Travel Log: Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain

I am very excited to share travel stories with you today!  We recently returned from an unforgettable ten day trip to Spain with an amazing group of friends.  Our trip was split into two cities: Pamplona and Barcelona.  Many people think of Barcelona as a Spanish vacation destination, but you may be asking why Pamplona?  Within our group of 19 travelers, a good portion had the Encierro, or Running of the Bulls, on their bucket lists.  The Encierro is held for eight consecutive days in early July in Pamplona, Navarro, Spain as part of the San Fermin Festival.  Its origin dates back to the 14th century, when townspeople had to move bulls from corrals into bullrings for the traditional bullfights and young men decided to run alongside the bulls and make it a competition.  If you read Ernest Hemingway's 1920s novel, "The Sun Also Rises" in school, you learned a bit about Pamplona during the San Fermin festival!  Pamplona embraces Hemingway and his grandson has attended the festival for the last four years.  I read that approximately 600,000 people descend on Pamplona during the festival to either run or take part in the festivities--the town was definitely crowded.  This first photo is the best shot I took from our balcony during day one of the Encierro, please read on for more photos and details about this incredible adventure.

 Our group met up in Barcelona on July 4th, gathering for dinner and a night out before heading to Pamplona together Saturday afternoon.  We arrived in Pamplona Saturday evening, July 5th, excited for Sunday's opening ceremony.  Thousands of people pack in the town square wearing their uniform of white tops, white bottoms, red sashes, and red scarves.  The chupinazo (a rocket) is set off at noon to officially mark the start of the festival, and everyone gets soaked spraying each other with sangria.  The energy was amazing!

The entire day feels like one big, sticky party in Pamplona.  We were all advised to bring cheap white clothing in multiples that could be thrown away, and that was the best advice.  If you didn't bring enough white shirts and pants, there were plenty of shops stocked with inexpensive white clothing for a fresh change of clothes.  Here are a couple of photos showing the aftermath of the opening ceremony with our sangria-splattered clothes.

Sunday became an all-day party before the first bull run Monday morning.  The bull runs start at 8am, but runners need to head to the prime starting location around 6am.  The police create a barrier inside of the fence that becomes the starting line of the race, and runners pack in tightly together to be closer to the starting line, and further from the bulls' corral down the hill.  The first day, five members of our group ran and the rest decided to wait until Tuesday.  I had no desire to run on any day, and opted to watch the first bull run from a fifth floor balcony instead (there were seven of us who chose to watch the first run from the balcony).  The photo below is from about 6:30am, and you can see there are quite a few runners but it isn't packed yet.

As the morning went on, people started to pack in tightly behind the police barrier that served as the starting line.  The Encierro is one of the few free things left in life: there is no entry fee, you just have to show up at the right time and stay within the rules (no backpacks, no cameras, etc).

I was starting to get worried for the runners, thinking that they were packed in too tight and would surely cause a pileup, but then maybe 5 minutes before 8:00am the police backed away and allowed the runners to start heading toward the stadium, choose their spots along the route, and thin out.

At promptly 8:00am, a rocket is fired and the bulls are chased out of their corral into the route.  We could hear the bells on the bulls, and then see them quickly run by.  What a thrill to watch!

The 850 meter race only lasted 2 minutes and 25 seconds from the time the bulls were released until they reached the stadium.  It was over so quickly!  The large bulls run through the stadium and out the other side, but smaller bulls are allowed into the ring afterward to interact with the runners.  Many runners want to run up and slap the bulls, or get as close as they can without getting chased and possibly gored by the bulls' horns.  Check out photos below that my friends took from the stadium on Monday and Tuesday.

Photo credit: Allison Naman

Photo credit: James Narramore

 Photo Credit: Payal Patel

Fortunately, no one in our group was injured and everyone had an exhilarating run.  With a little bit of research, everyone learned the safest places to start the run, as well as how to navigate and that definitely paid off.  Below is our Tuesday group of runners--all smiles afterward!

I hope you enjoyed my narrative of the San Fermin festival and the Encierro.  It was a truly memorable experience, and I'm so glad we had a large group to make the trip that much more fun.  I know that there are people very much against the Running of the Bulls and the bullfights, and I personally opted to not watch a bullfight, but I can appreciate the history, culture, and artistic skill behind these traditions.  After our three days in Pamplona, we returned to Barcelona for the remainder of our trip.  Please stay tuned for more posts detailing our time in Barcelona.  Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you have a great week!


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