San Fermin is an epic event, but let’s face it ladies – it’s hard to know what to expect, whether you plan on running or not. We are honoured to have Lola Akinmade Åkerström introduce us to the intricacies of this world-renowned fiesta of bulls, sangria and afición (passion).
Q: You attended San Fermin in 2005. When you first stepped onto the streets of Pamplona that first day (July 6) – what was the atmosphere like? Paint a picture for us.
While on a packed bus from Pamplona’s train station to the main square Plaza Castillo, you could definitely feel the tension and anticipation. The crowded bus was eerily quiet yet we all stole glances at each other not sure what we were going to be experiencing once we got off the bus, but knowing full well that whatever happened in Pamplona would most likely stay in Pamplona.
Q: Were friends or colleagues critical of your decision to attend San Fermin?
A: Based on my previous travels up to this point, they’d already written me off as crazy so announcing that I was going to San Fermin didn’t come as a surprise.
Now, what did surprise them was the fact that I decided to just watch the bull run from a balcony instead of race for my life alongside bulls that could crush me with a single wrong turn.
So in essence, I was a logical lunatic.
Q: Why do you think experiencing San Fermin is important, considering the animal rights groups and controversy that surrounds the fiesta?
A: Cultures are intrinsically different on some level and what might be offensive to one culture can be revered by another culture. I never thought twice about attending San Fermin.
Not because I’m insensitive to bulls being killed at the end of the fight (this was difficult to watch). I just didn’t want to be hypocritical about it. After all, I do eat meat regularly and some abattoirs do a lot worse.
Q: Did you see any women running during encierro? If not – why do you think not many women run?
A: I saw a few ladies running like mad but I could probably count them on both hands. I feel a lot of ladies don’t run for the sheer mismatch of it all.
You’re competing with men, some twice your size, running away from bulls four times their own size. It’s definitely not a situation that fosters gentlemanly behaviour.
Once you’re down, you’re on your own girl! Men will gladly hop over you.
Q: Men drastically outnumber women. Was safety a concern and how did you handle it?
A: While I was there, I felt like men outnumbered women about 300 to one so safety is an absolute concern. Before you know it, there’s the random drunk trying to grope you or cop a quick feel. Always keep your wits about you.
Don’t venture down narrow darkly lit corners by yourself at night. And the parties do run 24-7. Keep all your important documents locked up in your room. Wander the streets lightly (without too much gear and stuff) because there are often shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.
Watch your alcohol intake. The atmosphere is certainly charged with tasty adult beverages (aka, sangria) flowing so if you’re a drinker, drink in moderation and not to get drunk lest you end up kissing a few frogs.
Q: Lastly, how can a lady make the most of San Fermin?
A: Try to connect with fellow travelers who might be attending San Fermin before you go. Moving around with a small group of friends is also safer.
As challenging as it might be (and it will be), try to get enough rest each night so you can wake up in time for the bull runs each morning (they’re over in a matter of minutes).
Have the time of your life…and drink responsibly.
Lola Akinmade-Åkerström (www.akinmade.com) is an award-winning writer and photographer whose work have appeared in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Matador Network, and many travel publications around the world - http://www.akinmade.com/articles. She is based in Stockholm and is also the photoblogger for Sweden’s official site. Follow her on Twitter: @LolaAkinmade.
All photos provided by Lola Akinmade-Åkerström