Did you know a reclusive, Swedish publisher has rented out Ernest Hemingway’s room at Hotel la Perla during the San Fermin fiesta until he’s a hundred years old? That is commitment. I hope he reaches that goal. So are many others when it comes to San Fermin. I’ve been asked time and again what the best method is for accommodation if attendance to a major festival is on your list of things to do before you die. Just last week I met a backpacker in Paris who decided to partake in the wild times at Pamplona and he ended up paying €50 per night. That’s because he went on a last minute whim. Don’t do that. Not with San Fermin. Many dedicated attenders plan a year in advance, I was unlucky to prepare six months in advance. We engaged in a partnership with Roomorama for a flat in the historic old town and with trepidation, I wondered how it might play out. San Fermin is a boisterous, intense experience, so I worried about the noise and the smells and the safety factors. Our cute, little flat was located near Calle Santo Domingo, by the old town walls, so we had a pleasant view.
There’s nothing more supreme in Paris than the ordinary. The tucked away cafes with wrought iron fencing. Elegant, mature women walking their petite dogs. A scruffy man dripping with masculinity and Euro chic walking with intention, a burning cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. My last stay there involved a twelve bed dorm and while the stroll to my hostel along the Seine held charm for me, it’s not quite the same as struggling with a bag of groceries just purchased at the market until I”m standing at a chipped wooden door with a brass knocker, where I insert a key listening for all cylinders to connect and push it’s crafted weight open to a set of creaky wooden stairs that I climb, alternating between balancing a bag of food and my swollen feet, when I turn a key yet again to enter a flat. One that’s been shut up all day and smells like garlic, soap and wine. With Roomorama, I got to do just that. Fantasize for a moment that I’m a resident of the 11th arrondissement, an active neighborhood of cafes, stunning architecture and the mundane. Sometimes I miss the mundane, yet in Paris it’s usually anything but. It was nice to have access to a flat. It was nice to sit down across from a local and talk about his world. I’m not going to tell you that Roomorama offers rock bottom, backpacker prices, because they don’t. What they give you is an experience. That sentiment may sound like a brochure, but that’s the only way I can describe it. See, travel is composed of a series of windows in a building and these windows interconnect, form patterns as much as they veer into […]
My expectations have slipped a few notches when it comes to accommodation. When you travel as much as I do, sometimes you are faced with toilets that work half the time, either partially or rarely clean, bedsheets that don’t smell as dewy fresh as they could, or rude, annoying roommates where privacy is scarce. I even recall a distinct sewage odor invading my nostrils from the bathroom of a hotel in Agra, India a couple of years ago. Ah, sweet memories. In other words, I’ve grown to accept accommodations for what they offer. A touch nicer than okay. Semi-comfortable. It will do. I admit to being weary, even cynical nowadays. When HostelBookers and I partnered together for Girls Running With Bulls, it was my turn to be surprised. Even humble for a change. Palmer’s Lodge Swiss Cottage is a historic manor that has been renovated into a modern day boutique hostel. It took a while for me to wrap my head around that concept. I tend to be a purist and prefer a historic manor to remain one, not be altered, but be trapped in time. I was very wrong.
5:30 a.m.: Oneika’s alarm bellows, dragging me from the pits of darkness. Allowing my foggy mind to waken, I lay inert for a moment, processing the reason for such an early wake-up call. Today, we run with the bulls. 6:00 a.m.: The girls and I start to dress. We slide on our white pants, lace up our runners and tie red sashes round our waists. I tie my red bandanna firmly against my throat, for the day before a Japanese tourist was dragged when his bandanna was snagged by a horn. I turn to the girls and say, “Tie up everything tight. No loose shoelaces, sashes or bandannas.” Why do I always feel the need to play mother hen? Pretend to be brave? When deep down, I’m not positive of anything. 6:10 a.m.: We continue a conversation that we’ve been having for days now. Where to run. How. What’s best. We’ve received so many recommendations. The top of Estafeta. Fifty meters down Estefata. No, Telefonica, near the bullring. Yet, we all agreed that the last place we want to end up is the bullring. There’s a waft of fear about human pile-ups. Stupid people on the route. Nicole B. jokes about fearing other runners more than the bulls. A consensus is reached that we’ll go fifty meters down Estafeta, stick to the right hand side and try not to leap towards a bull. Secretly, I want to touch one. Part of me is emboldened after watching a bull run from a balcony the day before. I saw female corredors, more than I anticipated. It was reassuring. 6:15 a.m.: Nicole B. vocalizes her nervousness. How her stomach is doing flips. Do it or not do it? […]
Waking before the dawn breaks. Fumbling in the dark for a set of white clothes that I wore the previous day. A day overflowing with pena bands marching merrily down the cobblestone streets, arousing shuffling feet and fervor. A day of water fights, sangria flowing down chins or splashing against the white canvas of clothes, staining them to a faded pink. A day of crowds jeering, spontaneous dancing and howling at the Pamplona moon that rises every night at ten. Come 11 pm at Ciudadela (Citadel), the old town walls that have remained erect for centuries is where countries compete at a fireworks competition. The night alight with colorful magic, streaking across the sky. A day of families. Dressing their children in San Fermin colours, pushing their strollers and swaying to live drummers or buying them helium balloons in happy, bold shapes. Days of laughter. As the darkness surrounded me, thoughts of mischief were a dull tin. Today, we would watch our first bull run, perhaps in some blind preparation for our own. In a confused flurry, the ladies flicked on lights and dressed hurriedly along with me. Street call to find our balcony spot was 6:45, yet like anything during San Fermin, bodies were already strewn in the old town – some beginning the party, others winding down. Among the crowd, it was not difficult to spot corredors. Streams of men jumped up and down. Their limbs twitched like loosened electrical wires, hand gestures and mouths gesticulating rapidly. A few resembled freshly washed peaches – dewy and young, unaware of their possible fate with the bulls.
It was the build up. And the planning for six months that brought us to the moment when the rockets went off and we had to avert bulls and intoxicated tourists and locals alike. Along with remaining upright.
I’m brimming with stories, highlights, lowlights and all the drama you can muster in a tight three minutes.
First though, below is a broadcast from one of Spain’s largest TV stations Cautro. We are featured in the last eleven minutes and embarrassingly - the cameraman caught me stretching all cat-like.
You can always count on me to bring the dork. We were lucky to garner a buzz of media attention being interviewed by Dave and Deb of The Planet D for their Find Yours campaign with Expedia, Cuatro, Radio Euskadi and Atenna 3.
More is coming. An account of watching a bull run and a lengthy first-person narrative on our run that took place July 9th.
Mostly, I’m ecstatic to write this with no injuries, scratches or scrapes. Viva San Fermin!