When my train from Barcelona pulled away from the last station before Pamplona, I could suddenly feel not only the pit in my stomach rising, but everyone else’s on the car as well. I had told my family and friends that I did not plan on running with the bulls but would not rule out the option. I had clearly stated that I would have to watch a run before I would ever consider joining the throngs of idiots, but now here I was only one stop away from one of the craziest festivals in the world and all I could think to myself was that it wasn’t enough to just say I was there, I had to really be a part of it.
As these thoughts swirled through my head, the train pulled up to the Pamplona/Iruna station. Now I had to start thinking about the fact that I had no place to sleep, no idea where to store my luggage, not a single cent to my name (been robbed during the week before) and whether or not my high school Spanish would do me any good? I grabbed my bag and hopped in the information line to figure out what I had to do.
I was in line about 10 minutes when I overhead these 2 girls in English asking where they could store their luggage. I quickly hooked up w/them since they had the answers to my questions and the three of us headed to the bus stop to make our way into Pamplona. After an hour and a half and picking up 2 more Americans, we found the place to store our luggage (an old school in the Plaza de San Francisco) and headed off to start our adventure that was the Festival de San Fermine….
Since it was only Thursday afternoon and the festival wasn’t to start until noon the next day, the place was just starting to buzz. We did all the prepping that night–white pants, white shirt, red belt, red bandana, etc. We found out that you’re not to wear any of it until it actually started, so we continued to take in our surroundings.
The 5 of us (2 girls from Massachusetts, a guy from NY and a guy from Maryland) pretty much just walked around and absorbed what we could. The place was filling up by the hour with more people. We found a good place to make camp that night–we figured it was best to try to sleep as much as we could that night b/c lord knows if we would get any in the coming days.
Fast forward to Friday at noon–we’re in the Plaza de Castillo waiting for the fireworks to go off and the partying to begin. The four of us drinking have a bottle of sangria each and are already pretty good to go. As soon as it hit noon, fireworks are going off, champagne is being popped, shaving cream, silly string, pretty much anything that can be thrown or sprayed is in the air–thanks to the sangria, I could have cared less, I was in Pamplona, Spain and I didn’t have a care in the world! The five of us then started off to find some more parties and to meet as many people as possible.
It was awesome—music everywhere, people dancing and it was already an experience unlike any other. It didn’t take long in the span of a day for the place to become a dump–garbage everywhere, people relieving themselves wherever they felt like it, broken glass, etc. It was starting to smell pretty bad, but as quick as it took for the place to smell, you were already used to it.
Saturday morning at 8 was the official start to the 8 runs. I was told by a few people that spots along the route start filling up around 2 am. The girls and I headed out around 4, while the guys got ready to run. I found a place along the Calle de Mercado and the girls headed to find some churros. I kept their spots for about an hour but then had no choice but to let them fill up. I ended up along a rail with a bunch of American and Australian girls. Let’s just say four hours on a 2-3″ wide rail does something to a person and worse, to the people behind them who realize they’re not going to see a thing from where they’re standing. Some people scaled walls to stand along window edges and balconies. It was pretty much a dog eat dog position for the 2 hours leading up to the run. About 7-7:30 the police started pulling the extremely drunk and women from the route. There were too many people to “safely” run, so they had to weed out what they could. A couple minutes before 8 a signal goes off and everyone started moving. At 8 the guns went off and the madness began.
Since I was sitting along a rail behind a police barricade/medical attention area, it took seconds for runners to start jumping out of the route and unto the fence. The police shoved as many under our railing as they could, but once the bulls became close, they started paying attention to the runners. Next thing you know, there are bulls running by. You were lucky to catch a glimpse of them with all the people trying to scale the barricade and in 30 seconds, it was done. That was it. I just saw the running of the bulls and I could barely tell you what color they were.
After that first run, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to think that I would run. It definitely didn’t help that the first run had way more people than it should have running, making it all that much more dangerous. I planned on watching the run the next morning and was hoping to leave town early Monday morning (as soon as the post office opened so I could get my wired money and the heck out of Pamplona). I was starting to tire of the festivities and more so, I really needed a shower and a bed. The partying continued on that night and once again, at 4, I found a place in the Plaza Consistorial. This seemed to be a prime piece of real estate since this was where the route opens up and the bulls get a little more space to run around. I ended up next to a couple girls from Purdue studying in Lyon for the summer and spent most of the time chatting with them. Turned out they planned on heading to the same leg of the Tour de France as I, so we started exchanging info to meet up in France.
Once the guns went off at 8, I could tell this was going to be a better spot to watch. The open space provided more views, no matter how many people jumped on the barricade in front of us. You could also see the bulls rounding the corner before and making their way down the street and through the plaza. I even got video of a guy getting gored and one of the girls from Purdue was able to get a good photo angle of him getting carted off by the medics. After the run, that was pretty much the last time I saw the group I had been hanging out with. I headed to the Plaza de San Francisco and met a group of guys from across the US and Canada who planned on finding a place to watch the Wimbledon Championships, so I teamed up w/them on that mission. That was when I started to really enjoy the Festival de San Fermine…