This page is a project of Vance Stevens,
Index page for Morroco | Granada | Barcelona | Andorra and the Pyrenees | Pamplona

Bobbi, Dusty, Glenn, and Vance in Morocco and Spain

June-July 2000


Check this out for a glimpse of what Pamplona is like during the time Bobbi, Dusty, Glenn, and I were there. Imagine the streets throbbing with music starting at midnight and going till almost dawn. Then at 8 every morning: rtsp://

Us in Olite

June 27, 2000: We passed the Gibraltar and pulled into the harbor at Algiceras. The time on our watches was about 3 o'clock Morocco time, but the time on the Spanish clocks was 5:00. We filed off the boat with the other passengers and wondered how to get where we were going. I had booked a room in Barcelona on June 29, the day before the start of a conference where I would present July 2nd. I had been on the Internet in Abu Dhabi and found that there were direct trains from Algeciras to Granada and an overnight train from Granada to Barcelona. Our family had been to Seville, Cordoba, Madrid, Segovia, etc. etc. I had been to Granada before and seen the Al Hambra, but my family hadn't, and of all places in Spain, I thought it especially was worth a second look. So Granada seemed to be our destination, and that's what I told the helpful lady at the Information kiosk. We had to work a bit to shift into Spanish having used French and Arabic for the past two weeks in Morocco, but I understood from the young lady that there was a bus leaving for Granada in about 20 minutes, and to catch it we had to cross the parking lot, cross the street, turn right, and find the station a couple blocks in that direction. Obviously we were going to have to walk fast.

We barely made it, but in half an hour we were on the road heading in the sunlight for Malaga, where I'd also visited on a previous trip on my way to Morocco in 1973. It was still light when we arrived there, but it stays light in Spain till ten at night. As we pulled out of Malaga I was just hoping we'd get to Granada in time to get some dinner, and I was eager to taste the wine, having not had any since our meal in Fes some nights back. There wasn't a lot to worry about. It was still light in Granada when we turned up and grabbed a cab, though it was dark by the time we got to the center of town. Glenn had brought a Fodor's guide to Spain, which we found ourselves frequently at odds with in both taste and budget, but for our first destination in Granada, pointed us to the Macia Hotel, a two-star establishment that turned out to be quite pleasant and ideally situated on the river at the base of the mountain on which was illuminated the Al-Hambra. Bobbi and I could stand on our balcony at the Macia and enjoy the action in the lively square below with its sidewalk restauants and itinerant musicians, and see the Al-Hambra above, where we could go the next morning.

Granada was a delightful town. The time schedule we were one, where midnight in Spain felt like 10 at night in Morocco, was ideal for us. It put us right on a Spanish schedule. Spaniards go out in the early evening for tapas and beer or wine, and eat a main meal much later in the evening. So setting out looking for food in Granada at 11 at night had us right in sync with everyone else who was doing the same, wandering the quaint stone streets in search of refreshment and entertainment in that town.

We had our meal and wine outdoors in a square where we had to choose from a dozen restaurants, and afterwards we went to a disco where we had been offered a first beer free. Glenn was in his element here, but we weren't, so Dusty and Bobbi and I left him there to drink beers that weren't free. We went home and went to bed and enjoyed the sounds of itinerant and sloppy drunk musicians banging bongos and guitars in the square below our window at 2 in the morning. But that's Spain.

And I'm not going to write about it in as much detail as I did Morocco. Spain's a great place. The Al-Hambra was overcrowded but still a knockout in appreciation of how the Moors lived there. To visit it you have to book a time. In our case we spent the morning with travel details and walked up the hill to the Al Hambra at about 1 in the afternoon. We bought tickets but were nott able to schedule a visit to the main palace until 4 that afternoon. This was really about perfect for us. We were able to walk around the less striking parts of the Al Hambra grounds, and there was much to see there. At around 2:30 we headed back into town and had a relaxing lunch, and at 4 we retraced our steps up the hill to visit the stunning palaces.

We took an overnight bus to Barcelona and found our rooms at the Hostal Rembrandt just off the Rambla, not far from Catalunya Square. It was a great location, with a bus 5 minutes away that took me right to the conference each morning. The rooms were special, a large downstairs with kitchen and dining area and two tiny rooms upstairs, dark and quiet, with white-noise making fans, separate quarters for boys and their sexy parents. This was a great base for a travel break.

