Day 16 Biarritz to Sumbilla 37 miles 4 hrs 11 mins at 8.8
Sun at last! I draped all my clothes and wet things
around on hedges, my bike, etc and and attempted to dry them out. I stayed till
12, after which, if you are still on the camp site, it costs another day, no
A few miles down the road the Pyrénées come into view and the road gets a lot
rode down the coast through
St Jean de Luz and Hendaye and then inland to
finally in Spain. It was a Sunday and I was grateful that Kath had said
“take some pesetas with you in case you arrive in Spain on a Sunday”.
I sat down at a local cafe and ordered something called revuelta de atun it
turned out to be a runny tuna omelette. It was horrible and must be where
the word revolting comes from. Andre, a Belgium, sat down on a nearby table and
we started chatting about various things. It turned out that he was on the
way to the south of Spain for a friend’s wedding and having endured the same
awful weather on his motorbike through France he had started to have fun on the
Spanish mountain roads when the sun appeared. Too much fun as it turned out as he had
approached a corner too fast, lost control and written off his 1000cc Kawasaki.
He had also hurt his knee and elbow and was all bandaged up. He had sent
what was left of the motorbike back to Belgium on the train and was about to
leave for home that night. He was, as you might expect, very very pissed
off about the whole thing especially as his girlfriend of many years had left
him just before the trip and the bike he thought may not be insured in
Spain. I managed to convince him things were not that
bad, he could have killed himself for instance, or worse, chosen revuelta de atun
omelette at this cafe
and why go back to Belgium on the train when he could continue to the wedding on
another train and perhaps meet a new girlfriend there? The rest of the
afternoon was spent chatting about destiny, the chaos theory and South America
where it turned out he had spent two years and knew most of the places I had
recently returned from. He had also been on the pilgrim route from
Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela, something I had thought about doing but the
weather of the last week had put me off . I was heading for Santander and
the ferry home. The result of the afternoon’s chat was that I decided to
attempt to cycle the Camino de Santiago after all and he changed his train ticket from Belgium
to the wedding.
I set off at about 6pm towards Pamplona, having
bought a map at last in a Shell garage (appropriate maybe as the Shell logo and
the scallop shell emblem of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route are not
dissimilar). The map was useful as it showed Pamplona is
known as Irunea in this part of Spain (Basque thing I think) and I had wondered
why I had not seen any signs to Pamplona. I followed a
very pleasant river valley up into the mountains on the
N121A road for a couple of hours, thinking
that this would be my first night without a camp site, but no, just as I was
about to give up and camp by the roadside a
camp site appeared at Sumbilla. It turned out to be the
best campsite so far, on top of a mountain, loo paper, good showers (how do they
get water up there?) a good and cheap restaurant and wine at £1.04 a bottle
(they had cheaper but I went for the best). Bliss ! I think I will stay
here, maybe I will forget trying to cycle the the pilgrim path to Santiago.
Day 17 Sumbilla to Cizur Menor 37 miles 5 hrs 13 mins at 6.9
It was difficult to leave the great campsite at Sumbilla.
It was in a lovely spot on top of a
with higher mountains all around.. There were cow bells (or perhaps sheep
bells), sunshine and nice people running the place. I had another attempt
to dry everything in the sun and borrowed some tools from the nice people to
tighten up the nice front wheel cones as they had started to get a bit slack after
800 miles or so. (I was always told at school to use a better adjective than
"nice" - but it is such a nice word). I set off at about 12 again, so much for the early start.
The pleasant river valley soon became a serious hill, too steep to ride up
(later having ridden up worse in northern Spain I would perhaps revise this
assumption). It was a five mile uphill push and the weather was by now
very hot. Lorries were also making slow progress and I tried hanging on to
a couple of them to try and be "towed" up the hill but after a few
hundred yards my arm gave up. On the climb up the hill there were two tunnels which were a bit
daunting for a cyclist as there was no cycle track, the lighting was not that
good and there were muddy slippery bits I could not see coming in the dark.
In the second tunnel a pickup truck with flashing lights positioned itself
behind me and stayed there protecting me from the following traffic. I
assumed this was perhaps the tunnel police or something. Feeling guilty
about the queue that was building up behind I rode as fast as I could but it was
slightly uphill and the tunnel went on and on for what turned out to be about
three miles. When we finally emerged the pickup sped off, it was nothing
to do with the tunnel police just a private motorist who for some reason had
flashing lights on top of his pickup. I suppose it was nice of him but I
don’t think the 50 or so vehicles that had built up behind us in the tunnel
thought so judging by the look on their drivers’ faces. Just outside the
tunnel I stopped for a rest by some impressive
statues by the road.
After the tunnels it was more or less down hill to
Pamplona where I saw the first
de Santiago sign Pamplona is a much larger city than I had imagined, rather
modern on the outskirts with lots of blocks of flats. The centre is old
streets, castles and amazing old buildings. The whole is set
in a large valley surrounded by mountains rather like Santiago in Chile but on a
much smaller scale. I looked around the centre for a couple of hours.
They were still clearing up from the famous bull run event of two or three
days ago. Judging by the piles of mess it must have been quite a party,
most of the city being reminiscent of the marquee the day after the SAS ball.
I saw some signs that marked the pilgrim way through the
city and followed them to Cizur Menor, a small village a few miles South of
Pamplona. The signs that marked the pilgrim way (camino de Santiago) were
blue with a yellow representation of the scallop shell emblem of the pilgrims.
