This was probably the scariest/ most thrilling weekend of my life. Tom and I left Airbus Friday night around 5pm and drove to Pamplona. The GPS got messed up around Bayonne, France and we ended up taking a very curvy back road most of the remaining distance. We got to our campsite, Ezcaba, around 9:30pm. Originally, we had a hostel booked in Pamplona but a pipe broke and they condemned the building. So they arranged for us to stay at this campsite through a company called Stokes. It was ran but Australian Bohemians that were super drunk and terribly unorganized. We paid 50 euros each to sleep in a pup tent. They did have BBQ and booze for 5 euros. That made everything a little more tolerable, except the chicken wasn't exactly cooked.
We turned in pretty early so we could get up at 4:30am to be in town on time to Run with the Bulls. All the advice we could find said absolutely do not run without watching at least one Encierro (Running of the Bulls) first; we disobeyed. To make up for it we watched several videos on sanfermin.com and printed off a course map. I like to say we were reviewing the "game film."
We finally managed to get to the course and find a spot with which we felt comfortable, after "dead man's corner" on the Estafeta straight-away. About 7:15 they closed the gate about 50 meters in front of us and kicked everyone of the course. We had to run like crazy to get close to the beginning and slip through the fence to get back on the course before 7:30. There were hundreds of people jam-packed on the course, and I was nervous we were going to start from there, entrenched in a sea of drunkards. I should note that the Running of the Bulls is the last event of the day's fiesta. The party starts at 11pm and continues all night long until the run at 8am.
Thankfully, about 5 minutes before they release the bulls they open the course back up and we were able to jog about a quarter mile to our selected starting point. The entire course is 840 meters (over 1/2 mile), the bulls can run it in sub 2:30 minutes. Then we heard the first rocket, signifying the bulls were released. I literally wet myself a little from the nerves, I felt my stomach drop, my muscles tighten, my vision focus, everyone switched into survival mode: it was go time!
Then the second rocket exploded: all the bulls were out of the pen. People were starting to jog to the Plaza de Toros (bull ring). Our plan was to run, get as close as possible, and duck out as soon as we got to a fence (where we started we were sandwiched between buildings, with nowhere to go but 8 inch deep doorways). Then we heard the cowbells, people were sprinting by, and my entire perspective slowed. Several bulls went by, we saw more in the distance, I jumped out and started to sprint, dodging and weaving in and out of people, being mindful not to stay in the middle for too long; that is where the bulls run. As I rounded the corner of Telefonica, I witnessed a man getting gored and thrown into the fence, the bull hesitated, the crowd froze... bewildered. Then as the bull headed toward the plaza and my goal changed. I decided the run would be for nothing unless I made it into the Plaza de Toros. The course bottlenecks down the ramp of stadium, people were falling, people were getting trampled, and people pushing their way to safety. Then as I ran into the stadium, I was standing in the middle of arena with thousands of people dressed in white pants and shirts with red scarves and sashes cheering as the bulls came into the ring.
The feeling of elation was almost too much to comprehend. The feeling one gets when they sit on their leg wrong for an hour and then stand up, "pins and needles," I had that rushing through my entire body. It was over. Or so I thought. I found Tom in the center of the Ring and we celebrated.
We quickly learned what happens after they close the doors to the ring. They let bulls back out into the crowd to chase people. The crowd tries to touch the bulls with out getting charged, people are tripping, screaming, running, fleeing... pandemonium. All in all they ran 6 bulls through the crowd before they opened the gates. On the way out, on the side of the fence, one section was covered in red bandannas, as a memorial for the gentlemen who had been gored to death only 24 hours prior.
I didn't come down from the run, and I still don't think I have. I was happy to have survived, and vowed to never do it again.
We checked into our new hotel. They messed up our reservation and gave us the corner suite with a wrap around balcony on the top floor to make up for it. We took naps, and then hit the streets for the party. I partied harder on Saturday afternoon then I may have any other time. It was so intense when we decided to take naps at 6pm to get ready for the party at 11pm, we woke up a 6am the next day. We were so disappointed we missed the nightly festivities we decided to suck it up and run again. We were tempting fate a second time; it was almost as though we had beat fate in a game of P-I-G and we had to "prove-it" before the game could end.
This time, we decided to film it. When you see the crowd turn around and run the other way, and the camera violently shakes, a bull has just flung a man by his neck with his horn and is charging the opposite way of the stadium, back into the crowd. My heart still races and I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach watching this video; recounting the most exhilarating weekend of my life (thus far).