A four day whirlwind at Pamplona.
Most have heard of this ridiculous festival. Some may think it’s a joke, and a few take it extremely serious. After living through it, there’s one thing I know… This is no joke. Running with the bulls is a real event and I highly encourage you to assess all risks before participating. My number one piece of advice: DON’T BE DRUNK!
Yes, San Fermin is a week-long constant party. Seriously. The music and drinking begin at noon on July 6th and end at midnight on July 14th. If you’re going to run, decide what day and be sure to get some rest beforehand and again, don’t be drunk. That’s when accidents happen.
Ok, now that THAT’s out of the way. Here’s my San Fermin 2015 Bucket List experience!
A quick hour bus ride from San Sebastián (8€). Gorgeous, green, lush and hilly landscape with beautiful views of the valley.
We arrived the afternoon of July 5th, walked the streets, and bought the traditional San Fermin Festival outfit (white pants and white shirt with red scarf and red sash) and of course a boda bag to complete the ensemble. Since Michael ran with the bulls back in 2007, he’s a veteran to this “sport” and I want all the insight I can get! He walked me through the route, where the bulls start and end, and where we should stand on the morning of our run. The town was quiet when we arrived at 4:30pm, but by 7pm it was pumping. Biggest nonstop party I have ever seen.
Having been by ourselves for a while, we decided we needed to make some party friends for this festival. Michael had been talking to Taylor on CouchSurfing.com who was from Newport Beach and went to USC. Taylor met Ravi & Franklin and Mike, Nic, & Erich on the train from Madrid to Pamplona. Then I met Sarah, a girl from Seattle, and her Spanish boyfriend, Jorge, at a local bar by the main plaza. We went from just the two of us, to a group of 10 in one night. Sarah promised she’d run with me, since most girls just watch, I was already feeling more excited for the big day! Let the countdown officially begin…
July 6th – Opening Ceremony:
The morning of the Opening Ceremony, Michael and I walked out of our AirBnb, located next to Dead Man’s Turn in a very central location, dressed in our white outfits, excited for the festival to officially begin. Everyone that I see already has red stains all over their clothes. I thought, “Man, that sucks.” Then while making our way to the plaza, I get my first splash. People are literally dumping buckets of sangria on you. From the balconies above, from the person next to you, it’s coming from every direction. And let me tell you: That sh*t stings the eyes! I’m bringing goggles next time. [Thankfully, after the opening, some balconies start dumping water to wash you off. That feels great.] But back to the plaza, it was by far the most crowded, terrifying place I’ve ever been. We literally couldn’t move and were then being shoved back and forth; I felt like I was stuck in a wave of people and the swell wouldn’t settle. Personally, Opening Ceremony in the plaza is a panic attack waiting to happen. I don’t recommend it, especially for women.
At noon, they announce the official start of San Fermin and everyone holds up their red bandanas then ties them around their necks. This would have been such a great experience if you were watching from a balcony, or even from the other plaza, where apparently they had a giant screen set up for the overflow of people. But instead, we were in the thick of it. I almost lost my shoes. Michael got pick pocketed, wallet and sunglasses gone. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the greatest start to our experience in San Fermin. We spent the better part of the day filing a police report, retracing steps, looking in gutters, etc. Once he canceled all his cards and accepted the fact it was gone, we finally met up with the crew to cheer him up. We all decided that instead of living through the anxiety of waiting another day to run, we would take the courage we had left and run the next morning. After a steak dinner at the fair, we grabbed one more beer and went to bed. Unfortunately, we didn’t sleep at all because it was so hot and loud from the continuous party, but the adrenaline kept us going!
