By the Pamplona Posse
The Tale of a Pamplona Virgin
There I was, fresh off the plane into the heat, vulnerable to all the sounds and sensations around me. After a hair-raising drive from the airport at Bilbao, courtesy of a mad Pamplona Veteran, I was ready to escape into a bar and start the road to recovery. On entry to the central part of the city I could hear the noise levels rising and the people were filling the streets around us. All was a blaze of red and white. I had been warned it would be an experience that I would not forget, but nothing prepared me for the mayhem that waited round the corner in the central square. As I entered the main arena I was swamped with people, all screaming, shouting, laughing and drinking. It was the biggest party in the world –and I had just begun to join in. It was a wall of sound and smells –from the exotic to the mundane, from scent to stench – my senses were assaulted at every turn. I was grabbed round the waist, kissed, offered wine (and more) and I had not even got my own red and white outfit on yet. To those who tried to describe it to me beforehand, and said it was impossible, I now bow to your superior experience. I agree. Pamplona in the first 2 weeks of July is like nothing you will ever experience again –unless you come back again the next year.
Once fully prepared and out on the town I can truly say that as long as you have a strong stomach and a strong pair of shoes you will have the time of your life. I am not sure what I was walking in or on most of the time, other than rubbish and drink, but who cared, it was fiesta time and after the nights of excess the cleaners worked their magic. By the time the sun was truly in force all was sparkling and fresh once more. At this point I can confess that I did not see much of the sun –that time was for sleeping while the young had their fun. After dark the grown ups came out to play!
One of the main reasons for clearing the streets was for the Bull Run to be safe. That is yet another experience to live on in my memory. Up at six o’clock, with a raging hangover, all to support the mad men who were dicing with death and their own fears. As a mere spectator I was unimportant and it was hard to gain access to the run. Everyone tried to get a good view either on the rails or in a place where the gates would let them see through. The crush was terrifying and I thought that if I was that scared, just trying to watch the bulls, what heart pounding fear the runners must be going through. I finally secured a place, courtesy of being one of the fairer sex –well if you have it you have to use it – although I have to confess to using my share of toe treading and elbow digging to keep there. The tension was rising and then suddenly, above the shouts, jeers, and calls of the crowd, the sound of a gun –the bulls were off, and another, all were on their way. Everyone, pushed, jostled and craned their neck –“I can see it, that was a bull’s leg” shouted the person next to me. By the time I had shouted, “Where” and twisted my body to an impossible angle to see, it was all over. I had seen a few animal legs and many human legs run by, been deafened and squashed. Was that it? No, off to the bar to catch up with everyone who ran, and see that their experience, while being more terrifying than mine, had equally been more emotional, and adrenalin raising. It was good to count everyone in and know that they were all safe; reliving every centimetre of the route and every step they took.
The next day I decided to do the thing properly - I was going to see the run from a better position. I managed to secure a place on a balcony in Mercederes, with a clear view of the corner round to Estefeta. Now this was more like it. I had still had to get up at an unearthly hour after a hang ever, but now I could feel the sun on me and was free from the crush below. I could see the heroic Red Cross members preparing for any disaster they might get involved in, and had a clear view of the street cleaners scraping every last piece of glass, plastic and rubbish off the streets and hosing them down so they were clear for the bulls and runners. After they had finished the runners began to congregate and I was even gladder I was up in my balcony. The crush down below was immense and I couldn’t believe so many people could fit into such a narrow street. The guns were heard once more and the runners started. This time I saw every bull and watched them skid round the corner, pacing and pitting themselves against the throng around them. They were magnificent and I was distracted from checking on the rest of our party who were running with and around them by the sheer presence of them. They looked harmless until one suddenly turned and honed in on a hapless runner who was too slow and too cocky to move in time. My heat was pounding painfully as I waited without breathing for what seemed ages to see what the bull would do. My breath was expelled in a rush when the bull just seemed to head but the runner and graze him, before moving on –another accident averted. This time after the run I felt exhilarated and could understand on a small scale the feelings of the runners. Of course I now felt justified in joining in the celebrations properly now, so carried on drinking to cure my hangover.
This is how the days passed in a haze of adrenaline and alcohol until the last day. The closing ceremony of the fiesta is emotional and moving –and also full of yet more alcohol. Don’t forget your candle girls when you are packing –they come in useful in Pamplona – everyone holds a lit candle while they sing and then extinguishes them to symbolise the end of the San Fermin, before you start fantasising! Now it was time to drink up and say goodbye –always a sad occasion, the last hangover of a trip.
A Pamplona virgin no more! Now I have gone through the pain and suffering of one fiesta, now what? Like every good woman, I am coming back for more –next year, so beware and be ready for me!!!