A Travellerspoint blog

Run with the Bulls in Pamplona

The last foreigner to be killed in the Pamplona bullrun

The following article from the No Bullshit Pamplona Fanzine published by the Pamplona Posse www.pamplona.co.uk it relates to the last foreigner to die in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. It also focuses on the main bit of advice that Tassio never got. “If you fall down… stay down!” Remember!!

A Siren's Song

He was just another young American backpacker in the summer of 1995, skylarking his way across Europe with his pals. In the fall, Matthew Peter Tassio would begin his career as an electrical engineer. Until then, he was sowing wild oats.

From Chicago to Greece to Barcelona came Tassio, 22, with his lifelong buddy, Jim Quinn. Tassio, a May 1995 graduate of the University of Illinois, was to join Motorola that Fall. But for the present, with time on their hands and in Spain for the first time, the pair hooked up with two fellow backpackers and embarked upon a fantastic adventure: They would hit Pamplona and run with the bulls during the city's famed fiesta.

None of the quartet had much money, and hotels were booked solid in the jam-packed city during fiesta, so they settled for an overnight bus trip, planning to return the following day.

Tassio was excited. It was his first trip to Pamplona and its annual festival in honor of its patron, San Fermín. He had no way of knowing it also was to be his last.
Upon arriving at the Pamplona bus station early on the evening of July 12, the four joined the teeming masses in the streets for the all-night party. At fiesta, no one is a stranger, and the foreigners immediately got into the mood, buying red pañuelos, the traditional neckerchiefs, and partying all night with newfound Spanish friends.

At some point during the night of revelry, before the sun rose on the second-to-last day of the fiesta, Tassio and Quinn committed to participate in the encierro, Pamplona's famed running of bulls through the city's streets. Initially, Quinn was reluctant to join the run, but he finally caved in to Tassio's entreaties.

They had not yet met any veterans, since experienced runners tend to avoid the crowded late-night streets. As a result, they received no seasoned advice on the safe way to run. This would be costly.

Do you guys want to run, Tassio and Quinn asked their traveling companions? No way, said the two. We'll meet you at the bus station to catch the bus back to Barcelona afterward.

Shortly before 8 a.m., Tassio and Quinn stationed themselves inside the barreras, the twin barricades that separate the runners from the spectators in the casco antiguo, the old city, its narrow medieval streets overflowing. There were plenty of experienced runners in the nervous, eager horde, and most of the novices had received at least some basic instructions from the veterans.

Tassio chose to run in the segment of the course known as Calle Santo Domingo, believed by many veterans to be among the most challenging of the tramos, or stretches, of the run. It lies between the corrales, where the bulls are impounded each night before the encierro, and Pamplona's ayuntamiento, its ornate, baroque City Hall. Here, the bulls are fresh - and looking for something to kill. Quinn wandered off to run elsewhere, promising to meet up with Tassio after the encierro.

Tassio awaited the explosion of the rocket that signals the release of the bulls from the holding corrales. It is not known whether he had participated in the daily ritual prayer at the statue of San Fermín placed in a niche cut into the wall opposite the former military hospital on Calle Santo Domingo. Here, runners seek the saint's protection during the encierro, chanting in Spanish:

"We ask San Fermín to be our patron.
Guide us in the run; give us your blessing."

Normally, when the gates of the corrales are opened, the six bulls to be fought that night, along with two substitutes and the steers trained to guide them in their run, rush into Calle Santo Domingo, past the public market and the former military hospital. They then turn left at the top of the street and swing past City Hall through the Plaza Consistorial, the broad public square at its foot. Here the bulls are fresh, bunched tightly, and angry.

While Tassio waited for his encounter with fate, Castellano, a 1,265-lb., reddish bull from the ranch of Torrestrella in Cadiz, brooded silently in the corrales with his brothers, Tacaño, Moravito, Estudioso, Perezoso and Pitillato.

At precisely 8 a.m., the rocket shot skyward and exploded, marking for everyone within earshot the release of the bulls. The strong corrales gates swung open, and Castellano and the others clattered effortlessly up the slight incline of the Calle Santo Domingo.

There are runners known as los valientes, "the brave ones." These are the "wannabes," and they are to be found throughout the course. To hear them talk, you would think they are the most heroic of runners. In practice, they have little heart for it, and they flee toward the relative safety of the bullring immediately upon hearing the rocket, rarely seeing or nearing a bull if they can help it. A mindless, churning mass of frightened young men, they immediately took up their flight at top speed; their greatest danger being to themselves.

Upon seeing the stampede of the valientes, Tassio hesitated, momentarily confused. He was woefully unprepared for the bull run, as evidenced by his walking shorts with a sweater wrapped around his waist, probably to ward off the chill night air of the evening before.

He had trotted as far as the Plaza Consistorial from his starting point on Calle Santo Domingo, then stopped, turned and looked back in an attempt to locate the bulls, which had not yet reached him. Suddenly he spied them racing up the hill and around the corner, scattering runners in all directions.

Tassio turned again to flee down course. He tripped over a runner who had slipped and fallen directly in his path. It was here that Tassio made his critical blunder.

If there is a cardinal rule of the encierro, it is this: If you go down, stay down. Cover your head and don't move. Bulls respond to motion, not to the color of a runner's garb or the matador's cape. Once the bulls have passed, someone will give you the "all clear," and then - and only then - do you get up.

Tassio immediately jumped up.

No one knows what caused him to do it, although guesses centered on panic and inexperience. Many noticed, however, that he turned to flee down course from the onrushing herd.

Castellano, leading the charge, barreled into Tassio at top speed. Some 15 inches of curved, dagger-sharp horn plunged into his lower right back. It hooked through his torso, ripping through major blood vessels. The impact propelled him some 40 feet down the street. It was just 37 seconds into the run.

Castellano, apparently satisfied with his sole, murderous thrust, did not give Tassio a second look. As the pack thundered past, Tassio amazingly once again jumped up. Mercifully, the last straggling bull ignored him. The mortally wounded youth made a final, futile attempt to escape this avenue of death, then crumpled to the cobblestones. His spasms bespoke the ominous nature of his injury.

A crack team of Spanish Red Cross trauma paramedics positioned immediately adjacent to the accident site, leapt over the barreras and within seconds were frantically attempting to save Tassio's life. Already pallid and cadaver-like, he quickly was placed on a litter as two medics attempted to stanch the massive flow of blood.

