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About the author....
Terin Tashi Miller has lived and
worked in a variety of countries. His articles have appeared in guide
books, international magazines like TIME and Geografica Revista, and
newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News and
The Los Angeles Times. Beginning his career as a part-time reporter for
TIME magazine, he worked for The Associated Press in India and North
Dakota, AP-Dow Jones News Services in Spain and New York, and as a
newspaper reporter for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Milwaukee
Sentinel, Amarillo Daily News, and Hilton Head Island Packet. Born in St.
Louis, Mo., raised in Madison, Wis. and several provinces in India, he
currently lives in New Jersey.
He has ridden elephants, camels, horses, donkeys and a variety of carts,
jeeps, motorcycles, cars, trucks and boats as well as soared in a glider,
run with the bulls in Pamplona, rounded up rattle snakes in Sweetwater,
and flown simulator missions in the F-111D with terrain-following radar in
Clovis. He holds a first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and has studied
aikido, kung fu, chi kung, thai kick-boxing and boxing with the Texas
He has lived in a yurt, ridden second class in a steam train in India,
stood on deck during a squall in the Norwegian fjords, camped in the rain
and snow and jungle, and worked as a bar-tender, house painter, tree
planter, draftsman, maintenance man, dishwasher, busboy, life guard,
swimming instructor, and security guard.
He has studied French, Russian, Mandarin, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish, and
visited England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Russia, Sweden,
Norway, Denmark, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sikkim, Iran,
Turkey, Japan and Hong Kong.
Things you must know if you
insist on running with the bulls in Pamplona...
is much more than just being drunk and running with bulls. The running
of the bulls, or “Encierro,” as it is called, has been taking place in
Pamplona since 1581, with July 7 the actual Saint’s Day.
It is a week-long festival celebrating San Fermin,
the patron saint of Pamplona. Pamplona
is called Iruna by the Basques, who consider it theirs,
despite it technically belonging to the Spanish province of Navarra
which borders the region known as Pais Vasco, or “The Basque Country,” and
France. Basque cooking is world renowned, so don’t let not wanting to
run with bulls discourage you from going to Pamplona. In addition to the
bull runs, there are bullfights every afternoon, and plenty of food and
drink and even parades in the streets and fireworks at night.
These days, Australians, New Zealanders, Germans, English, Dutch and
American visitors flood the town during the festival to partake of its
rich history and traditions. Popularized by Ernest Hemingway in his 1926
book “The Sun Also Rises,” simply called “Fiesta” in the United Kingdom,
the object of the festival, including the running with the bulls, is to
celebrate life, and to do that by risking death – treading the fine,
invisible line between the two.
The bulls weigh around 1 ton, and are pure muscle, compared to runners
mostly under 200 pounds. The bulls can clear the 800 meters from start
to finish in 3 minutes. Few, if any, humans can do the same.
The idea that people can run the entire distance in front of or between
a bull’s horns is therefore more myth than reality. Some of the Basques,
who have been doing it since the age of around 3, like Texas cowboys,
recommend moving in front of and between the horns of a bull from the
street’s side, then getting out of that bull’s way by running up and
away, so the actual run in front of the bull takes the form of an arc
entering and leaving the bull’s horns.
Everyone develops their own technique. Some prefer to run between bulls
or alongside them, resting a hand on the bull’s side. While this appears
as dangerous as being in front of the animals, it actually is not. Most
bulls need to turn their body’s length to turn, so even throwing its
head to the side slightly won’t affect a side runner. I say most,
because the Miuras, which do run in Pamplona, are fabled as having an
extra vertebrae in their neck that makes it possible for them to turn
their heads much closer to their sides – making them the most dangerous
bulls to run with, let alone fight in the ring. You can run between
bulls with your arms up, but you are not supposed to touch the bulls, as
it could distract them from getting to the ring, which causes problems
for the drovers who actually are trying to simply move the bulls from
the corral to the ring.
It is probably not a bad idea if you intend to run to learn what bulls
are to run on what days, so you can calculate the risk better. Running
on weekends tends to be the most dangerous, because more of the people
there run on the weekends – making those days the most crowded, and on
the day of San Fermin itself. There is no limit on the number of
participants in any given day, and the Erzanza – the red beret, red
sweater-wearing Basque police, aren’t there to protect you from
yourself. They do, however, make sure the rules are enforced – no one
allowed on the streets just before the run, all runners back at the
corral to have an equal start. And, supposedly, they’re there to
discourage you from running if you’re drunk.
