Europe 6 – Fiesta de San Fermin

Fiesta de San Fermin (2)

The build-up
The town’s mayor makes a speech at noon on July 6 from the balcony of the ayuntamiento (town hall) in Plaza Consistorial, for which the crowds gather from 10am. After the speech, the mayor lets off a rocket to announce the start of the Fiesta, and the assembled mob erupts in a shower of champagne, beer, sangria, eggs and flour bombs. Running wine-battles carry on for a good couple of hours, and conga lines dance through the narrow side-streets shouting “agua, agua, agua” as they pass under a balcony, the occupants of which come out and oblige by emptying buckets of cold water over the mob. The hardcore revellers carry on for a few hours after this, but before long most start to drift away to eat and get a siesta before the first real night of partying begins – and, of course, the next day’s bull run.
As the day wears on, more people empty on to the streets and rejoin the party that has been building since midday. Most arrive fresh faced with reasonably clean clothes, but the few who have kept on partying since the lunchtime food-fight now look like the living dead and stagger around the plaza in disoriented packs. Don’t look down on this dilapidated street trash – it’s only a matter of time before you join them. Like all endurance sports, the key to survival in Pamplona is to pace yourself. The locals have the art perfected and it pays to follow their lead. Around 10pm, crowds drift away from the town square and head up to the Parque de la Ciudadela, where an enormous fireworks display is held every night.
If you’re still going strong, head back to the Casco Viejo and the raging partying, which will by now be gathering pace. As dawn approaches, the atmosphere gets even more feverish. Groups of people have teamed up to run the encierro together and are knocking back the brandy to harden their resolve; others are nervously knocking back a few more drinks to help them decide. Of course, the really serious runners went to bed hours ago and are now dreaming of lightning dashes and matador heroics.
Party kit
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in Pamplona is the uniform that just about everyone is wearing: white trousers and T-shirt with a red neckerchief, red sash for your waist, and an optional comedy red beret. White is a strange choice of colour considering this can be one of the messiest events you’ll ever go to, but it’s traditional Basque attire. There are loads of stalls selling these outfits, and for less than €25 you’re guaranteed a much warmer reception by the locals wherever you go. Another great accessory is a wine skin. These cost about €12 and save the hassle of carrying around glass bottles of sangria. It’s also a highly effective method of soaking someone during the flour and sangria fights after the opening ceremony.
The dos and don’ts of Running with the Bulls
Do:
– Choose your day carefully – at the weekend encierros, there are twice as many runners, and twice as many casualties.
– Take time picking your starting spot – accident black spots are the corner after the Ayuntamiento, the death-trap alley of La Estafeta, and the Callejon bottleneck at the entrance to the bull ring.
– Give the bulls space – the bulls quite often turn around and run backwards, which is pretty terrifying for the people running closely behind them.
– Prepare to take evasive action – bulls can move incredibly fast. If one is right behind you, don’t even spend an extra second climbing over the wooden barrier. Hit the floor and roll underneath. You’ll be covered in grime, but your backside should be intact.
– Plan for the worst – if you fall over, don’t get up: cover your head and don’t move until someone gives you the all clear.
Don’t:
– Be so drunk that you either think you’re invincible or don’t care.
– Don’t call your mates on your mobile.
– Try to frame a good picture for the folks at home.
– Pretend to be a matador.
– Carry anything at all, apart from the optional rolled-up newspaper.
– Hide in a doorway and hope you won’t be noticed.
– Try to run into the bullring just in front of the bulls.

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