Bull Run festival in Spain returns after 2 years hiatus


Thousands of revelers erupted in celebrations Wednesday as traditional “chupinazo” fireworks were set off to kick off the San Fermin bull festival in the Spanish city of Pamplona, ​​ending a two-year hiatus caused by coronavirus pandemic.

The rain did nothing to dampen the atmosphere as crowds, nearly all dressed in the traditional attire of white trousers and shirts with scarves and red belts, crowded into the small town hall square. for the afternoon event. After the fireworks exploded, the revelers continued to spray each other with red wine.

The highlight of the nine-day festival is the “encierros,” or early-morning bull run, which begins Thursday, when thousands of thrill-seekers scramble like crazy to avoid six bulls as they dash along a winding, cobblestone route to the city’s bullring. Spectators watched from balconies and wooden railings were erected to line the courtyard. The rest of the day is devoted to eating, drinking, dancing and cultural entertainment.

The festival was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”. Before the pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021, it hadn’t been suspended since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Pamplona’s population goes from 200,000 balloons to almost a million people during the peak days of the festival, especially on weekends, in which there are many foreigners. Many visitors don’t stop partying all night or taking a nap wherever they can outside.

Californian couple Sheyla and John Dowd, who work in Silicon Valley, are among those excited that the party is back so they can participate for the first time. Sheyla Dowd said she’ll watch while John challenges his legs with bulls and other frantic sprinters.

“Now that it’s post-COVID, it’s been exciting to be around so many people and be part of the celebration,” she said. “I’ll cheer him up from above saying ‘go, run faster’.”

John Dowd added: “We were looking forward to it. And oh yeah, where is the hospital?”

Former football player and coach Juan Carlos Unzue had the honor of launching a small rocket from the balcony of the town hall. Unzue had to retire from coaching in 2018 after being diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“This chupinazo is dedicated to all the healthcare workers and those who helped us during the pandemic, and to all those with ALS. Long live San Fermin,” he shouted from a wheelchair to the crowd. seething below.

Pamplona Mayor Enrique Maya told Spain’s state news agency EFE that although there was a lot of excitement this year, he was a bit nervous.

“We get the feeling that people are so eager to have a good time that it can get out of hand,” he said.

City officials have urged people not to forget that coronavirus infections are on the rise again and encouraged the use of masks. But the varied races and sidelines will make this guideline very difficult to follow.

Usually festivals are relatively uncommon with most injuries occurring during running or alcohol-related accidents.

Eight people have been killed in the last carnival in 2019. Sixteen people have died in bull runs since 1910. The last death occurred in 2009.

Animal rights opponents have also become a fixture in Pamplona. On the eve of this year’s festival, dozens of activists dressed up as dinosaurs and held signs that read “Gurfighting is prehistoric” as they ran the bulls route to protest what they see as an act of violence. cruelty to animals, urging visitors not to participate.

The bulls used in the races are killed by professional herders in bullfights every afternoon in the city ring.

Bullfights are protected under the Spanish Constitution as part of the country’s cultural heritage. The sight is still immensely popular even though the movement against it has gained momentum. Animal rights groups cite figures from the Ministry of Culture that say 90% of Spaniards did not attend any gaur-related festive events in 2014-2015, a matter that was raised last year. survey.

A huge cloud was thrown over the San Fermin festival by a 2016 gang rape case that shook the country, and city officials are sensitive to anything that could be perceived as sub-par abuse. female.

Using the tagline, “Pamplona free of sexual violence,” organizers began a campaign this year to provide information and advice at the downtown office to victims or witnesses. of abuses, as well as to the public.

The rape case eventually led to a bill that made consent a key determining factor in sexual assault cases, freeing victims from having to prove that violence or intimidation was used. against them.


Giles reports from Madrid. Joseph Wilson of Barcelona contributed to this report.

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