Slowly the sun began to peek over the tops of buildings and the sky grew from black to dark blue in the early hours of the morning. Thousands of people dressed in white and red are sobering up and loitering around the old quarter of Pamplona for the last day of San Fermín, waiting to see the most famous event of this annual summer.
As the workers start to put up the wooden fences and barricades, I quickly scrambled up and sat on the top, saving my spot. 6am, 2 hours to go. This was not going to be comfortable.
As the sky got lighter and lighter, medics, press and police began to file in behind the wooden fences, getting ready for the action. Balconies were literally overflowing with onlookers, guys were climbing lamp posts, and people were piled high on the barricades and behind them, hoping for a glimpse of the action.
Spain knows how to throw some wild parties and festivals, but San Fermín is by far the craziest, most insane, most crowded fiesta I have ever been to. For 9 days every summer, Pamplona doesn’t sleep, unless you count the the thousands of people in white passed out in the parks and gardens around the city.
I went last Friday afternoon for the opening day of San Fermín after work with friends. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this small northern city in Spain to see the famous running of the bulls (encierro). Since Logroño is an hour away, this would be my big chance to see it. Lodging in and around Pamplona is wildly expensive during San Fermín, most people bus in at night and out the next morning, staying up all night partying and then watching the bulls run in the morning. Hell, I’m young, put a redbull in my hand and I could do it!
We got there mid-afternoon to crowded streets, music and people dressed in the famous white with red bandanas around their necks and festival scarves around their waists. The wine was literally flowing down the streets, and people were stained bright purple from the famous chupinazo opening ceremony. We joined the action, singing, dancing and partying til dawn.
However, I didn’t make it to 8am. Since we were with friends who live in Pamplona, the lure of sleeping on a sofa was too much for me after 20 hours of straight partying, and I missed the first encierro by an hour. But even as I did the walk of shame from the Logroño bus station to my apartment, with quite possibly the worst hangover of my life, still wearing my filthy festival clothes, I knew I would be going back.
I finished class with a new student on Friday night, and we decided last minute to throw on our freshly washed, mostly white clothes and head out to Pamplona again for the final night of San Fermín. This time I made it all night long. This time I was going to see some bulls.
The tension in the air grew stronger and stronger as I perched on top of a wooden fence waiting to see everyone run with the toros. All of sudden people started running. The medics climbed the fences and people began yelling and cheering. Through the line of people in front of me, I saw a group of huge bulls run by quickly, their horns white and sharp in the air. To me they seemed as tall as the men running along side them.
All of a sudden a guy was on the ground in front of us bleeding from the head. He’d been run over. The medics started to climb over the fence to get to him when a few more bulls came charging by and more runners scrambled over the fence to get out of the way. It was completely mayhem that happened in what seemed to me to be a span of 10 seconds.
San Fermín was exhilarating and exhausting. Would I do it again? Of course! Except next time I’ll either be right up in the action wearing a press pass, or even running with the bulls myself. We’ll just have to wait and see! Click here to see a video of the first bull run this summer.