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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 13 Jul 2006

Location: Pamplona, Spain

MapEntry 47 - Encierro 1 and the Festival of San Fermin (July 7th - 9th)

So, with nervous trepidation, I climb out of my sleeping bag as the alarm clock starts sounding at 5am. In honesty, I barely slept a wink from 4am when Spen rang, as I couldn't seem to lower the heart beat below about 120bmp. All you could hear around the camp site was the quiet rustling of people climbing out of tents, amny of them looking incredibly worse for wear. My head ache gone from the day before, but the nose still tender and the eye starting to blacken but the minute, I decided to run... you only live once right. Clint had actually set his mind on running with or without me, which is quite impressive given 7 weeks earlier he couldn't spend the night alone in Copenhagen and arranged for my flights to be changed so I got in the same time as him - at my expense!

On the bus, the mood was incrediby sombre. I think it was a wicked combination of too little sleep, too many hang-overs and too many nerves about the up-coming run. I sat there the whole time, watching ZZ Top videos on the bus (never let me see another one again... PLEASE) smacking my newspaper in my hand, in the biggest ball of nervous energy I can ever remember being. Clint dozed in and out of consciousness, along with many of the people on the bus.

Once in the town, the destruction from the night before was wildly apparent. There were piles of rubbish absolutely everywhere, not a single step could be taken without standing on glass, plastic, paper, wild Spanish piss, or anything else that is simply discarded over the shoulder. We wandered slowly up the walkway to the Town Square where we planned on starting the run. The town square was about the part of town (and the rest of the bull run) that had been cleared or rubbish, and already there was a large crowd gathering. The railings were up, and we filed in slowly, heart rates rising constantly, despite being just after 630am, and 90 minute till the run. We grabbed our free t-shirts (great advertising campaign) and donned them for the run. As we waited around, the street sweeper continued to file through the crowd, picking up any more loose rubbish lying on the road. It made for some crammed times as he continued to file up and back through the town square.

With more anxious waiting ahead, the crowd grew larger, and it soon felt again like it was the previous day at noon - packed. You had to fight from being pushed too far down the run, as more nad more people filed in. One bloke had a great idea to create some space, either that or he just felt the effects of a hard night on the grog, and flopped his big fella out and started pissing in the middle of the square... might as well have an empty bladder as you go to run I guess! The booze must have affected a few others too, as one lady on a first floor balcony decided to pull her top off and show all of the blokes in town sqaure her breasts. Then, over the next 10 minutes, any time anyone walked out onto a balcony, cheers went up, from 15 year old girls to 80 year old grandmas! Eventually the lady's boyfriend, with the help of the crowd, convinced her to take her top off again, and again... the photos appeared in the paper the following day!

The last few minute before the run were crazy, and something that I would have appreciated a heads up on before hand - but that wasn't going to happen with our tour group....

As makes sense, the Town Square was bloody crowded, and if the bulls were to run into a particularly crowded area, there is no space for anyone to get out of the way, and carnage happens. As a result, the police filed through sometime between 10 to and 5 to 8. They split the crowd in two, and started forcing people down the track. Unfortunately, Clint, Al and I (and a few others we knew) were in the half getting forced down the track, missing the cut by 2 or 3 people. It wasn't so much the cops forcing people down the track, but the people at the back pushing their way down, to avoid copping a beating at the hands of the battons of the Spanish police. In teh space of a few minutes, we found ourselves around dead mans corner, about 150m up the run, and scratching our heads. What was going on? People started running, thinking the bulls had been released, but it was still before 8, and no bottle rockets had been let off. In the crush a number of people were dragged out by the police, some of them Topdeck people, and we had no idea why.

Now seems likes as good a time to give you my tips on the run - stuff I would have liked to have been told by the tour group, and essentially the only reason we opted for a tour - for the information, not the over priced tents.

1. Do not take cameras into the Bull Run. It is illegal to (dunno why, keeping hands free I guess) and the cops will remove from the run and smash your camera if they catch you - obviously didn't get told that one did I? The only thing one is allowed to hold in his hand is a newspaper, as you will see the locals do, primarily in order to use to distract the bulls. Movement - not color (see point 3).

