What kind of an person would fly halfway around the world to risk being killed in one of the most idiotic and agonizing ways imaginable, all for an adrenaline rush and a good story? Who could type in “running with the bulls” into google images, see the pictures and still buy the plane ticket? About 17,000 people a year apparently, including your favorite adventurous/ ridiculous travel blogger.
As I wrote “Run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain” on my bucketlist, the self doubt tried to seize control of my brain. “Don’t be silly. Do you really think you are going to do this? You’re never going to run with the bulls so why are you writing it?”
I kept repeating to myself, “ Write your dream life.”
After arriving at Bilbao airport, about 2 hours away from Pamplona by car, I asked the information booth at the airport about ways I could get to Pamplona. A sweet elderly woman told me I’d have to hire a taxi (which would be hundreds of Euros to travel all the way to Pamplona) because the last bus had just left. I walked out of the airport searching for an idea. I had no clue how my entire week in Pamplona, that I had meticulously planned out, was about to shift drastically.
Walking away from the airport I saw a bus that looked really nice with thirty year old man throwing backpacks in the storage section. I asked him “this bus isn’t going to Pamplona by chance is it?”
“Ya we’re going to Pamps” he replied with a heavy Australian accent.
“Are you with the group mate? What’s your name?”
“I’m chase, from America. I am not with the group… but if you have any extra space I’d love to join the group!” I said with a big smile (smiling really big seems to get you farther while negotiating or traveling in general).
“Do you know what this bus is friend?”
“Well you’re in for a treat. We are the Party Professionals! We are a tour operator for young people at festivals all over the world who love to party!”
Needless to say my smile got much bigger after hearing that. He waved me over to the door and he walked up the steps, just past the driver who looked like he was about one drunk foreigner away from driving the bus into a tree. He then yelled out to the full bus “OY! This is Chase, he’s our new hitchhiking friend from America, he’s joining us to Pamps.” The bus was packed full of Australians who were all just as pumped as me! They were all going to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and they were all ready to party.
I walked off the bus in Pamplona and was greeted by a smiling middle aged man named Bomber. I told him that I had a hotel already paid for in town so I wouldn’t be staying with them. He then began to tell who he was. Bomber was the owner of the Party Professionals. He told me that they do have a spare bed in the bunk house if I chose to stay. This was one of those moments where I think “I’ve already paid for a hotel, but there does seem to be a lot of beautiful australian girls here so…..”
“We’ve got one Euro beers here too and music every night. If you’re here alone and here to have fun, this is the place to be.” (What a salesman)
It was no longer a question, I was spending the week with the Party Professionals and the thousands of people flooding into their camp for the running of the bulls.
The day before the first running of the bulls (They run every day for a week) was still to this day the biggest party I’ve ever been to. Shoulder to shoulder with thousands and thousands of crazy people throwing sangria in the air and spraying each other. Topless girls sitting on top of random guys shoulders getting covered in sangria by thousands were a sure sign of a wild night to come. Did I forget to mention this is all happening in the morning?
At noon the Mayor came out and everybody whistles as loud as they can. I didn’t understand at the time but in Spain whistling is the same as booing is in the west. At this point there was so many people in the town square that I felt my body lifting off the ground from so much pressure. Hard to breath, hard to move, but the energy is palpable. Everyone raises their bandanas above their heads all at once and when the opening of the festival is official, everyone celebrates with more sangria showers and everybody ties their red bandanas around their necks. My previously white outfit was about as red as the bandana at that point.
After a few more hours of walking around the cobblestone streets of Pamplona and drinking from my leather wine pouch with new friends, the party started getting really wild. People had been day drinking since the morning and most people here had traveled a long ways exactly for this and they were going to go hard tonight.
I was walking the streets with a guy from Afghanistan who was incredibly drunk and constantly pretending to fire his imaginary machine guns at large groups of people (unsettling to say the least) and a big New Zealander with tribal tattoos covering most of his body. He had told me that he believed Americans are all Homophobic and small minded people. So after trying to explain that he was generalizing hundreds of millions of people to no avail, I grabbed that huge scary mans face and laid a big smooch right of his lips just to prove to him that we aren’t all homophobic. So for the first time in my life, I kissed a man, FOR AMERICA! Stunned would be a good word to describe his initial reaction followed by a huge belly laugh followed by “You’re a crazy son of a bitch!”
The next morning was the first day of the running of the bulls.
I began the morning about halfway through the half mile path, ending at Plaza de los Toros. A beautiful arena where they would later hold bullfights against the bulls I would be sprinting from in just a few moments. Guys were throwing up from nerves, some were sneakily making their way through the wooden fencing to safety, later probably telling everyone how close they came to being gored.
The energy flowing through all of the men about to run was intense. It felt the same way I felt before a big football game back in high school. Adrenaline was flowing wildly through me and all I could do was jump up and down to try to keep from throwing up. The first rocket went off symbolizing the opening of the gates. Another soon followed signaling the last bull had left the pen which meant only one thing. RUN.
I kept with the pace of the locals assuming they knew more than I did. We were running slower than I expected at first and my body was telling me “MOVE YOUR ASS!!!” I continuously looked behind me as I ran, checking to see if the bulls were there or not yet. The thing was, I didn’t need to see them. I knew they were coming when I heard blood curdling screams from the men behind me.
That’s when I started sprinting for my life. I pushed a slow fat man out of my way as I bolted faster than I’ve ever ran. I was so filled with fear that I forgot the most important advice about running with the bulls. Never run directly in the middle of the road as the bulls are nearing you. They come so fast, you need to be toward one side or the other so you can get out of their way.
I turned my head to check how much distance was between the bulls and I when I saw something that confused me terribly. A bull was definitely behind me, way too close behind me. His face was parallel with the ground. It felt as though time slowed down as my brain decided to take the time to ask myself the question “Why is his face on the ground?” which was immediately followed by the realization that his sharp black horns had a curve upwards, so he needed to put his face parallel with the cobblestone street to flip me in the air.
With my right foot dug firmly into the ground I bolted directly to my left with the bull swinging his head up and just barely missing my thigh. I sprinted as fast as my body could go directly into a brick wall. I felt nothing but a numb buzzing on the entire front half of my body. The shockwaves of pain shot directly out my back. I had no time to process that pain because another bull slammed into a guy standing next to me like a wrecking ball which turned me around facing away from the wall. My hands instinctively went up to protect my face when I felt the bulls horn crash into my arm giving me a nasty cut from my elbow up my forearm.
I was dying. At least that’s what my brain told me.
My body flushed with adrenaline started to shake as I stood there frozen in place. The Shaking turned into a vibration and eventually a smile came over my face. The pain was there but the feeling of being alive, truly alive for the first time pushed the pain right down.
For the first time in my life I knew I was going to die. I had never felt death before and the teenage invincibility finally fled from me. Giving me the greatest gift we are all blessed with. The knowledge of our impending death. Knowing I was going to die in that moment made me feel more alive than I had ever felt. From that point on I knew I would chase that feeling. That vibration of life that gets into your bones and demands more than average from you if it’s going to stay.
The running of the Bulls in Pamplona was the craziest thing I have ever done. It was the ultimate antithesis of my previous life leading up to that moment. I have never been the same since nor do I want to be.
If you want to join our group next year, we have spaces still available!