Europe 7 – Fiesta de San Fermin

Fiesta de San Fermin (3)

Statue diving

  • If the ambulance team engraved the name on the St Cecilia statue of every injury that had occurred as a result of the statue diving that takes place there, they would have run out of space years ago. Every afternoon during the festival, once the sangria and beer has really soaked in, people, almost exclusively foreign tourists, start scaling the fountain ready to entrust their spread-eagled flying bodies to the mob of drunken catchers below. The two most popular ways of getting carted off on a stretcher are either to get so drunk that you fall off backwards whilst scaling the statue, or to launch yourself into the crowd and land flat on your face in a pile of broken bottles because the catchers are too drunk or too busy drinking to pay any attention to you. To spice up the antics, girls usually do the jump topless – in fact, the crowd often refuses to catch emale jumpers until at least the T-shirts come off – and there are always a few naked leaps before nightfall.

The Running of the Bulls: Spectating

Every day from July 6 onwards – from 5am – spectators are already in their places, watching the careful erection of the sturdy wooden gates that define the eight-hundred-metre bull run. The atmosphere is still a carnival one, but tense, with runners already strolling anxiously up and down the course, inspecting the ground and checking for danger spots. Loud brass bands get the crowds going from 7am onwards as they march around town to wake everyone up. The most popular drink for spectators and runners alike is a carajillo – a hot, strong coffee injected with a huge measure of brandy. Excellent for raising your spirits after a taxing night.

For a guaranteed view of the bulls, get a ticket for the bullring early in the morning. This is the end destination of the encierro and the scene of utter mayhem when the bulls and runners arrive, both competing to squeeze through the narrow opening. It costs about €3 for the best seats in the house and saves hanging around on the streets where you risk seeing nothing at all. For those who would rather take their chances outside, arguably the best place to stand is in front of the Zaldiko bar, just up the road from the Coralles del Gas where the bulls are kept, on Santo Domingo, but you need to get there early to bag your spot. The road slopes up towards the bullring in front of the bar, and you get an excellent view of the start and the first 300m of the course.

Minutes before the run the atmosphere is electric. Runners either limber up or totter around nervously, depending on the state they’re in. Some look confident and determined, most are pretty twitchy, but the majority are completely petrified. Nearly all clutch the only weapon of self-defence permitted: a tightly rolled-up copy of the morning’s newspaper – totally useless against half a ton of rampaging beef, but a good way to let out tension if squeezed tightly enough. Once the rocket signalling the start of the run is fired, the bulls shoot out of the corrals in seconds, and every runner’s fate is truly in the lap of the gods.

  • Insider info If you decide to run, the golden rule to surviving the encierro is to have a look at the course beforehand and decide which barrier you are going to duck under in an emergency.

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