PAMPLONA, Spain — Pamplona is once again a sea of red and white as the frenzied madness of the San Fermín running of the bulls festival returns with adrenaline, emotion and passion following a two-year suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic.
From the start on July 6, the tension and excitement was palpable.
Tens of thousands of people donning the customary white trousers and shirt with red sash and neckerchief packed the town hall square for the traditional “chupinazo” firework that kicks off the nine-day San Fermín festival.
After that, it has been a nonstop party, spiced up with the electrifying running of the bulls each morning at 8 a.m.
The festival reunited friends and families from all over.
Joe Distler, 70, from New York, has been coming and running for the past 50 years but says he was sad to miss the past two editions.
“It´s incredible. Two years without Pamplona was very, very bad,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “How lucky to be with friends here this year in Pamplona. Fabulous. Hopefully next year there will be no more COVID.”
Pamplona’s population of around 200,000 bloats to nearly a million during San Fermín. For many foreigners, especially Americans, Australians and Britons, it´s a “bucket list” thing they have to do.
“It´s amazing atmosphere, amazing people, amazing opportunity to celebrate. We love it here,” said 21-year-old Harvey Miller, of Philadelphia, who was making his first trip with his sisters, Ashlei, 30, and Kayla, 23.
“I think people are trying to make up for lost time because two years off, that´s a while,” Miller said. “So, everyone is going extra hard this time around and the festival is bigger and better than ever.”
They, like many, also know of the festival from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises,” which is deemed to have made it internationally famous.
Martín Chozas, 76, from Spain was also a first timer.
¨This is like going to heaven,” said Chozas, adding that he felt “the shivers” when he arrived. He planned to stay “as long as the body puts up with it.”
The festival highlight is undoubtedly the morning “encierros,” or runs, that see hundreds of people of all ages – mostly men – testing their agility and bravery to run like mad with six fighting bulls and their guiding steer along an 875-meter (956-yard) route to Pamplona’s bullring, where later in the day the bulls are killed by professional bullfighters.
People watch the run from balconies, doorways and street barriers as well on television and the internet.
On the fringes, there is a wealth of great restaurants and tapa bars, while street bands, spontaneous parties and shows for children all go to place it among the most popular festivals in the world.
Gorings, meanwhile, are a feature everyone braces for but hopes they won´t occur.
In the seven runs held till Wednesday, there have been just four gorings, none seriously. In general, the bulls seem content to ignore the runners unless they are provoked or teased.
Eight people were gored during the last festival in 2019. Sixteen people have died in the bull runs since 1910. The last death occurred in 2009.
The response to injuries during the runs is rapid. People can be treated directly by Spanish Red Cross medics or in the bullring surgery area. Many don’t end up having to be taken to a city hospital.
Pamplonians and visitors will pack the town hall square once again at midnight Thursday to sing the mournful “Poor Me” (Pobre de mi) traditional balad that bids goodbye to the festival before singing the rousing “First of January” (Uno de enero) jaunty song that looks ahead to the festival the following year.
Before the pandemic, the festival was last suspended during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
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