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Life or Death – Running with the Bulls

Have you ever faced your fears? See how we faced ours at the Running with the Bulls Festival in Pamplona, Spain this year.

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Running with the Bulls in Pamplona

Running with the Bulls during the Festival de San Fermin was one of the scariest, yet exhilarating, adventures we have ever done.

San Fermin Running with the Bulls still

Shaky still image from our video while running with the bulls

Fear is a funny thing.

It has paralysed me when faced with heights. Kept me awake when I was younger and too afraid to sleep in the dark. And made me lash out when worried I might lose the ones I love.

I have even seen fear on friends and strangers faces when they have faced similar situations or confronted their own stresses. But never have I seen fear etched on to so many faces at the same exact moment.

Never have I stood looking in to those faces and known that my face shows the exact same feeling. A moment when the next 2 minutes could mean life or death.

Until now.

Running with the Bulls Pamplona, Festival of San Fermin, Festival de San Fermin

Barricaded shops decorated for the running with the bulls

Running with the Bulls

There is no escape from it as I am walled in by apartment blocks, shop front windows and 3 metre high wooden barriers packed with photographers along the entire length. At one end lies the relative safety of the bull ring pulsating with the cheers of the crowd who have partied all night. While at the other end a dozen wild bulls paw the stony ground looking for freedom.

Unfortunately I am standing in their path. This is where the fear comes from.

Adorned in white with a slash of vivid red at our throats and waists we stand jostling for space. Elbow to elbow with thousands of other thrill seekers, tourists and locals alike, I begin to wonder what the hell possessed me to go running with the bulls as I stand on this narrow 825m stretch of cobbled street at the crack of dawn.

Running with the Bulls in Pamplona

A bit of false bravado before the running with the bulls

Narrow streets in Pamplona for Festival de San Fermin, Festival of San Fermin, Running with the Bulls

Running with the Bulls route

Only my thoughts accompany me before being obliterated as the first firework is fired signalling the release of the bulls.

Silence descends for a split second before the crowd surges as if pushed by an invisible hand. Knowing I have a few seconds before the raging bulls reach me I stand my ground. Arms flail and the ground trembles beneath the thousands of feet pounding the uneven cobbled street as people begin to panic.

Abruptly a roar from the crowd is unleashed as the bulls sprint into sight. My fear evaporates and is replaced by pure adrenaline. Blood surges through my muscles and the world seems to slow around me.

Spinning on my heels caught in the rush of the crowd I am propelled forward away from the snorting beasts. Fear has gripped many and it’s now I realise that it was right to send Adela away from me as there is no chance I could help her if she ends up in danger.

It is every person for themselves when fear takes over.

Hands grapple and claw at one another as everyone fights for space away from the middle of the road. Wrenched off my feet I stumble but catch myself from falling beneath the unrelenting feet of runners.

All too suddenly the shoulder to shoulder crowd splits like Moses parting the Red Sea. It can only be the Bulls. I can hear their hooves on the cobbles before I can see them. The sound spurs the crowd on faster again.

Glancing to my left I spot them race past within spitting distance.

It’s not over and there isn’t a chance to stop as the crowd continues to run.

Sprinting madly after the bulls we run into a moment of darkness under the stadium entrance. Light suddenly bursts across my face as the crowd roars again and again as I join the celebrating masses in the middle of the bull ring. Blood pulses in my ears and my heart threatens to crash through my ribcage.

Clay and stones grind under my feet as I scan the crowd. It’s no longer fear that creases my face but elation, celebration and relief when I spot my brother, friends and thankfully Adela emerging from the crowd.

San Fermin Festival, Festival of San Fermin, Running with the Bulls, Festival de San Fermin,

Nervous about facing our fears before the running with the bulls

Check out our Running with the Bulls video!

Not all people agree that the San Fermin Festival should be allowed to go ahead largely due to animal cruelty. We wrote a post about the controversy surrounding Bullfighting in Spain and the Festival de San Fermin.

If you want to join the Festival de San Fermin next year or any other wild festivals in Europe then book with our partners Busabout.

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Gina

    July 30, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Great account of your experience running with the bulls. I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to do it, but it sounds like an unforgettable time!

    • Cole Burmester

      July 31, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      Thanks Gina. Was the best and worst feelings all at once so quite a rush! You would get caught up in the hype like Adela was and definitely do it I think 🙂

  2. Laurence

    July 30, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    I don’t know to be honest. If you want adrenaline, this seems like a complicated and unnecessarily cruel way to go about it. On the other hand, eating meat (which I do, happily), ain’t exactly an animal friendly sport, not is it necessary for my survival. I do it, basically, because I enjoy it. Morals. Weird things eh?

