Running with the bulls 2012
06.07.2012 - 09.10.2012 27 °C
After our week in Ibiza, I was well and truly ready for some relaxation (I'm pretty sure I speak on Renée’s behalf too). Nowhere in my mind did I imagine that 2 days later I'd be tempting fate and braving the horns of some very angry steaks.
A workmate of mine (Brayden) whom I had spoken to before we left had mentioned that he would be running with the bulls in 2012, and me, excited for my holiday and keen to experience everything hastily agreed to join him…
San Fermin Festival
I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with easily over one thousand others. The mood is electric, the air is thick, heavy, someone close by throws up, another farts, this is madness and the bulls don't even run till tomorrow.
Yes the San Fermin festival is hands down the most insane, loose and crazy festival I have been too. I don't think words can ever express the atmosphere of this festival; the fear of death lingers in the air next to the smell of sweet sangria as an entire town is turned upside down, streets are blocked, shop windows shut and life it seems is put on hold for the next 7 days.
Our first day in the city consisted of the opening party – a sangria fight coating every person who dares enter the city. Dressed in white you can't avoid the shower of Sangria that rains in from every direction, leaving you covered in wine soaked whites that would have any domesticated mother elbow deep in Napisan for a year.
The streets in and around the track are absolutely jam packed with thousands of brave souls chanting and drinking as if it were their last day on earth (for some this is an absolute reality!). As if the drinking and looming threat of being gored by an angry bull isn't enough, crazy party goes tempt death by diving off a 4m high water fountain, being caught only by those equally crazy enough to catch them, often resulting in some very bloody injuries and fantastic photos!
Denying the temptation to stay out all night partying on the sangria, we caught the final 5pm bus back to camp to call it an early night and left Pamplona to pick up the pieces (and drunks). Bulls wait for no man, so each day of bull runs punters have to be up on the 6am bus to Pamplona.
The night before the 1st run Renée and I had organised to meet up with Brayden and his girlfriend Alicia – Brayden and I would gain our manhood whilst the ladies waited anxiously for their sires to return. Unfortunately with the lack of mobile phones and complete chaos at the campsite at 6am it turned out impossible to find them so we boarded a bus to the city in hope we’d bump into them somewhere along the track.
On the bus it was evident that people had partied the night before as if it were their last. Renée was lucky enough to score a seat next to someone who a) was still in the same Sangria soaked whites from yesterday, b)looked like he had thrown up in his crotch; and c) upon further inspection (and smell) had actually pissed himself. Yes this one man was only a hint of things to come.
As If lashed by some foul storm of alcohol, Pamplona was still bearing the bruises and open wounds of the night before. Every curb, corner, stair and park bench was scarred with passed out bodies and littered with empty bottles, the ground barely visible.
I don’t know how we thought we would manage to find the guys once we got into town. Renee and I search fruitlessly to find Brayden so that we could run together but we were less than successful. Feeling bummed that I hadn't managed to find Brayden we opted for tickets to the arena to witness runners toy with the bulls from a safe distance instead.
Even though I didn't make the run on the first day it was still crazy as hell watching the run from the arena. The people falling over each other trying to escape those unforgiving horns; the chanting and boos of the crowd when the first runners beat the bulls into the arena; the cheers when bulls finally entered and the even louder cheers when they were successful in trampling someone! After seeing all this it was clear to me, I had to run the next day!
Becoming a man in 800 easy meters...
The morning of the 2nd run was much like the first, hungover zombies dragged their sorry wine stained covered bodies onto the 6am bus to tackle death a second time! I on the other hand had called it an early night around midnight saving my energy for my brush with death the next day. With things properly organised this time, Brayden and I left the girls to make their way to the arena to watch and wait, praying on every breath for our return.
Following the advice of nearly every person I had come across we headed for Dead Man’s Corner, though given the name I was unsure of whether this was sound advice or not. As if the anticipation of the run wasn't nerve racking enough, standing shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people, some throwing up, others still pissed from the night before definitely was. The air was so thick with the smell of vomit, sangria and sweat I'm pretty sure I dry reached purely from the smell… nothing to do with the fear of being gored.
Getting there early meant waiting squashed in the crowd for near on 1 hr, the longer we waited the more we were forced down the track closer to the arena. Now for those unfamiliar with the structure of the run it goes something like this; 0800hrs first gun fires, gates are open and bulls are running; seconds later the second shot is fired signaling all bulls are now running; third shot all bulls have entered the arena and the run has finished.
