Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pamplona, Spain: El Encierro y San Fermin 2015 - I Ran With The Bulls


Synopsis: Since I've arrived here in Spain everyone has told me "wait until San Fermin" whenever I told them I did, saw, or experienced something cool here in Spain. So, I have super lofty expectations for this event. It goes from the 6th until the 14th of July (always same dates every year), with many different events each day, but the main event that starts each day the same way is running with the bulls, aka el encierro.

*Note: My bull running experience actually started the 2nd of July, as I traveled to Ronda, just outside of Málaga, to train with bull runner Julen Madina and matador Rafael Tejada. I practiced running with, dodging, and even feeding bulls.

Wikipedia does a fairly good job of explaining what San Fermin is, so I'll just share my experiences with less detailed explanations of the event and more details about me and my humble awesomeness during the event.



July 6: Arrive at Calle Estafeta early (5:30) for filming and of course the Spanish are late. I'm here only 5 minutes late, what did I expect?

At the main square in Pamplona and it is trashed! The party doesn't even officially start for another 6 hours. The street sweeper things are starting to show up though - that's one thing the Spanish do well: party and trash a place but then clean up after like nothing happened. I guess it's also a good way to create jobs. 

When the others arrive, we do my scenes, until Julen shows up to shoot his scenes. We are trying to film, but he is constantly being stopped for photos and people greeting him. We finish shooting and head for a coffee. A man reprimands me for having my panuelo on already, as I had it on for the filming, and I didn't know you couldn't wear it until after the chupinazo at noon. We wait at the main square in front of town hall as the crew are trying to find a balcony to shoot from.

We end up on a balcony directly in front of the town hall. The view is amazing and the people below are going crazy, dancing, chanting, throwing don simon sangria bottles in the air (often hitting people in the head) and trying to land them on the balconies above like sangria basketball, with everyone cheering for "made baskets". Really a crazy environment - heaven for party lovers. Families and normal people are at Plaza del Castillo watching the chupinazo on screens. 

We film our shots from the balcony, however we don't stay to watch the ceremony, and, unfortunately, I miss it entirely (I did see it on the news later). Maybe not such a bad thing as I could see everyone from the balcony and they were all drenched in sangria and it was packed so super tight that some people's feet didn't even touch the ground. But, those are the experiences you want to have at least once.

Walking around town, all the young people are covered in wine and the older people and small children in white and red. Practically everyone is dressed in red and white. Walking around the streets, you can see people tossing water from their balconies on unsuspecting victims and others who want to cool off.

I hang out with Alex, Emilio and his friends. I don't stay out too late because I want to get sleep before I run tomorrow. Around 5pm I’m just beat and head home. At that time there are also street sweepers going around because the center looks like a big garbage dump. I go home, change and relax, before heading back to the hotel where the film crew is at, to film some scenes for the video. Afterward, as I'm driving home, I can see the firework celebration from the highway, and even from Zuasti. 

I can't sleep. I'm thinking about all of the possibilities and outcomes for tomorrow. Thoughts like me facing off with the bulls and I jump over all 12 and get away, or others like I see a baby walk into the street and bull is coming for it and I outrun the bull and save the baby - you know, stuff that could actually happen. Finally I doze off.

Thoughts: This morning, walking around checking out the city, I noticed so many flyers for balconies for rent. Been up and down these streets many times and never noticed the signs for encierro and San Fermin history. Everyone is dressed in white and red, all over Pamplona, not just in the center where the fiesta is at. Concerts all over the city and side shows and random performers. Just outside the old town, shops and souvenirs joints and food joints, have suddenly appeared everywhere! Fireworks are every night at 11pm. I kept hearing San Fermin and San Fermines, but apparently they are the same thing. 


