Ten years ago, during my wonderful summer living and working in Europe, I met up with some friends in Barcelona for a surprise 30th birthday trip for one of them to the famous San Fermin festival - commonly known as the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. It was an incredible weekend, and so of course I sent an email re-cap to my friends and family back home to describe it. I've decided to present it here, with some minor edits for clarity & to protect the innocent, for your enjoyment! I included some photos too, to give you a sense of the event.
This is a pretty long account of our weekend in Pamplona for the fiesta of San Fermín -- the running of the bulls. Long story short- we went, we drank, we ran, we survived- it was awesome.
So, I arrived in Barcelona to D's surprise in mid-afternoon, then read all about the dangers of the "enciero" (the running) all afternoon to try to convince the boys that they shouldn't do it. By 9:45pm we were on the road for a lovely ride through the dark Spanish landscape. As we went through the last toll on the way to Pamplona, we got pulled off to the side by the cops. Bad start- luckily we hadn't started drinking all the alcohol we had procured for the weekend, and once he realized we were American he let us go on our way- thank goodness! We pull into town & drive through the drunk masses looking for the hotel around 2am. The hotel was super nice & we got a parking space right out front- luckily! We prepared our "to go" drinks & headed out.
The 1st thing we come to is an AWESOME carnival. And it is hopping, even at 3am. I make a note that we must do at least one ride before we leave, and then we settle down to drink our first Sangria & have some jamon to prepare us for the long night. We then meet up with a new friend, who was a zen Lenny Kravitz look alike, and he leads us into the old part of town. The center of what's what in Pamplona is this big square lined by bars- but you can't see across it because it's filled with people dressed all in red & white. The next few hours are a bit lost in the haze, because before I knew it it was time to find our spot along the barricades to watch the bulls come through. We met up with some Brits & found the bull ring, but then lost the Brits & I fell down on the slippery cobblestone. In sneakers. Not running. Walking gingerly. How the bulls run at all is amazing to me. Somehow my friend S convinces some guy to let me slip in sorta in front / under him, but then she leaves [Note - we may not have been thinking very clearly]. Since I had a spot directly on the railing- which I had to sorta fight for, I sat tight for the next hour (!) waiting for the insanity. You'll see several pictures of me in my boredom on the railing. It was fascinating watching all the paramedics arrive & the street be cleaned of all the bottles & trash. So then the first cannon was heard, and masses of people started jogging/walking by (as I get pinned even tighter to the railing). Then the crowd got thicker, and then people were really hauling ass, and then BULL! And another one! And then one more! I'm furiously snapping pictures hoping to get a pic of one, but as it turns out, I got one hoof of one. Maybe.
As soon as the 4th horn blows, everyone starts jumping over the barricades into the course, but I go searching for the crew. We all trade stories & then head back towards the hotel, but since we still can't check in untill 11am, we hit a cute little bar hoping for "breakfast". Instead that turns into drinking, mock bull-fights, mock badmitton (!), and the worst shot ever taken, EVER. (I spit my neatly back into the glass, thank you v. much.) Truly needing food & sleep, we left the old part of town & found some tortillas & bocadillos & such near the hotel. S goes in to work her insider "well at the Hotel Artz in Barcelona, we do xyz" magic to get us into a room early while the boys discover why the grass is SOOO comfortable & I make friends with a bench. The boys are almost mad when I tell them we have to move to get into the room. But in we go (around 10:30 am) and out we are (until about 5:30 pm).
