I learned a few things about myself and traveling while attending the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona. Although the festival is centered around bull fighting (a tradition many people deem cruel), it was one of the most amazing trips of my life and I don’t regret it. It took a few days after my return to process the entire experience because it was so intense. One minute I was having fun and the next I was scared for my life. There would be other times when I would feel uncomfortable with what I was witnessing and in the following moment feel enlightened. Travel, for me, is an active learning session about yourself and the world around you. Here are 4 things I discovered during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona.
1) I can pretty much do anything I put my mind to
This was not so much learned but reconfirmed on my recent trip to Spain. I would have never imagined in a million years that I would participate in something so reckless as running with the bulls. I am not a runner, thrill seeker or an adrenaline junkie, my addictions usually teeter along the lines of crafts and a variety of chocolate products. I love to travel and thrive on new adventures but I don’t do danger very well. I am the most cowardly brave person you would ever meet. I participated in the Girls Running With Bulls project because I had my eyes on the bigger picture, the empowerment of women. So what, I am fat, so what I am not the fastest runner, so what no one else out there looked like me. Where others see barriers I see opportunity to excel and inspire. I ran smart and I completed the run unscathed with the help of my friends and my fine tuned flight response. I DID IT!
2) Traveling with friends isn’t so bad after all
Believe it or not, the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona was my very first group trip! I pride myself on being a solo female traveler. I’ve mentioned it a few times on the blog, I enjoy the freedom of deciding my own pace/ itinerary, setting my own budget and socializing with locals. Considering all the benefits to traveling solo, I still would never attempt to tackle San Fermin on my own. For starters there is a ton of alcohol involved and I would fear for my personal safety as a lone female traveler. Secondly, there would be no way in hell I could psych myself up to run alone. The support of friends is a mandatory ingredient for doing dumb shit. Thirdly, who would call my mom and tell her I screwed up if I were to get hurt while risking my life?
I went to the San Fermin festival with three other female travel bloggers and I didn’t absolutely hate it! In fact, I loved it. I still miss those girls. They were an amazing support group and tons of fun. It was bare jokes! Since they were travel bloggers they also appreciated the need for wifi, tweeting and instagraming LOL. Something,I am sure would totally irritate travelers not in our line of work. I also can’t forget the greatest benefit to traveling with someone other than yourself: picture taking!!
Running with the bulls will forever connect us. I see each of my fellow runners as my sister. (Aww I feel like Gordie Lachance )
3) I am not completely okay with how the animals are treated
It’s obvious if you participate in the San Fermin Festival that you have to turn a certain blind eye to the treatment of the bulls. The bulls are bred to be slaughtered for the entertainment of people. The bulls that run in the morning are killed later that evening by a matador during the bullfight which is witnessed by a cheering crowd. It’s not a quick death. Even as I write the words, I am not that fussed. Maybe my moral compass is broken or my heart is made of shards of glass but the tradition of bullfighting is not something that gets me up in arms. I eat meat and I own leather products, both those industries are guilty of the mistreatment of far more livestock than a week long, annual festival in Pamplona. If I was going to huff and puff about animal welfare I would target the primary offenders first.
My moral compass received a jolt immediately after my run. I had unintentionally ended up inside the bullring. I wanted to avoid this place because of large amount of injuries that usually happen as the bulls and people flood the ring. Luckily I found my fellow running mates along the perimeter, all unharmed. I took the time to catch my breath and check that all my important bits were still intact, I was relieved. Suddenly people were cheering and the crowd in the center of the ring began to recoil from the gates. The stands erupted in a loud roar and then I saw it, a small cow with horns charging in my general direction. “Umm, what is going on?”
The cows were released into the crowd one by one so people could taunt them. Dozens of people would surround these scared animal, provoking the cow to charge at them so they could pin its horns. Men and women were trampled, kicked, poked, and tossed into the air because these were all badges of honor. It was so unnecessary and cruel. The whole scene reminded me of child being bullied on the playground. I looked for an escape from the bullring because I didn’t want to watch anymore but we were barricaded in. As I watched I thought “What are these people doing?” This doesn’t require any skill, this isn’t tradition, these are were all idiotic tourist abusing a cow plain and simple. In my mind I drew a hard line at this, I could somehow accept a matador, doing an intricate dance of death with a dangerous bull but I strongly objected to a stadium full of people tormenting an animal for a laugh. I’m strange, I know. ne judge pas!
4) I am so over partying and drinking until I can’t feel my limbs
I think that is pretty self explanatory. The dark side of the San Fermin festival is a 24 hour booze fest that leaves the quaint town of Pamplona smelling like abandoned hopes and dreams. People party all night drinking sangria and miscellaneous spirits then wait for the run the following morning to either participate or watch. After the run is complete they usually crash in parks or their hotel room until the festivities start again that evening. It’s like a huge frat party that completely devours the soul of the entire town. The streets were flooded with drunk people. The element is disturbing, you can’t make one step without landing in a stream of urine or vomit. You dodge piles of trash and human excrement as if they are landmines. It was disgusting and I was over it as soon as it began. Man, I sound like a judgemental prude but these folks were acting like they had no home training.
Once you breech the old town area immediately surround the path of the bull run, the atmosphere changes. The San Fermin Festival had another side that celebrated culture, family, and community. Children from seven weeks old were out on the streets in their red and white. Families sat eating potatoes and calamari in the sun. Older people dressed in traditional clothing and sang songs of legend, giving tribute to San Fermin. There were markets, parades and live music. I felt the most comfortable in this element. I am grateful that I got experience what I consider the true essence of San Fermin.
What are some lessons you have learned while you travel? Would you ever go to the San Fermin Festival?