Working with the best - is what Alberto and Jose would say
Working with the best - is what Alberto and Jose would say

Before the Plaza Consistorial got crazy
Before the Plaza Consistorial got crazy

No-look, renegade shooting style that will make Alberto famous one day
No-look, renegade shooting style that will make Alberto famous one day


About a half hour before the chupinazo



With Alex and Emilio, starting San Fermin off with a bang
With Alex and Emilio, starting San Fermin off with a bang


July 7: Head to the city early in the morning to go to the opening event of the encierro, the reza (prayer) to San Fermin. After the reza, Emilio swiftly leads me to my starting point, hugs me, and then runs away... fast.


Nervous does not begin to describe how I feel. You can smell the fear of all the runners and see the look of admiration/pity on the faces of the onlookers in the balconies. I keep reminding myself of my training. Like Julen said, I see the flashes from the cameras as the bulls hit la curva, the sharpest turn of the course, and I get ready to run. My heart is beating so hard and fast I barely hear anything else. I see the cable camera, suspended above, start to head toward me and I know the time is approaching. I position myself in the middle of the street and try to jump to see if I can see the bulls. Nothing. Just heads of people and faces of terror. The tension is increasing. I am looking back to see if the bulls are coming, and then looking forward to make sure I have a clear path to run. I look back again and amidst all of the faces in the crowd, I suddenly see a pair of shoes connected to an inverted body, about a head higher than everyone else. That's not normal - so I take off. When I look back again, there are five bulls running straight at me. The guy just to my left falls, and I am able to avoid being tripped by him and I run. I don't run very far, but far enough for me, and then I jump to the side to safety. My heart is still pounding from the adrenaline. After the run is over and the barriers open, I see Emilio and we take a pic so I can send it to my mom to let her know I'm alive. 

With the crew, I do some more filming around the city of Pamplona, just walking up and down the streets, taking in the spirit of the San Fermin fiesta. Because I have two cameras following me, everyone thinks I'm some celebrity and tries to get in the video. I dance with the locals and hug people, and meet all kinds of people. We film peñas (social clubs in Pamplona, deeply rooted in the community and the fiesta) playing music on Calle Jaurata and then head to get some shots of the San Fermin parade at the beginning of its route. After we get all the footage we need, I go to where Emilio is to watch la jota de tu Navarra, a traditional song performed in honor of San Fermin. People are crying and showing me goosebumps on their arms. 

We can't go 20 meters without Emilio knowing someone and introducing me to them, telling of my bravery in the encierro. The locals, most of whom do not run, seem impressed, but I'm sure in the back of their minds, are questioning my intelligence. We meet up with Emilio's campaneros (bell-ringers) buddies for lunch, who then extend us the opportunity to ring the bells at Santa Maria de la Real with them, at the culmination of the procession of the San Fermin statue to the church. 

We go up the tower and I can see the pure joy on Emilio's face. I am certainly grateful of the opportunity, but because I'm not from here, I don't think I fully understand the gravity of the honor that has been bestowed upon me. Throughout the rest of the day, people surely kept telling me how lucky I was. The view from the top of the church is amazing, and the campana (bell) we are ringing is gigantic, 250 kg. After the procession, we run to the other bell tower to get pictures there.

After the bells, we head to merienda (afternoon snack) with Emilio's parents and sister's family. In the cafe, the news is playing on a TV there and Emilio says he sees me running with the bulls on the news, but I miss it. Because of his excitement, the people around us are looking at me, knowing that I ran, and offer a subtle congratulatory "Glad you didn't die" nod and smile.

From there, we head home and relax a bit before heading back into town to buy tickets for the corrida (bull fight) tomorrow. We can't get by because the peñas are exiting the plaza del toros in full fanfare. Each peña has its own band, its own pancarta (banner) with political and social statements (reminds me of Las Fallas), and its own section in the plaza del toros (bullring).

Once the peñas clear out, we get our tickets, and then we head to dinner with Emilio's parents and sister's family at the apartment in the city that the family is going to let me stay in, starting tonight. We watch the fireworks from the balcony, which has an amazing view, and afterward I head back into town to meet up with some friends. I stay out quite late - still running high on adrenaline.

Thoughts: I can see why people run with the bulls more than once. You want to get closer and closer to the bulls each time. Its like a challenge. Problem is the probability of failing increases every time you run. So once is good enough for me. The encierro was an intense experience, but I think I was significantly less nervous thanks to the time I spent in Ronda. 

