PAMPLONA, Spain (Reuters) - Alonso Ceardi nearly died when a half-tonne bull gored him in the chest during Spain’s San Fermin festival last year, but he’s still addicted to the thrill of running with bulls and is back again this week.
The Chilean-born waiter is one of the thousands of adrenaline junkies who have packed the streets of the northern Spanish town of Pamplona each year since the death-defying running of the bulls ritual inspired novelist Ernest Hemingway, who spread its fame around the world.
Ceardi, 24, who has attended San Fermin since 2008 is looking forward to his 10th outing on Thursday morning when the bulls are herded through Pamplona for the first day of the week-long festival.
“When you’re out there, in front of the bulls, it’s an enormous high, that’s the way it is. It makes you want to run, to feel on top of the world,” Ceardi said.
Last year Ceardi was running through the medieval streets with other fans in traditional white garb and red kerchiefs when one of the six bulls turned on him.
It wasn’t much of a contest: Ceardi weighed in at 81 kg (179 lb), the bull at more than 500 kg (1,102 lb). Local media have tallied 15 dead in the annual festivities since 1922.
“It hoisted me, I fell to the ground and then it got me in the leg, through my hip,” Ceardi said. “I felt afraid, a lot of pain and thought that would be the last thing I’d ever see.”
He shouted what he thought would be his last words, “Long Live Chile!” in honor of the country he left to work as a waiter pouring cider in Spain’s northern Asturias region.
Ceardi was lucky. The bull’s horns tore a huge gash in his chest and came close to piercing his heart. That, and a thigh wound, could have maimed him for life. But he has recovered since he was discharged from hospital with little more than some horrendous-looking scars and his enthusiasm remains undimmed.
In addition to the usual garb, he will sport a Chilean flag emblazoned across his chest and don a Santa Claus bonnet, “So I can be seen on television.”
Meanwhile, the Red Cross will be standing by with 350 people to try to prevent accidents and deal with the usual crop of broken bones or worse.
Pamplona and Hemingway have been intimately linked since a visit to the town in 1923 inspired “The Sun Also Rises,” his booze-sodden tale of a group of bickering Americans and Britons which sealed the reputation of both town and author.
The U.S. Nobel Literature Laureate died 50 years ago, but thousands still follow the “Hemingway trail” of bars, cafes and restaurants where he enjoyed the Navarra region’s distinctive cuisine.
Tourists descend on Pamplona in such numbers that hotels lining the route and the bull ring itself are booked up for years in advance. Many sleep rough or not at all, preferring instead to join in non-stop street parties so raucous that many local residents wear ear-plugs to bed at night.
However, runners dicing with death remain the main draw as thousands pack the streets to watch the four-minute race every morning, in addition to millions on television across Spain.
The festivities kick off on Wednesday with the launch of a firework rocket — known as the “txupinazo” — and the first bull run follows the next morning. The bulls are then lined up in the afternoon to be dispatched in traditional bullfights.
July 7 also sees the procession of Saint Fermin through the same streets where, as local legend has it, the martyr was dragged to his death by bulls at the start of the 4th century.
Until July 14 tourists can enjoy folk dancing, rural sports, a livestock fair or a procession of larger-than-life figures dubbed “giants” and “big-heads,” as well as less traditional feats such as diving into the crowd from on top of a fountain — or just getting very drunk.
Reporting by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato