Hey good people, long time no blog. I apologize for the delay. Do I have a story for you!
I have run with the bulls in Spain! No shit. This is definitely one of the stupidest things I have done (which is saying something).
The festival is called San Fermin, better known as the Running of the Bulls. It takes place in Pamplona, Spain. It is a week-long festival where the bulls run every morning. I showed up the second-to-last morning to watch the bull run and see what I was in for. At 8am a herd of bulls is let out of a pen in the city. The bulls run down a course through the city. If you are crazy or stupid (preferably both) you get in the course and attempt to run along side the bulls.
On this morning, I watched it from a balcony. What is clear is the nervous tension amongst the runners before the run. Some guys chat to each other. Some are quietly contemplating what is coming. Others stretch, which I really thought was ridiculous. When an enraged bull is chasing you down, is that little bit of stretching you did 2 minutes before really going to help you any? I didn’t think so.
All in all, it didn’t look too bad from 5 storeys up. The next day I would learn things are a lot different when you are between the fences.
I got an experienced bull runner, named Bill, to walk me through the course that afternoon and give me some tips. My first clue that something was amiss was that I was the only guy on the walk-through. The other tourists who were supposed to be there had changed their minds and decided not to run. Bill explained it was because the bulls that run every year on the last day are the biggest, fastest, nastiest bulls, and each year they are responsible for many gorings. One year they inflicted 40 gorings in one day. They are the Jandilla bulls, and they are the most dangerous at the festival.
Well, isn’t that just great. The conversation continued like this:
Bill: “Now, since tomorrow the Jandilla bulls are running, and you’ve never done this before, I strongly recommend that you do NOT run. But, since tomorrow is the last day, you probably want to run, don’t you?”
Me: “Well, I’ve come a long way. I’m going to run come hell or high water.”
Bill: “OK, I want you to stand right here on this street, on the left side. 9 times out of 10, the bulls will run as a herd right up the middle, and you will be fine.”
I noticed the spot he had suggested had no doorways, fences, or anywhere ele to hide. It was just a solid wall that stretched for 40 metres.
Me: “Uh, what happens if the bulls are running up the left side of the road?”
Bill: “Survival instincts. You need to do whatever you have to to survive. Frankly, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to dive to the ground and cover your head with your hands. You may get trampled on and break some ribs, but it is better than a horn up your ass.”
This is going well, isn’t it? Did I mention my medical insurance specifically excludes running with the bulls?
Me: “What happens if one bull gets separated from the herd right here?”
Bill: “That bull is going to look around for something to kill. Don’t lay down or try to hide. You see that fence 40 metres down the street? Run for it like it’s the last thing you do. Slide under the fence like you are sliding into home base. There will be a medical team on the other side that will help pull you under.”
Jesus! The plot thickens! … What have I got myself into??
Ok, that night, I tried to stay sober, I really did. Honestly. But, this fiesta is the best street party on the planet. People flood the streets to dance, sing, drink too much and generally partake in all kinds of tom-foolery. I can’t stand to miss a good party, so I obviously partook… a little too much.
I awoke the next morning with a seriuos hangover and a splitting headache. Nice job, Shawn, you idiot. Around 7:30am I went into the bull course, found the place Bill told me to go.
I noticed that as we awaited our fate all the runners were chatting to their friends or family, giving each other last minute words of encouragement or bits of advice. They were hugging and wishing each other luck. I was alone. I started stretching…
I pretty much held things together until the first rocket went off. That meant the door of the bull pen was open. I then realized that I have gotten myself into something quite serious, I couldn’t back out of it. I waited.
The second rocket goes off. Dozens of people start running by me. Chaos and mass panic ensues. As Bill advised me, I stood by ground. This was of of the hardest things I have ever done. People are running and yelling like lunatics. I wait until the bulls are closer, closer, closer… and then run my ass off!
Instead of trying to explain it to you, I invite you to listen. I had a voice recorder on me. Click here, then on the image with small music note, and open the file with your computer’s favourite audio player. Crank up the volume, close your eyes, pretend you are beside me, as the bulls are coming…
Just like that, the whole thing was over. The bulls blew by me. I didn’t so much run with the bulls, it was more like the bulls passed me. I was scared out of my tree and high on adrenaline. In a way, it was awesome. I survived the whole thing unscathed. Others were not so lucky. Down the course a bull got separated from the herd and gored four people:
(pic from http://www.SanFerminEncierro.com)
A couple of guys got gored in the thorax and groin. They were in serious condition in the hospital when I left the festival. I hope they pulled through. Every year a few people die at this festival, one way or another. (Not always from a bull — sometimes they just get drunk and fall/jump off of high things). People are sometimes surprised by this. I’m surprised it’s not more.
The good people at SanFerminEncierro.com shot this video of the run. I tried to find myself, but I am wearing the same clothers as everybody else, making it impossible. At the 1-minute mark of the video, I am somewhere along the far wall. (Note how there is nowhere to hide along there.)
So, I have run with the bulls and survived. I will tell this story until I am old and grey. I will always the remember the sound of hooves chasing me down…
I have whipped up a photo album of the highlights of Spain, Andorra and Portugal. Check it out.
Since this time, I have spent a great few weeks in Britain and Ireland, which I will tell you about some time. Right now I’m in Brussels doing a survey of its finest beers. Somebody’s gotta do it.