Another early start. Although many of the walking pilgrims had already set off, we waited until it was light enough to ride before leaving the albergue behind. It was foggy and surprisingly cold, although after a few hours the fog cleared. John began to complain, which he put down to the water from the stream the previous day. We stopped so that I could check the tiny stock of tablets I had thought to pack – for “just in case” scenarios such as this. For want of anything else to hand, I gave him two Imodium tablets which must have worked as before long he felt much better.
Some time after we had left Roncesvalles we were able to shed our cycling jackets as the fog lifted and the sun greeted us. Both feeling much happier, it wasn’t long before we found a small café where we stopped for a bite to eat and some coffee. Since leaving Roncesvalles, we had been descending quite a bit, with the odd climb now and again. We passed through village after village, only now and again meeting up with other pilgrims. By lunchtime, we were on the outskirts of Pamplona. Already the temperature had risen to at least 30° – such a contrast from just a few hours earlier.
Not sure which way we should be going to actually get to the centre of Pamplona, I stopped a young woman and asked her if she knew the way. As happens so often when you stop a stranger to ask for directions, she told us that she didn’t know because she herself was a visitor to the area. We explained that we were riding the Camino and she said that she was a nun on retreat and insisted on giving us a blessing before we said our farewells. We eventually noticed a paved traffic-free riverside road and decided to try our luck – specially when John noticed a few pilgrims in front of us. We had inadvertently found the Pilgrim’s path which led straight into a local park.
There were numerous benches dotted around the park so we sat down to rest for a while and watched as one or two pilgrims, and occasionally a small group of them, ambled slowly passed. Then, as a pilgrim walked passed he stopped to speak to us and ask how we were enjoying the atmosphere.
Quite by accident we had arrived in the middle of the Annual Bull Run week – an event which I would never willingly have sought out myself although I was relieved to find out that the custom of letting the bulls run through the streets only took place in the mornings so we had missed that. Add to this the week-long festival of the Fiesta de San Fermin (celebrating Saint Fermin), you have a recipe for crowded streets and general mayhem.
He told us that someone had mentioned we might be lucky enough to get a bed for the night at the local albergue just up the road. We decided to investigate, but the manager told us that, although he did have beds, he would not advise us to stay because there would be no sleep for anybody in Pamplona that night. He advised us to try and reach Cizur Menor. Besides, the thought of accidentally becoming involved in the following day’s bull run (where bulls are let out in the street and hapless men run after – or away from – them) was not really something I wanted to get involved in.
Cycling rather than walking gives us the chance to carry on. To be honest, if I was walking the Camino, I would be very loath to walk out of Pamplona. Still, we did first want to spend some time in the city centre. So we eventually left the park behind, then soon realised we had to get off the bikes as we approached avenue after avenue filled with people milling around the entrances of pubs and restaurants. And many must have started drinking very early, which made it difficult for us to find our way through the crowds even pushing the bikes. Reaching the city’s main centre we were greeted by row upon row of open-air market stalls.
The atmosphere was electrifying, and it was hard not to feel a tinge of excitement mixed with confusion. Locking our bikes to by a heavy tree, we slipped down a small side street and through an alcove where a small shop was doing a roaring trade. I bought two baguettes and some sliced cheese, along with a few cold drinks, then we wandered on further until we found a small playing area with swings and a bench. Away from the general roar of the more crowded streets, we ate our lunch and watched as people sauntered passed. A few children stopped to play on the swings, their exhausted parents harrying them along. I sent our son a text to tell him we were in Pamplona. He was very jealous and replied that people pay a small fortune to be there for the annual festivities and we had stumbled on it quite by accident.
Some time later, and ready to carry on, we found ourselves utterly confused and totally lost. Of course, having left the general thoroughfare, we had also lost the shell signs, which had all but disappeared. After stopping and asking for directions, which got us no further than the next street, John started wandering around looking along the ground for the telltale shells. We must have held an air of despair in our inability to find any waymarks because just then a lady stopped me and said something in Spanish. Sadly, neither of us have enough grasp of Spanish to be able to understand anybody speaking it generally but we were in luck. As soon as the lady realized that I didn’t know what she was saying, she reverted to English and gave me perfect directions on how to relocate the shell signs. It transpired that she was on her lunch break from the local Tourists Office. She also pointed out that John had been standing under the very sign we were looking for! Not for the first time, I thanked my Guardian Angel for putting us into her path.
We were soon back on our way, and the constant roar and bustle of Pamplona’s centre gave way to a hushed quiet as we spent the rest of the day riding through scenic lanes. We were by now both tired, and happy to be leaving Pamplona behind us. The temperature – in the centre of Pamplona a wall clock had shown 34°C – had been climbing all day and it was with some relief that we reached our overnight stay in Cizur Menor. We stopped at the first albergue we came across, probably not the best thing to do, as both dormitories were full.
But the very nice lady in charge said that it would be no problem because she could put up some makeshift beds for us. Watching as she pulled two mattresses, smelling pretty mouldy, and placed them on the floor. My thoughts went into overdrive – we weren’t about to refuse, specially as we had already paid, but now I had the added worry of bed bugs (we had heard some horrendous stories of how they would be found in some of the beds if not checked). I mused that, as our beds were only brought out for occasional use, they would surely be riddled with these “monsters”. Then I remember that we had carried a small bottle of lavender oil with us. I had ready that lavender oil is great because bed bugs can’t stand the smell. I’m not sure if this was true, but a quick dousing of our sleeping bags might well have done the trick because neither of us were bothered that night.
The showers before John went in search of a washing machine for our small collection of dirty clothes were very welcome. Nice to feel human once again. Afterwards we looked for somewhere to eat and noticed a restaurant just down the street. As we entered, we were hailed by two French women who had gathered up a small group of pilgrims and they invited us to join them. Discussing the day’s events in disjointed English and French, we all laughed over the waitress’s inability to get our orders right. Joanne, one of the French women, asked us why we were doing the Camino and when I said that, after the strenuous day that we had just had, I was sure it was going to earn us a place in heaven, to which she replied “Ah, for Brownie points, then”…
It was a very pleasant evening and we were grateful for their company, as it made up for the rather sparse accommodation. Sadly, as we were not walking the Camino we knew that we would not be seeing this particular group again; which was a pity as they would have made very agreeable companions. They did ask us if we might consider spending the following night in Puente la Reina, but that was going to be too close for us.