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Don't foget to pack a smile A journal of an aussie gal's adventures while living and working in UK and riding the wave that is travel

Spanish eyes

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 14 July 2008 | Views [1137]

The bulls, the sangria, the passion, the spirit and the crowds. That just about sums up the key ingredients that make pamplona a visitor's paradise playground.

Everything about Pamplona during the festival of saint fermin was celebrated with a fervour and passion I have never seen. Not even on Australia Day when a snag and beer are in hand on the beach. Nothing compares with sweet tingling scent of sangria and the spirit of the spanish. Never have I met a culture that could party quite like them. They started at the opening ceremony and at 8am at hte bull race the next day they were still drinking and partying in the street. Many locals never even saw the bulls, so consumed with celebration they were. However some did and often ran with the bulls while still rip roaringly drunk.

I arrived in Pamplona after a 20 hour journey, dont ask me why but at the time a group of us thought a bus ride from london through france to spain and the campsite at Estella in northern spain would be a fun way to kick off hte festival rather than fork out extra money for flights. It was cheaper to bus it and camp at the campsite. So we did it.. and I must admit it was lovely to take in the white cliffs of dover as we set off on the ferry for calais, then to take in the lovely beaches and sights of the french town which has an english flavour. I enjoyed passing through the typically quintessential french country side, complete with windmills, quaint villages and country cottages, through to spain. the changes in scenery were as drastic as they come. Its a bit like driving from Brisbane to Sydney and back again. There are so many changes and they sneak up on you. While france was filled with fields of yellow and green. Spain was mountainy, fresh and robust, with streams and little towns dotted on mountain tops, hilly roadside fields a less vibrant green.

It was a magical ride allbeit it long, draining and unrestful, I got possibly two hours sleep and spent most of it tossing and turning, kneeing the poor guy in front of me in the back and elbowing kate, one of my mates in the side.. with no pillow (my theory was travel light and use my clothes for a pillow - big mistake, tip number 1, always, always bring a pillow with u no matter how cumbersome.)

We stopped for breakfast, and it was then my trusty phrase book came in handly, i profeciently ordered my breakfast while the rest of hte group just stared onwards, i could see their brains going... shit shit shit.. no one at hte restaurant spoke a word of english.. so i became a translator of sorts, all beit a bad one, i could barely order, say hello and goodbye, say numbers and ask for directions, that was it that was all..

after proving my skills there I was ready to journey onwards, as we descended through the mountains we were surrounded by fog and rain, our campsite rang and reported a sunny day, apparently we were only 20 mins away. Either they were bullshitting us, or the weather in spain was as tempermental as moody diabetic addicted to chocolate..

turns out it was the later. as we went down the mountainside into the valley, the fog lifted, the sun appeared and it began to reveal the true beauty of the scene below. My first immediate thought was italy. It looks just like italian countryside, the buildings, the colours the landscape it was just so italy.. i knew i would love it.

We wound our way through the charming Estella village where we were based and got to our campsite, tents and beds already blown up, we dumped our stuff, had some lunch then got ready to head into pamplona to have our own personal tour of the bull run.

I was excited, i get tooing and frowing between deciding to run with the bulls, so many people had said you have to give it a go, which i really wanted to but I had also heard so many horror stories i was in two minds.

But in the next four days to come I would experience so much that even now, four days after I am back, I am still reeling from it and still absorbing it all. So for that reason I am putting my observations under some quick headings to make it easier for you guys to read and jump to the most exciting parts.

Pamplona and the Festival

Pamplona itself is nestled on the crest of a rising mountain, the city centre, containing the bull run, is at the top of a formerly fortified hill. There is a massive manicured gardens and park right next to the town centre which is home to a family of dear, ducks, chickens and goats... there is also a breathtaking view of the city from the fortified wall arch which frames the entrance to the heart of pamplona and to the heart of all the action.

The town itself wasnt entirely beautiful but it was charming. It had all day and night markets, food stalls with tapas and freshly made sandwhiches and paella, there was also street entertainers galore, balloons for sale and the most of hte locals were friendly. Walking into Pamplona, our tour group, top deck, had stuffed up our drop off location so we had to walk at least 15min up this killer hill every day to get into pamps which sucked a bit.

The city itself had narrow streets, crammed with balconies above and signs saying 'viva san fermin', bulls and the traditional scarves that come with the festival.There were several squares, the town square and the main square, which were the two areas where we spent the most amount of time in.

The city itself shut down from 2pm-5pm for siesta and most people just found a spot to sit on the side of the street, on a park bench or in the park and slept, it was amazing.. things just stopped but i could never properly embrace it there was always something else to see and do.