    • Cole Burmester

      July 31, 2012 at 9:22 AM

      We felt comfortable doing it because it has such a long standing tradition in Spain but agree with you Laurence. For example we would NEVER eat whale meat in countries where they still hunt them legally but we would do this. Will have a follow up post soon about the bull fights we attended.

  3. Jakori

    July 30, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    I have always wanted to run with the bulls but am afraid I may fall and get trampled. It looks like you had a great time. I like the pictures. Great post

    • Cole Burmester

      August 2, 2012 at 4:21 PM

      Thanks Jakori. Hope you get a chance to run sometime in the future!

  4. Jarmo @ Arctic Nomad

    July 30, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    It’s great fun isn’t it! 🙂 At that moment when the bulls come, it really is every man and woman for themselves, there is nothing you can do except keep running and hope you don’t fall over! 🙂 Did you have fun playing with the cows afterwards?

    • Cole Burmester

      July 31, 2012 at 9:19 AM

      Someone described it to me before the run as the best and worst experience they have ever had. So true. The bullring was crazier than the actual run with so many idiots about. So glad we did it though.

  5. Escaping Abroad

    July 31, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    Glad you made it out unharmed! As cool as it sounds this is one I don’t think I’d risk participating in. I’ve seen too many photos of the unlucky guys who got horned! 🙁

    • Cole Burmester

      August 2, 2012 at 4:09 PM

      We have seen some horrendous photos and videos. We just used a bit of commonsense and caution and it seemed to work for us 🙂

  6. Jess | GlobetrotterGirls

    July 31, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Loved reading this piece, could definitely feel what it must be like! I’d never have done it, us being vegetarian/super animal lovers and all, but after I got rammed by that cow, I’ve felt how painful even small horns are plus the crushing blow of hitting the ground. i’d rather not feel one of the huge horns piercing my leg 🙂 Can’t wait to read your thoughts about the experience that you mention above.

    • Cole Burmester

      August 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      We hate seeing animals be harmed as well so was extremely sad and moving to see them be killed later that evening. Follow up post to come.

  7. Arti

    August 2, 2012 at 5:32 AM

    It sounds crazy when lives are in danger in the name of a festival!! I certainly would never dare to take part in the Bull Run!

    • Cole Burmester

      August 2, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      It’s such an adrenaline rush but completely bonkers. But I guess that’s what makes it so popular!

  8. Jeremy Branham

    August 2, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    I love reading your story about the bulls. I’ve been to Spain and bullfighting does turn a lot of people off. I think it can be rather cruel. However, it is definitely a cultural difference.

    As for the running part, that is definitely an adrenaline rush. Being the athlete and super fast runner that I am, I am not sure I would attempt this as my feet and coordination don’t always get along. However, loved watching this as others do it though.

    Did you happen to meet Dave and Deb of The Planet D? They also did this same bull run (not sure if you did it the same day though).

    • Cole Burmester

      August 7, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      We didn’t see Dave and Deb unfortunately as they were there a few days before us. Really want to meet them though!

      Was so much fun and such a rush. Not sure I could ever do it again though as I think I used most of my luck up during the run haha.

  9. Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey

    August 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    You wild man! Running with the bulls is a thing Eric and I have contemplated but we’ve never been there at the right time–not sure what our final decision would be if we were…Can’t wait for the video.

    I know running with the bulls is controversial like circuses or zoos or bull fighting but I appreciate your documentation of the experience. That’s our job as travel bloggers and we struggled with the same pros and cons when we blogged about watching the world’s best horseback bull fighter in Mexico: http://trans-americas.com/blog/2010/06/pablo-hermoso-mendoza/

    • Cole Burmester

      August 7, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      You guys would definitely run Karen. Getting caught up in the atmosphere is what makes it so exciting. They take it so seriously there and was awesome to be a part of it.

      Thanks for the support as well Karen. Was tempted not to write anything but we feel the same as you. If we didn’t write about these experiences (which so many people get to do) then what is the point of writing in the first place?

  10. Audrey

    August 6, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Brave one guys! I think I’d be the one watching the crowds run from the safety of a balcony. 😉

    • Cole Burmester

      August 7, 2012 at 10:06 AM

      Thanks Audrey! Was bloody terrifying but so glad we did it. Was fun watching it the next day as well and seeing the terror on everyones faces 🙂

  11. Christy @ Technosyncratic

    August 7, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    How terrifying! I don’t think I’d ever do this.. mostly because I’m 4’10” and would probably get tramples in the crowd. 😛

    • Cole Burmester

      August 8, 2012 at 1:24 PM

      You could probably limbo under the bulls though 😉 It was seriously the most scary and craziest thing we have ever done.

