No, we’re not going again (don’t worry Mom and Dad!), but this weekend I am apparently all about the How I/We Did This. And Fiesta de San Fermin begins in about two weeks (the first Encierro is on July 7) so time is off the essence.
The thing we struggled with prior to our trip to Pamplona to run with the bulls was finding a source (man or internet) that would give us a solid game plan. So. Here is what I would want to know if I was running with the bulls/participating in the Encierro in Pamplona. Please remember as you read this that these are my observations, based on my experiences in Pamplona and with the Encierro. I have only been there once, and I am not at all an expert.
If you are looking for the play-by-play of our run, it is here.
Uno. Fiesta De San Fermin.
It runs from 6 July – 14 July. I want to say that the city is about 200,000 people during the year and is 1,000,000 people during the fiesta. During the remainder of the year, Pamplona is actually a pilgrimage stop on the road to Santiago. With that in mind, if you have ever been to Vegas or down Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras, this is still bigger and more insane.
Drink all day and party all night applies. You will also be astonished by the number of people pushing strollers or wearing Baby Bjorns. The fiesta is for All People.
Dos. The Outfit.
You should probably know this by now, but in case you do not, EVERYONE (runner or reveler) wears the all-white ensemble with the red scarf and sash. You can bring your own or you can buy the whole thing literally anywhere in the city for between €16 – €26. A few people may wear red bottoms or a red shirt, but that’s really where the variety ends. For our run, I pre-made tear away sashes with snaps so that if for some reason we did meet the bulls’ horns, it wouldn’t like, constrict and chop us in half. Also, newspapers are €1.30. You can split one and make two batons.
Tres. The Start.
Our biggest fear was not so much that we would get hurt, but that we would be in the wrong part of the street at the wrong time when they closed and cleared the course. They sweep the course at 7:00 AM and all the while these carpentiero dudes in brown vests are setting up those giant wooden fence-style barricades. The street sweeping squad is busy hosing/sweeping/leaf blowing the course. Truly I have never seen such a thorough bunch. When they are done, there is nothing but cobblestones for man and beast to set foot upon.
There are two places that you are able to corral for the run. The government center and the inicio (start). We stuck around at the inicio until just after they placed San Fermin and his flowery accessories into the grotto. At about 7:45 AM, we started to move down the course. Once the streets are clear, you are able to move around the course and choose a starting point. We all knew that we wanted to begin past Dead Man’s Curve down Calle de Estafeta. Two of our group were heartset on making it into Plaza de Toros so they started farther down while Marcus and I stayed up the road.
Quatro. The Run.
At approximately 8:00 AM you will hear one rocket announcing the release of the first bull and another very shortly thereafter announcing the departure of the last. People will begin running at this point even though your area of the course may not see bulls for another minute and a half.
Really important stuff to know:
- If you fall down (TONS of people trip, tackle one another, etc.), STAY DOWN in the fetal position until the bulls have passed. This is really the most important thing to know. The bulls will try to run around you or jump over your body rather than run over you because you are an obstacle. It’s instinct. If you try to stand up and the bulls are coming, you will be directly at horn height. Do not do it.
- If you cannot remember Rule #1 or think that you will be the exception to falling down, seriously do not bother running.
- The bulls are incredibly fast. You are not going to keep up with them.
- The bulls are more likely to run in the center of the street than the outside edges. They are more likely to turn wide and slip/fall at those corners and turns than they are to make a tight turn.
- Bulls running with the herd are much less dangerous than those that have been separated.
- The steers. They run the course every day. Some run with the bulls and the pastores chase a few more down the course 30-60 seconds behind the herd to sweep the bulls that have been separated from the group.
- If you enter the Plaza de Toros more than 30 seconds in advance of the bulls, do expect to be showered with trash. The crowd knows that there is no way in hell you ever saw the bulls.
- The pastores and the Spanish runners in particular are very concerned with safety and maintaining the tradition and dignity of the Encierro. We saw people get slapped/whacked by these groups for doing the following: Taking photos and videos on the course during the run (this is incredibly and idiotically dangerous), trying to wrestle and/or ride one of the bulls with capped horns that are released into the arena post-run.
- Know that people will essentially carry you down the course with their momentum. You do not want to start too soon, but you do want to start running early enough that you are up to crowd speed when the bulls pass. You will know that the bulls are coming because the speed and pattern of the runners becomes outright frantic and you will hear the bells on the steers and the clattering hooves.
Cinco. It is unforgettable.
The Encierro is not something I would describe as “fun,” per se. What I will say is that the moment the rockets go off and you are on that course, you become a part of what is a very special and sacred tradition to the people of Pamplona. Enjoy those two minutes, because they will leave a mark.