the festival of san fermin {pamplona}…

a nomadic abode

love it or loathe it, one thing you can rely on at the sanfermines is that you will be exposed to an array of extreme cultural highs & lows…

this weekend we survived a whistle-stop tour of pamplona taking in an opening ceremony, a bull run {encierros}, a religious procession & a bull fight all over the course of less than 48 hours…

after much forward planning we arrived at pamplona on what turned out to be one of the busiest weekends imaginable: the lure of the opening ceremony {6th july} & the first bull run of the season {7th july} always draw a crowd, but when these events fall on a weekend the size of this hillside town swells four or five-fold…

streets are swiftly engulfed by rivulets of alcohol mixed with the heady scent of urine, garbage collects indiscriminately along pavements & bleary-eyed revellers, still wearing their distinctive sangria-stained outfits, wander the streets before collapsing in nearby parks to sleep off the partying…

we chose, advisably, to encamp ourselves on the perimeter of the city in a behemoth of a modern hotel, the alma pamplona muga de beloso, &, after a brisk 20+ minute walk into town on saturday morning we joined several hundred thousand of our closest ‘friends’ shuffling naively towards the town hall plaza in order to partake in the opening ceremony: chupinazo

pamplona

the buzz of the crowd was positively deafening as we approached & it was every red & white clad man/woman for themselves in this mosh-pit of humanity…

once we’d shimmied ourselves into squinting distance of the town hall we were fully immersed in the experience: from the fiery body heat emanating from the crowd to the collective cheer when water was hurled at us from the smiling balcony patrons above…

it was fun, until it wasn’t, & i was relieved to eventually hear the rocket-fire which heralded the start of the fiesta…

we dutifully held our red bandanas aloft in a salute to saint fermin, patron saint of navarra, before leaving our newfound ‘friends’ to get positively blotto…

this was our cue to take refuge in some tented food markets on the far end of town where regional restaurants vie for prime abdominal real estate with an assortment of local dishes: calamari & paella won that day!

a nomadic abode

a night-time saunter through town to survey the damage & a fireworks display later, it was time to return to the sanctity of our pristine cotton sheets in preparation for the big day ahead…

at 5.45am on sunday morning we prized our eyelids open & charged our way through the backstreets of old pamplona to reach our viewing spot for the 8.00am bull run…

booking a balcony to view the bull run was by far the best thing i planned for this whole weekend: by 6.30am the streets lining the route were already full to overflowing with spectators & participants alike…

from the safety of our balcony we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of proceedings below whilst stuffing our cheeks with cakes & freshly-brewed coffee…

a nomadic abode

slightly oversubscribed, this year’s bull run started as a bull walk with hundreds of front-runners being unceremoniously ushered down the cordoned runway by neat rows of police long before the beasts themselves were even within sniffing distance…

it was a little anti-climactic, but comical nonetheless…

minutes later, again heralded by rocket fire, the run itself commenced…

it was a ‘blink & you’ll miss it’ affair {hence no photos!} as the bulls swiftly swept down our street then rounded the corner & out of sight: predominantly without incident …

as soon as they’d passed we legged it with our knowledgeable hostess down to the bull ring to watch the encierros…

a nomadic abode

there was standing room only in the arena as spectators crowded in to witness drink-fuelled revellers baying for the bulls’ attention: whilst some ducked & dived theatrically into the startled animal’s path {or even somersaulted over the bull itself}, others hugged the perimeter of the arena ready to jump the barricade if & when required…

at times i felt a little like i’d been transported back in time to a roman ampitheatre & that any minute a gladiator would swagger into the stadium…

the mob mentality was equal parts uplifting & disturbing & i did wonder if i was alone in shedding a tear for the taunted & anxious bulls thrust into an arena of adreneline &/or alcohol-fuelled revellers…

on a happier note, a highlight of this weekend for me was our stumbling upon the procession of san fermin…

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a key event in the fiesta, the 15th century statue of saint fermin is paraded throughout the old town escorted by a cluster of gigantes & cabezudos {giants & big heads} & a regally-attired gathering of religious & city officials…

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music, dancing & singing make this a much more family-friendly aspect of the sanfermines…

aerial image via: arxxiduc

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2 thoughts on “the festival of san fermin {pamplona}…

  1. My god, what an experience!! That’s what they mean when they say “once in a lifetime” I guess! It sounds like you had your share of it on this trip and won’t be going back next year? That’s a lot of people! I’d be so overwhelmed, and like you, a little sad for that poor bull! But the whole thing is such a nod to tradition, even if it’s grown substantially over the years. How does one book a balcony? Do people rent theirs out? How entrepreneurial! xo

    • i think this was definitely one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences erin… glad i went & on the whole i enjoyed our time away, but not something i need to repeat in a hurry! 🙂

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