Prior to coming to Spain I had little knowledge regarding San Fermin. I knew it involved a sea of people running through the streets of Pamplona by a pack of bulls but that was about it. And for that reason I could never decide if it was something I wanted to partake in or not. However when hearing something along the lines of a huge sangria fight I was in!
It wasn’t until I arrived in Pamplona that I actually started to learn the severity of the run that takes place daily over 2 weeks. But first let’s talk about the opening of the festival. After all that was the main reason I had signed myself up and my favourite part of San Fermin.
The whites were on, the red ropes and neck ties tied and the hair braided (a tactical style in preparation for what was about to occur): the girls and I were ready for the opening of San Fermin! We followed the sea of red and white towards the town square, where we were sandwiched amongst the locals.
We copied the locals as they removed their neck ties and held them up towards the stage chanting. Canons begun to intermittently fire around the square as the crowd responded with cheers. Then suddenly our whites turned to red as sangria begun to be thrown and sprayed amongst the crowd! It’s hard to explain the feeling we all felt at this point but it definitely consisted of an extreme happiness. We all started hugging and jumping around as we embraced the red liquid covering us from head to toe. What an experience! San Fermin had officially been opened and the first run would take place in the morning.
The bus trip from the camp site was silent. A combination of tired souls from the previous day’s festivities and nerves for those about to run. I of course would not be running! Never had it even crossed my mind, so Mum and Dad you can now take a breather! Those running had to be at the town square by 7.30am while the rest of the crowds either lined the streets or made their way into the arena.
We enjoyed the Spanish festivities displayed in the arena as we counted down until the 8am run. The big screens started to show the nervous sea of red and white in the streets before introducing the bulls about to run. 515-575kg bulls were introduced as the crowd gasped at the sheer size of them! The nerves started to begin as I started thinking of our new friends who were currently waiting nervously on the streets.8am strikes and the canon sounds for the release of the bulls. It was at this point that I really started to question what we were celebrating. Why on Earth would people risk their lives for this?
I sat nervously with mixed emotions as streams of runners started flowing through the gates of the arena. Gradually the speed of runners increased as we witnessed the first pack of bulls come tearing through the arena doors. Swarms of red and white people push their way past each other and trip and stumble as they attempt to avoid serious injury or death.
I felt like crying. I don’t know why. Perhaps I was just overwhelmed, not to mention the emotions you feel rising from the runners. Everyone begins cheering and jumping about as they realise they’ve escaped death and they begin the process of desperately trying to find their friends. Meanwhile we watch from above while we do the same, starting head counts as we search for those we know. Safe! We had found all of our friends. Others would not be so lucky.
But if you think that’s the end of it all then you would be wrong. If being chased by bulls wasn’t enough, the runners now had to endure 6 rounds of dodging a heffa around the arena. I started to feel a little sick at this point. I felt upset for the cruelty towards the animals as the Spanish began tormenting it in an attempt to frighten it and get it to charge. You could see at this point that the Heffa was only trying to protect itself as it charged at the people in the stadium. Despite its smaller size and less ferocious horns these animals still caused serious injuries, to which the Spanish crowd would cheer and laugh at the sight of.
I guess I will never understand the Running of the Bulls, but it’s a strong part of the Spanish culture and unless you’ve been brought up with San Fermin than I guess you will never truly understand. In saying that I’m really glad I participated. You’re always going to come across certain cultures or traditions that you don’t agree with but that’s what travelling the world is all about. And I’m really grateful I got to participate in one of the biggest traditions of the Spanish culture.