Days 10 and 11: Villafranca to Atapuerca to Tardajos

Some days the Camino is like this…

And some days it is like this…

Oh what a difference a day makes! Yesterday was one of my favorite days of my walk so far. The sun shone brightly most of the day and birds were singing as I crested the Montes de Oca. I walked with Chip in the morning, sharing an honest conversation about vices and the fate of the world in the face of climate change.

At the first village of the day, San Juan de Ortega, several of us stopped for caffeinated beverages and snacks. Everyone was in good spirits after multiple days of clouds and rain. The conversation flowed easily, like we were old friends.

Sufficiently fueled for the walk ahead, I headed out first towards Ages, a storybook village, where I stumbled upon the most wonderful little cafe. I opted for dessert, a delicious homemade egg-y cake with chocolate sauce and sat at the table on the sidewalk, waiting for others to walk by.

I beckoned each one with promises of good food and more conversation. Several folks stopped for a bite to eat, including Jeff who I had walked with the day before, and his new buddy, Anders from Sweden.

As the three of us sat enjoying the sunshine, the owner put a little boombox in the upstairs window. The accordian based, old Europe cafe tunes brought huge smiles to our faces. Jeff even got up to dance in the street.

Others stopped to join us, drawn by the music and the storybook setting. More smiling and laughing ensued, all of us commenting on the idyllic setting, and what a perfect moment in time we were experiencing.

Finally, we peeled ourselves away from the little cafe for the last few kilometers to Atapuerca. At the albergue, we lounged in the sun and I did laundry for the first time in several days. It was a short day’s walk, but I had read about a nearby UNESCO world heritage site where the oldest hominid remains in Western Europe had been discovered. So, several of us decided a tour was in order.

The tour itself required more walking than any of us would have liked, and it was in Spanish, which taxed my brain way too much at that point (at least the hats were stylish).

But the significance of the site cannot be overstated. Thousands of fossil remains have been uncovered, including two species of early hominid, Homo heidelbergensis (600,000 years old) and Homo antecessor (1.2 million (!!) years old), the oldest evidence of cultural cannibalism known to date, bones of prehistoric rhinos, hippos, cats, bison, elephants, horses and bears, early stone tools and one of the oldest known ritual burial sites.

After filling our brains, we returned to the albergue to fill our stomachs. Javier, a Spanish pilgrim from Madrid, cooked us an amazing vegetarian dinner of Pisto, a traditional Spanish dish. It was the best meal I have had in weeks!

In contrast, today was a one foot in front of the other day, as I made my way through mile after mile of the industrial outskirts and suburbs of metropolitan Burgos, inhaling diesel fumes and considering whether to hop on a bus into town (I didn’t). The old city is pretty, but far overshadowed by the concrete jungle that precedes it.

The only highlights were a walk around the exterior of Burgos’ gothic cathedral…

…and a visit to the Museo de Evolucion Humana (Museum of Human Evolution) where the significant findings from Atapuerca are housed, including Cranium 5, the 1.2 million year old skull of Homo antecessor. The Museum also offers a fascinating walk through human evolutionary time, with descriptions of the hominid species discovered to date around the world, and lifesize reproductions.

Homo antecessor

Homo heidelbergensis

My feet ached as I made my way across more pavement and then a long dirt road before finally reaching Tradajos, absolutely spent.

Yesterday I walked 11.7 miles.

Today I walked 19.3 miles.

3 thoughts on “Days 10 and 11: Villafranca to Atapuerca to Tardajos

  1. Fascinating archeological study in the one small town. I’m glad you took the break, although not from walking to see the exhibits. Thanks again for sharing the experience. You really went the extra mile (s) the next day. Way to keep after it. Great effort. Keep it up. Dadr


  2. Three years ago I visited Atapuerca and the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos, amazing both, but not if you have visited San Juan de Ortega monastery, did you? Notice: The trees in the first photo of this post, are “QUEJIGOS” (Quercus faginea), a kind of tree that is the transition between the oak and the encina tree. They shed their leaves in autumn but remain dry on its branches until next spring. I’m glad you liked the “pisto”, I cook too and I really like it. Tip: If you arrive at the convent of San Anton , between Hontanas and Castrojeriz , spend a few minutes, is one of the magical places of the Camino … Salud y buen camino.


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