      Congrats on your sale by the way!

  12. Payje

    August 8, 2012 at 12:45 AM

    Oh my gosh TERRIFYING! I don’t know what I would have done in that situation, probably just froze up and peed my pants and cried or something… what a cool thing to have done!

    • Cole Burmester

      August 8, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      Hahaha I am sure you would have been fine! You get caught up in the atmosphere and basically dragged along so quite hard to freeze in one spot 🙂

  13. Diana Edelman

    August 8, 2012 at 10:38 AM

    Whew. That was some nerve-wracking reading. Wonderful job taking me into the moment. 🙂

  14. Ali

    August 8, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Love how you wrote this one. I went to the running of the bulls in 2000 when I was in Spain for a study abroad program. We stayed in Pamplona for 2 nights, partied in the streets until it was time for the running, and then watched from the end of the line, right outside the stadium everyone runs into. That was enough for me. There’s no way I could handle actually participating. Definitely an interesting experience though. I’m glad you survived.

    • Cole Burmester

      August 13, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      Good effort partying all night! We were staying in a campground out of town so had to head back there around 3am each day. So much fun though being on the streets. Glad we survived as well 🙂

  15. Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    August 10, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    I don’t think I ever want to do this, but I’d love to go watch.

    • Cole Burmester

      August 13, 2012 at 12:54 PM

      We just posted a video of our run as well Stephanie!

  16. Alexandra

    August 14, 2012 at 6:22 AM

    You’re way braver than I! I would never do this! I’m more the drinking on the sidelines type 😉

    • Cole Burmester

      August 14, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      Did you see our video of it Alexandra?

      Plenty of drinking was done on the sidelines as well haha. I needed it to help my courage 😉

  17. GIrdhar Singh Sodha

    December 3, 2012 at 6:07 AM

    Thrill to read this. Love the way you narrate your experience.
    It seems to me that I am also running with you.

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Adventure Travel

Walking the Camino de Santiago Photos

These are my favourite Camino de Santiago Photos from my pilgrimage along the French Way in March. A truly beautiful way to spend a few weeks.

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Puenta La Reina Bridge Camino Arrow

El Camino de Santiago kicked my ass. Well technically it kicked my feet. Turns out my minimal preparation for the Camino de Santiago was terrible. After a miserable effort of only 4 days, the doctor in Legrono told me that I wasn’t allowed to go on until me feet healed. I had walked just over 100 km’s and my feet were bloodied and blistered.

To be honest, I was relieved.

The thought of putting back on my shoes made my shudder. For the last 9 km’s I had stumbled along in jandals and socks. One of the travelling fashion sins I vowed I would never break.

Jandals on the Camino de Santiago

Jandals on the Camino de Santiago

So while I have unfinished business with the Way of St James (an upcoming post), I did want to share with you some of my favourite photos from the Camino de Santiago. Because I had yet to reach some of the more “unsavoury” parts of the Camino that Sherry Ott had discovered, every step of my pilgrimage had been beautiful.

Puenta La Reina Bridge Camino Arrow

Puenta La Reina Bridge – Camino de Santiago Arrows

There is no way you can get lost on the Camino de Santiago. Arrows, scallop shells and signs point you in the right direction at every bridge, road crossing and intersection.

Camino de Santiago Scallop Shell

Camino de Santiago Scallop Shell

Reaching the top of Alto Pedron gave views back the way I had come from Pamplona, as well as views to where I was going. The rocky path on the way down proved to be my ultimate downfall, as my too small shoes caused my toes to smash into the front.

Alto del Pedron Camino de Santiago

Alto del Pedron Camino de Santiago

Metal Pilgrims on Alto del Pedron

Metal Pilgrims on Alto del Pedron

There were so many beautiful old churches along the Camino de Santiago. But since I was walking in early March, it seemed that most were yet to open for the busier summer season.

Church of Obanos

The Church of Obanos

And between every small village the well-maintained pathways of the French Way wound across the spectacular Spanish countryside.

The French Way - Camino de Santiago

The French Way – Camino de Santiago Photos

Puenta La Reina

Puenta La Reina in the evening

Puenta La Reina has one of the most amazing bridges I have ever seen. It was also the 1st village I had the pleasure of sleeping in after busy Pamplona.

Puenta la Reina Bridge and Sunrise

Puenta la Reina Bridge at sunrise

Most mornings I was up and walking before the sun began to sprinkle across the horizon.

