THE YOUTHFUL ENERGY of the people contrasted with the centuries-old cobblestone streets. Before the sun even rose, the streets began to come alive. We stood back and watched the building of the barrier fences amongst the monochromatic sea of white shirts in the pre-dawn light. The construction crew assembled two rows of ancient-looking wooden fencing on each side of the course, just as they had every year. The Running of the Bulls would soon begin, a tradition that began in Pamplona, Spain, in the 13th century, and has been held almost without interruption since 1591.
The moment the outer barrier was up, we made the unsteady climb to the top to access a better view of the bulls when they ran by. My family waited in anticipation while balancing on top of the wobbly wooden fence that marked the course. It was not a comfortable vantage point, but it was as close to the action we could get while remaining safe behind an inner fence. My dad, however, was in the street, ready to run with the bulls.
Welcome to the Fiesta de San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain! The festival is lively, exhilarating, and CHAOTIC and takes place every year from July 6-14. My family experienced three days of exquisite food, new friends, and late nights in the streets of Pamplona. Day and night don’t exist at the San Fermin festival; we slept when we were tired and went out whenever we woke up.
FIESTA DE SAN FERMIN
San Fermin is wonderful for an adventurous trip with friends or family. We met countless new people from all over the world and shared meals with various other Americans who attended.
From our perspective, the excitement of the runners bounding by lasted about 10 seconds. The nervousness turned into a burst of adrenaline as the mass of people and massive bulls sprinted the course.
Not only did my dad participate in the bull run one day, but two. He and my mom had read and researched the 5 W’s of bull running for weeks in advance using Peter Milligan’s very entertaining book, “Bulls Before Breakfast.” The first day was dad’s “practice round.” The next day, he ran with Dennis Clancey, who had obviously been doing this for a while. Dennis is a mentor and guide for newcomers to the bull run. My dad finished safely both mornings he ran and had the time of his life.
After the run, the enthusiasm continued. We, like many Americans, headed to Bar Txoko next. There, my brother and I ordered the churros, which we happily dipped in chocolate, while we listened to runners recount their tales of bravery. Musicians and impromptu parades appeared all day. The night offered fireworks and more festivities.
San Fermin is a tradition, but it is more than that. To be part of the Fiesta is to celebrate life and to be part of something bigger than yourself. It is an unforgettable experience and many people return annually. Our friend Charlie attended his 43rd Fiesta this year—Pamplona is a part of him and he is a part of Pamplona. Someday I hope to return.
WHAT DO I WEAR?
While at the Fiesta, wear all white with a red sash (“faja”) and a neck handkerchief (“pañuelo”). Bring a white outfit for each day you are there. There is no need to bring a sash and pañuelo to Pamplona. Buy them when you arrive for San Fermin—they are available for purchase on almost every corner. But beware, the celebration is a high energy fiesta and your white clothes won’t stay white for long.
WHERE DO I WATCH?
The best places to watch the Running of the Bulls are from the fence, the stadium, or a rented balcony overlooking the course.
All things San Fermin: http://www.sanfermin.com/en/
We stayed at this hotel to be close enough to the Fiesta and far away enough to get some sleep: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pnaac-ac-hotel-ciudad-de-pamplona/
Stadium tickets for the Bull Run can be purchased at the stadium as we did one morning, or online: http://feriadeltoro.com/
Run with Dennis Clancey: https://www.pamplonarun.com/
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