May 25, 2011 Tosantos to Atapuerca

Slept to 07:00, then breakfast of toast and cafe con leche at albergue’s comedor. Walked quickly to following towns and dodged trucks at Villafranca del Montes de Oca. Enjoyed the exercise of climb up to top of Montes de Oca, then the hot sun and endless forest became tedious. Finally came to San Juan de Ortega. Sheila of SF was behind me and looked for chair for her. Tried to borrow extra chair from solitary man and he said, “no.” Must’ve been angry because my immediate response was not nice. He must’ve understood English slang — I could see it in his face. Immediately felt guilty and began to examine my state of mind.

Then off to Ages and finally Atapuerca. I had entertained the idea of walking directly to Burgos, but was drained after a day in the sun. A cervesa at the bar followed by shower and washing of clothes at private albergue.

Had photo taken by French couple from Tosantos — Michelle and Robert of Limoges. They are very nice, but somehow my French fails when I talk to them. They have no English but many smiles and they enjoyed the chapel service last night at Tosantos very much.

Sitting now at shady portion of albergue yard, listening to birds and to pilgrims talking in Spanish. Hospitalera sitting near, reading Hape Kerkeling in Spanish. Next big task: eating a (hopefully) huge dinner.

June 5, 2008 Atapuerca to Burgos

As I opened my eyes in the morning I was surprised to see François, Françoise and Pierre standing next to my bed. When they saw I was awake they said, “Merci, Monsieur.” “Merci? Pourquois?” Why, I asked myself, were they standing around my bed at this early hour? Pierre then described to me how today was the day the Allies had planned to launch their invasion of Normandy. The French, Pierre said, were very grateful for the help of the Americans and on the eve of the anniversary of the actual Normandy invasion the three French people wanted to say thanks to me, an American. I was humbled — not because of anything I’d done, but because of the sincere gratitude expressed by these people who’d benefitted from something my country had done many years ago.

The three French people left before me and I began the long walk into Burgos. At the airport I took the option to the left, said to be a little shorter than the one to the right. Still, it was a long slog through industrial areas. Finally I reached the old city and walked through the gates toward the cathedral. I chose to stay at the Meson del Cid, a delightful hotel above the western cathedral plaza. That afternoon I scouted out a place to purchase new hiking boots and, at the urging of several European pilgrims along the way, I also opted to buy hiking poles which were supposed to ease the strain on my feet and legs. Though the cathedral was closed I did get a stamp for my credential at the cathedral museum and toured the exhibits there.

Once again it was nice to settle into a comfy hotel and enjoy a dinner at a nice restaurant. Burgos is a beautiful and historic city — the site of Ferdinand and Isabella’s famous interview with Christopher Columbus as they considered whether to finance his expedition across the ocean to India.

As I fell asleep I looked back over the 285 kilometers (178 miles) I’d walked over the past couple of weeks. My feet had healed up some from the blisters and with my new hiking boots I expected to have an even better camino in the miles ahead.

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.