Not long to go ...
© Xabier Lizarraga - 2007
We traveled almost 900 kilometers to participate in a world-famous festival that dates back 800 years. And the policewoman was kicking me out. It was my shoes. At each stage the police glance over the runners to make sure they're properly equipped, trying to prevent idiots from increasing the fatality count. My Five Fingers hadn't failed me over five months and eleven countries, but I wasn't running on her watch.
All this for nothing? I feverishly tried to explain in my rough Spanish that these were running shoes... people run marathons in these! I've run marathons in these! They're specially made for running?
She grabbed another policeman and together they forced me out through the double fences bordering the path the bulls would take. I sprinted to another entry point and tried to get in, but another cop pushed me out violently and told me I was too late. I ran to find another but couldn't. How could I tell people I'd been to Pamplona but hadn't run? Then it occurred to me - I could just run the next day.
That morning I picked up some $30 running shoes and met two Lithuanian running partners at the internet cafe. Only one was going to run, but it didn't take us long to convince the other to sack up.
Ty gave me some invaluable tips. He'd stuck to the right and was pushed up against the wall as the bulls passed, safely insulated by a few layers of people but disappointingly out of reach. We arrived a little earlier in case something went wrong so we'd have plenty of time to move to another stage. Running on a Saturday meant tons more people - it was starting to get packed, and when the rockets signaling the bulls' release were fired the crowd started to sway back and forth.
The police set us free to start running. The crowd was super thick and moving slowly, but we still reached the next stage before the bulls and became part of an even larger crowd as we waited.
At this rate I'd never get close to a bull. I looked behind me and saw some Spanish guys stretching. They looked like they knew what they were doing. I walked back to them and watched them warm up, expecting the bulls to round the corner any second. After a minute or so, the cheering started. People packing the balconies above us were looking back expectantly.
Then everyone started to run. You're much more likely to trip over a person than a bull is to trip over you, but by then most of the people were way ahead of us. The bulls largely stick to the left side, so if you stay right you're less likely to get stuck or trampled. Though touching the bulls is officially discouraged, it's what everyone's trying to do, me included, so I stayed just right of center.
It wasn't scary when the first group appeared behind me to my left. Everyone had told me how huge they were (almost as tall as me - six feet) and I'd seen them fly by the day before. The field was open enough that I could have dodged out of the way if necessary, and the bulls seemed to be pretty set on their path. As the second one passed me I leaned left and touched his flank. We'd come up on a slight turn that would put the next group on the right side, so I veered left and put out my hands to keep from tripping over the people in front of me. The next group passed and I reached out again to touch another along his back. They were probably running twice as fast as I was.
Probably because I wasn't on the receiving end of any horns, they didn't seem particularly violent or malicious. Just your average group of bulls trying to get from point A to point B, though they did trample a dude or two while I followed them. Only 30 seconds after we'd started running, we ran through the gates and into the arena, another group of bulls seconds behind us. If we'd entered before any of the bulls, the crowd would have booed us as cowards. We waited along the sides as the rest of the bulls and steers ran through the arena and into the holding cell. Usually you wait a few minutes for a young bull with blunted horns to be released to play with the runners.
As they went to close the gates, I slipped out at the last second and stepped into the streets. I had an 8:45 bus to catch to Barcelona. I ran with the bulls. I even touched two of the 1600-pound monsters, just a slip away from injury by horn or hoof. No falls, no cuts, no bruises. Too bad, really... I'd love to be able to show off a scar on my forearm and tell how I got it running with the bulls in Pamplona on a trip around the world.
Harry Miller cuenta en primera persona para su periódico y sus compatriotas lo que ocurre en Pamplona. Él se enamoró del encierro por televisión y no podía escribir una crónica sin vivirla en primera persona. Corrió, sobrevivió y escribió estas letras.
Since 1924, 15 people have died and more than 250 injured running the terrifying Pamplona Running of the Bulls. Our intrepid reporter reckons the odds are in his favour... I first watched the running of the bulls on television about three years ago and was instantly hooked by the craziest race I had ever seen. Made world famous by one of the 20th century's greatest writers, Ernest Hemingway, the annual Running of the Bulls race is revered by some and condemned by others. I had to do it. The race starts at 7.30am. Bleary-eyed runners are told to meet in Consistorial Square to wait for the bulls to be released.
The narrow cobbled streets create a claustrophobic atmosphere as they are flanked by the city's medieval stone walls which are lined with spectators baying for the blood of the participants.
There is a variety of nationalities. I hear Spanish, German, French, American, English and Australian accents and I realise thanks to Hemingway, this spectacle is a worldwide draw for some of the most stupid people on the planet. A woman places a candle in a small hollow next to a board with more than a dozen red sashes pinned to it - one for each runner who has died. A brief prayer is said to bless the race, the runners and the bulls. It brings the dangers into context immediately.
An elderly mariachi band plays a few catchy tunes before heading behind the walls. Standing dressed in the traditional uniform of red neckerchief and sash and a white shirt, I briefly wish I could join them.
You can feel the waves of excitement surging through the crowds as it becomes apparent the bulls are about to be released. As I gear myself up to be chased down by 1,500lbs of bull, I overhear a group of Englishmen claiming running in a group would benefit them far better than running it alone. I, on the other hand, decide on a plan to run like hell and keep running and, because of my slight frame, I hope to just slip through the other contestants.