Spring flowers on the Camino de Santiago

Spring flowers on the Camino de Santiago

Pilgrims approaching Cirauqui, Spain

Pilgrims approaching Cirauqui, Spain

Every village and town was built on a small hill. Sure it looks beautiful until you realise you have to go back up again to go through them all!

Church of Santa Maria - Los Arcos

Church of Santa Maria in Los Arcos

While there were only about 20 pilgrims walking each section every day, it wasn’t uncommon for you to encounter them all. The people I met along the Camino de Santiago were some of the most inspiring and remarkable people I have ever spoken to. They are the ones that make the pilrgimage so special.

The endless French Way

The endless French Way

Irache Wine Fountain - Fuente del Vino

The free flowing Irache Wine Fountain or “Fuente del Vino”

Hay bales along the French Way

Hay bales along the French Way

Every village had at least one ancient church and it wasn’t uncommon to find them dotting the landscape in remote locations either.

Ermita de San Miguel

Ermita de San Miguel

Iglesia de San Andrés de Zariquiegui Church

Iglesia de San Andrés de Zariquiegui Church

I have travelled through Spain in the past, including cycling in Costa Brava and surfing in San Sebastian with both independent planning and a vacation planner. But having the opportunity to walk at my own pace through some of the most beautiful scenery in Spain on the Camino de Santiago has so far topped them all.

Natural arches - Camino de Santiago

Natural arches on the Camino de Santiago

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Adventure Travel

Hammock vs Tent Camping

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Camping with a hammock is slowly but surely becoming more popular in recent years with new and improved hammock designs being preferred by some campers, compared to the traditional tent.

In this article we will discuss some of the key benefits and drawbacks of sleeping without a tent, and analyze key criteria so that you can choose your preferred shelter choice!

Weatherproof

Most tents work well in the rain; however, you’ll need to bring a tarp if you’re using a hammock. Traditional hammocks are not waterproof, and are generally open at the top, allowing water to find itself inside if you don’t have an adequate tarp. Moreover, a decent under quilt is also a good idea so that you can stay warm and cozy during cold and stormy nights.

Packing up your hammock after a long night of rain isn’t too bad, whereas packing up a soaking wet tent is always annoying. You almost always get wet in the process.

Setup

For first time campers, pop-up tents are the simplest to setup. All you need to do is find flat ground, and bam, your setup is complete! The beauty of pop-up tents is that you don’t need to worry about figuring out where to insert the poles and erect the tent. Although, traditional tents are usually more robust, and have a longer life span.

Essentially, a tent is simple, but a hammock can become a little more complicated for first timers. You’ll need to find 2 trees facing a good direction and tie each end of the hammock to them. If your hammock setup is too tight, you will generally wake up with sore ancles, but if it’s too loose, you run the risk of the hammock touching the floor, and insects crawling in with you.

If your campground doesn’t have many trees, or if the trees are dead (they could break and injure you), hammock stands come to the rescue! Basically, hammock stands allow you to pitch a hammock if there are no trees nearby. They are portable, adjustable, and are easy to setup. The only drawback is that the ground should be relatively flat, whereas if you were to hang a hammock between 2 trees, there won’t be any stands touching the ground, so a rocky floor wouldn’t be a problem.

Comfort

One of the main reasons for choosing a hammock is the comfort that it provides you! It has a basically has in-built seat which is arguably more comfortable than a standard blow up mattress. You need to pick your tree’s wisely though! You don’t want a pinecone falling on your face mid-sleep.

If you have constant back pain and find it hard to sleep inside tents, you should give hammocks a try as they cause you to sleep sideways, similar to a banana shape, which a lot people find much more comfortable.

Price

Hammocks are usually lighter and don’t include a wealth of poles and gear that tents do. Depending on the type of hammock that you purchase, they are usually quite similar to tents. You can however, find very cheap tents <$60, but they most likely won’t last long.

A good tent or hammock can cost between $200-500 without accessories. If you need a hammock stand, that will add to your cost, just like a mattress and other tent necessities will to its cost.

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Adventure Travel

Top of Cappadocia day trek – with Middle Earth Travel

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Trekking through the valleys of Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys with Middle Earth Travel feels more like the set of a Star Wars movie than a historical region once carved out and lived in by humans. Churches, homes and pigeon houses are scattered throughout the valleys, all waiting to be explored. The best part is, Middle Earth Travel know all the hidden secrets.

