Zubiri to Pamplona is a 20 km walk through tiny towns (I love these names: Illaratz, Ezkirotz, Zuriain and Zabaldika, among others) and picturesque countryside along the river Agra. The journey ends with the arrival in Pamplona over La Magdelena Bridge (Puente de la Magdelena). Pamplona, with nearly 200,000 people, is one of the largest cities on the Camino Francés, and it’s wild to think of approaching it on foot, entering the hustle and bustle with our backpacks and water bottles and trekking poles and hangry stomachs.
Pamplona, of course, is famous for the Festival of San Fermin, immortalized by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises for its encierro (running with the bulls) and subsequent corrida (bullfight). It’s a weeklong festival held in July—but not this year, when Spain has suffered such devastating losses from the pandemic.
This time, we were planning to roll into Pamplona as pilgrims, walk around the city, drink Spanish wine and reminisce.
Because reader—Will and I have been here before. In 2006 we scrimped and saved and spent two weeks in Portugal and Spain around the time of the World Cup (which captivates Europe much more than the US and is therefore worth mentioning). Will swears he didn’t plan our trip specifically to coincide with the Festival of San Fermin—but I’ve had enough years to consider this and realize that’s a load of crap. He wanted to see the running of the bulls.
He wanted to run with them.
Tonight at my home in Modesto, the mail carrier delivered a handwritten letter from my dear friend M, a reliable and always interesting correspondent. She spends her summers in Montana and we share letters and postcards each year—newsy stuff about our lives and the weather, our long summer reading lists. We rarely email, never call and don’t text—so these letters are tiny, perfect treasures I keep near me for weeks, unfolding them to read and read again.
If we were on the Camino right now, we would have our cell phones with us—the wifi off during the hike and on when we connected each night at the albergue. If we were walking right now—in that other plane of existence where there was no pandemic—it would have been surreal to know that back at home, the US was coming apart at the seams, with protests in major cities, riots and tear gas and curfews flooding our feeds whenever we clicked on a social media app. Are you okay??? we would text our friends and family and then wait out the time zones for an answer, anxious and sick.
Back in 2006, Will and I had a shared Yahoo address (remember Yahoo?) and we wrote emails every other day or so from an internet café. It would be years before either of us had a smart phone, and to get to the internet café, we had to navigate from fold-out maps in our guide books (remember fold-out maps? remember guide books?). My mom- and dad-in-law saved printouts of these emails and gave the stack of papers to me a few weeks ago: “Remember when you wrote us all those emails from Spain?”
I do, I do.
And I sat down right there and read the stack from beginning to end, each a tiny, perfect treasure of its own. Here’s a missive from Pamplona:
7/11/06 4:30:01 AM Pacific Daylight Time
Well… we survived! Will survived the running with the bulls (coming as close as 3 feet to them) and I survived my worrying and the running of the tourists to the bus back to San Sebastian. Will actually said that he’s skydived, bungie-jumped, cliff-jumped, and this was the most intense experience by far. I took a video on my camera and caught him toward the end of the run, but I didn’t have the best vantage point—there were literally thousands of people there and if you had a backpack you couldn’t be inside the interior fence of the run (apparently bulls can hook their horns on backpack straps and take you for an unexpected ride), which actually was okay with me!
So we got up at 4 this morning to catch the bus, experienced the absolutely crowded and rowdy streets of Pamplona, and have just now (1ish) arrived back in San Sebastian. There was a major run for the bus, and despite the fact that we stood in line at 9 a.m. or so to head back, we didn’t actually board until 11:30, and even that seemed uncertain—apparently they oversold tickets or something, so it was quite a mad push to board the bus. I’ve spent enough time around dirty people for the day and feel like I’ll need a second shower.
Just wanted to dash this note off because I knew some of you were worried. Will says hi. You wouldn’t recognize him; he has a big head right now. Thanks for your emails—love the info on Baxter, Mom D., and hope your wrist is feeling better, Mom T! Love you all… Paula y Will
Paula Treick DeBoard