2. If you are too far down the track before the start, you will be removed. There is too big a corwd behind you, and they will need space, so the cops will kick you out. If you are beyond Dead Man's Corner, you might as well jump out yourself and save the hassle from the cops. We were in the Middle of Town Square (right at the entry point in the fence) and got pushed around DMC. If you want to run through DMC, either enter at the start of the run, or enter at the Town Square and head down the hill towards the start of the run to ensure your spot.

3. There are safety announcements on speaker before the run, but it is so noisy that you can't make sense of them. Th emain one ot remember is that if you fall down, don't get up. Bulls are attracted to movement and not the color (Red). By getting up off the pavement in front of a bull, he will go straight at you. Having said that, if you are injured or in a bad position (ie. Dead Man's Corner) you may be able to shuffle under barriers to get to safety and first aid. Also, if you have plenty of clearance from the bulls, people may tell you to get up, you have time.

4. Watch the balconies for an indication of the position of the bulls. They will be in a frenzy when they see them and they will see them MUCH earlier than you.

5. From my count (more accurate than the info from Topdeck) there are 3 lead bulls with Bells on, 6 mean bulls, 2 trail bulls with bells on and a final trail bull, again with a bell. The bulls with bells are trained to run the track and will not (generally speaking) deviate from the middle of the track. The mean things tend to follow them, unless they fall and get separated for some reason. That's when it gets dangerous. Most of the photos you will vere have seen of a bull sliding is at DMC, and when he gets up, if he is facing the wrong way, there is trouble! So all in all, there a 12 bulls.

6. Bottle rockets - 1st one signifies that the gates are open, 2nd one signifies that all of the bulls have left the pen, 3rd signifies that the final bulls have been released (clean-up, make sure that there are no straggling mean bulls) and the 4th signifies that all 3 clean-up bulls have left the pen..

7. If you are too slow in the run, and all of the bulls are ahead of you, a gate will close behind the last bull, and you will be cut off from the rest of the run. Same goes for the arena, if the last bull is in the Bull ring, the gate will close, and you can't get in.

8. The gate to the Bull Ring opens before the bulls are released for the run (despite what Topdeck says) and you can run in as soon as it is open. Be prepared to be harrassed by the crowd inside the Arena though, with bottles of drink, cups of drink, and cups of other miscellaneous substance being throuwn at you. Not to mention the chant 'You are a punta(?)' deafening the stadium.

9. Chicks are not supposed to run, but plenty of them did. The Spanish will give you dirty looks, and the cops may remove you, but we say many just have a blind eye turned to them. The Spanish do despise it, but there was no sign of violence towards them. Take note though, do not expect a helping hand from a Spaniard if something does happen to you (Encierro 3, in teh Bull Ring, a chick got hammered and couldn't get off the bull, no one went to help. If it was a bloke, Spaniards would have been in there trying to distract the bull and draw it away from the victim).

10. There are not more bulls as the week goes on, but the weight of the bulls increase. The lightest and heaviest being 540 and 600kg the first day, and the second day 570 and 630kg, with only the one below 600kg.

Okay, so those are by no means comprehensive, but to the best of my knowledge from my short Bull Run lifespan (one run) and extensive pre-run internet research. If there are mistakes in there, let me know.

Anyway, the video from just after we were relocated, and the start of the bull run, where you can see the first lot of bulls come past (lead bulls with bells, you can hear them, and the mean looking black things):

The video ends as we are running hell for leather thrying to get to the Bull Ring ASAP, to see if we can get in. I didn't mean to stop the recording, but oh well. The reason being that the last of the mean bulls actually falls over at the end of the buildings and gets turned around. Of course, everyone behind the bull is stopping, and behind them everyone else is trying to move forward. That made one huge crush, and more confusion. The first knowledge we had of it was when the people on the balcony started yelling, and pointing for us to run in teh opposite direction. The second video takes place just after the bull is running in the right direction, and as we run into the Arena, and are in the Bull Ring itself. You can hear the 3rd and 4th bottle rockets exploding.

