Los Picos de Europa
~The High Altitude Diaries~
By: Jean Gonzalo
Wednesday, June 28, 2000
Woke up at 7:00 a.m. It seems so early. Getting ready to leave for the big journey!
Thursday, June 29, 2000
Yesterday was quite a day! We left at 8:30 a.m. It was a beautiful day. On the way up the mountain driving out of this beautiful valley, we were stopped by the Civil Guard. They motioned for us to pull over and then checked Miguel’s California license and the rental car papers. They didn’t give any reason for this search. I thought it strange, as in the U.S. you have to have probable cause for a search. In two hours we were in Leon and Miguel had a hard time finding a parking place at the hospital. We went around for fifteen minutes before we found a parking place.
Miguel’s father’s (Baudilio) check-up went well. His condition is hereditary and is passed along to his sons. It has something to do with the weakening of the heart wall. The doctor recommended that all of Baudilio’s sons take a test. So while we were there, Miguel was x-rayed also. The doctor hold him everything looked good, but to have periodic check-ups. After the hospital visit we ate dinner at the bus station restaurant. Most of the stores are closed between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. The bars and restaurants always seem to be open. We had pallea (rice, fish and chicken), chuelas de tuno, (thin sliced fried beef) chicken, fish, judios verdes (green beans), flan (custard), tarta de helada (ice cream) and, of course, wine.
After eating we walked to a nearby park and rested in the shade waiting for the stores to open. Miguel’s parents don’t get to town very often, so they wanted to buy some things. We walked and walked trying to find shoes and clothes for the parents. Miguel’s mother only found some shoes and some nylons.
I bought some film and some English books. There is only one store in this whole town that carries English books and they are published in England. We also bought some tourist books in English. I hope to share some of these photos with you. We kept on shopping and we ran into two of Miguel’s cousins. We had a little visit, then we went walking to the car. It’s very important to have comfortable shoes because the people do so much walking here in Spain. I think Miguel’s father’s feet were hurting by the end of the day. I was just very tired. We left for home around 9:00 p.m. Coming home we ran into some fog. It was very slow going and scary. We arrived home at 11:30 p.m. Needless to say, we slept very well.
I awoke at 9:00 a.m. feeling refreshed. After breakfast, I washed clothes and hung them up to dry. I have to go up three flights of stairs to get to the veranda. There was a slight breeze blowing and the clothes dried quickly. I ironed until 1:00 p.m. Miguel’s mother made bac-a-lao (cod fish) and fried potatoes. There was also a green salad, bread, wine and cheese. Dessert is always fruit. It’s rather cool today. The fog did not lift from the valley. I watched a soccer game between Holland and Italy. Italy won. Estelita made a fire in the fireplace in the kitchen. Most every evening a fire is needed. For supper we had garlic soup. It consisted of garlic cloves, bread and water, olive oil and paprika. We also had lomo (pork-back dried), chorizo or sausage, bread, wine, and fruit.
I went upstairs to take a shower as we’re going to take Miguel’s parents and his aunt to Santander, a city on the northern coast of Spain, to see another sister. They say it’s a three hour drive one way. I’m sure as the crow flies it’s about half that time! Miguel’s folks got really tired in town yesterday and tomorrow they’re going again. We’ll have to leave around 7:00 a.m. Goodnight to all.
Friday, June 30, 2000
We arose at 6:00 a.m. It seems so early. Back in the states, Miguel gets up at 4:00 a.m. and I get up at 5:00 a.m. I had a glass of juice. I hope we’ll stop on the way for a little bite to eat. We left at 7:00 a.m. sharp.
Saturday, July 1, 2000
We arrived home at 11:00 p.m. last night. We had quite a day! We left this valley through a different pass called San Glorio. It sure was windy. The roads are so narrow, when you meet a truck, sometimes you have to stop and let it pass. Our destination was Santander, a coastal city in north central Spain. It took us over three hours and Miguel drove slowly so as not to get us sick. The little auto we were riding in just barely held the five of us. We arrived in Santander about 11:30 a.m. Miguel’s mother and his two aunts had a nice visit. They prepared dinner for us which consisted of fish, - I think fried pork –very thin slices - potato salad, wine, and ice cream cake. After dinner, Miguel and I took a little nap. The parents rested sitting up on the couch.
