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A Basque farewell

Since 2013 I have spent a lot of time in the Basque Country, staying in Iruña (Pamplona) and using it as a travel hub. With Covid travel restrictions relaxing, I had put aside some time to consider what to do during the summer. One thing which appealed to me was to get into the mountains and enjoy the pollution free air. There are many small towns there which can only be reached by foot or car. Take a bus to a small hub and fan out from there. The decision was made to book my flight. In reflection, I have decided to include much of the time into one post. Read on...
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If there is one word to describe the Pamplona trip, it is problematic. It was meant to be my last and in one way the ensuing months bore witness to that. British Airway's email not getting through, to tell me that they had changed my departure airport from Gatwick to Heathrow (30 miles away and an impossible twenty minutes to get there), was only the beginning. Nearly everything I tried to do was hindered in one way or another, this has never happened on any trips before.

Weeks of temperatures in the low 100's took their toll on me. I had to suffer a tiny room with it's window facing south. The landlady put a sort of blanket over the window and borrowed a neighbor's small fan to help keep things cooler. Sweating like a pig is an understatement. Sunday saw things cool down here and a fresh breeze certainly helped. This kind of June heat wave is very unusual for Pamplona and I was not the only one saying, "Es muy Calor! "

In the meantime the run up to the 2022 San Fermin Festival was underway. At Plaza de Toros there was a huge party to apparently celebrate it's reinstatement after 2 years of pandemic, which had resulted in the closure of the festival for that time. This year it will probably be wild and put the past decade to shame.

Many intertown bus schedules have been reduced and others scrapped due to Covid. So I had to do a lot more planning and possibly spend overnight in a place or two. A lot of my plans had to be abandoned because of this.

A new room was found: closer to the ground, an elevator to reach the floor, more space, modern interior and a shower big enough without bumping into the water handle and having cold water suddenly shock my entire system. It costs only 20 Euro more, so still fits into my budget. The lady has two apartments. For the San Fermin everyone stays in the second one while she rents out the one near Plaza de Toros, but didn't tell me until after I had paid her. Trouble is, she cancelled the WiFi—had I known she would do that I would never have rented it. Also, the room faced south and a full night's sleep in 100+ degree weather was impossible. It did cool down a bit at the end of July. The lady's son was okay. Live and learn.

Here and there

The first trip out was to a very small town named Legarda, disaster number one.

Sorauren

It began with me looking at a screensnap and seeing the name Oricain. Okay, thought I, the name has a ring to it. Then there were three different times at the Autobus Station info booth. Yes, there is a bus to Oricain. So I boarded it it and the driver said yes. Twenty-five minutes later he stops. Trouble was the name of the place is Sorauren. Oricain was miles down another road by foot, so I decided to write up Sorauren instead.

For about thirty minutes I wandered around gazing at this and that. It's relatively quiet but there is a main road going by the edge of the pueblo which had periodic noise. Mountains surround the town and the weather was fairly cool, so no problem on that score. It was siesta time and I only saw a few people.

What I could not find was where the bus back to Pamplona could be stopped. Upon arrival the bus stopped at the edge of a traffic circle and let me off. There was no bus stop that I could find. Oh no—here we go again.
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A small industry is there, which makes stands for fiestas like the San Fermin. These are like mini bars and many were located in Plaza Castillo. One of the drivers gave me a lift back to Pamplona.

My third San Fermin

You can read about it here, There was a lot going on and the temperature was hot, after the first day.
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With rain on the first day of San Fermin, how could I resist this shot.

I had previously decided to only spend two days in the fiesta, but another glitch happened.

Legasa

Some years ago I walked from Oronoz-Mugaire to Legasa and enjoyed it. Legasa had a nice hostel, so reckoned to stay there and cover at least 5 pueblos by foot for the rest of the San Fermin. The hostel closed down due to the pandemic, but I did do a little walk.
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Strike three you're out!

  1. The information booth at the bus station gave me the wrong bus company's schedule for Legarda and I ended up with severe sunburn waiting nearly three extra hours in 90 degree heat.
  2. Then I wanted to go Oricain and the bus dropped me off at Sorauren, which is miles from Oricain and there was no obvious return bus stop, plus the schedule was wrong. Two different sets of times from two different people were both wrong.
  3. Finally for the trip to Legasa, I was given a completely wrong time for the return bus and had to hitch a ride to Oronoz for a bus back to Pamplona two hours later.
Enough is enough!
People in the information blame other companies computers. Something is very wrong there and the results could put a life in danger. They need to sort it out. If I could start a media circus: with news, TV and paparazzi—I would. That ended it.

Ride a bus to the end of the line

One of the things I noticed in Pamplona this time round, were the number of people, all photographing the same thing. This happens everywhere tourists, and many travel bloggers, go. It's this cathedral or that tower and on occasion some sort of event. Yet there is so much more and you'll probably never see a single tourist there. Just grab a city bus and ride it to the end of the route.

I did this in Florence some years back and discovered Fiesole. That, plus the trip I made to visit a friend in Beriain out past Pamplona's airport. With that in mind, I reckoned I could do the same thing this year, since the absence of good public transportation to so many pueblos in the Basque Mountains has caused a rethink to take place.

Figuring a few of the suburbs should do the trick. During San Fermin, I had chosen something special, mainly to get away from the madness of the event for a few hours.

Checking them out
I rode the buses in the early morning when it was cooler. If you do visit these places, you will have to what I did and just wander around to see what they have to offer. Most of the suburbs had modern architecture which is very ugly and impersonal, there are a few which have something different. There is more character and those personal touches which make them stand out.
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A bus map of the Pamplona area can be obtained in the old town center, at the tourist office in Plaza Consistorial. Remember bus prices rise a little bit during the San Fermin Fiesta. I haven't gone into much detail—that's up to you

Farewells

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Pedro (Pet in Basque) and Ainhoa.
They, along with Gorka (who has moved to Irun, the border town with France) used to run the Hostel Xarma, which closed due to the pandemic. Pedro is married with a 3 year old son and works for the city. Ainhoa is a social worker and teaches Yoga.
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Last photo of Catalan taken (Sept 2019) before his death.

Catalan, who passed away in Dec 2021. Raul is still the same, a bit older and I shall miss them both. I saw a lot of Raul while there, often standing outside his store and chatting. Read more about them here.
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Mike and his mother Cata.

Cata and Mike (Miguel) are from Bolivia. She is quite short and works at a big convent looking after the nuns. Mike's job is delivering stuff. I have rented my room a number of times from them. Both are very lively and I shall remain in touch with them.

Last but not least

Assessing it all, I should of just had 2 weeks in Pamplona, as was originally planned before the pandemic. The resulting difficulties were sort of like punishment for not sticking to it—that'll teach me.

. . . . . . .

It was good to see my friends again and I was able to bid them farewell. Maybe some day I will return for a short visit.


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