Running Of The Bulls: I Was There (Part 1)

Lauren and her friends in their red and white garb waiting for the run to begin.

Lauren and her friends in their red and white garb waiting for the run to begin

As one of the best known international festivals, Running Of The Bulls in Pamplona, is highly controversial. Spain does not break with tradition easily. The dates of the festival roots are unknown and some accounts believe it started in the 1500s. It is a combination of dance, music, running for you life, killing, fireworks, and heavy drinking. Writer Lauren Linzer was there. Let the party begin. 

By Lauren Linzer

The five of us pour out of our tiny Euro rental car after the long voyage from Madrid to the Basque Country. We’re decked out from head to toe in our white digs, smacked in the face by the rapid temperature drop, and totally unprepared for what will become one of the most chaotic weekends that can only be summed up as a perfect debacle. Little did we realize that in just moments we would be covered in red wine, dancing in the streets, and beginning a sleepless marathon with thousands of heavy party animals from all around the world.

Dancing in the bull pen. Before or after the run?

The highly anticipated annual festival of San Fermin, held in the northern city of Pamplona, is a week-long, time-honored tradition. Hordes of crazy locals and visitors run through the streets with massive bulls taking their final journey from their corrals and into the main bull arena. It is considered the most internationally renowned celebration in Spain. Its roots date back to as early as the 16th century but San Fermin’s boost of worldwide fame can be attributed to Earnest Hemingway’s account of his experiences in the 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.

For some, San Fermin is a chance to witness a part of history; for others it is an opportunity to party nonstop; and for those brave (or crazy) enough, it’s the possibility of being able to get a glimpse of the bulls while running alongside them.

Dancing in the streets at San Fermin

Our group was here for all of the above. As expats, my fellow English teacher buddies and I couldn’t miss this event. How perfect that a few of my dear friends and brother decided to make the voyage thousands of miles from the U.S. to join in the revelry. We agreed to rent one car and squeeze in to meet other friends who were already way ahead of us. Accommodations for the week were slim pickings and cost an arm and a leg, so we jointly shared a tiny hotel room outside of town for the seven of us.

Night scene in Pamploma.

The tight sleeping arrangements were of little concern to us as we arrived and eagerly hopped on the regularly running shuttle where the party was already underway. It dumped us off in the city center and we dove into the sea of white and red that was buzzing with excitement.

Our first mission was to make a few essential purchases: signature logoed red scarves to finish off our uniforms, bocadillos to provide sustenance (these common Spanish hoagie sandwiches were the only food we were able to get our hands on for the entire weekend), and lots and lots of red wine. We filled giant clear plastic cups and peculiar leather satchels with cheap boxed vino tinto (red wine) and hit the streets.

Before we knew it we were completely immersed in the celebrations, jump-roping with strangers in the center of a spontaneous dance party, frolicking in the bull stables, and having an all out wine fight in Plaza de Castillo, Pamplona’s central square. Hours flew by as we lost all conception of time and reality.

Eventually our brave bull runners, my brother and Carolina friend, decided a bit of shut eye before their daring dash was a wise decision. But with more of my local friends joining us to continue the all out festival, it took little contemplation to conclude that a few of us would probably not be seeing the inside of that hotel room before the 8 a.m. run. We proceeded to let the good times roll as the streets became even more chaotic and the real party heated up.

More hours slipped away and before we knew it the street cleaners were clearing the way for the morning event. My local amigo brought the three of us who were still standing to a spot that was prime real-estate to be front and center for the main show. Makeshift wooden fences were constructed each morning for a select few to grab a spot above the crowd. We wrestled and elbowed our way to a sliver of fence and at 5:00 a.m. we proceeded to shiver away the next several hours, straddling a wooden log as our buzzes wore off and a mean rush of hunger and sleepiness swept over us. All we could do was wait and hope that we would at least get to witness my brother and friend’s proud moment as they darted by us, triumphantly outrunning a herd of agitated bulls.  To be continued…(See the second part of the this story here.)

Lauren Linzer, from Raleigh, North Carolina, gave up the day to day grind of corporate sales to embrace life in Spain as an English teacher and travel writer in Madrid and the Canary Islands. She is the author of Linzer’s Adventure, a travel blog sharing personal accounts of life on the road and living abroad. Read more about her experiences at:

The Spain Scoop is not pro bullfighting. We don’t like it. Think about what you’re getting into before running with the bulls in Pamplona or elsewhere.

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