Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Running of the Bulls

After a day of rest and not much else, we talked our way back onto the tour group’s bus and awoke at 3.30am to head back to Pamplona. Half the tour people on the bus were still drunk, but many of the group were so drunk they hadn’t made it on at all, and we got to eat their breakfast which was a nice bonus. After breakfast everyone slept most of the way and it was definitely not a sight for sore eyes when we arrived.

The field next to the bus station was disgusting, filled with trash every step of the way, and people lying amongst it. The underground bus station was no different, and people sleeping in bus parking spaces didn’t bat an eyelid as single and double decker buses maneuvered around them. I have to say though, the cleaning team in Pamplona is amazing. For all the trash, there are constant street sweepers ‘vacuuming’ the streets and hosing them down and when we returned to the same field 2 or 3 hours later it was spotless.

We split from the tour group and made our way towards the bull run. It was freezing and we were back in our Sangria-ridden costumes. Most of the over-nighters now sported San Fermin sweatshirts but we just shivered our way through town. The first part of the track we came to, we weren’t at the front, but we were near enough and that’s all you can ask at 6.30am when we were well aware the best spots are gone at 5am. The problem was when the front row climbed the railing and sat on it so we couldn’t see a thing. We decided to walk the bull run and make our way to a bridge near the very start where we might have a better chance at a view.

Half way along Estafeta Street, the longest straight run of the course, we saw an old Spanish lady with a sign that said ‘Balcony 50 Euros’. Most balcony spots sell in advance for much higher prices than that. We decided it was worth it so Courts disappeared into the masses to find an ATM and I stayed by the doorway. After a very long wait and worrying at my end that Courts wouldn’t find us again, and a mission on his part to find an ATM that worked, we were let in and every dollar of the $NZ200 it cost us to be there was worth it.

The little apartment, which didn’t look lived in, had two balconies and around 10 people were let up. Imagine making 500 Euros every day for 7 days of bull runs! The old couple supplied free coffee and Spanish donuts, muffins, cherries and biscuits. We filled up and watched the Spanish news coverage of the previous days run and the preparations for the morning. There is one bull run a day for 7 days and it happens at 8am every day. The track is only 800 metres but it felt longer when we walked it, much of it is an uphill incline and there are several corners including one appropriately named Dead Mans Corner.

From 7am the police cleared the streets of people, the street sweepers did their thing, and we saw what Estafeta Street actually looks like under all the chaos. Around 7.45 the first lot of panicked runners were allowed onto the course, many sprinting for it while the bulls were still safely locked away in their pen. A barrier just down the road from us stopped them going right to the end until a minute before 8am (which is also the time Courtney decided to go to the toilet). The first of three rockets, signaling the pen was open, rang out just as Courts got back, and the runners went nuts. A second rocket, signaling the bulls were all out of the pen (the third and final would signal they were all in at the other end) fired not long after.

Even three stories up, the first sight of the bulls is incredible. Thousands of people participate in the run and the energy is contagious and all consuming. We videoed the run from our vantage point and you can just see from our angle where a bull slips his horn into the red scarf of a runner, lifting him of his feet just long enough for it to presumably rip before he goes under the feet of the other bulls that follow. There were no deaths so presumably he’s OK but we heard through other travelers that at least one person was gored by the massive metre-wide horns.

The cops shut the barrier again once all 6 bulls were through but we think this was a mistake because it apparently didn’t happen the previous day and left a mad rush to reopen the gates and get through the tiny gap when the trainee-bulls came through. After the first 6, several far more docile bulls stumble through the crowds as well. They don’t have horns but they still trample you, so you don’t want to be in their way.

Once the last of the bulls had passed we crowded around the TV to watch the live coverage of the bulls and runners entering the Stadium at the end of the course. A few runners were shown with medics, but nothing major. We thanked our hosts and made our way back towards the bus, not interested in the antics of the day to come. The bus terminal was chaos, too many people and too few buses but once again when we were on we were relieved and we slept most of the way home.

Penelope_nz's San Sebastian, Spain photoset Penelope_nz's San Sebastian, Spain photoset