Los Picos de Europa
~The High Altitude Diaries~
By: Jean Gonzalo
Wednesday, July 5, 2000
I arose around 9:00 a.m. My back is a little sore. I don’t know if it’s the bed or the long walk yesterday. Today we’re going to take Joe around this beautiful valley. We took Joe to visit Miguel’s cousin, Secundo, who manages a goat dairy. The goats are Alpines and produce six liters of milk a day. He has 200 milking. It’s quite an operation. We also visited the national park headquarters again. I bought a map of the park. It is in three provinces, Leon, Asturias, and Santander. We came home for dinner. We had potato puree soup, green salad, ham and sausage, chicken, lamb, fish, fruit, cheese, bread and wine. For dessert we had an almond tart. Everything was so good.
After dinner I washed a lot of dishes. We went upstairs for a little nap. I brought six Reader’s Digests over, so I read. If I take a nap, it’s hard to sleep in the night. The Americans arrived last night. Today they’re going on a sight-seeing venture in the valley. Miguel’s cousin, Bobby, who is a teacher in Phoenix, is the tour director. He has invited us and some more of his relatives to eat later today in Cain with the group. It was nice seeing about 41 Americans. Some of them stayed with Miguel’s sister and some stayed at a new hotel called “Cumbres.”
We ate about 8:00 p.m. We had just eaten at home not too long before, but we ate again at a hotel in Cain. They had green salad, pork ribs, fried potatoes, wine, and bread. Boy, I hope we don’t have to eat like this every day! I visited with some of the Americans. They ranged from the 20s to the 80s. One of these years I want to go on a tour. Bobby goes to different places every year in the summertime. His wife told me when he retires (next year) he might go into this profession full time. We took one of the American tourists back with us in our car. The road is very bad, but Miguel’s brother drove. I forgot to mention that Miguel’s youngest brother, Jesus, who lives in Madrid, came up for a visit yesterday. His wife broke her toe, so she didn’t accompany him. He’ll stay about a week. Later on in the evening the relatives and friends gathered in the hotel bar (Cumbres) and had a nice visit. I got to speak a lot of English today. It was wonderful! We came home around 1:00 a.m. and went to bed.
Thursday, July 6, 2000
I had a hard time sleeping last night. My back was hurting. I had to get up in the night and take some Tylenol. Miguel is going to the farmarcia (pharmacy) and see if he can get something for me. Miguel’s mother is in church right now. Miguel and Jose went to see the milking of the goats. At 1:00 p.m. we are going over the mountain to visit some of Miguel’s friends. They have invited us for dinner. Their brother lives in the US and is one of Miguel’s best friends. While we were outside standing around – really to meet the friends – they pulled up in their vehicle. They beat us to the punch! They came into the kitchen and had some bocadillos and wine. We visited for awhile and then we all went to Miguel’s sister’s hostel for dinner. This was the best food we’ve had in a restaurant so far. Two platters of ham and sausage and cheese, two platters of green salad, two platters of potato salad, roast lamb, T-bone steaks, bread, wine, flan (custard) and tarta de helada (ice cream). We visited until 5:00 p.m.
After that we stopped at Miguel’s brother’s place called “La Cortina,” – The Curtain – and had some more “refreshments.” Talking was also included. After about two hours the company left to go home. We stayed a little longer, then came home. We had a little soup and an egg. Miguel’s mother fixed it and called it “huevo-frances.” It’s like a mini-omelet. While we were eating supper, Miguel’s sister and brother-in-law and aunt and uncle stopped by. There were ten of us in the small kitchen. After about an hour of talking, I washed the dishes and then went to bed. My back has been hurting so I took an ibuoprofin. Goodnight!
Friday, July 7, 2000
We woke up at 7:00 a.m. We are going to Leon today to take Jose (Miguel’s friend) to the train station. I asked Miguel’s sister-in-law if she’d like to go and help me shop for gifts. She told me she only goes to Leon to shop about twice a year. She is a mountain lady all the way! We dropped Jose off at the station and Conchi and I hit the stores. At 2:00 p.m. the stores closed and we went to dinner. I had white beans and gambas al ajillo (shrimp scampi). It was very good. Miguel had fish soup and merluza (a type of fish). When we finished eating the stores were still closed, so we went to “El Corte de Ingles.” This is a big department store, something like our Wal-Mart, and it doesn’t close for dinner. I bought some gifts for the people back home and bought Miguel’s mother an iron. Her old one is 20 years old and has been dropped a few times. She told me to use the new one tomorrow and I told her to be the first one to use it.
