A TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant

Author: Cara Hoppe


Brisk cool air filters through the cracks of the tent, my eyes drearily open. A steady hum of voices begin to gather into a slow and steady burst of excitement and nerves. Its 4am, at Ezcabar Campsite, Pamplona and the light of day still hasn’t flooded the skies.

I scramble from my slumber and poke my head out into the crisp, fresh air, flashes of white and red fill my eyes. I too join the sea of white, I tie my little red kerchief around my neck and not so much bounce, but hesitate into the roar of what will be San Fermin!

The anticipation is peculiarly thrilling, as I watch the boys with their nervous jitter – today is the day – they are out for the run, the run with the bulls. As our bus approaches Pamplona town it is like the city has gone on hold- everyone, everywhere is dressed for the occasion, spirits are high and you can sense the festival camaraderie.

Its time to split teams, those intending to brave the insanity of the run, and those, like me that thought a bit of sense should prevail and watching from the bullring would suffice. As I left my friends who were off to run the narrow cobbled stone streets, I headed with anxious expectation towards the bullring. Hundreds of people gathered along the entrance line, under-breath voices scanning the crowds ‘Tickets!’. The cold air began shifting into hot, the sun was rising and the heat was soothing.

Gates open 7am – suddenly no inch of space, I am thrown into confusion, a fight to get in to the stadium, no tickets are checked – it is every person for themselves, squished, pushed we finally squabble in, breathe. Taking our seats the energy is contagious, waves of hands fly past my face as I try and settle to the singing and splendour of the people surrounding me. The wait.

8am BANG! First gun blows, I jump from my seat – I watch closely on the big screen as the massive bulls storm through the gate. My heart starts pumping, and I am not even running. Squeals of laughter and horror intertwine one another. It is a strange mix of exhilaration and astonishment.

The first runners join the stadium and the dust flies to the sound of their pounding shoes. A sudden parting of people as the bulls chase through the middle. Whistles are blowing, people are cheering, the massive beasts that tower amongst the revelers are bewildered and loose, charging with force towards anyone that stands in their way. People are thrown like rag dolls as the bulls surge from side to side. The action is constant, my eyes never sway from the ring. I search for my friends. Have they been frivolously thrown from their places? I laugh at the bizarre nature of this event. I find my friends dodging and darting around the edges of the ring, the final bull swoops through the centre and a unanimous roar of applause sounds throughout the stadium. The thrill is over, but the buzz continues on. Swarms of white and red colour exit the stadium, only to filter into the streets of San Fermin for the celebratory party to begin!