Friends of Pamplona: a Group of Foreign Aficionados

Sanfermines attracts many kinds of foreigners: those who come to party, those who come to run the encierro and those who come for reunions with old friends. For the past 30 years, one group of foreigners who call themselves, “Friends of Pamplona” are here again in the fiesta for bulls and friendship.

Thirty aficionados from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway, the UK, or Mexico meet at the Windsor in the Plaza del Castillo, which they call “the office”, as well as in the homes of some of those who finally decided to buy flats in Pamplona.

One curious tradition of this group takes place on the last day of Sanfermines when a bottle of Jack Daniels is passed around for a sip, a thank-you for the fiesta and a toast for one of the first American runners of the encierro.

José Joaquín Centurión, a cardiologist who has Cuban parents and a grandfather from Navarra, lives in Miami.  He has been coming to Sanfermines with his family since 1997. In 1999, they decided to buy a flat to also be used on Christmas Eve.  Centurión decided to stop running the encierro last year on his 60th birthday.

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Each year on Friday on a day in Sanfermines that does not coincide with the 6th or the 7th of July, the group meets at the flat for a blind wine tasting. They all bring a bottle of wine with the stipulation that the price per bottle not be over 15 euros.  After the vote for the best wine, the winner – owner of the bottle – is awarded a prize.

José Joaquín Centurión may not run the encierros now, but he does go each and every day to the hospital to talk with other doctors who have come from all over the world to study the wounds left by bull gorings. “They are very similar wounds to those that happen in wars: penetrating and with many “paths” leading out from the initial goring – like shrapnel. We study the process of the surgery.”

Tom Gowen from Philadelphia is another who fell in love with Pamplona and with a girl from the city and bought a flat in the Plaza del Castillo. He has lived in Pamplona since 1973 but stopped running the encierro in 2013.

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Rick Musica came to Pamplona 17 years ago attracted by the bulls, but now he includes the people. “I like everything about bulls; I think is they are incredible animals. No other animal is similar to them.”

Robert Liam, from New Mexico, 63-years-old has been running the encierro for 30 years without exception. His favourite section is the curve of Estafeta and in all this time, Liam has had an arm broken; He has a prothesis in one knee and other minor injuries that have left their marks. At first he ran because of the bulls, but later, he found a type of friendship in the route while waiting to run that kept him going on.

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All of these foreigners warn of the dangers of those who try to run the encierro without any knowledge at all of what awaits them. They also point out the problems of runners who touch the bulls, sometimes causing the animal to turn his head.

On Tuesday, with the end of Sanfermines 2015 and the “Pobre de Mi), these Friends of Pamplona will return to their normal lives and wait for Sanfermines 2016.  One of the younger members of the group, Brian Zapin, 37-years-old from New York, sums it up, saying “Pamplona is a place where it is possible for all of us to share our passion for the bulls and be with friends.  It´s probable that outside of Pamplona, we would have nothing in common.”

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