Ah, Pamplona, Spain. The Running of the Bulls. When Hemmingway wrote the book "The Sun Also Rises", there was quite a different meaning behind the fiesta of San Fermin, the saint. Today we might use a related title to go along with the current fiesta, The Running of the Drunks. Here is a little story you may want to read that tells you a little what it is like during this festive time in Spain.

The Running of the Bulls is probably the wildest party ever, toping Mardi gras in New Orleans by far. When we arrived the first day, we wanted to scope it out. We found the path (full of bars and souvenir shops) where the bulls run. There is an information center near where you can get a free map. So we got the map and followed the path and looked for a good place to view. Later, we sat down in one of the many outdoor watering holes on the main square in the old town and had a pitcher of Sangria, something not to be missed. Talking with some of the people that were going to run the next day, we found that you are supposed to fill out a check off sheet and sign a waiver just in case you get gored to death. Hey, but that's what it is about right? The thrill of dodging a charging 2000-pound hunk of sirloin.

Following the trail once again, the many bars opened up and loud music raged from each door. A variety of street acts did their thing while watchers tipped them for their skills with Euro coins. The crowds were getting drunk and rowdy in a variety of languages. By the way, the native people in that part of Spain do not speak Spanish as a first language; they speak Basque, a language that is unlike any other in the world. There are lots of strange letters in the language that look unpronounceable. Don't even try to read the road signs. Look at the ones in Secondary Spanish. Anyway, it looked like it was getting rough as the sun was setting, 10pm or so. We headed back to the car which we parked a couple of miles back in a ditch along with some other vehicles. Since there was nowhere to stay in the town, we stayed at the Capital city of the Bosque, Gasteiz/Vitoria. Gasteiz being the name in Bosque. By the way, Pamplona in Bosque is Irunea.

Vitoria is a nice clean town and we were able to get a four star hotel for half the price of a one star in Pamplona, had their been one available. There is a good radio station in the area, RENE3, which plays a little bit of everything in no particular order. The only problem with Vitoria is that if you don't live there it is easy to get lost since many of the streets are set in triangles. I walked from the hotel to get a bottle of wine just a couple of blocks away and got lost for about an hour. Great prices on everything. Try your Spanish with the people, yours is no worse than theirs. Basque, remember.

So off we go at 4 or 5 in the morning, I'm not too sure as I don't respond real well that early. We arrived in Pamplona and found our parking spot in the ditch like before. Because of the way Pamplona sits near the Prime Meridian, the sun sets very late and rises very late. Some places tell you the Bulls run at 7, but it is really at 8. When we arrived it was still dark and the people were as drunk and crazy as can be and still drinking. The smells of stench mixed with Pot smoke filled the air. As we wadded through the sea of empty plastic beer cups and broken wine bottles, we were approached a couple times by bands of roving drunks. The whole area smelled pretty bad. Several people were sick and vomiting. Both men and Woman urinated in the public street. There was even a couple having sex between two doorjambs. We finally reached the area where the bulls run, just outside the opening gate. We were there early enough to get a halfway decent spot to watch.

As time neared for the bulls to run, a loud speaker roared in several languages not to try and keep up with the bulls but to pick a spot along the path to run. Everyone was dressed in white with red kerchiefs around their necks. The ones near the door were chanting and shaking what looked like rolled up newspapers. The countdown began and the chanters grew louder. Finally the gate burst open, the bulls burst out like big black rockets. Believe me, you can't run with the bulls, you just run away from the bulls. Several drunks jumped the wall to run as well. The bulls smashed people like a foot smashes a paper wasp. Some people were down and hurt, some gored but most trampled. The most dangerous part of the run is being trampled by people trying to get out of the way. Some were shaken and commented they would never do it again while others were excited and couldn't wait to do it again the next day.

As we left the running area, out came the sweepers and sprayers. Spain is remarkably clean in most parts but when the San Fermin festival is on, there is not much they can do. People sleep everywhere. One of the big green spray trucks was trying to clean the street and came upon a drunk passed out in the middle. The driver pulled his front tire almost up against the man's head and blew the horn several times. There was no response. Another worker carrying spray tools in a pouch shook the guy. The man sprang up like a spring, saluted the worker, grabbed his tool pouch and started walking away. The worker grabbed his tool pouch back and the drunk passed out in a nearby bush.

If you're going to the Festival of San Fermin to see the Running of the Bulls, do your homework. Hotels in town fill up way ahead of time. Do not go without a reservation unless you want to sleep in the streets and parks with the others. If you fall asleep with your purse or wallet, don't expect to wake up with it. There is a lot of disease from vomit and urine around; if you end up sleeping in it you are going to get sick. Many of the hotels are very old and use skeleton keys, which are easy to open, and parking is a nightmare. They will cost you an arm and a leg if the bulls don't get it first. You can opt to stay in a nearby town like we did. It's an adventure no matter what you do.

The Coyote


Travel Stories

Last Updated April 29, 2004