May 18: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca: 18.3 km/11.4 miles
The morning air had a chill owing to the rising elevation. Today’s walk commenced with a long, slow, uphill climb cresting into a coniferous forest. The cry of the wind through the pines left one with a hollow, empty feeling. To add to the somberness, at the 1100-foot summit, a pillar-shaped monument stood solitary, memorializing a mass grave of 104 of those executed during the Civil War.
The Spanish Civil War, circa 1936 to 1939, pitted the rebel conservative Nationalists against the leftist Republicans holding power at the time. Some called it a war between democracy and fascism. If so, then Fascism won with Marco of the Nationalists, taking charge. Both sides were backed by outside countries. Ramifications of the war were a proliferation of executions and assassinations. The actual mass gravesite was off to the side and most Peregrinos passed without notice.
One could see for miles on this endless plateau. Further down the trail, a snack was taken, while inhaling this vast panorama. The path down was as unhurried as the incline and culminated into a carpet of lovely, yellow canola plants on both sides of the road.
A coffee stop was made in St. Juan de Ortega. San Juan was a disciple of Santa Domingo and followed in his footsteps of improving the Camino infrastructure for the Peregrinos, sans rooster in the church. He lies in a sarcophagus here. The Finnish guys from the previous day passed by. Their pace seemed to have slowed from their banter the previous day. This was a crowded watering hole and thus we pushed onward.
Decision made to berth in Atapuerca: A UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the earliest European human remains of nearly one million years ago. Hoped to catch a glimpse of such historical significance, only to find that the remains rested in Burgos in the Mueso Evolucion Humana. Atapuerca itself was a dusty, quaint village that seemed mostly set up to cater to the passing Peregrinos.
Checking out the first hostel in Atapuerca, we bumped into the Polish guy met in Logrono. In his unique, grumbling manner he warned that the levy for bread and vino was exorbitant in this village. Nonetheless, he was partaking in both at the time. This hostel was quite full already with stuffy small rooms.
Kashi sat with our friend while I scouted around for alternative options. One of the blessings of a travel mate is that one can forage while the other serves as sentry for the packs. Another hostel was found up near the lone, hilltop church, attached to a hotel similar to the previous night. There was a washer and a line to hang clothes.
Most Peregrinos hand-washed their clothes. Since that first hostel where the Chilean threw all our clothes together in the machine, I was spoil for the remainder of the trip. Perhaps I was also carrying more clothes than my fellow Peregrinos. Most weren’t carrying enough clothes to either bother or pay for a washing machine. I had discarded three articles of clothing after only 2 hours of commencing the Camino at my first coffee stop in Orrison. I had continued dropping clothes en route. The process of lightening my backpack paralleled my inner attempt to simplify my life. The shedding of what we think we need, versus the true essentials.
The day was young compared to the usual later hostel arrival time. Destination had been reached, and thus one could chill out like the rest of the jackrabbits. This was an unfamiliar feeling. Once the laundry was out to dry, hunger set in. The only restaurant opened during the mid-afternoon siesta hour was an upscale café that served the tastiest and most beauteous pumpkin soup around.
On return, the hostel room had filled up. An amorous couple hung a blanket down the side of their bottom bunk for semi privacy, while two Asian men settled their belongings above our bunks. It was homey. People were more introspective and quiet, than interactive.
A stop was made at the local market during its’ one hour window of opening. A few items were purchased to accompany the remainder of goods that Kashi had been so kindly portaging around for the past few days. A picnic spot was found, and the colorful, setting sun was indulged.
The night air was brisk and windy. On return we ducked into the restaurant, thinking to quietly sit and sip a vino. Most of our fellow Pilgrims were there taking in the nightly offered Peregrino Menu, which usually consisted of a meat, fish or chicken choice, soup or salad and a dessert. Vino was always offered with dinner, as is the custom. Being in AA would be difficult in Spain. Opted out of the nightcap due to the noisy ambience and headed to the back hostel.
Opportunity was taken to write up some quick notes on the day’s events.
Fatigue and sleep took over before many of the roomies returned. I imagined all the old souls floating around this village of a million years.