The minute hand on the clock tower edges closer to 0800, the crowd surges forward, no gun shot has even been fired yet but people start running prematurely as someone mutters 'running for the glory of the arena'. I fight back the nerves and hold my ground, only to be inched forward every second.
The first gun fires, it’s almost a relief, as if some magical weapon has freed me from the waiting angst. By this time I'm standing in probably the worst corner of the track, someone yells 'come with me if you want to live' (ok maybe that’s not exactly what they said, but roughly translated that’s what I heard). The crowd surges again, this time with the fear of a thousand souls. I follow the voice to the inside corner of the track where I'm told to wait for the first pack of bulls then run like mad as glory waits in the arena.
Hundreds flock past us as we stand fighting for every inch of space in a closed shop front. I can hear the bulls thundering down the track, hooves hammering the cobble stone streets. The first bull smashes into the corner slipping on the sangria soaked street taking out three people only meters from me, someone next to me screams 'save your selves, run!' So I run, heart hammering in my chest, not even giving one thought to Brayden, who is lost in an instant to a wash of white and red.
I make it to the second corner only to be blocked by a temporary fence ushering people off the track (to keep numbers down in the arena) waiting for the second pack of bulls to catch up. Some people scramble over the fence only to be taken away by the police, others squeeze under and bolt managing to make it towards the arena. I wait, patiently biding my time, I haven't come this far not to get into the arena. The fence begins to open, but I'm standing in the wrong corner and the fence is opening against me. I'm going to be ejected from the track… I assess my options, a guard is distracted and I squeeze under the fence and give it legs. At this point I'm not even sure what I'm running from, all I can hear is the cheer and buzz from the crowd, but I run anyway. Seconds later I can hear the undying sound of hoofs on hard floor, the crowd cheers again and people start sprinting. Already feeling exhausted I seek refuge in a shop front and make myself as slim as possible. I look down the road, only to see something I didn't expect, Brayden. I call him over. The older bulls run past us, less aggressive than their younger counter parts however still keen to run down any human in their way.
I keep running just behind the bulls keen to keep up and make it into the arena. I've lost Brayden again but not one care is given as I run and dodge police who are pulling people from the track in an effort to limit the number of people in the arena. I round the last corner to finally see the entrance gates, 5 other people are running next to me, final group of bulls 4 meters in front. We're struggling to keep up. As the last bull runs into arena the gates are instantly being shut. The 2 people next to me have been grabbed by police and pulled off the track; the last 3 of us rush at the closing gates, colliding with the strength of desperate men and making it through by only inches.
The tunnel into the arena is dark. My eyes don't even have time to adjust before I feel like I'm bursting into the light, like my manhood has finally been born. I'm the last to run into the arena, I'm not sure if the crowd was just loud in general but I could swear they roared on my arrival. The scene is epic, people are hugging, someone kisses the ground, I see an old man grab a handful of dirt and put it in a jar.
The noise from the crowd dies down a touch then explodes with a roar as the first bull is released back into the arena, running down anyone in its path. I literally cannot see a thing above all the people; I have no idea where the bull is until the crowd suddenly disperses and I’m face to face with an angry bull as people scramble over each other, trying to avoid being run down. People form a circle around the angry bull taunting it til it charges; the crowd goes wild every time it successfully head-butts/tramples/charges anyone in its way. This goes on one young bull at a time until finally they have all had a run at the people in the arena.
Feeling as though I have not come all this way to sit on the side line I spend my time in the arena attempting to slap any bull on the arse. I bide my time, watching the fallen pick themselves up and the brave jump over the bull until finally I get my chance. Distracted by someone, the bull pauses for just a moment and I sprint from the crowd giving it a hearty slap on the arse before fleeing like a child who has just done something wrong. Success! I spend the rest of my time trying to get as close to the bulls as possible, but feeling as though I have already achieved my manhood I’m a little less driven to get trampled.
Finally the run is finally over, the young bulls all had their shot at trampling the crowd and the run is finished. The crowd cheers and we all leave feeling like heroes! Outside the arena I caught up with a relieved Renée and Alicia (who had managed to find Brayden) and we all headed back to camp to celebrate.
That night the men, (myself & Brayden, who could be considered 2 men, since he had run twice), and the ladies proceeded to celebrate by consuming vast amounts of alcohol.
I can honestly say that since running I have become more manlier; facial hair sprouts from my face as if it were a blessing from mythical gods, my voice is low enough to initiate bowel movements and my physique is one that even Achilles himself would be proud of!
San Fermin, You have made a man out of me!