Day 11: Belorado to Atapuerca aka Neanderthals!
We thought our very mediocre hotel would’ve a least included breakfast, but alas, we paid an extra €12 extra for some empty calories. How do you say BS in Spanish? It was 10K to the first town, and the trail paralleled the road the entire time. I can’t stand when the Camino parallels the road or the highway, as it takes away from the Camino charm. In the town of Villa Franca, we met up with other peregrinos and headed up towards the mountains. Inclines are never too exciting, but we ran into Noah, from DC, who we had not seen since the first day. He told me that our friend Ana was probably already in Burgos, and thought that he too would walk the full 30 miles to get there by today. He introduced me to a couple of his Italian friends, who spoke limited English. I love being lost in translation on this Camino... Communication seems to fluctuate between hand gestures and laughter.
Mid-elevation there was another pop-up bar, that was donation based. We got some delicious fresh orange juice and fresh fruit. Plus, I got play with the owner’s six week old puppy and her sweet cat, who acted like a puppy. When we finally got to the town of Ortega, we were not too impressed. More surprising, our guidebook recommended this as good stop for the evening. But I noticed a lot of pilgrims were were walking right passed it, as there was not much to eat or see. I will say the monastery looked pretty up against the mountains, and the albergue there was only €6.
We continued another 6 km to our destination in Atapuerca. Upon arriving in town we saw the museum for the neanderthal remains that were found in the area, so we took a detour there. The museum is really nice, and it’s juxtaposition is even more interesting. You’re walking through rural towns, and all of sudden you see this post-modernist building, in the midst of it all. The curator told us that there was a tour to the caves at 5 PM, and they would pick us up from the center of town. This gave us only 30 minutes to walk all the way to town, put down our heavy backpacks and hop on the bus. Imagine how exhausting this was after walking 16 miles? We were once again so fortunate to have Clif bars, and we knew we would eat a hefty meal at the end of the day.
Our albergue (Albergue Atapuerca) was 35 euros for a double room and a private bathroom. The owner was nice but seemed a little bit shy. Our room was small but clean, so we were both happy about it. We got on the bus, and it appeared that we were the only Peregrinos in the group. The town and surrounding areas do a terrible job in marketing this spot. The only reason I knew about this is because years ago (originally an anthro major), UCLA sent me an e-mail about a volunteer excavation trip there. When I saw that this was a stop along the Camino, I got really excited. Point is… Without prior research, you’d have no idea this place exists. There is no real advertising, hence why other pilgrims were so ignorant towards its existence. The total cost for us to visit the caves on a bus was only five euros each (pilgrim's discount).
The excavation site is pretty cool and of course the entire tour was in Spanish. The human remains found at this site are the oldest in Western Europe (about a million years old). The bones are currently in the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos. When we finished our tour, roughly two hours later (it was only supposed to last an hour and a half), we got back into town and met Klause for dinner at a restaurant where he found a private room to sleep in for only €20. Dinner was €10 each, and the owner informed us that there would be a medieval festival in Burgos tomorrow. He recommended that we try to get there as early as possible. Thinking about taking a rest day there, as it’s the biggest city along the way, but that’s TBD.