We left the Spanish coastline, making our way inland towards Pamplona. The map showed nothing but mountains all around us so we were expecting hellish inclines. Instead the inclines never appeared as the road simply followed the river, weaving between the hills, leaving perfectly flat riding for us to enjoy.
Our cycling took us past sections of the Camino de Santiago, the longest pilgrimage walk in Europe. My uncle and aunt were actually in the midst of completing a 755km Camino walk which made our ride look easy. Perfect roads meant that our planned pit stop Tolosa was reached in the first two hours, long before lunch.
The next day we were feeling largely optimistic with thoughts of more flat but the hills finally decided to show up. In fact our guesthouse owner warned us of an 18% incline just after the town. As we climbed motorcyclists zoomed past, giving us friendly waves and thumbs up, but I’m sure it was stemming from pure pity.
After the climbs came the fun declines with green mountain scenery contrasted with white cliffs and the odd goat farm. For the rest of the day we followed quiet B roads weaving beneath the very busy motorways. Even tunnels were avoided by circling underneath them.
We rounded the last mountain with a group of professional road cyclists clad in matching lycra. As they flew past they all cheered “Adelante!” (Forward! or they may have been just telling us to get out of the way). A few industrial streets later we reached the centre of Pamplona.
We explored the cobbled city streets before finding City Hall. Fireworks are launched from the top of the building every year, on the 6th of July at noon, to kick off the San Fermin festival, known globally as the running of the bulls. Ernest Hemingway, who called Pamplona home for many years, introduced San Fermin to the rest of the world in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. As we were there in October there were no bull running but plenty of festive paraphernalia and strolling tourists.
Our AirBnb host Daniel proudly announced that he had spent all day preparing for our arrival. Our room was neat and clean with a queen bed and chairs doubling up as bedside tables but I was concerned for his time management skills if it had taken him all day to make a bed. When I spotted his makeshift wood workshop set up in his loungeroom I realised that he had literally been making the bed all day, using chopped up pallets to build a bed frame. We were pretty impressed.
Daniel was kind enough to take us on a tour of his city including some of his, and now my, favourite bottle shops.
The bottle shops had beers from all over the world lining their shelves. You simply picked what you wanted and the owner would hand you a cold one from the fridge. It’s legal to drink on the street so the owner simply keeps a bottle opener outside.
We spent the next day drinking €1 coffees and looking over San Fermin knick knacks. The shops line the very short course, 826 meters in fact, through the centre of town where the bulls are funneled into the bull ring. The event attracts over 1 million people each year and lasts just 2 to 6 minutes depending if any bulls decide to turn around and cause havoc with the slower runners.
A steady stream of weary looking Camino pilgrims slowly weaved their way through, including these two gentlemen leading gear laiden donkeys.
Daniel recomended we check out the Bardenas Reales desert to the south-east where Game of Thrones had just finished filming a week before. We were not equipped with desert exploring tyres but we were familiar with the concept of sand so off to the desert we rode…