Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Day 28: Running with Dragons!

Dscn1542bSeptember 8: Today was an exciting day for me because today, I was going to walk into Pamplona—by far the largest city so far of my hike. It was also the only city that the trail goes through that I had heard of before I got the idea to do this hike because Earnest Hemingway made it famous for the Running of the Bulls. (Of course, the locals would tell you that they made Earnest Hemingway famous.)

That whole bull-running business happens in July, so none of that would be going on during my visit. Just as well, too, since I’ve heard that it’s all but impossible to find lodging during that time and even the dumpiest hotels charge exorbitant prices.

The hike into town was short—only about 15 kilometers (less than 10 miles). Exactly what I wanted too so I’d have all afternoon to explore the town. On the way into town, I met another pilgrim, Brian, an American from California, and he told me that he wanted to camp out along the trail but that everyone he mentioned the idea to told him he was crazy and it was much too dangerous. I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah,” I told him. “That’s only because they’re all scared of the dark and believe giant, man-eating monsters come out at night.”

I’m a little annoyed when I hear people claiming that it’s crazy or dangerous to camp outdoors. What, exactly, do they think is going to kill you? Bears? Wolves? Hippos? I’m not saying that it’s impossible that there are no predators out there that might think they’re the top of the food chain, but come on—if they wanted to make a meal out of you, they don’t have to wait until dark to do it! The very same people who will take a nap outdoors in the middle of the day will tell you it’s crazy dangerous to do so at night, and it annoys the hell out of me.

Then there’s the class of people who think that there’s a roving band of people out there planning to jump unsuspecting campers. But here’s the thing: After it gets dark, you almost never see anyone out on the trail. Roaming groups of bandits tend to do their work in cities. If they’re on the trail, it’ll be during the day when victims would be easy to find. I’ve spent the night on the trail and I can tell you one thing: Banditos aren’t roaming the trails at night.

Dscn1551bSo it really annoys me when I hear about people who’ve never spent a night outdoors claiming that it’s a crazy dangerous thing to do. How would they even know?

So I told Brian that there’s absolutely no reason in the world not to camp along the trail if that’s what he wants to do. After all, I’ve done it plenty of times and never had any issues. He asked about the legalities of doing so, and I had to admit that I really didn’t know. Just set up camp late in the day, break up camp early in the morning, preferably away from roads and buildings, and nobody will ever be none the wiser.

I wished I met him a day earlier, though, and he could have camped out with me. Tonight, however, I planned to stay in Pamplona and look for bulls. I wasn’t going to be camping tonight.

I split off from Brian when we passed a supermarket in a suburb of Pamplona. I wanted to restock my food supplies and he continued on.

Walking into town, there was no doubt I was in Basque country. The sidewalks even had graffiti telling pilgrims that we were in Basque country and calls for independence from Spain. I wondered what percentage of the population here feels this way. A small (but very vocal) minority? A large (but mostly not very vocal) majority? I don’t know. Things seemed peaceful enough, though, except for the graffiti.

Arriving into the old quarter of Pamplona was a bewildering experience packed with thousands of people. Pushing through the crowds along the Camino was no easy task! I stopped briefly at the cathedral and noticed a few people up in the bell tower and wanted to figure out how they got up there. I looked around the cathedral, looking for some obvious way to get up there, and eventually gave up. As I was about to leave, though, the bells started ringing and I realized that the people I saw weren’t mere tourists. They were bell ringers! I was a little disappointed to learn that mere tourists such as myself wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the views from the top.

I headed back into town to find some lodging, pushing my way through the crowds, when I saw a giant head approaching. It towered above all the other heads of the crowd, a massive head that could have been ten feet tall bouncing its way through the crowds. Then I heard the music. It was a parade!

More giant heads followed the first one, dancing their way through the streets. It was the most disorganized parade I’d ever seen in which street people like myself seemed to join and follow along with the parade at whim. To my right, I noticed three pilgrims I’d never seen before. I recognized them as pilgrims because of their packs and the scallop shells hanging off of them, and I knew they spoke English because I could see a paperback book strapped to one of their packs with and English-language cover. I pushed my way closer to them.

“Do you know what this is all about?” I asked the group.

“We thought it was because we got here!” one of them answered.

That sounded like as good of reason as any. =) We chatted a bit while the parade marched passed up. I took a video of the proceedings—this sort of stuff just doesn’t show up as well in photos. In the meantime, I learned the family of three was from Ireland, hiking the Camino for a couple of weeks on their holiday.

Dscn1555bAfter the parade had passed us by, I asked where they were planning to stay the night. I didn’t really know where I was going for the night yet and maybe they had a suggestion. They had a reservation at a hotel in the old part of town, the Hotel Eslava, at a reasonable 35 euros per night, so I asked if it would be okay if I followed them and check if the hotel had an extra room for me. They said sure and off we went.