I'd also visited Barcelona before, and I was glad to be back. It's a city with an art nouveau feel to it, as characterized by the unique structures of Gaudi. We went to the Gaudi park with its frivolous walkways and oddly columned spaces, and Bobbi and the kids visited the Sagrada Familla, which I had seen before. At night we ate at places like Rey de Gambas, the King of Shrimp, where patrons were fed seafood and wine and beer by overworked waiters outdoors. We went in search of tapas and finally found a place with a hundred sandwiches and wine and cider in the keg. One night, Glenn, who likes to go his own way, went to an Oasis concert, and Bobbi and Dusty and I saw a flamenco performance, expensive, but worth it.

When it was time to leave Barcelona we rented a car and went to Sitges, the beach to the south, where we spent a few hours splashing in the surf and enjoying the casual nudity. We went from there to a little town called Montblanc which the Fodor's guide had said was a pristine medieval city. It did have intact medieval city walls, which we saw in about half an hour, and then went out in search of food. The restaurant outside the bars was open for drinks only that night, the tapas bar in town was closed for the summer, and through our interrogations of the people there, we soon discovered there was nothing to do in that town except eat at our hotel. Fortunately, when we went there starving at 9:00 a.m. we were not disappointed. The food was good peasant fare and as the waitress was taking my wine order, red, Glenn said he'd like white, which caused her to bring two bottles out to the table. Thus we stumbled to bed happy and sated that night.

We went from there to the Dali museum in Figueres, quite an impressive monument and full of Dali's works and variations on his themes. We drove to the coast from there but ended up returning to Figueres and spending the night.

The next day we drove to Andorra for some striking mountain scenery. It took us all day to drive to Broto, which was just south of the Pyrenees Park on the French side, south of Lourdes and Cauterets, where I had walked up to the glacier and then down again. From Broto we exited the mountains a little too quickly and after visiting a few sites in Navarra, such as the intact little castle at Javier. Later we heard the monks singing vespers at the Monastery at nearby Leyre, but on this day we headed on to Pamplona.

On our drive from Pamplona back to Barcelona, we stopped for dinner in the delightful town of Zaragoza. We had got stuck in traffic coming into the city and were about to leave it when we crossed the river and saw the huge cathedral on the opposite bank, and said, no, we have to visit that. So we'd parked at a green space on the north bank of the river and crossed the bridge to visit the strikingly elaborate cathedral.

The square outside the cathedral in Zaragoza had been modernized into an attractive and spacious promenade, and the side streets were full of tapas bars and places to eat. We had a fine time sampling what the area around the cathedral had to offer before heading back to our car and driving all night to reach Barcelona for our flight to Amsterdam.

Notes from PAMPLONA July 10, 2000, Festival de San Fermin

Picture credit:
See our son Glenn's pictures and impressions:

San Fermin is a crazy time to be in Pamplona. We took it in gradually. First pass, a drive through the town of Pamplona. I expected a small village but found instead a rather large city with busy roundabouts, the names of banks gracing imposing modern buildings, and people everywhere wearing white with red bandanas called paniolas. As we neared the city center we were deflected by police barricades marked Zona Pietones. There were brightly lit food and wine stalls set up in the parks, and thousands of people milling about in clothes of white, almost always wearing read paniolas, and some with crimson sashes.

At that point we continued 20 km to the north to find the rural hotel we'd booked on the Internet, the Sasondo in Ausa, 3 km from Lizaso, which was signposted off the N-121. But we returned to Pamplona that evening, a Saturday. We retraced our route back and parked where signs indicated "P Gratuit" near the main train station off the N-240 coming into Pamplona. Parking was hard to find even there, but we managed to find a slot big enough for our car 50 meters from the station. At the station, there was a number 9 bus to carry the crowds to the city center. We alighted at a plaza which we located on our map and followed the swarms of people a few blocks to the north into the Zona Pietones to the Plaza de Castillo, the town's main old square.

