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  • The leg towards Burgos is often the first hurdle for people who trek the Camino de Santiago. Close to two weeks in, most are eager for a good warm bath and the comforts of a larger city. It is also the final stop before the monotone landscape of the Meseta where there isn't a bush or a tree to protect you from the scorching sun. So, heads down, following the neatly painted yellow arrows to medieval holiness and forgiveness, they trudge obliviously past a small town called Atapuerca.

    Historically though, Atapuerca is famous for biological anthropologists as the place that holds the "pit of bones." One of the first, if not the first, where we believe that there were signs of burial and ritual. Also perhaps, in our futile imaginations, feelings of remorse and sadness, unspeakable yet to the now named homo heidelbergensis. Thirty complete skeletons dropped in a small opening of a pit were found and a multitude of artifacts, including a pink quartz hand axe that archeologists rather fondly call 'Excalibur'.

    I found this out after my journey in the comfort of a university lecture hall as my professor raptly explained the significance of such actions. The profundity was not lost upon her and we questioned, in clean crisp dress shirts and slim fit jeans, the act of pushing our dead ones into a hole. She remarked, "intentionally, by their kin." No tools to properly dig, lack of cognition, and how would the mind ask about the painful spinning wheels of our sentiments? Perhaps, they threw their precious possessions ("they were capable of symbolism and belief") and would have stood around the pit, covered in grime and hair, and we wondered, would they howl?

    Would they agonize, "God, have you forsaken me?"

    I had stopped that morning at Atapuerca and most of the restaurants and bars were closed since we had started out so early. But, a small bar opened when we waited and I remember quietly eating a cold tortilla espanola, plain to my taste. Some military jeeps had gone by, patrolling this world heritage site, and I had wondered what significance this small town held, eking out a living from the multinational tourists hiking to find redemption.

    The irony is stark that this route belonged to the medieval templars a few hundreds years back, making war against the heretics, riding to protect those who prayed for St. James. If God smiles, He was a jester and upon bones of our forbearers, I would consider our rights when our own bodies are broken upon holes in the ground, to argue against his vast humour on the scrambling lives we have lived. And perhaps, upon our pits and caskets, like those of the silver jeweled casket of our alleged St. James, we would huddle, hold ourselves, our minds unable to comprehend why they fell so far into the pit, why they lay unmoving, and mumble sounds of something to ease our legs. Easing them to turn and walk away.

    Would He smile?

    [This small story, while writing, became and now is a dedication to Ms. Lee, the first patient I knew who passed away after a long fight. The picture is the one I took, the hills and rocks of Atapuerca, the very picture of my imagination of Spain.]
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