Encierro, the running of the bulls
Iberian Traveler - Sanfermín Tours
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ROUTE OF THE ENCIERRO
SANTO DOMINGO The adventure begins near the coral at the bottom of Calle Santo Domingo when the first rocket is fired, announcing the final seconds of the beginning of the day's encierro. It can be dangerous to linger too long in this narrow stretch below the town hall square where you can almost reach out and touch the buildings on either side. If this is your first encierro, you will glance around at the faces in the crowd not knowing what to expect, wondering what comes next. Suddenly a cheer goes up as the rocket, “El chupinazo", begins its rapid climb into the morning sky.
By now the lead runners have inched their way down Santo Domingo towards the holding pen. Suddenly they stop dead in their tracks and surge back up the slopping, cobbled stoned street as the herd suddenly erupts from the coral full of pent up energy, quickly overtaking the first runners. The horns of the lead animals part the frenzied crowd allowing the steers to lead the way for the six massive fighting bulls. Nervous at first, the bulls will keep their heads low, their bodies touching, forming a dangerous wedge as they charge up the street. You feel the adrenaline and your heart pounds in your ears as the herd rushes by like the wind. Hopefully you've survived the ordeal unscathed.
AYUNTAMIENTO & MERCADERES The route widens at the top of Santo Domingo as it enters Plaza Consistorial and Ayuntamiento, the town hall square. If you started your run near the top of Santo Domingo, and were lucky enough to have reached the plaza one step ahead of the bulls, running as fast as your feet will carry you, you either dive for cover under the nearest barricade or continue headlong, racing across the plaza towards the entrance to Calle Mercaderes, your back to the bright summer sun as it rises above the streets of Pamplona. On Mercaderes you find the route narrows, angling to the left.
The herd, having crested Santo Domingo in a matter of seconds, will slow their pace slightly if the steers are in the lead, but the fighting bulls are younger and faster and by now have probably overtaken the lead steers before reaching the Ayuntamiento, thus increasing the danger.
If you happen to go down in the open, stay down until the bulls have safely passed. A novice runner, a 22 year-old American, was fatally gored in front of the town hall in Plaza Consistorial in 1995 when, after being knocked down by the surging crowd, managed to get to his feet just as the lead Torrestrella bull, entered the plaza.
ESTAFETA Once you reach the end of Mercaderes the route takes a sharp turn to the right at the infamous "La Curva", which leads onto Calle Estafeta, the long, narrow canyon-like street lined with shops and tapas bars, where the doors have been boarded up, giving you nowhere to hide once the gate swings close behind you. This has always been a dangerous spot for the novice as well as the experienced runner, but now, with the use of the anti-slip surfacing on the smooth stone pavers at the corner, fewer animals tend fall going through the turn, reducing the possibility that the bulls will become separated from the herd. But the other result of the use of the anti-slip surfacing is that the pace of the encierro has picked up, creating a new set of dangers as you try to keep pace with the bulls as they race up the walled canyon of Calle Estafeta.
When running down Mercaderes toward Estafeta you should try to keep to the right as you enter the turn onto Calle Estafeta as the bulls typically drift to the left, carried by their own weigh and momentum, and there will already be a group of runners waiting at the corner to join in the rush. If you happen to make a mistake and find yourself on the left side of Mercaderes, on the outside of the turn going into the corner, you may suddenly wish you were somewhere else.
If you make it through the corner and are up for a quick, short run, you will find that the safest place to run with the bulls is to stay between the white lines, in the center of street. The lines mark where the curb and gutter used to be when Estafeta was paved with cobblestones. The crowd of would be runners standing against the walls along both sides of Estafeta can prove more dangerous at this point than the sharp horns of a fighting bull.
TELEFONICA If you happen to make it down Estafeta, keeping one step ahead of, or running along side the bulls, you'll find yourself at Telefonica, which marks the end of Calle Estafeta. Both sides of this short section are lined with a double row of wooden barricades that funnel the bulls toward the Callejon and the entrance of the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona. Telefonica is fairly wide, but the path quickly narrows as it breaks to the left and slopes down into the Callejon.
The pace of the bulls has slowed slightly as they raced up Estafeta, but you want to keep especially alert here, as the lead runners tend to bunch up, increasing the danger, especially if the bulls have separated. The last runner to die from a bull's horn, a third generation veteran from Pamplona, died after being pinned by the crowd against the outside barricade at the top of the Callejon, unable to move out of the way.
CALLEJON This is narrow corridor, more like a funnel, that fills rapidly with bodies and razor sharp horns as runners and bulls try to share the same space at the entrance to the bullring. If you find yourself here you want to keep moving and never glance back as it's too late for second thoughts if a bull is only a step behind you. The real danger here is if someone goes down, either in the Callejon, or as you pass through the doors of the bullring. Several runners, including some very experienced ones, have been seriously injured when trapped by a fighting bull in the tight confines of the narrow passage leading into the bullring.
PLAZA de TOROS Once you have passed through the doors and are inside the bullring, move quickly to the left or right, keeping clear of the entry and away from the center of the ring, giving the bulls plenty of room as they head towards their pens on the far side of the plaza. The danger is far from over at this point. Fighting bulls have excellent peripheral vision and quick reflexes, and can be on you in a flash, so remain alert!
Come for the adventure… run with the bulls!