"¡Venga, joven! ¡Venga!" one of the medics yelled as he jammed a compress into the gaping wound left by Castellano's horn. Come on, boy; respond!

They raced the semi-conscious young American through the curious crowd. Blue emergency lights pulsed as the ambulance sped off to the Hospital de Navarra. They arrived just nine minutes after the second rocket, which signaled the bulls were clear of the corrales gates.

It was not quick enough for Tassio.

Although some of the most expert horn-wound specialists in the world worked furiously to save his life, their efforts proved futile. He was pronounced dead at 8:50 a.m.

One of the medics assigned to the ambulance, Jesús María Rueda, later told one of the local newspapers, the Diano de Navarra, that Tassio was near death before reaching the hospital. He had lost, the medic said, 90 percent of his blood through massive hemorrhaging before they could get him into the trauma room.

Meanwhile, at the bus station, the other two backpackers were vexed by the failure of Tassio and Quinn to arrive on time for the trip back to Barcelona. The bus came and went with no sign of the erstwhile runners. While they pondered what to do, a police car carrying a municipal officer and two social workers pulled into the station.

Are you the friends of Matthew Peter Tassio, they were asked? Yes? Would you be kind enough to come with us? Bewildered, piled into the police car and arrived at the hospital social workers at 10:30 a.m. There they received the sad news.

Quinn, faced with the daunting task of identifying his friend's body at the hospital's morgue, later was secluded in a room at the Hotel Maisonnave, provided at the city's expense, to await the arrival of Tassio's parents from Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb. The Maisonnave, ironically, is the hotel of choice for Spain's top matadores visiting the city.

Tassio was the first American ever to lose his life in Pamplona's running of the bulls, and was the first fatality since 1980; there have been 13 deaths in the run during this century. His death cast an enormous pall over the city that could not be broken, not by the numerous musical bands that tried, or by the vast quantities of alcohol normally consumed each day during the fiesta.

Novice runners who had seen the ashen-faced body on the litter shivered with the realization that could have been them. Veterans tortured themselves with thoughts of why no one had warned Tassio of the dangers.

"Jesus Christ! He stood up in front of the pack after being knocked down!" cried one of the most skilled English-speaking runners of the current crop. "Why didn't somebody see he was unprepared for the run and either get him the hell out of there or give him a quick tutorial? Didn't anybody give a God damn?"

The rhetorical question born of frustration and emotion was directed to a group of veteran runners gathered for coffee at the Windsor Pub in the Plaza del Castillo, the town's main square, shortly after the fatal encierro. No one answered the speaker, who obviously was distraught and repeatedly was running his fingers through his long blond hair in frustration. Many of them harbored the same thought.

The bullfight televised that evening on TVE, Televisión Española's Channel 1, was preceded by a moment of silence in Tassio's honor. Trumpeters of the Peña La Unica, normally one of the city's most boisterous social clubs, played "Taps." Around the plaza de toros, one could almost hear the tears that flowed freely from the eyes of 20,000 locals and visitors alike. The bullring, usually a scene of bedlam, was shrouded in a decidedly eerie, almost unearthly quiet.

Veteran matador Juan Moro had drawn Castellano by lot earlier in the afternoon. That evening, he signified with a brindis al cielo, a graceful sweeping gesture toward the heavens with his cap, that he was dedicating his performance to Tassio. Castellano later was to receive, posthumously, the prize as the bravest bull fought during the entire eight days of bullfights.

"The death of Matthew Peter Tassio is a wound in the heart to all Pamplonicas," the city's new mayor, Javier Chourraut, said in a July 15 news conference a day after the fiesta ended.

Chourraut told reporters after the tragedy that "citified" Americans particularly are at risk because they fail to see the dangers inherent with wild animals such as fighting bulls. Americans, Chourraut said, tend to think of running the bulls in terms of television programs or Disneyland attractions, adding that most American youths have never been near a fighting bull, a statement hardly debatable.

Throughout the day of Tassio's death, at the spot adjacent to City Hall where he fell mortally wounded, an impromptu memorial sprung up, fueled by the emotions of the multitude attending the festival. On the curb at the crest of Calle Santo Domingo, a neat mound of memorabilia began to grow: bouquets of roses, hats, caps, hundreds of red fiesta neckerchiefs, pictures of Christ and other religious icons, lit candles of prayer, of reverence and of remembrance.

In the center of the mound lay a copy of another local newspaper, the Diario de Noticias; which featured a photo in graphic detail covering the entire front page, taken at the instant of Tassio's goring. It bore a handwritten inscription, in Spanish:

"In memory of my American friend I never knew.
Your death has touched us all. May you rest in peace forever."
It was unsigned. The mound mushroomed in the waning days of the fiesta.

The Festival of San Fermín ended, as it always does, at midnight on July 14 with the Pobre de Mi, the mournful song and candlelight procession through the darkened streets of the old city. After eight days of wild abandon, the revelers sing:
"Poor me; oh, poor me; San Fermín's festival has ended."

That year, the melancholy was doubly poignant. When the thousands gathered in front of city hall for the fiesta's closing ceremony, they surrounded the memorial to Tassio. Spontaneously, they changed the words of the lamentation, slowly swaying as they sang a final salute to the fallen runner:

"Pobre de ti, pobre de ti . . . Poor you; oh, poor you . . ."
That afternoon, Tassio's parents, Thomas and Cynthia had arrived in Pamplona after a hurried flight from Chicago. They were joined at the airport in the nearby pueblo of Noáin by their son's traveling companion, Jim Quinn.

Early on the morning of the 15th, they were met by Mayor Chourraut, Bilbao-based U.S. consular officer Hilarión Martinez Llanes, ambulance services director Javier Sebastián, and city officials Rafael López de Cerain and Maite Uriarte.
The fiesta was over.

As if in search for him, Tassio's parents slowly walked the tramos of the encierro. As they reached the spot in plaza where Tassio fell, his mother placed a bouquet of flowers on the steps leading into the ayuntamiento, the City Hall.

It had been Martinez Llanes's duty to notify the Tassios of their son's death. It was not one he relished, and he told local reporters it was "one of the toughest things I've ever had to do."

