Streaming down narrow corridors with thousands upon thousands of Spaniards with twelve 1,500lbs bulls hording behind wasn’t the best idea in hindsight, but an opportunity and experience I wouldn’t trade for a lifetime. On your typical Tuesday night, I ventured out with 3 other students in my Madrid program to the bus station to depart on a five and a half hour bus ride to Pamplona for the San Fermin Festival. When purchasing our tickets, we met a guy from Australia, named Ben, who had ran yesterday. He would be our guide for the running, and teach us the ropes for how to successful complete the run in fashion.
We arrived around 2.30, and it was apparent the festivities had already begun underway. Upon getting off the bus, we were smacked in the face by an emerging sea of white and red scarves. We paraded through the fields, streets, and twisted corridors of the city center. Marching with flock of Spaniards, we chanted and sung Spanish hymns until we were blue.
We warried sleeplessly throughout the night, then made our way through the crowd to the starting gate lineup at the verge of dawn. Board by board, they began fencing us into a pen like a heard of sheep. The crowd began to emulate with vibrance and energy; everyone was antsy. Eager viewers lined the street fences and buildings. Butterflies tossed and turned in the trenches of my stomach, as emotions of excitement, zealousness, and adrenaline mixed in a grueling crockpot of fire.
At the 8:00 AM on the dot, the shot was fired. The gates were lifted, as we were generously granted a 5 minutes head start. The goal was quite simple: make it into the arena at the end of the track without getting goared. We rushed hurriedly in the paniced crowd, constantly peering over our shoulders and looking ahead to our destination. One of the most vivid memories I have is the sound of the bulls hoofs clobbering on the cricked narrow streets. My heart pulsed in synchronization with the heavy drumming beat. I couldn’t see them, but they made their presence know echoing pulsating vibrations throughout my skull.
I took off as fast as my legs would carry me. The bulls were streaming by. The size of those beasts was unforgettable; I pulled out my phone in attempts to take a quick picture to capture the moment. My phone was bumped out of my hand by a hurried runner, as a watched in soar slow motion towards the middle of the street. Without hesitation, I ran out and grabbed it, with just enough time to see the eyes of the bull bee-lining straight towards me.
We narrowly avoided three waves of wildabeasts before chasing them into the arena, the gathering point for the final showdown. One by one, a bull would be released for a 2 minute time period to reek havoc on all those who were brave enough to bare the challenge. This carried on for an hour, as I witnessed Spaniards getting flipped and launched like burgers on a frying pan. It felt very Gladiator-esque, as the crowd roared with excitement every time contact echoed throughout the stadium. How something of this magnitude was permissible, I will never know. But the memories and experiences taken from San Fermin will never be forgotten.