Getting stuck into the fiestas. Bulls, sangría, foreigners and gangs

“Red wine, water, sugar, citric acid and natural extracts from fruit and cinnamon, 5, 5 grades of alcohol”. This is the ‘industrial’ formulae of a sangría that is being sold in bottles of plastic. Nothing to do with real authentic sangría, of course, made from natural fruit (lemons, oranges, peaches), real wine, sugar … is left to steep for hours before consumption. They say that Hemingway was very fond of the stuff and for sure he would have tasted a lot of good quality sangria and not this bogus brew which is flooding the streets these days in Pamplona.

In Sanfermin, the sangría and the kalimotxo (red wine with Coca-Cola) soak bodies and streets relentlessly. A real natural- made sangría in any bar is going to cost its cost, so most people opt for a cheap next best thing that does, in fact, fulfil the function of alcoholizing the people and getting them in party mood without skinning their pockets too much. For many, nothing gives them more pleasure than to shower their friends with this same sangria liquid. At the Txupinazo, at the sunny side of the bullring, with the Peña clubs… it serves as an indispensable friend. Like it or not, you end up either drinking it or having a shower in it. And amid all the hustle and bustle, you are bound to come across a bottle of Don Simón sangría, made in the south of Spain by the century-old García Carrión firm.

Sangría was brought to Spain by the English in the XIX century. And, like that other institution – The Spanish Omelet, everyone seems to have their own special recipe for it. Although these days it does not seem to matter too much how it actually tastes: lo the most important thing is the dancing and singing and acting the idiot. Drink whatever can get you worked up!


The guiris (as the foreigners are fondly called here) who come to Pamplona are very appreciative of the traditions that we keep here: the guys tune up like hemingwaynes just recently come out of the gym while the gals remind us of some old Hollywood movies. They dress up in white, put on the red necktie, put on their big smiles and they complete the fiesta look with a wineskin which they usually fill with sangria and which they carry around at all hours. They take a swig from it when they feel like doing so and when the right moment comes, they throw some over the first person who passes close by.

Many of these guiris, the youngest of them, go around in gangs, often wearing the very same tee shirt. They move around in packs, happy and cheerful, they sing, they laugh, they drink, they dance and they generally let their hair down.… as the local people look on in some surprise from behind a more temperate gaze. Then again, when the alcohol begins to work on both the visitors and the locals, guiris and locals both let their hair down in the same way and they both blend into the same wild party scene.
Where are you from? This is your first time in Pamplona? The bulls will run tomorrow here…with just a few simple sentences you can make friends with guiris in Sanfermines, because the actual conversation is the least important thing. You drink a swig of something, the Txaranga brass band emits some music, you lift your glass of sangria, kalimotxo or beer in toast, and the music does the rest. Hemingway loved to be carried along by the human swarm. He gave a lucid account of the party mood in his recommendable novel, “Fiesta“, and all the guiris who hit the streets of the city seem to be following his steps and they seem to be equally fascinated by this carnival scene with its ancestral echoes.


Without any doubt, the most singular thing about Sanfermin fiestas is the Running of the Bulls event. Scorned by some and glorified by almost everyone, this event generates enormous expectations that are not easily explained away. With two or three days to go before the opening of fiestas, the 48 bulls that feature in the spectacular bullrunning of little more than 850 meters over the eight days of fiestas – are already ensconced in their pens at the Corrales del Gas. Separated by their own particular bull-breed characterizations, they will spend the last few days of their lives here.

Many people like to go down to the pens to have a look at them close up. Seen together and without any runners around them, they look even more powerful and bigger than they do on the course. There they stand, quite immobile with a look of deep concentration on their faces, like lions in the wild. At the slightest movement, their large horns seem to toss the very air.

These wet damp days give them a heavy, mud-caked look. It is hard to believe that these are the same animals which will cover the whole distance of the course in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. And yet they will, with all their 500 –odd kilos or even 600 kilos… the Miura… the Victoriano… the Doloresaguirre…. the Jandilla… anyone who knows anything about Bulls can easily distinguish these different breeds of bull….

As always in these dates, the phantom of death seems to hover in the street. Up to the present, 16 young men have died in the running of the bull’s event. Most of these have been young men in their 20s, among them a Mexican and a North-American. But there have also been hundreds of injuries accumulated down the years. This year, in an instigation taken by several different groups, a metal post pole has been erected as part of the wooden fencing in memory of those “dead in the running of the bulls”.


to experience the Sanfermin fiestas is to experience them in company. Without the mates the fiesta is not quite a fiesta. The gang of mates unites the longings for partying, absorbs potential bores, lifts the spirits and generally helps you to enjoy the whole scene even more. Having the gang means having a fiesta schedule that keeps things together: meeting up early on the 6th to have a brunch, be it in a bar, in a clubhouse, in a street corner. You drink together, you embrace, you walk together to the chupinazo opening event, and you carry your open bottles of sangria so that the cops will let you pass to the square without confiscating the drink and to prevent people throwing things.

Except for the 6th, the gangs usually go out at night, after a long afternoon siesta, so that they can “give their all” at night and sleep it off all day. The “survival kit” in fiestas consists of an old cell phone so that nobody is tempted to steal it, money and keys kept in safe places (for the girls in their bra, for the lads in their socks). Something odd should also be worn, a funny hat, multi-color sunglasses, a false moustache… a headband…a gaudy necklace…every year there is some new trash to wear. You can always buy something ridiculous from one of those tall skinny Africans that sell on the streets.

There are plenty of opportunities to take some selfies at any crazy hour of the night, to take photos acting the idiot…to eat a “sambo”…to queue up to have a piss at a public urinal…to watch the Fireworks sitting on the grass and then go on to a good open-air concert (the age you have will decide what venue to go to). Then in the early hours of the morning you hit the bars (again depending on what music you like). And so the night goes by…the alcohol flows…the rimmel too….you make some foolish chat with the guiris…the night passes…

Before you know it, it is now 6.30 a.m.- the hour that the spirits begin to droop…you are knackered….and hungry…cold and shivering…and you have to wait until 8.00 for the Running of the Bulls! Some people stay on the streets, others go to the Bullring. There were always free seats there but this year, for the first time, it is necessary to pay 3 euros. When the bullrunning ends, they let loose the frisky small bulls. If some smart-aleck tries to catch the animal by the tail or tries to wrestle with it, you join in the general booing and jeering from the watching crowd that creates a sound that pierces your eardrums.

Finally, the night party is drawing to a close. Spirits droop and fall. Long faces. Runny makeup. Red-rimmed eyes. It is necessary to have some breakfast: fritters and hot chocolate for the more refined… the really hungry ones go for a hamburger or sandwich… There is always the classic white coffee with a croissant. Now there is not long to go…before you can hit the sack! You make one last big effort and start to drag yourself home…or go to the home of a friend…or that of your grandmother…to the hotel…to the boarding house….. to the camping site…wherever. The essential thing is to find a spot to crash out…to sleep…alone or in company…finally to sleep the good sleep and hope to find yourself fully recovered for the next night out…