“San Fermin! San Fermin!! SAN FERMIN!!!”
The chants echoed through the old-world city canyon of buildings, but they dulled in my ears, replaced by the sound of my pounding heart, as I tried to block out all the commotion. Faces in the crazed frenzy around me seemed to move in slow motion, as I mentally prepared for what was about to happen.
Alright, what the hell am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Run with the bulls, really?
The thoughts of my inner monologue prior to this moment had been quite the opposite. I was actually excited — albeit a little scared — to run with the bulls like Ernest Hemingway did in 1924, an experience that he later captured in his famous novel The Sun Also Rises. The bull runs, known locally as encierros, are the most well known — and certainly the most dangerous — daily event at the San Fermin Festival held in Pamplona, Spain each year from July 6–14. Because of its popularity, the festival gets mobbed with thrill-seekers (many inebriated) from around the world.
“WOOOOOO!!!!” someone hollered, jogging me back to reality. It might have been Delon, an Arizonan I had befriended in the line-up just before the official start time of 8 a.m. sharp.
Along with dozens of American, Australian, British, and Spanish men, we were corralled behind a gate that would soon swivel around and close off the side streets. Brimming with testosterone, the red-and-white–clad maniacs were getting rowdier as the start time approached.
Now really, why am I doing this? This is crazy. Well, at least I’m not hungover like that guy over there. Okay, focus. The nearest place to jump out is two blocks away and…
Before I could complete the thought, there was a mad rush of people behind me, yelling and running for their lives.
Oh fuck, here they come.
I ran as fast as I could. I pushed; I shoved; I did everything I could to move forward, stumbling over fallen people along the way. I was running like a chicken with its head cut off. I didn’t know where to go; all I could do was follow the flow of the human stampede. But then I tripped again, and the palms of my hands landed on broken glass. A small cut on each hand started bleeding.
No time for blood! Get UP!!!
I managed to lift myself, only to be swept away by the sweaty mass of humans, but then — as if having bloody hands wasn’t enough — my left contact lens popped out.
This never happens! Why now?!
I continued to move with the flow, this time with no depth perception. And so I tripped yet again, over another fallen body in the street, bruising and scraping my knee on the cobblestones in the process. I tried to stand, but someone stumbled and fell on top of me, followed by another behind him, and another behind him, and another, and another… It was a chaotic domino effect. In a matter of seconds, I was second to the bottom of what felt like a ten-person pile up.
Actually, never mind the italicized inner monologue; I’m pretty sure I said that out loud.
I was paralyzed as I heard the sound of hooves clomping on the cobblestones from behind us.
This is it; I’m going to die right here.
I closed my eyes as the rumbling thunder passed by my left side. I heard the sounds move beyond me into the distance as the heavy mass above me started to lighten. I finally stood up, discovered I had a limp due to hurting my right knee, and looked around with my one working eye.
Behind me a gate was closed. I was on a side street. Then, I looked at my watch. It was only 7:46.
The entire “bull run” was a fake out — a prank pulled by the police for crowd control to clear that block of people before the real run at 8 o’clock. That sound of stampeding hooves I had heard was just the noise of pounding sneakers with a massive power of suggestion.
“I guess we’re not running,” I overheard an Aussie tell his mate, realizing the run route had been closed off from us. “I really wanted to run, too.”
“Don’t worry,” Delon the Arizonan said to me, after he found me later that day. “I still say you ran.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I did run.”
Run I did. No bull.