Day 7: Chaos - Sanfermínes
Although I have been on the Camino for less than a week, bussing back to Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermín is a shock my pilgrim spirit is not quite prepared for. The crowds and the chaos are jarring, and immersing myself in this world-famous (and controversial) celebration is exhilarating.
Sanfermín is an annual celebration of one of Navarra's patron saints, made famous throughout the world by Hemingway's novel, "The Sun Also Rises." It is known most for its "encierros" - or the running of the bulls through the streets of the cities, but the weeklong party offers many other events, including Masses and religious ceremonies, the parade of "Gigantes", concerts, and all-out partying in the streets.
The party officially begins at midday on July 6th, with the launching of a rocket ("Txupinazo") from the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The three of us, (D, A and I) arrive by bus in the late morning, and rush with our packs towards the Plaza. As the launch time nears, A decides to go straight to the hostel, while D and I change course and head towards the "less crowded" Plaza del Castillo, where they will be broadcasting the opening ceremonies on giant screens.
Still shouldering our packs, D and I wade through the red and white, txacoli* and kalimotxo** sea, arriving at the plaza just in time to join in the raucous crying of "Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!" The plaza balconies are overcrowded with people waving red panuelos. Between each chant, revelers spray txacoli and kalimotxo over the crowd, drenching anyone who stands in unfortunate proximity.
"Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!" - a rocket launch - txacoli rains down.
"Viva San Fermin! Gora San Fermin!" - a rocket launch - someone next to us is hit with a bucketful of kalimotxo.
The party has begun.
Stopping for a brief repose at our hostel, we are quickly aware that napping of any sort through this party is out of the question - our hostel is right next to the cathedral, and the bells constantly bellow in celebration. Deciding to make use of the sleepless time, D and I venture into the wilds to find ourselves some traditional white clothing.
Oh, to describe the sight in these streets. The already drunk crowds press shoulder to shoulder in the heat, the stones underfoot are sticky with alcohol, trash is already piling up on the roads, and the stench of sweat, booze, and urine is astounding. As we weave through the waves of revelers, we begin to catch on to what is more or less a pattern to the water, and txacoli, and kalimotxo pouring down from the balconies. By some miracle, we are able to find a store, purchase our 13 Euro outfits, and make it back to the hostel still dry.
After changing, and catching our breath, we head right back out to join the fun. Pushing our way through the crowd, aiming to eventually reach the Plaza de Toros, we ultimately settle on a place to get some food and sangria. We notice that there is a back seating area at the place we got our treats, and decide to take refuge around some barrel tables next to the stuffed head of a bull.
A few local families, also hunkering down here for the afternoon, glance at our sangria bottle, and with looks of concern, tell us our sangria is shit. So, we spend the next couple of hours sharing their wine and cheese, learning about the festival, and socializing with the locals. This is far superior an experience to wrestling the madness outside.
The night continues more or less as one might expect, with a tired pilgrim twist. After spending a frustrating hour helping an impossible American find the tour group she lost, I return to the hostel having missed another attempt at nap time, finish a bottle of wine with a group of pilgrims, and head right back out to the Queen tribute concert in one of the plazas, were I proceed to fall asleep. Standing up. At a rock concert. With thousands of wild, drunk people surrounding our little group of pilgrims, who are just passing through.
Finally reaching bed at 2 am, for what sleep we can get before the early morning to watch the bulls run, I use my earplugs for the first time.