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Walking the Camino…Pamplona

Pamplona – literature and running with the bulls…

Pamplona or Iruña is the historical capital city of Navarre, in Spain, and of the former Kingdom of Navarre. The city is famous worldwide for the running of the bulls during the San Fermín festival, which is held annually from July 6 to 14.

This Basque city for me is synonymous with adventure. A romantic notion first embedded into my imagination back in the mid-1970’s when I read James A. Michener’s The Drifters. A novel, which follows six Vietnam War draft dodgers drifting from Torremolino across to Algrave, up to Pamplona down to Mozambique and back up to Marrakech; pulls the reader into their innermost thoughts and desires.

It was the chapter on Pamplona and the running of the bulls that stayed with me. Not particularly something I wanted to witness however, Michener’s writing prose bought the atmosphere of the fiesta into my Bucklands Beach bedroom. As I read I saw in my mind the matador skillfully whirling his cape to woo the horned bull, heard the dull hush from a crowd on edge as they wondered whether the victory would go to the bull or the matador.

Three decades later I was introduced to the writing of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway an aficionado of bullfighting explains, “[t]he only place where you could see life and death, i. e., violent death now that the wars were over, was in the bull ring and I wanted very much to go to Spain where I could study it. I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things, and one of the simplest things of all and the most fundamental is violent death.”

Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises published in 1926 has made Pamplona and the San Fermín festival one of the best-known fiestas in Spain. He later went onto write Death in an Afternoon (1932) describing and explaining the technical aspects of this dangerous ritual and “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty that can be produced by a man, an animal, and a piece of scarlet serge draped on a stick.”

I though wasn’t interested in the bullfighting; I was however, interested in walking in Hemingway’s footsteps down the narrow streets and making my way into the Plaza del Castillo and sitting down eating pintxos (Basque name for tapas) and drinking the local Navarre vino rouge.

Walking the Camino: Zubriri to Pamplona

We had a great start to the days walk, deciding to stop in Larrasoaña for breakfast we found a small café with great coffee, banana’s, oranges and peaches. Our Brazilian friend Daniel was already at the outside bar counter drinking coffee with his Spanish friends. Amidst the laughter and chatter the café owner appeared with a chilled bottle of vino rouge and glasses insisting that we all join him, raise glasses and salud. I had a mouthful and gave the rest to an elder man whom we had met an hour earlier.



Somewhere up in the hills and appropriately around lunchtime we found an amazing albergue and bar which was run by ageing hippies.  On the bar sat glass jugs fill of smoothies (the Melon and Pineapple smoothy was sensational) and pizza’s topped with corn and shrimp or salami and tomato. They reheated the slices in the wood fire pizza oven so safe to eat.




 Walking on empty into Pamplona…

By 2pm the mood of the day had changed. I was in severe pain from my fall and although thankful to have found an open pharmacy on the outskirts of Pamplona to get Arnica and more Compeed I was longing for the days walk to end. We continued to wend our way through deserted city streets, the heat from the sun and tarmac zapping the energy out of us, while tempers became frayed as we tried to follow the conflicting shell signs, which signify ‘the way’.  At one point we walked into a Romany compound children and parents out in the street or hanging out of the warehouse-type housing building. We closed up ranks and our pace hastened. The final climb up into the old semi-ramparted city of Pamplona felt impossible and while the others found a second-wind to climb up into the narrow streets my strength came from grunting like Maria Sharapova.

The boys found Albergue Jesús y María, thankfully we had the top floor which had less bunks in the cubicles and a great view of the Jesuit church ceiling. While the guys went out to drink beer and sat on my bunk and burst into tears. Finally I managed to shower and change, redress my heal and go with Lisa down to join the boys at the bar.

I decided to go back to the Albergue and find out about porting my backpack and walking with a day back. Once arranged I felt better.

Meltdown over…time to party…

We wandered through the narrow streets stopping for pintxos and wine, picking up our Camino friends along the way. Bought Dean a cobalt blue, trimmed with fluro yellow puffier jacket for the cold nights to come. Bumped into fellow Irish Camino Way walkers and bantered about rugby teams while eating more pintxos – the stand out was the roasted bell peppers topped with fresh anchovies held onto crusty bread by twisted bamboo skewers.




The boys walked me back to the albergue and then went back out to party.
As I sat on my bed contemplating the day and my war wounds the lovely Jenny from Wales wandered around to give me a cuddle and make sure I was going to walk the next day.

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