We got to do a little shopping. Miguel bought a clay dish to cook a casserole in. It may be used on top of the stove or in the oven. We started back home at 7:00 p.m. It was another long, winding road. After about an hour and a half, we stopped in Cangas de Onis for a bocadillo (little snack). We filled up the car with gas as there are no more stations before you get to Valle de Valdeon. We arrived home safely. I was so tired I went straight to bed. Miguel and his parents had fruit or something light to eat.
Today we awoke at 9:00 a.m. feeling refreshed. The sun is shining and there is a light breeze blowing. I’m washing a load of clothes. Miguel’s sister’s daughter has come up for a visit. Later we’ll go down to see her. She is newly married and lives in Madrid. We had a nice visit with Inez and her husband. She showed us pictures of her wedding. We found out later that Inez is staying for two months to help her mother during the tourist season. On Sunday her husband is going back to work. I remember when this niece was very small. She was very outgoing and loved to dance. She said her and her husband may come next year to visit us. We went back home and had a dinner of lamb stew, green salad, dried sausage, avocado, bread, and wine. For dessert there was strawberries, cherries and tarta de helada (ice cream). I did the dishes then went upstairs for a nap.
Miguel’s brother-in-law (Casamito) came by and gave us a ride up into the “Picos de Europa” to see if we could find some rebecos (deer-like animals). He is a warden for this national park and he drove six of us in a 4-wheel drive land rover. Those vehicles are very rugged. We drove to the end of the road then hiked the rest of the way up to 1,800 kilometers. I’ll have to look that up in the states to see how high it is in feet. Lo and behold we did see some rebecos in the distance. They are very fleet of foot and are very at home in these peaks. I did take pictures of them, but since I don’t have a telephoto lens, the pictures may not show them very well.
Miguel (right) and his father playing "El Toro and El Matador!"
Miguel’s father, who will be eighty soon, accompanied us all the way. He goes slow, but it’s amazing what he can do. He was born and raised here and he loves these mountains. While we were coming back the clouds of fog came in and cooled us off. It was a nice excursion.
It was then time for supper which consisted of leftover lamb stew and frisuelos (something like pancakes). Sugar is sprinkled on the top and they are eaten plain. After dishes, Miguel and I went down to Posada. A festival of Santa Eulalia was going on – music and dancing in the street. A lot of Miguel’s relatives and friends were there. The festival commenced at 12:30 p.m. and was still continuing when we left at 3:00 a.m. We walked home with two other friends. Then we went to bed.
Sunday, July 2, 2000
I slept until 11:00 a.m. I didn’t get up in time to accompany Miguel’s parents to church. Had breakfast and took the clothes off the line. It took two days for the clothes to dry. It looks as if there might be a storm today. Miguel went to the fields with his brother to help him bale hay. He came late for dinner, but the field was done.
We ate at 4:00 p.m. The meal consisted of tuna potato salad, green salad, lamb, an almond pastry, cherries, strawberries, wine and bread. After dinner we took a little nap. After siesta we watched the final game of the soccer match. France won. Miguel and I walked down to his cousins’ bar called “Picos de Europa.” We met some guys who live in the US (Los Angeles). They are natives to here, also. They invited me to play a Spanish game of cards called “Tu Te.” I hadn’t played that game in over 20 years, but it was fun. After a couple of hours Miguel and I came home for hot chocolate and coffee. Teresa and Casamito (Miguel’s sister and brother-in-law) stopped by for a visit. The hour was midnight. People stay up very late. We had a nice visit. Then we went to bed around 1:00 a.m.