There the scene was of chaos that appeared just barely under control, except that the crowds pretty much controlled themselves. We paused at stalls to purchase paniolas, or otherwise feel entirely out of place. We felt out of place anyway because we were carrying day packs, which we shifted around to the front. The four of us had to almost hold hands to stay together. There were public lavatories in the plaza, surprisingly clean under the circumstances and despite the crush of people, though a lot of the alcohol being consumed was being dismissed on walls and at street corners by drunks beyond concern for propriety. Wine and cerveza were being consumed everywhere, with lines of people queued up at every conceivable place to buy food or beverage. We ventured down a narrow street off the plaza but couldn't get much further than the bend in the road up which the bulls were set loose at 8 every morning. Now the crowds were just settling in for the weekend party, and we were thinking seriously of giving the place a miss till they'd thinned out a bit by Monday. On televisions visible through plate glass in the streets anyone could see replays of the running of the bulls as well as reports on the situation at Pamplona's bus and train stations where people were arriving in droves, and the next day, Sunday, similar masses of people trying to get out. But on Saturday night, they were crowding the streets and partying on the balconies and trying to stay awake and safe from petty criminals, since only a fraction of those people would be accommodated in hotels.

Walking out of town to get back to our car, we could see where people were staying. They were occupying any bit of grass in parks or sleeping where they fell if drunk. Everywhere people were foraging for food and drink or exploiting the foragers in the case of the purveyors of same in Pamplona (Hemingway mentions the day the prices doubled in Pamplona in The Sun Also Rises). Prices for meals and beverage were increased in the town's restaurants, with expensive a la carte menus only, no bargain menus de la dia. Some people were camped on street corners with their dogs and guitars. Others were locked into their cars parked wherever they could find a spot in Pamplona or on the busy highway leading out the crenelated gates to the station, where we regained our car and retreated north to the relative sanctity/sanity of the countryside.

Next night, Sunday, after a day of visiting friends in Paralta and sightseeing in Olite to the south of Pamplona, we again passed through the city for the fireworks at the Citadel. By now we had located a place to park, Yamaguchi Park, a huge green area not far from the center which was being tastefully developed by patrons in a Japanese sister city (the trees and shrubs were yet young). We joined the crowds of white and red clad festival goers on the hillside for a spectacular show lasting a good quarter hour. The crowds came and went peacefully but en masse, dispersing after the show to fill the city with pedestrians at midnight.

We slept hardly at all in our hotel that night since it was noisy with the comings and goings of the other patrons back from late-night parties and we were keyed up to rise early so as to get into town and get positioned on the route where the bulls would run. From what we had seen on the telly, Bobbi didn't think this would appeal to her, so she stayed behind while the boys and I ran into the city. We parked at the station, now, Monday morning, relatively devoid of cars, and took a nearly empty bus at 6 a.m. into the city center. I was able to replace a lost paniola from a street vendor at that early hour, but the people in the streets were much fewer than before, and before dawn we could walk freely on the route where the bulls would be running.

We could have taken almost any place on the barricades at that early hour but we were feeling our way through the routine and positioned ourselves in good view of the street but at the wrong side of a gate that was installed by municipal workers almost an hour later. We then figured out that we would be forced by police back inside the gate where we couldn't see anything because of the crowds already in position on the other side. So we went back up the street to a set of city steps where it might be possible to see a section of street over the people already on the barricade there. We cleverly worked out that there was a gate there and that it would be closed before the running. When the crews came to secure it, we jostled successfully for position and managed to grab a half meter of the top of it along with a dozen others. It wasn't greatly comfortable, but we had a view of a section of street going slightly uphill where we could see what would happen. The girls beside me, a little standoffish after our initial competition for the gate-top space, warmed up to small talk in Spanish as we waited. They were from Madrid, and like us, viewing the running for the first time.

All along the route of the running, about 500 meters at the most, people were being forced to make a choice. A double-walled barricade was being erected when we arrived 2 hours before the running as it was each morning of the festival. The posts of the barricade were set in the holes permanently fixed in the street, and the crews were well choreographed to use these and other fixtures set in the walls along the streets to erect the barricade for crowd and bull control. Anyone could remain in the streets if they wanted. Through gates like the one on which we perched, people could pass into or off the streets, but they were prevented by police stationed between the double walls of the barricade from remaining within or on the street-side walls. Thus the distinction was clearly made made and maintained. Either you were running and you were in the street with no easy way out, or you were two walls removed from the street and not a hindrance to those who would be running for their lives half an hour later.

As the time came on to eight o'clock, those who were running took their positions in the streets. They were clad mostly in white and crimson, some with outlandish floppy hats, like huge berets with long nipples at the top. The runners wore white as if to taunt fate, so that any injury would show in nasty contrast. Perhaps their red scarves and sashes were meant to foolhardily attract the bulls.

