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Foreigners flock to Spain’s bullfighting festival » Capital News

Pamplona (Spain) (AFP), July 7 – As soon as Peter Millington learned that the Spanish festival of San Fermin would be held again this year after a two-year absence due to the pandemic, he started planning his trip.

The 38-year-old British financial adviser has been a regular at Spain’s most famous bullfighting festival since he first attended the annual event in Pamplona as a university student, and was eager to come back.

Millington said he booked his flight from London and made hotel reservations in February, just days after the mayor of Pamplona announced that San Fermin would likely continue this year.

“There’s nothing else like it, it’s totally unique,” he told AFP in the northern Spanish city on Wednesday at the official opening of the celebrations. nine days.

“I had to be here,” he added, gesturing to the sea of ​​happily drinking revelers around him, most dressed in traditional all-white attire and red headscarves.

Every day at 8 a.m., hundreds of daredevils race six fighting bulls to the bullring in Pamplona © AFP / MIGUEL RIOPA

The festival, immortalized in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’, has long attracted large numbers of foreigners, many like Millington who return year after year.

And with global travel rebounding since most coronavirus pandemic restrictions were lifted, foreign visitors were back in full force in Pamplona this year.

Among the regulars who returned this year was Hemingway’s grandson, John Hemingway, who came from Montreal where he currently lives.

“It’s good to be here,” said the 61-year-old, who was attending San Fermin for the 10th time.

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“It’s a breath of fresh air after all this lockdown and social distancing madness.”

– “A great experience” –

The festival, which dates back to medieval times, features concerts, religious processions, nightly fireworks and 24-hour drinking.

But he is best known for the daily test of courage against a thunderous pack of half-ton, sharp-horned bulls.

Every day at 8:00 a.m., hundreds of daredevils race six fighting bulls along an 850-meter (2,800-foot) course from a bullpen to the Pamplona bullring.

The vast majority of participants are men, but a few women cheered from the balconies © AFP / ANDER GILLENEA

The bulls then face matadors and almost certain death during the bullfights of the afternoon.

About 40% of all runners come from abroad, with Australia, the United States and Britain accounting for the highest number of foreigners, according to Pamplona City Hall.

The vast majority of participants are men, with barely a female face visible among the runners – although there were plenty in the cheering crowd.

In the last race in 2019, Pamplona City Hall said only 6% of runners were women. This year’s figure will not be available until the end of the festival.

Roger Sandhu, a 30-year-old American businessman, had just participated in the first bull run on Thursday.

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“As soon as we turned the corner, the bulls were there,” he said.

“It was quite an experience.”

– ‘Christmas for adults’ –

But for Jack Denault, a 50-year-old Canadian now living in France, the festival’s biggest draw is the “comradeship” that exists among festival-goers.

“The bond you create with the people you celebrate with lasts forever,” said Denault, who rents the same apartment every time he comes for the party.

“So many of us come back year after year, and it’s such a great reunion.”

A UK attendee said the festival was like ‘Christmas for grown-ups’ © AFP / Ander GILLENEA

Denault said he participated in more than 80 bullfights in San Fermin, but he said they were only a “small part” of the festival.

He has come to every San Fermin festival since 2008 and has a tattoo of a bull’s hoof on his arm for every year he has attended.

“I will continue to come as long as my body allows,” said the retired hotel worker.

The festival was last held in 2019. It was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

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Timothy Pinks, a 60-year-old London driver who has been a regular visitor to San Fermin since the 1980s, said he was delighted the event was back this year.

“It’s heaven on earth. Nine days of Christmas for us adults,” he said as he enjoyed drinks with a large group of friends in a central square in Pamplona.