Stay on the right, stay on the right, stay on the right. One thought dominated my mind whilst departing the ferry in Santander. The warnings of poor infrastructure that would greet me and the unreliability of my van implemented some worry in the back of my mind but fortunately I was relieved to discover that the roads of Northern Spain are far better than I expected, largely comprised of gorgeous mountain passes and forest dissecting motorways. Our first hurdle came at the petrol station whilst trying to decipher which pump spluttered out petrol. Our Spanish GCSE’s didn’t help overcome this language barrier, as I would only be able to tell the cashier my name, where I live and that I have a dog.
160 miles later we arrived in Pamplona, home of the notorious San Fermin festival. Famed worldwide for its bull runs down the narrow streets of the old town and the celebrations after, it was the ideal place to begin our adventure. Fireworks lit our way into the city as we navigated our way through the crowds and street parties to find our first spot to park the camper. We quickly joined the festivities and threw ourselves into the street parties with bottles of sangria and even bought the San Fermin costume in preparation for the next day’s bull run.
Pamplona on the morning of a bull run is one of the most spectacular atmospheres I have ever had the pleasure of being involved in. Thousands of people cram into the old, thin streets, all dressed in the white attire with red handkerchief, singing and chanting to San Fermin for protection until the first rocket is sounded at 8am to signal that the first of twelve bulls has been released. That’s when the nerves kicked in and some people even began scrambling before laying eyes on a bull. The second cannon went off meaning that all the bulls were out on the streets. The noise of the crowd cheering was almost deafening as the sea of runners dressed in white flooded the old town. The bells of the bulls were in earshot when I was grabbed by a policeman and shoved under the fence, and out of the run. The mixture of shock and disappointment was partially ignored as I searched for a way back in, getting rejected by more policemen and security, so I settled to observe Bani getting hunted down by the bulls through the city to the bull ring where he finished and got to experience his triumph in the centre of the old stadium. The bitter feeling of having the run taken from me was quickly forgotten in the thrill of the ensuing festivities, aided by a questionable carton of white wine consumed in the gardens of the ruined castle. The afternoons activity was the final bull fight of the festival. As much as I disagreed with the medieval animal cruelty of butchering bulls for sport I did respect the rituals and culture of the city and engaged in the chanting of the crowds whilst drinking Sangria and sharing our French neighbour’s paella throughout the event.
The first day of our road trip was a remarkable success. We’d ate the local food and drank the local wine, joined the carnivals on the street and Bani even managed to avoid being gored by a bull. We celebrated this result late into the night before our final altercation with Spanish police for that day as they woke us up on a street corner and kindly persuaded us to head back to the van for the night.