Saint John of Ortega was another of those chop-wood-carry-water saints like his friend, Domingo de la Calzada. It’s said that the two local boys worked together on the church and monastery that bear John’s name: the ravishing San Juan de Ortega. It was closed for the season when Agostino and I wanted to look inside. So a couple of snaps of its lovely, clean exterior on a radiant day. Ahhh…
Here we were joined by a new friend, Camino-style. His name was Manu, and he’d simply walked out of his front door somewhere in Spain – Zaragoza, I think – and become a pilgrim. He’d lost girlfriend and job, and walked because he was finding it hard to rest or do anything else but walk. A heavy chest infection, alarming to me, less so to Agostino, was not stopping Manu. People can find friends and acceptance so quickly on the Camino. Mind you, a pilgrim who can walk through the snows of Navarre and can then face a gale or furnace on the meseta is likely to have a little character. Some grit, as it were. (If that sounds like implied self-praise, remember that I go slower and softer than any other pilgrim I’ve encountered.) Manu was problem-ridden and close to breakdown. But he was one of us.
Over and over on the track, I found myself hanging out happily with my opposites. My last acquaintance, at Fisterra, was a bearded French sorcerer. Hardly my type, but he was a gritty bearded French sorcerer. One of us.
It’s just the Camino, okay?
A slight descent from the Montes de Oca brings one to Atapuerca. My friends weren’t too keen to linger, so I only got glimpses of the area containing the earliest known European dwellings, not just of humans but of hominids. The karst country around Atapuerca offered many caves which were ideal for people and sort-of people to go about their business. The people have been dated back about 350,000, the hominids, Neanderthal predecessors, to between 800,000 and 1.2 million years!