After shopping all day, we arrived home at 8:30 p.m. It’s very damp and cold here now. - 8°C. Miguel’s mother is making soup for us. After supper we sat around and talked. I did the dishes and listened to the conversation. I couldn’t understand everything, but they were reminiscing about the olden days. They were talking about when there wasn’t any medical care or transportation in their valley. If people were very sick, they would be transported by donkey down to Cain and then traveled down a path to Asturias Province. There a vehicle would pick them up and take them to a doctor. Also, when newborn babies had the whooping cough, the medical person would recommend the mother take their babies to the highest point in the valley (summit) and let the air get to the babies. I think the air was more dry. Here in the valley, if the sun doesn’t shine, it’s very damp. I went to bed around 11:00 p.m. Miguel, Jesus and their parents were still talking.
Saturday, July 8, 2000
I woke up at 9:00 a.m. The parents and their sons were talking downstairs. I took a shower and then had a continental breakfast. While we were gone yesterday, Miguel’s mother washed all our clothes. She told me there are a lot of clothes to iron, so I guess that’s what I’ll do today. I ironed a little this morning. Then Miguel and I and Jesus went to the cooperative to buy some groceries. I bought some unrefined flour to take back to the states to make some frisuelos. Afterwards we stopped in at Miguel’s sister’s hotel, which is a stone’s throw away. Miguel likes the way she does lamb in the oven, so tomorrow at noon I’m going to watch how she cooks it or prepares it. We made a stop in the bar for “refreshments” and Miguel’s nieces gave him some gifts to take home.
While we were in the bar, Miguel’s niece was feeding her 2 year old nephew pureed fish and vegetable soup. On the way home we stopped in Fidel’s bar and had some more “refreshments.” A friend of Miguel’s (whom he hadn’t seen in a long time) stopped in. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. More talking and more talking. Finally, at 3:00 p.m. we arrived home in time for dinner. We had chicken and rice, green salad, bread, wine, apple jam and cheese. I washed the dishes. Everyone, except Estelita and me, took a nap. I finished ironing at 5:00 p.m.
Later on this evening I’m going to cook some potatoes to make a salad tomorrow. Miguel’s oldest brother, Pedro, and his wife, Marivi, are coming from Madrid to visit. Later we went to Posada and Miguel and is brother played “bolas.” I watched them for awhile. Some friends came by and the men went to a bar they call “The Cafeteria.” I walked up to Fidel’s place and his wife and some other women were practicing dancing and singing. They are going to perform again somewhere nearby. One of Miguel’s cousins from Leon was there. She recognized me and came over to greet me. I went looking for Miguel, but he was on his way up. He and his cousin, Amoz, were glad to see each other. They talked for quite awhile. Then we left for home around 9:30 p.m. Miguel’s father had already eaten. He likes to eat around 9:00 p.m. We had bacon and eggs for supper. Also, bread, wine, baked apples, cheese, apple jam, yogurt, ice cream. I did the dishes, then cooked the potatoes and eggs for tomorrow. Went to bed before anyone at 11:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 9, 2000
I awoke at 9:00 a.m. and had a continental breakfast. I made the potato salad and put it in the refrigerator. Miguel’s mother said to take it out of the refrigerator because the people don’t like it cold. I think that’s true because when you order a cold drink, it’s just barely cold. It’s very cool in this valley, so I don’t think you’ll be poisoned. Miguel’s parents went to church and we went down to the center of the valley. If you don’t make the mass on time, it isn’t good to go late. The service only lasts 30 minutes or so. After church Miguel and his brother played “bolas” and Estelita and Paquita and I went to a little souvenir shop that recently opened. Miguel’s mother and aunt wanted to buy a little gift for our daughter. While we were on our way walking home, Miguel’s brother and his wife passed us on the road. We had a nice reunion at home. Dinner was served at 2:00 p.m. There was ham, lomo, sausage, potato salad, lamb, chicken, bread, wine, cheese, apple jam, ice cream, and home-made cake. I could hardly get up to do the dishes. And there was a lot of them!
Miguel (right) with three of his brothers.
Miguel’s brother, Pedro, who studied many years to be a priest, is so nice. He’s around my age. He likes to tell jokes and is very happy and funny. His wife, Marivi, is also very nice. After dinner and the dishes, I wrote in this journal and then went upstairs to read a little bit. After nap time, Baudilio, Pedro, Marivi, Jesus, Miguel and I went for a walk “abajo” (down) the valley. As we were walking along, we stopped several times to talk to people along the way. We did more talking than walking. We stopped in Fidel’s place for more talking. We left to go walking on a country road. We still met people there. Baudilio forgot to take a sweater and he was getting cold, so we turned back to go home. It took at least an hour to get back because there were MORE people to talk to. We had a light supper of fish and chicken, bread, wine, fruit and cheese. I did the dishes while everyone talked. After doing the dishes I sat and listened to the conversation for awhile. I excused myself at 12:30 a.m. and went up to bed.
