Pamplona, from Ryan Carlson

July 13, 2007 |

 For years I've been meaning to make it to Pamplona to run with the bulls but I hadn't been able to until this week. It's regrettable that it didn't happen sooner because to show up younger and dumber would've made it even more exciting.

An hour before the run, the streets are washed clean and then about 30-45 minutes before, the runners are contained within a plaza to wait while the sweepers remove all debris. About five minutes before the run, the police allow everyone to leave the square and get into their preferred position. There aren't many rules except that cameras or backpacks aren't allowed and the runner must be at least 18. The police use the dispersion before the race to take any violators immediately off the raceway.

Positioning is extremely important and I opted to meet the bulls near the end of the run at the end Calle Estafeta as the route takes a soft left turn into an area called Telefonica and then to the tunnel of the bullring. My reasoning was that the bulls were slower after running uphill on Calle Estafeta, on the left side were wooden barriers I could escape through, the momentum of the turn would lead the bulls to my right, and that I could make it into bullring since it closes after the last bull gets in. Another precaution I made was not to run on the weekend when it's the most crowded.

From watching videos of the run, it seems that many of those injured are someplace they shouldn't be doing something they shouldn't be doing. What really surprised me was the complete ignorance and lack of planning many other tourists did as it's too dangerous a situation to just get out and run.

The most important safety rule is that if someone falls, to cover their head and stay down until another runner taps them and says it's all clear. The only foreign runner ever to die was an American about 10 years ago who fell, got up to look for the bulls and was gored. My plan was to stay on my feet and simply just keep moving forward and left until I got into the ring.

The few minutes leading up to the run and two minutes of the run itself were some of the happiest and most exciting of my life. Running up Calle Estafeta with the balconies filled with people cheering, not knowing what would come in a few minutes was exhilarating.

One rocket booms to let everyone know the starting gate for the bulls is open and then a second rocket follows once the last bull leaves the pen. As I was near the end of the course, I planned to count to 75 to begin running but took off at 60 since so many people sprinted by me with complete panic in their face.

I was equally concerned about other participants as I was of the bulls because of all the accidental shoving, tripping, and blocking which made it more dangerous. Luckily, I managed to stay on my feet and ran alongside the bulls from about three body widths away which is about where I wanted to be.

The run through the tunnel and into the bullring was a glorious moment to be met by all those cheering in the stands. High fives all around with my fellow runners and then we waited for the baby bull with rubber covering its horns to be brought out that everyone could play amateur matador. After the run, it was time to celebrate with a cigar that I picked up on a layover in London from the world's greatest humidor at Davidoff on St. James.

When I ran on the 9th, it was a pretty clean run and the bulls tended to stick together. When the bulls get separated, serious trouble begins because they'll hit anything that moves. The run on the 12th shows what happens when separation happens and how the confusion causes the bull to act.

Without a doubt the experience exceeded my imagination but I probably won't do it again. There are certain memories that I feel are so pristine that I can't recreate them because the additional times aren't nearly as good. For instance, hang gliding off the cliffs over Rio was so amazing that I won't spoil the memory even though I've gone hang gliding elsewhere since and been back again to Rio four times.

The atmosphere in Pamplona is definitely a party scene but more mature than say Bourbon St. in NOLA during Mardis Gras or the Lapa neighborhood during Carnival in Rio. Locals were extremely inviting, particularly those we met watching the bullfights in the evening.

The bulls which ran during the day are the ones which are to be killed in the evening bullfight. I was awed at the grace of a Spanish bullfight and it's worth the trip alone to see.

Steve Leslie counters:

Bull-fighting is the worst display of the barbaric nature of man. It ranks with cock-fighting and dog-fighting, and below fox hunting. It is cruel and horrid.

It is a bloodsport where the animal is led through a series of stages designed to weaken it and ultimately set it up for its demise.

First it is stabbed in the back with a lance by picadors to lower its blood pressure so the animal does not have a premature heart attack and thus shorten the spectacle.

Next a group of men called banderilleros stab the animal along its shoulders with lances to further weaken it through blood loss.

Finally, after the animal is severely weakened and defenseless, the matador enters the ring of death and performs a ritual of maneuvers with a cape –choreography of sordid and macabre design. Then he thrusts a sword through the shoulder blades of the spent animal and into the heart.

There is no majesty or glory in such a grotesque display. There is no redemption, as the end of the play is written before it is begun.

Ryan Carlson replies:

According to the book, Running with the Bulls: Fiestas, Corridas, Toreros, and an American's Adventure in Pamplona, the bulls that fight lead a life of freedom on the open range and are given the best food and quality of life. In exchange, they pay with their lives by dying in a bullfight. Counter that with all those animals which simply exist in a feedlot in order to fatten them up and die by getting stunned by electricity and their throats slit. I would certainly take the route of the toro bravo!  

Scott Brooks writes:

I can see both Steve's and Ryan's point of view. Bulls, and animals in general, are tools to be used by man as we see fit. However, that doesn't mean that we have the right to be cruel to them.

When I hunt deer on my farm, it is in my view an exchange of value. The animals on farm live a life of relative comfort, security and abundance. I create a habitat that is conducive to their needs, creating lots of quality cover including sanctuaries that are off limits to humans (except in very rare instances). There is plenty of water, and safe travel corridors to get from bedding to water areas. There is more food on my farm, planted specifically for wildlife use, than the wildlife can eat.

Some would say I do all this for the animals, but that's not the case. I do it for me, my family, my friends and my clients. I want a great place to hunt, to recreate, to watch and observe wildlife, and to get pure organic meat for my family. The benefit to the wildlife is simply a byproduct of my desire to create an environment that supports my desires.

So the wildlife benefits from my efforts, and all I ask each year is a few sacrifices.

But when one looks at the manner in which the sacrifice occurs, one will notice that it's a humane manner in which I, or my guest, inflict death on the animal we're hunting. Death in the wild is usually horrid. And to top it off, the end is usually the most hideous part, as other animals (the carnivores) zero in on the dying animals and attack. To be eaten to death is a slow and horrible process. Sure, smaller game animals may die quickly (as their backs are snapped in the jaws in a larger predator), but larger animals such as deer or bulls die slowly as Kipling states: under the tooth, fang and claw of predators.

I usually kill an animal quickly and virtually painlessly (many times it's painless and instantaneous). But there are times when it's not a good kill — what I call an ugly kill. I hate those, but they are a fact of life in the wild. And I can tell you from first hand experience, that most non-human inflicted death in the wild is hideous! So what keeps me coming back after an ugly kill? It's simple. I know that even my ugly kills are much more humane than the vast majority of non-human inflicted deaths in the wild.

So what is the connection to this and the bulls of Pamplona? Those bulls are killed in a manner that many would find offensive. It's off the beaten path of a quick humane death in a slaughterhouse. But when you compare their death to the alternative deaths in the wild, you will find, as I have, what looks like a draw-out spectacle of death inflicted by the matador is actually a better alternative to the myriad of horrid (and much more likely to occur) deaths in the wild.

Mother Nature is the older and crueler sister of the Market Mistress. The Market Mistress will just take your money and laugh at you. Mother Nature will slowly and cruelly kill you — while laughing at you! 





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