The feeling of jubilation was incredible, and finally everyone met up and started breathing sighs of relief. In hindsight, I wouldn't run with a camera again. Not for the fear of having smashed. Firstly it is a safety risk, and secondly, I really have very little recollection of the run outside of the back of a Olympus cameras LCD screen and buttons. I feel like I have cheated myself. So, anyone else planning on going next year? Need a run buddy?

The next video was taken from inside the arena, as the last of the bulls came filing through, just loping straight up the middle.

Then the real carnage started. They release adolescent bulls into the ring, and they run around trying to hit anything that moves. They have had their horns capped, so cannot gauge people, but still have 200 odd kg of beef under them, and they move faster than you do! Some red-neck Americans actually jumped on teh bull and tried to ride him. When he got off the bull, the Spanish had their go, riding this american into the ground, beating him, and then watching him get dragged away by the cops.

Item 11. This is not a bull riding, tackling, abusing anything event. You dodoge the bull, tap him with your hand (or preferably newspaper) on the back, and nothing else. If you have to put your hands on teh horns to stop from being rammed, okay, but do not grab or pull at them, more so for the tail. Hence you will understand why there are boos coming from the crowd at the start of this video - sorry you can't see the bull!

The bulls run around for a while, and eventually when they get tired, a nanny bull, again with bell, and much bigger, will come into the ring, slowly jog laps till they find each other, and then run out together. This process goes for usually for or 5 bulls, maybe 5 - 10 minutes each bull.

On the fourth bull, the 'impossible' happened. A bull with just one horn, the second had been cut, charged through a pack of people, just 10 feet from me. One guy, caught like a deer in the headlights, turned to face away from the little bull and run. Within an instant the little bull caught him, and gave him a shot with his head to the mans coccyxx. The man flew over the back of the bull, sailing into the air, and then landing head first on the gravel/sand mixture that the have in the arena. He didn't move. Quickly enough some people came over to lift him up, and then thought twice. Spinal damage? Leave him in the ring. In the end the lifted him up, and handed him over the rail, to none other than Clint, who'd already bailed from the Bull Ring. The first thing he told Clint was that he heard a crack. Clint gave him his Golden Palace t-shirt to rest his head on, rather than the concrete and waited for the streatcher to arrive. First to arrive though were representatives from all of the tour groups looking for the distinctive bracelts that they give all of their customers (for camp, buss and food access apparently, also makes for easy ID I guess), and then turn around when they saw he was on his own. Clint found out he was Ray, a 31 year old, with wife and two kids, from Charolotte, and he couldn't move his legs; then he was taken away.

The next day in the paper there was a picture of him, neck brace on, and a story in Spanish. He broke two top vertabae, and they completed some sort of surgery to put that back in place, then the waiting game could begin. Something so simple, could ruin a life so quickly. So for my next piece of advice, if you run the bulls, watch yourself in the ring afterwards, and if you are getting tired, get out.

After the fourth bull, I had had enough, and joined Clint on the outer before heading out of the stadium before the 5th and final bull came in. We wandered the streets around the arena in a drunken like daze, eventually heading back to the bus pick up point. In the end, most of the run, and the rest of the day appears rather daze like. I don't know why, maybe the build up of the event, and mental and emotional strain - physically, not really that tough. The clearest memory of the run is hurdling a person who had fallen over near the right hand wall, and thinking to myself, I shouldn't do that, in case I attract a bull, or worse still, fall over the person I'm jumping.

That day, Topdeck put a 15€ pisss-up, which I opted out of. I spent much of the day snooying in the shade by the pool. Let's face it, 15€ of Sangria is about 6Lt if I buy it on the street, so I figured it wasn't value for money, plus I wasn't in the mood.

At 5pm, Clint and I headed in to the city to try and acquire tickets to the bull ring for the bull fights that evening. Armed with the advice of Topdecks highest authorities, we knew we shouldn't pay mroe than 20-25€, and if worse came to worse, when people come out cos they don't like what they are seeing, offer half price to buy their ticket and go in. Well, the cheapest we could get a ticket was 60€ each, and upon trying to get in with a second hand ticket we found out that this trick didn't work anymore. Needless to say we were pissed off, and not seeing a bull fight - thanks again Topdeck. What's more, we later find out that tickets for the following nights bull fight go on sale the previous day at 830pm - at half price! So when a scalper wants 60€ for a 30€, he only actually paid 15€... what a scam!

