Bizarre Festival - Bull Running
San Fermin : the running of the bulls
by © Roger Starkey
The Festival of San Fermín takes place each year from 6 July to 14 July. The Spanish approach to holidays is to 'play it where it lies.' No adjustment is made for the day of the week on which the dates fall. Therefore, if 6 July is a Tuesday, the festival starts on a Tuesday. Regardless of the day, the town literally celebrates non-stop for the entire duration of the festival. The only discernable break between one day and the next is the running of the bulls ('el encierro' in Spanish), which takes place each morning at 8am.
At the festival, people wear all white and tie a red handkerchief about their neck. Every kind of person can be found there but there are two predominating types of San Fermín revelers. The most common is the one who parties all night and finishes the day by queuing up at 6am to get a good view of the running of the bulls and complete their day by running the bulls is the proper thing to do. The other type of San Fermín reveler is the one who has spent the night in a car, a campground or a nearby town (hotel rooms in Pamplona are usually booked out one year in advance of the festival) and who join the previous night's partiers in the encierro viewing queue at 6am. They then begin to party in earnest just after the last bull has passed through the narrow streets and entered the arena.
San Fermín is also a family festival with various areas set aside for children's entertainment. There is at least one square that allows children the opportunity to be chased by a pretend bull. There is also a carnival and traditional Basque Country sports such as stone lifting and tug-o-war. If you insist on taking your children to San Fermín during the evening or night hours, the carnival is the most family-friendly place to go. After dark there are about as many people stumbling through the city center overly intoxicated as there are red handkerchiefs tied around necks.
The majority of people who decide to run with the bulls are foreign tourists. One should also be aware that valor is taken seriously during el encierro. Therefore, any attempt by a participant to jump out of the fenced-off corridor before being in serious danger from a bull is likely to get that person pushed right back. Those choosing the safe route, and running well ahead of the bulls from the start, can expect to be roundly booed upon entering the Plaza del Toros. Not coincidentally, a list of injuries, along with the runner's nationality, can be found in the local newspaper each day.
Bullfights, with the bulls who participated in el encierro that morning, take place daily at 6:30pm. Tickets can be purchased for the following days bullfights beginning at 8:00 each morning. If you are unable to purchase a ticket, they can be had from scalpers outside of the arena during the fight. For those who are unable, or unwilling, to get tickets to one of the bullfights, a very entertaining alternative is the event that takes place in the Plaza del Toros just after the running of the bulls has finished. Each person who ran the bulls, successfully avoiding serious injury or death, and made it into the arena, remains in the ring while young bulls are unleashed upon them. The animals run around the ring, trying to hit every person in sight, for a few minutes and are then ushered out of the ring. The bulls have pads placed over their horns to minimize the risk of serious injury to the participants. After the festival concluded, the locals put away their white shirts, white pants and red handkerchiefs until next year.