By the end of the opening ceremony we began to see a bit of an ugly side to pamplona, and unfortunately it was the tourists and some of the locals who were to blame for this. As in most european cities it is legal to drink on the street and have parties on the street. But we were all advised never where thongs or open toed shoes because u will get cut by broken glass. I thought this was rather extreme, but wore my runners just in case. Well it was worth it because when people had finished their drinks they just smashed them on the ground, people just littered and threw rubbish on the ground. I saw men just pissing on the side of walls in the middle of crowds and i also saw excretement, which was not dog looking on the streets as well... so after the first day, during such a massive festival the streets smelt and the cleaners would hose out the streets every day, mind u i think it would take weeks to get the smell of tourists and sangria out of that city.

During the festival it is important for everyone to where red and white, white pants and shirt, red sash around the waist and red scarf, which is first worn around hte wrist then put around the neck and must stay there the entire time. Its bad luck for runners to take it off before the end of the festival. we all bought white clothes when we got there from the markets and our red stuff as well, it was rather cheap and fun to bargain with the stall holders over.

The opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony will always be a highlight for me. At first i was hestitant, i was determined to take my digital slr with me and was terrified of it getting wet or damaged, so wrapped in plastic several times over in my back pack which was also covered in a plastic bag I felt I was rather safe. I felt it was rather clever until someone pointed out the plastic around my back pack made it look like it was covered in a condom.. lovely..

meanwhile the opening ceremony kicks off at midday in the townsquare, they let off one cannon,then another..that signals the waving of the scarf and chanting then it placed around your neck where it must remain for the festival then the fun begins. It is tradition to throw sangria at everyone and champagne, mind u i didnt see many locals doing it , they stayed rather clean, just tourists. and while i wasnt sure i would be keen to be covered in sangria my god it was fun. I bought a bottle and a bottle of champagne and sprayed it over kate, paul, alicia, adam, georgie, rick and emma. .. i got covered, my whites soon turned purple, and i felt sticky and stank.. but it was like being back in kindergarten and jumping into a big brown wet puddle. Feeling that water sneak into your shoes and your feet getting all squishy. man it was fun, so much so i went and bought another two bottles.. it was so cheap you just couldnt help yourself. I noticed a young local boy still all white, everyone dared me, go on, throw it at him. So i did then he got pissed and i tunred back around only to be completely saturated in sangria, he had a 6lt container of sangria i had neglected to see and half of it ended up over my head.. so funny..

so after much throwing of sangria, we were done. Some people went further, there was shaving cream which was thrown about, eggs, flour, mustard and even ketchup, we were lucky to be just splashed with sangria.. We then went up to where teh statue is. The famous one, where drunken idiots jump off into the crowd below hoping to be catched by other drunk idiots. more people are injured and die from this then the actual bull run. So while on the way there we had to escape the locals who were throwing buckets of water from their balconies to cool down the crowd.. it was funny, but i preferred to stay covered in sangria then risk whatever might have been in the water. We got to the statue and honestly u have to see it to believe it. These idiots climbing a 10 m high statue and then launching off into the crowd, no one was hurt while we were there, but one irish guy died the next day when he hit his head in his fall.. and another broke his leg.. it was just plain stupidity, i didnt get any shots of this, the crowd was crazy and wasnt safe enough to get my camera out, people were still throwing sangria and going mental, as well as being general drunken idiots..

The bull run

For the first day of the bull run, we decided to try and view it from inside the stadium, so we could see the bulls come in and also see all the action, as the crowds were so crazy it was near impossible to get a good view of the run from anywhere else.

Because most tickets are sold by scalpers, we had to schlep around trying to find someone, they cant actually call out tickets, tickets, because thats illegal but they can sell them. strange i know, but thats spain for u.

so anyway we found one guy, bargained him down to 7 euros, which was rather good, because most people we spoke to ended up paying between 10-20 euros..

and we went inside, some of the girl's husbands were running so they were nervous to see if they made it into the arena.. surprisingly people started to filter through before the cannons went off to signal the bulls were released from their cages and were on the street. one guy ran in and was booed and booed continously, he had bottles and cans thrown at him, til he ran and hid in a barrior.. theres nothing worse than being a coward in a spaniards eyes.

