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Pamplona Tours Blog

About Spyns - Press

Our tours to Pamplona have recently been featured in the Washington Post, NBC, the Globe & Mail (Canada) and on national radio programs. Below is a small sample of some recent press coverage.
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July 7, 2010 Starting Wednesday, adrenalin junkies will line the streets of Pamplona, Spain, as early as 5:30 a.m. for an extreme faceoff with a team of bloodthirsty bulls. They’ll lie in wait until a rocket shoots at 8 a.m. and the bulls come charging from a pen behind them. When the race ends two minutes later, the participants will revel in a time-honoured festival – that is, if they haven’t been gored to death. Some run each morning for the whole two-week fiesta.

Ryan King, president of Whistler, B.C.-based tour company Spyns, has been leading bull-run tours since 2004. He tells The Globe and Mail what compels the sanest hockey dads to get in on the race.

What’s the feeling in the air as people wait for the race to start? There’s a certain acrid smell of fear and sweat, mixed with a little bit of sangria from the night before. The sixth [Tuesday] is the opening ceremony so a lot of people will fiesta 24 hours and then go to the bull run the following day. There’s a feeling of fear and anticipation. But mostly fear.

What about when they leave the gate? I’ve never run that fast just because you’re so terrified. You know what’s coming. But most people haven’t actually seen the bulls so they don’t know how big they are. Then there’s that instant burst of speed, obviously. It’s almost like a surge.

Who’s insane enough to voluntarily run with the bulls? You’ll have people who are doctors, lawyers. The mayor will often run. And then there’s a guy who runs in front of his newspaper shop every year. Our average customer is a 40-something dad who is a corporate guy who commutes every day and wants to do something completely insane once in his life and this is it.

What’s the draw in doing just one stupid thing? I think we live a life that’s so safe, and it can be somewhat mundane. There’s a camaraderie that comes from it. All the violence is sort of on the bull run in Pamplona, and then it’s just a big love fest after that.

Isn’t it considered a rite of passage, too? Well, for Navarrans, it was a test of courage. The original bull run [about 700 years ago] started when the Navarrans started helping the herdsmen drive the bulls and then it became this daring test to actually run in front of the bulls.

Has anyone ever died on your tours? No, no, no, never.

What about injuries? There have been bumps and scrapes, but nothing major so far. But it’s eventually going to happen. It’s just the laws of averages.

You’ve run with the bulls a number of times. What does it feel like? You don’t sleep, really, the night before, just because you’re so keyed up on doing it. My first run, I stood in the absolute worst place, on the most dangerous corner. It was the longest 90 minutes of my life waiting for that rocket to go off. And once the rocket goes off, it’s just pure terror.

And then what happened? I got knocked down and everyone was screaming. Then you finally see the bulls and they’re past you and you’re like, ‘phew!’ A stray one came after I’d fallen over and so I rolled under the fence.

Have you ever seen anyone gored by a bull? Not when I was running, but I did from one of our balconies. It’s gruesome. When they pick out someone in the crowd, if they get separated, then they’ll use the horns to attack them. It’s amazing to see someone who weighs 150 to 200 pounds just get flipped by a bull. We saw a guy last year, a huge guy dressed all in black who looked like a rock star, and he had easily weighed 200, 220 pounds. The bull flipped him twice around and he landed flat on his face.

It is like watching someone get stabbed? Not essentially, because the bull tends to rake from down to up.

Are there any dos and don’ts to consider before trying the run? If you get knocked down, you stay down until someone taps you. If you get knocked down, then you’d be best to move into a fetal position – that doesn’t sound very masculine or manly or macho, but it’s largely because the bull will see you as a larger obstacle and jump over you rather than step on you. People should slipknot their scarves and their sashes rather than double-knot them. I’ve seen people get their sashes looped onto a bull horn and they get carried all the way into the arena.

How many people who go on your tours actually do the run? About 60 per cent run, 40 per cent don’t. Many go just to enjoy the festival. A lot of people expect to see what they see on the news every night, which is a lot of people screaming and throwing sangria around. They’re often surprised to see how family oriented and religious it is.

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Hoofing It in Pamplona
By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007; P03
Q. My wife and other family members think I'm crazy, but I've always wanted to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Can you recommend a tour company to arrange this adventure? Tom Stout, Glenwood
A. Ryan King put it better than we ever could: "Men need to get in touch with their inner stupidity." King, who incidentally believes that our "safety-driven culture" has spawned the emergence of "something primal, mostly for men," has been leading tours to Pamplona every July since 2004 (888-825-4720, http://www.spyns.com). His excursions are a combination of bull-running and bicycling, the latter involving rides through Spain's picturesque and wine-rich Rioja Valley. The tours climax at the Festival of San Fermin, which is held each year on the same days -- July 6-14 -- with the bulls running every morning at 8 starting on the second day. "A lot of people think you have to pay to run, but you don't," he says. "Another misconception is that people should stay at hotels in town." King suggests you hang your hat in Pamplona's outskirts, in part, he says, because brass bands begin waking up the townsfolk at the unseemly hour of 5:30 a.m. "You don't want to have a brass band under your window at that hour." Still, King's charges want to experience those same images of chaos most of us see only on the nightly news, and for that he rents a large wraparound balcony "which overlooks the dangerous 90-degree turn from Calle Mercaderes onto Calle Estafeta." Some end up running; others chicken out ("they suddenly discover they have knee injuries"); but all would agree with you that it's an incomparable sight. "Take the New York CityMarathon," King says, "cram it into an alleyway that's 20 feet wide and then run 12 bulls into it." And let the inner stupidity begin!

