Day 18 – To Atapuerca

Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca – 18 Kms, 26,664 steps

After a good night’s sleep in the San Anton Abad hotel, and after a few trips through their outstanding, protein-laden breakfast buffet, I left town just at dawn for Atapuerca.

Villafranca Montes de Oca in the rear view mirror

I remembered from my 2019 Camino that there was a climb out of town, but I’d forgotten how long and relentless it was. After about 45 minutes of steady uphill walking, I finally reached the point where the trail flattened out through the woods. Luckily, the weather was cool and partly cloudy, which made the climb easier.

The trail was flat and pleasant, briefly

Eventually, the trees became a pine forest and I walked along what looked like a service road for hours. I saw one or two other pilgrims as I went, including Grace and Wendy, who left me in their dust. For long stretches, the path surface was a miserable, rocky mess.

At the top of a steep descent; notice the subsequent steep ascent up ahead

I make use of my hiking poles for all ascents and descents. Uphill, they really help the legs power along. Downhill, they can take a good bit of the load off the knees. They can also prevent a face plant if you trip over some sneaky stone (which I have, a few times). I’ve seen a lot of younger people walking without them and I’ve seen a lot of younger people wearing knee braces. In my estimation, hiking poles are worth every penny.

Weird art projects on display along The Way
All the descents push your feet foward in your shoes; some people make custom adjustments in their shoes as needed

After stops in the small towns of San Juan and Agés, I finally made it to Atapuerca. This is the town that gives its name to the nearby caves where wall paintings and other evidence of human activity have been traced back 1.5 million years.

The birthplace of mankind

I got an unpleasant surprise when I arrived: my accomodation had no reservation for me. This despite an exchange of emails back in May with the very woman at the front desk. I showed her the email she sent me, she said that I was supposed to have followed up with a credit card number (which is not stated in her email). This was a serious problem. Atapuera is a tiny town and this is prime pilgrim season so everything in town was booked. However, I was pleasant with the woman and she graciously (and, I think, a little guiltily) called around town and found me a nice room nearby. It was probably nicer than her place, actually. So, despite a bit of a shock, it all turned out OK in the end. As they say, “the Camino provides”.

Tomorrow, I’m off to the big city of Burgos, population 180,000, at the end of a 20 Km walk.

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