Tough, too, for the grieving parents.
"This has been our greatest loss; please allow us to suffer these moments in solitude," Thomas Tassio had told a reporter for the Diario de Navarra upon the family's arrival at Noáin. The Spanish news media that had gathered at the airport for their arrival honored the father's request. It could not have occurred in the United States.

The Tassios remained in Pamplona for just 21 hours; long enough to visit with the ambulance driver who raced their stricken son to the hospital, doctors at the Hospital of Navarra who fought so desperately to save his life, and city officials.

And then, at 4 p.m. on July 15, the body of Matthew Peter Tassio left Pamplona forever, accompanied by his parents and his buddy. They departed aboard an Air Navarra ATR-42 turboprop aircraft bound for Barcelona, where the entourage transferred to a jumbo jet bound for the United States.

As the Tassios bore home the body of their son, officials of the city of Pamplona quietly, and with solemn dignity, gathered up the articles of the impromptu memorial and took them away. (By Keko Jones No Bullshit Pamplona Fanzine)

Posted by Pamplona 05:15 Comments (0)

So You Want To Run With The Bulls In Pamplona

Some Important Advice about The Bullruns In Pamplona


By The Pamplona Posse

Nobody runs the whole course, if you want to try that I suggest you turn up earlier in the year when one of the Penas organises a foot race along the bull run course. The current record is for men 2 minutes and 3 second and for women 2 minutes and 31 seconds. When the bulls do their stuff in July, most mornings they beat the 2 minute barrier. When people talk about running with the bulls, that is what it means… you pick your stretch and when the bulls come you run with them.

OK, so it is not that simple but just to make one small point. Starting half way up the course, as soon as the first rocket goes off, you take off and run as fast as possible into the bullring, jump over the wall and you are finished at least a minute before the bulls arrive…. This is not running with the bulls. You can kid on to your friends back home, how brave you were but you will know the truth. If you do intend to do this… fair enough. You can blag your way through conversations in the pub with phrases like " I always run in the Estafeta" but you don’t have to bother reading any more of this guide to bull running. Just flick through the rest of this site to see if there are any pictures of naked women to add to your fantasy world. You will not be by yourself; hundreds of ‘runners’ do it that way every morning. So lets assume that you are not a fantasy runner…..

Starting at the beginning of the course we have SANTO DOMINGO, traditionally this used to be where the Guild of Butchers ran. It is also at this point that runners gather just before the run to offer a little ‘prayer’ or invocation to Saint Fermín. They sing this homily three times before a niche in the wall, which has a figure of the Saint and is decorated with the scarves of the peñas, which is located on the Cuesta de Santo Domingo. The song goes like this: "We ask San Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing." If you want to learn it the Spanish goes like this… "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición"

At eight o'clock exactly the first rocket is launched announcing the opening of the gates of the small corrals' of Santo Domingo, while the firing of the second indicates that all the bulls have left. There are two main ways to run this part of the course you can start half way down the hill and when the rocket goes off you start running up the hill towards the Town Hall square. The bulls are as fast as fuck at this point but you might just make it into the square. It is very difficult if not impossible to run with the bulls in this part of the course because of their speed and the fact that the street is very narrow and uphill. You tend to take off and then very quickly have to hit the wall as the bulls thunder past; you have no thinking time what so ever so you must know exactly what you are doing in this run.

The second way of running SANTO DOMINGO is slightly more interesting… it is exactly the same except that when you start off you run downhill towards the bulls! This does mean that you have to spin on your toes and head back up the hill as the bulls thunder towards you but it sure is one hell of a hangover cure. Generally speaking the bulls will pass you about where you started from, assuming that you have hit the wall to let them squeeze by.

If you have read the book "The Drifters" by James Michener you will recall one of the main characters Harvey Holt who had run with the bulls for years. In the book this was the run that Harvey Holt did, running down Santo Domingo towards the bulls. Harvey Holt was actually based on two real characters, David Black and Matt Carney. Matt Carney was the most famous bullrunner of all the foreigners who came to the Sanfermines. Unfortunately Matt Carney, David Black and other characters like Jim Corbett are no longer with us, but their memory certainly lives on in Pamplona at Fiesta time. I remember when I first started coming to Pamplona I had the pleasure of knowing Matt, and he taught me one of my first words in Spanish "suerte" which means ‘good luck’. He used to say this as he tapped you on the chest with his rolled up newspaper as he passed you in the street just before the run.

If you are thinking of running in Santo Domingo then only do so if you have got a friend who has run this bit before and can walk and talk you through it. I’ve run with the bulls over 50 times but I have only ever run Santo Domingo three times, and in case you are curious I ran down towards the bulls. That was only because I am such a lazy bastard and will always prefer going downhill at the start.

How dangerous is Santo Domingo? Well strictly speaking only two of the 13 deaths (that have been recorded since records began) occurred in Santo Domingo. One on the 9th July 1961 and the other on the 12th July 1969. However there has been quite a few people gored over the years in Santo Domingo, often a bull can dip a horn and run it along the wall and for the guys against the way, there is no escape and no time to get out of the way. Still there is one advantage it is over fast! If you ever what that bit of the run on video it seems as if the tape is being fast-forwarded.

You have to be careful if you have started halfway up Santo Domingo and you actually make it up as far as the Town Hall square. It is a bit like the situation when they enter the ring the bulls are going from a confined street into a more open space. My advice is that if you have made it into the square peel off and hit the sides. Your main danger hear is other runners who are starting their run from the sides of the square who will therefore possibly running across your path.

This may have been one of the reasons behind Matthew Tassio falling in 1995. Unfortunately Matthew Tassio died on the 13th July 1995 in the Town Hall square; he was the 13th person to be killed in the Pamplona Bull run this century. OK he had a go at running, fair play to the man but it must be said that he made a number of bad errors. Now some people might think what the hell right have I got to judge his actions… ‘He is dead let him rest in peace’. However if only one person who reads this takes a few lessons on board then it will be worthwhile and I am sure that Matthew would have no problem with that.

