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A Special Friend of the Encierro

Written by Stephanie Mutsaerts

Photos by Jesus Caso and Stephanie Mutsaerts

This afternoon Xabi Mintegi presented his novel ‘Amanece en San Fermín’ in the Nuevo Casino Principal, in Pamplona. For the occasion, his Chicago-born friend Bill Hillmann, boxer, writer and fellow mozo (bull runner) wrote a touching article reflecting on his friendship with Xabi, making reference to the local mozos.

Amanece en San Fermín

When San Fermin was cancelled last summer most of us mourned the loss including me, that goofy American guy who’s been gored a few times and is crazy about San Fermines. I tried not to think of bulls at all because it was just too painful. My friend, 29-year-old Xabi Mintegi did the opposite. He sat down and started writing about his powerful love for the bulls and the encierro, beginning in June through August until he had finished his book, “Amanece en San Fermín”. Xabi is not a writer by trade, he is not even a very visible runner because he refuses media interviews. He is an old-school runner who does it for the love of his culture and the bulls and has had many excellent runs on Santo Domingo over his ten years running in San Fermin. That all said, Xabi is very special person and spirit in the culture of the encierro. The purpose of this article is to try to explain to you what makes him so special and why you should both read his book and come to his socially distanced launch event on December 5th at the Nuevo Casino, and don’t worry if the event reaches the reduced capacity, Mintegi will also be signing books after the event near the door of Nuevo Casino with social distancing in place.

There are well known bull-runners like Atanasio, Jokin Zuasti, Juan Pedro Lecuona and and Aitor Aristregui who are and were in the encierro highlights leading bulls year-after-year and are beloved for their excellence and humility. But then there are less visible runners like Carmelo Butini who’s had many excellent runs and run encierros all over Spain, survived a terrible goring and who’s passion for the encierro is mountainous. Carmelo’s spirit dominates the hours before and after the encierro and the months between. He recently bought the countdown to San Fermin clock to hang above his family’s bookshop door on Estafeta named Casa Del Libro. Butini has an unofficial encierro museum in the basement of Casa Del Libro. It’s Carmelo’s sense of humor, his contagious love for the encierro and his vigor when he congratulates you on a successful run that bonds the other runners with him. Carmelo is a powerful spiritual center and leader amongst the runners.


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For the generation thirty years old and younger, Xabi Mintegi is one of those spiritual centers and leaders. After the encierro, Xabi’s loud racous greetings “Ostia! Cabron! Eres Un Crak! Madre Mia!” resonate throughout Estafeta, Tudela, Tafalla, Alfaro and all the way down to San Sebastian de Los Reyes. And on July 14th in Pamplona, you are sure to see Xabi with tears in his eyes because no one feels the pain of the end of San Fermin like, Mintegi. All the young runners know to give Mintegi a hug along Estafeta that day because he will be utterly inconsolable. Where we runners are stoic and too ashamed to show our pain, it is Mintegi who cries the tears we all feel inside when saying goodbye to another San Fermin.

Hay encierros de renombre como Atanasio, Jokin Zuasti, Juan Pedro Lecuona y Aitor Aristregui que están y estuvieron en el encierro destacando año tras año los toros líderes y amados por su excelencia y humildad. Pero luego hay corredores menos visibles como Carmelo Butini, que ha tenido muchas carreras excelentes y encierros en toda España, sobrevivió a una terrible cornada y cuya pasión por el encierro es montañosa. El espíritu de Carmelo domina las horas antes y después del encierro y los meses intermedios. Recientemente compró el reloj de cuenta regresiva para San Fermín para colgarlo sobre la puerta de la librería de su familia en Estafeta llamada Casa del Libro. Butini tiene un museo encierro no oficial en el sótano de la Casa del Libro. Es el sentido del humor de Carmelo, su contagioso amor por el encierro y su vigor cuando te felicita por una carrera exitosa que une a los demás corredores con él. Carmelo es un poderoso centro espiritual y líder entre los corredores.


