Plummeting temperatures in the Sierra de Atapuerca

So many of our best travel experiences have been unplanned and have been all the more wonderful for it. Take Frias, Spain’s smallest city, for example (see previous blog update). We had found a brief reference to this gem of a place in an article about Northern Spain. Later we found ourselves nearby and diverted from our route to pay a visit.

Fabulous Frias

The day we were to leave Frias, we decided we had to change our outdoor plans as the temperature had plummeted. We decided it was an inside day and started researching nearby museums. It was then we learned about the incredible discoveries of the Sierra de Atapuerca.

One of the archeological digs at Atapuerca

This 285 hectare historic treasure trove contains caves and galleries that have revealed a rich fossil record of the earliest human beings in Europe – unbelievably from more than one million years ago and extending into the Common Era.

A rich fossil record of the earliest humans in Europe has been revealed

The significance of this extraordinary network was only discovered in the 1960s during the construction of a railway line when fossils and artefacts were discovered while deep trenches were being dug. Since then fossil remains of five different hominid species – along with evidence of their presence – have been found at the Sierra de Atapuerca sites.

There is a museum at the centre of the cave system where you can observe the excavations and see some of the finds. We were so excited to have discovered this amazing opportunity.

Our route there took us through a vast plateau following narrow roads interspersed with tiny villages.

The icy road leading to the museum and excavation site at Atapuerca

It was a chilly three degrees when we left Frias but by the time we reached Atapuerca it was below freezing. As we drove out of the tiny village near the excavation site we noticed that it was one of the stopping points on the famous religious pilgrimage route – Camino de Santiago. It was icy outside so we weren’t at all surprised not to see any pilgrims!

The place was bleak and deserted!

We drove down a series of narrow lanes when, in the middle of a vast stretch of plain lands, we came upon an ugly shed-like building which loomed before us which we gathered, was the Centro de Arqueologia Experimental (Carex) museum.

Icy puddles
The museum looked more like a prison block

Disappointingly it was all locked up – we learned later because of the icy conditions- but all was not lost as the much acclaimed Museum of Human Evolution was definitely open in the nearby city of Burgos.

This fantastic museum was first opened in 2010 after the Atapuerca sites were designated as World Heritage Status by UNESCO.

Looking over to Burgos Cathedral from the Museum of Human Evolution
The exterior of the Museum of Hunan Evolution

We spent all the next morning at this fascinating museum viewing fantastic dioramas of the Atapuerca caverns, fascinating fossils and findings from the archeological site, and well explained connections between the different hominids.

The design of the museum was remarkable

At 2pm the museum closed for siesta time and we were turned out into the icy air. As we exited the front doors it began to snow – proper big fat flakes that came thick and fast.

Who would have believed it would snow!

We made a dash for the street round the back of the museum where apparently there were some restaurants. We ran into the nearest one as it really was freezing outside.

Fortunately the restaurant was warm and welcoming

As luck would have it, lunch was still being served and we relished an excellent fish stew and a delicious bottle of Spanish wine.

The fish stew was sensational!

We went back into the museum and spent another fantastic four hours there.

A cross section of the HMS Beagle which carried Darwin on his expeditions

There was a whole floor dedicated to the the history of human evolution and included Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This floor had, among other things, a spectacular exhibit of ten ultra-realistic reproductions of human ancestors, modelled by the French sculptor Elisabeth Daynes.

A massive model of a human brain
Models of our human ancestors
Animals now long extinct
There was an intriguing small exhibition dedicated to the momentous events of the year 1968 including the launch of the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey
Some of the momentous events of 1968
The Obelisk featured in the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey

The following day we drove 148 kms through the dramatic scenery to another fantastic museum – Museo Altermira in Santillana Del Mar – also declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The rugged countryside on the way to Santillana Del Mar
A glimpse of a hidden village in the valley
The clouds were very low
And the road very winding

In this museum there is a fantastic, true-to-life replica of the Altermira Caves, discovered in 1868 and famous for the vibrant charcoal drawings and polychrome paintings of local animals and human hands crafted around 36,000 years ago.

Museo Altermira in Santillana Del Mar
Inside the replica cave looking out at the entrance

Because these amazing drawings and paintings had started to deteriorate with the increasingly large number of people coming to view them, it was decided to stop allowing visitors to the caves and the idea of producing a faithful replica of the cave art at the museum was created.

Another view of the cave
The work of an artist with a wonderful eye
The drawings really captured the movement of their subjects
Such a gentle look in the eyes of this doe
Prolific art on the cave ceiling

After two days of fascinating but intense museum time it was time for a change of pace and, like a couple of homing pigeons, we decided to head once more to the coast where we were certain It would be warmer and that more surprises were waiting for us.

We thought these drawings looked very similar to Aboriginal drawings we have seen in Australia
A wonderful study of an auroch

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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