Sunday 18 March 2007

The Santiago Road: The Third Day


Day 3–Sunday, May 26, 2002
Pamplona to Logroño
107.06 km, total for trip 251.37 km

Pamplona, called Iruña in Basque, is of course particularly famous for the running of the bulls through the streets every July 7 but it is a city with a lengthy history. An easily defended site, the Romans built on the ruins of an old Basque settlement around 75 AD and the city went through various owners until the Muslims took it in 718. Eighty years later, the citizens revolted, killed the governor and elected a Basque to run things. The Pamplonans had to deal not only with the Muslims but also the Franks under Charlemagne and there was constant warfare.

The Hams of Pamplona

Pamplona was the first important city that pilgrims would have seen in Spain. There were many hospices to cater to their needs. In the middle ages, Pamplona was divided into different sections for Basques, Franks, Jews, Spanish Moslem converts and Gascons, none of whom got along and there were regular riots. Eventually, in 1512, the city was forcefully incorporated into the Kingdom of Spain.

Getting up early and packing my bags, I was out of the door by 8 am and decided to find the pilgrims’ hostel where I could get a nice stamp for my Credencia but I got lost in the medieval city and by the time I arrived there half an hour later, they had already closed up everything. The city seemed to be completely deserted, except for a man hanging out a selection of hams on his balcony, but I thought I would sightsee as much as I could. I rode around on the narrow cobbled streets but the sun was already quite intense and from the wrong direction so I was unable to take any pictures as the streets were quite dark and full of shadow. The cathedral, a Gothic structure begun in 1394, is massive but it was closed and I am not sure if it is a functioning cathedral or only a museum now. I did manage to find a small grocery store that was open and filled up my water bottles and had a piece of pastry for breakfast before setting off for the next leg of the Camino.

There was good signage showing the route out of the city, with what was to become the familiar blue sign with the gold field of stars. I wanted to avoid ended up on a highway and somehow I found myself to the east of where I wanted to be, in Cizur Menor. There were many pilgrims in the area, both on foot and several groups of cyclists. “They must know where they are going,” I thought, wrongly. There was even a group of Canadian and American mountain bikers who were travelling with a support van. At this point I once again ran into Paul and Siegmar, who had arrived later in Pamplona than I had but had found the hostel. We decided to continue onwards together for the company.

Siegmar and Paul underway

We somehow missed our turn but the direction seemed okay and the road was very nice. We climbed steadily and soon Pamplona was behind and below us. The road took us around a 700m high peak, the Puerta de Perdón, which had windmills on it that generate power for Pamplona. The rolling hills were used for grain growing but grapes and asparagus are also produced in the district’s red soil. We were soon joined by three Spaniards, a woman and two men, on bicycles. They were all from Asturias in Northern Spain but one of the men and the woman were living in Dublin and spoke excellent English. After lots of climbing and some descending we came to the small town of Campanas.

I was worried that we were going to end up on a main road but instead the Camino signs directed us to a wonderful little road, the NA 6010 with no traffic. In fact, the road was officially closed due to road construction in Eneriz but, as usual, this closure only applied to cars as we just walked our bikes through the construction area and then continued on the road. It descended steadily and I made excellent time, enjoying the beautiful weather and the scenery.


Suddenly to the left appeared the octagonal church of Eunate. Books on the Camino Santiago often feature this, one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Navarre. It was built in the 12th Century. It appears to have been used as a chapel for funerals. One of the odd features of the building is the arched wall that completely surrounds it. The inside was nearly pitch-dark. Excavations around the church have uncovered remains with scallops shells, suggesting that pilgrims were buried there.

The Irish-Asturians

We soon reached the village of Puenta la Reina and found the pilgrims’ hostel, which was closed for lunch, along with some lovely old churches. The first was the Church of the Crucifixion, which once belong to the Templars and dates back to the 12-13th Centuries and adjoins an 18th Century monastery. We were told to go to the church to get our precious stamps but this was not correct. There was a Sunday service just ending and we were impressed by the sounds of rustic folk music coming from the church. Once agin, the interior was very dark. We decided to go into town for lunch and then come back to the hostel to get our stamps later.

Riding past the church, we came to the Rúa Mayor, the main street which, nearly 1,000 years after the foundation of the town in 1122, still caters to pilgrims. It has broad sidewalks with cafés and plane trees and lots of traffic. We found a bar with a nice terrace and, after a few minutes, the group of North Americans also showed up for lunch. I had the first of many, many tortilla frances, an omelette sandwich that was made using what appeared to be an entire baguette, on this trip. Choices for vegetarians are a bit limited in rural Spain and the salad that I ordered with the sandwich was very dull, consisting of iceberg lettuce, some tomato and a bit of olive oil. But almost any food is good food when you are cycling all day.

