15th Apr 2012 1:00pm | By Laura Chubb
Every year, tourists are invited to dice with death and take on the bulls of Pamplona. The result, we find, is pure pandemonium ...
The Running of the Bulls is a top-of-the-bucket-list entry for any traveller worth their passport stamps. The seven-day extravaganza in Spain’s Pamplona is an unabashed orgy of sangria fights, parades and parties – plus the small matter of risking your life every morning at 8am, should you wish to join in with the brave/ dim-witted and leg it through the cobbled streets ahead of a pack of angry bulls.
The ‘Pamps’ opening party takes place on July 6, with the first run scheduled for July 7. From that point on, festival-goers can run the route – beginning in the streets and ending in the main arena – every morning at 8am until July 14, with the bulls (hopefully) behind them. There are bull-fights every evening, too – if you can tear yourself away from the parties.
But why go all the way to Spain just for the bulls? You can tack on a host of other sizzling destinations to your Pamplona tour and make it one hell of a holiday to remember. Here, we give you a first-hand account of being in the running, and a guide to everything else you should see while you’re there.
Pamplona, by Laura Adcock
“No Dad, of course I won’t run,” I soothe down the phone from my San Sebastian hostel, ears still ringing from the horror stories – including the fatal goring of Spaniard Daniel Jimeno Romero in 2009.
I’m about to attend the Running of the Bulls festival, which takes place each July as part of the chaotic Fiesta de San Fermin.
To run or not to run? Speaking to my fellow travellers, I’m none the wiser as to the best course of action. A few boys have clearly been waiting for this opportunity their whole lives and the enthusiasm is infectious. But then Murray, our tour guide, tells me in no uncertain terms: “You’d have to be completely insane to want to run it.”
I decide to sleep on it.
When I step off the coach in Pamplona at 6am – those preparing to run need time to walk the route beforehand – a scene akin to a natural disaster confronts me. People have passed out everywhere, one man lies with his head in the road, and eerily, everyone is dressed in the same white outfits with red scarves. I’m hit with the overpowering stench of vomit. This is the craziest place I have ever been.
As we walk the narrow, cobbled streets, there are still plenty of revellers going strong and the ground is slippery from the copious amounts of sangria underfoot.
I feel overwhelmed and extremely sober; there is no way in hell I’m running this gauntlet. Morgen, who I befriended on the bus, looks distinctly uneasy as I wish him luck (while secretly wondering if I’ll ever see him again) and I head to Plaza de Toros, where the race will end. The atmosphere is electric and I get swept up in crowd mentality, joining in with the Mexican waves that sweep around the stadium.
At 7.55am the big screen flashes on to reveal today’s bulls and I realise just how massive these creatures are. My stomach somersaults when the rocket is launched at 8am and the gates are flung open.
On screen, the really brave (Spanish) participants who start at the beginning of the 825m route run for their lives. The crowd goes mental; jeering, spitting and even throwing bottles at the offenders who ran too early – there is no place for cowards and glory hunters in Pamplona.
The race is over in less than four minutes, and luckily it’s a ‘clean’ run. That afternoon, we head back to Pamplona for the evening fiesta. Arriving in the late afternoon sunshine, the streets are miraculously clean with no sign of the previous night’s carnage. I soak up the atmosphere and street entertainment in Plaza del Castillo while sipping on ridiculously cheap sangria.
My thoughts soon return to the run and I know that I can’t leave without taking part. Even when Franz, a German photographer, tells me in broken English that he has “seen how horrific it is when the run goes wrong”, I’m too buzzed to be put off.
You can swim in the shadow of historical buildings and churches, and there’s some decent surf – although Playa de la Zurriola, across the river, is better for catching waves, and less crowded. For an impressive panorama of this city on the sea, take the funicular railway up Mount Igueldo, west of town. If you fancy earning a view with a walk, head up Monte Urgull, at the top of which stands a grand statue of Jesus. For budget fare, head into the Old Town and rack up the pintxos (the Basque Country version of tapas).
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