I: Stupidity and/or glory
As I stand in the middle of the street, waiting for the bulls to be released, it occurs to me that I should have written down my blood type on a piece of paper and slipped it in my pocket.
It’s 7:30 in the morning, July 14, 2005. Out of respect for tradition, I’m dressed in white pants and a white shirt, with a red silk scarf tied around my neck and a red woollen sash around my waist. I’ve been fretting about how tight to tie the sash because, among the many arresting sights I’ve seen over the past eight days, I watched a charging bull catch one of its horns on the inside of some young American guy’s sash and, as you might expect given the size and power of the average Spanish fighting bull, the beast continued to charge down the street while the kid, dangling like an ornament from the bull’s horn, flailed in a desperate effort to come unstuck, getting dragged and tossed and banged until finally the sash ripped and he slipped off and fell, in a heap, on the cobbled stones of Estafeta Street. I’m not sure where the tradition of wearing white comes from—in photographs of the old days you see that people wore whatever clothes they happened to have on—but a good guess would be that it makes it easier for medics to determine where the blood is flowing from.
It’s also traditional for runners to carry a rolled up newspaper. For protection. Yes, the only thing that runners are allowed to carry with them to defend themselves against one of the most ferocious creatures on the face of the planet is a newspaper. The theory is that if you’re unlucky enough to be chosen as a target of aggression by one of the bulls, you can throw your paper at the animal and the fluttering sheets will distract it long enough for you to scramble over the fence, or into a doorway, wherever you can. I take a look at my paper. It’s fresh and stiff and unlikely, I think, to produce much of a fluttering action if I throw it, so I roll it one way, then the other, back and forth repeatedly, bending the corners and roughing it up in the hopes that if it comes down to it, my copy of the Diario de Navarra, a colour tabloid that ironically happens to be filled with dozens of pictures of people getting gored by bulls, will save my hide.
Before I arrived in Pamplona, there was no question in my mind that I would run with the bulls. I had come to run, and I was going to run. But since the Fiesta de San Fermin is nine days long, and the bulls run every day except for the first, I thought it would be wise to witness a few of the runnings before trying it myself. As each day passed, however, I became less sure that I wanted to go through with it. So, in yet another hallowed Spanish tradition, I kept putting it off until mañana.
Today, however, is the last day of the fiesta, my last chance. Earlier this morning, without really feeling fully committed, I slipped through the wooden fence, paper in hand, and joined the other runners pacing around. Now I’m sizing up my escape routes. The experts told me I should have some kind of plan, so I walk over to a window ledge to see how high I’d have to jump to get a hold and climb up. It’s beyond my reach, which is, to say the least, not reassuring. Even with the kind of paranormal athletic abilities that a charging bull undoubtedly inspires, I don’t think I could make it, unless I’m lucky enough to be able to springboard off the back of some injured runner below, something I am fully prepared to do if it comes down to it. There is another window ledge lower down, but it’s been boarded up for the event, leaving nothing to grab on to. The street here is narrow, enclosed on each side by essentially smooth walls, so that’s about it for the escape options.
My best hope is to make it to the town hall square, where the street widens up and allows for more exiting options. Not that it’s anything like a safe zone. A few days before, someone had pointed out to me the spot in the middle of the square where a xx-year-old American runner was killed in 19xx. He broke the cardinal rule—if you go down, stay down, cover your head and pray you don’t get trampled. Instead, he got up and a bull slammed into him from behind, goring him in the back. This year there have been no deaths, so far, but there are always injuries, every day. It’s just a question of how many.
I rough up my paper some more, pace, jump up and down, shake out my leg muscles. It’s 7:45. In 15 minutes, six pissed-off Spanish fighting bulls (they’re always pissed off) will be released from a pen about a thousand feet from where I’m standing. I stretch, because that’s what I’ve been told to do. Some of the other runners are also stretching. There is very little talk. Most people keep to themselves. The guy beside me is repeatedly making the sign of the cross and kissing the gold crucifix around his neck.
Five minutes to go now. I’m walking around thinking, I’m going to go through with this because I said I would, and I’ve made up my mind, and that’s all there is to it. But then I look over to one of the many medical stations on the safe side of the fence and see a woman from the Red Cross squeezing into her latex gloves in preparation for the injured that will surely come. And everything suddenly becomes more real.
That’s it, I think. This is really, really stupid.
II Viva San Fermin!