Announcements on loudspeakers between say, 7 a.m and the 8 a.m. start of
the run, say essentially the same thing, as well as warn that if you
fall at any point along the route, stay down – you have bulls and
runners unaware and unconcerned by your individual circumstance.
The cobblestone streets are usually wet because streets are hosed clean
by firefighters overnight. Straw is often added to the street to help
absorb some of the water, which also keeps dust down during the hot, dry
Many visitors spend their entire time drunk, which is why the Pamplones
view them as “Gamberos” and “Borracheros” – stupid drunks – and sell
t-shirts denigrating the appearance of the typical Gambero.
You have to remember that San Fermin is their festival, and that it’s
open to tourists and foreigners because it helps bring prestige and
money to the town. After and before the Feria de San Fermin, Pamplona
tends to be a quiet town, like Bilbao.
You also have to remember that at its heart, the Feria de San Fermin is
a religious celebration, an affirmation that faith will protect you if
you let it, and won’t if you reject it. That’s why the runners in the
Encierro always seek the blessing of San Fermin before the start of the
day’s run, at the starting line at the bottom of Santo Domingo.
`A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro
dándonos su bendición…’ “To San Fermin we ask, please be our Patron;
guide us in the Encierro, giving us your blessing…” The song is ended
not with “Riau, Riau,” but “Gora! Gora!” which in Euskera, the Basque
language, is similar to “Viva!” or Long Live. It sounds just like “Riau,
Riau,” especially from a distance. There is a tradition, called the
“Riau, Riau,” in which citizens get to vent their frustrations at
politicians dressed in their best.
Euskadi is the Euskera name for the Basque Country, and you’re bound to
see lots of Basque flags and other promotional paraphernalia reminding
you you are not actually in Spain. The Basques, who as mentioned claim
Pamplona as theirs, prefer to think of themselves as an occupied
country. You’ll notice this if you try to speak in familiar, Latin
American Spanish as opposed to formal Castellano. The waiters will think
you’re being disrespectful and treat you accordingly. Strangers are
always addressed as “usted,” not “tu,” until you are given permission to
You’ll want a rolled up newspaper to shake at the small figure of San
Fermin all decked out for the occasion in a small niche on the wall
opposite the corral from where the bulls will be let loose. You also
want the newspaper to give the bulls something to focus on besides you
as you run. It is not really to tempt or taunt the bulls. The true mozos,
or participants, use it as a distraction, as they know that bulls follow
movement and can fixate on an object.
Bulls, being color blind, don’t care what colors the runners wear. But
the San Fermines uniform, which identifies fans and friends all over
Spain during the festival, is white pants, white shirt, red sash and red
scarf. The sash is another thing the bulls follow and the braver or less
educated the mozo, the longer the sash.
The scarf, or `panuelo rojo,’ is really just Pamplona custom during the
festival, since it occurs when the Spanish summer starts to grow intense
from the Levante wind bringing hot, dry air up from North Africa.
Pamplona, named after Pompeii, the head of Julius Caesar’s Africa corps,
has been an outpost for those bound for the continent to the south ever
The wet streets mean you have to consider your footing more than usual
when running. You will also be running uphill and around corners, as
will the eight bulls led by steers, which also have horns but tend to be
lighter in color and wear cow bells to warn everyone the bulls are on
Bulls can still and will try to gore anyone or anything in their way,
even if they are slipping or falling, so watch out for curbside pile-ups
- especially on turns, as the bulls’ horns will scrape along the gutter
and are, in the words of one victim, like “a hot knife through butter.”
Drovers trot behind the bulls and the steers, carrying long, thin
switches, and will smack in the chest sharply anyone who appears to be
treating the bulls with disrespect or taunting them, or otherwise
interfering with the drovers’ work.
The Cruz Rojo, the Spanish Red Cross, has ‘medicos’ – EMTs – stationed
at several places along the route, particularly where the route is lined
with wooden rails. The space between and under the rail fence is
designed to allow rescuers to pull the injured under or through the
fencing to the aid station with minimum risk to them.
A small town outside of Madrid, seeing that Pamplona made so much from
tourists during the festival, began hosting its own running of the bulls
in the late ‘90s. Their injury and fatality rate was higher than
Pamplona’s in its first two years, because it used metal fencing to
border the route that didn’t have enough spaces for the injured.
In the years since 1926, when Pamplona first began recording such
information, there have been only 13 fatalities attributed to goring.
