after leaving Agés at just after dawn (as I mentioned — some peregrinos get up really early to start their day’s walking), the first town we walked through was home to an archaeological sight excavating caves around Atapuerca. filled with fossils, the caves contain all manner of evidence dating back 1.2 million years; the hominid remains are the oldest ever discovered in Europe.

the first remains came to light at the end of the 19th century because of excavations for railroad expansion; the regional hub of Burgos lies just over the mountains from Atapuerca. full-scale archaeological excavations began in the mid 1960s and continue today. at the most famous area of the site, some 5,500 human bones have been unearthed since 1995 dating from early humans onward. some of the remains might demonstrate the link between homo sapiens and a precursor of neanderthals (known as homo antecessor).

while its archaeological significance has put Atapuerca on the map, it also hosted a major battle in the middle of the 11th century between brothers and rival kings of Castilla and Navarra. problems arose from the father splitting his territory among son and, according to some sources, perhaps fraternal betrayal, double-crosses and imprisonment. whatever the reasons leading to the Battle of Atapuerca on the first of September in 1054, at the end of the bloodshed King García Sánchez III of Navarre lay dead and his brother Ferdinand I of Castilla emerged victorious, reclaiming land he’d previously annexed to Navarra.

Roncevaux Pass — now with animals!

the hike over the Ronceveaux Pass was one of the most challenging of our trip. it’s not uncommon for people to stop the night in Orisson, which is only about 8km from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. it’s a strenuous climb to reach Orisson, which has the only albergue (and only amenities) before you reach Roncesvalles, and only gets more challenging as your continue on another 20km. (if you’ve ever seen Emilio Estevez’s “The Way”, his character perishes on this segment when he takes a wrong turn and gets lost in the mountain fog.)

once beyond Orisson, we saw lots of animals grazing in the high mountain fields; probably more herds of animals on this day than an other single day of our trek. some of the horses had bells around their necks, as did the sheep. we didn’t try to approach them, but they seemed wholly unfazed by our presence — suppose you’d have to grow accustomed to so many random humans wheezing their way through your breakfast chomp.

in 778, Charlemagne retreated from Spain, and destroyed the city walls of Pamplona as he did so despite assurances that he would not — perhaps to prevent Basque or other fighters from using the city’s considerable defenses in future rebellions. as the army crossed the Pyrenees, a group of Vascones (people native to this region of Spain at the time the Romans arrived) attacked the rear guard, generating mass confusion and leading to disarray and devastation in the French army. Roland was among those killed and, as  anyone who studied French for any length of time might recall, immortalized in the Chanson de Roland, a somewhat romanticized account of the battle. a stone commemorates the location in the pass where most historians believe he fell (which we walked past) and the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in the village of Roncesvalles.

as challenging as this leg proved, the terrain was remarkable: lush green fields grazed by animals; imposing rock faces; dense forest with fallen leaves lying inches deep; stunning panoramas; even snow! though we ultimately found our guidebook more hyperbolic and unreliable than useful, the admonition to stay attentive on the descent that day was helpful. after straining under unaccustomed weight for an unaccustomed distance for hours uphill, it could have been easy to misstep on uneven terrain — and we even took the “easy” route down the mountain into Roncesvalles as the steeper, wooded route was too sloppy from rain in the preceding days. needless to say, we were both very happy to see the welcoming doors of the albergue run by the Real Collegieta de Roncesvalles.

Bunker Hill Monument

and we shall, apparently, enter a phase of adventures about climbing tall things. next installment: the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. two years ago, when my friends Kelly & Corey got married in Laconia, NH, I set aside an extra day to visit my friend Brianna in Boston. why fly across the continent to only spend three days, neck deep in wedding insanity? as a history buff, how many better cities are there in the U.S. to see so much about the foundation of our nation? to get that fantastic and weighty sense of history that I’d felt so lacking in California?

one of the few things that I remember well from our family trip to New England well over a decade ago was walking the Freedom Trail. not enjoying it, mind, since I was all of ten and what ten-year-old enjoys a such long walk with such an educational bent? and yet, I must have thought well enough of it on some level that, when planning my day in Boston, I rather enjoyed the prospect of walking the Freedom Trail.

though not officially the last stop on the tour (probably due to the fact that there’s a museum at the USS Constitution), the climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument was my last exertion on the walk. the monument is actually located atop Breed’s Hill, where the Battle took place. (there was confusion eve at the time of the Battle as to the name of the location. despite calling for fortifications on Bunker Hill, they were built on Breed’s Hill, perhaps due to slightly closer proximity to Boston.) the Battle took place on June 17, 1775 and, though technically a British victory, proved a “Decisive Day” for the colonists, according to Abigail Adams. the 1,200 militiamen defending the earthen redoubt on Breed’s Hill managed to repulse two attacks by the British and were eventually overcome in large part due to the limited supply of ammunition (leading to the popular phrase about shooting and whites of eyes). of the 2,200 British that attacked the hill, over 1,000 were counted as casualties (mostly wounded, but about 240 killed), including a quarter of the total number of officers that the British lost in the entire war. the militia, by comparison, suffered between 400 and 600 casualties.

the first monument on the hill was erected in 1794, in honor of Dr. Joseph Warren, and work on the current structure began in 1825. the monument was completed in 1842 and dedicated in a speech by Daniel Webster in 1843.

there is a fantastic view of Boston from the top of the 221 foot granite obelisk. and, after walking and exploring along some four miles from the Boston Common and then booking it up the 294 stairs to the top of the monument, I took my time enjoying the view. (incidentally, it is also 294 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, though I don’t remember that climb feeling quite so long … I’ll bet it’s something to do with the hours-long summertime walk that preceded Bunker Hill.)

from the Freedom Trail tour site, the National Parks Service site, and from Wikipedia

San Jacinto

arriving into Houston late on Friday night, we headed to bed early for a full day of exploring on Saturday. first stop, the San Jacinto State Park, battle site where Texas won independence from Mexico in April of 1836. (Texas formally declared independence 174 years ago yesterday.)
San Jacinto was the last in a series of battles/sieges/massacres that also included that famous one in San Antonio, as well as less famous one in Goliad. (Goliad’s population in the 2000 census: 1,975.) the Mexican forces were commanded by President Antonio-Lopez de Santa Anna and Sam Houston led the Texans. the battle proper lasted 18 minutes, but, amped up and interested in meting out some vengeance for Alamo and Goliad, the Texan forces kept going for another hour. in the end, some 800 Mexicans were wounded or killed (many, many of those once the confrontation was “concluded”), while 39 Texans were killed and wounded.
Santa Anna was captured and held as a prisoner of war (a fact mentioned on the inscription on the outside of the monument — Santa Anna was granted a reprieve that he did not grant Texans at the Alamo or Goliad). during his captivity, Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco, in which he agreed to remove troops from Texan soil.