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Two People, Fourteen Months, One huge world!

Spain – Part 2 – The Running of the Bulls

SPAIN | Saturday, 29 October 2016 | Views [823] | Comments [1]

For as long as I have known her Tamara has made it clear that visiting Pamplona for the Festival of St. Fermin (aka. “The Running of the Bulls”) was item number one on her bucket list. Ever since it was popularised by Ernest Hemmingway this festival has attracted the adventurous and curious from across the world to chance their arm running ahead of the fighting bulls each morning or simply to watch those prepared to do so. 

Andy Warhol - Shadows - Guggenheim Bilbao

Andy Warhol - Shadows - Guggenheim Bilbao

We had timed our dash across central France so as to be present in Pamplona on the first day of the Fiesta.  France has a similar event held in Béziers but the Spanish were totally dismissive of this “The French are SO boring!”  One thing we could not accuse the Spanish of was being boring.  Our first couple of Spanish nights were in Bilbao where we got to explore one of my bucket list buildings – Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim gallery – an extraordinary series of spaces contained within free-form metal ribbons and abstract glass. The party atmosphere started to build as soon as we crossed the border from Biarritz and in Bilbao we had several conversations with young people excitedly shopping for clothes for the event while nervously contemplating whether they were likely to get seriously injured in the morning!  I have no idea how so many young Kiwis manage to fit this into their OE (Overseas Experience) seeing as it was far and away the most expensive couple of days we indulged in during our time abroad but we were not the only ones there.  Far from it in fact as on our arrival in Pamplona the streets and public transport seethed with revellers all dressed in the same manner that we found ourselves attired: White trousers, white tee-shirt or blouse and a red sash around the waist.  Around our wrists we had tied a red scarf; awaiting the opportunity to place it ceremoniously around our necks once the festival was officially declared open.

Tapas Time

Tapas Time

The traditional place to view the opening ceremony is from the tiny Plaza Consistorial which is so full of drunk foreign revellers that it is actually pretty dangerous.  Instead of that we found ourselves in a large bar watching the events on a big screen with a huge and boisterous crowd of locals.  The singing, chanting and dancing were up there with any crowd participation event we have ever been in and a good time was had by all!  That evening as we enjoyed a pizza there were distant fireworks reflected in the windows facing onto the Plaza Del Castillo while those from the other plaza started to file past, their white clothing now dyed pink with all of the sangria that was liberally sprayed around with all the abandon of a formula one champion! 

The Bull Run

The Bull Run

Our apartment was right in the centre of town which meant that we didn’t have to get up too early the next morning to get to our selected viewing position for the first daily running of the bulls.  It also meant that we could pop in and out throughout the day as we needed to revive and refresh.  We had opted to take the coward’s way out and hired a position on a balcony over-looking the run.  For the huge sum of money we got to have a very basic breakfast then stand on someone’s balcony for an hour waiting for the bulls to pass by in about ten seconds before slipping inside to watch a replay of the whole run on the TV.  It was then made very clear that it was time for us to leave.  Easy money for those prepared to share their house for an hour or so with a bunch of strangers!  Next time I will run!!

A Town Parties

Leader of the pack

During the day we took the opportunity to explore the town a little and to walk the course of the run.  This is a town set up for the party and throughout the day the streets are routinely jet-washed to remove the stickiness and to corral the litter so that it can be scooped up.  While we were relaxing in one restaurant we watched with amusement as a tidal wave of liquid detritus surged through the tables and chairs closest to the road.  Fortunately all of those affected were in good spirits and took it in their stride.  As we wandered on we turned a corner to come across a group of festive locals dressed up as if in a boat race.  No sooner did we join them than their accompanying marching band struck up and we were off, headed toward the bull-fight arena with mock battles between the boats, the music inspiring spontaneous dancers on every street.

The Crowd Goes Wild

The Crowd Goes Wild

We had bought tickets for the evening bull-fight and climbed to our seats high in the stand while the party continued and increased around us.  Each of the twenty or so parades had all converged into the arena where the bands took turns to strike up.  Eventually the matadors entered together with the mounted picadors to a raucous welcome from the crowd and it was not long until the first bull was released.   

The Gladiators Enter

The Gladiators Enter

If this was a movie not a narrative the music would change now from the shrill horns of the fiesta band to something much more sonorous.  Perhaps we would even indulge in a gloomy filter and fade out the crowd noise.  I am now completely off the fence and will decry the Spanish bull fight as animal abuse.  The bewildered bull trots in every direction trying to work out what has just happened before he is attracted by a fluttering pink cape on which he vents his frustration.  The cape disappears just as another is produced in the corner of his eye  ducking now towards this just as the matador disappears behind a wooden shield he tires himself out.  At this stage the picadors ride in with their incredibly strong horses and their lances.  During this phase there is no hiding from the bull and the horses will be charged and often lifted off their feet by the sharp horns, their hide protected by full body armour, in the meantime the picador drives his lance into the back of the bull.  Another phase involves arguably the bravest of the combatants who allow the bull to charge them while running crablike across the arena.  As the bull arrives they leap high to the side and plunge two darts into the already streaming back of the bull.

Picador Rising 

Picador Rising

Finally the star of the show steps forward and the crowd hushes as the matador fights the now exhausted bull one on one trying at every move to show disdain for the danger posed.  For one bull the matador might remove his shoes to show some arrogance, another would turn his back on the bull and walk away saluting the crowd.  It is impossible not to show some admiration for the courage involved and yet each fight followed the same formula to deliver a weakened bull to the matador who will eventually dispatch it with a sword thrust through the spine causing the bull to fall dying at his feet as blood gushes out.  All except for one…….

Disdain!

Disdain

Several tourists had already left in tears before the third bull arrived in the arena.  This one was clearly more spirited and intelligent than the others and was not interested in following protocol.  Eventually the preparation team offered him to the matador who proceeded to fight the bull while on his knees.  It turns out that this was not a good idea at all as the bull managed to catch him on the third attempt and then proceeded to gore and stamp him while we watched, horrified.  Eventually the bull was distracted away and the medical staff set to work to revive the man.  After some time he struggled to his feet and, limping heavily signalled that he would continue the fight.  He did this and finished with the cleanest kill of the night and the adulation of the crowd.  No matter your view on this blood-sport this was one of the bravest things I have ever seen and he was awarded the ears of the bull in recognition.

So – what is our verdict of the overall San Fermin Fiesta experience?  The party is unmissable, the bull run a lot of fun, the prices high beyond belief and the bull fight dreadful with no respect offered for these magnificent beasts.  If you visit for the fiesta we advise you not to go to the fight itself until such time as Spain adopts the Portuguese non-violent bull fight approach.  There has to be a more humane way of preserving millennia old traditions.

Play Fight

Play Fight

On the final night we were sat in the apartment when we heard the firework display start up once more and we decided to haul ourselves out for one last experience as we stood gazing up at the immense star shells bursting above us.  Little did we know that the decision to watch these fireworks may well have saved our lives a few days later – but more of that in the next chapter!

‘Till next time…………. 

Tags: blood-sport, bull fight, fiesta, pamplona, running of the bulls

 

Comments

1

I always feel so sorry for the bulls and I don't think that I personally would even like to watch the running of the bulls, but that is just me.

  Frances Nov 22, 2016 9:14 AM

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