By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend
Nico Carbo’s heart beat wildly as he stood on a cobblestone street in Pamplona, Spain, waiting for the sound of hooves and the roar of the crowd gathered behind the barricades. Dressed in the traditional garb—white pants and shirt, red bandanna and a red scarf tied around his waist—Carbo’s primary concern was staying on his feet.
“All I could think was: Don’t fall or you’re done for,” he said.
A 1,500-pound running bull doesn’t care what is in its path. It’s tempting fate, then, to step out and run in front of it. But that’s sort of the point at the annual running of the bulls in Spain, which began as a way to move bulls from Pamplona’s corral to its bullfighting arena and became an annual show of bravado by daredevil young men.
Today, thousands of participants from all over the world dash through the streets trailed by charging bulls each morning of the St. Fermin Festival, which is held annually July 7-14.
Among the runners this year was Carbo, a junior International Business and Marketing major, who is interning as the community manager at EME Catedral Hotel, a five-star boutique hotel in Seville, Spain.
Carbo ran with the bulls not just once, but twice – taking a jog with the snorting half-ton animals on July 7 and 8.
I met Carbo in late April when I interviewed him about a research project he is working on (coming in the next issue of Behrend magazine) and that’s when he told me he had an internship in Spain and he intended to run with the bulls while he was there. Well, I couldn’t let that story go untold, so I emailed Carbo last week to find out how it went.
Where did you run?
I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. We started on calle Santo Domingo.
Is it just men that run? Are women allowed to run?
It is mostly young men, but women are allowed. On the two days I ran, I only saw two women.
How far is the run?
It is 820 meters (roughly a half mile), and the entire thing lasts less than five minutes. I wanted to wait until I saw the bulls before I started running.
How many bulls are there?
They say there are six, but there are actually ten. They initially let out eight bulls first and then there are two that are sent after them to push through any bulls that might have gotten separated from the pack.
How fast was the pace of the run?
The bulls are very fast. It is impossible to run with them the entire time. I ran in front of them for about 20 meters before I had to get out of the way. The bulls get to the arena in about three minutes.
What was the experience like?
I would describe it as beautiful insanity, if that makes sense. I hardly slept the night before because everyone was partying in the streets until daylight.
Were you ever frightened?
Yes, and anxious. The runners do a traditional chant to an image of San Fermin three times before they release the bulls at 8 a.m. By then, my heart was beating very fast. But once I heard the rocket go off (signaling that the bulls have been released), my sole goal was to run and stay alive.
Did you worry about falling?
Yes. There are a lot of people who run and a lot of them are drunk. There are also people who trip and end up pushing you, so I was concerned about that, too. The first day two people fell right in front of me. I was able to jump over the first one and go around the second one. On the second day, a guy in front of me was recording on his phone, and he dropped it. He bent over to pick it up and almost got gored in the head by a bull.
What has your internship experience been like so far?
My colleagues are very friendly and it’s a great experience to work with people internationally. Even though I work in Spain, I work with many French people.
What’s next on your bucket list of things to do in Spain?
I want to go to La Tomatina, which is a tomato festival in Valencia, Spain. It’s basically a giant tomato fight.
Sounds messy, but much safer than trying to outrun a pack of angry bulls.
Here’s a video Carbo sent of the end of the run, shortly after entering the stadium: