DOWNEY – Since leaving New York three weeks ago I’ve been on the go from Lisbon, to Lagos and Barcelona. After spending two relaxing days in San Sebastian, a beautiful coastal city in Northern Spain, I hopped on a bus to my next destination. An hour later I woke up in Pamplona, a picturesque town in Basque country Spain, with a stunning backdrop of the Pyrenees mountains. Every year approximately 1 million people from all over the world flock to Pamplona to attend the world famous San Fermin, known better as “Running of the Bulls”. The festival takes place every year from July 6-14 in honor of the patron saint the festival is named after. These days the celebration is less about religious beliefs and more about the parties that fill the small medieval streets and plazas of Pamplona’s city center.
On the first day of the festival, I woke up, put on the traditional San Fermin clothing of all white topped off with a red scarf and caught the bus into town. In less than 10 minutes I had gone from a quiet neighborhood in Pamplona to streets bombarded with Spaniards and foreigners all dressed in the same attire as me. As I approached the plaza my friends and I decided on as a meeting point, the space between myself and the next person became smaller and smaller. Soon everyone was inevitably shoulder to shoulder and I found myself having to push through the crowd just to keep myself from getting shoved backwards.
Eventually I found my friends and we quickly poured sangria into our botas, the traditional Spanish bags made of leather typically used to carry wine. We counted down until noon when a firework sets off to signify the start of the nine-day festival while champagne and sangria is sprayed amongst onlookers. Everyone in the crowd bursts with excitement chanting “Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!” while spraying each other with sangria filled botas hanging from their necks. It only takes seconds for sangria chaos and everyone’s fresh white clothes have been stained a purplish red.
The crowd finally settles after about 10 minutes and thousands of people simultaneously crowd the countless small bars that line the labyrinth of streets. At any given moment there is something to observe. From the marching bands playing in the streets, the bass so deep you can feel it vibrate through your body, to the bars that are blaring traditional Spanish music as people drink and dance the night away. The ambitious partiers are the ones who believe they can last all night until 8 a.m. the next morning when the first of seven bull runs is kicked off. I knew that if I managed to stay out, by the time 8 a.m. came around I would be too exhausted to keep my eyes open to witness the running and decided to head home instead.
The next morning, now the second day of the festival, we woke up early to make sure we reserved a good view for the run. Even though the bull run doesn’t actually start until 8 a.m., many people arrive by 7 to get the best views along the 1 kilometer route. We arrived and managed to find an opening towards the end of the running route, right before the bulls enter the Plaze de Toros where the run is finalized.
Promptly at 8 a.m. the first rocket was shot, alerting the runners the corral gate was open. At this point cheers could be heard echoing through the streets as everyone anticipated the runners. Then, a second rocket was shot signaling that all six bulls had been released into the street and en route to the bull ring as long as they managed to get through the crowd of people. My heart was pounding as I witnessed people running through the streets with the bulls. Some runners were brave enough to touch the bulls and some people were even more brazen, waiting for the bulls to come within feet before jumping in front of them and then running. In less than five minutes it was all over. All six bulls made it to the bull ring and another rocket was shot marking the end of the event.
At this particular run only one person was gored in the thigh but survived and three others escaped with minor injuries and fractures. The bull runs continue for the next six days and very often people get more and more brave after watching the first run. On my last day in Pamplona one person was gored in the chest after a bull was separated from the pack and started charging runners on both sides. While the run is a popular tourist attraction, few people understand the risk and the unpredictability of these animals.
When I mentioned to friends that I would be attending the Running of the Bulls festival I was asked countless times if I would run. Initially I thought I would have the courage to do it but I later decided not to run. I based my decision on two things: 1. If something were to happen whether it be a fall, or get stuck in a human pile up (the worst pile up was in 2013) would I be strong enough and quick enough to get myself out of that situation? Standing at only 5’3 on a good day, it would probably be quite difficult for me to push grown men out of my way, let alone grown men who are also trying to protect themselves from 1,200-pound bulls. 2. If something were to happen to me, is it worth missing the rest of my trip and giving my parents heart attacks? Probably not.
A part of me wishes that I ran just for the sake of my ego but I’m content with my decision. I know this won’t be the last time I attend the San Fermin festival and at least I can spare my parents the worry for one more year.
On to my next destination...
Nicole Hale is a Downey resident and journalism major at Cal State Dominguez Hills. She will be documenting her summer travels with occasional stories in the Patriot.
Published: July 17, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 14