Monday, July 3, 2000
We woke up at 9:30 a.m. and had our continental breakfast of a magdalena (muffin), tea and strawberry jam (marmelada). Miguel’s father told us a story about when electricity first came to this valley. It was in the late thirties or early forties. The electricity was generated by the river that flows through. Each house was only allowed two light bulbs. One could only use the electricity from 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. A man attended to the plant and shut it down at 6:00 a.m. Nowadays there are no restrictions.
After breakfast we went to visit Miguel’s brother, Fidel, who works part time for the National Park. They have a small headquarters in Posada. We have been invited to Miguel’s aunt’s and uncle’s house for dinner. They visited us in Bakersfield earlier this year. These people have worked hard all their lives (with cows) and now they are enjoying retirement. The meal commenced at 2:30 p.m. and consisted of potato salad with ingredients of green olives, tuna fish, eggs, sweet red peppers, and asparagus, roasted lamb, dried ham, sausage, bread, and wine. For dessert there was home made cake and ice cream. After dessert the spirits were brought out. Some of the stuff was home made. Needless to say, I abstained from all of this. The conversation continued until after 5:00 p.m. The men were telling stories, - little of which I understood.
Miguel’s cousin, who still lives with his parents, put on a video which was made by a German company. The video was about the dairy goat herd which Miguel’s cousin manages. It depicted the daily routine of the milking and caring of the goats. The milk is sold to the cheese factory in Posada. Miguel wants to take a couple of cheese wheels home. We’ve seen this cheese in the United States. If you’re interested, it’s called “Cheese from ‘Valle de Valdeon’ in Prada” at the import stores. We came home about 8:00 p.m. Miguel told me his aunt, Paquita , (his mother’s sister – who lives right across the road) – has invited us for supper.
I was hoping to eat light, but she prepared garlic fish soup, dried ham, sausage, bread, wine, and an almond tart. Her husband, Bernardino, used to herd sheep in California during the 1960s for a few years. They are 70 years old and still work the fields every day – plus they have horses and cows. They may come to visit us if they’ll ever slow down. While we were visiting, Miguel got a phone call at 11:30 p.m. Some friends of his across the mountain – in Mogrovejo – want him to come over for a visit. We might go this Thursday to see them. We went to bed at 12:30 a.m.
Tuesday, July 4, 2000
Today is Independence Day in the United States. It doesn’t mean a thing here in Spain. However, some American tourists will be arriving at Miguel’s sister’s hotel and maybe we’ll get together with them. Also, there are some more Americans here who were born here, but now live in Los Angeles. We’ll see what will transpire today.
Miguel got up at 6:30 a.m. today. He and his brother are going to Leon on business. Also, Miguel’s long-time friend, Jose Echeverri, is coming on the train, so Miguel will pick him up at 5:00 p.m. Jose was the foreman at a dairy in California and he gave Miguel a job in the 70s. Joe is now retired and Miguel is managing another dairy. Joe is from the Basque region of Navarra in Spain and every year he spends a few months here. While Miguel is gone, his Aunt Covadonga – Conga for short – has invited me to go for a walk with her. Today is rather cool, so it will be a good day for walking.
At 1:00 p.m. I walked to Conga’s house. She and her husband, Tony, had been over for lunch. She had lunch early as she and her husband lived in the US for quite a few years and they like the eating times better than waiting so long. We walked through four towns together. She explained who lived in which houses. A lot of people live in the US, but come back for vacation each year. The last town we came to was Cadevilla and there was a young woman living there who is studying to be a teacher in the US. She and our daughter are friends and we had a nice visit with her and her mother.
Walking to these towns was all uphill, but thank goodness it was all downhill coming back. After I said goodbye to Conga, I walked up to the house to wait for Miguel. He came home around 8:00 p.m. with his friend Joe. We had a nice visit. After supper, Joe and Miguel went to Teresa’s (Miguel’s sister) to see if the Americans came in. I stayed home because I was tired. I had a nice conversation with Baudilio (Miguel’s father). When he visited us in 1994, he wrote a journal of his activities and he read me part of what he wrote. I went to bed around 11:00 p.m. Miguel and Jose came home shortly after that.