Pamplona, San Fermin (more commonly known as the running of the bulls), July 2012. Crazy times. An incredible experience.
Driving into Pamplona we were surrounded by white and red. Not a single person wore another colour. Locals, tourists, all in white and red. Most were dressed entirely in white with a red cravat. For a usually sleepy town, people were most certainly in abundance.
Having stumbled upon this well-known festival almost by accident during my European road-trip I knew little more than the fact that it involved lots of tourists that run away from bulls through the streets of the city, often getting mullered in the process! Why were all these people dressed this way I thought? Intrigued, I drove into the city centre to find out exactly what the deal was with this festival…!
Little did I know how crazy, fun and incredibly unique this festival was actually going to be!
After reading in my Lonely Planet that rooms are booked up several months before the festival I was shocked to find a space at a camp site just minutes from the city, with a bar and their own bus service connecting us with all the action, I couldn’t have asked for any more (apart from perhaps a price that hadn’t tripled due to this being the only few days each year that most tourists would visit).
The festival brings together people from all walks of life, which I like a lot and thought was quite unique. There were families that would enjoy the kids’ activities (I saw kids having a great time running around the city away from replica toy bulls), elderly that would be doing the Tango, teenagers watching the fireworks and youths getting absolutely off their face on alcohol (I will elaborate on this shortly).
The atmosphere was quite literally explosive! The sun was shining, everybody in the city was dressed up (and I really am not exaggerating when I say everybody!), music was blaring from all corners and everyone was having a great time. The streets were filled with festivities from rodeo’s, to music concerts, to souvenir stalls. As you walked through the streets every corner would bring a new surprise. I particularly liked the drumming groups- they had amazing rhythm and their tunes were so catchy-I was humming them for days after!
The fireworks I watched one evening were simply stunning. Never in my life have I seen such fantastic fireworks-England could get a few tips from Pamplona! The fireworks were the biggest I’ve ever seen and the display lasted around 30 minutes. There were so many different shapes, sizes and colours it really was remarkable. Some flashed or sparkled, some lit up the entire sky and some were in shapes such as hearts and smiley faces-amazing! But for me, what made the display magical was the echo of the fireworks over the surrounding mountains. A few seconds after the ‘bang’ you would hear a distant, yet huge ‘thump’-it was incredible!
As the bulls ran at 8am people had two choices- head back and get some sleep and get up early, or go for it hard-core and stay out all night! Being a bit of a wimp when it comes to excessive alcohol and lack of sleep, I opted for the prior.
The night saw people getting more and more drunk. Some were drinking and dancing the night away in bars, whilst others sat on the grass drinking their shop purchased alcoholic beverages. Many people carried Sangria bags filled with home-made concoctions. Everybody was merry and having a great time and the atmosphere was fantastic.
Arriving back into town at 6.30am ready for the bull racing the scene was slightly different. Parties had died down, and many were either paralytically drunk, throwing up, or both. The streets were stained with the smell of urine and vomit, whilst litter covered most previously picturesque grass areas.
The area for the bull racing was all ready to go and people swarmed into the arena (or known locally as plaza del torros). The drunk and the just plain crazy got ready to run with the bulls. The buzz in the arena was great, a band played in the beginning and there were numerous chants and Mexican waves. Everybody eagerly awaited the beginning of the race.
The race began in the streets and ended in the arena so we all watched the minute or so of running on the big screens. After what felt to be only a matter of seconds the screams we could hear on the big screens echoed the screams we could hear in real life as the people ran for their lives into the arena. Within seconds the arena was filled with excited and hyped up runners, closely followed by the bulls and the last few stragglers. The crowd roared and the atmosphere was remarkable, comparable to say, your local football team getting promoted to a higher league!
The race was then followed with the bulls being let loose into the arena one at a time, during which time they would be aggravated by drunken and idiotic runners attempting to gain their claim to fame by being attacked by a bull (13 have actually died from taking part, and hundreds upon hundreds have been injured). Many were crushed, pushed and flung around by the bulls; each time getting a huge cheer from the excited crowd.
This was absolutely fantastic to watch and I really do value it as a unique opportunity, although with animal cruelty and health and safety laws and protesters, this is a tradition that sadly probably won’t last forever. Although I can’t say I would disagree with the protesters views, it would be sad to see such an age old tradition, and such a huge money earner for the city die. But for now, the festivities continue each year between the 6th-14th July.
I learnt about this festival when studying tourism for my degree, and have since taught around it in my own profession, so to be able to experience it first hand was amazing! San Fermin- thanks for the fun times!!!
For some more insight into the festival you can find videos on www.facebook.com/lifeasabutterfy