I was not overly impressed with Pamplona, the Spanish city that plays host to the Festival of San Fermin, or Running of the Bulls as it is known to the majority of the world’s population. I was on my way to Barcelona having just come from the seaside resort town of San Sebastian, and had stopped in Pamplona for a much needed break. The festival itself goes from noon on July 6 to midnight on July 14 and for a week there is nothing but parades, fireworks, bullfights, running of the bulls, and of course in true Spanish fashion, heavy partying.
I arrived in Pamplona about noon on July 8. By American standards, the day had long started. By Spanish standards, the new day had yet to begin judging by the number of festival party goers (you can spot a festival participant as they are donned all in white, save for a red scarf) that were still sleeping off the partying and drinking they had done the night before, passed out on street corners and on benches around the city center. Unlike in other countries including the United States, in Spain you can just go into a bar and use the facilities without feeling obligated or required to buy a drink. One result of this is that the restrooms are usually disgusting. As this was 2003, the European Union smoking ban in bars and restaurants had not yet gone into effect so in addition to the bar reeking of smoke, there were cigarette butts littered everywhere on the ground, and the smell of alcohol and some other unsavory odors also wafted through the air. As I had just turned 18 and this being my first time in Europe, I was somewhat taken aback by this, although three years later when I lived in Spain during my semester abroad there, I certainly grew more accustomed to these things.
Earlier this year I blogged about whether or not bullfighting was a cultural past time, as many Spanish claim it to be, or a cruel sport (you can read about it here). As much as I dislike bullfighting (when I lived in Seville I opted out of attending a bull fight), I dislike the Running of the Bulls even more. To me it is stupid and reckless, the worst kind of thrill seeking activity since 15 people have died in the almost 90 years record-keeping has taken place, with more than a hundred injured from falls during the running each year. (In the 400 years of the festival’s history, thousands of people have been injured.) Bulls are unleashed from their corrals to charge towards the bullring. Later in the day the bulls face death against the matadors in the bullring. The last death to occur was in 2009 when a male runner was gored in the neck. Los locos (the crazies), or revelers as I’m sure they would like to be known, can either run ahead of the bulls or watch from a semi-safe distance just off the street (not as if a bull has never strayed from its course either). The running starts at 8 AM for eight consecutive days but only lasts a few minutes.
This past Saturday marked the first day of the Running of the Bulls and to start things off a 73 year old man was gored in the leg. Likewise a 21 year old Japanese runner was dragged on the pavement downhill towards the bullring by what appeared to be a bull’s horn hooked through his clothing and suffered back injuries.
Most Americans became acquainted with the Festival of San Fermin after Ernest Hemingway immortalized it in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. It’s about a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris who travel south to Pamplona to partake in the festival’s activities. Hemingway became fascinated with bullfighting and visited Pamplona nine times. There’s even a statute of Hemingway at Cafe Iruna, an establishment frequented by Hemingway when in Pamplona, and also a popular spot for his characters in The Sun Also Rises to drink and socialize. The city itself unveiled a statute of Papa Hemingway outside of the bullring in 1968, seven years after his death, in honor of the man who through his writing brought the culture of bullfighting to the American people’s eyes.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games”-Ernest Hemingway
Julie is a librarian by day, die-hard travel fanatic and writer by night. When she’s not traveling, she’s either testing out a new recipe or being a foodie in Pittsburgh. If you’re interested in seeing where she travels to or what she makes next, follow along via the links below!