PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — Pamplona was once again a sea of red and white as the frenetic madness of the San Fermín bullfighting festival returns with adrenaline, emotion and passion after a two-year suspension due to the pandemic of coronavirus.
From the start on July 6, the tension and excitement were palpable.
Tens of thousands of people dressed in the usual white pants and shirts with a red belt and headscarf gathered in the Town Hall Square for the traditional “chupinazo” fireworks display that kicks off the nine-day San Fermín festival.
After that, it was non-stop partying, complete with the electrifying running of the bulls every morning at 8:00 a.m.
The festival brought together friends and families from all over.
Joe Distler, 70, from New York, has been coming and racing for 50 years but says he was sad to miss the last two editions.
“It’s amazing. Two years without Pamplona was very, very bad,” he said in Spanish. “How lucky to be with friends here this year in Pamplona. Fabulous. Hopefully the next year there will be no more COVID.
The population of Pamplona, which is around 200,000, increases to nearly one million during San Fermín. For many foreigners, especially Americans, Australians and Brits, this is something they have to do.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere, amazing people, an amazing opportunity to celebrate. We love this place,” said Harvey Miller, 21, from Philadelphia, who was on his first trip with his sisters, Ashlei, 30, and Kayla, 23 years old.
“I think people are trying to make up for lost time because two years off is a moment,” Miller said. “So everyone is going really strong this time around and the festival is bigger and better than ever.”
Like many, they also know the festival from Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”, which is credited with making it internationally famous.
Martín Chozas, 76, from Spain was also a rookie.
“It’s like going to heaven,” Chozas said, adding that he felt “chills” when he arrived. He planned to stay “as long as the body could bear it”.
The highlight of the festival is undoubtedly the “encierros” or morning races, which see hundreds of people of all ages – mostly men – testing their agility and bravery to run like mad with six fighting bulls and their direction along an 875-metre (956-yard) road to the Pamplona bullring, where later in the day the bulls are killed by professional bullfighters.
People watch the race from balconies, gates and street barriers as well as on television and on the internet.
On the fringes, there are a host of great restaurants and tapas bars, while street bands, spontaneous parties and children’s shows put it among the most popular festivals in the world.
Gorings, on the other hand, are a feature that everyone prepares for, but hopes they won’t happen.
In the seven runs organized until last Wednesday, there were only four hits, none serious. In general, bulls seemed content to ignore runners unless provoked or teased.
Eight people were gored during the last festival in 2019. Sixteen people have died in bullfights since 1910. The last death occurred in 2009.
The response to injuries during races is rapid. People can be treated directly by doctors from the Spanish Red Cross or in the bullring surgery area. Many don’t end up being taken to a city hospital.
Pamplona residents and visitors gathered in Town Hall Square at midnight last Thursday to sing the traditional mournful ‘Poor Me’ (Pobre de mi) ballad that bids farewell to the party before singing the uplifting ‘First of January’ (Uno de enero), the casual song that foreshadows the following year’s festival.
Before the pandemic, the festival was last suspended during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.