What a fantastic festival. Too much sangria, too many people, too many bulls, too much music, too little sleep, but a wonderful, wonderful time that will stay with us forever.
I’ve written up the Running of the Bulls elsewhere on this site, but I wanted to give people a taste of the full package. It starts with an Opening Ceremony at 12 noon on July 6 and ends with a Closing Ceremony on July 14th. Almost everybody dresses in white and red for the duration of the festival and it’s a wonderful sight! Many of the revellers finish almost drowned in sangria, so they take on a bit of a pink look, but the locals seem to change their outfits regularly and maintain an almost pure white!
At the Opening Ceremony everyone used to gather at the Town Hall square, where dignatories appear on the balcony and declare festivities open. Now there are so many people there that you are almost crushed to death, so people spill over to the huge main city square and the surrounding streets. The main square has a massive screen where you can watch proceedings live. Just before 12 noon everyone holds up their red scarves. People shower each other with sangria and other liquids along with flour, sauce, or even mustard. It’s like a giant muck-up day! After the opening announcement the scarves are placed around your neck, where they stay for the duration!
Once that’s over, the partying continues for another 8 days! There is a ‘Running with the Bulls’ each day at 8am and a Bull Fight in the main arena at 6:30 in the evening. There are bands, buskers and hundreds of bars and restaurants in full swing. Huge super-soakers of sangria and other fluids, traditional goon skins, buckets of fluid thrown from balconies, it’s all part of the fun! Amazingly, in the entire 6 days we were there we didn’t witness a single fight or scuffle, although the alcohol was definitely flowing!
There are street parties that appear to go all night. After the Opening Ceremony people partied into the night but I was amazed to see that the bars were still full at 5:30 the next morning when I walked down to the town hall square for the start of the run! There were also many party goers asleep on the lawns and benches.
Then there are the bullfights! Every night at 6:30 there is a fullhouse to watch the action. The 6 bulls that have done the morning run take on the matadors in a two hour show. You can queue for ages for a ticket or pay a bit extra to the scalpers outside! You can choose to sit in the ‘sun’ or ‘shade.’ Things are somewhat livelier in the sun and you can expect another spraying with sangria and other liquids. The shade is more for families. We went ‘sun.’ You can pretty well take what you like into the stadium, with full buckets of sangria apparently OK.
When the bulls enter they are teased a bit by the matadors before a guy on a horse plunges a spear into the bull’s back. A couple of other dudes thrust up to six swords into the bull’s back. Then the top matador takes over and finally rams a sword into the bull’s back. The bull collapses in a heap and then a guy with a small knife finishes the job, if necessary. Three horses drag the dead bull from the arena to the cheers of the crowd!
It’s gruesome stuff but with all the tradition, rituals and amazing atmosphere we really enjoyed it! At least six live bands, Mexican waves, sangria sprays, songs and chants, it is a brilliant thing to be a part of!
Meanwhile, in the streets, people promenade, socialise and are amazingly happy. They eat, drink, shop and mix. People party in a variety of ways and apart from Saturday night, it was quite OK for families with younger kids.
Viva San Fermin!