They got us lost a bit along the way. Our maps showed all the main streets in Pamplona, but none of the smaller streets we were now navigating, and since I didn’t even know where we were going, I wasn’t much help at all for navigation purposes. But eventually we arrived at the hotel and the family checked in. I inquired if there were anymore rooms available, and there was, and checked into my own room for the night.

I got online briefly to email Amanda and my mom about having arrived in Pamplona. I didn’t call them, however, since it was probably 3:00 in the morning Pacific time. Nobody would be up. I took a shower, cleaned up, and switched into my camp clothes, and washed my hiking clothes in the shower. Then headed back out again. I was in Pamplona! I wanted to explore! I wanted to sightsee!

When I got back on the streets again, it was eerily quiet. The streets were all but deserted, and all of the businesses closed. I knew the Spanish took their afternoon siestas seriously, but it was disorienting how completely the streets emptied after how crowded they’d been before. What happened to everyone? I imagined people as cockroaches that scattered as soon as someone turns on the lights in the room. They all ran for cover, indoors somewhere, hiding until the lights are turned off again.

I read in my guidebook that there was an impressive statue of Earnest Hemingway near the bullpen, so I wandered over in that direction to check it out and was completely underwhelmed. As far as statues go, I thought it was just awful. It was basically just his head, and the torso of his body seemed unfinished. There was nothing at all below his chest.

I also hoped to find a decent statue of a bull that I could pretend was trampling me, but I never did find any in my wanderings. I did follow the path that the bulls run, conveniently marked on a map of town I picked up at the hotel, and tried to imagine the crowds running along this path a couple of months before, but I couldn’t. Not really.

Dscn1576bI stopped at a small market and picked up a couple of snacks and a drink where I saw a girl buying a six-pack of beers. She kind of looked like a camino hiker, but without her pack. I didn’t recognize her, but she introduced herself and asked if I’d like to join her for a drink. “I’m so pathetic,” she said, “I bought this beer to bribe people to talk to me.” (Okay, that might not technically be an exact quote, but she said something to that effect!)

I told her that I didn’t really like beer, but that I was more than happy to sit down and chat for awhile. I didn’t find any of my friends from the trail in my wandering around town and it was more fun to explore with some company around. So we took a seat by a monument and chatted for the better part of an hour. Her name was Hilary, from Vermont, but currently living in Paris with her husband. So we talked about Paris for a bit, because, you know, that’s the kind of thing that two gringos in Pamplona tend to talk about. =)

A few other pilgrims eventually joined us, and we chatted for the better part of an hour before everyone went off in their own direction, and I started wandering around town again. The hoards of people started coming out on the streets again. The lights in the proverbial room must have just been turned off because the cockroaches came back out in hordes. =) It’s positively eerie the way crowds come out and disperse like they do, in such a synchronized manner.

Eventually, I ran into a bunch of pilgrims that I did already know, and I wandered around with them a bit, stumbling into new parades. I also learned that there was a medieval festival going on which explained all the knights in shining armor and dragons wandering around the town. (Though admittedly, it still didn’t explain the giant heads—not to my satisfaction, at least!) I took more videos of the knights and dragons doing their thing and eventually headed back to my hotel near sunset. I had work to get done online!


I’m beginning to suspect that there might be Basques around
these parts….

The bridge going into the old part of Pamplona.

Most of the hike through the suburbs were
pretty boring, but the castle walls around the
old part of the town were wonderful!

It occurred to me, while walking into Pamplona,
that I didn’t have any pictures of my eye.
So I tried taking a photo of my eye. It
didn’t really turn out well, though.

One thing I’ll say about the Camino markings in Spain—they
look like graffiti. Just spray painted on the ground, on walls,
on rocks—it’s really quite ugly and tacky. Seems like
they could have spent a little money for waypoints that
looked a little nicer and more legit!

A view of part of the cathedral. I wanted to
figure out how to get up to the top of the
tower where I could see people. Turns out,
they were just bell ringers, though! Not tourists!

At first I thought Wassa was in this costume
with the big head and all, but it turns out,
he was still in California keeping an eye on AQ!

Dance, Giant Head Man! Dance!


The view from the plaza just outside of my hotel. =)

Stupid Hemingway statue.

This was the only angry bull I saw in Pamplona.

A self portrait in a funhouse mirror. =)

I didn’t see bulls running through the streets,
but there were definitely dragons!


Papercrafts by Cindyellen said...

so. . .what's with the giant heads whacking people?
interesting idea of fun, that. . .

hal said...

This is where you were when you sent me the thank you card for contributing to the trail rehab. I think it's the same bridge.

Anniesantiago said...

Oh! We were in Pamplona on the same day! These gigantes were awesome!