Sangria soaked street parties with stampeding bulls…

Back in the 15th century, bull fighting was already a well established tradition and one of the key events during the San Fermin festival of Pamplona.

Matadors were almost like the superheroes of their days. Every young local boy wanted to be one – but they were unable to face the bulls officially until they had reached the set age limit. The bulls were kept in a corral just out of town and the only way to get them to the arena for the fight was to lead them along the town’s cobblestoned streets.

The young would-be matadors jumped on this chance to get in on a little bull action and began to race along with them – yelling, waving sticks and showing off their bravado as they were given a taste of the matador’s life.

One of the possible sights you could see if you choose to run with the bulls!

And so… the ‘Running with the Bulls’ began!

The spectacle has increased in size (just slightly) from its humble origins as was evidenced by the swarms of people crowding the Pamplona bus station when we arrived from San Sebastian.

Somehow, we managed to squeeze into one of the last available seats of a locally run bus that was heading out to our campsite along with about 50 other Australians and New Zealanders.

The pool at El Molino…

After a pleasant drive through some rolling hills we finally arrived at the campsite – El Molino =and my-oh-my, it had the works! There was a massive pool with a small waterslide, a big outside bar area with DJ’s constantly playing, a small mini supermarket, some fairly spacious and very clean toilets as well as a few (below average) food places all within the grounds that nestled on the banks of a picturesque little river.

Hundreds and hundreds of tents had been erected though out the campsite in numbered rows. After a quick check in with First Festival Travel, we slapped on our brightly coloured wristbands and began setting up in the little fabric hot box that was to be our home for the next 3 days. We immediately bonded with the majority of people staying around our tent when we all realised that none of us had opted to bring mats, sleeping bags, blankets or any other kind of sleeping paraphernalia. What a comfortable few days we had ahead!

With Clint and Jess at the campsite…

Besides our new found camping buddies we were being joined by some old friends as well! Amanda, a good friend of my mine from exchange had also booked with First Festival and Will had persuaded two of his good friends from uni – Matty and Toby – to book in for it too. We also had Bruce and Em who were camping in the non-organised tour section next to their big van as well as Clint and Jess who were staying in a shadier (and infinitely more organised looking) section of the campsite with Busabout.

After an excursion into the nearby village to stock up on some slightly cheaper alcohol then the expensive mini supermarket offered, we somehow all managed to find each other and settled into giving our first night of our Pamplona celebrations a very solid crack!

Amanda is introduced to ‘Fanny the funnel’.

Things got underway very quickly as I was introduced to ‘Fanny the funnel’ over by Bruce and Em’s van and forced to drink my very first sangria of the evening via beer bong. Brutal.

I did not enjoy Fanny’s company very much…

The night continued along in the same vein as I met more and more people from around the campsite.

It finished up with having a solid boogy on the poolside dancefloor whilst Amanda and I sipped on ‘Vodka Malibus’ (no mixer mentioned, and rightfully so) that were the size of our heads.

THE SANGRIA PARTY

The following morning we were woken by the yelling  of the First Festival Crew’s staff as they wandered from tent to tent making sure that everyone was up and ready to head in for the opening ceremony and unofficial ‘Sangria Party’ that marked the first day of the festival. One of the staff was blowing up a storm on a whistle for the entire time. Needless to say I wanted to KILL him!

So pristine!

The dress code for the first day (and the entire festival in fact) was a strict ‘whites only’ – and people stuck to it fairly religiously! It looked like almost all of us could have very easily attended one of P Diddy’s infamous ‘White Parties’, no problem…

Still clean…but not for long!

After a very delayed bus trip in we scrambled through the streets in search of some flagons, some sangria to fill them with and the very best spot we could get for the opening ceremony!

Will visits struggle street on the bus ride into town…

The idea on that first day of the festival is that you begin the day in white tops and bottoms with a red scarf tied around your wrist (NOT around your neck). As the clock ticked closer to midday the energy began to build and we made our way towards the main plaza. With a little tactical squeezing we managed to weasel our way further and further into the crowd, getting outselves right in the midst of all the action!

Red scarves in the air!

As the last few seconds before midday ticked down, the entire crowd pulled their red scarfs from their wrists and held them up above their heads and towards the centre section of the plaza. The sight of the sea of red scarfs crowding the entire plaza was really quite striking! I could hear the buzz of the masses of people growing steadily louder as the time ticked on. Suddenly, the clock struck twelve and in the nearby town hall area a chupizano (firework) was set off to signal the beginning of the festival.

2 minutes in and already dirty as anything!

And so it began!

Red scarves were now firmly tied around the necks of all and what is unofficially known as the ‘sangria’ party commenced in full force. Sangria, water, flour and pretty much whatever else you could think of was thrown into the air by the crowd as well as those that lined the balconies of the surrounding terrace buildings that looked down on the whole spectacle.

Needless to say…our pearly whites…were not so white anymore!

If only it was socially acceptable to drink from flagons in every day life!

Every bar I saw was packed to the brim with sangria-coated revelers. There were even a number of keen locals who had recognised the opportunity to make some easy money and had set up temporary stalls selling mammoth plastic cups of sangria, fried chorizo filled baguettes and other treats ideal for lining drunken stomachs.

Crowds lining the streets of Pamplona…

At one stage we all stopped in clear view of the Navarreria Fountain. Many years ago, the rather dangerous tradition began of people climbing right to the top of the fountain and leaping the 3 meters down with the hope of being caught by the crowd below. Many people have died due to not being caught properly or at all and a great deal of people believe that this practice is actually far more dangerous than even running with the bulls.