Pamplona is not the only town in Spain where people run with bulls. Encierros, the Spanish term for the runs, are staged throughout northern Spain although none is as famous as Pamplona’s, thanks to Ernest Hemingway who immortalized the event in The Sun Also Rises. In the beginning, it was merely a way to get bulls from outside the town to the bullring. The bulls ran alone through the narrow streets of the old quarter, and in those old, sensible days, that was spectacle enough. People watched at a safe distance, from behind the barriers. But at one unknown point in history, some thrill-seeking villager decided to hop the fence and run alongside the beasts. Thus a tradition was born. It’s sort of a poor man’s extreme sport because you don’t need any kind of equipment (although, as previously mentioned, a newspaper is advised). Yet there’s one important difference. As opposed to, say, mountaineering or sky diving or whitewater rafting, risk is not just a byproduct of the activity, it’s the whole point. More like Russian roulette.
On the first day of the Fiesta de San Fermin, held in honour of the town’s patron saint, I’m standing in Pamplona’s small town hall square with my Spanish cousin Jaime and his brother Gonzalo. Jaime has also come to Pamplona to run with the bulls but Gonzalo is along for the ride.
Half an hour before the official start, the crowd has reached what the police consider maximum density—five people per square metre. Some 15,000 people are crammed, and I mean crammed, into the square, waiting for the launching of the chupinazo, a rocket that whistles towards the sky and explodes, signalling the beginning of the fiesta. Another 30,000 are pressed into the surrounding streets, with hundreds of thousands of others packed into bars and other squares around the town, watching on television.
Though the rocket won’t be launched until noon, most of the attendees have gotten a head start on the festivities, drinking at least one bottle of champagne each, estimating conservatively. Perhaps even more remarkable than the running of the bulls is how much alcohol people can consume if they really put their minds to it. After this particularly dedicated crowd disperses, an army of street cleaners will descend and remove, on average, xx tons of broken glass. Broken because that’s another Pamplona tradition—drink your bottle of champagne, smash it on the ground. (Then get another; repeat.)
It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen a crowd of individuals become one entity. Someone, somewhere, leans back and eventually, like a domino effect on a huge scale, a wave of energy passes through the crowd. It’s like a wave in a stadium except everyone participates, everyone, because there is no other choice. The masses flow back and forth, slowly but relentlessly, like a field of wheat under a strong wind. At least a dozen huge white beach balls are floating above, getting punched up again by whoever happens to be nearest when it falls. A giant Basque flag gets unrolled and held high. Someone has released a balloon in the shape of SpongeBob Squarepants.
When noon draws near, the people get louder, but stop pushing as much. As the countdown begins, the crowd, entirely made up of people dressed as Pamplinicos, in white and red, holds their scarves up in the air, chanting wildly in unison. There’s a fervent passion that I’ve never seen before. Even though there is the definite sense that most of the people here have come explicitly to get blindingly drunk, when thousands of people jammed into a small European square hold their blood-red scarves above their heads and shout, at the top of their lungs, “San Fermin! San Fermin! San Fermin!” it’s a stirring moment.
The buzz of that euphoria carries on throughout the day. It’s a bizarre sight to see so many people wearing white and red, walking around town. It’s somehow even more surprising that everyone—including Jaime, Gonzalo and me—goes along with it. It’s not like you have to wear the outfit, but the party-goers, of which at least half or more are from a country other than Spain, seem to be united in their respect for the protocols of the fiesta. Even the few people who aren’t dressed in white make some kind of attempt to play along, usually by wearing the red scarf, which is sold cheaply at endless sidewalk stands and stores around the town.
As we wander from bar to bar, the crush of people does not relent. Pamplona is not the place to come if you have any personal space issues because there is no such thing as personal space. Beyond people merely touching up against you, which is always, people may actually lean against you, perhaps to rest a bit, say, when in a bar and getting tired from lifting so many glasses to their lips. By now, just about everyone’s white shirt is covered in splotches of beer or wine or kalimoxo (a mixture of wine and, of all things, Coca-Cola), all of which are sprayed and tossed and spilled everywhere. Various marching bands parade past in deafening musical pods, along with a coterie of energetic partiers in tow. People are dancing everywhere, in the bars, in the streets, on tables, bridges, rooftops. Just about anything goes.
In the words of one young American tourist I overhear, the scene is “full on.”
