Officially both unemployed and pretty relaxed and exicted about to embark
on our three month adventure around Europe mainly Spain, France and Italy. Our first destination was probably our greatest endeavor so far and possibly most dangerous, being Running with the Bulls.
We set off early on the Tuesday morning bound for Stansted airport and after a short hour and a half trip we were ready and arriving in Bilbao. Then it was a bit of a mission getting from Bilbao to Pamplona, as we had to get a bus from the airport to Bilbao city center bus terminal, to then get a bus to Pamplona before getting a smaller bus to the small town where our campsite was located. Then it was a 50 euro taxi to the capsite but Simone being her stubborn self wouldn’t have a bar of it. We got off the bus in this little town in 35 degree searing heat and it was still a 6km walk or taxi to the campsite. There were no taxis in sight and we were getting slightly worried. The man at the petrol station didn’t speak any English and Simone gave up mimicking taxi noises as it felt like a pointless game of charades. Ben had stumbled off in a huff about five minutes earlier. At last we finally saw a taxi sign in the distance and headed over to be greeted by a group of three older ladies, sat chatting in a garage, they wouldnt have looked out of place in a kitchen behind a big pot of pallea or pinching their gandchildrens cheeks. They definitely didn’t look like they were running a successful taxi business. After some more charades we were finally able to get the phone number for the taxi company which lead to a disconnected number, by this point we were a bit over it. Then out of no where a man appeared in a car offering us a lift – he looked pretty harmless and we tried to block out the voice of our mums saying 'never accept a lift from a stranger'. He didn’t speak English at all and Ben spent a painful 15 minutes in the front seat of the makeshift taxi pretending to understand and fake laugh at whatever it was that the man was saying. We arrived safe and sound and later twigged onto the fact that he worked for the campsite. Once at the campsite we were directed to our tent, which was one of many and then headed off for tea with our group from Busabout and a few drinks by the pool in the lovely afternoon sun.
The next morning there was no rest for the wicked as we had to get up at 4.30am to catch the shuttle bus into Pamplona at 5am to run with the bulls. Once on the bus our tour guide gave us a run down of the run itself but everyone was still half asleep and not in the mood for listening and we all dozed half of the way into town. Ben had decided that he was going to run and I had decided to watch from the arena with some other people from the group. Getting into the arena itself was a scary enough experience with about 20,000 drunken Spanish people trying to get in through the one tiny door. The main focus for a few minutes was just breathing in and out whilst getting squashed by a wall of people. Once in the arena it was crazy, even though it was 6.30am it seemed about 90% of people in the arena were either wasted or high or both. With brawls breaking out left, right and center we weren’t sure whether it would actually be safer to run than sit in the arena among these crazy people. As soon as the pomp ceremony started with the marching band in the arena all was forgotten and the audience got all patriotic for their favorite Spanish anthems – with some even crying, talk about emotional. Even though we hadn’t been to this festival before we knew something was about to happen as the hype and anticipation was mounting. All of a sudden big TV screens lit up and each of the 12 bulls running for the day were displayed on the screen including their details such as name and weight. I’m not sure who was responsible for naming them but perhaps these could have been thought through a little better as Diamanté for a 600lbs bull isn’t really flattering. However Diamanté could have definitely flattened you if he’d wanted too. After this episode the rules were flashed up which pretty much equated to don’t touch the bulls horns or you’ll get beaten up by about 20 people the race was ready to be won and the hero’s of the day decided as well as idiots. In the see of people I knew Ben was somewhere stretching out his pins ready to sprint and was trying not to think about the actual dangerous nature of what he was actually doing. The first canon fired signaling that the bulls were free, then a few short moments later the second canon fired signaling all bulls were out free and running. The only word to describe the scene was utter pandemonium with people running the 800m course sprinting for their lives, aiming to make it into the arena at the end or at least stay on their feet long enough to escape with their lives.
Meanwhile in the bowls of the Pamplona streets, Ben was awaiting his destiny. So the decision was made many years before hand, that as soon as I moved to the UK I would do whatever it took to run with the bulls. To say this was at the top of my bucket list wouldn’t be very far from the truth.
As soon as I had the chance I kissed Simone goodbye and snuck away before she had a chance to talk me out of anything. In the holding pen the mood is tense, it’s a total mixed bag of people. First timers, locals doing it for the third day in a row, last timers and surprisingly old timers. The ages are very varied from teens, to me a twenty something to grandpa’s stretching up next to their sons and grandsons. It truly is a family affair and a tradition that has lasted generations. Men are praying, others are stretching, and I even saw a group of Germans punching each other in the face to physc themselves up. Spectators wave and cheer from every balcony and window in town. It’s 7:30am half an hour until all hell breaks lose and I’m still calm trying not to think about the run and my possible impending death. I make small talk with the handful of equally courageous men and women around men; they are a fifty, fifty split of Australians and Americans, as well as a hand full of Brits and Spanish. As you would expect the Aussies are trying to have a laugh and enjoy what could be our last moments we were making fun of ourselves for getting ourselves into this situation as it was now too late to chicken out, the gates were closed and the holding pit has now become a mosh pit of bodies so even if you wanted out, there was no way of getting out. While the Americans were stretching, warming up, talking about what strategy they would take once it all kicked off. They were in my opinion way too serious, I mean what strategy do you need other than Run for your bloody life.
With ten minutes to go before they release the gates of hell, they set you free from the holding area to get you position for the run, you can walk to anywhere on the course you wish to start. I’m not stupid despite getting into this mess, so I walked a good two-thirds the way up the 800m course. I mean even the best runner couldn't make the whole distance to the arena on wet cobblestones.
