July 06, 2015

Pamplona, Spain

A giant ball being bounced around by partiers before the chupinazo (the opening of the San Fermin Festival) at noon.
Everyone holding out their red kerchiefs and singing just before putting them around their necks (to symbolize the martyrdom of Saint Fermin - he was beheaded) for the opening ceremony.
Everyone holding out their red kerchiefs and singing just before putting them around their necks (to symbolize the martyrdom of Saint Fermin – he was beheaded) for the opening ceremony.
The Town Hall during the chupinazo.
Flags hanging from the Town Hall.
Partiers in the square (the "Plaza Consistorial") in front of the Town Hall.
Partiers in the square (the “Plaza Consistorial”) in front of the Town Hall.
More partiers mucking about in Pamplona.
More partiers mucking about in Pamplona.
Parade of the Giants and Big-Heads.
The "fire-bull" running around the streets of Pamplona.
The “fire-bull” running around the streets of Pamplona.
The bulls and steers in the corral the night before tomorrow's encierro.
The bulls and steers in the corral the night before tomorrow’s encierro.

I woke up after 10:00, showered, dressed, and started getting ready for the opening of the San Fermin festival. Giovanni showed up at the hotel room before 11:00 and we were making final preparations, filling our botas with the cheap wine we had bought (I used vino tinto, which came in one liter cartons). Around 11:00, Michelangelo (an old friend who was joining me for the festivities and for a portion of my travels in Spain) called my room and I was glad to hear that he had arrived in time for the opening ceremony. I met him in his room and then we went downstairs and to one of the stalls behind the hotel, where he bought his white clothes, red sash and bandana, and a bota. He then got ready in his room before meeting back at mine. At 11:40, the three of us departed the hotel and walked to the center of the town, to the Plaza Consistorial, in front of the Town Hall. We neared the plaza, but could go no further due to the thick of the crowd (we could just barely see the Town Hall). Then, at noon, the ceremony began. Everyone grabbed their bandanas, held them in front, and then tied them around their necks in honor of Saint Fermin (272-303 AD, born in Pamplona and patron saint of Navarra), who was decapitated in Amiens, France. Also, at the start of the ceremony, rockets were fired off from the Town Hall repeatedly as many attendees began to pour wine over others. From the balconies above, many poured water on the masses below. We drank our wine, sprayed each other, and reveled in the insanity around us as others moved around soaked in wine and I saw one woman briefly expose herself to the glee of the men around her. It was pure Bacchanalia. This continued for about thirty minutes before – surprisingly – a garbage/cleaning truck moved in to the plaza and began to clean up the mess (I couldn’t believe that cleanup duty began so suddenly and I wish the city’s government had given us a few more hours to enjoy ourselves). As the cleaning truck slowly moved in, there was a group of partiers playing slip n’ slide on the cobblestone street. There was also a wasted guy moving along on the street like an inchworm. We then decided to check out Plaza del Castillo to see how the party was being raged there; so, we made our way through the crowds and to the plaza. When we finally got there, it wasn’t as crowded as I had seen in past pictures and I guess most people moved on to their favorite bars shortly after the opening ceremony was concluded. We then walked around some more, got some ice cold water to balance out the wine, and wandered back to the Town Hall, which was nowhere near as crowded as when we had left it. Next, we sought out the apartment that Giovanni’s old friend, Dennis, was staying at; we had the address and we asked around, but most locals just told us “go straight, then take a right” (I think three different people gave us this exact advice in three separate parts of the old town – it was rather amusing); we did eventually find the apartment, but there was no way for us to know which room to ring. We would have to try and meet up with Dennis later on. We then decided to walk back to the hotel and take a break from the party. We reached the hotel around 14:00 and after transferring photographs from my iPhone to my laptop, I put on my swim trunks and went down to the hotel pool. Later, Michelangelo and Giovanni went down to the pool too and we all enjoyed some sun and cool water. Later on, we went back up to the hotel rooms, showered, dressed in clean clothes, and went out to enjoy a meal at Plaza del Castillo, ending up at a restaurant near Bar Txoko. For this late meal, I had artichokes with mushrooms and prawns, Navarre entrecote steak with piquillo red peppers and fried potatoes, curd sorbet, and beer. After our meal, Giovanni went back to his hotel room and Michelangelo and I eventually went back to ours after wandering through the old town and after I had bought another set of white pants and t-shirt. Back at the hotel, Michelangelo and I changed back in to our wine-stained San Fermin costumes since the streets were filthy and many partyers were still spilling/spraying wine, beer, and water. We then walked to the Plaza Consistorial and waited at the town hall for Giovanni to meet us at 20:30 so that we could all meet up with an old friend of his, Dennis (who regularly runs with the bulls, gives after-race interviews, and walks visitors through the encierro route). Giovanni met up with Michelangelo and me after 20:30 and there was no sight of Dennis. Eventually we got to talking with a group of Americans standing at the entrance of the Town Hall and we bought some drinks while we chatted with an American girl from the group (we all had Kalimotxo, which is an unholy mixture of wine and Coca-Cola that apparently is quite popular here). As we were hanging out, Dennis showed up (he was late by a half-hour or so) and it turned out that the group of Americans were waiting on him as well so that he could take us all through the encierro route. We started at the corrals at the beginning of Santo Domingo and walked back through the Plaza Consistorial, the Estafeta, and on to the entrance of the Plaza de Toros. We finished the tour after 22:00 and then joined Dennis and two guys from Arizona for a late night meal. We went to Los Burgos de Iruna and I had more beer and samplings of local txistorra sausage, veal meatballs in tomato sauce, and traditional bull stew (having eaten not too long ago, I wasn’t very hungry). We hung out and talked about the running of the bulls, bullfights, and various other things. Then, after 23:00, Dennis left and so did the two Arizona men; Giovanni had picked up the check and paid it, and the three of us sat around, finishing our beers and most of the rest of the remaining food. Afterwards, we walked back toward the hotel, passing by the corrals at the start of the encierro route, which were now occupied by the fighting bulls and steers that would be participating in the run the following morning. Giovanni then departed to take care of a wound on his hand (after bear-crawling in reverse down a hillside). Michelangelo and I walked back to the hotel, met up with Giovanni (who now had had his hand bandaged), and then I went up to my room with Giovanni. Giovanni grabbed some of his stuff and we said goodnight to each other. Then I shaved, showered, and eventually went to bed around 02:00 (I had trouble falling asleep).

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