June 4, 2008 Tosantos to Atapuerca

I met two kind and friendly South Africans at Tosantos and enjoyed leapfrogging them as we walked down from Tosantos toward Villafrance del Montes de Oca. This little town is the last stop before a 12 km stretch that walks over a mountain ridge and then down to the ancient church at San Juan de Ortega. With no breaks for water or food and a tall climb, this is one of the more physically challenging portions of the Camino Frances. I had plenty of water and took my time, enjoying the walk.

I stopped briefly at San Juan de Ortega for lunch, then headed on in gathering rain clouds and a cool wind to the town of Atapuerca. There I discovered the main, private albergue was closed, so as I walked up to scout out the church at the top of town I chose a tiny albergue with an attached restaurant. The albergue had soft mattresses and, for the first time I’d seen on the camino, thick and warm quilts on each bed. I’d discover later that the albergue was unheated and the quilts would come in handy during the icy cold night.

Atapuerca is famous as the site of a major anthropological discovery of an ancient hominid species. A museum in town included anatomically correct wax figures of these people-like creatures and a helpful BBC documentary in English playing on a loop on a museum TV. After touring the museum I enjoyed dinner at the albergue’s restaurant, where I met Françoise, her husband François, and Pierre of France. With my high school French I introduced myself and did my best to understand their descriptions of their lives and why they were walking the camino. François had a handicapping condition which did not allow him to carry a backpack, so he pulled his things on a wheeled cart strapped behind him.

I snuggled in my sleeping bag and all of my clothes under the quilt and, after a time, managed to get warm enough to fall asleep. I’d decided to splurge again on a hotel for tomorrow, this time in Burgos where I would replace my hiking shoes with real boots and take a rest day after so much busy travel and walking during the last few days.

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