Los Picos de Europa
~The High Altitude Diaries~
By: Jean Gonzalo
Wednesday, June 14, 2000
Miguel and I left Bakersfield at 11:00 a.m. on the Airport Bus to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). In two hours we arrived and waited until 5:20 p.m. for the flight to London.
Thursday, June 15, 2000
Arrived in London at 12:00 p.m. It was a long flight of 10 hours and 20 minutes. The plane hit some turbulence over Hudson Bay, but otherwise it was a very good flight.
Boarded a plane at 2:10 p.m. for a flight to Madrid. Arrived at 5:00 p.m. Waiting for us at the airport were two of Miguel’s brothers and their wives. We rented a vehicle and drove to Miguel’s youngest brother’s home in Madrid.
We were very tired as we had been traveling for about 18 hours. Took a short nap and about 9:00 p.m., Miguel’s brothers, sister-in-laws, one nephew, three nieces, and I went walking to a restaurant and had some fish for the evening meal.
I did not care for the squid and octopus, but I did have an order of “gambas al ajillo” – shrimp broiled in garlic sauce. The people here stay up later than I do. So, needless to say, I was very tired. When we got back I went to bed right away and Miguel stayed up longer visiting with his family.
Friday, June 16, 2000
Awoke at 7:00 a.m. feeling refreshed. The temperature in Madrid will get up into the 90s today. Back home in Bakersfield, the temperature hit 104°. I’m looking forward to visiting Miguel’s parents in cooler northern Spain this week-end. Today we are visiting Miguel’s youngest brother, Jesus, and his family.
As the day is progressing, it is getting hotter and hotter. The news on the television says it is 34°C. What is it in fahrenheit? We stay in the apartment all day. When Jesus comes home at 6:30 p.m., we all go to the home of another brother, Honorino, and visit. The normal dining hour for supper is 10:00 p.m. We visit and eat and retire at 1:00 a.m.
Saturday, June 17, 2000
We awoke at 11:00 a.m. I guess when you go to bed at one in the morning, you can very well sleep until 11. My normal hours at home are 11:00 p.m. to bed and 6:00 a.m. to arise.
We left Madrid at 1:00 p.m. and are on our way to northern Spain. Miguel’s oldest brother lives in Riazza and we stop to see him and his wife. They live in a chalet – equivalent to a condominium in our country. It is only three years old and very nice. The weather is a little cooler here and Miguel’s sister-in-law fixed a nice barbecue.
The Spaniards love to eat, drink and talk. I don’t know which one they enjoy more. Miguel’s family is wonderful and very accommodating. A friend of Miguel’s family stopped in and insisted we see his vacation home which is close by. He works in Madrid and escapes to the mountains on the weekend. On the way up the mountain (five miles) there was a small celebration going on. There the people were eating, drinking, and dancing to music which included only a drum and flute. The music is very distinctive to this area.
There was an old church which is only opened occasionally. It is centuries old. Back many years ago people used it often. It is what you call an “ermita.” Driving up to the top of the mountain is a ski resort. A lot of people were there enjoying the cooler air.
We came back to Riazza and visited more. When it cooled down, Miguel and I and Pedro and Marivi went for a short walk. People walk more here it seems than in the states. Came back home and had cookies and milk. Retired around midnight. In the morning we will leave for Miguel’s parents’ home which is 3 ˝ hours north.
Sunday June 18, 2000
Said goodbye to Miguel’s brother and his wife around 1:00 p.m. It seems like we always are getting late starts. When people aren’t working, they are very easy going. The further north we went, the greener and cooler it was getting. We arrive at Miguel’s folks’ house around 4:00 p.m. Miguel’s parents sure were happy to see him (and me). They were anxiously awaiting our arrival.
An important Spanish soccer game was on television, so Miguel and his father watched it together. I went upstairs for a little nap. We’ve been in Spain four days and have slept in four different beds! Now we plan to stay for three weeks in Prada de Valdeon. I’ll explain later about this beautiful place.
Monday, June 19, 2000
We woke up at 11:00 a.m. We wanted to get up sooner, but both of us had a hard time sleeping. We’ll get accustomed to the beds and the changes soon. This is the fifth time I’ve been here and little has changed. That is what is so charming about this place.
Before we retired last night, Miguel’s only sister and her husband came over for a visit. Then Miguel’s brother who lives in this valley came by. In Miguel’s family there are six boys and one girl. One brother passed away years ago.
I don’t know what we’re planning to do today, but I hope it will be to rest. Haven’t quite got over jet lag! Miguel’s mother made chicken and rice for dinner. The dinner hour is from 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. After dinner we all retired and then arose at 6:30 p.m. Miguel, his father and I took a little drive down the valley. It had been a few years since I’d been here. The government has built a dam for electricity which they send to central Spain. The river here is called the Cares.
Let me explain about this valley. It is called Valle de Valdeon (Leon Valley). It is situated in north central Spain in Leon province. It’s about six miles long and one mile wide. These measurements are deceiving because there is hardly a flat place in the valley. There are eight towns all built on the mountain sides. Very picturesque. Years ago farming was very prevalent. Now, as the young people are growing up and moving away and the elder generation is getting older, farming is going by the wayside.
Miguel’s only sister has a hotel and in the summertime has a lot of tourists from all over the world who stay in her place. The tourists hike and backpack. This area has been declared a national park. It’s called Los Picos de Europa Nacional Parque (European Peaks National Park). It’s absolutely beautiful and the people who live here are part of the system. I liken this place to Yosemite National Park in California.
After driving a little ways, we came upon Miguel’s nephew’s almost completed house. Now when anyone builds in this area, they have to conform to park regulations and build the homes to look like homes in the past; i.e., rustic and out of stone with tile roofs. Miguel’s parents’ home is around 150 years old. Most of the homes are kept up very well with a rustic outside look.
We come back for the evening meal and while we’re eating, a neighbor, one of Miguel’s childhood classmates, stops by for a visit. They talk and talk for a couple of hours. When he leaves, Miguel and his parents talk until midnight. Finally it’s time to retire.
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
We slept a little better last night. I guess we’re getting used to the firm mattress. Arose a little earlier, at 10:00 a.m. Got dressed and came down to the kitchen for a cup of tea. I brought my own tea because the people drink coffee and not much tea. For this whole valley there is just one little store (much like a 7-11) and a cooperative. When I last visited, the cooperative had just opened for members only; but now the public may use it. It is opened Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. There are limited items, but for the townsfolk it is a lifeline.
The senior citizens do not have automobiles and only get into big towns infrequently. The nearest city is Leon, which is the capital of this province or state. By automobile it is two hours away. It is a very winding road for at least half of the time. Had dinner; then took a little nap.
At 6:00 p.m. we went to a little town in this valley. The town is Cain (pronounced Kieen). They were having a fiesta (festival) for the children. It included folkolorio dancing. The costumes were typical to this area. The town of Cain is the lowest of the eight towns in this valley. It’s very beautiful surrounded by high peaks. Miguel’s aunt sang and his sister-in-law and niece danced. The music consisted of singing and a tambourine only.
After the festival (which lasted only a short while) we went to a nearby bar and had “refreshos” (drinks). My favorite beverage here is fanta de limon – lemonade! On the way home we stopped in the home of Miguel’s uncle and visited for a short time. We arrived home at 10:00 p.m. just in time for supper. Afterwards Miguel and I walked to his brother’s bar for a cup of coffee. There was a group of young people there really enjoying themselves. Miguel visited awhile and then we came home about 1:00 a.m.