Los Picos de Europa
~The High Altitude Diaries~
By: Jean Gonzalo
Wednesday, June 21, 2000
We awoke at 9:30 a.m. We’re getting used to this way of life. It seems no one gets in a hurry. Miguel’s folks are in their 80s. They are in good health. Miguel’s mother works a lot. I try to help her, but she doesn’t need it. I told here that when all of her children arrive (around July 1st) I’d make hamburger pie. I made it one time and they liked it. It’s kind of hard to make because they don’t have ground beef here. You have to buy a piece of meat from the meat store and have it ground up special. I brought some cans of tomato soup from the U.S. because in their little town there is no such thing.
Miguel’s uncle’s hay baler broke down so Miguel and his brother are going to take the part to Asturias. That is another province in northern Spain. It will be a three hour round trip on winding mountain roads. Miguel said it’s easier to take the part to be welded than it is for the welder to come here.
The life here is very slow. When we walk to the village we constantly stop and say hello to friends. It seems it takes all day to buy a few postcards and stamps. We ate early (1:00 p.m.) as Miguel and Fidel (his brother) want to get back in time to watch Spain play in the soccer game. While Miguel is gone, I’ll write some postcards. It takes about 11 days for mail to leave here and reach the U.S.A.
Miguel and his brother got back around 7:00 p.m. Mr. Gonzalo and I watched the game together. Miguel got here in time to watch the second half. Spain won and has advanced to the next level. We ate supper early, around 9:00 p.m. I washed the dishes and then retired around 10:30 p.m. as I did not take a siesta.
Thursday, June 22, 2000
I woke up at 9:30 a.m., went downstairs to the kitchen and had a cup of tea. Miguel and his parents were finished with desayuno (breakfast) so I just had tea and cookies. That’s what I have at home.
This morning we went to visit Miguel’s aunt (his father’s youngest sister). She and her husband lived in Arizona for many years. They are now retired and have built a grand home in this beautiful place. I got to speak English for a little while. Miguel has a little land next to their house. I don’t know if he wants to build here. We came back home and his mother had dinner ready. I set the table and then did the dishes. Around 11:00 p.m. Miguel and I walked to the next town called Posada. It’s about a quarter mile from Miguel’s town of Prada. We stopped in Miguel’s cousins’ bar and had a coffee and hot chocolate.
The bars here are like gathering places to visit. Miguel and his cousin were recalling bygone days. The valley is slowly changing with the building of a few new homes and one of the two hotels, or hostels as they call them. Some people that Miguel knew (from the village) came into the “Picos de Europa” bar and they visited quite awhile. We walked back home and tried to be quiet so as not to wake up his folks. That brisk cool walk made sleeping good.
Friday June 23, 2000
I awoke at 9:30 a.m. Today is my birthday, but I do not want to announce it. The people here do not make a fuss about birthdays. I think they do celebrate the children's birthday, but not the way we do in the US. After the continental breakfast, Miguel, his father and I walked up to the third neighbor’s house for a visit. The niece and her husband were visiting from San Francisco. This visit is their honeymoon, even though they married in February. Miguel and I attended their wedding in San Francisco. The young lady speaks Spanish and English, but her husband only speaks English. I think he was happy to find someone who could speak English.
After the visit, the three of us went to the nearby town of Soto. Miguel’s father gave him and his brother a small plot of ground. It’s very small for two people, so Miguel and his brother might sell it. Later the three of us went to another nearby town of Los Llanes to visit the sister of Miguel’s father. Just a few months before, Miguel’s aunt and uncle stopped by and visited us in Bakersfield. Uncle Secundo was amazed at how many cows Miguel milked. These people here are farmers. But fewer people are engaged in farming as the younger people are moving away and the older people aren’t able to do the work.
Miguel’s aunt and uncle have remodeled their home and it is very nice. It is three stories high with five bedrooms on the third floor, four bedrooms on the second, and a kitchen, dining room, and formal dining room on the first. They took the barn and made rooms for the house. The floors are tile and the bathrooms have tile on the floor and all the way up to the ceiling. They have four bathrooms. But the outside is very old, built with rocks from these mountains.