Matthew arrived in Pamplona only a few hours before the run and joined in the party. He then decided to run and without any prior knowledge ‘just had a go’ he chose a bad place to run starting at the lip of the Town Hall square as the bulls emerge from Santo Domingo. He was unaware of the cross flow of bodies at that point and he tripped and fell, this would have not been a problem if he had stayed down. If you ever fall at all close to where the bull are then lie still they will nine times out of ten run over you will very little problems. Matthew Taisso tried to get up straight into the path of one of the bulls and unfortunately this cost him his life. It is only if you fall well away from the bulls that you must get up quickly and avoid a pile up. OK it does seem as if Santo Domingo is not the place to start running with bulls then again you can say that about most part of the course, but the basic problem in Santo Domingo is that he bulls are fast as fuck. Not to mention there is no where to hide.

The next part of the run is the AYUNTAMIENTO, Santo Domingo was 280 metres long, the stretch from the top of Santo Domingo through the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) square and along Mercaderes (a short street that leads up to the corner of Estafeta) is approximately 100 metres long. The bulls tend to slow down ‘ a bit’ when they go through this part of the course and because the route bends to the left at this point, the bulls will tend to swing wide to the right hand side. This means that you should try and take the other side (i.e. the left).

There is also a fair bit of fencing on this part of the course therefore escape is possible. If you are going to run this part of the course make sure that you peel away before you get to where Mercaderes turns into Estafeta, unless you are deliberately going to run that corner. This is the next recognised type of run where you pick up the bulls just out of the Town Hall square and run them down and round the corner into the Estafeta. The corner can be quite dangerous for a few reasons, it is such a sharp bend to the right that quite often the bulls can fall or get bundled up on the outside of the corner. NEVER TAKE THAT CORNER ON THE LEFT, that is where the bulls always end up.

Some people tuck in round the corner on the right waiting to start their run at the bottom of Estafeta so you must be aware of these other runners. It can often also be the case that bulls can fall, turn, and get split up on this corner, this can make it quite dangerous and you will have a long way to go up the Estafeta before there are any places to escape. With a bull right up your arse the last thing that you want is to be looking up at the 450 metres of the Estafeta with your first chance of escape about 200 metres further on.

We are now into the Estafeta it is the longest stretch of the run and in a way it is quite a good places to run with the bulls. If the bulls have not been split up and none of them have stopped and turned then they will steam on up the Estafeta at a pace that you can cope with.

This is where I started running with the bulls. Myself and friends would wait in the Town Hall square until the clock hit eight o’clock and then start walking down toward Mercaderes as the first rocket went off (signalling that the bull pen had been opened). We would start to lightly jog, as the second rocket went off we would increase the pace slightly as we turned into Estafeta. We would speed up a bit but only really turn on the gas when the bulls were just behind us.

How can you tell if they are just behind you? It is the noise.. it is like thunder in your ears accompanied by yells and shouts. The thunder is the noise of the other runners on the street. It is as this point that you must chose your path, if you are not that experience keep to one side but avoid the people. Some veteran runners prefer the centre of the road because there will be less people there, but you have to know what you are doing and be able to peel away before the bulls run over you.

I have some of my happiest memories of when I was 18 and 19 years old running alongside the bulls with out a care or fear in the world in this part of the run (the innocence of youth). Running with the bulls means just that, you have to pick your stretch of the course and get your timing right. So that you arrive there at the right spot ready to take off, it is quite useful if you have jogged for a bit up the course. This means that you are becoming accustomed to running in a crowded narrow street, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, some quietly confident others shitting themselves.

People often say it is the people that are more dangerous and to an extent they have a point. You can be going along quite nicely your timing is great and then somebody does something silly or unexpected and you are right in the shit. An example would be the dickheads who try to run and take pictures. You get some guy who pops out virtually into your path with a camera up to his eyes trying to get a great action shot photos for the folks back home. The standards operating procedure in these circumstances is a forearm smash to push him out of the way as you steam past him (you know it makes sense).

The thing is, fear effects different people in different ways. I was having a good run one morning and as we got to the top of the Estafeta there was a bit of a crush of people, so I wisely hit the wall as the bulls were about to steam past as they were veering towards that side. No worries I thought until a small Frenchman slammed into the wall behind me and grabbing my shirt at my back he swung me in front of him as a shield. Fuck I thought ! But luckily for me the bulls thundered past me… "tranquillo.. tranquillo" I said. (Which translate as take it easy mate, it is OK ) As I have said before, I long for those days in the past when with the innocence of youth I believed myself to be indestructible.

Running with the bulls has become more dangerous over the last twenty five year or so, mainly because it is getting so crowded in the street. There is a sort of natural pattern to the running, which should help even this out. As it gets more dangerous more people get injured or killed and so this should put people off running. In a cynical way I remember that one of the best days for running was back in 1980 when two guys got killed on the 13th July the next day the street were nice and uncrowded making for good running.

The top of Estafeta is the next part of the course that you can run. It could be that it has got to be quite a crowded part of the course because although it is quite a dangerous place to run you do have a very good chance of getting yourself in the photographs. There are at least two local photo shop which produce for sale photos of the run at about 12 o’clock midday. It might be the height of vanity, but I’ve been there jostling with the other runners to see if I am in one of the shots that are in the window. The real clever guys have a friend with them who can shout out "look there you are just in front of that bull" as they point to one of the pictures in the window, they then get some admiring glances from the crowd around the picture shop. To be honest it is a game that you can play whether you ran that morning or not. You and a friend take it in turns to point roughly at some of the photos saying.. "God you were close to the horns"…. "that bull nearly got you"… etc. You then start making outrageous claims to be people in the photographs that look nothing at all like you, until people realise that you both are just harmless drunks. There are quite a few runners who have shifted where they run just to stand a greater chance of getting in some good photos, I have done so myself. In fact last year

It would be true to say that the Estafeta is probably the most well known bits of the bull run, partly it could be because of how Michener wrote about it in the ‘Drifters’.

"..I led the way to the barricades where the bulls leave the city hall plaza to enter Estafeta, and as we climbed into position… we could appreciate the dramatic significance of this spot, because if you ran at Town Hall, you had a limited distance to worry about, with plenty of fences under which you could duck in an emergency. But if you elected to run in Estafeta, you faced a street of considerable length, extremely narrow, uphill all the way and with never a fence to aid you. When the bulls overtook you, as they must, all you could do was either press yourself against the wall or throw yourself into the gutter and hope……

‘You ever run in Estafeta?’ Joe asked.

