Eight Days in Spain: Running with the Bulls (and more)

My trip to Spain in July was full of lots of the new, but, as you’d expect, plenty of the old too.

At the most recent Story Shuffle, I told the story of lessons I learned from Running with the Bulls in Pamplona. But I got to do plenty more in little more than a week.

In fact, eight days in the hub of ancient kingdom turned struggling modern Western European stalwart Spain proved to be among the best trips of my life.

In addition to the Running, in Pamplona I saw the first bullfight of my life. I also had suckling pig at the oldest restaurant in the world, saw more Picassas and Dalis than ever before, ordered tapas, sangria and paella in Spanish, swam in the Mediterranean, visited Gaudi and, of course, did so while reading Hemingway’s the Sun Also Rises for the first time. Below are a view videos and takeaways.

First of Spain as a whole: SACM and I did the Eurail train hopping and hostel path, though we also stayed in a B&B one night and couchsurfed another. See Facebook photos here. We did roughly 150 miles (243KM) from Madrid to Burgos and 135 miles (218 KM) from Burgos to Pamplona, which is roughly the distance from Philly to D.C. It was 280 miles (450KM) from Pamplona to Barcelona, which is roughly the distance from Philly to Pittsburgh.

The gruesome, centuries-old tradition of bullfighting was on display, as it is every year, during the annual San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain. With friends, I managed to snag the fairly expensive tickets the night before I went running with the bulls. I’m not sure I’d have to see one of these again.

First, the bull is worn down — having already been stabbed on its way into the ring.

After being stabbed, speared, worn down and then facing off with the matador, it is essentially lulled into its theoretically artful death.

Yes, it’s bloody. Then it’s dragged out.

Begun centuries ago by children following the bulls that were being brought from encilliro through Pamplona’s old town to its bullring, on Thursday, July 12, 2012 I went Running with the Bulls, one of my original life goals.

Bullfights happen throughout Spain and Latin and South America, and I saw some of the gruesome act the ancient San Fermin festival in Pamplona, but only here, because of the distance between its stables and its ring does the most famed Running of the Bulls happen every year.

It was thrilling and nerve-wracking and crazed and really very quick — less than five minutes of real running and less than a minute of the bulls running by before running into the bullring. Check out some pretty fun video below.

Here’s some shaky video of the heart of my running with the actual dozen 1500-pound bulls and steer — and the hundreds of crazies running alongside me. To be sure, while the bulls are running together, the risk is not a bull attack but instead getting pushed down by the throng and run or stomped, which happens every year. (These bulls are used in that evening’s bull fight and then will be eaten the following day).

After running through the old town, if you’re lucky, fast enough and start far enough into the course, you can make it into the ring.

Once in the bullring, over the course of a half hour, six baby bulls (more like 500-700 pounds, which will in a few years be the bulls that people run with) are let into the ring to run around and attempt to knock over foolish men who taunt them. I touched one, went up face to face a couple times and then mostly stood in the middle of the ring and felt the rush of adrenaline every time one ran toward someone who was taunting it. Below, watch one of the bulls running around.

Everything I learned about Running with the Bulls

  1. Fit in: get there on time, 7am for first timers before 8am start, be dressed in colors
  2. Don’t be drunk: crazy festival
  3. Have a strategy: seemed to be two big goals: either starting the run at the beginning to run with them as a pack; or starting along the path to try to run into the bullfighting ring where you can then run around being chased by baby bulls. In between those two starting points is dead mans curve, where people are gored and trampled every year, like the half dozen this year
  4. Run along the sides and any turns remember that most bulls are running hard and going wide around turns