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Pamplona’s “Running of the Bulls” Morbid Spectacle, but What Fun!

July 11, 2010

photo by Steve Matteo

Hippies have their Rainbow Gatherings and bikers have their Sturgis Rally and in Spain every year from July 7-14th, Bastille’s have their Running of the Bulls.

Back in 1977, when a friend and I were hitch-hiking from Greece to Morocco (I know, we was craaaazy!), we just happened to be crossing into Pyrenees country when a driver told us about the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. That’s where the Running of the Bulls, made famous by Ernest Hemingway, takes place each summer. Since we were heading that way, we of course decided to check it out.

Needless to say, the town was hopping. We were told it was a very special year because the start of the festival began on 7/7/77. I have no doubt it was. There was hardly a square foot of camping space to be had in all of Pamplona, but we managed to get some fellow travelers to allow us to squeeze our little pup tent in their space. Holy crap! I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun. We purchased berets, bandanas and the obligatory wine skin, or “bota bag.” We joined in the reverie as any good 19-year-old American backpackers would. We made friends with our fellow travelers who hailed from all parts of Europe and beyond. With a couple of guitars and a goodly amount of wine, we composed silly songs and laughed so hard I cried. We partied to the wee hours, which is a tradition in Pamplona during the Festival. The problem with that is that you needed to get up at the crack of dawn to get a good spot to view the bull runs. We managed to drag ourselves out of our tent on only one of the mornings we were there. With my camera at the ready, I watched the brave men in their Bastille whites with red berets and bandanas run past our station. I managed to get a few images but they came by so fast. In an instant they were past and I only viewed them through the lens of my camera. I almost regretted it, but I did get some great slides. I also went up to the roof of a tall building and got photos of the hoards of people who gathered in the plaza. It was an amazing sight.

One thing that I remember about Pamplona was how everything stopped in the afternoon. The traditional Spanish siesta is a time-honored tradition and I understand why.To take respite in the heat of the day just makes sense. The central plaza of Pamplona during the Festival looks like a refugee camp of some sort. It is full of people napping. What a contrast to the throngs of party people dancing in the streets until the wee hours of the morning. Pure fun.

The thing I find disturbing, and it’s a BIG thing, is the seemingly disregard for human life that the Running of the Bulls signifies. I mean, it really isn’t considered a truly successful Festival unless someone loses his life. While we were there, a 17-year-old boy was gored to death. Everywhere there were flowers placed in his honor. If you give your life to the bulls during the Run, you are elevated to “dead rock star” status. I have to say, I find this a bit morbid. I don’t think I will ever understand it. But despite the senselessness of pitting beast against man for the spectacle it creates, it still is just about the most fun you can imagine.

Here’s a video from this year’s Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain:

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2010 9:40 am

    News reports say that one runner was gored in the leg so far this year and three others were injured. No deaths so far. But no worries yet, there are still a few days left before the Festival ends. There’s still time for a hero to be ordained. Ole!

  2. John permalink
    November 8, 2010 5:14 pm

    I too was a teenage backpacker at the Festival of San Fermin in 1977. I missed by seconds being in the pile-up in the bullring entrance where one man sufficated and another 35 were injured. Despite this close call, I returned again in 1979 and 2009. I share your wonderment about the festival and recommend that young and old put aside their need to judge so they can visit a truly unique human gathering before they leave this earth.

    You are fortune to have pictures/slides of that time. Unfortunately, the sangria was more a priority than taking pictures at that time.
    Safe travels… but not, well, too safe less life be completely unexciting.

  3. November 9, 2010 9:17 am

    Hey, thanks for your comment john! I am amazed that people keep finding this blog post. How did you come across it?

    Those were fun days. I am hoping for more adventures in the coming days. I know what you mean about the sangria. It flows much too freely from those bota bags, eh?

  4. January 19, 2011 2:51 pm

    I came across this photo when I searched running of the bulls and found my photograph on your site. Perhaps you can ad my photo credit since the image is copyrighted by me.


  5. January 19, 2011 10:06 pm

    Thanks Steve! I’ve added your name to the photo caption. Do you have a website I can link the pic to?

  6. January 19, 2011 10:08 pm

    what search engine did you use Steve? I am amazed at how many hits this post gets each day so many months later. I try to search and can’t find a link anywhere. I’m a bit baffled…

  7. January 20, 2011 8:38 am

    This would be a direct link to the photo:

    I searched google “running of the bulls” and it came up at the top under google images.
    My blog post of Pamplona is at:

    Thanks much

  8. January 20, 2011 8:41 am

    Sorry I forgot to ask, where did you find this photo? Do you remember?

  9. January 20, 2011 8:49 am

    Steve, I generally just google for pics. Sorry I didn’t link to your site. I sometimes think to do that. I realize it is important to give credit.

    I hope my blog has helped rank your photo! It’s a great photo. That should be obvious since I chose it for my post.

    I have now linked the photo to your url.

    I appreciate your understanding of any copyright infringement. If I every become rich and famous due to this post, I guess I owe you. 😉

  10. January 20, 2011 8:55 am

    I really should get my slides tranfered so I can post them. I got a few decent pics back in ’77.

  11. January 20, 2011 6:15 pm

    Actually, your site got ranked with my photos. No worries, I just don’t this “Orphan Photo” biz to get out of hand.

    Thanks again!

  12. January 20, 2011 6:17 pm

    I really do speak english, I was in a hurry.

  13. January 22, 2011 8:19 am

    Ha. Now your pic is linked to another blog. It doesn’t look like you are given creds for the photo. Good luck!


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