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Pamplona, Spain (aka 187-189/365)

Jul 28, 2011

This post has taken me forever to write – this is because there is so much to talk about it is crazy. I truly hope you all not only look at some of my most favorite pictures ever but also read what I write, especially the last paragraph.

I took the most pictures by far in Pamplona. Pamplona to me was just simply amazing. I don’t know what I pictured before I got there – perhaps less civilized? Maybe some dirt roads? I had just kind of heard that it was a small town in northern Spain and not to expect much. But instead it was a beautiful town filled with culture and history. And I was so excited to be a part of it all.

I got to Pamplona on the first day of the San Fermin festival – more popularly known as the Running of the Bulls. The city was ALIVE!

There is no other way to describe it. The usual population of Pamplona is 200,000 people – the week of San Fermin it is over a million.

So packed that a lot of people just make camp on the streets.

The streets were pack with people in their white garb and red bandanas and sashes. When I asked around in Pamplona as to why people wear the white and red someone pointed me in the direction of an article that reads: According to the parish priest of the San Lorenzo Church in Pamplona, where the chapel is in honour of San Fermín, Jesús Labari, “We are not absolutely sure and there are no facts to prove the time when the scarf began to be used, but we do know the reasons for it. For religious ceremonies in honour of a saint, if the saint is a martyr and died for his beliefs, the priests dress in red. In the case of the festival in honour of San Fermín, we do this because he was martyred and the thing about the red scarf is a performance by the people of this religious custom.” Noted. Pretty much if you don’t wear white and red, you just look plain weird. So, if you ever go to San Fermin, bring your white and red – or just buy it there, literally only about 10 euros for the comfiest white linen pants ever and a white shirt. Don’t plan on keeping it clean though.

The first day of the festival there isn’t any bull runs, but that doesn’t mean there is not a ton of things to do. If you were ever concerned about not knowing where something was happening, all you had to do was follow the crowd. They would take you there – which for the record, gets you totally turned around because they don’t take you back so remember your map, I left mine in my room and wandered aimlessly for a bit before finding my way back to where I knew. The first day is when the mayor announces the start of the festival. Everyone crowds in the center of the town and holds their bandana in the air with both hands until a rocket is shot off which indicates the festival has begun and everyone puts their bandanas on and starts spraying sangria everywhere. I have no idea how I managed to stay clean even from high up.

The next day I had the whole morning and afternoon to myself before the boys showed up. I ended up taking the 6:30 bus down town and managed to get a ticket to the arena. I had no idea this happened – there are about 3500 people a day from the 7th to the 14th that run with the bulls and I had never thought about where they end up before. This was the day I found out – they all run into an ARENA! And they are on the ground of the arena while probably some 5-6 thousand people are in the stands (that was me – sane, safe and in the stands). This is the only part of the actual running of the bulls part that I would be terrified of. Everyone runs into the arena, bulls and steer included and then for 30 whole minutes a single bull is released into the ground of the arena for everyone to dodge and or instigate and play fake matador with. Honestly, this is one of two times that I felt awful during the festival. All the bulls wanted to do were get out of the arena, they literally close and then block the exit so they are forced to run around and stay in. And no, the second time I felt bad was not at the end of a bull fight because I honestly don’t think I could handle seeing that in person.

Once people start flooding the arena, no one stays in their seats so I snapped this photo and ran down to get a better spot.

Right after that I followed the crowd down the street to another plaza – there are a lot of squares and plazas and most of them have fountains and it gets very, very confusing, remember your map! Anyway, I headed down to another plaza for the Parade of the Gigantes and Cabezas.These crazy huge human like things are 150 years old.. The eight giant figures were built by the painter from Pamplona Tadeo Amorena in 1860, and represent four pairs of kings and queens of four different races and places (Europe, Asia, America and Africa). Inside each of them is a dancer holding them up in this wooden structure. During the parade giants dance following the rhythm of traditional music.

The remaining 17 figures include 6 kilikis, 5 big-heads, and 6 zaldikos. Kilikis and big-heads are caricaturesque, but human-like figures that are carried as helmets. While big-heads simply precede the giants and wave their hands at spectators, kilikis run after children and carry a foam truncheon which they use to hit them with. Zaldikos are figures representing horses with its hiker and also run after children with a truncheon.

The parade moves throughout the town and back to the square. The musicians and dancers were so elaborately dressed and had the most gorgeous braids in their hair.

