24 Hours in Pamplona

Sometimes, when I get an idea into my head, I can’t shake it. I become infected by it, obsessed with seeing it through.

My travel partner, Paige, was the same way.

We were in San Sebastian, Spain, on the fifth of July, 2004. The next day was opening day for the festival of San Fermín, better known as the running of the bulls.

Pamplona was a mere hour away. We had been tossing it up for weeks – should we go? We had no plans, no accommodation, and nowhere to store our bags. It just wasn’t practical.

So what did we do?

San Fermin, 2004, Pamplona, Spain, Running of the Bulls
So clean! So innocent! And why doesn’t my hair curl like that anymore?

We went, of course.

Our San Sebastian hostel agreed to hold our bags, we scored spots on a Busabout bus, and we were in Pamplona before we knew what was happening.

Step 1: Dress the Part

The uniform is simple: White top, white pants, red sash, and red bandana. If you don’t have these items in your wardrobe, don’t despair. There are shops that stock them specifically for the 9-day festival. I bought a pair of capri pants, a sash & bandana for less than 20 euro. It was worth it to be a part of this mass fashion wave.

The clothes stayed clean for about four minutes.

Running with the Bulls statue - Pamplona - Spain
Note the lovely wine stains on our shirts. Not our fault. I also like how you can see my bra. Please don’t take fashion advice from me.

Tip: Wear SHOES. Due to all of the broken glass and random crap all over the roads, I threw out my cheap flip flops and bought a pair of cheap shoes (€5 from a bargain bin. Apparently others make the same mistake.)

Pamplona shoes Running of the Bulls Spain
Sweet kicks.

Step 2: Fill your bladder.

No, not that one. This one:

Filling the bladder with wine - Pamplona - Spain - Sanfermin
Boxed wine and a bladder to carry it in. Paige is a true inspiration.

The official kick-off of San Fermín is sort of incredible. First, everyone gathers as close to the square as possible, packing every balcony and alleyway. As they hold their bandanas in the air, they chant: “Sanfermin! Sanfermin!”

San Fermin opening ceremony Pamplona, Spain
Got my bandana and a full bladder of wine. Life is good.

Then all hell breaks loose. The bladders are used to squirt wine liberally, on friends and strangers alike. Actually, anything squeezable will do – mustard, ketchup, whipped cream – people become walking hot dogs.

Dirty people at sanfermin, pamplona, spain
A little dirt never hurt anybody.

Of course, taking sips from the bladder between firing is part of the fun, too.

Step 3: Settle down. You’re in for a loooong night.

Like I said, we didn’t have accommodation.

“We don’t need accommodation. We’ll stay up all night,” we said. “It’ll be awesome.”

And until about 3AM, it was. We visited the bulls in their pen and tried not to think about the animal cruelty aspect of the event. We ate patatas fritas in crowded cafes, watched the nighttime fireworks under a drizzle of rain, and danced as if we’d been electrocuted in the clubs off the main square.

But then people started to drop off.

San Fermin, Pamplona, Spain
What nice friends he has.

And with hours to go before the 8AM run, Paige and I were feeling weary.  We pulled our knees to our chests and leaned against the outside wall of a restaurant, willing sleep to come.

It didn’t. Instead, the sun came up.

Sunrise in Pamplona
Uh, this might actually be a picture of the sunset, but you get the idea.

Step 4: Run. Or not. Whatever.

“I want to run,” I’d told Paige the day before. “I think I’m going to do it.”

“Lauren, please don’t,” she said. “I just don’t want to explain to your parents how you got gored by a bull.”

The idea excited me right up until 6AM, when we went to stake out a good vantage point for the run.

Running of the bulls, Pamplona, Spain
My, how…vibrant we look! Go ahead and put on those sunglasses, girls.

I wasn’t running anywhere. In fact, it was a miracle I was walking. We waited, yawning, for the first gun to fire.

At eight o’clock on the dot, we heard a blast. The runners were on their way.

Shortly afterwards, the second gun went off. The first bull had crossed the start line.

And then, the third gun, signifying that the final bull had officially entered the race.

Full balconies at the running of the bulls, Spain
No, I wasn’t jealous of these people. Not at all.

The balcony crowds started cheering, so we knew something was coming. I braced myself for the sound of thundering hooves.

The runners sprinted past, some diving for safety through the slats of the fence.

Diving from the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
You absolute wuss. That bull wasn’t even near you.

Still, I waited for the thundering.

It never came. What did come was a pack of six bored bulls, leisurely trotting along, sniffing at spots along the ground.

Apparently, no one had told them that this was the running of the bulls, not the meandering of the bulls.

“That’s it?” Paige said.

“When do they start running?” I asked.

Police officer at the running of the bulls, Spain
Look closely and you’ll get a glimpse of bull, just past the cop with the enormous club.

And just like that, our adventure was over.

24 hours after arriving in Pamplona, we were on our way back to San Sebastian. Back to a shower, clean clothes, and, most importantly, a bed.

Was it worth it? Definitely.

*If you’re interested in San Fermín, check out Girls Who Run With Bulls, about a bunch of – well, girls who are going to run with the bulls this year in Pamplona. The site dispels some of the myths surrounding the festival (like who is and isn’t allowed to run) and covers the exciting buildup towards the big event.

It almost makes me want to put on my running shoes and give it another shot.



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    1. Thanks! I have since been assured that the bulls DO, in fact, run, and that ours were an unusual case! Best of luck to you next month, I look forward to reading about it.

  1. Great article Lauren 🙂
    Love the realism and wit that you write with.

    And thanks for linking back to Girls run with Bulls! We really appreciate it.

    1. Thanks, Nicole! Sounds like you guys tore it up in Pamplona. Congrats on your run and I look forward to reading more on the website!

  2. Thanks Lauren. Great article!
    For me it was so exciting to read those lines. I was in Pamplona in 2004 on the same dates, on the 6th and 7th of July, and saw all this with my own eyes. It was unforgettable.
    Very pleasant memories.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I wonder if we saw each other in passing? Agree, great memories and not something I’ll ever forget. I just found my red sash and bandanna the other day and had a little moment of nostalgia.

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