Later, we come across a small square where people are climbing up the centrepiece fountain and diving into the crowd. The divers, mostly American and mostly female college students, are in, shall we say, an animated state. If they’re lucky enough to reach the top of the fountain, which is about 20 feet high and involves rock-climbing moves I’d estimate at 5.9, they celebrate their achievement by removing their shirts, then, to a hysterical and adoring crowd, their bras. A few guys try diving as well, but they weigh a lot more than the ladies and are a lot less appealing to catch. The people at the bottom do their best, but with champagne-soaked arms (people are spraying it into the air non-stop) things get a little tricky. One robustly built fellow swan dives off the top of the fountain and the group below tries to catch him but he slips right through their arms, hitting the cobles with a thud that I feel through my shoes from 15 feet away. Injuries at the Sanfermines are not limited to the kind inflicted by bulls. Spaniards look at the mostly American crowd and shake their heads at such stupidity. Running with 1,200-pound pissed-off fighting bulls while wearing white pyjamas is okay. But crowd diving is just plain loco.
My apartment in Pamplona is located on the town hall square, the kind of prime spot you can only get if you’re lucky enough to know someone, which in my case was a man named Carlos Gill. I met Carlos through a friend of a friend at a downtown Toronto hotel. He was there leading a conference on tourism and I felt bad to pester him while he was so busy, but when I arrived he quickly shooed away his assistants so that he could devote himself to more meaningful things, such as educating a novice in the art of running with the bulls. A stocky but fit man in his xxxties, he wore red-framed glasses and a bow tie, striking a rakish, continental air. Grabbing me by the arm, he led me to a table where we could sit down. He produced a gold pen and slid over a cocktail napkin to draw a map.
“From start to finish,” he said in a Spanish accent, “the course is 800 metres long. No one can run the whole thing, so you need to pick a spot to run. You run for a little, then you get out of the way.” Carlos’s favourite stage was at the beginning, where the bulls come out of the gate. Although the road goes uphill there, the bulls are running at their fastest, galloping along at close to 40 kilometres an hour.
“I wish I could be there with you, Mike,” he told me. For the past 3x years, Carlos has never missed an encierro. When I asked him why he couldn’t make it this year, he explained that while he wanted to go, his wife would probably leave him if he did. Last year, Carlos was gored by a bull and spent x weeks in hospital. Using his finger, he pointed at the spot on the inside of his biceps where the bull’s horn punctured him. At that point the bull was running much faster than Carlos was, and the soft flesh of Carlos’s arm was not about to slow it down. He removed his blazer and unbuttoned his sleeve, showing me the scar, pink and about as wide as a pencil, which ran from near his armpit to the middle of his palm.
The first encierro I watched, from the window of Carlos’s apartment, went by in a flash. The crowd was so thick I could see only a slice of the course. Runners fled by in a panic, bulls galloped past, and in seconds it was over. But later on, when Jaime and I went down to the square to wander around, we saw one of the injured being loaded into an ambulance, his head covered in blood.
III. Raging Bulls
Before I left for Pamplona, my mother, who was born in Spain, asked me somewhat fearfully whether I was going to run with the bulls or just watch. Like a reflex, I said no, no, of course not, that I was just going to watch and take pictures. But she saw right through it. “Listen Michael,” she said seriously, pointing a finger at me. “When you get there, people are going to tell you that you’re not brave unless you run with the bulls, but it’s much braver to listen to your mother.”
As I mentioned, my mother is Spanish and while I am 37 years old, Spanish mothers don’t tend to give up their sons easily. Jaime’s mother must have told him the same thing because while we were drinking beer after beer at 9:30 in the morning, shortly after seeing that guy get loaded into the ambulance, he casually announced that there was no way in hell he was going to run. This came as something of a shock after some months of planning. For reasons of sheer ego preservation I figured he had to go through with it. I remembered what he said to me when I first called him to suggest we should run with the bulls. There was a pause, then he announced with macho conviction that, yes, he did have the appropriately sized balls. But seeing the bulls up close apparently altered his appraisal. Of course, being tuned in to the Spanish way of responding to this kind of situation, I ridiculed his manhood, resisting the temptation to also spit on the ground for emphasis. It seemed like the appropriate reaction. But deep down, I was thinking the same thing.
