Two weekends ago I had the pleasure to compete in the annual “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain. Every year, at the beginning of the 2nd week of July, thousands upon thousands of people flock to the small city of Pamplona for this epic celebration where runners sprint down a small street for a few minutes while being chased by big, angry, horned bulls. The event is a big deal in Spain, as it is nationally broadcasted live across the entire country, giving viewers the chance to witness the mayhem as it unfolds. I’ve been looking forward to this experience since I booked my flight to Spain months ago, and it sure did not let me down.
I arrived in Pamplona Friday afternoon not knowing what to expect. When we got off the train, we were immediately greeted with sights of people in all white outfits with red sashes around their waists and red bandanas around their necks, the traditional Running of the Bulls outfit. We hopped in a taxi to our hotel close to the city center. Word of advice: hotels and hostels in Pamplona during this week are extremely expensive, so book a long time ahead if you want decent rates. Lucky for us, there was a shop next to the hotel that had the entire traditional outfit for only 20 euros. Now that we had the proper attire, we were ready to party like a Pamplonian.
We headed into the city center to begin the night, grabbing some delicious food in the beer hall on the way to act as fuel to get us through the night. Once we got into the main area, we met up with some friends from Barcelona and the fun began. Fast-forwarding through the night and multiple cups of beer and sangria later, the sun was rising, letting us know that it’s time for the run to begin. We lined up at the start of the run, packed liked sardines, fear and adrenaline pumping through our veins. After the officials were done checking the streets, they gave the okay for the run to begin. The first horn sounded, letting us know the corral had been opened. At that point people started sprinting as fast as they could. I wanted to get as close to the bulls as possible while still keeping safe, so I waited a little bit until I could see the bulls coming. Once I saw them, I started running for my life, being sure to stay towards the side of the road… I’m not that brave. The bulls ran right by me, their massive bodies and sharp horns so close that I could almost touch them. I made it all the way to the end of the run, feeling like I was on cloud 9. However, the insanity didn’t quite stop just yet.
At the end of the run, you enter a huge bull fighting arena packed with thousands of people, cheering for you and the bulls as you all scramble into the arena. At that point I didn’t know what to expect. All of a sudden I hear the crowd go wild as I see fellow runners sprinting in different directions, and then I realize a bull has been let out into the arena. At first I was really frightened, but then I realized its horns were capped off, making him a lot less dangerous. The bull started running around, knocking people over like bowling pins as they tried to surround and taunt it. I waited patiently for the perfect time to interact with the bull until eventually that time came. The bull stopped in the middle, looking around at all the people surrounding him, eyeing his next victim. I ran up behind the bull and slapped it square on it’s behind and it didn’t even react. Disappointed, I tried again, this time accompanied by a few others. But the second time definitely drew a reaction from the bull, turning around immediately to charge at us. Thankfully he targeted the guy next to me (sorry compadre) as I escaped by a few feet. I ran back to the safety of the side, and watched as the crowd went wild when the bull made someone go flying or when a person successfully rode the bull for a second or two. After about 30 minutes of that, it was all over. Covered in sangria and dirt, I walked out of the arena satisfied and filled with adrenaline at what I just did. It was truly the most memorable experience of my entire life, something everyone should do once in their life.
Later that day I hopped on a train back to Barcelona, exhausted and happy. Although I loved Pamplona, I was looking forward to returning to the my nice apartment, Barcelona beaches, and good friends, with not a single bull in sight.