‘Once, and like everyone else who has done so, when I’m in a bar in Amsterdam or Montevideo and someone mentions Pamplona, I let them throw their weight around, then casually say, "I always run in Estafeta," and the conversation halts.."

So is the Estafeta all that dangerous ? Well it is not for the faint-hearted because once you are in there you have not got many options, it is long, it is narrow and it is slightly up hill. If you are considering doing the Estafeta, try it out one night about 11 o’clock and see how quickly you can run up it with crowds of people. It is true that there has only been one death in the Estafeta ( 13th July 1924 ) and that was 75 years ago, but there have been some real bad gorings. The trouble is, if a bulls is separated or it turns there are no easy escape routes. Another thing you should do if you are running in Estafeta is know where the escape routes are, the few fences and any shop railings. This is where walking the course before-hand is essential.

Most of the veteran runners will still do this to check out what may have changed slightly from last year. I remember one year in the Estafeta when the bulls had just passed me and suddenly one bulls turned, luckily I was quite close to some shop railing which I climbed up and hung on to with my hands until the danger had passed. It would always be my advice that if a bull turns, get out of the street, as long as you can do so safely. Don’t try to run across the bull or move unnecessarily if the bull turns and you don’t have the time to move. Quick movement will attract the bulls attention, when until then he might be totally unaware of your presence.

One of the worst gorings in recent years was at the top of the Estafeta just outside Casa Flores, when Stephen Townsend an American was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was running that morning and the bulls had just passed me and I felt that something was wrong and I hit the side just after they passed by. It was just then that a big black bull had pulled up facing away from me, I did not need any second invitation. I ran back to the fence at the top side street, and as my foot hit the first rung I heard the groan from the crowd which meant somebody was getting hurt. As I climbed over the barrier I heard more and more screams from the crowd just as I was going through the second barrier (to give space to other escapees and the medics) Stephen Townsend was carried through onto a stretcher, he was covered in blood, as was the street.

Later when I watched it on TV I could see the awful saga unfold. The bull had turned and Townsend moved, the bull then repeatedly went for him chopping into his groin and thighs with his horns. Townsend’s mistake was he kept trying to get up and crawl away. You can still see the series of photos in one of the photo shops, it was the 11th July 1984. I can still vividly remember all the blood in the street as we waited for the Casa Flores to open so we could drink to the fact that we had made it through another run. I don’t know what made me hesitate in the run and hit the side early but it stopped me from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also made me think that I had had one too many close shaves over the ten years that I had been running and so I gave it a rest for a few years.

So if we have a quick recap of the different runs:

1) You can run up Santo Domingo

2) You can run downhill in Santo Domingo towards the Bulls

3) You can run the Town hall Square

4) You can run the Corner of Estafeta

5) You can run the Estafeta.

There are two more runs 6) Telefonos and 7) The Tunnel, because these runs are quite close together, even if you start of thinking I will run Telefonos, you have a good chance that some of the bulls will be with you in the Tunnel. If you are running Telefonos, you can start off in the Town Hall Square and slowly walk up the course after the police let people go. However I make it a point not to go very far at all up Estafeta until I hear the first rocket.

That is your signal to start jogging up the course. The only purpose here is to warm up and get yourself used to what the crowds are like in the street that morning. You are still well ahead of the bulls at this point. When you reach the top part of the Estafeta it widens out, it is at this point I go to my take off point. You must select your own place to run, the last thing I want to do is to encourage a herd of readers of this site to flock to one part of the course. If you have got your timing right you should arrive at your take off point about 10 seconds or so before the bulls, this allows you to have a quick jump or two up in the air to see if they are getting close.

To be honest it is the noise of the crowd that will give you all the information, and you will know that the bulls are just about on you as you hear the thunder of peoples feet as they are steaming ahead of the bulls. This is when I take off on my run which takes me in front of the bulls with the rest of the runners, the bulls will then either pass by or I will hit the side, depending on how strung out they are. It is important at this point to be aware if there are more to come. The bulls are more likely to be split up if there has been a gap between the two rockets, and listen to the crowd, if they are shouting ‘Otra Otra’ it means that there is another one to come. Other useful phrases to watch out for are ‘loco toro’.

It is a matter of some debate as to where in the street you should run, right-hand side, left-hand side or in the middle. Some people swear that there are less people in the middle so you can have a clear run, however it is generally true that the middle is where the bulls steam through. As to which side you prefer that is a personal choice apart from some obvious points where the course bends, as a general rule always take the inside track at these points as the bulls will swing out on a bend. The unpredictability of the run is one reasons why it is attractively dangerous, so the bulls can and do run at the sides as well as in the middle.

If you suddenly see a bull coming along the side and you are trapped against a wall or fence, the tricky decision you have to take is have you the time to evade the bull ( and you have to be fucking quick to do that from a standing start in a crowded street ) or do you try the minimalist movement approach. This involves making yourself as thin as possible against the wall, sucking in your gut, (don’t worry your bollocks will retract of their own volition) and not moving. With a bit of luck the bull will steam on by, as most of the movement will be in the street in front of him. Well that’s the theory, but I give no refunds if you are shit out of luck and it does not play out as I have stated. The only caveat to this is if you see the bull is chopping it’s horns from side to side (like a boxer) you might want to be even more careful about that decision.

The last of the seven places to run is the Tunnel (Callejon) and this is one place that you must check out first before you run there. I made the mistake of getting caught in the Tunnel the very first time I ran, on 8th July 1976. I will never forget that morning, a pile up of bodies occurred at the point where the tunnel opens into the bullring and a 17 year old guy died at the bottom of the pile up. They thought at first it was asphyxiation but later it was discover he had been fatally gored.

The bulls were stuck in the tunnel running into the pile of bodies that was about five feet tall, as people fled from the entrance to the Tunnel. It was my very first run and the only advice I had been given was don’t miss all the fun in the bullring after the run. "They might try and stop you getting in to the ring." So as these sane people ran away from the Tunnel and danger, I, like a right ‘mug-punter’ ran past then pushing my way into the Tunnel. Oh Fuck! (Of all the Oh Fuck! moments in my life it has got to rank as one of the biggest.) Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Looking at picture that were taken that morning you can see the sensible people fleeing from the Tunnel. I did not realise at the time that there are big ‘slit-trenches’ on either side of the Tunnel that allow you to escape into big cavern like spaces behind the tunnel walls.

