El Camino Day 3 & 4 –The 'Running of the Bulls' fiestas

Larransoana to Puenta La Reina

Oww, oww, oww… Day three of our Camino journey was a physical struggle! Every muscle in my body ached. The albergue in Larransoana did not have comfortable beds, and my limbs were heavily protesting at having to move! It was a short walk (only 18km) to Pamplona, and our walking buddies for the day were also sore, but as the morning progressed I was struggling. Even with both sticks banging along the ground and my head down, powering on through the pain to our destination, I was still almost having to run to keep up. We arrived around 10.30am, but neither Royce nor I were keen to move on. We were both hobbling around like broken ducks. Instead, we dropped our bags off with the albergue (which we couldn’t actually check into because we were too early!) And had a bite to eat. I limped off to explore while Royce caught up on his daily journal.

Pamplona is in the former capital of the autonomous community of Navarre in Spain. It is the second largest city in the Basque region, and is famous worldwide for its annual Running of the Bulls during the San Fermin Festival held in early July. This fiesta is held in honour of Saint Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona and co-founder of Navarre. We were told by a local that he brought Catholicism to Pamplona and was executed for his faith.

The Running of the Bulls (the fiesta that Pamplona is known for) is a practice of letting loose three to six cattle into the streets, where traditionally they would be taken through the streets to the bull ring. It is a practice still common in rural Spanish towns today. However, this fiesta now brings people from around the globe to the streets of Pamplona. The spectacle has overshadowed the reason for the fiesta – to honour Saint Fermin. Instead, at the end of September another fiesta is held. This is more aimed at the families (especially the children) and all Pamplona’s residents. We arrived on the Saturday of this festival and ended up in the midst of it.

People were gathered in the narrow cobbled streets of tall brick apartments, singing and dancing as huge 10 ft tall puppets swayed to the traditional bands’ tunes. Drums and melodies wound there way through the centre of Pamplona. Performers and children ran in and around the puppets, a true festival for the people. The festival closed down the town centre so that every citizen of Pamplona could enjoy the revelries.

We were caught up in the middle of it, watching and trying to keep up with the crowds. People in traditional clothing and elaborate costumes danced past the shops and through the square. The revelries carried on into the early morning – as we were walking out of the sprawling city at 6:30am, there were still young people out staggering around on streets sticky with alcohol.

Day four did me no favours, though we weren’t too tired as our albergues curfew had meant we had to race back to be in bed by 10.30pm. My knee was starting to hurt. I had brought some strapping tape from home, and from experience (having injured myself playing sport) and asking Aunty Google, I knew well enough how to tape up my knee.

Day four’s terrain was hard, a steep incline to the top of the pass. My knee becoming progressively more painful, I gritted my teeth with every step. Royce forged on without me, and step by step I wound my way up the hill. I was passed by old, young, and a few cyclists making the climb with me. I eventually made it to the top, eyes glassy with pain. It was only lunchtime but I didn’t know if I could continue. So many stories circulated among the pilgrims about people hurting themselves and having to go home, but at only four days in I didn’t want to give in yet! I struggled on and after a bite to eat started the hard part, a steep rocky decent.

The decent was full of loose stones, which were murder on my knee as I picked my way slowly downward. I leaned heavily on my two sticks and was given sympathetic looks by passers-by. The last 5kms into Puenta la Reina seemed to take longer than the first fifty, and the albergue seemed so very far away as the heat of the afternoon pounded down on us.

We finally reached the albergue and slumped onto the benches, truly relieved that we didn’t have to walk any further with our packs. Unfortunately we couldn’t simply eat and go to bed. Puenta la Reina was also having a fiesta!

The small towns have their own running of the bulls, and at around 5pm the cattle gates swung shut to trap two heifers (young female cattle beasts) and a steer (a castrated male) into the town’s streets. Locals ducked in and out of fenced-off buildings, and dived through the solid well-worn gates, running the animals up and down the street. I saw a little, but couldn’t watch much. The animals were not angry, just frightened and were simply being harassed into agitation. For me, traditional or not, it seemed cruel to stress them for sport.

However, because the fiesta was happening, all the shops were closed until late. I was at the end of my tether, I simply wanted to eat a meal and go to bed! We ended up having some small tapas, which are always available as they are pre-prepared in the kitchens and sit in cabinets to be served with wine or beer.

I was extremely grateful to finally climb into bed despite the chorus of snoring coming from our fellow bunk-mates. I set my alarm, put my earplugs in, and hoped my knee would improve.

Hope everyone had a fantastic New Year’s fiesta. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to leave a like and a comment, and head over to Instagram and check out our 2020 adventures in France. On a more somber note, we would like to send out love, support and condolences to all our whanau, friends, readers, and really all of Australia right now. The fires raging in the south are horrific, and our hearts go out to the people and wildlife affected. We would encourage all our readers to reach out the our Australian cousins and to donate and help where applicable.

Buen Camino.

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