Introducing San Fermin
In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway describes the core of San Fermin:
“Suddenly a crowd came down the street. They were all running, packed close together. They passed along and up the street toward the bull-ring, and behind them came more men running faster, and then some stragglers who were really running. Behind them was a little bare space, and then the bulls galloping, tossing their heads up and down…”
Amid that is the cavorting, swilling wine and human bodies spilling into the cafes and bars of Pamplona, Spain. A million plus people storm this once modest city of 30,000 that has now swelled to a still modest number of 300,000.
San Fermin is originally rooted in the catholic religion, honouring Saint Fermin of Amiens, the co-patron of Navarre. Rituals and prostrating of Saint Fermin were first celebrated in October, but was soon combined with another local event that took place every July [by the 14th century] – a fair where cattle merchants transported animals into town for selling or trading.
By the 17th and 18th century, the act of enceirro [running with bulls] appeared, alongside the first sightings of foreigners, general revelry and drunkenness.
Hemingway was residing in Paris, a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, when he and his then wife visited Pamplona in 1923. Becoming fascinated with bullfighting, this impetus brought him back to Pamplona on a regular basis. He meticulously gathered research for The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926 by the publishing house Scribner’s. Though the book garnered mixed reviews upon its release, critics today call it the most prominent contribution to literature – his best work.
Lovers of words read The Sun Also Rises through the years, some reading vicariously, others drumming up the bravery to see what this encierro business was all about. It built and built until it’s what we see today, documented beautifully by Erla Swingle in the Smithsonian:
“Over nine days, one and a half million people pass through, every one of them seemingly heading for the historic center of town, an area of about two square miles. Only a few come for more than two or three days, but the flow is incessant. “Fiesta” doesn’t begin to cover the event’s scope. It’s more like a biblical visitation, a triathlon with music, for which the town provides medical emergency squads on 24-hour alert, thousands of volunteers to clean the streets of tons of garbage, extra police patrols and temporary toilets. Pamplonans who can’t take it pack up and leave town.”
Why Choose San Fermin?
Some Pamplona residents label Hemingway’s book a curse for the intense attention it brought to San Fermin, others feel it’s a blessing, since tourism is not thriving that much the rest of the year. I’d like to think of San Fermin in these terms:
“It’s about forgetting the rules, declaring a sort of invisible social cease-fire that allows everyone to be spontaneous once a year without fear of repercussion—a sense of freedom that can be appreciated only by people who live their entire life in a conservative, religious town in conservative, religious northern Spain.” [Smithsonian]
Women throughout the centuries have had to endure rules, fear and lack of freedom in several forms – social, political, economical.
With San Fermin – women have continually been discouraged or cautioned against participating.
I’m not here to regale you with feminist rhetoric, but want to hit upon what San Fermin means to us: breaking the rules.
We conceived of an idea to do something a bit unusual, that not every woman knows about or feels they can do. While there’s potential of danger, we are willing to take that risk, because for us, travelling is nothing but a world of risk. We learn from it. Falter. Taste success. And share both with you.
So here we are. We’re going to do it, we’re proud and can’t wait to share this exhilarating experience with you!
“Why am I running with the bulls? Because I can. And because many women don’t. The San Fermin fiesta has been a male-dominated event for years. I want women to know that they don’t have to live life on the sidelines and that they, too can rise to the challenge. That they, too, can run with bulls.”
2) Nicole Smith
“When I saw Jeannie announcing that she wanted to run I automatically thought “why not?!” Combining running (something I try not to do because I look like Bambi), visiting one of the countries I’ve most wanted to visit, and becoming enveloped in a cultural practice which dates back centuries, running with the bulls is really everything I could ask for in a trip; And if you add the four beautiful women I get to experience it with it’s going to be nothing short of amazing!”
3) Nicole Blake
“I like my personal safety, I feel spontaneity can be grossly overrated and being impaled by the horn of a bull is not on my lifetime “Top 10″. I never imagined that I would voluntarily choose to run for my life, because, let’s be honest no one would ever mistake me for an adrenaline junkie. When the opportunity to head to Pamplona with a group of kick-ass girls came up, my awesome-meter went off. Something told me that this is what I was supposed to do . I saw running with the bulls as an opportunity to push myself and my personal limits. (I hear that’s pretty healthy) In addition to this project being ridiculously cool, I hope to inspire women that look just like me to tackle their fears and self defined personal limits head on.”
4) Jeannie Mark
“When I began researching this project, I discovered a few disturbing conclusions. One, there lacked any solid resources for women with a desire to run. Then I encountered a string of misconceptions such as it being illegal for women to run. At that point, my heels dug in. It was time to make this seed a reality and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m partly interested in shattering some barriers and partly excited to partake in a legendary fiesta – to just say I did it. I’m also grateful to have these fabulous women with me on this unforgettable journey.”
5) Lois Yasay
“I have always wanted to explore Spain, soak in the culture, try to be conversational in the language. I want to try seemingly mundane local experiences, like have a churros con chocolate at a cafe or eavesdrop on people’s conversations while trying to understand the language. But a little part of me also wants to be the crazy tourist. The one who watches a flamenco dance. Or chats up strangers. Or runs with bulls and survives to tell the tale.”
We certainly will!