Distance from Villafranca Montes de Oca, to Atapuerca, Spain 18.85 kilometers
Camino de Santiago, Burgos, Spain
Preface: The high plains of central Spain, known as the “Meseta”, were only a few days walk away and we had to make a decision. After reading several different accounts about this part of the walk to Santiago de Compostela and talking to other “pilgrims” that had walked these empty places before, we were torn as to whether we wanted to spend a week walking through a largely industrial area, next to highway N-120, with limited shelter and fewer interesting places, or, do what most experienced people we talked to recommend and “jump it”. We read the weather reports and, although they were mixed, the forecast for the next five days was unseasonably cold, wet and rainy.
Still we were torn. Skipping a section, even one that was reported to be underwhelming and miserable, felt like it would be cheating in some way. Then we remembered the words of our friend and Camino veteran Richard, “This is your Camino. The walk is for you and you alone. You decide how “The Way” benefits you. It doesn’t matter where you start or how far you walk. It is not possible to cheat.”
Richard was right. We are doing the Camino for ourselves. We were not In it as a competition and it doesn’t have to be torture. Rushing through some of the more interesting places we wanted to see later on because of some misguided fear of being labeled a “Camino cheater”, by people who didn’t understand the journey in the first place was ludicrous. Ultimately we decided to check our egos and check into a four star hotel in Burgos, let our muscles recover and our feet heal a bit, drinks lots of red wine, eat lots of tapas and not skimp on seeing the sights in this great city.
We began the day in Villafranca Montes de Oca a little tired from the previous night’s festivities and pretty damn sore from over a week of walking. We weren’t having problems with blisters like so many people do, but we were both starting to develop deep cracks in our heels from so many days of walking.
We left town by the old cathedral and immediately began a steep climb along a forest trail, which at lower altitudes were mostly hardwoods, but as we approached higher altitudes the beech forest changed to pine. It was beautiful and a welcome change from the open landscapes we had been experiencing in previous days. The woods once had a reputation for bandits, but other than a few other pilgrims the only other person we saw was offering fresh fruit, coffee and snacks and only taking donations to cover her cost.
At the highest point we came across a monument to anti-Franco forces that had been killed during the Spanish Civil War. It was an eerie reminder of Spain’s tumultuous past and how bad leadership anywhere can quickly turn to division and violence.
We stopped at San Juan de Ortega for a bite to eat before continuing to the medieval village of Agés. We had climbed to the top plateau and once again the vistas had opened up to reveal a mostly empty landscape. Our intention was to find an albergue at Atapuerca (a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to Europe’s old human ancestors from over one-million years ago) for the night, but everywhere we looked was full. The next village was ten kilometers away and we were told that it was probably full as well.
Instead of being stuck, we decided to take control, “jump” from here, and found a guy that was driving people into Burgos, the capital of Castile province, about 20 kilometers away for €20 euros. His car was already full of people who couldn’t find a bed anywhere, but we talked him into coming back and picking us up. While we were waiting we went into a pub to use the Internet and booked ourselves a hotel treat in the heart of the old city. Our driver returned to pick us up about 45-minutes later and we were relieved to be avoiding the tangle of freeways, industrial parks and factories that we on the approach to town. We checked in, had a wander around the cathedral and were stuffing ourselves with tapas before sunset. Different than expected, but sometimes you have to be flexible. Even if it means enjoying some unexpected luxury.