July 6, 2005

Wine fight, firecrackers launch Spain bull fiesta

By Emma Ross-Thomas

PAMPLONA, Spain (Reuters) - Revelers filled Pamplona with
the acidic smell of the local sparkling wine on Wednesday as a
series of powerful firecrackers launched Spain's best known
festival, the running of the bulls.

Hundreds of thousands of locals and foreign visitors packed
the central square of this northern Spanish city where they
sprayed each other with cheap sparkling wine and shaving foam
and smeared each other in flour and mustard.

"Everything is allowed here," said Javier Castillo, 25,
from Santo Domingo, Ecuador. "They throw champagne at you,
wine, sangria and no one minds."

Wednesday's party kicks off the San Fermin festival, made
famous by Ernest Hemingway's 1920s novel "The Sun also Rises."

Each morning over a week in July, six bulls are set loose
on a 825-meter (2,700-foot) course through Pamplona's cobbled
streets where thrill seekers run with the half-tonanimals to
the bull ring.

Locals and tourists all dress in the traditional white of
the centuries-old fiesta with red neckerchiefs and waistbands
but after the champagne crossfire, most outfits were spattered
pink or yellow and some encrusted with flour.

Amid the chaos, smartly dressed musicians in traditional
bands marched through the streets.

Foreign nationals have added a new tradition to the
festival, throwing themselves off a fountain into the arms of
those below. This year dozens of young men and women dived,
arms outstretched, into the drunken crowd.

"This is the wildest thing I've ever done," Mark Ritchie,
from Coffs Harbour, Australia, said as a compatriot went to
throw herself into the crowd.

The ground of the main square was dyed yellow with mustard,
and corks, the odd shoe and broken bottles piled up in the
gutter. Some party-goers avoided glass with traditional Spanish
wine skins slung across their shoulders.

"You probably get more drinks in your clothes than in your
mouth," Ben Cheetham, a 27-year-old banker from Sheffield,

Locals poured buckets of water on to dirty revelers below,
who begged for more showers.

Eighty people ended up in the hands of the Red Cross, with
four taken to hospital, a spokesman said. Police estimated
there were hundreds of thousands in the streets of this usually
conservative city.

Stained and smelling of alcohol, Simon Hulett, 21, from
Melbourne said he was just warming up: "It's been the best four
hours of my life, and it's only going to get better."