Having said that, Kristy and Shernell went in earlier in the day and found some Spaniards to haggle for them and got tickets for 45€, using the money I had given them to get me and Clint tikcets at the supposed realistic price of 25€ each. They said it was an absolute riot, with Sangria splashing about everywhere, similar to the opening day, and chants going from an hour before the bull fights started.

Clint left town at 830, and I satyed on running into random people (Alana) all over the place. Eventually I caught up with Kristy and Shernell and we watched the fireworks. A 20 minute display, that was going to happen every night of the festival. Pretty impressive! A full day, and a bull run under my belt, we headed home around midnight and got some zzz's.

The following morning, Clint and I were to meet up with kristy and Shernell and go into the bull ring to watch the action of the run from there. A major mix-up and Kristy and Shernell ended up on one bus, Clint and I on another. Again, scalping was the order of the day, and we had to pay 10€ for 5.5€ face value tickets. The girls got theirs for 9€ each, must be a chick thing.

The stadium was packed, and we had to sit on a walkway. There were locals who hadn't been to bed yet, still drinking! They party from 8pm to 8am, and then once the run is over, go to bed for the day. At 8pm, they get up, have breakfast/dinner, and party all the way thru, watch the run (note, watch) and then sleep.

From the vantage point of the grand stand, it is easy to see just how someone could get so injured in the bull ring. Hence my suggestion of getting out of the ring after the run... The first video is of the 'runners' entering the ring, well before the bulls, to the bronx cheers of the crowd. The second video is of the bulls entering the ring, and the 'real runners' storming in at the same time - note the guy that falls over at the start (bottom middle of screen) and stays down protecting his head till another person comes over and tells him to get up, and the last bull in actually veers off course, and the matador takes him up the exit ramp.

Again we headed out to camp, and Kristy and Shernell packed up and headed off to Madrid in the early avo. Clint and I again lazed by the pool, jumping in and out on occassion to cool off. We had a night at the camp site, and with teh tour groups moving out, the locals moved in. We started playing some 3 on 3 soccer, and before long, every young'n in the area had heard about it, and it was full blow 11 a side. Playing goalie, I had a 6 year old Sweedish Maradona drill one right at my face and knocked me over, tears in my eyes. Didn't help the nose one bit...

After the game (and during) I polished off a few cans, and eventually headed to bed, with a full drive day expected the following day. As the bus returned from town before just before 1am, I sent Clint to find out of there were any tickets left to view the run from a balcony - apparently there were three, and I just had to get to the bus early in the morning to buy the ticket. Well, up at 445am, camera and video camera in hadn, I wait 45 minutes for a Topdeck representative to show, and when they do, they tell me the balconies are sold out, but I can head into town to see if someone doesn't show... stuff that. In a huff, I head back to bed, and sleep till 930am, and Clint and I pack up, throw our stuff in our car, and grab our two passengers to San Sebastian. By 1030am, we're on the road, leaving Pamplona, and more importantly, Topdeck behind.

Pamplona, for the Festival of San Fermin, is incredible. Do it, do it, do it, if you ever get a chance. BUT DO IT RIGHT. Don't do a shitty tour. Get yourself, and a bunch of friendss, and rent an apartment in town. That way you can live the local life, drinking at whatever hours you want, eating, sleeping and showering whenever you want. All the info you need for the run can be gathered from the internet, and more specifically from locals. Generally speaking, they are charming and friendly, when they are not stealing your stuff! The younger people will understand English much more than the older people. I had an awesome time, but I know it would be 50 times better if I was staying in an apartment in town - anyone wanna join me in the near future?


Next Issue: Entry 48 - Miscellaneous Driving - San Sebastian (Sp), Biarritz (F), Lyon (F), Laussane (Sw), Freiburg (G). 9th - 13th July.
Spanish police, Roxy Jam (surfing), world cup final, French movie sets, beautiful cities at night, boring camp grounds, home of the IOC and much much more....