As soon as I decide on my spot, the first of three cannons sounds (first cannon means the bull's gates are open) and then it all clicks and the realization that I’m in a labyrinth of cobble stones streets with two thousand other idiots about to be chased down by bulls the size of Ford Territory’s. The adrenalin and nerves took over then the second cannon (second cannon means all the bulls are loose) that boom shakes though my body, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and without knowing it my legs are moving as quick as they can. They were doing what ever they wanted and it wasn’t until my arms had joined in pushing people out the way and taking down anyone in my path that my mind had caught up. And it was survival mode. I look back to see a wave of people coming at me everyone looking like they are on a race to save their lives. I wasn’t waiting around to get mowed down so I was out of there as fast as my body would allow. As I turn the last corner before the area I realize I haven’t seen any bulls yet, so I force my way to the fence on the side to jump up on it, catch my breath and try and get a glimpse of these terrifying beasts that had me along with everyone else shitting themselves. Up on the fence I tried to take it all in, but my mind wasn’t working as well as normal and all I could see was a blurry mass and all I could hear was a wall of noise, people screaming others crying and spectors cheering (cheering for the bulls, I later find out) and people laughing. So a couple of thousand people getting taken down by a dozen bulls is apparently funny to some, sickos!
I wasn’t on the fence more than a couple of seconds when a mountain of a man yelled something at me in Spanish then pushed me off and back into the chaos. After that I thought it was time to leg it out of there and into the area to relative safety where twenty thousand drunken Spanish locals and many Aussie tourists along with Simone cheered. (I later found out they were booing as I had arrived before the bulls) To say it’s a feeling of relief when I made it into the arena is a massive understatement. I was scare free and alive I had run with the bulls. For some that might have been enough but not for me. I hadn’t actually seen the bulls in the streets so I felt a great sense of disappointment and at that moment vowed to myself that I would run again. So later in the week I would do it all again but not on my own.
The next few days in Spain were spent sitting by the pool, drinking sangria, checking out Pamplona by night on a tapas crawl, drinking sangria, eating pintoxs, drinking sangria, looking around San Sebastian, hiking up to a Jesus statue, drinking sangria, soaking up the Spanish Sun and you guessed it drinking sangria. In a blur of sun, sangria and tapas time got away and our last morning in Pamplona was upon us. I hadn’t gotten around to running again it might have been the hangover, it might have been nerves or it might have been getting up at 4:30 to get the bus into town is really not as appealing as it sounds. Anyway on our last day I had one last chance to satisfy my bucket list, to my surprise Simone woke up and told me she wanted to run. It’s typical Simone, with her anything Ben can do, I can do attitude. I didn’t feel great about letting my wife run into the arms of death in the form of twelve giant, man eating bulls. But anyone that knows Simone will know it really doesn’t matter what I say she does what she wants and I love her for it.
So at 5am we loaded ourselves and our bags onto the bus into town, for one last crack at stupidity. Standing in the holding pit, this time with Simone who had changed her mind then changed it back again about fifty seven times in an hour, the mood was again tense. Around us people were sharing stories and their advice on where to start, how to run, how to tie your shoe laces and what to do if you were knocked down, gored or trampled. Simone and the few girls who had also decided to run were understandably nervous and didn’t say much once they realized the time to pull out had passed. I was equally as nervous, A) because I knew what to expect and how ridiculously dangerous it is. B) Because my wife and better half was also about to partake in this sadistic ritual.
The decision was made mutually between Simone and I that we wouldn’t run together, realistically once the shit hit the fan it’s a challenge enough just to save yourself let alone keep one eye one someone else. When we were released from the holding pen to find our starting position along the streets the mood was now very serious, we stopped at our predetermined spot to wait for the cannons. The first cannon went off and we stood our ground while other first timers nerves got the better of them and they took off. Then the second cannon, I turned to Simone told her I love her and to run, that she did without any hesitation. What I did next was wait, I dodged the wave of people coming at me I refused to move until I saw the bulls, my heart was pounding out my chest, what you don’t get told, is long before you see the bulls you hear them, the sound of the collective hoofs pounding the cobble stoned streets is deafening, like no thunder I have ever heard. So I’m fighting every bone I my body to stand my ground and not run for my life like I did a few days earlier.
Once the crowd clears and the bulls come into sight time stands still, your minds clears of every thought the only thing that matters is survival and getting to the arena in one piece. The angry man cows past me at arms length, I could smell them or it could have been someone shit themselves. That was the starters gun I needed, I was off running like my life literally depended on it. One arm out in front to push away anyone or anything in front of me, one to the back to ward off anyone trying to push me, eyes to the front, from side to side and when ever I got the chance to the back to check what was coming behind me. Cries of “there’s more behind us” only made me more excited, I ran faster than a man possessed jumping over piles of bodies, darting left and right, with nothing on my mind other than get to the arena alive.
As I made it into the arena I punched the air, this time to cheers of approval from the crowd, once I realized my own safety my thoughts quickly turned to the safety of simone after a quick look around without seeing her in the place we agreed to meet my mood quickly changed to euphoria to panic. Where was she? Did she make it the distance? Was she knocked over by other runners or worse was she knocked and gored by a bull? My attention was focused solely on the entrance to the arena when I saw a familiar figure, within a second I was next to her arms warmed firmly around her, when a voice screamed “get out of the way” as I pulled Simone and myself to the barrier and safety six more charging bulls passed us in the exact spot we had been standing.
Breath back and nerves in tacked, feeling very, very satisfied, I, sorry We had RAN WITH THE BULLS!
check out the link below to watch our run.