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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene. Every July, up to a million people gather in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona for nine days of merriment. It's the San Fermin Festival, or it's better known as the running of the bulls. Locals say the celebrations were a bit muted this year because of Spain's dismal economy. Reporter Lauren Frayer ran with the bulls herself and she sent us this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Running with the bulls down narrow cobblestone streets is a timeless tradition. There are tipsy adrenaline junkies every year tempting fate. There are also the Ernest Hemingway fans, enchanted by "The Sun Also Rises," the 1926 novel that popularized Pamplona's signature fiesta.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

FRAYER: The 24-hour street parties - with the same sticky sangria residue underfoot...

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

FRAYER: ...the same nightly fireworks, even though the San Fermin budget was slashed 8 percent this year. Authorities across Spain are learning to get by on less. But the problem is so are the revelers.

RAUL LOPEZ: Many person in this San Fermin ask me how much is the beer? How much is the coke? How much, all the time.

FRAYER: Bartender Raul Lopez sulks outside the Bar Gallego where he does seasonal work every summer. He says people didn't used to care how much they spent, for at least these nine days.

LOPEZ: This San Fermin completely different than the last years.

FRAYER: Just look at the parking, he says.

LOPEZ: Another time, another year, the cars, impossible. You must put your car two kilometers far from the city. And this year, you can put the car near your home.

FRAYER: Vendors and bar owners say business is down about 20 percent from last year. People buy wine at the grocery store and drink on the street. There are more tourists from countries doing better than Spain is, these days.

JAMIRO VIST: Oh man, hey. I just crossed an ocean to see the San Fermin, you know? The party's huge, the people are great.

FRAYER: Jamiro Vist is from Brazil, where there's actually some economic growth. This is his 13th San Fermin.

VIST: Man, used to be a lot of Spanish people over here. But now you only can see foreigners.

FRAYER: And they're the ones spending money. A modest hotel normally costs about $80 dollars a night here. But during San Fermin it can cost upwards of $300. Joe McMillen, from St. Louis, says it's a little like charity.

JOE MCMILLEN: We're having a great time, and if we can support the local economy, then that's even better that way.

FRAYER: Another American is here from even farther afield.

JASON PIERCE: I'm actually coming from Afghanistan.

FRAYER: Jason Pierce is in the U.S. Marine Corps on his two weeks leave from the war zone.

PIERCE: The running of the bulls was happening on my leave, so why not? It's the running of the bulls.

FRAYER: Pierce says he'd heard about the poor Spanish economy, and noticed locals on a budget.

PIERCE: There wasn't people eating at fancy restaurants. But you definitely went with the three-euro sangria in a premade plastic bottle. You could definitely see the locals doing that.

FRAYER: Leire Aleman is the manager of the three-star Hotel Maisonnave in Pamplona's old quarter. The hotel relies on revenue from these nine days to keep it afloat for the rest of the year.

LEIRE ALEMAN: Well, the truth is that this year, we had less reservations.

FRAYER: The Provincial Hotel Association predicts occupancy will be down about 10 percent compared to last year. One in four Spaniards is out of work. Domestic tourists are coming for shorter stays.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

FRAYER: Miguel Onye is camping in a city park with friends. They're all local college students in their early 20s whose job prospects look grim come graduation next year. They've got bagged lunches and thermoses filled with beer.

MIGUEL ONYE: It's good to see that there's some happiness among the people in difficult times.

FRAYER: Summertime is Spain's festival season. Villages across the country will honor their patron saints with more wild parties like this one through August. But come September, a hangover just might be waiting. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer.

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