Spain’s Running of the Bulls

Written by on March 9, 2014 in Europe, General with 0 Comments

San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls is one of the world’s longest standing traditions as it been celebrated annually since 1592. Ernest Hemingway is credited with bringing worldwide fame to the festival in his novel “The Sun Also Rises“.  Today, nearly one million visitors from all over the world gather in the small Basque city of Pamplona Spain to witness the event and take part in the week-long Fiesta.  

I’d been to Pamplona a couple times before to visit my friend Kelly, so couldn’t pass up another chance to participate in this fantastic festival!  I was still fighting jet lag from flying in from Asia a few days earlier, so after the flight from Paris and train from Madrid, I went to bed early.  I needed to rest as I remembered how crazy the first day of San Fermin gets from my visit several years before, and we had an early breakfast to get the party started early the next morning.

We all dressed up in the traditional white clothes with red handkerchiefs tied around our wrists, and dropped Kelly’s girls off with grandma and headed out to join a crew of about 20 of her and Inigo’s friends for a super-greasy breakfast, which would be the one and only meal of the day.  Eggs, bacon, sausage and kalimotxos were on the menu.  Kalimotxos is a common drink in the Basque region, mixing cheap red wine with cola.  Yes…it is pretty much as nasty as it sounds.  But it is free-flowing during San Fermin, and also provides people with something to spray into the crowd, ensuring that no one’s white clothes actually remain white for very long.

After breakfast, we moved out into the streets, where the crowds grew thicker and everyone was getting excited for the the kickoff at noon, where a rocket is fired from this square.


It was PACKED with people, so we decided to hang out in another square that wasn’t going quite as nuts after the rocket launch was 25 minutes delayed.


Tradition asks everyone to tie the red handkerchief around their neck after the rocket launches, to mark the start of the fiestas.  Everyone in the square was very excited and would hold it over their heads counting down the moments for the rocket.  Then the 8 day party finally began!


The origins of the white/red outfit isn’t officially known, however almost everyone dresses up and it’s easy to buy a white t-shirt, pants and red accessories for super-cheap at the local stores and supermarkets.  For the week I was there, everyone wore white and red every day.  It was nice as you always felt included in the festivities!


Pamplona has a pretty old town with tight cobble-stoned streets that were packed with people, old and young, happily imbibing with friends and family.


Kelly and Inigo’s friends were a lot of fun, but really tough to keep up with!


Most of the revelers from the kickoff fiesta of San Fermin party all day, then all through the night, and then get lined up to run with the bulls at 7 in the morning, already completely shattered!  CRAZY!


Kelly and I were home passed out by 2am.  Inigo didn’t make it back until after dawn.  We were not going to run with the bulls that morning!

The Spanish word for bull run is “encierro”, which refers to the transfer of bulls through the streets to get to the bull ring, where they would fight later that evening.  During San Fermin, each morning for 8 days 3,000 runners (or idiots, depending on how you view them) try their luck at running alongside 12 bulls for approximately 800 meters through the streets of Pamplona into the bullring, while 25,000 spectators watch from the streets and balconies overhead and another million or so watch on TV.


It is quite the spectacle.  The race is over before you know it.  Unless one of the bulls gets separated from the pack, which generally means trouble.


There were several injuries during the bull runs this year, but luckily noone died.  Kelly and I considered running this year, as there are definitely safer areas to start from along the route, but her boyfriend and father of her two daughters strictly forbade it.  I didn’t blame him as you never know what might happen.  In fact, this year there was one day where a freak stoppage happened going into the bullring where it became incredibly dangerous for hundreds of runners.  Luckily there were no fatalities!

This year, it was fun to see the “family” side of San Fermin.  We dressed up Saioa and Miren and headed into town.


There were a few streets blocked off for children’s events and one filled with massive bouncy-houses that reminded me of an outdoor “Pump Me Up” (for those of you who have been to a 5 year old’s birthday party, you know what I mean).  I found it absolutely hilarious to watch the kids’ encierro, where several 16-20 year olds chased kids around a track with fake bulls heads on wheels.  Very cute.  But crazy that they are promoting children to grow up wanting to run with real bulls.


After several days I really got a good feel for San Fermin and Pamplona, and it was really nice to hang with Kelly and her family.


It was also fantastic to be back in Spain, where we celebrated everyday with an inexpensive bottle of cava (the Spanish version of sparkling wine/champagne).


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