Some people's white garments were soiled from sleeping or falling in the streets. Others bore the crimson splotches of too much vino tinto. One group were carrying a brimming wine skin and had obviously been into it for most of the night. Mostly they were standing waiting, looking down the road in the direction the bulls would be coming. People passed in and out through the barricade gates and were told by the police to move quickly to one side or the other. In the building opposite, a wall of balconies whose shades had been drawn suddenly became full of people who had rented positions to safely view the activity in the street. The size of the cameras and telephoto lenses suggested something of what such vantages must have cost.

An athletic young man with a stick whose job it might be to jump into the street and drive the bulls forward warmed up nervously with stretching exercises and took a seat on the inner barricade. At 20 meter intervals, paramedics did the same, sitting at the ready astride the barricade alongside the street. People making last minute decisions moved from one side of the barricade to the other did so quickly.

We were viewing the street just past where the run started, where the bulls were released, and where the bulls would be most active and the action least predictable. Runners here were showing signs of nervousness. At 8 a church bell rang. The mood in the street notched up a heartbeat. People further down the road began running up through those in front of us. Then the bells tolled several times. The runners nervously shifted from one foot to the other; some started the dash toward the bull ring, the ultimate goal of both man and beast. Then a shot echoed through the streets. People were running up the street now. There was another shot. The athletic youmg man with a stick shouted down at anyone who hadn't yet taken the cue: "Arriba, arriba!" Get moving, get moving!

The idea at this point for those in the street was to sprint to the bull ring. Obviously, the distance to the ring would be less the further up the route one started. At the start, the bulls were freshest and most powerful. As they ran through the streets, as we could see on the television, they sometimes fell at one of the turns, and they appeared to tire as they completed their journey. But further up the route, if it was too crowded in that direction, the police would clear a space for runners further down the course by using batons to drive people out through the barricades. So if one were running in the streets, one stood a chance of being forced off the course and not even being able to see the running unless one started early enough in the course to seriously participate. And participation in this event was nothing if not serious.

We were close to the start of the run, and so moments after the shots, a pack of 8 bulls came charging up the street, surrounded by runners. It happened fast. The runners in white were streaking up the road. The bulls appeared all running together, people running ahead and behind. These were followed by another shot and another pack of bulls whose job was to sweep along any stragglers, and meanwhile, we noticed that a man was down in the streets. People were standing around him calling the paramedics when the second pack of bulls appeared to add to the chaos. Once the bulls were past, there was no longer control of the barricades, and people streamed into the streets, glancing warily back in case any more bulls should wander up, but people walking from that direction suggested that the coast was clear. The unlucky man was hustled off the street. He appeared dazed but he wasn't bleeding. He was lucky.

Then the crowd ahead parted in commotion. Another man was being carried back through the streets on an orange stretcher. Obviously seriously injured, he was bleeding through the gauze that had been placed on his head in first aid. Drops of his blood splattered the street as we continued up it, and splashes of fresh blood in various places made it difficult to pinpoint where the accident had happened. Later, I saw on tv that the man had been operated on in the Urgencia section of the nearest hospital, and there was an interview with the surgeon.

<-- The picture at left is from the papers next day, showing the man as he was seriously injured.

On the same program, they showed the day's events in slow motion. Although it was not clear from the videos where the accident had taken place exactly, there were several accidents and near misses.

One man had been trapped in the street. Instead of playing dead, the proper thing to do in this case, the man had taken the bull by the horn as a way of warding off the jabs. Consequently the bull was pressing the attack, and the man was able to stumble away only after several long seconds of being at the bull's mercy. When he got into the crowd he seemed to falter, but he also went off video. Another man was caught by his sleeve on the horn of a bull and pulled through the streets like a fallen rider with his foot caught in the stirrup. He was finally pulled into a crowd of people who had crumpled like dominoes, and at that point his sleeve ripped away from his shirt and unless he had been injured on the pavement, he was at least free of the bull. Like a lot of events, this one could only be fully appreciated on tv, but having been there formed a much more powerful impression over what one would see on tv without having been present at the event.