Getting up is pretty difficult, especially since we realize that more drinking is required shortly. But the chips & nuts & free minibar fare isn't solving the hunger problem, so we eventually make it to a bar down the street that says it will be showing the Germany/Portugal match [Note: several of us lived in Germany when it hosted the 2006 World Cup championship]. It's unfortunately on a 2 hour delay, so by the time the game starts there, we've been texted the actual results, so rather than sit in a boring bar we head out for more San Fermín fun. By this time we've chilled some cava & bought all the necessary red pamplona accessories, so we look like everyone else when we hit the carnival again. Shirly & I get in line for the "Boomerang" which turns out to be the most awesome ride EVER. She was terrified, but whatever- it was fantastic. In line we're treated to what turns out to be an awesome fireworks display. The boys get to do some bumper car driving (with beer in hand!) & then we all head back to town. As we prepare for midnight, when David's birthday actually commences, we meet up with some v. drunk Spaniards who start squirting whatever they're drinking from a pouchy flask thingie into our mouths. They're hilarious & we have fun singing & dancing with them for a while, but it's getting late & we've decided that in the morning the boys are doing the run, so we head back for more sleep around 1am.
J's phone wakes us up promptly at 5:30 am, and after much, MUCH delay & discussion, 4 of us make it up & out of the hotel room. At this point, we're half dead, but also excited about the run. After getting a bit lost in the crowds, we finally find the spot that you can enter the course (down near the be-flagged town hall building). At this point, S & I realize that we're in the actual course & we're actually gonna do the run. So much for my own advice. So at first we head towards what we think is the "front" of the crowd, but then J (thank goodness he's tall) sees that cops have formed a line a little ways up & are kicking out people who are too far down the course, creating a bottleneck in the street where we are. We pick a meeting place because clearly, we're not going to be able to stay together. Claustrophobics be warned- we are PACKED in. And next to us are some American kids studying abroad or something who are idiots & annoying & seriously know nothing. Everyone's trading information & advice though, and S & I find a fellow scared American girl to commiserate with. We hear about the kid who was paralized 2 days before in the bull ring. We learn that just a bit ahead of us is the "corner of death" or something- a 90° turn that we should stay to the inside of because bulls can't turn well. I start to panic. Then look around and realize there are like 1000 people between me & where the bulls will arrive. Plus the crowd keeps chanting at some blonds up on one of the balconies to flash them, so that's helpful in distracting me. But before we know it- the cops release their barricade & everyone starts moving. We realize that being trampled by people is more possible than by a bull, and try to stay on the edge. A cop yells at S to put her purse under her shirt, but we get past him & don't heed his warning. After the turn people are starting to make their strategy- some staying on the edges in door alcoves (which is S's insane idea as well), others are running along up to the bull ring, some are walking along like it's any other Sunday morning. I'm seriously scared then because you never know when the bulls are going to show up (well, there's a cannon that fires when they first leave the pen, but, still). Then all of a sudden another cop grabs S & forces her to leave because of the aforementioned bag issue. [Bags, or anything hanging off your body, are a problem b/c the bulls can hook their horns into that easily & throw you.] I first keep walking along with the boys, but then realize that's ridiculous & run off to exit the course with her. At this point, that entails crawling/slipping underneath a gate in a tiny like foot-high space that is a) surrounded by people trying to catch a glimpse of the run and b) DISGUSTING. I forgot to mention that you really don't think about what you're walking around in, and sometimes the stench can really get to you. A cop guarding the door takes some pity on us & gets the people to slip a ripped poster on the ground for us, but I'm no Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment, so I still get some nastiness on my hands, cute white skirt, & red panuela. S feels guilty, and I'm semi-disappointed, but more than anything relieved. We head over to the ring (only like 2 blocks away- it's seriously a short course!) in time for the first cannon shot, but we realize we won't be able to see anything, so we just start walking around trying to get to our meeting spot. Met up with the boys and hear all about the run, which they completed successfully, and safely. The entering-the-ring part sounds the scariest since you're in a tiny tunnel with no exit & cops apparently are yelling "vamanos!" (or whatever) and pushing everyone along, but luckily they were probably enough ahead of the bulls that they weren't really in danger. We stop back in our cafe for more tortillas & watch some of the footage of previous runs. Um, yeah, the rule is to stay away from the bulls. At all times- yeesh!
Sadly, at that point, it's time to change out of our v. dirty white & red outfits, clean up, and get out of town. San Fermín has been good to us, and we've shared a memorable birthday with D, so we all decided that it's been an amazing weekend. Now I need to go sleep.