We came home at 2:30 p.m., which is the time for dinner. Miguel’s mother made a green bean stew. It sure was tasty. It’s a little cool today and if you stand in the shade, you need a sweater. The morning temperature was 13°C. I asked Miguel’s parents for a thermometer showing Fahrenheit and it just so happens they have one over their entrance way. So, 13°C would be about 52°F. Right now at 4:00 p.m., it reads 60°F.
Miguel is upstairs taking a nap. I am going to write some postcards. Miguel’s brother invited us to his place for dinner and to celebrate the festival of San Juan. From what I understand, this holy person drives out bad spirits. This may be equivalent to our Halloween. After a big feast – which included pork ribs, omelets, fish and potato raviolis, salad, dried ham, sweet red peppers, plenty of wine and hard cider – they made a big fire right by the side of the country road. The hard cider began to flow and the people began to sing mountain songs. They also burned a scarecrow in effigy. They set off firecrackers and were really enjoying themselves. At 3:00 a.m. the party was over and Miguel and I walked home. I was overtired and didn’t get to sleep until 4:00 a.m.
Saturday, June 24, 2000
Needless to say, from the night before, I didn’t arise until 11:00 a.m. I had the usual continental breakfast. We went down to Miguel’s sister’s hotel and brought her some eggs. Miguel’s father and brother-in-law and I went to a bar close by and had some refreshments. We went to the national park tourist headquarters and viewed some interesting artifacts from this area. This was all new to me. The ranger gave me some pamphlets in English. While we were there a busload of people from another part of Spain came in and viewed a film that told about the area. Another day we’ll come and view the film. I think the lady said there is one in English.
We came home at 2:30 p.m. for dinner. It seems that Miguel’s mother is always cooking, but she enjoys staying at home. We invite her to go, but she doesn’t want to go. I washed the dishes and Miguel went upstairs for a nap. His parents went outside to sit in the sun and I’m writing this journal. The temperature is 60°F.
Miguel's 90-year old friend still works the fields.
Last night the temperature dropped into the low 50s. It sure was cold. When it’s in the high 70s here, the people say “Mucho calor.” “It’s very hot!” Later in the day we found Miguel’s father (age 79) working in his apple orchard. Some apple trees are 100 years old and still producing. He said this year there isn’t as big a crop as last. He was setting some gopher traps. While I was there I looked up the hill and there was a 90 year old man raking hay with a wooden rake. Miguel and his father visited with him for a little while.
Everyone, especially in this little village of Prada, knows everyone. Prada is the only one of the towns that does not have any commercial business. The fruit man came with his truck and Miguel’s mother bought some fruit. I was surprised to see avocados and they were cheaper here than in California. They cost less than $1.00 here. Later in the afternoon, Miguel and I went to help his uncle rake hay – that is with a hand rake. The fields are very small and are called “pradas.” We helped with three fields. After the hay was raked, Miguel’s brother baled it with a small hay baler. Everything seems smaller to me – the people, roads, cars, rooms in the houses, trucks, etc. Needless to say, I slept very well that night.
Sunday, June 25, 2000
We got up early at 9:30 a.m. to get ready to go to the little town of Priori (Pree ore ee). This is a town famous for Merino sheep. Every year around this time the sheepherders herd the sheep from southern Spain up to this place in northern Spain. They begin their trek in April. The sheepherders and their dogs walk all the way. The dogs are called mastins. I think we call them mastiffs. They are huge and very docile. But they guard the sheep very well at night. Of course, a big festival was made of this event. Preceding the sheep were some dancers in procession. Then two or three thousand sheep came down the road along with the herders and the dogs. It was quite a sight. It was very hot and dusty. At the dinner hour, Miguel, his father and I and some more relatives walked up into a field and had a picnic under a tree. The food consisted of lamb meat (stewed), omelet, dried ham, sausage, bread, cheese, and, of course, that old standby – wine The men drink out of a “bota” which is a goatskin container. It comes out in a small stream when you squeeze it. If your aim isn’t good, the wine gets all over your clothes.