It's amazing to consider what makes people run at these events. At my age, prime supporter of a wife and two kids, I could not take such an unnecessary risk. As in situations where I have been surfing and myself pulled back from going 'over the falls' while others much younger than me and with much less to lose have 'gone for it', the runners seemed predominantly, but by no means all, young and foolhardy. Perhaps there is a confidence in odds at work here, as in going out for a day's drive, inevitably someone is going to get it, but chances are it won't be you. Perhaps there is a belief that god will protect the honest and pure. I see parallels in running with bulls in Pamplona with people driving between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Unnecessary risks are taken, but in Spain people take them with bulls where others take them with fast cars.

Serious injury is the norm on any given day at the running of the bulls in Pamplona. On Sunday, the papers had carried a photo of runners in the streets. Prominently in the photo was a long-haired youth who it turned out was on holiday from California. The picture is taken looking up at him through the legs of a bull he has just avoided. Behind the youth, small in the perspective of the photo but seconds away in real time, can be seen the bull that is about to put his horn 20 centimeters into the flesh of the young man from California. On the same morning, another man was gored 10 cm.

Our friends in Pamplona told us that a couple of years ago, an American had been killed when he fell amid the bulls. The proper survival instinct in this case is to avoid death by mimicking it. The American got up and was therefore attacked. Our Spanish friends said it was particularly sad to see on tv the parents who came out to retrieve the body.

I read that in the last 25 years 13 people have been killed running with the bulls during the Festival of St. Fermin in the streets of Pamplona. In this time, at the rate of 6 bulls a day throughout the 9 day festival, 1350 bulls have met their demise in the same activity. Therefore, bulls are being killed in Pamplona at the rate of 100 to 1 during these festivities.

On the morning we were in Pamplona, papers in the streets, which anyone about to run could have read, carried headlines detailing the injuries of someone the day before, multiple fractures including cranium, and epidural injuries which I presume were puncture wounds. On the morning we observed the event, the papers duly reported, there were 3 gorings and a "susto del muerte" which I think is critical condition in hospital. The papers each day carried a complete play by play, describing the condition of each bull and complete description of accidents with both man and beast, charted on a map with graphics of bulls and people rolling in the streets. Each bull had a name, such as Seductor or Tormenta, and each bull had his portrait in the paper, mainly in conjunction with those of the matadors, or torreas as they are called in Spain, who would meet them in the ring later that afternoon.

The papers were also very good at getting freeze-frame photos of action that happened so fast it was easy to miss. Our next morning we got up at 4 again (planning to sleep later but awakened by party-goers coming in to our hotel at that time). This time we reached the turn where the bulls frequently crashed into the wall before 6, when the barrier was being erected. We stood behind where the work was going on and when the barrier was in place, we lept atop it. There we sat for 2 hours until the guns sounded and the bulls came crashing through the streets again. I didn't see it, but Dusty, who happened to be looking the right way, said later that a bull had gone down in the street. And you should have seen the picture in the paper, the bull rolling in the street with our barricade in the background. Happened fast, and I missed it. On this particular morning though I don't believe there were any serious injuries.

In this photo, from the papers the next day, the press cameras were just opposite us. We are on the second row of barracades in the view of the cameras. On the first row of barracades there are only policemen, emergency crew, and favored photographers. The scene looks very dramatic but in real life, as we observed it, it happened rather quickly and did not seem to us to be such a dramatic event in the life of a tourist; in the life of a bull, perhaps ...
Here the bull is getting to its feet as the rest of the herd ambles through. This is about midway in the encierro and the bulls and people are just looking forward to getting to the arena and having a good rest and perhaps a cerveza or two, or a munch on a bail of hay in the case of the bulls. Unfortunately for the bulls, that bail of hay will probably be the last ...

Dire consequences were to befall the bulls though. We went to the ring that afternoon and jostled with the crowds and scalpers to get some tickets at inflated prices, 4000 ptas instead of 3000 ($28 each). There we watched man's ritualistic revenge on the bulls. Each was released into the ring where they charged about like angry wasps rushing from a hive, dashing at the colorful capes of the matadors in the tercio de capa, who would taunt them before retreating behind barriers that the bulls would charge into with loud thwacks. The bulls were allowed their fun for a few minutes, and were so distracted by the men with capes that they didn't notice the horses being led into the ring. The horses were blindfolded and caparisoned in thick protection so that when the bull was finally led in their direction and charged the horse broadside, the horse was only knocked slightly off balance. The picadore, or man on the horse, from his elevated position then commenced the live butchery of the bull by ramming a lance into his shoulder with something less than surgical precision. The bull would charge and bury his horns into the protective padding on the horse, and the man would raise slightly in the saddle and work the lance into the bull, producing wounds that caused the blood to pour down the shoulders of the bull.

