The Contagion of Terror

Today Will and I ran with the bulls at San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. The experience was uniquely terrifying. The bulls are over half a ton and they race through the streets like a bobsled with swords. Yesterday the bulls completed the half mile run in just over two minutes. At that pace few men can outrun a bull.

Will and I pose before our run.

I have known only through movies the way terror explodes through a close crowd like a shockwave. But today I saw it first hand. When these monsters approached you could see it in everyone’s faces, you could hear it in the pitch of their voices, and you can watch the nervous energy shake off of their limbs. The first sight of the bulls as they rip through the mass of humanity inspired awe and fear. People scratched and clawed at cracks in the wall at a last-ditch effort to pull themselves out of the street. But with thousands of men doing the same, there was no where to go.

The streets were jammed with men, running for their lives, some running with smiles on their faces. There was no space to escape and the calamity bearing down on the crowd from behind was unavoidable. There is point when you realize that the bulls are too close, are too fast, and are in control of your destiny. Then you must give up, plaster yourself to a wall, and hope the bulls keep running forward. In my case they did, and I gave chase to make it to the arena before the gates were shut.

Throngs of men packed the arena after the run to taunt and challenge young cows. These cows–female and half the size of the bulls–excitedly charge through the mass of people trying to maul anyone they can catch. But their horns a more narrow than the bulls and have been capped to blunt the point. When men are contacted, thrown, and kicked to the ground the injuries are usually slight. That is, unless you are stupid enough to grab the horns and hold on.

For reasons that are not clear to Will and I, the Spaniards vigorously defend the cows’ honor when someone tries to wrestle the beast by its horns. A large man today wrapped his torso around a cow’s head and held the horns in each arm for eight or ten seconds. The audience started whistling in anger (whistling is to Spaniards what booing is to Americans) and chanting ‘puta’. When the cow eventually threw the man, the pack descended on him to punch and kick him severely. Eventually the police intervened and escorted him from the arena. He was defiant and seemed pleased. Many tourists confuse whistling with cheering and until the blows started landing he may not have known his error.

Will and I calmed our nerves with a glass of sangria. We’re now back at the hotel weighing options for the day. Maybe a day of rest, maybe a day in San Sebastien. Tiffany has come down with something so our plans will depend on her health.

{2 Responses to “The Contagion of Terror”}

  1. I would like to have seen a photo of the two of you immediately after the run as well.

    Jim Drummonds
  2. Ahhhh … Sangria, great beverage of choice, genuine sangria for you. Interesting timing: as you were active in Pamplona, I was sipping a wine called Running With the Bulls, gift from a friend. California Cabernet with an abstract artsy label … wine was more enjoyable than the label. Glad you and your friends are safe after your great adventure! I know there are many other items on your list. Luv u!