The Festival of San Fermin and the Enciero in Pamplona

In the second week of July, at the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, mostly men, gather in the early morning in Calle Estafeta, as they do each year, whether in regret, anxiety or arrogance, beneath a rising cloud of alcohol fumes fused with the tang of urine. Then the hum and drone of a thousand voices is suddenly quieted by a distant shout of “Gora San Fermin!” further up the route. The bells of San Cernin ring out, soon followed by the crack of the first rocket.

Many wear white and the red "pañuelo" neckerchief along with a red “faja” as a cummerbund. Purists, however, sometimes sport a blazer and often carry a rolled-up newspaper. One man has hopefully written, “Will You Marry Me Christina?” in black felt pen on his t-shirt.

Prematurely some begin to move forward, as unease roils through the crowd like a swell. Those who set off now do not realise the humiliation that awaits. Locked in the “enciero” they can only arrive at Plaza de TOROS of Pamplona too soon, and must endure the derision of the assembled spectators. The bulls will arrive long dishonourable minutes later.

The second rocket now announces that the bulls are released from their pens below the city, and mounting Calle Santo Domingo to Ayuntamiento, the central plaza of the old city. They are charging towards the runners at almost 25 kilometres per hour through Mercaderes, skidding around "la curva".

In Estafeta, at first, although nothing can be seen, fear jolts through the crowd like electricity. Rapidly the mass parts like a shoal of predated baitfish, as people press themselves to the sides of the narrow medieval street. Suddenly they’re here, the big shouldered thick necked black fighting bulls, advancing at speed on the cobbles, strings of mucus flying from their nostrils, heavy hooves clattering.

Afterwards I checked the metadata of the burst of photographs I shot. 37 pictures in 1.8 seconds. In the sequence, one man stands out; running closer to the bulls than anyone else, upright and with some elegance dressed in a buttoned dress shirt, in one frame he even finds himself cradled between the horns of one of the animals.

Then it’s over. Instantaneously. Eight hundred and seventy-five metres takes only two minutes and thirty seconds from the firing of the first rocket to the fourth sound, announcing the arrival and the corralling of the bulls in the arena.

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