It was well into the night as Josh, Jessica and myself drove through Bilbao city centre. Josh had organised a rental car that we picked up from Bilbao airport where we hopped into both our transportation and our accommodation at the same time. You put up with more when you are wide-eyed and filled with the excitement of a journey that is all before you. 3 people sleeping in a hatchback car for three nights. Never again. We asked for directions using our Spanish words “Toro??” “Pamplona??”. The guy working the gas station understood, however his response was in Spanish. Half an hour of map pointing and sign language later, we were on the road to the Running of the bulls.
We found Pamplona as we neared midnight, Josh drove slowly through the town as the three of us watched thousands of people dressed entirely in white with red bandanna’s. People were everywhere, filling the streets and parks looking as though they had been there all of the day and perhaps since the night before. We found a safe-looking place to park and then manoeuvred ourselves around in the vehicle so that each person had something that resembled a bed. Jessica in the back lying across the seats while Josh and I had the two front seats reclined over the top of her, but slid forward to allow some room. Nobody was comfortable.
Saturday morning woke us up with the sun shining into our rental car window and we got out of the car to head toward the bull run. The streets were being hosed and people were sleeping in the grass, litter was everywhere and I only had to look at some of the people to feel hungover myself. Josh found an alleyway that was half filled with Spaniards. They had climbed onto one of the 8 foot timber barriers that are in place to keep the bulls on the road that leads to the bullring at the end of the run. We jostled for position as more spectators found our street and started crowding in to see if they could catch a glimpse. On either side of the main running road were apartment blocks with people standing at windows and balconies with flags draped over the handrailing and the runner’s were dressed in white and waiting for the bulls. A rocket sounded, the runners jogged slowly as they looked backward, I had managed to cling on to the top of the barricade enough to see a mass of bulls rushing through the street behind the runners that had sprinted out of view.
Almost immediately after the bulls passed, the barriers were skidded to the side and we joined the other spectators and headed toward the bull ring. On the way up we could see each bar and restaurant with a television playing replays of what had just flashed past us. Runners were tripping and some were retreating through the gaps in the barricades as the charging bulls left them with no other option. The bull ring was free to enter, we managed to find a place to stand amongst the thousands of other people who were doing the same. The ring was filled with runners who tried to get in the way of the small Bull who ran around aimlessly, charging at whomever was in its path. Another larger bull came bursting through the gates, we watched as it tucked its head in and used its horns to pick up a young runner, scooping him into the air then dropping him headfirst into the ground. I watched as his body went limp and was then dragged out, and I wondered “did I just watch someone die?”
It is difficult to describe how dirty the streets felt, it was like waking up in a house the morning after an out of control house party to empty bottles, stained carpets and strangers sleeping in places that aren’t beds. We didn’t feel like staying, perhaps we missed a chance to really experience the fiesta and were instead put off by the aftermath. No doubt, later that day, as we drove toward San Sebastian the people of Pamplona were getting ready to do it all over again.