What would Pamplona’s legendary San Fermines fiesta be without the running of the bulls (aka the encierro)? Yes, it would be a huge party that lasts for a week (not a bad thing in itself), but without the irresistible element of danger brought to the fiesta by unleashing a herd of Navarra’s finest round the streets of the casco antiguo.
As a Pamplona veteran recently told us, the stakes are high when you run with the bulls. Most years, someone gets gored, although – thanks to the hard work of the emergency services and a healthy dose of good luck – there haven’t been too many deaths in recent years. To give luck a helping hand, our own encierro survivors here at Gusto Guides have put together some simple tips to stay safe if you do have the cojones to run with the bulls.
1. If you have no experience, don’t run with the bulls at the weekend. The number of runners, especially outsiders with little experience, increases dramatically compated with the weekday runs. Often, the danger comes more from the crowds of inexperienced runners than from the bulls, who are used to running the route whether or not there are thousands of drunks in the way.
2. If you fall. stay on the ground in the foetal position and use your hands to cover your more sensitive parts. Do not get up until you are sure that bulls have passed – all six of them. Also be aware that after the bulls come the six cabestros, slightly more chilled-out oxen that are used to guide any of the bulls that may fall behind.
3. Read up on the part of the course that you would like to run. The beginning of the encierro on the Cuesta de Santo Domingo is the part of the route where the bulls have the most energy and speed. At the end of the course, at the end of the Calle Estafeta and by the entrance of the bull ring is where locals consider the runs to be the most ‘beautiful’, but where there tend to be most injuries.
4. Never run behind a bull once it has passed you. If a bull turns around and starts to run the other way, as tends to occur frequently on Calle Estafeta, you are an easy target.
5. This may sound obvious, but never grab the bull’s tail or horns. Besides putting yourself in danger, you will be the victim of a few swift blows from the cane of the bullherds who take care of security at the encierro. Believe us, those guys are free and easy with the beatings.
6. As we mentioned before, the running of the bulls is a serious thing. If you are going to run, go to bed early the night before and do not drink too much alcohol the night before. There is plenty of time for partying after the race.
7. The running of the bulls is for people who want to run with the bulls. If you want to spectate, you shouldn’t try to do so on the route taken by the bulls – they sometimes veer off course and, if you are standing just there, you will have to run. And trust us, you will beat your own personal best several times over. Many locals head to the houses of friends and family who have balconies on the route, while more well-heeled visitors might like to try the dining room at Hotel La Perla.
Bonus tip: copy the locals! Dress in white, wear comfortable shoes, tie a red scarf around your neck, buy the local newspaper (Diario de Navarra) and roll it up to carry with you on the course. Learn the special song used by runners to ask for protection from the patron saint of these fiestas, San Fermin. And once all of the excitement is over, go and have a stiff drink and a plate of proper fried eggs and Navarran chistorra in any of the bars on Estafeta. You will have earned it.
Foto de portada e interior: Flickr / Jaronson
This post written by Inigo Antolin