Waking before the dawn breaks. Fumbling in the dark for a set of white clothes that I wore the previous day. A day overflowing with pena bands marching merrily down the cobblestone streets, arousing shuffling feet and fervor. A day of water fights, sangria flowing down chins or splashing against the white canvas of clothes, staining them to a faded pink.

A day of crowds jeering, spontaneous dancing and howling at the Pamplona moon that rises every night at ten. Come 11 pm at Ciudadela (Citadel), the old town walls that have remained erect for centuries is where countries compete at a fireworks competition. The night alight with colorful magic, streaking across the sky.

A day of families. Dressing their children in San Fermin colours, pushing their strollers and swaying to live drummers or buying them helium balloons in happy, bold shapes.

Days of laughter.

Runners standing at ‘deadman’s corner’

As the darkness surrounded me, thoughts of mischief were a dull tin. Today, we would watch our first bull run, perhaps in some blind preparation for our own.

In a confused flurry, the ladies flicked on lights and dressed hurriedly along with me.

Street call to find our balcony spot was 6:45, yet like anything during San Fermin, bodies were already strewn in the old town – some beginning the party, others winding down.

Washing the streets from previous night’s party

Among the crowd, it was not difficult to spot corredors. Streams of men jumped up and down. Their limbs twitched like loosened electrical wires, hand gestures and mouths gesticulating rapidly.

A few resembled freshly washed peaches – dewy and young, unaware of their possible fate with the bulls.

The crowds lingered as street cleaners began their methodical turn from Telefonica down Estafeta, turning on Mercaderes towards Santo Domingo where all the runners nervously wait to gain entrance to their designated spot. Street cleaning clears broken bottles, garbage or any debris that can impede a runner.

Police clearing the bull run route

Crowds started to disperse as city workers brought in hoses to wash away any traces of debauchery. Foamy, white water spewed from the hoses trickling into crevices in the cobblestones.

We glanced at each other and knew the cobbles would be slick now, slippery even under the most hi-tech treads.

The street cleared – deathly quiet (me at the right!)

After some coordination issues, we connected with our balcony hostess, walked down the stairs to her flat, gained entrance and was promptly served coffee and pastries by our generous hostess.

The ladies drifted to both balconies, doors flung open to reveal the street below. We had first floor access, where the bull run of July 8th would take place.

Corredors in position

Our balcony view was of the legendary ‘deadman’s corner’, where bulls might sweep into the barricades on the left, slip or fall – right at the corner of Estafeta and Mercaderes.

Policia began to form a line and force anyone off the street who was not running.

Suddenly the street was bare, quiet and ghostly.

Nicole Blake (left) and Nicole Smith (right) getting ready to watch the bull run

Then a wave of white and red spilled onto the street. A tsunami of humans ready to take on the bulls. Estafeta is a tight run, where there are no barricades to slip through if one is in danger, all that surrounds them are buildings.

And from building to building the street was straining with runners. I wondered how the bulls could possibly push through or even people, imagining an orgy of bodies atop each other once the rockets shot off.

The first weekend is typically the busiest for encierro, yet witnessing the reality set the tone in my mind for our run the following day. Injury.. or worse – a goring you can’t escape.

As any veteran runner will tell you there are no guarantees in encierro. An analogy for life itself.

Pastores waiting to get in their places for the rockets (they direct any lost bulls back to the bullring)

We waited along with the runners, cameras ready, anticipation rippling through the crowds. As I gazed down a bright light shone. The top of a woman’s head. Then another, and another.

It seemed were weren’t as alone as we thought – women do run. Women take chances.

Then the rockets went off and life played out before us. Watch:

The visuals were on fire, along with the sounds.  Next is an in-depth account of my bull run.

The photograph of the man getting swiped by the bull was generously provided by talented photographer, Nicole Blake. Check out her work and website.