The crowd begin to jeer and sway, clapping, and, like a Mexican wave, surging up and down with thousands of runners preparing physically and mentally for the next three-minutes of sheer panic.
Suddenly, as if it was a surprise to all but the spectators, the whooooosh and ear-splitting bang of the signal firework fills the narrow streets. The bulls are released and the crowd shift as one. From where I am standing I can see the back runners sprinting towards me. The braver and indeed more idiotic of the runners are very close to where the bulls are released from. I am a strategic 50 or so yards up hill so I had a good vantage point. Not that it does me any good.
Runners rush passed me but I stand my ground. I decide to run when I see the bulls. As I wait, I have to dodge the frantic participants as they try, in vain, to run in a straight line. Suddenly a particularly huge Spaniard runs almost head-on into me. I quickly realise why. He is being chased by one of the largest, meanest bulls I have ever laid eyes on. With a girly shriek and a Warner Brothers cartoon-style run on the spot, I was off in a cloud of smoke. I run as fast as I can, rejecting the advice from my partner to start off slow and keep the pace. Not daring to look behind me, I heard hoofs slamming against the wet cobbled floor. The clanging of the bells around their necks tells me they are getting very close.
In front, men, women and beasts were falling over each other like dominos, and dodging the fallen runners becomes probably one of the hardest parts of the race. At one point I run headlong into an old Spanish man who had fallen and been injured, but luckily I manage to stay upright and shout an apology as I run on past him. Survival of the fittest, you understand. My breath is coming out in ragged gasps and my heart is beating through my chest and I fear a goring is inevitable.
But, as I screech around a corner with bulls hot on my heels, I see the sanctuary of the entrance to the Plaza de Toros, the race's finish line. A bull overtakes me on the last bend but luckily it does not take a fancy to my English features and runs ahead into the arena. The feeling of conquering the bull run was unforgettable and something that I will definitely be taking part in for Pamplona 2009. Unfortunately for the bulls, they are killed in bullfights after the races.
Este artículo se introduce en poco más en lo que es la fiesta y ofrece un artículo de interés hasta para el que la conoce profundamente.
Pamplona's other running of the bulls is a quiet, sacred affair. Publicado en el International Herald Tribune, remitido por Associated Press, el 11 de julio.
As night falls in a city brimming with revelers, a quiet and sacred ritual unfolds. The six bulls due to feature in the next morning's run at the San Fermin festival make a short trot to a corral where they will spend their last night.
Only locals turn out to watch, not the crowds of foreign visitors here for all the annual revelry. The natives come out of respect for the animals, and they do so in reverent silence. The only sounds are hoofs pounding on cement and echoing off the medieval wall of Pamplona's old quarter. Even veteran Pamplona runners skip this one. They say it's bad luck to see the bulls the night before risking your life with them. As Spain's most popular summer festival, the actual eight-day running of the bulls boasts all the trappings of modern marketing: T-shirts, a Web site, souvenir trinkets and all the rest. But this preparatory trot is an almost private affair that has not changed in 100 years, one for which town hall hands out only 200 passes.
"It has a special charm because it is almost done in secret," says Humberto Miguel, a 34-year-old bullherd who guides the animals along the 450-yard route. It goes from a makeshift corral to another one where the bulls will spend the night, before bursting into the streets for the actual run, with human thrillseekers sprinting beside them and television cameras capturing every bit of it live for a national audience.
It is the bulls' last night because they face matadors after the run and almost certain death. The little-known tradition of moving the bulls from corral to corral has much to do with the always tricky task of transporting dangerous, half-ton beasts.
Pamplona is in the north of Spain, but most ranches that breed fighting bulls are in the south. In the 19th century, ranchers taking bulls to San Fermin simply walked them the whole way, and when they got to the city guided the animals through the streets as safely as they could. "In 1898, several bulls broke away from the pack and triggered a panic. It was then that they decided things had to change," Miguel said.
The grounds of an abandoned factory were turned into a corral for the bulls to rest upon arriving in the city. And from there a single, specific path was set up to get them to the pen located at the starting point of the full-blown morning runs. The one-minute trot between the two corrals is known as the "encierrillo" - the diminutive of an "encierro", as the Pamplona runs are known in Spanish. The bulls make the trip with steer meant to keep them together in a pack.
Police toot a bugle when everything is ready at both corrals and the animals can get moving. That tune is a far cry from the rocket blast that signals they are out of the corral for the real running of the bulls the next morning. "Here, there is silence. The idea is to make it something almost private," Miguel said.
The city hands out tickets for people to watch from behind fences at the beginning and end of the route. In the middle, the bulls and their minders walk between the medieval wall and a river. None of all this is really necessary; the bulls could simply be trucked to their final, pre-run corral. But Pamplona has preferred to keep the tradition alive anyway. "People come to see what it is all about, with great expectation. They are bull-lovers," Miguel said.
Indeed, bullfighting and bull culture are big in Pamplona. At the San Fermin runs, for instance, it is considered disrespectful for a runner to touch a bull - although a lot of people do it - and locals are known to yell at and even hit runners they see doing this. Miguel says runners sometimes call him up to ask how the bulls are looking for the next morning's run. Superstition keeps them from coming for a firsthand glance.
One night this week, Pamplona native Charo Elizondo, in her 50s, watched the pen-to-pen procession from behind a fence and saw one bull especially jumpy - literally - even though he was surrounded by steer meant to calm him. "That means he is very strong," Elizondo said. "We going to have one dangerous run tomorrow morning."