July 7th – First Run:
Up at 5am, met the crew at 5:30am dressed in our sangria covered clothes, and walked the route again so everyone knew the game plan. We decided that we would start by the barricades after the plaza, just before Dead Man’s Turn so we would have an escape route if necessary. Unfortunately, while we were waiting, we got pushed out by the cops. Walking with our heads down and thinking this meant we couldn’t run because there were too many people, I knew this was something I really did want to do, even though I knew it was dumb. But thank goodness for Jorge! He asked the cops if we could still run and they said yes, but we had to race down another street to get back into the plaza. The back streets were so slick, I almost fell a dozen times and definitely got my workout in before the bulls were even released. Other people followed us and we were able to push our way through the barrier and still get in. The last ones. YAY!! Unfortunately we started exactly where I didn’t want to. Right in the middle of the plaza. Right where we were yesterday during the Opening Ceremony with thousands of people pushing and shoving. My ideal placement was to either start past the plaza, but before Dead Man’s Turn or at the end of the straight away and just run into the arena. I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified. My heart was literally pounding out of my chest. A constant wave a nausea taunted me and I felt like I was going to pass out.
One minute left and everyone is jumping around getting pumped up/ freaking out —> me. At 8am, the first canon erupts which means the first bull is out of the gates, then shortly after the second canon explodes signaling the last bull is out. Longest wait of my life. You can literally feel the hooves of the bulls pounding on the cobblestone. Makes your heart vibrate.
Nic and Mike took off immediately. Where as myself, Michael and Taylor waited for the bulls to pass and then run. In my mind, this was the safer option. [I knew I wanted to run, but I also didn’t want to die for it.] Plus I had an escape route if needed. [See picture. Two people to the left of the cop in yellow — I’m the girl with the pony tail hanging onto the barricade for dear life in case a bull goes crazy and I need to jump over.]
Even “playing it safe”, in my mind, the bulls were so close, so huge, so thunderous. I think I must have blacked out because before I knew it they were already past us. WHEW!
Now that the “scary” part is over, so I think, we start running after the bulls with the rest of the crowd, full of adrenaline and happy to be alive. Sprinting down the straight away, everyone starts yelling: “Four loose bulls!” My biggest fear realized. We jump to the side of the street and pray they go down the middle. I knew it! I had a feeling there were more coming behind us and sure enough there were.
We also passed two guys laying on the ground bleeding from their heads with medics around them. Scary. Again, this run is no joke.
Unfortunately, because of the loose bulls and injuries, we got tied up, and had to wait until the bulls passed, then we sprinted towards the arena and as we approached we watched the doors close right in front of us. So bummed! The goal is to make it from the plaza to the arena before they close the doors. Oh well… Everyone else made it in besides me, Michael and Taylor. Still a rush of an experience, and one I will never forget. Before and after pic of the crew!
After a much needed siesta, followed by pizza in the park, the celebration continued. We danced, partook in a random parade down the main street, sprayed sangria on each other and took slow-mo videos of it (Yes, I’m almost 30 hanging out with 21-year-olds and apparently thats what happens), I somehow ripped my pants while dancing, Taylor without hesitating switched pants with me so his a$$ would be out and not mine. What a gentleman! [Picture will not be shown.]
The plan was to party all night then watch the run at 8am (What am I? 21? Yeah right!). We made it till 2:30 then had to call it a night because one of the boys couldn’t HANG with us old folks 🙂 Awake again at 5:30am, we were up for another run.
July 8th – Watching the run:
After two hours of sleep, we were back at it at 5:30am to grab some seats by the arena at 6am. Trust me, if you want to watch and don’t have a balcony, you need to get there by 6am at the latest. They go fast, but it’s worth the wait to get the views.
Not entirely sober. Smelly. And not happy. Three days is too much in Pamplona, in my opinion (kinda like Las Vegas – one day is all I can handle). We waited for what felt like an eternity before the first canon sounded. Some people ran immediately into the arena, one guy tried to jump out and the cop pushed him back in. Then the bulls came. You can literally feel the pounding of their hooves from yards away. But I definitely felt much better being on the opposite side of the fence this time! I still can’t believe we did it. The bulls didn’t look quite as nasty as the ones from the first day, but they’re still huge. Not as many injuries as the first day either. Thank goodness!