The Spanish fighting bull is a creature that must be seen to be believed. Equipped with sharp, forward-pointed horns designed to inflict mortal wounds, toros weigh as much as 1,300 pounds. Discounting bone mass, the rest is pure muscle. They do not back down from any challenge, even when it would be prudent to do so. (Not that a person carrying a newspaper presents any kind of challenge to a fighting bull.) Their primary instinct is to attack anything that moves in their territory, and they will not relent. Their strength is matched only by their fury. Grizzly bears can be fierce when surprised, especially with young, but mostly they’ll choose the easy way out. Toros, however, are born with an instinctual desire to fight. This, in an animal that is immensely powerful and that SHOWS NO mercy. They’re probably the most single-minded, meanest creatures on earth. And, importantly, they can run a lot faster than you can.
After my first encierro, where I saw little more than a flash from high above the square, I took advantage of my press credentials and situated myself on the corner of Estafeta Street, which is off limits to the public. Everyone in Spain is familiar with this corner. Here the bulls run slightly downhill, at top speed, and more often than not, they slip on the cobbles trying to make the turn, fall, then get up and charge along. Press photographers from all over the world gather here for the action; not so much for the moment when the bulls fall, but more because it’s one of the only places to get a shot of them from ground level. In every other location, runners are right in front of the bulls and it’s nearly impossible to see the animals themselves. On the outside corner of Estafeta, however, everyone knows, instinctively at least, to stay out of the way.
For television news stations looking for good highlight material, the encierro is a dream come true. You’re flipping channels and see clips of people running with bulls—who’s going to pass that by? It’s an incredible sight, but seeing it on television does not prepare you for seeing it live, up close, for real. The tension in the air is extreme. Everyone is watching, everyone. It’s not something you can take your eyes away from. The first time you see these giant, ferocious bulls stampeding down narrow streets, with people running right alongside them, behind them and some crazy people right in front of them—people running at their very limit who might at any second get knocked to the ground or trampled or gored—it’s a ridiculous, surreal, intensely riveting spectacle.
The only provision for safety that tradition allows is that in addition to the fighting bulls, xx steers also run the course. They’re much bigger than the fighting bulls, weighing around 1,800 pounds, but because they’ve been castrated, they’re not fierce at all. (Though if a runner goes down, there is still the danger of getting stomped on by one or more of them. Generally the steers try to jump or go around things lying on the road, but they can’t always do that. One of the most serious injuries in 2005 was caused by a steer that trampled some fallen man lying in the road, causing massive internal bleeding.) The point of having the steers is that they know the way—the same steers run the route every day—and they help keep the pack together. The last thing organizers want is a fighting bull to get separated from the pack, because it suddenly becomes a much more dangerous animal. The ‘running’ part of the running of the bulls is crucial.
In addition to the steers, a team of shepherds, or pastores, runs behind the bulls. They carry long whippy canes, and whack any bulls that are in danger of lagging behind. If any runner touches a bull, which is forbidden because it might distract the animal from running in a straight line, the pastores will not hesitate to also use their canes to whack that person, hard. Lots of people do get whacked because, apparently, when you’re that close to the bulls, it’s hard to resist reaching out and touching them, although personally I find this hard to understand.
Each encierro is run with bulls from a different ranch, or ganaderia. The bulls from each ranch are said to have unique characteristics, and aside from the fact that all of them are bad-assed sons of bitches, this is true. In 2004, the bulls with the worst reputation, in terms of numbers of wounded, were from the Jandilla ranch, which is in the south of Spain near Cadiz. That year, Jandilla bulls caused 12x injuries, including eight gorings. That’s in one day. Three minutes, actually. One of the casualties, a local man named Julen Medina, was gored five times in a savage attack. Miraculously, he survived.
In 2005, Jandilla upheld its reputation. On the morning of July 11, the worst thing that could happen, happened: a Jandilla bull got separated from the pack. It unfolded right in front of me, and it was terrifying.
IV: The legend of Jandilla
His name was Vaporoso. I would learn that later, the next day, when newspapers across Spain ran headlines such as “Vaporoso Incites Panic.” From what I could tell, observing the encierros from about as close as you can get, the bulls incite panic every day. But the newspapers had it right. When I watched Vaporoso in action on Estafeta Street, it felt like something else altogether.
Of course it all happened so quickly. Lying on my stomach, watching through the viewfinder of my camera, waiting for the bulls to appear as hundreds of freaked-out runners stampeded past me mere inches away, I saw the first bull, and he was galloping at top speed right at me. I slammed down the shutter, firing off three shots, then slid back from the barrier as fast as I could. The bull slammed into the gate right in front of me—BANG!—sounding like a highway traffic accident. I was so stunned that it took me a second to realize the bull’s legs had slid past me on both sides, luckily missing my head. It was mere inches away. A Reuters photographer had set up a remote camera beside me, and one of the bull’s hooves smashed into it, sending it flying in pieces. The bull remained still for a second and instinctively I reached out with my camera to fire off a few shots. Then he struggled to get up, thrashing his legs. I got out of the way and he scrambled to his feet and thundered on down the street, leaving behind clumps of hair on the cobbles beside me, as if to confirm that it really did happen. The other bulls had already run by and I thought the encierro was over. Then I heard the screams.
