Camino Day 15: Homo Antecessor: The Million-year-old Bones

Atapuerca to Burgos: 20 km/12.5 miles

May 19, 2016

Upon awakening I nearly stepped on the bunkmate who had been the occupant of the bed above. His friend had ‘hit the deck’ on my other side. I was trapped on my lower bunk oasis. Little English spoken, so unable to inquire about their alternate sleeping space choice. Later they were getting underway without picking up their bedding until some non-verbal, friendly pointing conveyed their oversight.

Only one café was open in the village, serving up coffee and breakfast, which made for a steady migration of pilgrims. We hung out until the place had mostly cleared.

The walk today commenced with a mild incline up to a hilltop with yet another vast, scenic view. Numerous wind turbines dotted the landscape. Burgos, one of the bigger cities on the Camino was today’s destination for the Evolution Museo exhibit. Usual preference was to dodge the bigger cities, but one benefit was the greater selection of eateries beyond the now, very familiar Peregrino menu. An American couple shared another big city bonus, which was the great discount for last minute internet hotel deals. Not able to resist a bargain and with the high probability of getting a hot bath tonight, a 4-Star Hotel deal was booked.

Kashi could take or leave these higher end places as his views were fairly anti-establishment and he disliked pretentiousness. I liked to play Cinderella occasionally, despite the absence of a ball gown to slip on for the evening. We both enjoyed the thought of not having bunkmates for a night.

People from all walks of life were out on the Camino trail. A German woman was encountered, traveling alone with a 3 year old, struggling with a stroller that was not appreciating the present terrain. A Sri Lankan couple was assisting her as we passed. This brought the pilgrim age span down to 3 and up to 80 years, noted thus far. I had seen a hostel map pinned with the hometowns of pilgrims. Overloaded pin sites were in Korea, France, Italy, Spain, and North America. Lesser-numbered pins were tacked on Australia, New Zealand and England.

A few optional Camino routes were possible today and thus taken, to wander away from the pack. The river walk into Burgos stretched on forever and ever. Kashi stopped to pick stones out of the water. The ubiquitous yellow arrows disappeared and the route became a guessing game. The usual ‘follow the leader’ rule, failed. Pilgrims were randomly turning off the path and heading into the parallel streets of the town at different points. No toilets were in sight and the tall, uncut grass to the left was looking very appealing as an alternate.

Decision made to cut in and as we crossed the street, a woman on crutches insisted on guiding us back to the ‘yellow brick road’. She hobbled alongside and would not part until assured we would not go astray. I was humbled and grateful.

A quaint, local place was found for lunch before meandering further. Hunger had set in. Breakfast food was ordered and a plate of eggs with an odd assortment of meat was served with a glass of vino tinto to wash it down. The main plaza and the cathedral of any village were reliable landmarks to find one’s home for the night. From these epicenters, one could usually calculate directions elsewhere. Entering the fancy hotel lobby, I realized we were a bit dusty and underdressed. The sighting of another Camino shell dangling from a pack in front of us helped sturdy my ground. We weren’t the only ones straying from the Camino highway.

The room was a dark, renaissance looking room with a glassed in veranda-like extension and a lovely tub. Times had changed from the earlier Camino days of discomfort, disease and risking of one’s life to complete the pilgrimage. Guilty pleasure took over.

A trip to the Evolution Museo was on the ‘to do’ list. The last hour at the museum was gratis, so we honed in to see the actual H. Antecessor remains from the dig site of the village we stayed in last night. The Latin words homo and antecessor stand for human and explorer/early settler. There were still disputes on exactly which homo species linked with Antecessor, be it, H Ergaster or H Heidelbergensis, but there were some Neanderthal-like characteristics that challenged these theories. My mind spun with all the H-word lineages. Suffice to say, these were some very old skeletal remains. The bones were housed in a special darkened room and they actually had names; Lucy, Mrs. Ples, Turkana boy, Miguelon and more.

There was much more to see, but the clock struck closing time for Cinderella and her humble escort. A quick glance at a few more exhibits was made, before security followed all out.

A slow stroll was taken back to the ‘palace’ picking up kebabs and falafel sandwiches en route. My legs were yearning for a hot bath nightcap. After seeing these old bones and images of H Antecessor, I pondered how Adam and Eve must have looked like compared to their contrasting depiction in the churches. Similar to how Jesus is usually portrayed as a white man, when his birthplace would beg one to question. Another night spent around floating old souls.

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