bill hillmann and xabi mintegi northern spain travel running of the bulls


Xabi is already a seasoned businessman who started a candy shop in his home town of Etxarri Aranatz when he was just 19-years-old named Urtxintxa Goxoki Denda. Now the shop is a center for the town as people come in at all hours for snacks, mostly it’s children. When you enter the shop a massive Victoriano del Rio bull named Brevito stands tall across from the entrance. It’s my mount, Brevito gored me in 2014. I asked Xabi if he would hang Brevito after I found out he had a sort of museum for bull running in his shop. I am very proud to be a small part of something so precious. On the same wall several historic books on the encierro sit displayed on little shelves and behind the register is a large photo of one of Xabi’s many brilliant runs on Santo Domingo hangs on the wall. In the back room there is a TV for video games and when the kids are interested, Xabi puts on videos of the Encierro as well. All of this is noteworthy because El Mundo de Toro is not very popular in Etxarri Aranatz but Xabi’s passion for bulls is special and very contagious.

Xabi’s strong and beautiful friendship with Aitor Aristregui is a very important bond amongst the younger generation of runners. I have had the honor to observe it closely. The great encierro in San Sebastian De Los Reyes was trying to give their best runner of the year award to Aitor but because he is so humble and shy, he wouldn’t go to the award ceremony. Then Aitor said he would go but only if they brought Xabi as his companion. Xabi reassured Aitor and helped him with the nerves of having to get on stage and make a very short speech. Without Xabi’s friendship Aitor never would have accepted the honor but that is just one of those intangible things that make Xabi so special.


bill hillmann northern spain travel running of the bulls encierro


Xabi is also a historian of the encierro. He has committed Javier Solano’s book on the 50-years of bull running to memory and can recall all sorts of interesting facts and statistics on the encierro. I brought Xabi up to my friend Tom Gowen’s apartment in Plaza del Castillo to see Tom’s version of the museum of the encierro. Gowen ran with Atanasio in the 1970’s and was an excellent bull-runner himself. Gowen also never lets the truth get in the way of a good story and as we looked at a famous photo of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Michener running on Santo Domingo, Gowen exaggerated a little and said that one of the gored runners in the photo died. Xabi grew restless, finally he confronted Gowen, “Mr. Tom Gowen, I have a lot of respect for you but I know the dates and names of every death known in history of San Fermin and no runner was killed on this day on Santo Domingo!” Gowen grinned proudly, Xabi had passed the exam. Then the two of them began playfully negotiating the sale of Gowen’s beatiful apartment to Mintegi.

But possibly the sweetest moment that displays why and how Xabi is so special was one morning in 2018, I walked up near Mercederes when Aitor Aristregui rushed up to me very distraught, he asked if I’d seen, Xabi. I grinned and said “No but I’m sure he’s ok,”. “No!” Aitor scolded me, “I have a bad feeling!” A terrible fear spread across Aitor’s trembling face, his chest heaved. He rushed away from me looking for Xabi. I followed knowing Xabi was ok, because word would have spread to us by then but also touched by what is easily the most beautiful fear in the encierro, the fear for a friend. I rounded the curve down toward Santo Domingo and found the two of them hugging with Xabi consoling Aitor. Xabi was ok, it seemed like the whole of San Fermines was now at peace because this very special friend of the encierro was safe.
And that is just a small peak inside, a sliver of light through the lens of some silly American guy, to show you why Xabi Mintegi such a special friend to the encierro and San Fermin and of course to me.

I hope to see you on Saturday my beloved Navarros,

Bill Hillmann

For those who are looking for a Christmas present with a theme or would like to get the viewpoint of a passionate Mozo (bull runner), then this is your novel! Feel free to ask us to send you one just in time for Chirstmas! 


book bill hillmann and xabi mintegi northern spain travel

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