I stayed out really late, but I was not alone, thanks to droves of adolescents in the streets. There were 15 year olds out until 6am! How do I know? Because I recognized some of the kids that go to school with Emilio and Tatun - and they even said hello to me. All night the streets were packed to the point where it was hard to move down the street, and enter or exit bars. Today was a very memorable and exciting day for me.




Preparing to do the reza before the encierro


The placing of the San Fermin statue into that nook before the run
The placing of the San Fermin statue into that nook before the run




My run, with commentary (video rights: TVE)



The pic I sent my mom to let her know I was ok
The pic I sent my mom to let her know I was ok



After the run - you can hear relief in my voice



Las campaneros de Artajona
Las campaneros de Artajona 




Emilio working hard and I'm just enjoying the show



We even got to ring the bell together
We even got to ring the bell together


Post game show - after we rang the bells



Iñigo and Nancy (Emilio's sister), their kids, Emilio, Emilio's parents, and me
Iñigo and Nancy (Emilio's sister), their kids, Emilio, Emilio's parents, and me

Watching the peñas exit the bullring
Watching the peñas exit the bullring 

Funny thing is, I was not the only person to take a pic like this
Funny thing is, I was not the only person to take a pic like this

Clean up crew was about 20 strong at 6 am
Clean up crew was about 20 strong at 6 am




July 8: After only a few hours of sleep, I'm back up and in the city again, this time at a birthday party at one of the restaurants in the old town. From the party I go back home and wait for Emilio and Mariasun to come pick me up to go to the corrida. Once they arrive, we walk to the plaza del toros and find our seats. 

Emilio is explaining each step of the corrida and answering questions that I have. This is the first time I have ever seen a bull fight live (I've only seen it once before on TV, but I wasn't really paying attention). He is really into it, and when a good or bad thing happens, I am completely oblivious. 

After the corrida, I head out into the city to hang out with some friends. Pretty much going exactly like last night, except I don't stay out as late.

Thoughts: Saw the corrida from the shade. In the shade people are more chill and in the sun is like a college (American) football game. Emilio says Pamplona is the only place where the plaza isn't completely quiet during the corridaPeople bring their own food and after the third bull, everyone starts eating. I hear champagne bottles popping. We even share food with people who don't have any. 

Not sure how I feel about bull fights yet (the morality of it), but one thing is for sure everyone smoking around me made me upset. The worst is when you don't know who is smoking so now you don't know who to hate and you start hating everyone around you. 


Greg and I at Restaurant San Fermin
Greg and I at Restaurant San Fermin

Because that is what it means in English
Because that is what it means in English 



First experience at a bull fight



Peñas storming the ring after the corrida
Peñas storming the ring after the corrida

It got cold, so we bought hoodenirs (hoody + souvenir) It's not funny if I have to explain it
It got cold, so we bought hoodenirs (hoody + souvenir) It's not funny if I have to explain it


July 9: Alex and I are up super early to go get tickets to watch the second part of the encierro, the vaquillas, smaller bulls with blunted horns, released into the ring with all of the runners, so they can recortar (dodge) the small bulls. As I'm watching the vaquillas, I'm not sure when bravery and courage become tomfoolery, but I'm sure it's during this event. It is funny to see people taunt the bull and then get knocked out by it. 

Later, I go to the airport to pick up my parents, who have been traveling for a few day to get here. We go back to the apartment so they can drop off their stuff and then we head into the old town. I had been invited to today's corrida by a friend a few days earlier, so my parents walk around town and soak in the sights, while I head back to the plaza del toros.

This time at the corrida, I am in the sun with the peñas and lively atmosphere, singing and dancing. My buddy, Iosu, invited me with all of his friends and we have a great time. The only access to the bullring after the corrida is to climb down the sides of the ring (never would happen in the US), and then you meet with your peña and walk out the main entrance into the streets, singing and dancing with the band, and moving super slowly, but having fun.