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"Countown" with Keith Oberman
Click here to watch the video
Or, in our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, we can just stick to the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  The newscast‘s policy has been for the last four years to root for the bulls.  See, the human-like bipeds volunteer for this, the bulls who do not get asked, get a few scant minutes to try and poke a few people before they are led to merciless slaughter.  Members of our species are often gored, occasionally suffer sever injuries, while every bull always die.  And thus, do we root for the bulls.
In a moment, we‘ll be joined by a veteran of the run from Pamplona, but first a recap of day one‘s action.  The bulls came out of the gates with a head of steam at the 22nd mark proving the inconvenient truth to mankind, these bulls had gore on their minds and they weren‘t thinking of global warming. At the curve known to the cognoscente as Tenderloin Corner, where the bulls often struggle to pivot on the slick cobblestone, this day was no different.  Bipeds and bovine piled up alike, as the huge beasts scrambled to four hooves.  It was a clean race after that, the finish line being the famed Plaza de Toros, that were the day‘s most severe injury would occur.  A 31-year-old man from New York tossed boy a cow during a mock bullfight, suffering paralysis from the waist down, a sad turn of events, that obviously no one is happy about it.  But of course all bulls still wound up going to heaven. On the phone with us from Pamplona Spain, Ryan King who runs a travel company called Spyns, joins us now.  He was at day one of the running, didn‘t take part, but has several times in the past and will again later in this session. Mr. King, thank you for your time.
RYAN KING, SPYNS:  Thank you for having me.  I‘m a great fan of the show.
OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  I know you didn‘t run on this first day, but based on your past experiences can you give us a word picture?  I mean why is this—is this like trying to dodge loose railroad box cars or what is it like? KING:  What I explain to my clients is it‘s like running the New York marathon with cow running through the middle.  So, it‘s their decision as to whether they want to run or walk.  There is a certain element of danger.
OLBERMANN:  I‘ve mentioned this several times.  We don‘t necessarily root against the people who do the running, but we root for the bulls here, it seems like the odds are stacked against them.  Is there any sympathy for them on the part of the runners or the spectators?
KING:  Absolutely.  The people who are watching from the stands, from the safety are actually rooting for the bulls, they like it when it gets a little bit exciting, say when one bull turns back, but it is safe.  They do quite a lot to prepare the ground so that no one‘s going to slip or fall.  They check beforehand, they get any people who are sort of overly intoxicated or running with cameras so they prevent them from running.  So, there‘s a safety element to it.  But once in the ring, it‘s everyone is rooting completely for the bulls and when the matador is either injured or where there‘s a close call, there‘s yells of ole coming up from everybody.
OLBERMANN:  This year we had someone from New Zealand get a goring in the thigh, someone from Pamplona was trampled.  In the times you‘ve run, have you ever been injury and what kind of injuries have you seen when you‘ve been out there?
KING:  No, none.  I mean, you certainly hear—it‘s almost impossible to see anything while you‘re running and so—you can only see two people in front, two people behind, and then all of a sudden there‘s a bull behind you.  And so, it‘s difficult to see exactly what‘s going on.  And it‘s just you‘re running on pure adrenaline and panic.  But, today was one of the busiest days.  At the beginning of the festival, there were 3,500 people running on a half mile course that at its widest is about 25 feet.  So, you can imagine that injuries that are more or less inevitable and it‘s something that the people from Pamplona expect.
OLBERMANN:  Is there an opening day kind of extra quality or quantity to this?  Is it like all the wannabes show up today and then the crowd thins out as the thing moves along?
KING:  Definitely.  As it festival progresses, it gets increasingly more Spanish, so more locals will attend.  The first two days, today‘s run and then tomorrow‘s run will be mostly crazy tourists like myself.  And I will be running in probably in about three hours from now, I‘ll be getting up to go down and prepare for the run.
OLBERMANN:  Of course getting up in the middle of the night to do a phone interview back to the United States is the perfect preparation to put your life on—at risk on the streets of Pamplona.
KING:  Well, I will do anything to put my life on the line for the news and for your viewers.
OLBERMANN:  That‘s—all right.  Explain, finally, this injury that we had, this awful paralyzing of the New Yorker, not in the actual running.  Cows in the bullring afterward.  Do you know what that was about?
KING:  Well, they do this everyday and it‘s called the veania (ph) and they‘ll let one small bull, that‘s about, you know, sort of half the size of the ones that are actually in the run.  And it‘s more like a rodeo-type, where people are running around the arena.  It‘s supposed to be fun, they file down the horns so that it‘s a little bit less dangerous.  And from what I understand, and this is sort of unconfirmed, is that it was just a freak accident where the bull reared it its head and then tossed this man and unfortunately he‘s to have sustained pretty serious injuries.  And everyone on this side is definitely have thoughts go out to both him and his family.
OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  The fall will get you if the bull does not.  Ryan King, connoisseur of the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, joining us by phone from that fabled town.  Good luck.
KING:  Thank you.

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Ryan (Spyns' President) on Toronto's CHUM-FM Morning Radio

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