Pamplona’s San Fermin, An Unlikely Undiscovered Gem

by Adam Sachs

“At noon of Sunday, the 6th of July, the fiesta exploded.  There is no other way to describe it…It kept up day and night for seven days.  The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on.  The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta.  Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences.”

-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Little seems to have changed since Ernest Hemingway’s observations of San Fermín in early 1900s Pamplona, one of Spain’s oldest cities that boasts colorful winding stone streets and strings of bars that serve cheap local wine and delicious pintxos (tapas) displayed on the bar topSan Fermín gets much attention from its annual rituals of precarious bull runs, and the festivities evoke comparisons to Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day.  

Never having attended another festival of this type in its place of origin (it is indeed a travesty that I have lived in Dallas on and off for eight years and am yet to even visit New Orleans), I can only rely on my intuition that San Fermín is something unique.

The small city of Pamplona was flooded with people from all over the world, everyone dressed in red and white.  Those who stood at ground level during the Chupinazo (opening ceremony) had their white shirts covered in wine, marks of tribute they carried throughout the week of sleepless nights as a reminder that this week was their only chance to celebrate with no inhibitions.

I observed the Chupinazo from the highest balcony, directly facing the level where rockets were fired to signal the beginning of the festival.  A strong network in Pamplona can make the difference between watching the festivities from above while enjoying fine Navarran wine and Jamón Ibérico to being pressed against pounds of flesh while getting soaked by wine as the festivities ensue.  Native Dallas resident Mark Regouby spent years building relationships with locals in Pamplona to make balconies, apartments, bullfight tickets, and other services available during San Fermín through his business Run With a Purpose™.  “It’s amazing to be part of something that thousands of people are doing in the same place at the same time,” says Regouby.

My final night in Pamplona involved snapping photos at a lounge party sponsored by Run With a Purpose™, a night that yielded a surprise concert by local ska band Vendetta on the balcony below.  The main drag of Estafeta was crowded with red and white, a mosh pit I had not experienced since high school, and a scene I could hardly picture in my own country without the ubiquitous presence of police to keep such public revelry to a minimum.  But it was around midnight, and the police needed to save their energy for the real danger of fighting bulls running in the streets, rather than people smiling and dancing.

The next morning I woke at six and walked to Estafeta for the biggest hype surrounding San Fermín: El encierro (The Running of the Bulls).  When I told people I planned on running, I usually heard a response suggesting I was making a crazy death wish.  But a good night’s sleep and less drinking the night prior were all I needed to stay aware of my surroundings and come out unscathed.

Indeed after completing the short jog, I can say that my adrenaline was much higher while dodging heifers in the stadium at the conclusion of the run rather than bulls on the road, but that is another story.

For more updates on what has been going on at San Fermín visit Run With a Purpose’s™ facebook page and check out this page to book accommodations for 2012.  All net profits from benefit development projects in Perú supported by

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Filed under Adam Sachs, beer, Nightlife, Party!, Travel

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