I was stuck in the Tunnel with all the bulls…. Then they closed the outer doors (to enable them to clear the course) and I thought Oh Fuck! Eventually they reopened the doors and the bulls went back out into the run (the course having been cleared). That was my opportunity to get out of the Tunnel the pile up was still about five feet tall but I ran up and over it straight into the bullring and I dived over the barriers into the crowd. I don’t think I stopped shaking for half an hour afterwards. That was my introduction to running with the bulls, because of ignorance I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not know what to do.

My mate Brucie is a bit of a nutter when it comes to running with the bulls, he does not party as much as the rest of the gang because he has to be up and focused for the run. So he sets his alarm to make sure he gets out of his pit on time. After all when there are only eight times in the year that you can get the ultimate buzz, you don’t want to waste the opportunity by sleeping in because of the booze. It has certainly paid off for him as he is recognised as one of the top foreign runners in Pamplona. In all the years I have been going, I have never pissed it up all night and then stayed up and run with the bulls. It might have only been a couple of hour but I always tried to get a bit of shut-eye. I might have still had half a brewery in my blood stream but at least I forced myself to get up in the morning. In fact that makes it a bit of a test; you really have to want it, to get out of a warm sleeping bag after only a few hour sleep to get out into the cold street to face the bulls.

Brucie keeps on trying to persuade me to get up early with him for one good run, I will agree just before I hit the sack but by the time it gets to six in the morning and he is getting up, I just mutter… maybe tomorrow Brucie. The annoying thing is that Brucie reminds me of me. I was that addicted when I was in my twenties, except a) I did not run right amongst the bulls as they went into the Tunnel as a matter of course, like Brucie does and b) I wasn’t such an ugly big-nosed bastard. Although last year I ended up running with Brucie three times, it is amazing how having a film crew with you makes it easier to get up in the morning.

Although at first the film crew took to the partying a bit too much and they had difficulty getting up in the morning. However after I had pointed out, that unless the film was running I wasn’t fucking running they soon got into the spirit of things.

Bruice likes to run with the bulls in the Tunnel and I have also known him to do the corner of Estafeta. (Although like myself he has started to run in different parts of the course depending on the crowds and if we have others running with us). These are some of the real dangerous bits of the course but then again nowhere is that easy. It is ok to increase the danger by running where it can get a bit dicey, but it is just fucking stupid to increase the danger by just having a go when you know fuck all about fuck all.

That is a technical educational phrase, which is indicative of a head in the sand attitude. You don’t have to read about how to run, you can just ask around and get somebody to show you the ropes. Just remember no knowledge is ever wasted, in particular when you are putting your bollocks on the line.

To finish off I will tell you about a time I thought that's it, I'm fucked! I realise now that there was not much I could have done about the situation. This is often the case, yes.. if you know what you are doing then the dice are not loaded against you, but you can still get a bad roll of the dice. It was back in 1980 on the 13th July, a guy running in the Town Hall square had been picked up by a bull with a horn through his back and he had been smashed against the barrier, he died. The bull had become a bit separated from the rest. I had run with the first bunch at the top of Estafeta, but I knew from the shouts of the crowd there was still one 'loco toro' to come.

I was now on the approach to the tunnel and suddenly the bull appeared but instead of it running down the middle of the course it was hugging the right hand barrier. When the bull appeared from out of the crowd it was a matter of feet away from me, and I could see the blood on it's horn. I was too static, I knew I did not have time to turn and climb out of the way and I did not have the time to sprint away from a standing start. So I did the only thing possible I sucked my gut in and stood still up against the barrier. The bull was still heading straight for me as some guy waved his newspaper in front of the bull who shook it's head and moved just past me into the course and out down the Tunnel into the arena and killed a second guy. That was my lucky day. twenty six years later I am still running with the bulls, a good bit slower perhaps but a lot wiser; then again I nearly got sucked into a pile up in the mouth of the Tunnel last year, but now….. it’s just another day at the office!
(For more pamplona advice www.pamplona.co.uk)

Posted by Pamplona 03:56 Archived in Spain Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

Fireworks In Pamplona

More Pamplona Fiesta Advice From The Pamplona Posse (Go on google us I know you want to!)

