The Pamplona Bull Run--Modern Gladiators


Uncomfortably crammed amongst the masses of sangria-crazed adrenaline junkies, my brother and I concocted a strategy to thwart the plans of the scheming bulls. It was the second day of the San Fermin festival, and we stood exactly a half-mile from the Pamplona bullring, or as the locals call it, the Encierro de Toros, clad in the famous white shirt, white pants, red sash, and red bandana compilation. We deliberated intensely with some friendly Americans who happened to be squished against our backs and eventually agreed any strategy would be completely useless. Instead, we turned to fervently pleading with Saint Fermin to spare us.

After an hour of waiting, the stench from the 1,500 unbathed bodies packed into the unbelievably narrow Pamplonan street became almost unbearable and my jamòn y queso breakfast sandwich sat in an undigested ball at the pit of my stomach. Finally, the first rocket launched and cracked, which signaled the opening of the bull corrals. The second rocket exploded thirty seconds later signaling that all twelve bulls had left the corral. Instantly, we all forgot our humanity and began to shove and trample any weaker being standing between the bullring and us. We raced down the cobblestone streets as the first wave of bulls rounded the corner behind us. The man running next to me glanced behind his shoulder at precisely the wrong moment and collided with the Spanish man running wildly in front of him, which caused him to lose his footing and topple over into the path of the charging bulls—I swear I saw the lead bull smile as he trampled the man without breaking stride. I wish I could say the Good Samaritan in me stopped to check on the fallen runner, but I only sped up and slapped the rear bull as the stampede rushed by me—I felt a little better when, later, I saw the man on the news and found out he survived with only a broken jaw. At this point, my brother was nowhere in sight and I decided to speed onward into the coveted bullring ahead of the second wave of six bulls.

With adrenaline coursing through my body, I staggered coughing and sputtering into the center of the Encierro de Toros, which happened to be crammed with 20,000 wildly cheering and chanting spectators. With the couple hundred other runners lucky enough to survive the run, I gloriously pranced around the ring screaming like an animal while victoriously high-fiving everyone. As I tried to figure out the reason for the large crowd, in the midst of a high-five, I heard gates clang shut and the crowds enter a crazed frenzy. I turned around, and, to my horror, watched as a young bull entered the ring and began to topple unsuspecting runners like a bowling ball through pins. Apparently, the 20,000 bloodthirsty fans came to watch the bulls impale us one by one. For 45 long minutes, the ranchers loosed bulls on us as the delighted fans cheered after every goring. All courage and dignity left me as I blindly ran circles around the ring screaming at an embarrassingly high pitch. Mercifully, the madness eventually ended and, as the dust settled, I saw several fellow runners strewn facedown about the ring—some gore victims, some trampled by humans, and others probably passed out due to fear. I spotted my little brother only a few yards away and was relieved to see he survived unscathed. We chest bumped and fist pumped as the fans applauded our astounding courage. We were now modern gladiators, and, in our eyes, catapulted into the ranks of Russel Crowe, Kirk Douglass, and the like.

T Hood

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