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Running with the Bulls
of Pamplona - page 2
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RUNNING WITH THE BULLS OF PAMPLONA - page 2

I arrived at the cathedral where the run begins.  The crowds along the streets were impenetrable.  Police weeded out the runners who were too drunk to walk.  The crowd of runners stood shoulder to shoulder and the Spaniards were clapping and dancing to brave and melodic chants.  The Japanese guys looked worried. And so did the boys from Texas. Were there a word to describe a condition of: violence, stupidity, joy, fear, grandiosity, and absurdity in some kind of union -- or quarrel, it might help. 

Visitor Tips:
The festival starts on July 6 and ends at midnight on July 14.
Make hotel and other bookings several months in advance. January is not too early.
The best views are from balconies that overlook the street. My Recommended Spain Travel Agent can help you book a balcony for viewing the El Encierro.
If you plan to watch from the street, arrive early, before 6 A.M. You should see two parallel barriers running down the street; you will want to position yourself on the exterior barrier. People who place themselves on the interior barrier will be removed prior to the bulls' running.
If you decide to participate in the run, familiarize yourself with the course before the event.
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Every man wore a red handkerchief around his neck.  The white of shirts and pants was hopelessly stained with purple circles of wine.  Spectators in the rows of balconies along the street looked down upon us.The journalists took pictures.  We are heroes, I thought.  No, we are stupid young men.

When the first rocket exploded (they use rockets -- rockets! -- to signify the release of the bulls) the crowd separated along the 800 meters of narrow cobblestone street.  I chose to run from a spot high  on “La Estafeta”, the third and final leg of the run that ends in the bullring. La Estafeta is a narrow alley with no routes of escape but for a three meter gap of wooden fence post.

In the first section of the run, the most courageous and stupid of the men run the bulls in what is called The Passage of Santo Domingo.The men of Santo Domingo run uphill with the bulls while the legs and lungs of the bulls are fresh and vigorous. It is considered very brave and stupid to run through Santo Domingo.

The middle section of the run, called  the "Ayuntamiento," is short, wide, and relatively safe. It begins at the end of Santo Domingo, and ends at the first corner of La Estafeta. Once past this corner, the herd enters a narrow cobblestone passage that continues uninterrupted for nearly three hundred yards.

I can compare the hoof-beating approach of the bulls charging down La Estafeta to nothing but the towering winter swells of the open Atlantic. It is a spectacle that is dark, powerful, and imminent. The Spanish bull seems a creature only comparable to the blue whale, the elephant, and perhaps the lion. But it is the colour of a rippling and moving black, amongst a fleeing and drunken mob of white and red men, which is the most stunning and incomprehensible.
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Working with excellent local contacts in Pamplona, Madrid & Beyond designs special San Fermín programmes to open up some of the best-kept secrets of this unique festival. Madrid & Beyond can also arrange tickets for the bullfights and V.I.P. balconies for the "Txupinazo" (the riotous opening ceremony) and the famous "Running of the Bulls". To witness the world's most famous fiesta, book well in advance!
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This article written By Jaed Muncharoen Coffin: Jaed Coffin is the author of A CHANT TO SOOTHE WILD ELEPHANTS, Da Capo Press, and currently lives between Alaska, Maine, and Spain.
Photographs kindly supplied by Jorge Garcia-Eickelberg with arrangements through Madrid and Beyond.