How to make an evening go with a bang
By The Pamplona Posse

When in Pamplona the focus is, obviously you might say, on the Bull Run. What else? However when you analyse it, even with the build up beforehand and celebrations – or commiserations, afterwards it only takes up a small proportion of the day. Dilemma, what do you do for the rest of the day? Answer? No not drink every hour, well, ok, maybe just most of them. There is plenty to do and see around; however, while you are drinking or even if you decide to stay sober for a while One experience not to be missed is an evening watching the fireworks. Last year I finished off one evening by having a picnic there with a bunch of guys I met. I didn’t know many people but hey, this is Pamplona and everyone knows everyone after half an hour. I was told that the fireworks in Pamplona were not to be missed. They were the talk of the town and companies competed to win the ‘wow’ factor. I thought I had better join the throng and see if they were really as good as the ones back home.
Why is it that whenever the British have a picnic they end up taking everything including the kitchen sink? I swear we looked like a bunch of refugees making our way across the plazas and down the roads to the Ciudadela where the fireworks are let off. This is the grassy area by the parapets of the old city walls. Fairly empty by day as it gets very hot there, although useful for sunbathing or people with kids, it was transformed nightly into a sea of people straining and stretching to ooh and ahh at the pyrotechnics on offer.
We were a motley crew, this picnic party; all ages, men and women, some carrying bags with food, others carrying bags full of drink containers, and some just staggering along, hoping they were following the right leader. The best sight I thought was the two guys who got the job of carrying the dustbin with ice in to keep the drink cold! Most of the party had started the evening by making sure they saved their arm muscles by exercising their throat. Why carry alcohol and let it get warm, when you can drink it cold to start with? No one had bothered to change for the evening –who wants to when you are going to be sitting on the grass getting totally slaughtered, and were still in their scruffy, dirty, obligatory white and red outfits –well, dirty grey by now. This state of disrepair added to the illusion of a displaced group looking for a home, and many people gave us a wide berth, looking questioningly as we passed.
We finally found a home and started settling in. Our home was a patch of grass near the walls, sheltered but not too far to walk. All that food was getting heavy now (drink was getting lighter!) I wondered what they had supplied. I couldn’t imaging it would be easy to organise this sort of thing in fiesta time when all the focus is on drink, not food. I couldn’t even remember seeing any shops that sold anything besides drink, souvenirs or medicines. My theory is that after too much of the first, you can pick up some unwanted of the second and the pharmacies make a fortune supplying the third to aid your recovery before going home. Anyway, back to the picnic. We started to sit in a circle, but then spread out to be more comfortable, gravitating into groups that suited age and gender demarcations. The one common factor though was that we could all access the supplies easily- most important. I wondered when the fireworks were going to start, as I thought that was the purpose of our trail. However I was rapidly sinking into a booze fuelled haze and wondered who the girl was on my right, who had just laid her head in my lap. I found that one out later (another story). Something edible was passed round and I was amazed to find I was eating a chilli roll. No not a chilli dog, just a loaf of bread with chilli beef in it. It was good and soaked up some of the fizzy plonk I had swilling around in side of me. There were other offerings, but these were the best. This picnic was an interesting one without a doubt.
Suddenly a shout went up. It was firework time. Everything I had heard was an understatement. Whether it was my alcoholic haze, or whether they were as good as promised, I am not sure, but I have never seen anything like it. The fireworks were huge, filing the whole sky with bursts of colour and sound. They were deafening and mesmerising at the same time. They just kept on coming. Red, blue, green, gold, silver, every colour you can imagine, exploding high above the heads of the crowd, lighting up the whole area with magical glitter, intense with flashes of every hue. Everyone had their necks craned, staring up to take it all in. Many were just lying on the grass, absorbing the experience in awe. Children nearby were vocal in their appreciation, screaming in excitement alongside the gasps of the older spectators (or maybe those gasps were not due to the fireworks. It was dark. Who knows? I wasn’t going to look). Each time the fireworks seemed to quieten down and have finished there was another explosion and the sky was once more lit by a myriad of starry fragments of colour. At last the final burst came, sounding like a battery of gunfire, and leaving everyone almost speechless with the wonder of the special effects. To bring me back to reality the girl beside me came to life, looked up at the sky and said “I wonder how many mouths the bill for that lot would feed” and promptly passed out again. It made me stop and think, but only for a second, as my next drink was passed to me. This was Pamplona, a fiesta of excess. Why should the fireworks be different from anything else in the town? I would be responsible when I got home, but not here. No one is responsible during fiesta time. Even the locals take on different personalities, letting loose all the inhibitions that keep them in line the other 50 weeks of the year. Heaven on earth for a while, though I am glad it only lasts a short while. No one could keep going for much longer –least of all my liver! I swear it aged 10 years in 10 days.
With the fireworks finished the crowds began to thin and all the children were taken home to bed –or on to the funfair round the corner. I had reached my limit however, so after helping gather up all our belongings and made sure there was no food or drink left to weigh us down and be carried. I set off back to the centre of town to crash out - in the nearest bar. You didn’t think I had finished totally for the night did you. This was fiesta time!!!

Posted by Pamplona 11:24 Comments (0)

Tale of a Pamplona Virgin

By the Pamplona Posse

The Tale of a Pamplona Virgin

There I was, fresh off the plane into the heat, vulnerable to all the sounds and sensations around me. After a hair-raising drive from the airport at Bilbao, courtesy of a mad Pamplona Veteran, I was ready to escape into a bar and start the road to recovery. On entry to the central part of the city I could hear the noise levels rising and the people were filling the streets around us. All was a blaze of red and white. I had been warned it would be an experience that I would not forget, but nothing prepared me for the mayhem that waited round the corner in the central square. As I entered the main arena I was swamped with people, all screaming, shouting, laughing and drinking. It was the biggest party in the world –and I had just begun to join in. It was a wall of sound and smells –from the exotic to the mundane, from scent to stench – my senses were assaulted at every turn. I was grabbed round the waist, kissed, offered wine (and more) and I had not even got my own red and white outfit on yet. To those who tried to describe it to me beforehand, and said it was impossible, I now bow to your superior experience. I agree. Pamplona in the first 2 weeks of July is like nothing you will ever experience again –unless you come back again the next year.
Once fully prepared and out on the town I can truly say that as long as you have a strong stomach and a strong pair of shoes you will have the time of your life. I am not sure what I was walking in or on most of the time, other than rubbish and drink, but who cared, it was fiesta time and after the nights of excess the cleaners worked their magic. By the time the sun was truly in force all was sparkling and fresh once more. At this point I can confess that I did not see much of the sun –that time was for sleeping while the young had their fun. After dark the grown ups came out to play!
One of the main reasons for clearing the streets was for the Bull Run to be safe. That is yet another experience to live on in my memory. Up at six o’clock, with a raging hangover, all to support the mad men who were dicing with death and their own fears. As a mere spectator I was unimportant and it was hard to gain access to the run. Everyone tried to get a good view either on the rails or in a place where the gates would let them see through. The crush was terrifying and I thought that if I was that scared, just trying to watch the bulls, what heart pounding fear the runners must be going through. I finally secured a place, courtesy of being one of the fairer sex –well if you have it you have to use it – although I have to confess to using my share of toe treading and elbow digging to keep there. The tension was rising and then suddenly, above the shouts, jeers, and calls of the crowd, the sound of a gun –the bulls were off, and another, all were on their way. Everyone, pushed, jostled and craned their neck –“I can see it, that was a bull’s leg” shouted the person next to me. By the time I had shouted, “Where” and twisted my body to an impossible angle to see, it was all over. I had seen a few animal legs and many human legs run by, been deafened and squashed. Was that it? No, off to the bar to catch up with everyone who ran, and see that their experience, while being more terrifying than mine, had equally been more emotional, and adrenalin raising. It was good to count everyone in and know that they were all safe; reliving every centimetre of the route and every step they took.
The next day I decided to do the thing properly - I was going to see the run from a better position. I managed to secure a place on a balcony in Mercederes, with a clear view of the corner round to Estefeta. Now this was more like it. I had still had to get up at an unearthly hour after a hang ever, but now I could feel the sun on me and was free from the crush below. I could see the heroic Red Cross members preparing for any disaster they might get involved in, and had a clear view of the street cleaners scraping every last piece of glass, plastic and rubbish off the streets and hosing them down so they were clear for the bulls and runners. After they had finished the runners began to congregate and I was even gladder I was up in my balcony. The crush down below was immense and I couldn’t believe so many people could fit into such a narrow street. The guns were heard once more and the runners started. This time I saw every bull and watched them skid round the corner, pacing and pitting themselves against the throng around them. They were magnificent and I was distracted from checking on the rest of our party who were running with and around them by the sheer presence of them. They looked harmless until one suddenly turned and honed in on a hapless runner who was too slow and too cocky to move in time. My heat was pounding painfully as I waited without breathing for what seemed ages to see what the bull would do. My breath was expelled in a rush when the bull just seemed to head but the runner and graze him, before moving on –another accident averted. This time after the run I felt exhilarated and could understand on a small scale the feelings of the runners. Of course I now felt justified in joining in the celebrations properly now, so carried on drinking to cure my hangover.
This is how the days passed in a haze of adrenaline and alcohol until the last day. The closing ceremony of the fiesta is emotional and moving –and also full of yet more alcohol. Don’t forget your candle girls when you are packing –they come in useful in Pamplona – everyone holds a lit candle while they sing and then extinguishes them to symbolise the end of the San Fermin, before you start fantasising! Now it was time to drink up and say goodbye –always a sad occasion, the last hangover of a trip.
A Pamplona virgin no more! Now I have gone through the pain and suffering of one fiesta, now what? Like every good woman, I am coming back for more –next year, so beware and be ready for me!!!

