-hand turn then straight for 50 yards and another 45-degree turn to go up the hill for another half mile and into the arena. The cobblestone streets in those two turns sometimes cause one of the bulls to fall and become separated from the herd cows and that is when the incidents almost always happen. While running with the pack they are usually quite docile but when the are alone, they become the fighting bull they were raised to be.
I knew that at my age if I was to get to the arena before the bulls and the closing of the gates, I would have to cheat a little, so, I made my start just past the second 45-degree right-hand turn. I was up the hill and into the arena as the bulls arrived.
While running up the hill, as a bull approaches, the bystanders on the balconies are yelling “Toro, Toro, Toro” and at that point you know that a bull or bulls are getting close. At that point, the excitement is almost overwhelming. I know that I am 64 years old now but one more run is still inside me. We are both working hard at losing weight and getting in better shape for Mt. Kilimanjaro and I think that this time, this should be a family affair with Laurel and I meeting at the arena.
Remember when you are running with the bulls, about the two 45 degree turns when you make your run and plan your strategy with those in mind.