Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Jaclyn Grady

The blue skies of Spain beamed bright as we left for the opening ceremony at 9am from our campsite. The caravan park was positioned on a hill in the middle of vast fields on the outskirts of the quaint little town of Estella, 35 km from Pamplona. Everyone was kitted up in their whites and red scarves. We travelled by the bus loads and were given some advice not to be in the town square around midday when the ceremony kicks off. A warning we did not heed.
After doing a quick walk of the path of the Bull Run, so the runners could establish their bearings for the next day, we found ourselves in the town square where there were thousands of Spanish locals and travellers from every corner of the world. Everyone was drinking and splashing sangria, champagne, wine, and beer all over each other. Within minutes we had bought our own 3 euro bottles of sangria and were all covered in it as well. I was soaked from head to toe and my favourite white terry towelling shorts were stained beyond repair. My hair, normally blonde, turned purple and our eyes stung from the alcohol that was constantly being sprayed from above. The atmosphere was insane; people were beating drums, dancing and singing. Bottles, streamers and huge blow up balls were being thrown around the crowd everywhere. Everyone was so amped up. It was only ten in the morning and already we couldn’t move. We gave up trying to walk around because we were going nowhere fast and decided to set up camp and claim our ground by making a circle. This circle saved my life. In it were 4 South Africans, 2 Kiwis, 2 Irishmen and me, the only girl and token Aussie.
The next hour and a half was an absolute blast, full of memory making excitement, action, craziness, amusement and just great fun. Our whites had turned to purple and there was glass everywhere from broken bottles. It was now heavily cramped, shoulder to shoulder down every street of the town as far as the eye could see. At about 11.30am the fun started to ease off and panic started to kick in. The crowd got very rough and swayed to and fro about 1-5 meters every minute. It was hard to stand up and people were getting pushed and pulled in every direction. The boys were losing their shoes and every one of us had cuts all over our feet from the glass. I had blood, which wasn’t even mine, dripping down my legs. The boys locked arms together so I was in the middle of the circle for protection, but we still fell all over each other with every swaying force their arms would get tangled and choke my neck. I actually had to hold my breath a few times when I knew we were going to be pushed again because I couldn’t breathe.
I could see and hear girls screaming and crying, girls that only moments before were being lifted up onto boys shoulders to take their tops off to the cheering crowd, having the time of their life. I kept looking up at the clock and counting down the minutes until it would all be over. At one point I looked to the sky and quietly said my goodbyes, thinking I was going to get trampled on by the now frantic crowd with all the broken glass below to leave my spirit in Pamps forever. My panic rose even more when I noticed the boys’ faces started to change, like mine, and the lively cheering turned into a lot of swearing as they too started to get really worried about their own safety and not just mine. We couldn’t do anything about it; we couldn’t move at all as the crowd was so packed in. We just had to try stand our ground and wait until it would be over.  A massive flag fell over us and we were under it for awhile making things worse because it was so hot and humid under there, I felt really claustrophobic.
Finally the clock struck 12 and the opening ceremony of 2008 started with a bang as the cannons fired and the whole town yelled ‘San Fermin’ ‘San Fermin’ whilst waving their red scarves about madly. The Spanish locals were safely looking down on us from their balconies, some spraying streamers and confetti, others throwing egg and flour onto the torrent of people below.
For a moment the crowd eased off enough for us to take a few steps out of the town square and into the jam packed streets of Pamplona. At all times I had to have both hands on two boys otherwise I would’ve lost them within an instant and not seen them again until back at camp. In that moment, covered in sangria, holding hands with a train of boys from all over the world that had just saved my life and whom I had only met 48 hours before, I closed my eyes and thanked God with a massive smile ear to ear. Still wearing the smile weeks after I had returned to London I looked back on this experience of a lifetime having been a part of the thrilling age old Spanish tradition of the ‘Running of the Bulls – San Fermin Festival’ and thought how lucky I am to be LTD (Living The Dream).