Day 24- Villafranca to Atapuerca

  • Distance today:                       11.4mi
  • Distance Camino 2017:      173.5 mi


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”.


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