With the resumption of travel and the lifting of health restrictions, foreigners are back in force in Pamplona, in northern Spain, for the San Fermin festival.
As early as February, Peter booked his flight from London and his hotel, just days after the mayor of Pamplona announced that the parties would indeed take place this year.
This 38-year-old Briton, a financial adviser, has been a regular at the San Fermin celebrations since he first came there when he was a student.
“There is no equivalent, it is absolutely unique,” he told AFP on Wednesday, when the festivities, which lasted nine days, had just begun.
“I had to be there,” he continued, pointing to the crowd of revelers, mostly dressed in all white with a red scarf and drinking happily around him.
Immortalized in 1926 by Ernest Hemingway in his novel “The Sun Also Rises”, the San Fermin celebrations have since attracted many foreigners, especially Anglo-Saxons, many of whom, like Millington, return every year in July.
But the last edition of the festival dated from July 2019, the festivities having been canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a first since the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
Among the foreigners returning this year is an illustrious visitor: Hemingway’s grandson, John Hemingway, also a writer, who came especially from Montreal.
“It’s so good to be here. It’s a breath of fresh air after all this madness of confinements and social distancing”, says this 61-year-old man, who is in his tenth edition of the San Fermin.
– “Sacred experience” –
The festivities, which have existed since the Middle Ages, give rise to a whirlwind of concerts, religious processions, fireworks and above all drinking until dawn.
But the highlight of the festivities is the bull runs, or “encierros”, which take place every morning.
At 8:00 a.m., hundreds of people in search of strong emotions race down the cobbled streets of Pamplona for about 850 meters in front of six fighting bulls, with the aim of getting as close as possible to them.
The race ends in the bullring of the city, where then takes place in the afternoon a bullfight during which these six bulls will be put to death.
About 40% of these “runners” are foreigners, mainly from Australia, the United States and Great Britain, according to the town hall of Pamplona.
“We arrived at the corner of the street and the bulls were there,” says Roger Sandhu, a 30-year-old American businessman who had just participated in the first “encierro” on Thursday morning.
“It was quite an experience,” he comments.
– “Christmas for adults” –
For Jack Denault, a 50-year-old Canadian living in France, the main attraction of the San Fermin is the “comradeship” that is created between the participants.
“The bonds you forge with the people you party with last forever,” he says, adding that he rents the same apartment every time he comes to Pamplona.
“So many of us come back every year, and it’s such a reunion,” he continues.
Jack Denault has taken part in more than 80 bull runs at San Fermin and has participated in all editions since 2008, but according to him, these “encierros” are only a very small part of the celebration.
For each of his visits, he had a bull’s hoof tattooed on his arm.
“I will continue to come as long as my body allows me,” said this former hotel employee.
For Timothy Pinks, a 60-year-old Londoner who has been coming regularly since the 1980s, San Fermin is simply “heaven on earth”.
“It’s Christmas for nine days for us adults,” he says, drinking glasses of sangria with friends in one of the squares in central Pamplona.