There were a number of other cyclists sitting outside as well and it was clear that they were North American. I struck up a conversation with a couple from British Columbia and they explained that they were doing the Camino as part of an organized tour of mountain bikers. Each day they would ride a section, with a support van following along, but they were only doing selected sections of the route. And they were probably staying at nicer accommodations! On the other hand, the cost of a such a trip is probably very high and, more importantly, it lacks the feeling of self-sufficiency that you quickly acquire as a pilgrim.

After lunch, Paul, Siegmar and I rode back to the hostel and had our Credencias stamped, then rode back past the monastery which directs traffic straight toward the centre of town. We stayed on the Calle Mayor, a narrow shop-lined street that still has its medieval character. There was another church, the Church of Santiago, that has been there since at least 1142 but unfortunately it was closed so we just continued ahead to reach the fabulous Romanesque bridge, with six arches, that gives the town its name. It is not suitable for cars but we were happy to cycle across its cobblestones and then turned left onto the N 111 highway that would lead us onwards.

The N111 is a broad, busy road, with wide paved shoulders. We started climbing immediately, grinding up the hill taking us past the villages of Mañeru and Cirauqui, which is at the top of the hills and whose name means “nest of vipers” in Basque. It has two impressive churches and even a section of Roman road. I was on my own for a while but was soon passed by a group of French club riders in matching jerseys. Unable to miss a good opportunity, I hitched on to the group and was rewarded with a good slipstream for several kilometers. As they approached the hill up to Cirauqui, I decided to have some fun and pulled past them and quickly rode up the hill with my loaded touring bicycle. At the top I took some photos of them as they came by, much to their delight. I waited for Paul and Siegmar and photographed them too as they laboured up the hill with their heavy gear. And at this point I reached the 10,000 km mark on the Marinoni’s computer, which was good work for three full summers of riding.

We rode together for a while towards Estella but the others wanted to quit early so I charged ahead again. The road continued to climb and climb and I found it a bit discouraging on my own, particularly as a headwind came up. But now the scenery changed dramatically, with spectacular vistas of the Navarre wine country. I passed some well-known vineyards, including Villamayor de Monjardín.

The climbing stopped now and the road narrowed but I had it pretty well to myself. At one point I was overtaken by a whole line of old Mercedes-Benz sports cars, including some 300SL Gullwings, obviously out for a club tour. The road was beautifully paved and rolled very softly so, with the wind having changed direction, I set a good pace, crossing from Navarre into the next province, Rioja, and its famous wine district.

I reached a crossroad at Sansol and followed the big signs for Logroño with only 21 kms to go. I was expecting to soon reach a big climb but the road continued onwards with no changes. There were no settlements of any kind and I was all by myself. I reached the little settlement of Lazagurria and stopped at a bus stop to check my map and was horrified to find that I had ridden on the wrong road and had headed east instead of west. Although this meant that I had bypassed the big climb, I now had some extra distance to ride, perhaps an additional 8-10 kms.

And now the weather, which had been so cooperative, turned against me. The road began well, with a long downhill straight where I comfortably reached 64 km/h but when it leveled off I was suddenly pelted with big drops of rain. I put on my wind vest and put the pannier covers on and continued since there was no place to find shelter. I soon came to an intersection and turned into a fierce headwind on the NA 134, the road that would take me into Logroño.

It was a lousy ride, between on-and-off rain showers, mud and detours through industrial parks and when I came into Logroño, after riding through yet another construction zone beside a highway, everything was closed and the city looked deserted. After some effort I found the cathedral and then looked around for a likely place to stay, finding a small hotel nearby. The room was not very nice but at least I could clean up and reorganize my stuff and there was space for my muddy bicycle in the stairwell. I had a hot shower and took a short nap and hoped that things would look better later.

Sure enough, when I went outside for a walk in the early evening, the city was transformed. The sun came out and then all the steel shutters came up, revealing all kinds of interesting little shops. There were people everywhere walking around and I bought some dried fruit and even some candy. I spent some time in front of the biggest church, the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Redonda, which has a baroque facade and towers, constructed between 1752 and 1756. I was particularly impressed by the numbers of storks nesting on the roof and as I stood in the square I watched them regularly fly back and forth, looking for food for their nestlings. Of course, nobody else paid any attention whatever to the birds.

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