Encierro de Toros: "The Running of the Bulls"
The San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain is perhaps most famous for the Running of the Bulls which takes place from the 7th of July until the 14th every year. The San Fermin festival originated as a religious celebration of the Patron Saint of the Navarra region. The festival's religious aspects have been diluted over the years and the festival has become an attraction for people across the globe.
Every year, on July 6th, the San Fermin Festival begins at noon in front of town hall in the old quarter of town. Before noon the streets fill with people, and the excitement builds to a climax, when a fire cracker explodes and the celebration begins. The crowd erupts with people uncorking and spraying champagne into the air. The party in the street continues long into the festival.
My experience of San Fermin was nothing short of epic. From the long 22 hour non-stop bus ride from London, to the parties and the Bull Run; San Fermin is an experience that I won't be forgetting any time soon. Although, some might wonder how epic a 22 hour bus ride could be, the entire trip was what backpacker' live for.
The experience wouldn't have been as memorable had we stayed in a nice hotel - instead we opted for a campsite packed with excited travelers. Or if we hadn't spend 22 hours drinking on a bus from London. If it's adventure that you seek, then THIS is something worth planning your trip for or around. It really is that good!
The Running of the Bulls
The event originated because the bulls needed to be transferred from the outside of town to the bull ring, where they were sacrificed in bull fights during the San Fermin festival. People began to run with the herd, to direct them into the bull ring, and over the years it has evolved into what we see today.
Encierro de Toros or "Running of the Bulls" takes place at 8:00 every morning from July 7th - 14th. Arrive early and enter the street through the designated gates, don't climb fences. The Bull Run is a total of about 800 meters (half a mile), from the start of the bull pen on Santo Domingo Street, to the bull ring inside the arena.
Participants can begin from several spots along the street, some of which are more dangerous than others. Close to the bull pen, on Santo Domingo Street, and at the 90 degree turn at "Dead Man's Corner," are both very dangerous. The bulls burst out of the pen with much greater speed coming up the first hill on Santo Domingo Street, and at "Dead Man's Corner," many people are trampled as bulls slide into the sharp turn.
Participating in the Bull Run
There was a great feeling of anticipation in my stomach as my friends and I waited on the fenced off street in front of the town hall. We were shoulder to shoulder with the other participants; a mix of locals and tourists. The wait seemed endless as we listened to rumors of the rising death count, from the previous runs that week. In the final minutes before 8 o'clock, the anticipation turned to fearful excitement.
BANG! The firecracker exploded and I felt a surge of adrenaline, knowing that the herd of about fourteen, 1300-pound bulls were on their way. In a state of chaos my friends and I separated. It was terrifying not knowing how near or far away the bulls actually were, the streets were so crowded with runners it was nearly impossible to look behind and still running around others. The only indication that they were near was the sound of hoofs on the cobblestone.
Without warning they were right behind me. Never have I sworn so much in my entire life as the bulls ran past me, just an arms length away. A slight feeling of relief was followed by a feeling of more fear, when I remembered that I had to run another 500 meters to the arena before the next herd of bulls were released. Once the last bull runs into the arena, the doors are closed and no one else can enter the ring.
I have never ran so hard and so fast as I did that day, every step my legs burned and my lungs ached as I ran toward the arena literally pushing past people. I was determined to make it into the arena before it was closed. When I made it into the arena before the next herd and found my friend Rick, I felt very relieved, I was absolutely wide eyed and grateful to see my friend and I were both uninjured.
The Risks of the Bull Run
Although many people have finished the runs uninjured it is important to understand the risks involved with the event. Death or serious injury is a reality and respectful behavior to police, paramedics and other participants is expected. Police especially do not tolerate any disrespect or unruly behavior. There have been a total of 14 deaths since 1910, and many injuries from being trampled or impaled by the bulls.
The Running of the Bulls although it can be dangerous was one of the best and most exciting experiences I have ever had. I personally rank it above bungee jumping or even sky diving, both of which I have done. By understanding the risks, people can minimize the chance of being injured or killed and have a very memorable experience. And if running with the bulls is not your idea of fun, watching from the street or the arena is a safe way to experience San Fermin.
Treatment of Bulls at Festivals (Editor's Note)
According to the Facebook Group, STOP the Abuse and the Torture of BULLS!, Bulls all over the world are subjected to horrendous torment, torture and abuse prior to a brutal death, in various festivals and events. You may wish to visit their site for find out more information before deciding to participate in the San Fermin festival.