San Fermin Opening Ceremony

We stood arm to arm in a cobbled square in the middle of an otherwise quaint Spanish town with thousands of people. Before long we had sangria running down our faces, burning our eyes, staining our skin and clothes. Standing as complete strangers brought together from far-away lands bonded by waves of chants ringing in our ears, squirts of sangria from all directions and laughter echoing off the walls. Pure adrenalin making every nerve feel alive and raw. The crowd pulsed like it was a single blood stream winding through the streets. The white mass slowly turning pink. The clean, cobbled alleys strewn with litter and debris of the street party pumping in the early sunlight. With a smile on my face and the feeling of euphoria taking over I joined in the alcohol fight and attempted the Spanish chants, not knowing what I was saying but meaning every word of it. At midday a rocket shot off into the sky and shouts of ‘VIVA SAN FERMIN’ rang out as the festival officially opened.

Soon the euphoria mixed with panic as the crowd started getting out of hand. A forbidden flag was raised by an independence group on the far side of the square and the police moved in to try and shut down the protests. Glass smashed on the ground and people tried to rush out of the square. I started getting carried along the crowds like I was swimming in a rip-tide, I looked down to see blood smeared across my shirt, is it mine?

My friends were like black dots on the sand, getting smaller as I drifted, except this time they were pink dots on pink sand making them harder to see. As we all tried to empty out one of the narrow streets people were packed so tightly against each other that filling your lungs with air was a challenge, it was like a vice tightening around your body and lifting you off your feet. The youthful olive coloured face next to me was quivering, clear droplets streamed from her eyes and mixed with the dry, crusty pink streaks down her face as she bit her lip and tried to stay afloat.

A few feet away Ellen was picked up on the crest of a human wave then dumped to the ground. Adam lost hold of her hand as the crowds kept swirling. Thankfully someone reached down to help Ellen to her feet but only finding her hair to grab on to. I scanned for the olive face I had seen a moment ago; lost in the multitude, hopefully unhurt.

Once out of the human ocean and relatively unscathed, Ellen missing a few strands of hair, we regrouped and wandered up the street pausing under balconies and open windows while locals drenched us with buckets of water. The cool chill washing away any panic and installing excitement back into our beings. We had survived the Opening Ceremony but the bull runs were still to come..

N McArthur

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