You know they spit on women, don't you?

Pamplona Travel Blog

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I made it to the arena...and the guy behind me needs larger pants.

Claustrophobia—it was suddenly all I could think about.  The walls of the buildings were enclosing me.  My 5’1 stature felt like it could reach up and touch the bottom of the balconies without stretching.  The makeshift fences littered with people were on top of me.  I couldn’t make a move without bumping into a drunk.  I took a deep breath to remind myself that I was only walking the route—I wasn’t crazy enough to actually run with the bulls.       

            My path and the encierro started in front of the bull’s corral along Santa Domingo.  It was hard to fathom how this tradition started seven centuries ago to speed up the process of getting the cattle to markets.  As the practice continued, it slowly turned into a competition among the butchers, leading to the festival that it is today.  I wondered if they knew then what they had started or even that 700 years later they would eventually let women join in?

            The 825 meters seemed forever to walk.  Worst yet, being the typical American, I had absolutely no idea when those meters would come to an end.  I wasn’t waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel, just the entrance to an arena.  Despite being hosed down earlier, you could still feel the crunch of glass and the smell of human waste as you weaved through the narrow streets.

            The route was beginning to fill up.  It was still two hours before the rockets would sound, but I could begin to see the nervous looks in the men’s faces.  I had yet to see another girl as I continued along.  Women have only been allowed to run for about 15 years.  There were still the aficionados, those annual runners who held the tradition in the highest regards, which felt that women should remain spectators.  I remembered how on the first day of the run, since there were too many runners to safely run, the first people the police pulled from the route were the women, followed by the fall-down drunks and then those without proper running shoes or obstructing clothing. 

The claustrophobia subsided when you stepped into expansive Plaza Consistorial.

  The railings were being put up to map out the route.  Only a day earlier I sat on one of those 3” wide slats, catching on tape a guy who ignored the rule that if you fall, cover your head with your hands and don’t get up until the police tell you to.  Instead, he stood just in time for a bull to catch him square in the back.  He didn’t get up again.  I kept the video rolling as they took him off on a stretcher.  As I continued walking, I could still see his blood stain on the stone.  I took another deep breath.

I began to wonder what possessed people to knowingly put their life in danger?  In such a tight squeeze, between the six 1000 pound bulls and the runners, I’d put my money on the bulls every time.  Fifteen people have died in the past 80 years along this path.  How many of those ran for the pure sport of it and did they value any of the tradition behind the run?  I came to Pamplona to experience a history and ritual unlike any I would find in the States.  From the chupinazo signaling the beginning of the festival to the prayer to Saint Fermin chanted by the runners before the start of every run, I had begun to appreciate the event for the history it still held. 

As I walked, I came to dead man’s corner.  The 90-degree turn was too sharp for the bulls to navigate, so they crashed into the left side of the wall.  This gave people the false sense of security that if you stayed along the right side of the route, you’d be safe.  I continued down the homestretch as the arena came into sight.  Now the route bottlenecked—it opened up, only to slim down as you entered the arena.  As I got to the end I took in my surroundings—the fences were crammed with people and the police were trying to keep things in check.  Hemingway’s bar was in view, a fitting reminder to how this act of stupidity was popularized. 

            I returned to the Plaza Consotorial an hour and a half before the 8 am start.  As I stood there, an overhead camera tracked my every move.  I was the only girl in the vicinity—a sideshow act of sorts.  I stood there with no intention to run, but I began to hash out the “what-ifs.”  Was it enough just to say I was in Pamplona and only watched? Was I ready to pass on the chance to be a part of a centuries-old festival and would I regret going home without a death-defying story?  Did I walk this route subconsciously knowing that I wanted to run?  

            As I stood there with questions running through my mind, a local approached and asked if I planned on running.

  “You know they spit on woman, don’t you” he continued. I stared at him for what seemed like an eternity.  Then I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I’m running.” 

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I had been in Pamplona for over 2 days and was starting to get the itch to leave.  I hadn't acquired a desire to actually run, despite the fact I still had that feeling in my stomach that it wasn't enough to just say I watched it, but I wasn't sure how many more people I could see dropping their pants in the middle of a street to go to the bathroom.  I was also tiring of the fact that I had no money and I was playing a waiting game for the post office to open up.  I had planned on spending Sunday watching the run and then walking around Pamplona to see the city outside of the epic center of the festival.  The morning started out as planned.  I caught the second run from the Plaza Consistorial and then headed to the Plaza de San Francisco to map out the rest of my day.
  While sitting on a park bench, I met a guy from Texas who had run that morning.  We started talking and comparing stories and he mentioned that he wanted to catch the Wimbledon Championship b/t Federer and Nadal somewhere that day.  So I quickly joined forces w/him and his friends.  He was backpacking Europe and had a group in Pamplona from around the States and Canada that he had been hanging out with--some he knew prior, but most he didn't. 

