Running with the Bulls in San Fermin
In honor of the awesome festival that just kicked off yesterday in the Kingdom of Navarre, I’m going to interrupt the Nepal posts for a trip down memory lane.
Las fiestas de Sanfermínes is held in Pamplona every year from July 6th til July 14th and over one million people join the party every summer. The festival celebrates the spread of Christianity in Spain, and also includes other traditional and folkloric events, but ‘zezenak’ (el toro) is the real star of the show.
I never want to know what happens in the bull ring, but I must admit the event that is the ‘running of the bulls’ cracks me up.
The encierro–the running of the bulls– happens around 8 am every morning, when the selected bulls are “escorted” to the stadium (and ultimately to their death). The encierro actually lasts no more than 3 minutes, since the circuit in Pamplona is less than a thousand yards long (about 800 meters).
Wiki says bullrunning appeared in chronicles as early as the 15th century, but the first bullring wasn’t built until 1844. It started with farmers and traders who brought their bulls to markets.
“While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement. After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken.”
At some point in time, it has become tradition for brave (or foolish) souls to run with the bulls in the circuit despite the very real dangers of being trampled or gored.
photo credit: here
photo credit: here
Just to be clear, I do not condone the involuntary participation of the bulls and what goes on in the bullring. I had plenty of discussions (before and after going) with Xiker about the sickening role the bulls have to play–it’s like a modern day Roman Colosseum.
But as Xiker says: a huge percentage of the people celebrating the festival are there just to party (as I was). He explained how people in the audience will boo and jeer, or throw things to express their disdain, and if they even bother to stay for the matadors, they turn around and party instead of paying attention. My wishful thinking is that someday soon they will drop the bulls from the entertainment roster and the party will continue just as it is.
I realize that by attending the festival, I contributed to the perpetuation of the idea that the slaughtering of the bulls are crowd-pleasers. I should’ve protested. I should’ve held up a sign in Spanish expressing my disgust with the matadors. Held out petitions for people to sign, passed out flyers protesting the inhumanity of it all.
But, aw hell, I just wanted to party. (And boy, did we)
Alright, now that the confession is out, the trip down memory lane can begin.
Back in 2011, I spent the summer in Basque Country with Xiker and his family and friends.
One day via facebook, I noticed my newly-engaged former roomies, Lauren and Fadi, were on a month-long roadtrip looping the Kingdom of España. I texted them and happened to catch them just as they were about to hit up Pamplona– so the very next day they picked me up in Zumarraga on their way.
Before we started our epic night, though, we made sure we were properly garbed. Fadi did the bargaining and got us a good deal!
From there we pretty much walked around the city center all night, meeting people and running away from overly amorous or angry individuals.
We opted to buy our sangria and beers from a store to save on money, but turns out we didn’t need to buy as much as we did… So many times, when people saw that we were Deaf and using sign language, they’d insist on sharing their drinks by pouring the contents of their bottles into our empty cups. We made a thousand new friends.
For me it was amazing, I’d never seen such an awesome party. People of all ages –everyone wearing red and white– were hanging out in alleys, bars, streets and squares, downing alcoholic beverages of their preference… Elderly folks (definitely 70+) shared bottles with kids of 15 years, everyone was laughing and talking loudly about who knows what. There were thousands of people and every frakking one of them was having a good time.
I’d been to big parties before–the full moon party in Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand; Gran Poder in La Paz, Bolivia; and a few parades in the U.S.– but I’d never seen anything like the festival of San Fermin.
There was no exclusivity, there were no taboos. Ok, so maybe the full moon party didn’t have any taboos, but the local Thais aren’t allowed to party with the ‘farangs’ and everyone was between the same age bracket.
When I woke up, I was curled up in the backseat of Fadi and Lauren’s rental, and they were both knocked out in the front seats. Last thing I remembered was that the sun was coming up and we’d just finished the last of our sangria. I checked the time and shit, it was just before 8. I woke the others up and we got out of the car, not caring about looks.
But then Fadi found and pulled out the almost-empty bottle of vodka. So, before hurrying to catch the running of the bulls, we finished it like any logical hung-over person would’ve.
Alas, those swigs made us miss the run by just a few minutes, and people were already swarming into the stadium.
Still, the energy level was infectious so we got swept up with the crowd and directly entered the ring, all 3 of us. I was elated to be there for all of 5 seconds, until people yelled for us females to get out. I was dismayed but admittedly a little relieved…
The next morning’s news blaring “MUJER EXTRANJERO CORNEADA POR UN TORO” (FOREIGN WOMAN GORED BY BULL) could’ve gotten me on TV, but being ripped a new hole is not something I want to be known for.
Lauren and I climbed over the wooden barricades and stood in the stands, close to the ring. We cheered Fadi on, as he ran around crazily trying to get close to the bulls (he dodged one by a few feet!).
Finally the first morning show was over–everyone was being shooed out of the ring–and it was either stay and wait or leave. We left. Didn’t feel like waiting around to watch something die, y’know how it is.
By the time I finally got to the bus station, I was ready to fall to the ground, but somehow I made it onto the right bus before I fell asleep.
A hour half later, I met Xiker at the Zumarraga bus stop, and he laughed out loud at the sight of me…. Mussed hair, decked in red and white, still wearing the bloody San Fermin shirt, and yes, I was still drunk.
Would I do it again? HELL TO THE YES. (I missed the encierro, after all!)
Would I recommend it to anyone? HELL TO THE YES.
PAMPLONA: more than just bulls, booze and bedlam
A bit longwinded but very enjoyable read–dude participated in the running of the bulls and his story makes the reader feel as if they were there
this link has some really great photos of the encierro
and here’s a little information about bullfighting (I hate those matadors)