Festival of San Fermin

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Europe during the summer is festival time. During July we found ourselves heading to Spain for some beach time and we inevitably gravitated towards Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin, the running of the bulls. I have to admit that I was a little reluctant to make a stop to see this overly touristy festival but after going I was glad that I did.

We met up with our good friends Jeremy and Lyyli in Italy before embarking on our road trip to see the bulls. We parked our car in a town called Olite about an hour outside of Pamplona and we took a bus into town to beat the traffic. We arrived just a little after the opening ceremony the first day and we were greeted by party goers all dressed in white accented by red sashes and neckerchiefs. Most of them were absolutely covered in spilt wine.

San Fermin is a giant city-wide, week-long party. Everyone we met was in great spirits and enjoying themselves. We talked to a few Spaniards who introduced us to their favorite drink called calimocho, which is half cheap red wine and half coca cola. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree completely. The Spanish argument was that it was more refreshing on a hot day and for that we had to kind of agree. We spent the evening avoiding the calimocho and meeting lots of friendly revelers. At the end of the night we got our sleeping bag and mats out of baggage check and went over to the big city park to sleep on the grass. During San Fermin everyone uses the parks as a place to sleep. Tents aren’t allowed but everywhere you look there are wine soaked partiers sleeping on the grass. In the morning we woke up just in time to see the 150 people running for their lives and the bulls dart past us.

The festival runs for 7 days beginning at noon on July 6th. Each morning at 8am they release 3 bulls through a fenced in track routed through the old city to the bull fighting arena where they will be “fought” later that day. Those who are in the fence have the opportunity/misfortune of running with the bulls. We had no interest in risking our lives for glory at this juncture in our trip but of course Jeremy found his way into the fence just in time for the running. There are surprisingly few Spaniards who run. Those running seem to be drunk tourists who have yet to sleep all night and think at this point it’s a good idea to take on a bull. As a spectator the whole event happens in just a second. The crowds are huge and if you want a view then high ground is essential. Briana climbed up a slippery gate to get a view of the action. The atmosphere in the crowd is really intense leading up to the running. Then all of a sudden three enormous bulls run by and then it’s over. Your jaw is still dropped by the time you realize what even happened.

At the end of the run in the bull fighting arena Jeremy found himself stuck in the middle of the mob and three bulls. He even noticed that at this point the cops were not letting people out of the arena. Surprisingly the mob of 150 people wins when it comes to a 2,000 lb bull. Well, kind of. Some unfortunate guy got plowed over by a bull. I didn’t realize this, but after the bull strikes he will start stomping and kicking his target. Here the mob comes in to actually pull the bull off the guy and drag him to safety.

Hearing Jeremy’s stories from inside the arena we just kept asking ourselves how this is even legal. Besides the actual bull running the city is just completely trashed everyday for a week. People climb statues, scale balconies and drink copious amounts of calimocho. It is not a good idea to even enter the city without shoes because with sandals your feet will be filthy and cut from all the broken glass littering the streets. Yet in the end it is all part of the mayhem of the festival and the masses come back for more every year.

Here are a few photos from our excursion.

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Briana’s hard-won view of the running:

Runners getting ready for the bulls:

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Guy trying to get some higher ground for a view of the running, I don’t think it worked out very well for him:

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This is what the park we slept in looked like in the morning:

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