People began flowing in, falling, scrambling and dashing to the side. There was a sense of urgency in their faces and thats how we knew. The bulls were coming. They charged through and then suddenly one became confused, instead of just running straight to the other side to the exit, it circled then rammed a side of the stadium, pinning with it a poor guy who was speared in the stomach, he was in absolute agony, u can see it in the pictures I will put up.  The crowd was screaming in excitement, theres nothing they love more then seeing blood. It was like being in the colleseum.

Then once all the bulls filtered through we saw the boys, there was relief all round, til we noticed they planned on staying in the ring until it was finished. Once the big bulls have run through, they release five baby bulls, one at a time with corked horns, (supposedly so they cant hurt anyone but they still do) which run around full of spirit, ramming and throwing people around. So the boys stayed in for that until it was all finished.

After talking to them all, and discussing tactics i decided it would be foolish NOT to do it. I was in spain, i was at hte festival, I would never do it again. time to grab life by the horns so to speak. So paul, the husband of one of our friends, promised hed go with me, not hold my hand so to speak, but as hed run the day before, he would help make me feel better.

So along came day two. crunch time. d day if you will. I was dressed in my whites, allbeit them stained purple with sangria and i was ready. We got down to the town square and squeezed into the gates, and i tucked my hair under a cap. mainly to avoid police scrutiny, they dont like girls running and will often pull them out. as well as drunks and idiots taking photos. So i kept my head down adn internally panicked my guts out. The area was so packed i couldnt even raise my hand to wipe away the sweat that was beading on my brow. I started to freak out, what if there was a stampede and i was trampled then a bulls horn suddenly rammed right up my backside? not so unrealistic as I had seen it happen many a time at the festival on just the first day.. argh.. i was freaking out but by no means was i ready to back out..

I was worried but nerves didnt really kick in until the first cannon went off and paul leant over and said faintly, that means the bulls have been released.. so with all the constraint i could muster we started walking, we walked past dead mans corner, witha  sigh of relief, then there was a second cannon, paul shouted, they are now in the street.. what now.. i looked behind and i heard them before i saw them, i could feel the street vibrating. the hooves were clattering on the stone paved streets, it was generating echoes of fear inside me. I turned and could hear 'toro' 'toro' being shouted.. it was then paul adn i decided to go to the side of the street, and stand by a shop front. not out of harms way by any means but not in hte middle of hte street, in a matter of minutes the bulls where there, less than two arm lengths away from me.. and they rushed by.. the guy next to me was shaking like a feather i was afraid he would

a) faint

or b) throw me in front of an oncoming bull, so we waited a while, then decided to start running to get into the stadium. we made it in and not long behind us was a big black bull which ran into the stadium and exited just as swiftly.. I made it, i did it, ran with the bulls and survived. I cant begin to explain the rush of adrenaline i felt, i felt so proud of myself, i had done the unthinkable, yes it was foolish but man, what a day..

the biggest thign that dissapointed me tho was the behavious of some of the australians. we were explicitly told, do not touch the bulls. they are considered sacred creatures and to touch them is disrespectful. but so many people did that and more, many taunted hte bulls, pulled their tails and ears and hit them, threw shoes at them adn then u see the footage of them getting gored. it really isnt all that dangerous if u are responsible and dont go crazy and put urself in harms way, its the idiots who ruin it for hte rest. on the day before i ran there was a massive fight between a spanish group and australians because one guy had tackled a bull side on and tried to wrestle it.. stupid .. just plain stupid.

on the last day we were very lucky, the tour group got us balconies to view the bull run from. It cost tho, 5o euros later i was sitting at a balcony in a locals house viewing dead mans corner and all the panicked runners below, it was really exciting and ull see in the pictures the view i had.

The bull fight

As part of the spainish experience i decided i shoudl go view a bull fight. I didnt agree with it, but at the same time. How do you know not agree with something unless you have seen it with your own eyes and can speak from experience. Plus it is their tradition. So with that in mind and a decision to keep my stomach intact i managed to wrangle some tickets for the last nite we were there. They are even harder to get then the bull run tix, locals only get them, only 10% of the actual tickets are sold from the ticket booth but we were lucky..

So in we went and somehow i had forgotten the tips of the festival goers, where white to the bullfight if you are on the sun side because its just like the opening ceremony, sangria and champagne throwing. funny that, we were all wearing jeans and nice clothes. We got there and went shit. luckily i had my white clothes from the morning run and got soaked but at least ended up with unstained jeans unlike some of the guys i was with.

But i have to say if you ever get a chance to go to a fight, never ever ever, go on the sun side, it gets violent, the fruit and alcohol is pegged at u, not just thrown, it hurts and its not nice. One guy was spraying what smelt like sewerage water at people and i got some of it on me, it made me gag and dry retch.