After eating we took a little walk up a big hill to a cafeteria to get a cool drink. Nearby (up another hill) close to the church some men were playing “bolas.” This is a game of wooden pins and four wooden balls. The object is to knock as many pins down as you can. Miguel put his name in to play. First you throw four balls with one hand. Then you throw four balls with the other hand. Miguel got 41 points. He said he hasn’t played in 20 or so years. But it is equivalent to our bowling and we are on a league. It was something to see.
We didn’t stay until the festival was over because Miguel and his father wanted to see the Spaniards play in the soccer game. It took up to one hour and fifteen minutes to get home. But as the crow flies, perhaps it would have taken only 20 minutes! While eating supper we watched the game. Spain lost. That’s it! They do not advance. The people will still watch the semi-finals as soccer is a very popular sport in Europe.
After the game Miguel and I walked down to his brother’s place. It was closed, so we went to his second cousin’s place, which was open. Miguel talked awhile to a person he knew. We walked up the road to home and retired around midnight.
Monday, June 26, 2000
We slept very well and woke up at 9:00 a.m. I got a sunburn yesterday on my face and neck. The temperature yesterday wasn’t too high, but the sun is very strong. This morning Miguel is helping his father irrigate his apple orchard. They take water from a little brook and use a gasoline motor to pump water into a hose. The water goes into ditches that water the trees. It is very green here, but rain is needed for the garden. The temperature is 65° and humid. They say a storm (tormenta) may come this afternoon.
Miguel’s mother went to church this morning. She is cooking lentils for dinner. Later I need to go to the little store and buy some more film. I’ve gone through four rolls in less than two weeks. I should have brought more. It took Miguel and his father all day to water this little orchard. Then, later in the day, a little rain came. Miguel’s brother called up to the house and needed some help in getting some hay in. It was a very small field that only had sixteen bales. The bales are very small, weighing maybe 25 pounds each. Miguel and I helped them and in less than fifteen minutes the hay was in the barn!
Later Miguel’s brother-in-law, Casamito, came by for a visit. He is a park ranger. Miguel was explaining to him about the dairy he manages in California. It’s hard for the people to fathom how big the dairies are in California. In this area, twenty cows are a lot. After supper we walked down to Miguel’s brother’s place and had a nice visit. The brother, Fidel, is trying to convert an old barn which is up the mountainside into some rentals for the summertime. The government won’t give him a permit to pipe the pure water from the brook to use for the barn. The government will give him a permit if he has animals in the barn. We went to bed at 12:30 a.m.
Tuesday, June 27, 2000
We arose at 10:00 a.m. and had our continental breakfast. Miguel’s mother went to church. While she was gone, I tried to use the washing machine. I hope I did it right! I found out I put the washing machine to wash for too long a time. I can hardly see the numbers on the dial.
Today some young Americans arrived at Miguel’s sister’s hostel. They are going to sight-see and hike for four days. When I walked by them I said “Hi.” And they said “Hola” to me. At 1:00 p.m. they went into the dining room to eat.
Miguel, his mother and aunt and I went to the cooperative this morning. I had to buy more hangars and film. One time, years ago, when I visited here, Miguel’s mother told me I had more clothes in my suitcase then she had hanging in her closet. I think that is still true. These people need a lot of warm clothes. For dinner we had lentils, chicken, sausage, dried ham, bread and avocados. The avocados Estelita (Miguel’s mother) bought the other day are finally ripe. This is the first time Miguel’s parents have tried them. I cut them up and sprinkled a little olive oil on them. They thought they were very good. After dinner Miguel took a nap and I read some Reader’s Digests that I brought over. Our daughter, Teresa, called from California and said it was very hot – over 100°. One of the air conditioning units on the house wasn’t working, so I told her what company to call and that they would come right out to fix it.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We had supper and then took a little walk the opposite way of where we usually go. We’re going to bed earlier this evening as it’s time to take Miguel’s father to Leon for his routine check-up. Miguel’s mother is finally going with us.