Pamplona’s festival of San Fermín is known for its raucous partying and its early-morning bull run. Unfortunately, there is a three-hour period between 4am and 7am where neither is happening. This is my journey during those three hours.
After a long night of clubbing, we come to an impasse: go to the car or sleep in the park? The guys I met have a car about 45 minutes away. One of the girls in our group is from Pamplona, but doesn’t invite us to stay at her house. I blame her for everything that follows. We choose the park. As Bernie would say, yuuuuuuuge mistake.
Something to know about San Fermín: two hours in, the liquid everyone’s been drinking finally goes through their systems and everything starts to smell like pee. We clamber up a pee-hill, past a pee-church, and under a tree on a trash-strewn pee-green. I pull my bandana over my eyes and try to sleep.
There are four middle-aged Spaniards near us picnicking at 4:15am. It’s a classy affair, though the guys are literally shouting. I roll over dramatically, to remind them that there are people trying to sleep. I have no way to prove this, but I’m pretty sure they got louder.
It starts to rain. We huddle under the tree. Nature, angry at us for delighting in the murder of her majestic bulls, sends some retaliatory lightning. As a tall guy who is as tantalizing to lightning as Ben Franklin’s kite, I encourage us to move. We head for lower ground.
It’s now 4:45. We head back through the busy, wholesome churchyard. Considerate neighbors cut up lines of sugar to get the right baking measurements. Couples check each other for ticks on the grass. A man has his belt buckle examined. It’s all good Catholic fun.
We hop a fence onto an outcropping under an awning, finally out of the rain. Emboldened by our success, one of the guys bangs against the window. This, predictably, summons the guard, who raps menacingly on said window. We consider staying put, but decide it’ll be less fun to watch the running of the bulls from a Pamplona jail cell.
I watch the rain and imagine I’m Hemingway if Hemingway was really bummed out by having damp clothes.
We find an elevator. Why there is an elevator in the side of a medieval wall I don’t know. How it is this busy at 5:20am is beyond me. But it is busy. We sleep next to the door. Or, my friends sleep, and I watch the rain and imagine I’m Hemingway if Hemingway was really bummed out by having damp clothes. A man next to us plays reggaeton to himself on his phone.
An hour passes, so we head to the bull route and stake out some seats on the rickety wooden railing. It’s 6am. Two hours, two cups of coffee and two sore butt cheeks later, we see some people get trampled. In a way, I’m glad that the bulls got a win. Tomorrow they’re going to be bull-burger.
I walk home, covered in sangria and dirt and grass stains and probably not a small amount of pee. Time to sleep for four hours and do it all again the next night.