Monday, July 10, 2000
I awoke late at 10:00 a.m. It is raining. The men wanted to cut some grass way up in the mountains for a picnic we’re having tomorrow. I don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s time for breakfast now. I should explain: The grass (hierba) grows tall on the mountainside. It is necessary to cut the grass so we can have a picnic. The tables will be made from trees, from what I understand. But now it is too wet, so I don’t know if they are going to do it tomorrow or not. Today the family is going to gather here at the home place for dinner around 3:00 p.m. Seven of us went to Teresa’s house. She is preparing the lamb for dinner. I watched her prepare it. Then she cooked it in her convection oven. I’m going to try to duplicate her recipe in the US. The guys had a bottle of wine and bocadillos. Marivi and I had juice. Then we walked a little bit and went to Pascal Bar. The guys had a little more wine and I had some hot chocolate. It is cold and damp. We came home and I set the table. Right now we are waiting for everyone. There will be 11 eating. The table is big enough, but the “comador” (dining room) is very small.
All of the Gonzalo children are here except Honorino. He couldn’t get away from his work in Madrid. We all miss him and his family. What a feast we had! To start was fish soup, second was green salad. Also there was dried ham, sausage and lomo (dried pork back). Next came salad de russea (potatoes with tuna fish, green olives). Then came the roasted lamb. Also there was roasted green pepper and mushrooms. Of course, bread and wine. There were three desserts: cheese cake, ice cream, and cream cake. After all this the men had coffee and orujo (spirit made with grape skins). I wiped the dishes and then came upstairs to write and read. The others are downstairs telling stories of which I can’t quite understand. The sun is trying to come out, but it is still very damp and cold. While I’m reading some friends of Miguel’s brother, Pedro, come by. They are going to vacation here for a few days. After they leave, Miguel’s brother, Fidel, invites us to go up the mountain to Collado. That is where we’re supposed to have the picnic tomorrow. It’s about four kilometers straight up. Fidel has a 4-wheel Toyota vehicle. He has to put it in 4-wheel drive as this road is impassable otherwise. I remember walking this road in years past. People used to cut hay up here. But not too many people harvest the fields anymore.
When we arrive to their field named “Collado,” we see a barn that Miguel’s brother is remodeling. It is so cold and rainy and windy. The rain is almost as cold as sleet. It is 6°C outside. The forecast is for colder weather tomorrow, so it looks as if our picnic will be canceled. When we get home it’s time for supper. Miguel and his brother have left over fish soup. I do not eat anything as I had so much for dinner. At 11:00 p.m. I go to bed.
Tuesday, July 11, 2000
I awoke at 9:00 a.m. It snowed last night. The tops of the peaks have a dusting of snow. Who’d a thunk it!!?? When I went to bed last night I wore a turtle neck shirt, flannel nightgown, and socks. This morning the sun is trying to shine, but it is still cold. I guess our picnic is canceled. But I am still going to make the hamburger pie. I ordered ground beef from the meat man. It takes a couple of days to get it. People in this valley don’t use much “molida” (ground up meat). Today I’m going to pack our suitcases. Tomorrow we drive to Madrid. Then Friday we depart for the US.
Things have changed now. It has stopped raining and we are going on that picnic. I’ve made the hamburger pie and it is baking now. I have donned two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, and three layers of tops. One load of people has gone to the site and Estelita, Marivi and I will be the last to go.
Well, it’s been quite a day! The family went to the collado and six of Pedro’s friends were there also. We had a great feast. There was ham, sausage, cheese, empamadan (turnover of meat) adobo (fried ground pork) and then the hamburger pie. Everyone like the dish. They said, “Ta rico!” (“Very rich!”) After eating the spirits were flowing – something called “quajada.” They cook this liquid over the fire until the alcohol catches fire and burns. Then they take it off the fire and drink it. It tastes awful, but it is something these folks traditionally drink.
After eating and drinking we went for a walk. Ten of us went on this hike. It was all uphill. Miguel’s sister-in-law, Conchi, led the way. She wanted to pick some wild tea plants. I was pulling 90+ kilos straight up. I was getting tired, but Conchi kept telling me, “Poca mas, poca mas!” (“a little further, a little further!”) As it turned out, we went “mucho mas” (much further) to the “Pena La Silla” (chain rock). In Miguel’s younger years he used to herd cows up here. It was rough going, but I made it! What a beautiful vista! I picked some wild tea. I won’t take it to the US as you can’t pass plants through customs. I came back down the mountain to the collado and packed up our things and got a ride back down to the town. Boy, was I tired! I ate a little soup and then right to bed at 11:00 p.m. No reading tonight!