Our arrival into the city of Pamplona came the second to last day of the festival of San Fermín. Many festival goers come at the beginning of famous eight day Running of the Bulls, but Russell and I were big fans of going during the festival’s end—less tourists, more diehards, and we were actually able to get a room! A huge feat considering we only decided to go five weeks prior to the festival. We booked a Pobre de Mí package through a charity called Personal Philanthropy working with www.pamplonahousing.com. It was definitely not cheap, but when you do a once in a lifetime thing like this, you have to be willing to splurge for the experience. The package was two nights at the four star Hotel Puerta del Camino www.hotelpuertadelcamino.com, balcony reservations overlooking Dead Man’s Corner for the Running of the Bulls, tickets for the final bullfight of the festival, and a final Pobre de Mí celebration party with an incredible tapas (even the pricey baby eels!) and wine spread in a penthouse with huge terrace overlooking the city hall and plaza below.
On the first afternoon in Pamplona, we joined the rest of the revelers in the city center and sipped sangria on the street while watching random processions march by.
It was such a vibe of joy and chaos that I was quite unfazed when a guy smoking a joint offered Russell some jamón (ham). As we were chuckling about that, we spotted our first unexpected bull. Those of us who have been to Disney are familiar with those cartoon characters milling about, but Spain has its own darling in the Kukuxumusu brand’s Mr. Testis. I almost lost my sangria when I spotted this character coming toward us, stopping to pose for photo ops with adults and children alike. I couldn’t resist a shot of my own, although it is blurry probably because Russell was laughing while snapping the photo.
As we had just arrived in Madrid that morning, hopped a train to Pamplona, arrived and went out, we knew the jet lag would be catching up with us so we started heading back to the hotel as we needed to be up for the next morning’s bull run by 6:00 a.m. On the way back we snaked through jam-packed streets of partiers. At an intersection I heard screaming to my left and saw the other unexpected bull of the trip. In the middle of the sea of people a person was weaving through, wearing a huge metal bull frame with fireworks blowing out of it.
Huh? My mind could not register the thought behind this—“Hey, there’s a crowd of people, adults and children, packing a narrow street. I think I’ll strap a welded bull to my back, load it with fireworks and run through the crowd burning people.” I’m happy to say I made it out with just a dozen holes burned through my shirt and a burn from a big chunk of burning embers on my head. I never planned to actually run with the bulls but I guess in a way, I had.
The next morning was pure adrenaline when we made our way to our balcony before they closed the street at 6:30 a.m. Watching the runners warm up and getting caught up in all of the anticipation—it was all so exciting. Several times we were tempted to head down to the street and join the runners, but then we came back to reality. When the rocket fired it wasn’t long until we saw the movement of some of the runners coming around Dead Man’s Corner—known as such for all of the incidents and gorings that take place here. And then the bulls rounded the corner and it was four seconds of pure chaos and then……nothing. It was all over. If you watch the run on the corner, don’t blink. Although we saw a lot of action and two people get hurt, I would recommend watching from a balcony on a straight stretch as you can appreciate the run for a longer period of time. However in those few seconds we were able to see the fury of a bull named Gavioto that wreaked havoc on the runners with 11 hospitalized and 4 gored. We would see more of his destruction later.
After attending the San Fermín mass at San Lorenzo, watching a parade, and sneaking a nap, we headed to the Plaza de Toros for the final bullfight. It was a total frenzy in the bullring with one section looking more like a fraternity party. Gavioto did not disappoint at the bullfight, knocking one of the picador’s horses completely over right in front of us and really going down with a fight. The event ended with the celebration of the matador Sebastian Castellas who cut two ears (bullfighting award) and was carried out on shoulders through the grand door–a rare event in bullfighting and the perfect finale to the festival. Almost. We still had the closing ceremony in front of city hall—the Pobre de Mí—at 11:30 p.m. This “poor me” ends the festival with music, singing, candles, and thousands of people jammed into the Plaza Consistorial.
But we had an even better place to see the Pobre de Mí—from our penthouse terrace right above the action.
The group of twentysomething on the terrace was a mix of Spaniards and Europeans and a couple Americans. We quickly bonded with José Carlos who taught us the words to the Pobre de Mí song and all night long we went back and forth belting out “Uno de Enero” and “Pobre de Mí” while enjoying vino tinto from Rioja and swaying with our celebratory candles.
A side note—lit candles and San Fermín are not a good combination. I watched one of the women on the terrace that night get her candle too close to her long hair. She ended up with an unintentional Pamplona mullet of sorts. Nice souvenir.
We called it a night at 1:30 p.m. and decided to sleep in the next day to finally catch up from the jet lag. I awoke in a panic when I saw the clock said 11:46 a.m. and we needed to check out by noon and be on a train by 1:00. My heart had been pounding the entire time we were in Pamplona, so it was appropriate that it was still pounding as I stepped on the train and said goodbye.