Another bull had fallen earlier, getting separated from the rest. I looked up and saw him trotting down the road. Shiny black, rippled with muscle, and looking for trouble. Vaporoso suddenly turned around sharply, coming to a full stop, lashing his tail. Everyone running behind also stopped suddenly, causing a pileup. The bull just stood there, scanning the crowd. And then he charged. That’s when the real panic started. He lowered his horns and plowed into one hapless guy and sent him flying like a ragdoll. Then he charged after someone else, slamming into him and dragging him across the cobbles with his horns. The guy, obviously injured, tried crawling away from the bull but Vaporoso kept after him. The man was trapped against the wall, cornered. The bull took aim and swung his horns powerfully, with a ferocity that was sickening to see. I thought for sure the guy was going to die right in front of me. Some brave runner grabbed the bull’s tail, and was quickly joined by two others. Together, they heaved back in a frantic effort to save the man’s life, but Vaporoso kept digging and digging with his horns. I remember the man, surrounded by people who were powerless to help him, holding out his arms in a pathetic attempt to stop the unstoppable bull. It was horrifying. The pastores rushed in, whacking the animal with their canes, but to no avail. For all I knew the man had been fatally gored. I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised. Then suddenly Vaporoso turned around and went after someone else, tossing him in the air end-over-end. Then someone else. People were shrieking, I remember that, too. Vaporoso started galloping the right way down the street for a few feet, but then he turned again, running at some young guy trying desperately to get to safety. A policeman behind the fence tried to help the kid up but came too close and Vaporoso lunged, goring him in the leg. More shrieks, more mayhem. The policeman fell back, out of reach, so Vaporoso continued on, zeroing in on other trapped runners. But at least now he was going the right way. Just before I lost sight of him, he had slammed another runner to the ground. And then he was gone.
Later that day, when I saw the complete run on a television replay, I saw that Vaporoso had caused havoc throughout the course. Even at the very end, just before entering the corral, he had turned and gored a 19-year-old Colombian kid in the thigh. By the end of the encierro, which lasted more than five minutes—twice as long as normal—Vaporoso alone had caused some 30 injuries. Eleven of those people had to be hospitalized, and four of them had serious goring wounds requiring surgery.
“It didn’t end in a horrific massacre by a matter of millimetres,” said the Noticias de Navarra the next day. One of the runners Vaporoso sent to the hospital happened to be Julen Madina, the same guy who was gored five times by a different Jandilla bull the year before. I remember quite well the moment I read that in the newspaper. It was a watershed moment for me. After witnessing the fury and strength of a Spanish fighting bull, up close, the only conclusion I could come to was that really, honestly, you have to be out of your mind.
V: To run or not to run
“Don’t run, Mike,” said Felipe, putting his hand on my shoulder and looking me in the eyes. Felipe was a musician who specialized in a Basque percussion art called chalaparta. I had watched him and his brother play a number of times during the week, and one day we struck up a conversation. Afterwards, whenever we bumped into each other, we’d stop to chat awhile. I was touched by his concern—we hardly knew each other. But it also made me less sure than ever. The fact he was a local, from a town not too far from Pamplona, somehow made his words count more. “It’s dangerous, Mike,” he said flatly, staring at me. Despite what my mother said, the locals weren’t trying to talk me into it, they were trying to talk me out of it.
Of course I’d known it was dangerous from Day One, but after seeing Vaporoso lay waste to the crowd, I knew what he meant. It wasn’t just dangerous, it was dangerous. Yet the truth is that the vast majority of runners in Pamplona don’t get injured, and for the most part, the ones that do get hurt are the people running right in front of the bulls’ horns, something I was definitely not planning on doing. Maybe, if I was careful, I could experience the thrill without getting killed in front of a worldwide television audience. I had had the good fortune to get tips from expert runners who had been at it for years. Hundreds of people who didn’t have that information ran every day and they came out of the encierro perfectly fine. Sweaty, perhaps, high on adrenalin, for sure, but fine. While it is incontestably risky, it’s also, particularly if you come out of it alive, undeniably thrilling. After each day’s encierro I had seen the faces of the runners, shining with excitement. I talked to at least a dozen first-time runners, and most of them were still visibly shaking. They looked a lot more alive than the people who wait for the streetcar outside my Toronto apartment every morning.
