Running of the Bulls

The festival of San Fermín is an annual celebration held in the city of Pamplona from July 6 through July 14.

While its most famous event is the encierro, or the running of the bulls, the week-long festival involves many other events. It is known locally as Sanfermines and is held in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of the Navarre region.

San Fermin Festival
San Fermin Festival

The city was completely booked up, as you can imagine, but we found a nice hotel a short distance away in the town of Huarte. The best part was that the bus line ran to the Hotel Sercotel Iriguibel Huarte so we were able to take public transportation to and from the festival.

San Fermin 2012 poster
San Fermin 2012 poster

Drew had made a trip to the San Fermin festival when he was in the Peace Corps. He took part in the final leg of the encierro by running alongside the bulls into the main arena, Plaza de Toros de Pamplona.

On his suggestion, I read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises before our trip. This book is credited with bringing international attention to the festival. And you can tell the locals must’ve liked him because the street leading to the stadium bears his name.

Unfortunately, I came down with a cold when we arrived in Pamplona so we didn’t make it to the early morning bull run. But we did walk the route, which seemed a bit safer. I’m sure our parents would agree.

Where the bulls are kept before the run
Where the bulls are kept before the run
Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (city hall)
Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (city hall)
The stadium where the bulls end up after their run through the city
The stadium where the bulls end up after their run through the city

Luckily, Drew knew that everyone dresses up for the occasion with white clothing and red scarfs. So we made a stop on our way into town to pick up appropriate outfits. There are many explanations for the tradition that range from religious affiliations to local political preferences over the years, but one thing is certain: if you aren’t wearing red and white then you’re the odd-man-out.

Jini in Pamplona
Jini in Pamplona
Drew in Pamplona
Drew in Pamplona
Drew and Jini in Pamplona
Jini and Drew in Pamplona

In addition to the encierro, there are many other events and attractions that take place during the festival. These include parades, concerts and a nightly fireworks show staged at the old citadel. While we walked around and took part in the events, we tried out the local drink kalimotxo, which is an odd combination of equal parts red wine and Coke.

Typical bar
Typical bar with hanging hams

Folks stay out all night long to party and celebrate with their neighbors, and I’m not just talking about teenagers and university students. Even in the early morning hours, we saw families pushing strollers, students playing with their phones and even a whole group of senior citizens dancing to polka music. The festival is an amazing display of comradery.

Celebrating San Fermin Festival
Celebrating San Fermin Festival

After two days in Pamplona, we were ready to relax. So we headed north to Basque country and coastal town of San Sebastian.