It is 8am. You have not slept because of the fierce racket of music in the streets and the couple of beers you consumed to arrest the fear. The fear of the bulls. You find yourself among thousands of red and white clad strangers chanting
A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición
three times to a tiny statue of San Fermin in the Spanish town of Pamplona. You learned the chant in advance (perhaps from this website) but somehow you forget the words. Suddenly the words change to
Viva San Fermín
Txupinazo - the Opening Ceremony
The chanting is finished. A deafening canon explodes into the skies. It's on. You are now running with bulls.
When & Where The running of the bulls is part of the Fiesta San Fermin which begins 6th July until 14th July, every year in Pamplona a fortress town in Navarra, Spain. There are other bull runs, including a less well known one near Madrid
Hemmingway popularised this Spanish tradition in his book "The Sun also rises" - why not see what all the fuss is about :)
The Bull Run is 800 metres long, divided in 2 legs. The first from the bull pen to Calle Estafeta (iron borders swing across the street separating the 2 legs) and the second from Calle Estafeta to the Bull Ring.
Bull Running Tips
1. Respect the bulls. Locals rever and worship the bull so never pull its tail, hit it aggressively and disrespect it. It is acceptable to tap it with a rolled-up newspaper.
2. San Fermin is famous for pick-pocketing :( The upside of this is that everything is quite cheap in the town so you don't have to carry too much money on you ever.
3. If you want to do the buill run arrive early, at least 6.30am to ensure you can do it. There is limited capacity.
4. The local police are possibly the toughest people on the planet and will do anything to maintain control so don't look drunk and do as they say immediately. Oh and cameras are forbidden during the run too.
5. Remember when running that bulls can get dizzy & opt instead to charge spectators. Bulls are trained to complete the course with no runners during the year. In a confused state they can charge.
6. Try to avoid the corner of Calle Estefeta as bulls regularly fall over as it is a sharp turn. This is the most dangerous part of the bull-run and people get trampled.
7. If you fall whilst running in front of the bulls, the recommended defense is to stay down on the ground with your hands on your head.
Arriving at the bull ring
8.04am arriving at the bull ring
If you run the second leg of the bull run you should arrive at the bull ring, or as locals call it Encierro de toros. Be careful of the entrance tunnel as it is very narrow compared to the street and there is a lot of crowding. I once saw a person drop his hat and try to pick it up. He got trampled on by the throngs of people.
Once you get to the bull ring it is an amazing adrenaline filled feeling. It is 8.04 in the morning and you are in the middle of a packed stadium celebrating the joy of being alive. This is when the 'baby bulls' are released and the next 2 hours are filled with people dodging the bulls in the stadium which is more dangerous fun, so as always in Pamplona - be careful.
Accommodation Pamplona is a small rural town so stay central and book VERY early. If like hundreds others you decide to sleep on the grass around the town be sure to sleep on your wallet as pick-pockets prey on these people.
San Fermin Festival
The running of the bulls is only one aspect of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona. There are several other events including music and the fireworks bull (not a real bull !), there is lots of events organised but the real fun is the Txupinazo (opening ceremony) which begins 6th July at midday and the weekends. The San Fermin festival is a little more family orientated on weekdays but that doesn't stop people partying all night in traditional Spanish bars with sawdust on the floors. There is another dangerous custom at San Fermin which is that of climbing a fountain and jumping off and being caught by strangers. The danger is not how drunk you are but how drunk your catchers below are. The bulls which run in the morning are used that evening in the bullfight at the encierro on plaza de toros (the bull ring).
Airports Pamplona has a domestic airport: serviced by Aviaco & Lan. The Nearest international airports are Vitoria, Biarritz, San Sebastian and Bilbao book your flights here.
Going Local in Pamplona
What to wear White t-shirt & pants with a red scarf and rope belts. This is the uniform of the bull runners and can usually be purchased cheaply in Pamplona from street stalls.
What to drink Kalimotxo. This is the local mixture of coca-cola and local red wine. You can pick up a bota cheaply from street merchants and mix your Kalimotxo in it.
The Gay scene There is a good gay scene in Pamplona at the San Fermin festival, in the old part of town try El Mesón (in Navarreria) or the Nicolette (in Tejeria). Also San Juan (ten minutes walk from the old part) there are three bars. El Alakarga, for example, where there is a good atmosphere for couples of all types, men or women. In the M-40 bar the atmosphere is exclusively male. The Mineo is the newest bar and a lot of people like it.