The last one occurred as recently as July 13, 1995, when Matthew Peter
Tassio, 22, an American from Illinois, was gored in his first run. He
had arrived late – around 3 a.m. – the day he ran, and had decided to
make the run on a lark. He and a friend decided to sleep in Pamplona’s
main park, just off the café where Hemingway sat in the old days. When
Pamplona fills up, everyone sleeps in the parks, or at least finds a
spot there to rest or continue drinking. Since most who don’t run are
still enjoying life’s freedoms well into the next day, the odds are good Tassio got no sleep. He went running that morning, and wound up fatally
gored in at least 3 places, but by the account of the medico who tried
to save his life that day, the worst wound was a severed aorta. The
medico had tried physically to reconnect Tassio’s aorta to keep him from
bleeding to death, but wasn’t able to. It was then he realized the
bull’s horn had done more than sever the aorta – it had taken a piece of
When Tassio died, the Spanish and U.S. papers had stories about how the
desire to emulate Ernest Hemingway ‘killed another one.’ The U.S. papers
had several stories critical of the dangerousness of the Encierro. The
mayor of Pamplona tried to explain that there is no way, let alone no
desire, to make the Encierro “safer.” It is not a run in the park ahead
of friends running their pets. The bulls are being led from the corral
to the bullring, where they will face an armed man on foot later that
afternoon and likely be killed.
One chap who’s friends I’d met in Pamplona had his tibia shattered by a
horn in the first 13 seconds of his first run.
Get a good night’s sleep if you intend to run, and absurd as it may
sound, you want to be stone cold sober if possible. You’ll need all your
faculties and alertness to stay on your feet, and to get into the ring,
where many spectators jump into the melee, with a small, under-aged bull
after the fighting bulls have run into their pens under the stands.
Watch a run from part of the route, or on television – they’re usually
shown every morning on Spanish television – before deciding to do it.
Talk to people who’ve done it, and seek out any helpful information
they’ll give you – where to try to stay on the street, where to avoid,
etc. I hooked up with a pair of Basque “chicos,” young men, who’d been
running the Encierro for years. We didn’t say much, but they taught me
to be still as possible during the melee in the ring and to touch the
bull with the rolled up newspaper – a goal of the people in the ring –
from a standing, still position. I still have that newspaper, rolled up
tight, at home.
Listen for the rockets from the crowd – they are not gun shots, but
bottle rockets. You’ll hear their hiss, and there are two of them. The
first is to alert runners that the gate to the corral is being opened.
The second is to alert runners that all the bulls and steers have left
the corral and are in the street. If you are not moving forward as fast
as possible by the second one, say hello to the horn nearest you.
If you slip, trip, get pushed, stumble, or just plain fall – stay down.
You will be tripped over, fallen on top of, maybe stepped on or kicked
by bulls and people. It is still the safest place to be. Everyone who
has seen what happened to Tassio, in slow and fast motion, gasps when
they see him get up. It was the second goring that killed him, in about
three different ways, as the horn curved in his back. If you’re lucky
and fall near the Cruz Rojo, listen for them to tell you what to do. If
they motion you to try to get to them, instead of them getting to you,
stay down. Crawl on your belly if you have to. But do not under any
circumstances get back on your feet.
For this reason – focus – if you go to run with friends, separate. You
do not want to be distracted in any way.
One of the best Web sites for tips and information is www.sanfermin.com,
which includes information –and municipal rules- in English. It is
hosted by people who have been involved with the Encierro for years. It
even includes information on Penas, the mostly local runners clubs that
wear different shirts and other indicators.
The main hospital is the Hospital de Navarra. Waiters and others can
tell you how to get there if someone you know and expect to show up
hasn't appeared in more than an hour from the arranged rendezvous. I
would allow the time because after a run, most people feel like they can
lift huge oak trees out of the ground by their trunks – and may not be
completely focused on getting back or where they’re supposed to meet
The Feria de San Fermin runs from July 6-14.
July 6 is always the “chupinazo,” or fireworks kick-off of the week long
festival. The actually Encierro starts every July 7. On July 15, a group
of die-hards runs in front of a local bus, not wanting to admit
everything is over. The runs commence at 8 a.m. every day from the 7th
“Valor, Suerte, y El Toro!”
(Terin Tashi Miller ran in front of Miura bulls in 1994 at the age
of 35. Ash of his father is mixed with the sand in the bullring).
©2004, Terin Tashi Miller