From there, I meet up with my parents at the main square and we go to a restaurant to meet with Emilio, Mariasun, and their friends. Because all of the local places are packed, we eat at an Italian place outside the super crowded areas. We dine well and enjoy each other's company.

Thoughts: Some of the locals told me their parents wake up everyday to watch the second part of encierro, as it does provide some good comedy. I love when my parents come to visit. We always have such a great time.

Corrida the second time much more fun and exciting on the sun side. Again, because I know so little about the "art of bullfighting", I was more focused on the singing and sharing of food and meeting new people, than the actual bullfight. I didn't notice the first time, and maybe because the matadors were better today, but they have so much swag! They tempt the bulls and then turn their back to them and salute the crowd and demand applause. It's quite fascinating. When you see girls leaving the plaza del toros and their clothes are pink and wet, it is likely because the guys throw sangria, via bottles or squirt guns, at all the girls that they think are pretty - so if you come out with white clothes on... 


Also, maybe because we were too busy partying, I didn't smell much smoke on the sun side. I like the sun side better.


Watching the bulls run into the plaza


Meeting my parents at the airport
Meeting my parents at the airport



Maxwell family back together again
Maxwell family back together again

Main square during the day
Main square during the day

A very popular street - a sea of red and white
A very popular street - a sea of red and white

Iosu and I after the corrida
Iosu and I after the corrida

With the Jarana peña
With the Jarana peña

Locals dancing la jota, the traditional dance here
Locals dancing la jota, the traditional dance here

Emilio and Mariasun gifting my parents with panuelos
Emilio and Mariasun gifting my parents with panuelos

It's not delivery, it's digor...going to an actual Italian restaurant
It's not delivery, it's digor...going to an actual Italian restaurant


July 10: So, some friends told us to show up at a certain location at a certain time, to watch the encierro from a balcony. We show up at the right time, and we are met by, who we assume is the landlord, and let into the apartment on the first floor. We look out from the balcony and it's an amazing view. However, about 15 minutes before the encierro is about to start, a disgruntled old man appears in the living room, demanding to know who we are. I explain that we are friends of Gonzalo y Conchi, and he has no idea who they are. He politely throws us out of his apartment. After a phone call, I find out that we are supposed to be one floor below, in the pharmacy, to watch the event. We go down there and the lady knows Conchi, but had no idea we are coming, and there is no room for us on the balconies. Her jerk son is telling her to not let us in, but her kind spirit says we can stay and watch the encierro on the TV if we'd like. We can actually see a bit of it live from the pharmacy window, and then we walk over to the TV to see the rest of it. I thank the kind lady and we head out. 

As we exit the building, I feel a warm slop hit me on the neck. I assume it's food or drink, since people have been throwing those items around all week. When I reach back to grab whatever it is off my neck, I feel something with the consistency of baby food, and when I pull my hand back to look at it, there is fresh bird poop on my fingers. This had to have been a big bird, because there is a lot of poop. Thankfully, my mom has handiwipes and I throw away my panuelo, which got the worst of it.

Since we have some time, we walk over to see a nice view of city and then grab some breakfast at a local cafe.

We meet up with Emilio on Calle Mayor, as la comparsa de gigantes, cabezudos y kilikis y zaldikos (the parade of giants, two kinds of big heads, and knights) is beginning. Some of them are carrying las vergas (foam maces) that they use to beat the children, and many times adults, over the head (again, would never happen in the US). Along the way we go inside the San Lorenzo church to see the San Fermin relic and take pictures.

After la comparsa, the children's offering to San Fermin begins, and as we watch, Emilio is singing the traditional song, and a news crew comes over to film him. He and my dad both make the news, as we receive texts from friends who saw them.

Emilio treats us to almuerzo (light/pre-lunch) before leaving, and then we head to the apartment. We pack a snack and grab some drinks for the corrida tonight, and then make our way over to the plaza del toros. This is my third time seeing a corrida, and I am back in the shade with the smokers. I am doing my best to relay to my parents and Alex, what Emilio and Iosu explained to me about the various things happening during the event.