These guys were awesome...they were some of the craziest, adventurous guys I had ever met.  Stories of their runs, trying to sneak into bull fights, crashing the PETA Running of the Nudes...I knew this was a group I wanted to be in.  I went with a bunch of them to an internet cafe to see if we could find a video of the days run.
  None had been posted yet, but we did discover that some of the guys' backsides were the iconic image of the Running of the Nudes:-)  4 of us headed out to find a place to watch Wimbledon.  You would think that since Nadal, a Spaniard, was playing, you wouldn't have any trouble finding a bar with it on TV.  Well, as it turns out, there was an F1 race somewhere in England that took precedence over Wimbledon.  We walked around for over an hour before we found some hole in the wall willing to turn it on for us and ignore the fact that the only sale they were going to get was a cup of coffee out of one of the guys.  None of us really had any money, as for me, I didn't have a Euro to my name.  I was upset that Nadal lost the match, but pretty stoked that I had found a really cool group to hang out with.
  I ended up meeting back up with them that night.  Sometime around 1am a couple of the guys and I went to find a place to crash.  One of the guys was going to run the next day so he wanted a little sleep.  I still had no intention of watching or running.  We woke up around 5 to go meet up with everyone else that was going to run, but only one of the other guy planned on running w/him.  So I had one of the other guys watch my day bag and headed off w/the two of them to walk the route.  So yeah, turns out I was going to run with the bulls. 

After walking the route, the guys opted to start in the Plaza Consistorial.  I decided to hang out with them there and if I hadn't chickened out by 7:30, I would run as well.  For most of the 2 hours leading up to the run, I was the only girl in my general vicinity.
  For like 20 minutes one of the overhead cameras never left me.  It stayed directly above me, no matter where I moved.  I can only imagine the commentary going on w/that feed. 

As the clock neared 8, I realized I was really going to run w/the bulls. It is by far the dumbest and craziest thing I´ve ever done. I was pretty nervous those 2 hours leading up to it. I kept thinking about backing out, but then figured if I did I would always wonder why. About 2 minutes before they release the bulls, they let off a notice to start moving. I walked/ran a bit to ensure that I was around dead man´s corner before the bulls were released. In the process I met the nephew of the owner of the Lake Metonga Supper Club in Crandon, a town I used to live in (small freaking world).
I hit a straitaway and hopped up in a crevice on the right w/2 girls and guy who started out by me. THe cannon sounded to let us know the first bulls were released. The second cannon let us know they were all released (they come in 2 sets usually). We waited for the bulls to come and jumped into the street just before they were running by and then I ran like hell to make sure that I got into the arena before the last bull.

I never saw the second set of bulls b/c I made it to the arena just before they did. Once in the arena, they release 6 younger bulls one at a time. The bulls have rubber on their horns so they don´t gore you. It took all of 2 minutes of the first bull released for me to jump the wall into the stands. I was along the edge when the bull came rushing toward us.
He was about 6 inches away as I leaped over the wall. When they released the second bull I jumped back in. I worked up the courage to try to get into the inner circle of it all around the 4th bull, but everytime I came close, the bull would make a move and hundred people would come rushing toward me. A couple times I got pretty close, but I wouldn´t have tried to hit them or anything, I´m not that crazy.

But yeah, I ran with the Bulls. If I can do that, I can do most anything. I stayed to the right to avoid the main path of the bulls, so I could play it safe.

I don´t know what it was, but as soon as I got into Pamplona I felt that it wasn´t enough to just watch, that I would have to run. I spent 8 hours over 2 days sitting on a 2" wide fence just to see the runs.
My bottom is still killing me.

I wore the same clothes for 5 days. Took no showers. Slept about 5 hours the first night, and then maybe 3 hours total the next 4 days. Pamplona was absolutely crazy. Party 24/7, garbage everywhere, guys relieving themselves on any structure possible. It was a constant smell of urine, garbage, sangria and heat.  It was hard to believe that just a day before I wanted nothing more than to get out of town, but now I could say I ran with the bulls.  I had met up with a really cool group of people and had decided that instead of heading to France right away, I was going to get my money and head to San Sebastian.  For the past couple days everyone I talked to mentioned that a lot of people head there to recover.  I met a group on Monday that was going to head there, including a couple of the guys I had met, so the first unplanned portion of my trip was about to happen.

rahulshukla says:
Wow... your blog is good.. Its informative and gives the feeling of the whole experience. I really have a good feeling about this fiesta. I am definitely gonna b there!! :D Thanks Kimberly for writing this blog
Posted on: May 12, 2012
kiwiegyptian says:
Thats so awesome .. Im going to Pamplona this yr and always thought about running too.. did u think it was extra dangerous for a girl? I heard ppl push u to the sides and so to get past - did u find that to be true?
Posted on: Apr 06, 2010
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