Spain is gearing up for its renowned San Fermin Festival – Running of the Bulls – due to take place in Pamplona is just over a week’s time. Australian authorities have issued a warning about taking part in the event, which routinely injures between 200 and 300 people each year.
While most injuries result from falls and are not serious, some participants are gored, maimed or killed and others break bones leaping off fountains. Since record-keeping at the event began in 1924, 15 people have been killed.
This year’s festivities take place from 6 to 14 July 2012 and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and trade (DFAT) warns that participating is dangerous and probably not covered by insurance.
“Each year, some participants are seriously injured and there have been numerous deaths associated with the event,” DFAT reiterates.
“Some Australians jump off fountains during the festivities in Pamplona. This activity has resulted in severe injuries and death in the past. Before you decide to participate in these activities, you should weigh up the risks of doing so.”
In an aspect that concerns travel agents, DFAT warns Australian travellers: “Your travel insurance may not cover you if you participate in high risk activities, such as running with the bulls. You should check the details of your insurance policy before deciding whether to participate.”
The warning advises that under Spanish law, local hospitals are obliged to provide medical attention to anyone regardless of nationality.
“However, Australia does not have a reciprocal health care agreement with Spain and the hospital will expect payment for services. Make sure you have funds for such circumstances or that your travel insurance will provide coverage, even if you have been injured while running with the bulls.
“The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller’s medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. These can amount to tens of thousands of dollars for which you and/or your family would be liable.”
The Running of the Bulls is considered by many young Australians to be a prime part of a European tour, a rite of passage on par with the Munich Beer Festival.
The event is highly popular in Spain as well and is broadcast live by two national television channels. It’s the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival, with runners dressed in the traditional costume of the festival, which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband and neckerchief. In one hand, runners hold a rolled daily newspaper to draw the bulls’ attention from them if necessary. If you try to fight a bull with a rolled-up newspaper, however, you will lose.
The most recent three fatalities (an American in 1995 and two Spaniards in 2003 and 2009) were all gored to death. That said, it’s also possible to have a great time at the San Fermin Festival, as many thousands do each year.
A safer alternative is the Running of the Nudes, which occurs in the same place two days before the Running of the Bulls, just before the start of the nine-day festival. Animal rights activists, and various enthusiastic supporters from around the world, run naked or semi-naked through the streets to protest the Running of the Bulls. Few are totally naked.
No injuries have been reported in the Running of the Nudes.
Local authorities make arrangements each year for the large number of visitors who turn up to see bulls, nudes or both. These include:
- Providing locker facilities at the Pamplona Town Hall. Due to the high incidence of petty crime and pickpocketing, including the theft of passports, police recommend that travellers carry a copy of their passport for identification and keep the original passport in a safe place.
- Establishing a lost and found office at the Pamplona Municipal Police Station in the centre of the city. If personal belongings are lost, travellers should notify the lost and found office which will assist them in reporting the incident.
The first bull running takes place on 7 July, followed by one on each of the following mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8am. The rules require participants to be at least 18 years old, run in the same direction as the bulls (it would be suicide not to), not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol.
Written by : Peter Needham