Pamplona July 2010

July 5, 2010 - July 7, 2010

"Viva San Fermín! Gora San Fermín!" The festival of San Fermín, or Sanfermines, in Pamplona, Navarra, Spain is a celebration held annually from noon on July 6 when the opening of the fiesta is marked by setting off a firework from City Hall during chupinazo, to midnight July 14, when people gather at the City Hall plaza to sing the song Pobre de Mí. The most famous event is the encierro, the running of the bulls, held every morning at 8am.

Sanfermines is held in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarra. Its events were central to the plot of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which brought it to the general attention of English-speaking people. It has probably become the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain.

Pamplona has a population of around 200,000 people. During the week-long celebration of Sanfermines the population increases to over 1,000,000 people, mostly Australians and U.S. Americans, all who come to participate in this festival.

My Dad had always talked about going to Spain to see the celebration of the San Fermín fiesta, it's something he'd always wanted to do. So, this year my Mom and Dad decided to come visit this week.

During the celebration of Sanfermines the hotels and hostels raise their prices consideralby and most reservations are made a year in advance. Because of this, and the fact that most of the people who go are younger (in their 20s), the majority look for a bench or a nice patch of grass to sleep on. This wasn't the case for us. We definitely had V.I.P. treatment. Satcha's brother, Ivan, lives in Pamplona so he let us stay at his house where we had very comfy beds to sleep in and a place to go and relax after all the celebrating!!!

We arrived in Pamplona on the night before chupinazo (the start of the fiesta). We walked around the city observing how people prepared for the next day: drinking, drinking and more drinking!!! Around 10pm we went to a bar where we ordered a bunch of apetizers (salad, cheese, ham, chorizo, fried foods, etc.) and had dinner. It was a fun, relaxing night!!!

On the morning of July 6 we headed to the City Hall Plaza around 11am where everyone gathers to start the celebration. There were a lot of people already there since the offical start time is 12pm. It was crowded, but we were able to make our way in a little just to see what the atmosphere was like. It's not a good idea to be in this area if you like to stay clean (like me). People are throwing water, champagne, red wine, ketcup, mustard, and anything else they can find into the air or directly at you. We stayed there until around 11:45am when Ivan called Satcha and told him that we could watch chupinazo from a balcony. It was a good thing too because the plaza had filled up by then and it was impossible to move. It was so packed that I experienced my first panic attack ever.

One of Ivan's co-workers had an apartment with a balcony overlooking the City Hall Plaza from where we were invited to enjoy the views of chupinazo. These were quite the views. It's really difficult to explain the amount of people that pack into the plaza, raise their red scarves in the air and celebrate the starting of the festival. The cheers, the champagne bottles, the sea of red scarves; It gave me goosebumps.

We walked around in the afternoon, enjoying lemon sorbets, sangria, eating and people watching. We went to the bullring and walked around there (without any bulls of course!) and at night we watched the bulls be run from the corrals where they spend the day to the pens where they spend the night before the run. We went to bed early that night becuase we had to get up early in the morning (around 5am) to watch the encierro, the running of the bulls.

The encierro is a practice that involves running in front of six bulls that have been let loose on a course of a sectioned-off subset of the city streets. Spanish lore says the true origin began in North-eastern Spain during the early 14th century. While transporting cattle in order to sell at the market, men would attempt 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. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.

The event begins with runners singing three times "A San Fermín pedimos por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición" ("We ask Saint Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the encierro and give us his blessing"), a song sung to the statue of Saint Fermin to ask for his protection during the run. The singers finish by shouting “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermín!" ("Long live San Fermin", in Spanish and Basque).

Runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband and neckerchief. In one hand, they hold the day's newspaper rolled to draw the bulls' attention from them if necessary.

The Run
A first rocket is set off at 8am to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. A second rocket signals that all six bulls and six steers have been released. The third and fourth rockets are signals of the entire herd entering the bullring and its corral respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the first rocket and the end of the encierro is around four minutes.

The herd is composed by the six bulls, to be fought in the afternoon, six steers which run with the bulls and three more that leave the corral two minutes later. The function of the oxen is to guide the herd. The average speed of the herd is 24 km/h (15 mph).

The length of the run is 826 meters/0.5 miles and goes through 4 streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, City Hall Plaza, Mercaderes and Estafeta) and a section called "Telefónica" before entering into the bullring. The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the City Hall Plaza. The bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slow down. One or more used to slip going into the turn at Estafeta Street because it's a 90 degree turn, but with the use of the new anti-slip surfacing, most of the bulls make the turn without problems and are often ahead of the steers.

The Route
0. Santo Domingo
1. Image of San Fermin
2. City Hall Plaza
3. Mercaderes Street
4. Estafeta Street
5. Telefonica
6. Bullring
Ivan had gotten us tickets to watch the encierro from a balcony at the City Hall. We had to leave the house by 6am in order to make our way through the crowds and get to the City Hall Plaza. There are a lot of people on the streets around that time, between the runners, people who line line up along the fence to be able to watch the run and the people who have been out partying all night, the streets are full of life. From the balcony we were able to watch the runners prepare, as the time gets closer to 8am you can see them getting more and more nervous. We had views of the bull running up Santo Domingo and rounding the corner of the plaza.

After the encierro we headed to the bullring. Once the last bull into the ring is led into his pen, the runners are left in the ring where they take on small, wild cows. One cow at a time is released into the ring at and it takes on all the people in the ring. These cows are smaller and their horns aren't as sharp as a bulls, but they tend to be smarter and faster. Many people think that since the cow's horns are not very sharp, they can't hurt you, but this is not true. So, we stayed and watched, booing the people who would grab the cows and laughing at the ones who got knocked down.

Around 10am we went to have breakfast. The tipical breakfast during Sanfermines is bull stew, fried eggs, chorizo or ham, fries and red wine. Dad had the bull stew and Mom, Satcha and myself had the fried eggs with chorizo and fries (since it was still early in the morning we skipped the red wine). We were all pretty tired after getting up so early and enjoying all the excitement, so we decided to go back to Ivan's house, take a nap and head home that afternoon.

We definitely had V.I.P. treatment while in Pamplona thanks to Ivan. I think my Mom and Dad enjoyed their visit to the San Fermín festival, it was defnitely an experience for them.

I had a fun time being with them at Sanfermines. I have a lot of good memories. But, I also know that I need a break from visiting Pamplona during Sanfermines. It's a very tiring fiesta.

To view more pictures:


Katie Schneider Althoff said...

I love the pictures! Seems like a great time was had by all. That's great that your parents got a chance to experience it with you. Too bad your parents didn't decide to sleep on the grass, I know how much they enjoy camping!

bob hecht said...

next time...i want to see david run!

Andy Hecht said...

No Red Wine for Breakfast?!?!? Why, I hear Red wine compliments Bull Stew perfectly at 8 a.m. When in Rome....or Spain

Karen said...

Great pictures Christine!!!
This is my 2nd time through the Pamplona site. I love to think of all the memories! Thank you for making it happen!
What a year!!! Dublin...Arizona...then top it off with the running of the bulls in Spain. My family has given me the greatest gift I could ever imagine... the gift of travel! Thank you!! Love, Karoni!