It was dark when we began walking this morning at 6:20 with a cool 55 degrees and a slight breeze. Headlamps were critical as we followed a footpath up the side of the mountain with hints of farmland on the right and an army base bordered with rusty, coiled, barbed wire and no trespassing signs on the left. The last half mile or so the path got very rocky making walking quite difficult.
First light appeared when we had climbed up some 400 ft and were arriving at the top (3500 ft).
All alone on the barren rocky surface at the mountain pentacle stood a simple, tall cross surrounded by a mound of stones and other items placed there by passing pilgrims.
Before beginning our descent we looked back and paused to gaze at the beautiful image of the silhouette of the cross overlaid on the emerging sunrise.
We then turned around and could now see in the distance the lights of Burgos and for the first time, the flat terrain beginning at Burgos known as the Meseta.
The path down the mountain was about as steep as the assent, but even though it was less rocky it was enough to compel these two pilgrims to take it slow and easy to prevent unpleasant knee and ankle issues. The path eventually became a farm road with a more gradual slope then joined a paved farm road and then a secondary road leading toward Villafria.
After 3.5 miles, the road began to level out and shortly after, we stopped at a popular pilgrim bar/albergue/rest area for breakfast as we entered the village of Cardeñuela de Riopico (pop. 111).
A feet rest and breakfast completed, we began the final several miles on pavement into Villafria. The hard surface was predictably tiring, but traffic was not an issue and the morning clouds were hanging around, keeping the temperature tolerable and the breeze cool.
The last mile, we walked around a fence providing security for the east half of the Burgos airport, then shared a bridge with some large trucks crossing railway tracks and then entered the Burgos suburb of highly industrialized Villafria.
The Hotel Buenos Aires(40€) is an average hotel with restaurant/bar and nice size rooms and modern bathrooms.
Ironically it doesn’t have an easy way to dry hand washed clothes, because its clients are typical tourists and business people and not pilgrims, mostly due to the price range. So we minimized our hand washing and hanged items out in the room or out the window, securing them from blowing away from our 3rd floor room.
We had a tortilla lunch after we settled in and when we found out their restaurant didn’t open until 8:30, we also had a tortilla dinner.
The afternoon and after dinner was spent resting, updating the blog and did I say resting?
We had a rough start this morning. It was still dark when we dropped our key at the front desk at 6:15 and walked into the courtyard to exit through the medieval, 4 inch thick, 1 ton wooden door which was locked. We fiddled with all the old and new locking mechanisms. None of this would have occurred, had we left at 7:00, when the hotel staff was awake and there to serve us.
Finally, Jim found a heavy metal steel rod and forced open one of the latches and the door miraculously opened just as an awakened staff member was apparently coming to our aid. Jim returned the steel beam to its place and we left, hurriedly, to avoid potential retribution, waving to the staff member, and saying “gracias”!
No more than 5 paces outside the door we rejoined the Camino and with headlamps beaming, did our best to navigate a very steep, rocky, narrow path straight up the side of an Oca Mountain. This continued for about 3/4 mile until we merged with a slightly wider path with better footing and proceeded the climb to the top of the mountain … another mile.
A further test of our resolve occurred after 2 miles. It was a really big dip that began at a monument for 30 or so Franco supporters that were assassinated during the 1936-39 Spanish revolution that brought Franco into power.
The path went straight down abruptly for at least 200 feet to a small bridge over an insect infested creek and then immediately climbed straight up 200 feet. This spot of the Camino definitely warrants a long, level bridge!!
When we thankfully leveled off, we left the small path and joined a wide almost level 30-40 ft wide logging road that continued for at least another 5 miles.
The logging road was boring except for the constant buzzing of flies and other annoying insects. To make matters worse, there were no places for a rest stop or any other types of services.
After 7.4 miles and no break, we finally arrived at San Juan de Ortega, named for the disciple of Santo Domingo.
Juan Velásquez, was a young priest and disciple of Santo Domingo who was born near Burgos. San Juan helped Santo Domingo in the construction of bridges in Logroño, Santo Domingo and Nájera. After Domingo’s death, Juan went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the journey, he was caught up in a shipwreck and prayed to San Nicolás de Bari to save him. When he survived, he returned to the Burgos area determined to serve pilgrims in the notoriously dangerous and difficult Oca mountains. He is attributed with developing the road from Villafranca to Burgos (from which he took his name de Ortega, “of the nettles”) as well as a hospice and monastery in the wilderness. Along with being considered the patron saint of innkeepers, San Juan also became known as the saint of fertility. Legend says that when his tomb was opened, the air was fragrant and a swarm of white bees flew out. Queen Isabel la Católica was perhaps the most famous barren woman to pray at his tomb. She visited twice and conceived two children, named Juan and Juana.
Continuing our fun morning, we had cafe con leche at the only bar in San Juan de Ortega, but there was no tostada available and no zuma naranja. We still rested our feet and after a brief visit to the Iglesia de San Juan De Ortega continued another 2.5 miles to Ages where we stopped for a zuma naranja, ummmm!
The sun was beginning to bare down so we finished our OJ and walked the final 1.2 miles to Atapuerca.
Just outside the village of Atapuerca is a still ongoing excavation campaign, rich in fossil deposits and stone tool assemblages discovered in the complex of local caves that are attributed to the earliest known hominin residents in Western Europe. The nearby Atapuerca Mountains, served as the preferred occupation site of Homo erectus, Homo antecessor (or Homo erectus antecessor) and Homo heidelbergensis communities. The earliest specimen yet unearthed and reliably dated confirm an age between 1.2 Million and 600,000 years.
We really like our place for tonight, Casa El Peregrino (35€). It appears to be relatively new and has given us a much needed haven to relax and recover from today’s walk.
Tonight we had a nice dinner at an nearby albergue, El Palomar.
After dinner Jim sat on the deck just outside our room trying to upload photos to the blog. Strangely, the only place we could get wifi was outside our unit, not inside. Several young Spanish pilgrims were using a karaoke app (words and notes only) on one of their cellphones and were accompanied by one pilgrim with a guitar as they all apparently were singing traditional songs. Jim gave up eventually on uploading but still enjoyed the nice “concert”.