Fountain jumping – a concussion waiting to happen!

I could hardly bear to watch as drunken person after person climbed the fountain. I did unwillingly see a few make the leap though and as I far as I could tell – it looked as though they landed ok. Phew.

Not an uncommon site through out the day!

We eventually ran into Jess and Clint and a bunch of their friends and after a friendly few pours of Sangria over each other’s heads (the standard greeting of the day it seemed) we continued dancing and running through the streets.

Piles of litter on the streets of Pamplona…

As the day wore on the town began to look like absolute carnage. Scraps of food, plastic cups and empty sangria bottles town filled every gutter. It seemed that any dumpster or bin was also considered fair game as a urinal and yellow liquid streamed over the cobblestoned streets.

The revelry continued and our clothes became further and further removed from the pristine white outfits we had donned that morning. Come 7pm we’d run low on both energy and sangria so we all traipsed our way through the urine soaked streets and into the bus station to get the shuttle back to El Molino.

Tent front beverages back at El Molino campsite…

The party didn’t stop once we arrived there – it just got a little mellower. The central area in front of the section of tents turned into a bit of an impromptu party and the remainder of the evening was filled with the exchange of hilarious banter over many more sangrias.

There was only time for a few hours sleep before we were all woken up the following morning at 4.30 am. This time, it was for the real deal – the very first bull run of the festival.

THE BULL RUN

To tell you the truth I had never had any intention of doing the bull run – I’m far too big of a wuss for that. Will, on the other hand, had been seriously considering having a sneaky sprint with the bovine beasts until only a few days prior. In the end, his google search of ‘how to prepare for running with the bulls’ and the consequent knowledge gained of the likelihood of getting hurt ended up resulting in him deciding to watch the action from the sidelines!

Amanda, Will, Toby and I were on our way to get ourselves a seat at the ‘Plaza de Toros’ when we ran into Lauren and Zac – some Californian friends who we’d met when we all stayed in the same place in San Sebastian.

The view from our seats in the stadium…

Outside the plaza the line up to buy tickets was huge but Lauren managed to bargain a scalper out the front down to only 8 euros a ticket with her superb Spanish skills. No line for us! We shuffled into the stadium and found a spare section of seats right in the midst of it all, although unfortunately I managed to sit behind a guy wearing a rainbow-coloured mohawk wig. Down in front!

The atmosphere began to build as the clock ticked closer to 8am – the time of the very first bull run. Slowly the stadium grew more and more crowded until there was not a seat in sight.

A huge screen on one side of the plaza broadcast images of the Bulls waiting to be let out of their holding area, along with their names and weights. Most tipped the scales at around 600kg! Their horns also looked massive – and very VERY sharp.

People watch on tensely from the stands…

The screen also displayed some live footage of the hundreds of people lining up in the street, stretching and limbering up in preparation for the run ahead.

The run begins!

All of sudden, the clock hit 8, the first rocket that signals the release of the bulls was fired and we could see the people crowding the streets surge forward straight away in anticipation! The crowd in the stadium immediately broke into cheer and within half a minute, images began to flash onto the screen of the bulls hurtling through the narrow lane-ways, sending people scattering in all directions.

Even just watching it start via the screen was extremely tense. The bulls on this run seemed relatively well behaved but I still saw a few people who went down along the way.

Before we knew it streams of people began racing into the arena, followed shortly thereafter by the bulls. The entire crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheering but most of the bulls only entered the arena for a brief few seconds before being herded through an exit gate and away from it all.

There was one bull in particular though that was really agitated and not interested in leaving the arena in a hurry. He circled his way menacingly around the arena, causing the sea of people of people to part erratically each time he changed its direction.

Eventually all of the bulls had passed through the arena and the last lot of runners had been allowed in.  We could see everyone hugging and smiling ecstatically in the centre, I can’t even imagine the adrenalin high they all must have been on.

Adrenalin seekers chase the poor younger bulls in around the arena…

There was little rest for the wicked though, as one by one smaller young bulls with blunted horns were let into the arena. A small contingent of local Spainards, thrill-seekers as well as the generally insane began an unofficial game of trying to get as close as possible to the bull without coming off second best.

Personally I wasn’t really a huge fan of this part of the morning. As I watched each young bull being released into the arena they all looked so stressed and confused. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for them running into a huge crowd where the majority of people were constantly grabbing, poking and agitating them in whatever way they could. I for one, was glad when that part of the festivities started to wind down…

The crowds watching on…

People were bucked by the bulls or occasionally trampled in the ensuing stampedes to escape them but judging from what I could see it seemed as though no one was seriously hurt. We had one friend in the centre with absolutely no fear who ended up being hit by the bull around 4 times. He left the arena with a ripped t-shirt courtesy of the bull and some amazing footage from the go-pro camera he’d had strapped to his head for the whole morning.

Finally, little more than hour since it had all begun, the bulls were ushered out of the ring. The crowd from stadium began to slowly trickle out, the electric atmosphere remaining as everyone feed ofF each other’s energy and excitement.

Memories of sangria soaked times at Pamplona!

As I entered the sea of white clothed people shuffling through the crowded streets and watched the hundreds of runners pour out of the stadium opening, I wondered if those little 15th century dare-devils had any idea that their little game would turn into the international spectacle it has become today…

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