Afterward, we head to Casino Nuevo, where we have a great view of the main square, though a limited view of the fireworks, and we have some drinks with friends before calling it a night.

Thoughts: I am watching the news a bit to follow the events of San Fermin, and I have not heard one story about fights or robberies or anything like that. I'm sure there is some going on, but not at all like in the US when we gather a lot of people together with drinking. They just seem to handle alcohol better here in Europe. However, they do not handle cigarettes better. 

The sheer number of people in the streets at any given hour is just amazing. The gigante representing America (the native Americans) was black, and the one representing Africa was a lighter brown (probably Moroccan), which was the same color as the one from Asia (represented by the Turkish moon on his hat).



The amazing balcony we THOUGHT we had



Close to where the encierro begins
Close to where the encierro begins



Where we actually ended up watching the encierro



The Red Cross was everywhere during the run, and then all but disappeared afterward
The Red Cross was everywhere during the run, and then all but disappeared afterward

People sleeping in the park
People sleeping in the park

La curva de Estafeta - just before where I ran
La curva de Estafeta - just before where I ran


With San Fermin
With San Fermin

With a gigante representing Asia
With a gigante representing Asia


Emilio on the news


My dad with a kiliki
My dad with a kiliki

Zaldiko chasing children
Zaldiko chasing children

That's Spanish for "nose-bleed section"
That's Spanish for "nose-bleed section"

This is the swag I mentioned earlier
This is the swag I mentioned earlier


Plaza del Castillo - the main square
Plaza del Castillo - the main square

Drinks with friends
Drinks with friends

The streets are packed all day and night
The streets are packed all day and night


July 11: We decide to take a day off from San Fermin to go on a day trip to San Sebastián. The bus is the fastest and cheapest way there, so we hop on in the early afternoon and arrive there in about an hour. I've only been here once before, so we walk around many of the same parts. We do some bar hopping, trying one or two pintxos in a bar and then moving to the next. Most of the pintxos are really good and my parents are enjoying themselves.

After eating, we walk along the beach and see some really good sand art. We walk back along a different route, to see new things, before catching our bus back to Pamplona.

We arrive just before the fireworks start. The bus station is next to La Ciudadela (a foretress) and it is ridiculously packed about 30 minutes before. We find a place to sit and enjoy the show.

Thoughts: I imagine the weekend would be even more crowded than during the week, which is a good excuse to take a day trip somewhere. We saw people in San Sebastián with red and white on, either going to Pamplona or coming back from there.


Walking along the streets of San Sebastián
Walking along the streets of San Sebastián

Pintxo bar hopping
Pintxo bar hopping



Looks like a postcard, huh?
Looks like a postcard, huh?


I'm sure this building is important
I'm sure this building is important 


My parents on the other side of the same important building
My parents on the other side of the same important building

Who do you see in the background on the left?
Who do you see in the background on the left?

Really amazing sand art
Really amazing sand art 

The cuidadela for the fireworks show
La cuidadela for the fireworks show


July 12: After having so much fun in San Sebastián yesterday, we decide to do another day trip, this time to Burgos. We wanted to see it last time my parents were here, but we didn't have enough time. So, after a two hour drive, we arrive in the almost empty town of Burgos. We picked a good day to come here.

First we stop for ice cream, because it is hot outside and my dad is an ice-cream-aholic. Once we eat the ice cream, we head inside the cathedral. This is like the 193rd church I've seen in Europe, but is still nice and has a very unique staircase inside that I like. Unfortunately, the biggest chapel in the cathedral was closed for renovation.

After the cathedral, we walk around the city a bit before heading to the car and driving home. As we are driving back, we can see the fireworks over Pamplona.

Thoughts: The tolls here are so expensive! We only drove two hours and paid almost 15€ in tolls. Burgos is a really quaint town, and the cathedral is definitely worth seeing. One thing I do like about Spain versus other European countries: Spain has free public toilets! Even in the parking garages, which are my go-to if I can't find a public one on the street.


