Day 16: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca — Thin places on the Camino

From my journal: “My feet are only sort-of sore instead of falling-off sore.” This was progress!

The walk to Atapuerca today lifted my spirits. I could have sung from the top of my lungs, I felt so happy. The sun shone brightly in the crisp air as we left the castle-like hotel-albergue and headed straight up the steep hillside — the first of three. I stopped for a moment to look back and was treated to views of distant, snow-covered mountains and rolling oak-covered hills, barely budding green, with wisps of ground fog settled into the far-away valleys.

Atapuerca, Spain
Outside Atapuerca, Spain — Photo credit:

From there, we walked through 7.5km/4.5mi of uninterrupted trail through pine glades and oak forest. With part shade over the trail and the air temperature about 26.7C/80F, it felt utterly enchanting. Fairies might appear anywhere. There were green glades and mossy puddles. I saw my first wild daffodil, dainty and nodding with its thimble-sized yellow cup instead of the big, frilly trumpet of its cultivated cousin.

Well into the day, we arrived on top of the last hill — an open, grassy pasture full of tiny blue flowers and, beyond it, saw even more gorgeous views. Breathtaking. The air felt different here, a “thin place” where everything felt magical. I wanted to roll around in the blue flowers and never leave.

Little did I know that from this hilltop, I was looking down into an area that has been settled by humans for more than 900,000 years. Almost a million. And I could see why: The bowl-shaped valley felt like a comforting cradle and the energy there felt palpably different.

Atapuerca, Spain
Atapuerca, Spain — Photo credit:

We arrived late-ish to a very full albergue, but were glad to get the last few beds. Marisela and Muriel went to one room and I and Katrin to another. When we entered, I didn’t know I was about to meet my next Camino angels. They show up when you’re not looking.

But, not knowing this, I sized up the situation and didn’t much like what I saw: a tiny room with two bunks against the wall on the left, two single beds on the right, and all men. I felt a little awkward, to be honest.

As I got settled in my upper bunk, the guy below me said hi and then asked me if I’d brought earplugs. Uh-oh, I thought.

American, I knew from the accent, he had a friendly face, stylish glasses, and a trim lightening goatee; he seemed kind. He told me that he snored pretty well and that he normally used a CPAP machine at home. It was just too heavy to carry on the Camino – a fact I agreed with. He seemed to feel badly for inconveniencing others and he’d gotten some grief from others about his night-time noises.

“It’s not your fault, though,” I told him. “If you could do it differently, I’m sure you would. I’ve got earplugs. I’ll be fine.” And I meant it from the heart.

Well, he got a little choked up at this response. It was a really sweet moment. A thin place between two strangers.

That’s how I met Gary — along with his buddy, Scott, and their German friend, Mattias. Suddenly, I didn’t feel awkward at all. And, for the record, I slept halfway decently. Sunshine, fresh air, and a peaceful heart will do that to you.

Those, plus only “sort-of sore” feet.

2 thoughts on “Day 16: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Atapuerca — Thin places on the Camino

  1. Jen,
    I’m sorry, but you are the Camino Angel in this case. I never doubted my ability to walk 500 miles. My only concern was my snoring in these close quarters. Your kindness on this day was one of the highlights of my entire Camino. You ARE my Camino Angel, my friend, not only for this Camino incident but also for the insight you have brought into my “superficial” life. You have been one of the most inspirational influences of my life. Thanks for just being yourself !!!!!!!

    1. Gary, thank you for saying this. I am truly touched. If people wrote you off because of your snoring, they missed out on knowing a fun and kind (not superficial!) person. ❤

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