Camino Postcard 3: Zubiri to Pamplona

Gateway to the Future

13th April 2019. I got a good night’s sleep in Zubiri and so set off for Pamplona the next morning in good spirits. It didn’t last. As soon as I left Zubiri, I had to climb a long slope, which hurt my right leg a bit; it would take nearly two weeks before it got anywhere near used to climbing upwards and even then I would be glad whenever we came to a flat path.

At the top of the slope was a very welcome water tap. I filled my water bottle. As it turned out, this would be the only time on the Camino that I would use these taps.

Ninety or so minutes later I arrived in Larrasoaña and stopped to take a photograph of its medieval bridge (above). Thinking back to the early days of the Camino now, I feel like I crossed quite a few of these. I don’t know how many I did actually cross but you have to hand it to medieval architects and builders, they certainly knew how to make things last.

Somewhere between Larrasoaña and Pamplona I passed the above farm building and entered Basque country. I wish I knew more about the Basque people. About the sum of my knowledge is that they are fiercely independent and that their language is not related to any other in Europe (is this correct?).

Certainly, it does look very different to Spanish; with its use of hard letters like K and X it has a rough hewn, dwarfish, feel about it – it’s as if the language came out of the earth rather than from the people. But maybe it just means that the Basque people are of the earth in a way that no one else in Europe is. I don’t know. Before I go back to Spain in the future, though, I hope I can learn at least a little more about them.

It was about this time that I noticed a habit of at least some Spanish people – saying ‘hello’ to you as they pass you so that it is next to impossible to say ‘hello’ back. That was a bit vexing as one wants to be as friendly as possible.

By the bye, one or two of the people that I met today had a very proud bearing. They reminded me of the Spanish as depicted in the Asterix books.

Graffiti is popular feature of the Camino Francés; the vast majority of messages are positive, though a few are sadly negative; sometimes, like above, they are questions. I saw many political slogans as well

Further along the path I stopped at a bar-hostel called the Parada de Zuriain where I met a little cat who liked to beg but was not so fond of the cockerels walking around. Not long later, I came upon a group of people who were getting ready to climb a nearby cliff face. This gave me a chance to be witty and say to another pilgrim that if we did the same it would be a shortcut to Pamplona. Rather shamelessly, I am still laughing at my own joke!

All in all, the road to Pamplona was not a difficult one. Although periodic climbing was involved, I think it was still the easiest day yet. That’s just as well as it was surely the hottest.

To reach the city of bulls I had to first walk through a town called Burlada. That didn’t take too long but after a day of walking, I really wanted my first urban environment to be my destination. I took one last break in Burlada, strapped on my backpack and began the final push. Presently, I was approaching the city’s walls. Between us was one final road crossing.

Now, and for a brief moment, things got difficult. The yellow arrows told me to cross the road and go straight on behind a large wall. However, the other pilgrims with me were ignoring the arrows and walking up the road on the outside of the wall. This was a test of my resolve: did I trust the yellow arrows or other people? Did they know something I didn’t?

I trusted the arrows. My reward was to take a short cut along the Paseo Vergel to the Portal del Francia. The road taken by the other pilgrims was the Calle Vergel. It also took them to the Portal del Francia but by a longer path. I have to admit, I felt quite pleased with myself for sticking to my guns and trusting the arrows, thus finishing the day’s walk ahead of those walking along the Calle Vergel.

At the French gate, I took the photograph below. Afterwards, I looked it at and admired the way I had managed (by accident) to catch the sun’s rays. Unbeknownst to me at the time, however, I had also caught something else in the photo. Or rather, some people. Some people who would turn out to have a very great impact on my pilgrimage. Unfortunately, if you are reading this between 29th – 31st May 2019, you’ll have to wait until Sunday 2nd June to find out who!

Once I entered the city, I made my way to the Jesus and Mary albergue, and checked in. That afternoon, I got confused by a grumpy bar lady, ditched my sandals (too heavy and bulky for my backpack) and bought a pair of flip-flops, went to my last Mass in Spain and failed to tell the difference between a washing machine and dryer in the albergue. Oh, and visited the bullring to pay my respects to one of my most favourite writers, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway loved watching the bull running in Pamplona. He also set one of his books here – Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, which is based on a trip he took to the city in the 20s

When I arrived in Pamplona, there were a lot of people there – drinking, laughing, chatting, walking about, seeing the sights. It was good to see them enjoying themselves but I felt no desire to be part of it. In fact, I couldn’t wait to leave – pilgrims need quiet; they need villages and hamlets. I hadn’t considered before arriving in Pamplona, but I knew afterwards that towns and cities were not for me. Not if I wanted to be true to my pilgrim spirit.