Posted by Pamplona 02:15 Comments (2)

First Time Bullrunner

By The Pamplona Posse


It was a BRISK MORNING, the weather chilly, men jumping anxiously around, chitter chatter everywhere, a faint smell of fear in the air. So this was it, Pamplona. – the running of the bulls. I studied this course, prepared as well but there was a distinct feeling of confusion. I felt good I thought as good as I could under the circumstances. There was the usual sizing up of the participants, some you could tell have done this more than once, others the first time and some you just knew would bail out the last minute. The question was would I bail out, would I perform well – would I die. Yes the thought of death was a real thought. I know – the stats indicate a near impossibility but nonetheless a possibility.
In the background despite all the noise, I could hear the Eminem song:

Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted-One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready……………………

And all I thought I was going to do was run fast - as fast as I could!!!

So it is safe to say a lot goes through your mind, and that is how my love affair with this insane ritual began. I started to think of what was important in my life. For about 10 minutes I was in deep thought- not scared mind you- but in deep thought. I started to realize what was important in my life, who was important, who I loved, what foods did I love and what fun it would be to do this. The more I thought the more random the thoughts. Could it be the crazy drinks in Pamplona having a delayed effect? The spicy chorizo or the traumatic effects of meeting a peculiar Scottish by the name of Graeme Galloway…….

I’ve met a lot of interesting people in my life but nothing prepared me for this. He has a presence of a Victorian actor gone insane. A bellowing laugh and a charismatic way of making the most mundane conversation seem interesting. Who is this man and did he become this way because he’s been running encierros for 25 years? If these are the after effects perhaps I should bail.

Regardless, Like a Barry Bonds home run sound, some idiot lights a bottle rocket and the whole place goes mad, people are running everywhere- it is a riot!!! Now I’m scared. Then someone else sets off another rocket the place is pure pandemonium – people are running for their lives. I’m thinking Jesus ETA is doing a terrorist act! I’m now absolutely petrified that I’ll get trampled over.

How embarrassing is that I thought – boy gets trampled in pre run riot. While the thought was finishing – another college student passes me- nothing different here except he decides to vomit on me. Yes vomit – he is scared shitless and he is drunk to boot. He is vomiting uncontrollably, I look up and three Spanish guys who seem cool as cucumbers are laughing at him. I was appalled. I tried to help the kid but people started stepping over him. I said to myself when this over I’m leaving Pamplona what terrible people are here. Needless to say, the crowds of people continue to ramble on wildly. I couldn’t take it anymore. I scream out loud, “WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE RUNNING LIKE SCARED IDIOTS?!?!?!?!!?”

Then some guy with what appeared a Southern accent says to me, “Son the bulls are coming - no time to act silly.” Silly? I was insulted.” WHAT?” I say to him – I thought they announced it on a loudspeaker. He looks at me with disgust and says. “Either go down on the floor and curl into a ball right now or run underneath that barrier- you shouldn’t be here.” Well before I could mutter a F**k You to him – I hear Spanish men running in white shirts shouting Toro Toro Toro!!!

Instead of Bulls I’m thinking Pearl Harbor. This is crazy but what is crazier is that I’m now gone from mad to sick – I feel like I need to get sick. Then before I could lower my head a wave of people push me into the barriers. I thought I was hit unconscious I started to hear bells – then I look up and there is this big white elephant looking bull squaring down for me. I couldn’t run and I closed my eyes. Yes I froze. I was like the song, “Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy” But before I could wince in pain someone grabs me from behind the barrier and pulls me in. I feel this terrible thud – Oh shit – I’ve been gored. Jesus sweet Jesus I’ve been hit. Is this what it feels to be gored. I look up to see the predator – and it is a man wearing a red uniform screaming obscenities to me in Spanish. “Bouta Madicoon.” “F**k You” I say, “I’m no raccoon” Then these other people are screaming at me too. I was in a state of shock. Where is the love ? I’ve been gored and people are yelling at me.

Having regained my senses for a second, it happened again I noticed two Spaniards laughing. Except this time at me. I turned around and another Spaniard was smiling, he said, “They are laughing because you think you’ve been gored” “But I am”, I proclaimed, “Look at this welt!”
The Spaniard looked at me and said with a straight face, “That welt is from the policeman hitting you with the baton” – that was after he saved your life”

I went from angry to embarrassed in one breath. What a loser I am.

I walked backed to the bar area about to order a stiff drink when I heard that strange Southern accent again, “Hey brother I hear you got gored by a policeman” – I smiled embarrassingly. He said, “Jack Daniels always works for me. This one is on me. We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

It was then that I knew where the love was.

Viva San Fermin!

Posted by Pamplona 01:59 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]