Standing at the top of Cappadocia

Top of Cappadocia day trek – with Middle Earth Travel

On the 26th of July (which just so happens to be my birthday!) Middle Earth Travel took us on their private and guided Top of Cappadocia day trek. From Pasabag, along the top of Cappadocia and down through the Gulludere Rose Valley to Goreme, we trekked 15kms in one day! (We recommend getting your bearings with this map)

Upon arrival to the Middle Earth Offices, we were warmly greeted by our new friend Atil whom we had met a few days earlier while mountain biking through the Kizilcukur Red Valley. We were then introduced to our guide and given a briefing regarding the day. Normally, the Top of Cappadocia tour would start from Çavuşin, however, since we had already explored Çavuşin Castle, they adapted our tour to compensate ensuring we would explore new terrain!

With charged cameras, plenty of water and our running shoes on, we were driven to our starting point of Pasabag. We wandered through the fairy chimneys, coming across camels and markets – then the true hike began.

Pasabag in Cappadocia

The police station in Pasabag, Cappadocia

Camel in Pasabag, Cappadocia

Camel in Pasabag, Cappadocia

It was a slow and gentle incline. With no trees to provide shade, I quickly realised why our tour guide had chosen to wear fully covered clothing! As the sweat quickly set in (a waterfall in Moss’s case) we snapped away with our cameras and enjoyed the entertaining shapes of Imagine Valley and the amazing view. We also passed a lot of rock piles, which according to our guide mean ‘father’ and are built to help lead the way.

Animal shaped formations in Imagine Valley

Animal shaped formations in Imagine Valley

Middle Earth Travel, Cappadocia

Making our way to the top of Cappadocia

Father leading the way (rock pile)

Father leading the way (rock pile)

The higher we trekked, the more breath taking the views became! As we walked along the summit of Bozdag mountain (the Top of Cappadocia) we could see EVERTHING – Pasabag, Çavuşin Castle, Kizilcukur Red Valley, Gulludere Rose Valley and Goreme. We were on the Father of Valleys! After a quick nod of agreement to the guide, we pushed ourselves the extra distance and made our way to the flag, as this HAD to be the highest point and was definitely worth a photo and a selfie or two!

View from the top of Cappadocia

View from the top of Cappadocia

Flag at top of Cappadocia

From the flag we looked down upon Aktepe Hill which is known as a popular destination for watching the sun set and could spot Kizilvadi Restaurant, our destination for lunch! Kizilvadi Restaurant is an attraction of its own. With its own historic winery and Grape church, plus some Middle Earth Travel treks even stay there for the night! After having a massive feed of soup, salad and pasta plus a surprise birthday cake, we made our way down into Gulludere Rose Valley.

Kizilvadi Restaurant

Kizilvadi Restaurant

The scenery is amazing, with strong colours visible in perfect layers on the chimneys, you would wonder what an artist was thinking, had it been a painting. Also, hidden to the side of the track we walked across a little bridge and not expecting anything to be there we were wowed by the massive church carved. It was absolutely huge and hard to believe that its most recent use has been as a pigeon house!

Coloured chimneys in Cappadocia

Coloured chimneys in Cappadocia

Pigeon houses in Cappadocia

Pigeon houses in Cappadocia

Church in Gulludere Rose Valley

Hard to believe this Church is carved inside a fairy chimney!

Middle Earth Travel Review

  • The team at Middle Earth Travel were extremely knowledgeable and certainly know Cappadocia’s hidden secrets. They have friendships with local tea garden owners which is also of benefit as it gained us entry to locked churches and hidden rooms that we would not have otherwise seen.
  • We covered a lot of ground, however we did not feel rushed. The whole day focused on showing us the region, therefore we had as much time as we needed to explore each church and to take ‘just one more photo’.
  • It wasn’t all about trekking. With a whole day and 15kms to cover, there were a few silly poses (especially in Imagine Valley), and we learnt a lot about the myths, legends and way of life in Cappadocia.
  • In conclusion I highly recommend Middle Earth Travel if you wish to go trekking or mountain biking in Cappadocia.
  • Cost: Day treks with Middle Earth Travel range from 50-90 euro, depending on the number of people taking part. This includes lunch, guide, vehicle transfers and entrance fees to historical sites, but excludes alcoholic and soft drinks.
  • Middle Earth Travel are outdoor enthusiasts and offer multi-day over night treks, mountain biking, abseiling, or custom made itineraries, in multiple regions throughout Turkey.
  • www.middleearthtravel.com

Disclaimer: We were provided with a discount for the trek with Middle Earth Travel, however, as always our thoughts on our adventure travel blog our own.

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Meet Cole and Adela

Cole and AdelaWe have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...

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