The scenery in the town was picturesque
The scenery in the town was picturesque

There's no wrong way to eat ice cream
There's no wrong way to eat ice cream

Super cool staircase inside the cathedral
Super cool staircase inside the cathedral


My parents in the main sanctuary, listening to their audioguides
My parents in the main sanctuary, listening to their audioguides

Having too much fun in the cathedral
Having too much fun in the cathedral

There were some really impressive chapels in the cathedral
There were some really impressive chapels in the cathedral


With the pilgrim statue - it was hot from being in the sun
With the pilgrim statue - it was hot from being in the sun 


Capping off a great day
Capping off a great day


July 13: Today is my parent's last day here. A short visit, but time well spent. We wake up early to see the vaquillas. Then, we walk around town so they can buy some souvenirs for family back home. We grab something to eat at the apartment before I take them to the airport. We sit and chat  in the the world's smallest airport, while we wait for their flight. 

After my parents leave, I head back to the house and take a nap. Then I head out to meet with some friends, and I end up watching the fireworks at La Ciudadela while I wait. Then I see some other friends while I'm there, and we all go out together.

Thoughts: I have the best parents in the world. They encourage me to live my dreams and even fly out to visit and enjoy the experiences with me. 



Lines for the last encierro are ridiculous
Lines for the last encierro are ridiculous

When we got to the front of the line, the ticket machine went out of service
When we got to the front of the line, the ticket machine went out of service


Family in front of the plaza del toros
Family in front of the plaza del toros

Encierro is that way
Encierro is that way


July 14: I sleep-in until late. It's the last night, and there are two things I haven't done yet that I want to: see the firework bull, and watch the bulls walk from the corral to the pen, where they will be released for the encierro the next morning. I won't be able to see the bulls walk because there are no more encierros. So, I head to see the firework bull, and it's quite cute - pretty much an encierro for kids, being chased by a fake bull that shoots off fireworks, held up by a single man running up and down the street.

I meet up with Greg and we head to the Pobre de Mi (poor me), the last singing and celebration of the festival, where all panuelos are removed and no one wears them again until next San Fermin. We light candles and mumble through the lyrics that we don't know, and then everyone disperses into the city or to their homes. 

Thoughts: The final celebration is like the chupinazo, where it happens all over the city, but we did it at the ayuntamiento and it was jam packed. We could barely move.

Last night was the first night that I actually got a normal amount of sleep. Although it is super hot in the apartment (no blankets are even allowed in), I sleep quite comfortably here. The darn circus across the street is annoying during the day, but they shut down around 11pm, so I'm not disturbed at night. And tomorrow I have nothing planned, so I'll definitely sleep-in again.





Firework bulls (there are two)


Pobre de Mi celebration
Pobre de Mi celebration 

Greg and I are guiri (spanish word for "foreigner") magnets
Greg and I are guiri (spanish word for "foreigner") magnets

Last hoorah for San Fermin
Last hoorah for San Fermin
I think the party is officially over
I think the party is officially over


Final Thoughts: Pamplona is one of the most conservative towns in Spain,  but for 9 days, they lose their minds and become one of the craziest towns I’ve ever seen, for 216 hours of nonstop partying. It's like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. 

While in Bilbao, I had a kalimotxo, which became my official preferred drink during San Fermin. If you don't like a lot of people or being in crowded areas, don't come for San Fermin.

As for the bull fights, I think I'm impartial. Just like everything else in life, there will be people for and against it, but for me, the experience that came along with bull fights really helped me to learn the culture and enjoy the festivities. I doubt I would go to watch a bull fight just for the sake of it, but if someone invites me, I might say yes.

I really enjoyed the entire experience these past 9 days. I met a lot of new people and made some incredible memories. I'm not a huge party person, but this was an experience that I really enjoyed and I definitely recommend it to everyone. I now understand why everyone was telling me "wait until San Fermin".





Share:
Location: Pamplona, Navarra, España

Subscribe

* indicates required

Popular Posts

Countries Visited

Blog Archive

Instagram

YouTube

Badges