The bull was then again distracted and further worn down while the horses were led out of the arena. Meanwhile the banderilleros had entered the ring. There were three of them, and each took choreographed steps toward the bull to get its attention and then ran in front of it to draw its charge. Angling their sprint so as to get past the bull just as it altered its charge, each turned at the last minute and drove two colored spikes into the shoulder of the bull while dancing gingerly out of the way. It was an admirable maneuver if done properly, which was the case about half the time. Sometimes, the banderillero managed to get only one spike in and once neither found its mark. Except in the latter case, where the banderillero had another go, the bull met three banderilleros and received a maximum of 6 spikes, but sometimes got only 4. By the end of this, the bull was bleeding even more from the additional wounds. At the first pricks, he might have twisted his head angrily, but by now he would have less of the spirit with which he entered the ring.

Most importantly, wounds to his muscles made it difficult for him to rear his head, which would be carried slightly lower for the convenience of the matador, who was next on the scene, in the most bespangled of outfits. The matador carried a red cape draped over a sword with which he beguiled the bull into passing close by his legs. By now, the bull would be slightly more languorous, and he might stand and regard his tormentor, allowing the matador to prance off with his back to the bull, arm raised gracefully in salute to the crowd. The bull would be panting and bleeding pathetically by now but would still muster enough energy to direct 500 kilos of reflexive rage at the matador, who stood with legs planted while leading the bull around his legs in a dance both beautiful and disgusting.

At an appropriate moment, the matador would sidle over to the edge of the ring and exchange the ceremonial dancing sword for one with a little more heft and with this he would return to the bull. The crowd in the stands watched intently as the matador sized up his moment. He would bring the bull in a few more passes before sighting down the sword as one lines up a cue stick and then drawing the bull toward him with cape in his right hand.

In a heartbeat, he plunged the sword with his left into the shoulder of the bull while deftly stepping out of the way. A well-executed plunge would leave the bull still on its feet but bewildered as blood started pouring from its mouth from internal bleeding. The bull might stagger at this point, unable to mount a charge, and its legs would buckle and, lying in the dirt, it's life would ebb quickly.

While the matador gestured grandiosely to the "olay!" of the crowd, an assistant would approach the bull warily, gingerly testing its reactions, assuring himself by ever closer false starts that the bull was not going to rear his head with those deadly horns. The assistant carried an even more dangerous weapon, a small dirk which, just to be sure, he plunged into the bull's brain.
The picture above is how the papers portrayed it next day. The picture to the right is what we saw from way up in the stands.

At that point, if they hadn't already, the legs stiffened, and the bull was no more. Men would have surrounded the bull by now and if the matador had warranted the honor, its ears would be removed, perhaps even a tail, and handed over as souvenirs (to the great satisfaction of the crowd). Other men attached a harness to the bull as a team of three horses was pulling alongside. A strap from the harness was clipped to the team and the bull was dragged around the ring and out the way he had come in. Groundskeepers scurried behind, throwing dirt over the blood, attempting to tidy the gore, and also picking up the cushions and other objects that had been thrown into the ring, sometimes during the matador's perfomance. They must have done the something similar with Christians in ancient Rome.

Meanwhile, the people crowded around us lit more cigarettes and cigars - Dusty and I had managed to get seats together, but you can't be choosy when buying from scalpers. As the fourth bull came on, as tradition dictates and much as Americans would take for granted a 7th inning stretch, food and beverage brought into the stands would be extracted from paper bags. This was the midway point in the afternoon. Every day during San Fermin, 6 bulls were sent into the streets to run to the ring, and these six were dispatched in this way before the day waned.

Pamplona was vibrantly alive at this time, and spending a few days there at festival one couldn't avoid getting caught up in the proceedings. Our friends, even if somewhat anured to the annual goings on, at least wore white clothes with crimson sash and paniola each day, as did everyone else. The entire family got together in a reunion from abroad during this time much as ours would at Christmas. For many the day began at dawn with standing about in the narrow streets awaiting the bulls to run past. In our case, we always went back to bed after that and slept till noon, but locals might be shopping, working, or tending to business until time to take some lunch and perhaps an afternoon siesta. There were events throughout the day, entertainment for children and other street shows, and the bullfight each day from 6:30 to 8:00. At this point, the pintos, or groups with bands who played in noisy caucauphany in the stands throughout the bullfight, met under banners outside the arena to process through the streets to the vicinity of the nearby Plaza Castillo. Beer and wine were available from shops and bars catering to street trade throughout town, and music and dance was the order of the day wherever the pintos got to.