In Pamplona, that zest for life, sensation, is infectious. At first I found it weird that immediately following the encierro, such a dramatic event in which people are often nearly killed, the party rages on. The bars that line Estafeta Street roll up their metal shutters and the fiesta literally explodes. The morning starts with terror, then like hitting a switch, turns to fiesta. But eventually I came to understand it a little better. Despite all logic, it’s the energy left over from the encierro that propels the spirit of the fiesta. I’ve been to many other fiestas in Spain, and none match Pamplona for sheer, unbridled passion. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in it. The vibe is overwhelming.
The day before the final encierro, thinking about adventure, Vaporoso and the meaning of life, I wandered around town, wondering what to do. If I left here without knowing what it was like, I might regret it. But I didn’t want to do anything truly stupid, either. And the problem is, there’s a fine line.
VI: Off the fence
Ka-BOOM! The rocket goes off with a thunderous explosion, signalling the corral gate is open and the bulls are loose. I must be even dumber than everyone else because at least I know better, but I’m still here. And now this is it, showtime.
Immediately after the rocket sounds, people start running. I try to remain calm, hopping up and down in order to see where the bulls are. If you want to actually run with the bulls, Carlos had told me, you have to wait until they get near, otherwise you’ll just be running with other people. But it’s not easy to wait. It should take about 30 to 40 seconds for the bulls to reach me. Runners are fleeing past on both sides, leaving me nowhere to move. There’s a distant low rumbling sound, the noise that heavy, hoofed animals make on stone cobbles. People are running faster now, and as I hop up and down and desperately scan the action moving my way, I catch sight of the bulls in full gallop. Now runners are tearing by me in a reckless mass. A second later the bulls are as close as I can bear and instantly I turn and start sprinting as fast as I can. Zero to 100 per cent in three strides. I’m running flat out, packed in tight. There are people inches away from me—in front, in back, on the sides—also running flat out. One wrong move by any of us and we’ll collide and hit the deck for sure. I don’t dare look back right now. I just run, fast. The only thought that goes through my mind is that at least nobody is passing me.
One thing I quickly realize about having an escape plan is that it is entirely and utterly pointless. The moment the bulls near your position all hell breaks loose and it’s chaos. Any refuge you thought you might be able to find is already being used by someone else. The walls along the route are in some places 10 people deep and all the good spots have already been taken.
I’m not a particularly good runner, but today I’m pumping along at a historic clip. When I enter the town hall square, I glance over at the fence I had considered hurling myself over in case of trouble, but the crowd there is at least 20 people deep, impossible to penetrate. I have no idea how close the bulls are, but they feel close. My heart is racing, from the exertion, from the adrenalin. It doesn’t feel real. I just run as fast as I can and then suddenly the rumbling gets so loud I know the bulls are right behind me. In those moments you don’t think, you just act. I veer off to the left, snap my head around to see what’s coming and the bulls, tightly grouped, storm past me in a blur, more than close enough.
I’m so pumped from the action that after the bulls thunder by, I run after them. They’re far enough ahead that I don’t feel there’s any more serious danger now but I have to bleed off the exhilaration somehow, so I run at full bore again, savouring the excitement until finally, winded, I slow down.
Before I come to a complete stop, though, there’s shouting coming from behind me. I turn to see what’s going on, thoughts of Vaporoso racing through my mind. Runners are parting to each side of the street, and then I see the cause of the excitement, three 1,800-pound steers galloping along at a reasonable pace, their bells clonking. After nine days of running encierros some of the steers take it easy, bringing up the rear at a more leisurely pace, a little tired, it seems, of the routine. It’s somehow heartwarming to see them. If not exactly friendly, at least they have no burning desire to kill me. With no fence in between us, they look even bigger. Immense, actually. And, I might remind you, plenty dangerous in the right circumstances. I start running again and for a stretch I run alongside them, grinning stupidly, revelling in the moment. I get close, within arm’s reach, and for a few seconds I’m running right beside the bulls in Pamplona. Not the fierce ones, okay, but I’ve had my fill by now. After a stretch, I slow down a little and let them overtake me. As the last one passes by, exhausted but still feeling triumphant, I reach over and slap it on the ass.