There were also yellow arrows pointing the way on lamp posts, walls, stones or
anything handy. There were two refugios for pilgrims at Cizur Menor both
of which were full but I could put my tent up in the garden of one of them and
use the shower and cooking
I was given my Credencial del Peregrino, a sort of pilgrim passport that is
stamped along the way and serves as proof at Santiago that you have indeed
followed the pilgrim route and deserve a Compostellana, The certificate awarded
at the end of the journey. It is also required if one intends to stay at any of
the refugios along the camino .
I had a meal at the
restaurant across the street. It was served very abruptly by the off hand
waitress, so abruptly that I did not actually see the pudding being plonked in
front of me, maybe I blinked or something. The meal was good value at
about £3.00 for three courses including bread and a full bottle of fairly
passable red wine. I had chosen lomo al plancha followed by flan. I was impressed (the food not the
waitress) but later I would learn that in Spain a la plancha as well as a la
romana and various other descriptions all seem to mean fried.
Virtually all meals include papas fritas (chips) and a small salad, very rarely
any "non salad" vegetables, (well never as far as I can remember). The
food is a bit like South America but not as varied and with very few exceptions
not as good. I would soon tire of fried food. I have to say that Spanish food in good
restaurants is superb but beyond my daily budget I am afraid.
The nice peaceful refugio garden that I had pitched
my tent in had
two drawbacks, ants and a nearby very loud church clock bell that belted (must
come from the word bell I suppose) out throughout the night on the hour and then
for some strange reason again at seven minutes past the hour, Basque summer time
perhaps? Unless there were actually two very similar sounding clocks one of
which was slow, or fast? Am I going mad?
Day 18 Cizur Menor to Estella 34 miles 4 hrs 27 mins at 7.6
My first day as a bona fide pilgrim. I set off at
about 9 am, long after the other pilgrims had left (mostly on foot) and I
soon found out why they had left at 6 am or before. Gosh it gets hot after about 10
am, 33 degrees in the shade. I had been advised at the refugio to
head South to Eunate rather than follow the normal route via Alto du Perdon. The
route was partly on small roads
and partly on the off road pilgrim track. It would have been easy going
apart from the heat. There were a few hills but mainly a gradual descent
through seemingly endless vineyards and distant mountains. I visited the church of
about 20 miles from Pamplona. It was apparently built in the 11th century
and used as a pilgrim’s burial place alongside a hospital run by the order of
St John of Jerusalem. It was quite small and had fascinating windows with
a sort of semi transparent stone instead of glass.
I arrived at
Puente la Reina at midday with its famous
medieval bridge and narrow streets. I looked around for an hour or so
before setting off again in the burning sun. At about 2 o’clock it
became too hot for me to continue so I stopped at Cirauqui for lunch. Cirauqui is a
very old town built on a steep hill in the centre of a wide valley. There
was a church at the top of the hill, no visible shops and it all
looked a thousand years old, probably because most of it was.
I climbed to the church
and watched as thousands of swallows gathered around the church spire presumably
getting ready for their long trip back to South Africa. Their formation
flying amongst the buildings was most impressive.
There was a restaurant at the bottom of the hill near the
main road so I had a meal there for an excuse to escape the afternoon sun.
It was the, becoming familiar, fried "something" with chips and a bit of
salad followed by flan, which by the way, are small caramel custard things that
feature on most cheap menus and usually come straight out of a fridge in their own
plastic cup. There was also the usual full bottle of very passable red wine,
which I drank. This might have been a mistake as when I set off again at about 5
o’clock I was feeling a bit light headed and it was still very hot indeed.
Later I learnt that if one is alone at a table then one is really only supposed to drink
half the bottle, oh well. Much later I learnt that the fried "something" was in
fact a "Lomo" which apparently is a beast that features on most cheap menus in
Spain but is very rarely seen running about.
I arrived at Estella at about 7 o’clock. Estella is a
beautiful old town set low in a steep valley within a large valley on the banks of
the river Ega. Failing to find the camp site (as usual) I booked into the pilgrim refugio and set off into town to explore. Again rather like Puente la
Reina the town is very old
and fascinating with
main square and some sort of medieval fiesta was going on with a lot of
people dressed in medieval costumes, jugglers and other “shows”, one of
which was a one man band dressed in skins on a three wheeled bike covered in
junk and things. He must have had a non medieval synthesiser hidden
somewhere but the resulting noise was enchanting, almost ethereal, as he played
along and sang. I followed for about half an hour, fascinated, as did many
others, mainly kids, perhaps a modern day pied piper? Unfortunately the
refugios shut their doors at 10 o’clock which is too early as Spanish towns
don’t come alive until about then so I missed the fun and the fiesta and for
that matter even a meal as the restaurants don’t open till 9.30 at the
earliest in Spain. This 10 o’clock curfew and perhaps also the fact that
the night was spent in a dormitory with 20 other snoring pilgrims would mean
that this would be my first and last stay in a refugio on the whole trip.
Perhaps a third reason is that most pilgrims seem to leave very early in the
morning, about 6, this means getting up at 5.30 or before – far too early for
me! At this refugio the pet cockerel in the back garden made certain
everyone was up at daybreak! Including me, from now on chicken will
feature in my diet as often as possible.