After watching the last bull run past, we jumped off the barrier and into the street to run into the arena since we missed it the day before. Making the same mistake, the steers were still behind us so we technically ran with the bulls TWICE. My bad!
Once in the arena, I wanted to jump out immediately. It’s so crowded, everyone pushing. I weaseled my way out to watch from the side wall. I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I was blown away by the number of people not only in the stands watching, but by the number of people running around inside the arena. There was literally no where to move.
Then, it began.
The first bull was let loose into the arena. I was shocked by how many people stayed in the arena to taunt the bull. People can be SO DUMB! Some trying to touch it and get gored, thrown in the air, trampled, etc. I thought this only happened once, but no. There are six rounds of different bulls. Thankfully, they put caps on the tips of their horns so they can’t injure people as bad, and they’re typically smaller bulls, but still. Dumb.
At the end of the round, they let out the giant bull to go get the smaller one to exit the ring. I found this very interesting – the bulls seem to know exactly what to do.
Sadly, we did see one guy get knocked out by the bull. But the people gathered around to protect him from the bull striking again and carry him out of the arena. Also, one of the bulls jumped over the wall! I had heard of this happening on occasion, but it’s extremely rare. Terrified, yet again, we all jumped up and tried to climb up higher into the stands as he passed us. Literally lifting our legs above him as he passed below. My stomach was in knots the entire time. Watching it all actually started to make me physically sick. I don’t think my heart can handle anymore.
After six rounds and countless mini heart attacks on my part, it was finally over. We all took one last group shot in the arena, wearing our sangria stained uniforms, grabbed yet another pizza and said our goodbyes. Foreshadow: This will not be the last adventure with “The Crew”!
We were on the 3pm train to Madrid. After 4 days of nonstop drinking, only eating pizza and Burger King, and sleeping 5 hours in 4 days, my entire body hurts, I feel like hell and I’m ready to go home. San Fermin, you were a riot, an adventure, and definitely a memory and I’m happy I can tick you off my Bucket List so I don’t have to go through that anxiety again. I’m too old for this.
- Opening Ceremony in the plaza
- Ran with the Bulls
- Made it in the arena
- Get a balcony to watch the Opening Ceremony and the run
- Not just a party for young adults. Parents, grandparents and kids all enjoy the festival. Truly something for everyone.
- They actually do a good job of getting the trash out every day
- People are very helpful during the run. If you fall, everyone will help you up and try to protect you. But while you’re actually running next to the bulls it’s every man for himself.
- You smell like sangria no matter what
- Trash, pee, etc. everywhere
- Loud 24/7!
- Take the bus from San Sebastian and not the train. Bus is cheaper and faster.
- Look up festivalsallaround.com and other groups to join.
- Do NOT be drunk for the run.
- Buy two outfits, they will get ruined. And you need a clean one to run in. If you look drunk or if your outfit is too dirty, the cops won’t let you run.
- If you want to sleep, get a place outside the Old City. Ours was right in the action and the music never stops.
- If you want to watch, you still need to be at your spot by 5:30am.
- Get on a balcony for Opening and the runs.
- Bull fight every night with the bulls that run that day – We were told the bull fights in Pamplona aren’t that great and to see one in Madrid instead. But if you do want to go, there are scalpers everywhere selling tickets.
- The bulls are brought into the holding area the night before and you can go down and see them.
- 6 Bulls and 4 steer. 4 steers are also at the end to round up any of the bulls that might be wandering. Watch out for them!
- You can buy €7 tickets to get inside the arena after the run if you don’t want to run in.
- The first day (and Saturdays) are the most dangerous because it has the most people.
- When we ran, they said it was the most dangerous run in decades. 11 people hospitalized in one day. Last year throughout the entire festival they only had 4 people hospitalized.
- Most locals don’t run. They think it’s crazy. Mostly tourists from Australia, England and U.S.
- Met a guy from El Cajon!
- How to book YOUR Pamplona trip –> http://runningofthebulls.travel/pamplona-faqs/running-of-the-bulls-faq/