Then I decided it was lunch time. This is seriously the worst part – is not only eating alone but having to converse with someone who does not speak the same language as you – not like I didn’t know this was going to happen but I was a bit frustrated by the end of the Spain portion of the trip despite the fact that it was my absolute favorite. I really need to learn Spanish, period. Zero excuse. I wasn’t frustrated that people didn’t speak English, I was frustrated at not being understood. Regardless, I managed to get some amazing paella and croquetas and a pepsi for lunch. Totally needed the caffeine.

Later that evening the boys finally showed up and mission number one was to get them some white clothes and red scarves and sashes. Oh, and drink sangria. That is another thing – there is zero time of the day when alcohol is not served in Pamplona. When I got downtown at 6:30 in the morning, most of the people that were out were still out from the night before.

Fireworks every night, btw.

And no girl goes home alone unless she wants to, there is more testosterone in this town than in a football stadium on game day.

We found the edge of the town by searching for a bathroom which ended up being nothing more than a stall with a whole in the ground – other advice – ladies, carry a roll of toilet paper with you. I had no idea that they wouldn’t have any, even though, duh, of course, they didn’t and some super nice girl in front of me had a roll and gave me some since I was clearly a newbie at this.

The next morning I was super excited to get on the bus and head downtown so I could watch the running of the bulls from a balcony. A BALCONY! My mom said it best “that is the stuff of novels!!!” I had an incredible view.

I also had champagne, coffee, tea, pastries, frittata, amazing homemade bread and an awesome host. This is Daren where I left him the first day he ran.

These are the fences that line the streets in areas where there are not houses to keep the bulls, and the people, on track.

And this is the exact spot where all the bulls have to make a sharp turn onto Estafeta and they all fall.

I loved looking down and seeing all the people waiting for the event to start. They flood the streets. My favs were the people who were spending the last few moments before the running starts stretching – as if that really matters when a bull is chasing you down the street, I’m pretty sure my logic would be to just run for your life.

At 8 o’clock on the dot a cannon, yes cannon, is fired and the ground starts to shake – seriously like something straight out of Jurassic Park. The people in the streets start jumping their adrenaline rushing, some start running and the bulls round the curve and down the street that I’m on and I have never seen such a sense of fear rush across so many people’s faces at once – except in the movies. Some people run for their lives, some people try to climb walls and fences, some try their damnedest to run right in the center to get so close to the bulls all while I have a danish in one hand and a camera in the other. Kidding, in all honesty, I put the danish down. Couldn’t have any camera shake, didn’t want blurring photos – it was still sorta dark outside. This was seriously the most incredible morning ever.

After a light breakfast, Daren and I went on a little nature hike behind our hotel, just to check out the views.

That evening I tipped a cab driver way too much and got on a train to Barcelona for the last leg of my trip.

I know I am going back to Pamplona. I decided when I was photographing these crazy fools running down the street that I definitely wanted to be one of them and a part of it. I really think that this whole trip made me realize that traveling is just a constant rush of decision making – will I or won’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? My new logic is that I don’t want to have regrets of not doing something, that if there is even the smallest chance that a few years from now or even many years from now I am going to look back on something and think that I really missed out on something amazing and I really regret not doing it, then I just need to do it. No more hesitating. Last advice: Spend every last cent of your money, take every risk you deem fit, visit every place you can and trust that everything is going to turn out ok. You probably won’t get a second chance. Kapeesh? Kapeesh.

comments +

  1. deby

    July 28th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    OMG Dani…these are the MOST amazing pics…I don’t know, I’m thinkin’ tourism and photo journalism — AMAZING photos…I want them all on my wall or to look at them multiple times!! Love all of your explanations too. The two pics of women (one being passed and one drinking) are so sensual…so very cool!!

  2. Katie Taylor

    July 28th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I love love LOVE these pictures!! What an intense experience! I especially love the overhead shot looking down into the sea of people – badass!!!

  3. Mirtha

    July 28th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Wonderful!! I was wondering, some of the pics you took from above…did you go on some of the balconies? Wonderful pictures!!

  4. Mandy

    July 28th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Dani, just looking at these pictures gave me goosebumps! I can’t even imagine being there!!! It sounds like you had an amazing time, and you have the beautiful pics to prove it!! Hope to see you soon!! 🙂

  5. Daren

    July 31st, 2011 at 9:37 am

    i smacked a bull on the butt!!

  6. Suzy

    August 3rd, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Great advice and awesome pics of Pamplona!!! I’m thrilled you got to experience Spain- and can’t wait to hear more stories in the DR 🙂

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