Monday, January 23, 2012

Pilgrimage Day 13: Belorado - Atapuerca

I plan today to walk over 30 kilometers, so I get up before dawn in order to make the most of the day. It is a beautiful area and I'm looking forward to todays walk. Great variations in the landscape all the way. I cannot wait. Today's sunrise is as beautiful as before. I pause to enjoy the moment.

The landscape I enter is called Castilania. The first part of the walk is fairly flat but changes quickly when I come into the Oca mountains. It was in these mountains where great gangs of bandit held ground in the Middle Ages in order to attack pilgrims. The road takes me first to the village Tosantos and just after that to Villameista and then Espinosa del Camino. These villages are all from the Middle Ages. It is history in every step I take. I am very humbled to think of all those who have walked this particular way for hundreds of years.

Then I walk to Villafranca-Montes de Oca. This is the village at the foot of the Oca mountains. The village was originally founded by pilgrims from many different countries. The authorities helped the pilgrims to live here, by giving them tax reduction. Reduction in Spanish is "Franco", so Villafranca means houses with tax reductions. From here the road goes steep uphill. I stop several times to enjoy the view. The landscape is quite similar to Norwegian conditions, with forest in steep terrain. The air is fresh and clean. There are benches in many places up the Oca mountains. After I reach the top I come to a dirt road that I follow for 3-4 hours. A very pleasant walk. Forest flowers everywhere. Breath-taking scenery.

It's strange to think that in these surroundings, pilgrims were terrified before. In these forests and mountains gangs of bandit ruled for hundreds of years. Today this is a wonderfully peaceful and beautiful place on earth.

The road ahead leads me gradually out of the woods and into open countryside again. History meets me with the remains of a Roman tower. Perhaps a Roman sentinel? The building remains standing in the middle of a field and reveal that I go on a historic trail.
I come eventually to the village of San Juan de Ortega. Ortega was a priest at the same periode as Santo Domingo and also used his life to help pilgrims. I pass by a beautiful church from the 1400's here that bears his name. After 4 km I come to the village Ages and finally to the world famous town of Atapuerca. Here I will stay and become better acquainted with the towns history. I found a wonderful hostel where the hostess writes me into the guest book and I get my pilgrim passport stamped. The hostel consists of 5 rooms with 8 beds in each room. The hostel is full and I get the last available bed. I take a long-awaited shower and wash my clothes. The foot is getting better but still needs grooming several times a day. I go out and enjoy the well-tended flower garden.
I share a room with three Japanese, one from Canada, and three Dutch. The conversation is lively among us in the evening. In particular, one of the Japanense men, a young student, has much to tell from today's walk. He had gone astray and had major problems finding his way back to the route he had to follow. He laughed the entire time while telling the story, he fills the room with laughter and makes us all joyful.

But before the evening came, I took a trip out to hear more about this world famous village. I found a cafe and got a good cup of esspresso and a heart-shaped pastry. The bartender said I had to visit the exhibition they had down the street in order to learn more about Atapuerca. The small and modest exhibition here in Atapuerca tells me that the oldest foundings after inhabitants in Europe has been found here. There are found stone tools here that are 1 million years old. The most famous site in Atapuerca is "Sima de los Hueso" (Bone Pit). In the bottom of a 13 meter deep shaft, which you can reach through the cave system in the Cueva Mayor, there are fossils from inhabitants that are at least 350 000 years old. Here, they have found 30 different bones from the Homo Heidelbergensis, a direct decendent of Neanderthal. The exhibition has some artistic drawings of how I can envision these people who lived here for up to 1 million years ago. It is amazing to think that on these plains, people lived so long ago. I let my imagination run wild and envision a society like the artist had drawn them at the exhibition. A society of individuals who hunted together, lived together, helped each other, yes I can see them in the landscape. I dream about this during my one night in Atapuerca.


  1. Hope you don't mind but I used your picture of the 'Atapuerca' on my blog Unravelling Our Evolutionary Past. I'll replace it if you object.

  2. Hello Rosa. I'm not a professional photographer so it's no problem for me that you use my material. Thank you for informing me. Your blog is informative and a pleasure to read. All the best, Kaare