Huge, black, wild and smelling like barnyard fury; the bulls were nearly upon me and I kicked into another gear. They ran straight up the middle, like a perfect halfback draw, as I quickly moved to the side of the narrow street. The first bull was about an arm’s length away from me, and then he was gone.
Tan and grey steers came up fast, and I kept pace. They passed and I paused briefly to watch the scene. It was absolute chaos. Several people in the street were standing still, others running, some walking backwards, some clutching the doors and walls.
Above the street stood hundreds of men and women cheering and screaming. People hung over every edifice photographing the action. Some simply stood pointing with eyes wide and jaws dropped. I then heard someone yell in my ear as two more bulls charged fast and passed on my left. I chased them up the street until I could only see a distant blur of black, white and red.
I made the whole 900-yard (825 m) stretch to the gate of Pamplona’s Plaza de Toros (Bullring), where the bulls were going to participate in the afternoon’s corrida (bullfight).
Wheezing, I looked around then high-fived the nearest guys. I had done it! My elbow had a little cut where I’d brushed a stone wall, but other than that I was intact. Thrilled.
Nearby, I could see paramedics attending to a few fallen victims. I saw one unfortunate with a bloody eye, and another talking excitedly on the ground with blood on his pants. I hoped they’d be okay. Perhaps fate was not kind to them that day, but for me it grinned.
I walked back, grabbing a café con leche (coffee with milk) along the way, marveling at the spectacular morning, understanding that the world is indeed a crazy yet enervating place.
“I’ve been coming back for the last 15 years. Wouldn’t miss it,” said Dr. Moss, a pediatrician from California. He stood tall with his red and white uniform slightly askew.
“Have you ever been hurt?” I asked him.
“Yes, I have,” and he lifted up his shirt and showed me a four-inch (10 cm) scar on his right side.
“Three years ago, a bull lifted me right up.” He laughed and took another swig from his beer. I laughed too and wondered about his, and my own sanity.
Hemingway knew, and came back to Pamplona year after year. Joy, blood, and verve — it’s all here in the blink of an eye, a crack of a drum. This sensual, unforgettable place is still very much alive and it is one of the things that makes life worth living.
If You Go
Many tourists have made the running with the bulls event more dangerous due to their lack of experience and skill needed to safely participate. Security measures are in place. Nevertheless, every year there are numerous injuries. Some have died.