Running with the Bulls ~ Encierro

 

The carnal pulse of euphoric Latin music engulfs the cobble stone alleyways of Pamplona. A feeling of exhilaration washes over me as I wander amid the gyrating sea of punch-drunk, dancing bodies that fill the streets. Santo Domingo square is thriving and alive with the unbridled excitement of the unknown and
I can’t help but wonder if these feelings are a harbinger of things to come.

With the breaking dawn I step into the traditional white gauchos and shirt, accented by the infamous, beast taunting, bright red sash and rush down the creaking wooden stairs of my couch surfing host’s 3rd story flat. My heart nearly thumps out of my chest, while anxiously waiting for the screeching rocket to spark into the sky, marking the beginning of this dicey endeavor. Turning to see my brother’s face about to explode with excitement, I feel like we can take on the world!

The streets echo as several pastores raise their rolled newspapers and begin to chant  to the image of San Fermín placed in a small recess of brick wall at the Cuesta de Santo Domingo. Chanting “A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición. Entzun arren San Fermin zu zaitugu patroi zuzendu gure oinak entzierro hontan otoi.” (We ask San Fermín, our patron saint, to guide us in the bull run and give us his blessing). The bulls rush from their pen with powerful speed, the crowd screams and chaos ensues as the frantically enthralled masses push their way towards the arena of doom.

Starting a few hundred feet ahead I think to myself “It will be a while before they are near”, so I begin to jog. Within 40 seconds I am within arm’s reach of the enormous beasts! The ground trembles at what feels like the equivalent of a 9.6 earthquake on the Richter scale. The reek of sweating hide cannot conceal the smell of fear that consumes the air. It is madness! Avoiding bulls and dodging the fear crazed runners, my temples pulse as bursts of adrenaline give me strength to run like I’ve never ran before. We lock arms and hurdle a few piles of fallen people. Making our way into the arena we go straight to the back wall, check for injuries, hug and snap a few photos before the next round of bulls are released.

We realize the bull’s horn nearly clipped us as a gush of wind blows past. Looking around we see several people being taken down like rag dolls, limp and motionless as their eyes roll back when they fall to the ground. Quickly realizing we are not in a safe zone we climb into the stadium seating to become onlookers of this surreal experience. A spectacle that would be unimaginable anywhere else in the world is that of Encierro, the soul event of the Sanfermines. This act, unlike any other I’ve encountered leaves me with a deep appreciation for life.


San Fermin is accompanied by dancers and street entertainers. The week-long celebration involves many other traditional and folkloric events. It is known locally as Sanfermines and is held in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre. Its events were central to the plot of The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, which brought it to the general attention to the World. It has become the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain.

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