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.
Washington Irving sums up my feelings about Alhambra: “I gave myself up, during my sojourn in the Alhambra, to all the romantic and fabulous traditions connected with the pile. I lived in the midst of an Arabian tale, and shut my eyes, as much as possible, to every thing that called me back to every-day life; and if there is any country in Europe where one can do so, it is in poor, wild, legendary, proud-spirited, romantic Spain..” I’ve seen much in two years worth of expanding horizons. The Taj Mahal. Agra Fort. The intricate, never ending rooms and corridors of the City Palace in Udaipur. Lodhi Gardens in Delhi. Alhambra is a combination of all of these. Palace. Fortress. Gardens. Construction began in the 14th century, for the last Muslim Emirs to rule over the city during the Nasrid Dynasty. By 1527, the Roman monarchs had driven the Moors out of Spain and at least one palace, Palacio de Carlos V, was erected in a Renaissance style. In a creative writing capacity I’m all about the senses. As I explored each palace, gasped at the Generalife’s gardens, textures sang to me. I dreamed of having Alice’s ability to drink a potion that allowed me to grow bigger, so I could reach the ceilings and run my fingers across the patterns and carvings. Then I did along the walls – the curve of my index finger tracing the Koran in Arabic script. Nestled on al-Sabika hill, above Granada, Alhambra offers not only unparalleled architectural wonders, but stunning views of the city and surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. As Irving suggests, simply close your eyes and slip into a past of legend, court intrigue and empires conquered and lost…
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!
This will be a quick and dirty post on opening day of San Fermin. The sedate streets of Pamplona turned into chaos starting at noon, when the rocket went off and everyone was sprayed with champagne, water or sangria. In between that chocolate or mustard powder was thrown in faces or at the blank canvas of a white shirt. The celebration and drinking began in earnest. Just a few shots for you. Quiet and sedate at first. Town hall before the madness begins.