Why you should care
The most fun you can have in Mexico for $10 and a 6-pack.
People are screaming. My mother is running as fast as she can while dragging me up the sidewalk and I can hear it coming up behind us — 600 lbs. of snorting, pissed-off thunder. My mom stops short and lifts me on the front of a semi-truck parked on the street, then climbs up behind me. The storm rolls past us and we are safe.
Whenever I recount my childhood brush with death, no one remarks on how scary it must have been — they only want to know why they’ve never heard about the running of the bulls in Mexico. You see, Pamplona may steal the world’s attention every July, but just a month later the relatively unknown city of Huamantla throws one of the wildest parties south of the border. The festival is two weeks long, and the finale? A stampede of toros…Mexico style.
Usually held on the third Saturday of August, the festival draws revelers from all over the central region. Buses and trucks begin pouring into the city around dawn, and as the sun rises, the sounds and smells crescendo. By 10 a.m., souvenir vendors are stomping and cheering, trying to tempt passersby with sombreros, t-shirts and bull horn made of felt. The devastatingly delicious smell of frying carnitas, tacos, sopes, barbacoa and quesadillas drifts through the streets, taunting the hungry and hungover as they fill the closed-off streets, stealing glances at the crated bulls on every other block.
The street party starts to settle down around 10:30 a.m., when everyone gets serious about securing places on the hand-built bleachers above the calle. The running starts at 11 a.m.. Foreign and Mexican tourists alike would be wise to scope out seating early; as demand climbs for the nicer benches with shade and butt cushion so does the price. Also, if you are especially foreign-looking (i.e. blonde), don’t be surprised or offended if people ask to take photos with you. It’s going to happen.
Getting to Huamantla from Mexico city is an easy 225 peso bus ride (under 13 bucks), with a transfer in the molé-drenched colonial gem of Puebla, just 35 miles away. But while the tourists flock to Puebla’s UNESCO approved centro, smaller, simple towns like Huamantla are well off Mexico’s tourist trail. Huamantla is a working class city of about 50,000 with a few hotels, a half dozen centuries-old churches, a lively food market and puppet museum to boot. All of which pales in comparison to the riot of drunken humanity that is the annual party.
Don’t expect the polished pomp and circumstance of Pamplona. In Huamantla, the bulls are free to roam in any direction for several hours; no designated courses and costumes here. People who ‘run’ treat their bull encounters like a game of chicken, jumping onto fences when they lose their nerve. Matadors in training, though, are known to use the event to practice with their capes in the street. Animal lovers will despise the way some people taunt the bulls; the queasy might not be prepared to witness another human being tossed into the air like a rag-doll. But if you have no such compunctions? The running of the bulls may be most fun you can have for $10 and a six-pack of beer.
Fireworks eventually shoot into the air, signaling the bulls have been wrestled back into their boxes. That’s when the live bands and boom boxes take to the street, and the dancing begins. But do keep an eye out. Bulls have been known to escape their pens even after the all clear.