Revellers gather for the opening of the San Fermin festival (Chupinazo) in Pamplona, Spain, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Vincent West | VINCENT WEST


Thousands of revellers wearing white clothes and red scarves filled the streets of Spain's Pamplona today as the bang of a firecracker kicked off the first San Fermin bull-running festival since the Covid pandemic struck.

A 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 cancelled 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.

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 metres (0.5 mile), will start on Thursday and continue for a week, including the weekend, when they are usually the most dangerous because of larger crowds.

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.