July 12th, 2008


At a running of the bulls

Saturdays frighten the experienced runners in Pamplona. The number of people who run is twice as much as on a weekday, probably 4000 this morning. "People are more dangerous than the bulls," a veteran explained, because the crowds can cause more falls, more pile-ups, and more injuries.

But it didn't happen today. Lots of "runners" stood alongside the fences, watching the bulls pass. Real runners had trouble keeping up their speed due to the crowd, and the bulls ran especially fast, completing the course in 3:02 minutes. Though there was only one goring by the brown bull just before it entered the bullring, the bulls often had to clear a path through the crowds like snowplows, shoveling people out of the way.

See it here: http://www.encierrodesanfermin.tv/  The TVE commentary and footage is better, and it opens with a good look at the bulls before the run, today from the Dolores Aguirre Ybarra Ranch, each animal weighing between 600 and 670 kilos.

What's it like to see a running of the bulls live? I haven't been to Pamplona, and if I had, I would have been drunk and barely awake at 8 a.m., because I would have spent the entire night partying in the streets, as fiesta etiquette requires, so I wouldn't be able to recall much.

I have been to "Little Pamplona," which is the fiesta in San Sebastian de los Reyes, a suburb of Madrid, Spain's second-best running of the bulls. Some say it's actually better because many fewer people attend and runners have room to maneuver. I went last year on August 30, and blogged it here:

You can see the video here:

I'm on top of the railing at the left just past the turn at about 0:55 seconds, though you won't be able to pick me out.

I had arrived before dawn by subway, found a good spot (I'd studied maps of the route at home), and spent the next hour sitting on the top rail of an seven-foot-high steel-beam fence, which wasn't easy or comfortable. The crowd slowly grew. At 8 a.m. a fireworks rocket exploded, signaling the start of the run. Soon we heard shouts and the thumping of hooves. ¡Ya vienen! They're about to arrive!

Everything passed in ten seconds -- ten incredibly intense seconds. Confusion, fear, panic, delight, exhilaration, people running, bulls galloping, cheers, shouts, screams, a blur of motion and emotion, everything we were waiting for all happening at once. Then the run moved on like a tsunami down the street.

Was it worth an hour on the subway, then an hour on a fence, for those brief seconds? Yes. This year, Sanse (as those in the know call it, pronounced SAN-say) will be held from August 24 to 31. I'll be there at least one day. You're invited.

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