Sunday, July 25, 2004


I detailed in my July 19, 2004 post that Cabanillas del Campo’s “People and Bulls Festival” was in full swing, and that its final four days would feature a running of the bulls each morning. I also promised that I would attend one of the runnings – strictly as a spectator, of course – and report my observations. Well…for better or for worse, I attended yesterday morning’s running of the bulls.

Two runnings of the bulls were scheduled to take place yesterday morning. The town of Cabanillas prepared a course that was approximately one kilometre long. It was located on the street running between our main soccer field and the town’s sports center. The street was lined on each side with a red, seven foot high, temporary iron fence. Each section of fence was comprised of two vertical and five horizontal iron bars. It was plenty sturdy, yet allowed for a nearly unobstructed view. At the end of the street, the course curved to the right and continued for another 100 meters; at which point it emptied into the bullring stadium.

María, Inés and I arrived at ten minutes before 11am, and took a spot behind the fence at the course’s midway point. María and Inés prudently retreated to a shady location farther back, whereas I climbed to the top wrung of the fence with digital camera in hand.

By 11am, approximately 100 runners congregated at various locations on the street. Most were men in their late teens to late 20’s. The ones waiting at the top of the course obviously intended to run with the bulls as much as much a possible, whereas others seemed content to sprint only the last 100 meters into the stadium.

Many of the runners dressed in white, which I thought was wise. If one of these runners were to be injured by a bull, the emergency personnel would spot them immediately. I was puzzled as to why several runners chose to wear brown pants, but after further thought I concluded that this was a wise decision also.

At approximately 11:15, a starter’s gun fired and the bulls were released. The sea of participants poised at the top of the course began to run; their heads bobbing up and down in unison. Have you ever compared and contrasted people running in a foot race versus people running for their lives? The former group is a classic display of head-down, straight-forward motion and single-minded concentration. The latter group, on the other hand, practically runs sideways…with heads frantically looking over shoulders at two-second intervals. Watching the runners approach, I kept thinking about that scene in every Godzilla movie in which hordes of citizens run terrified through the streets of downtown Tokyo. It really was like that.

I got my first glimpse of the bulls when the initial group of approaching runners was fifty meters away. As far as I could tell, people who run in these events will do one of two things when the bulls get uncomfortably close. Twenty percent will continue running and hope to be passed by without incident. The other eighty percent will leap to the side and cling to the iron fence like kittens in tree.

The event passed incredibly quickly. It was a bit like standing beside a highway and watching a trailer truck pass by. Here they come…ZOOM!!!...and then they’re gone. And that’s exactly how the first of yesterday’s runnings happened. It started…ZOOM!!!...and it was over without incident or injury. The second running, however, was another matter.

At the tail-end of the second running – where the road curved right and headed toward the bullring stadium – the last of the bulls drove its left horn into the left buttock of a runner, tossed him into the air, and sent him crashing to the pavement several feet over the bull’s left shoulder. This happened right before my eyes. To watch a man be gored by a bull on television is one thing. To see happen live is quite another.

The runner was wearing white pants and even from my vantage point fifty feet away, a large red stain was apparent as soon as the bull withdrew and departed. A crowd immediately swarmed on the runner and carried him to a nearby ambulance without moment’s hesitation.

Most spectators were visibly shocked. I can only imagine the expression on my own face when it happened. This type of incident is to be expected in Pamplona. But I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for such a possibility in Cabanillas del Campo. Obviously, I was not alone in this regard.

María, Inés and I passed the location of the goring as we exited a few minutes later. The amount of purplish blood that had pooled on the pavement where the man was gored was staggering. More shocking still was the inches-wide trail of blood that marked the route by which he was carried to the ambulance. It was a very severe goring.

We decided to skip this morning’s running.


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