Every year from noon of the 6th of July to the midnight of 14th of July, the Spanish city of Pamplona comes alive as the locals celebrate their much awaited Fiesta of San Fermin in honor of their region’s patron saint. People from all over the world flock to Pamplona during the fiesta not to pay homage to its patron saint, but to party and to witness or take part in the fiesta’s world famous tradition – the encierro or the “Running of the Bulls.” It’s sheer madness!
The arrival of our train from Barcelona was delayed and we just missed Chupinazo, the wild opening ceremony of Fiesta of San Fermin (“Sanfermines” to locals). During this ceremony, a pyrotechnic rocket is set off at exactly 12 noon from the town hall to signal the start of the 9-day fiesta as the huge crowd gathered around celebrate by drinking and spraying cava (a Spanish sparkling wine) to everyone around them.
With their red and white fiesta uniforms all soaked in cava and sangria, the revelers just spread out from the town hall plaza to the narrow streets of the city center by the time we arrived. Somehow I was glad we missed the Chupinazo, Keith and I were the only ones with dry fiesta uniforms in the old town.
Revelers filled every street of the old city center.
The fiesta animals!
Keith was in full fiesta spirit and was “bullying” with the locals.
Partying with an angry bull.
Friendly locals invited us to party with them.
The day one of the running of the bulls.
Spectators and runners started lining up the route at 6:30 am on the first day of the running of the bulls that was to start at 8:00 am.
Keith checking out the crowds from our rented balcony on Mercaderes Street.
Watching the crowd and feeling the energy from our rented balcony.
At this point, the runners were waiting to hear two shots: the first was to warn them that the gates of the corral was being opened and the second was to alert them that the six bulls were released and out on the street.
The earlier surge of high tension seemed to subside. There was only one person running at this point. Runners are supposed to run fast ahead of the bulls or alongside the bulls, but instead most runners stopped, stepped aside and watched the bulls go pass them.
A little later the steers, a pack of tamed bulls, were released to collect any strayed bulls from the wild pack. Bulls become nervous and turned dangerous when separated from the pack. Most runners that were injured were due to aggression of strayed bulls.
This guy probably got so scared that instead of running horizontally away from the bulls he run vertically.
The more than three-minute run on the half-mile course concludes at Plaza de Toros, where the bulls are corralled until the bullfight in the evening. However, the bulls are released one at a time to go wild in the ring amidst the crazy runners.
The bullfight during Sanfermines is the continuation of the Running of the Bulls and is held every 6:30 pm at Plaza de Toro. All the bulls that run in the morning will seal their sad fate in the hands of matadors in the evening:(
The bullfights are always well attended. There are two sections in the bullring – the sol y sombra – the sun and shade. The shade section where we were seated is more expensive but a lot more comfortable as we were not exposed to the strong heat of the sun. The bullfight aficionados are said to sit in the sombre section as the spectators here are more “behaved” and they can watch without any distraction.
However, if you seek a more fun, party atmosphere you may want to get a seat in the sol section where the different “Peñas” are gathered. “Peñas” are clubs that are formed solely for the enjoyment of the Sanfermines. Wearing their club’s distintinve outfits – they drink, they sing, they chant – they’re wild!
And the bullfight began… I had no idea how extremely cruel bullfighting was until I saw the actual fight. Very upset and disturbed, I put away my camera shortly after the start of the first fight and cried. Needless to say, I’m now an advocate of the “Stop the Bullfight” campaign!
Third day of the Running of the Bull
Watching the runners gathered on Estefeta Street from our rented balcony.
Runners on Estefeta Street, the longest stretch on the course.
Runners started to sprint as the bulls made the turn from the dangerous “Dead Man’s Curve.”
This was our parting shot of Pamplona from the bus station as we were leaving for San Sebastian. The festival was lot of fun, a lot of madness and very sadly, a lot of trash. After 4 days of wild fiesta, we were ready for the calmness of San Sebastian.
And more sadly, most visitors don’t realize that there is more to the Fiesta of San Fermin than the drinking party and the running of the bulls. Please see – Pamplona Part 2: It’s not all about the Running of the Bulls.
- To rent a balcony for the running of the bulls, go to http://www.bullbalcony.com.
- Remember that the fiesta goes on 24 hours a day and staying in the old city center may deprive you of a good sleep. For a peaceful and comfortable accommodation, we recommend Hotel Zenit Pamplona. It is a modern boutique hotel 5 minutes away from the city center and away from the chaos. The hotel provides a shuttle to and from the fiesta. The hotel will also provide you with the red fiesta scarf. (Note that hotel rates quaruple during the fiesta).
- Bring your white fiesta outfit from home; it will be expensive to buy them in Pamplona. Bring the cheap ones that you don’t mind discarding after the fiesta as no outfit is free from drink and food stains during the fiesta.