In other plazas throughout the city center, huge bandstands had been set up, and these came alive at around dusk at nine. Meanwhile, the street markets were coming into full swing with flute bands from South America and rock musicians playing impromptu (we recognized one band, a talented duo on drums and guitar who had been playing for free each evening in Catalunya Square in Barcelona, attracting street crowds at night in Pamplona as well). Near the main square it was hard to get a drink or something to eat though many managed. Alternatively, there were outdoor carnivals where people could get sweet potato fritters or roasty chicken dinners at reasonable prices al fresco, and drink wine or beer, or ride the many thrill rides. Many took their dinners in this atmosphere and then made their way to the Citadel for the nightly fireworks display at 11:00.

Our friends liked to meet at midnight to begin the evening pub crawl. Plaza Castillo and the streets nearby through which the bulls would run in the morning were athrob with the sounds of disco from dozens of loud bars. People thronged the area, drinking in the streets or moving from indoor dance floor to dance floor as long as they liked. Our friends might stay out to 4 a.m. and keep Glenn with them, or people at our hotel might come noisily home at around that time. This would be time for us to get up anyway to get down to the streets to take up positions to better observe the morning's encierro. The streets were always fairly quiet at this time, with only the party on the balcony on Plaza Castillo seemingly going non-stop at that hour of the morning. Many would be milling about, having either just got up like us or perhaps having stayed out all night.

Street crews who erected barriers and hosed down the streets, and police and paramedics all had their stations which they took up each morning, so that the event, well rehearsed each year, went as smoothly as it could given the masses in attendance. Even those masses of people were in general well behaved. There were few fights, and few nuisance drunks. Most people were there to have fun, join their families, and engage in a little temptation of fate, as running with bulls was.

For those running with bulls, a later start was possible. A runner could be on the streets at 7 or 7:30 and find a position hopefully not too close to where they released the bulls, though some seemed to like that tense spot, or had no choice. The police blocked people from starting the run more than 1/3 a way up the course, but for those at the front, the run was not so tense, since they stood a chance of reaching the arena before the bulls did, and their manner of starting at a jog and slowing to a walk showed this as compared to those nearer the release point.

In any event, the days and nights in Pamplona during this time revolved around the shots that signalled the release of the two packs of bulls each morning starting at 8. This was done in a set manner as well each morning. The six bulls which were to serve as the day's entertainment in the bullring were released with a couple of castrated ones who, though still unpredictable, were less likely to be distracted by movement in the streets. These bulls would head straight for the ring, and the six dangerous bulls were therefore more likely to keep with them. This didn't always happen, and one of the most dangerous situations in the street was if an intact bull broke off from the herd and turned on his tormentors. This was what the second release was for. The second herd was a half dozen castrated bulls whose job was to come alone thirty seconds after the first batch and herd any straggling dangerous bulls on toward the arena. On a good day, it could take just a few minutes for the bulls to make this journey, but on the day where we observed the injuries, the bulls took 5 minutes to make their journey.

I didn't run with the bulls myself, partly because I had a fifteen year old with me, and I didn't see any boys that age running, nor would I think that would be allowed considering how it might endanger others. If I were ever to return to Pamplona at this time, I would consider running, but only after having observed the event as I did to understand what happens and what the ramifications of a given street position might be. It seems that tourists are often injured at this event because they do the wrong thing (like not lay still in the streets if down when the bulls are present). But it's clear that the only way to fully appreciate the event is to participate. There is a lot of atmosphere to absorb on the streets, and it is possible to get tickets to the arena in the morning and watch the bulls and runners arrive there, which might sustain the show beyond the few seconds those on the barracades get (better than those neither running nor on the barricades, who are present but can see nothing). For those who like a genuine party and who can afford the high prices or live very rough for a few days, Pamplona is a great place to be at the festival San Fermin.

Top of document, site navigation

Page updated: December 25, 2000 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0