Bovine Madness – Pamplona, Spain

Bovine Madness
Pamplona, Spain

What an insane three days it had been. Felt more like a week. Two friends and I flew from the dull grey landscapes of London to the greenery of Biarritz, Southern France. We quickly drove down to camp in Lekunberri, Spain then caught the bus into Pamplona where the action was.

A whole town partaking in a party

A whole town partaking in a party like you’ve never seen before.

Upon arriving in Pamplona it was an amazing sight. People in every direction possible, on the streets and up in the balconies, all dressed in white and red, music, singing, dancing, and drinking. A whole town in celebration of San Fermin (or ‘the running of the bulls’), a tradition carried on through the centuries, which continues to be proudly celebrated by the locals and an attraction for travellers and tourists alike. This was a party that everyone came to celebrate � from young drinkers, to older citizens, to entire families.

The Town Square was filled with countless people waving red scarves awaiting the start of the nine day festival, which begins with a single rocket being fired high into the sky. As it explodes, so does the crowd creating a artificial rain of wine, champagne, flour, chocolate, eggs and other substances. This was the opening ceremony, and was the introduction to the rest of our weekend. We quickly wandered around, located the nearest bar and started drinking with the others from our campsite. Not being a tourist town, hardly any older people speak English at all (or pretend not to). This is not normally a problem for me except they were the ones serving the drinks. After a few attempts, a combination of nods, finger counting and magic words like “Sangria” and “Smirnoff” saw me on my way to a drunken night.

From then on the hours fly by. A little too quickly as midnight loomed and so did the chance to catch the final bus. We all rushed back to the bus stop, but I became separated from everyone else, along with two others, to only realise that we were lost. We didn’t know where the bus was but knew the way back to the party. So rather than worry, we simply headed back to the Town Square where there the bands were playing and danced and drank until 2am or so before slowly disbanding.

Cheap accommodation

Cheap accommodation down this way. Bring a blanket though cos it ain’t warm.

Feeling shattered from the day’s events, I tried to nap on a bench in among the madness, figuring I would be safe. Woke up 15 minutes later, freezing cold (Weekend sleep total: 15m). When people think of Spain, they think of a ‘nice, warm country’. Perhaps during the day it is but at night it’s best to keep yourself occupied with drinking and dancing so you don’t realise how cold it is. So to solve this, I went to a bar, got a drink and danced with the locals until 6am. Then off to find a spot on the rails for the first bull run.

After two hours of waiting, the run was on. I had a good enough view, and saw all the people run down to where I was (safely behind the rails). The bulls weren’t running yet so the people just stopped and waited. Then two bangs sounded in the distance and the bulls were loose. When the bulls came along people just scattered like mad, throwing each other down to avoid them. From the replay I saw later, no-where is safe, they will run straight then suddenly turn and attack someone beside them. So it’s best to keep running. The bulls chased the runners through a maze of streets, then into the bullring for the waiting crowds.

Glad I'm on this side of the fence

Glad I’m on this side of the fence.

Afterward the pursuit had commenced, I looked to my left and saw one guy on the ground shaking under a blanket, with four medics around him to attend to the gored thigh which he had. Not cool. Makes you realise how insane it really is. After that I made it back to camp (caught the bus this time), and started swapping stories with those from the night before. Many rumours about people dying had started to spread, but turned out to be false. The last fatality was actually back in 1995.

Many people from the campsite had taken part in the run, quite obvious – as they were still literally shaking and a big look of relief upon their faces. Although it was the most intense moments of their lives, they advised everyone against running with the bulls. I did consider doing the run before the trip, but after being a live spectator, and witnessing the gored runner who wasn’t too happy, I decided maybe not this time round! Some advice, if you are mad enough to run and happen to fall down, stay down. The bulls will jump you as they would a large rock or tree stump. If you stand up, they won’t think twice about hitting you.

After a refreshing shower at camp, we headed to the beach at San Sebastian for the day allowing me to catch up on about an hour’s sleep (Weekend sleep total: 1hr 15m). As the warmth of the sun faded, our energy was revived and we headed back into Pamps for more Sangria, dancing, an awesome fireworks display and an encounter with pickpockets. Being in a party atmosphere all day, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and forget about the few naughty people that still lurk around. They tried the good old distraction technique but I realised and smacked the hand away that was fidgeting at the buttoned pocket containing my camera. This time I made the buses back to camp, but continued to stay up into the early hours (Weekend sleep total: 3hrs 15m). At 5am, people came around literally banging pots and pans so we could all make it to town on time. Not the most pleasant sound at that time of day.

Today we headed to the bullring. A quick negotiation with a ticket scalper saw us entering the bullring. Once the entrants emerge into the ring, the bulls head for the exit on the other side while the runners are trapped in the middle. Chaos ensues as the bulls run around chasing people. Some try to climb out (the people not the bulls), but the guards just force them back. If you run with the bulls, be prepared for a full commitment. The matadors lead the bulls out to the pens, and once it’s all cleared the crowd erupts into a loud applause.

Coming through, coming through, move aside please!!

Coming through, coming through, move aside please!!

But wait, there’s more. Everyone moves to sit by the gate leading to the bull pens, quietly waiting. The gate opens, everyone still waits…then suddenly people scatter as the bull literally jumps out into the waiting crowd. Basically a year old bull with clipped horns (less lethal), but completely mad, bowling people over as they tease it, running rounds everywhere. Then another bull with a bell round its neck is released to cause confusion in the ring. The limitations of the English language make it hard to describe how insane all this was. The crowd simply watches in astonishment as you see people tumbling along the ground after colliding with the bull.

This went on for many rounds, and then the bulls are chased out. Everyone then sits and waits for the next one to come out and the pattern of madness is repeated. Once it’s all over, a new day of celebration begins for most, but for some people the celebrations of the previous day are only just ending…