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.
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.
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.