I managed to last three kills. then i couldnt take anymore, it was just too upsetting, the bull was speared twice with two big spears then had heaps of mini spears thrown at it until it bled out. and then it was stabbed in the brain. it was just digusting.. i couldnt handle watching hte bull which had no comprehension it was about to be cruelly and inhumanely killed. it was just so barbaric but what chilled me to the core was the crowd. they were blood thirsty and went crazy when the bull finally died and was dragged out of the stadium, to be chopped up and ccooked to be served as dinner that night. It was reminiscent of what it must have been like centuries ago during the collesseum, it was just so raw, barbaric and downright disturbing.

I ran outside and quickly lost my dinner. I couldnt stomach watching anymore, it was just too much. I desperately wanted to see a bull gore someone, anyone just for the bull to have some kind of reverevent.. because no one, no animal deserves to die like that.

San Sebastian

As one of our day trips, we went to san sebastian and my goodness it was gorgeous, the city, the buildings, the beach, the people were just so very charming. it was idlyic, i had the best tapas i had in my life there,  i had a gianormous gelati, and strolled the streets without a care in the world. I went crazy talking photos of locals and kids at hte beach, they just had so much character and personality. I will put these up soon as well.

It was a gorgeous day and i just wanted to bliss out, so i crashed on the grass in a park with kate while waiting for our bus, then the street police came by and i got told off. No sleeping or stepping on the grass. how funny, they are so funny about that over here, and definitely no walking around barefoot. but its ok to sleep on the street as long as u have a sleeping bag, but of course, tents arent allowed. man it cracked me up, the hypocrisy of it and just downright strangeness.

The Food

U would think , that Spanish food would be delicious. But I have to say I wasn’t the biggest fan. It consists mainly of little tapas style meals, which on the whole are mainly breads with proscuito or sundried vegetables and cheeses on them, tortillas and more bread. I was one of the unfortunate ones to get food poisoning of sort on the trip . The minute I bit into the proscuito sandwhich I thought, hmm this tastes a bit off but decided to finish it anyway. I paid for it later, much later and still have a bit of a upset tummy now.

But yeah the food was ok, but a highlight was churos. They have them back in aus but traditional ones in spain are ten times better and they have liquid chocolate to dip them in! unbelievably tasty and so delish. Another favourite of mine was the bakeries, they had such beautiful sweets, and treats and little biscuits, they were freshly made and so inventive, I was very impressed and we had one at least every day which was burnt off due to our mammoth walking we would do every day.

I had one of the best meals of my trip in estella, in a little restaurant called scorpio, it was a salad with lamb rack and patatas.. It was just unreal, anyone travelling to estella in northern spain, go to the main square and go there it was unbelievable food, just delish and the service was wonderful the owner was so delighted to have tourists in there we were treated like members of their family.

But all in all I craved English food, a good pub meal, with veges and gravy at the end of the day…


Overall it was a very unusual experience. It was a bit of an awakening and a bit of everything really. This trip was sort of randomly planned and I had wanted to go but it got planned all rather quickly. But things started happening during my trip that made me realise I am in the right place right now and there is nowhere else I could be. In france when we stopped for dinner, I got 6.16 change.. Then at the next place I got 16.66. ..then when we got to the tent site, it was number 25 of its street… when we went to go in to watch the bull run from the balcony, the building was number 16 and they gave me a coffee with a cup with the number 25 on it.. The ticket I got to the opening day and to the bull fight, were tickets 1125 and 2216..

It was all just too much of a conicidence, all who know me, know I am superstitious, the numbers 16 and 25 are very lucky for me and good things seem to happen on these numbers, just look at my story ‘one lucky lucky day’ lots of things happen around these dates and it just seemed to resonate with me, that while its hard, while im missing home and mick and everyone like crazy, I am where im meant to be, things happen for a reason and I got all the signs in spain that despite feeling like some days im not sure im strong enough to do this on my own, I know I can.

At spain it wasn’t so much the destination, the festival or even the people, it was about what happened to me there, I suddenly became a traveller, I was opening myself to another culture and in turn started to get to know myself and my capabilities even better. I can sleep anywhere I set my mind to, if I have no soap I can improvise, I don’t need to wash every day to get clean.. And no matter what I don’t want to leave home again without a pillow and without antibacterial gel.

I guess in the end id like to end this with a viva san fermin, this is something everyone should do once. It was an unbelievable experience, one which I will always cherish..and think back fondly on, the holiday in which I went to spain and for 7 days, saw the world through Spanish eyes.


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