World-famous Pamplona bull-running festival returns after two-year Covid ban

Story by ReutersPublished 6th July 2022
Revelers hold up traditional red scarves during the opening of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain on July 6, 2022.
(Reuters) — Thousands of revelers wearing white clothes and red scarves filled the streets of Spain's Pamplona on Wednesday as the bang of a firecracker kicked off the first San Fermin bull-running festival since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Revelers gather for the opening of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain on July 6, 2022.
Revelers gather for the opening of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain on July 6, 2022.
Vincent West/Reuters
Light rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of a sea of people packing the northern city's Townhall Square, their clothes already drenched with the red wine and sangria that flow freely during the eight-day festival, made famous by Ernest Hemingway's novel "The Sun Also Rises."
The annual event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus restrictions. Animal rights groups want it banned for good.
"I've been to San Fermin many times before, but this is very different, people have missed the celebration, they are happy to be with their families, happy to be without the masks, they just wanna feel alive and enjoy the sunshine," said Michelle Rene, 45, of San Francisco.
Revelers enjoy the atmosphere during the opening day of the 2022 festival.
Revelers enjoy the atmosphere during the opening day of the 2022 festival.
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Added Pablo Cortes, a tourist from Hawaii who, like Rene, was watching the "Chupinazo" opening ceremony from a balcony: "The energy is awesome -- this is the greatest party, the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Many participants drink and dance all night.
The runs, during which six purpose-bred fighting bulls chase runners through the narrow streets of Pamplona's Old Quarter over a stretch of 800 meters (half a mile), will start on Thursday and continue for a week, including the weekend, when they are usually the most dangerous because of larger crowds.
Thousands gathered to kick off the festival, which was canceled two years in a row due to the pandemic.
Thousands gathered to kick off the festival, which was canceled two years in a row due to the pandemic.
Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images
There are eight runs in total, and usually each lasts between three and five minutes. They end at the bullring, where the animals are corralled before reappearing in the evening bullfight, when they are killed.
Dozens of animal rights activists wearing dinosaur costumes protested on Tuesday in Pamplona, chanting "Bullfighting is prehistoric!"
The festival is dangerous for the humans, too. At least 16 runners have lost their lives down the years, the last casualty being a man gored by a bull in 2009.