The Destrier is excited. She’s being packed up with familiar items, like a sleep system. We’re off to meet some friends from Hamburg who have been travelling around Portugal for the last month. Now they want to catch up before travelling back home again. The last time we saw them was in Scotland a couple of years ago. They travel by camper van. They have a new one and are eager to show it off.
We agree to meet them at Luarca, in the north-western tip of Asturias. It’s a three and half hour ride. We’re not as fully loaded as our leave-everything-behind venture. It makes the journey more pleasurable. Our friends have found a small, quiet and picturesque campsite. Although located at the top of a cliff-edge, it was well-landscaped, affording protection from the coastal wind. We were lucky to have some sunshine during a very fickle weather period.
We only intend to stay a night, and as has been our habit when meeting up, we spent it in noisy discussion while consuming mucho vino and food! Our friends had bought calamares, but don’t know how they should be prepared. I give a demonstration, which Verd records on camera. I’m too shy to share the demonstration, but when watching it at home, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I even learned something!
It’s a lovely evening, so walk to the nearby beach and paddle. We are the only occupants, so I play around with the evening sunlight. The beach slopes heavily creating a strong undertow and as the waves retreat, the surface beneath our feet is pulled from underneath. Luckily, we manage not to land on our backsides. Notice the boys avoid paddling!
The next morning we repack the bikes and aim to travel together back to our home in Cantabria. I’m leading and immediately make a mistake, going onto the motorway in the wrong direction. The others realise I made a mistake and go the right way. I go about 10 kph more than I really should to catch them up, and after about 20 minutes honk Verd as I pass him. He’d been going 10 kph less than he really should. We continue this more pacy ride in hope of passing the yellow camper van. We do, but even on a very quiet road with very little traffic, we manage to pass a yellow camper van without noticing it. They try to stay with us, but can’t, as we’re still riding like bats after supper. Petrol stops enable re-communication and we’re back together again.
Like us, they have a morning exercise routine, and I have to smile as I watch yoga being performed on the balcony. It’s where I now practise t’ai chi. There’s great energy from the mountains around us.
Shortly after our friends return home, I receive a call from my daughter, asking if I’d travel south, as she wants to accept her grandfather’s offer to visit him there. I look at a few options. It’s a ten hour ride by bike if you don’t stop. The ride could potentially pass some towns worth spending some time in, like Salamanca, Seville, Cordoba or Granada. We agree we’d like to take our time over that option in the more distant future, instead opting for a more convenient 1.5 hour internal flight.
My father lives near a ‘white’ village, Sedella. They are typical of the Andalusian region. Usually on the edge of a mountain, you can see them from a distance as closely packed white houses, with very narrow cobbled streets.
I’ve never been to the south of Spain in Spring and my mother always said it was the best time of year to see it, as the spring flowers emerge in what otherwise appears to be very arid land.
The heat here can be stifling. Before travelling we made a point of purchasing some swimming gear. At 23°C, the water can’t be said to be cold, but in spite of that, it still takes us all some time to pluck up the courage to plunge into it. Once in, we wonder what all the fuss was about!
We are treated to lunch at a restaurant with the most incredible view. I’ve forgotten my camera and phone, so can’t capture the beauty, but I have been to the lake it overlooks from the other side – so here’s a glimpse of what it might have been like had you been there.
Southern Spain is very different to the north. Agriculture is more industrialised. It is more urban, more commercialised and caters more specifically for tourists. Menus are in three languages and there is a general expectation that you don’t speak Spanish. There’s a huge expat community, giving no motivation for learning the language nor for integration. While it’s great to catch up with family, it’s a timely confirmation that our location in the north is far more suited to our world view, temperaments, and physiology.
We return home in time for the “10,000 of Soplao”. This is a series of sporting events which commence on a Friday morning at a nearby beach (Playa Meron, San Vincente de la Barquera) . There is a 10 km swim event, and the start of the Soplaoman endurance event, which includes swimming, mountain biking, hiking and running. The running and hiking events start at 11 pm, and the distances are as equally impressive as the 10k swim. There are three ultra-marathons to choose from, as well as a regular marathon. The walks take the competitors up steep mountain climbs. Of course, head torches are obligatory. On Saturday at 8am, the biking events start. One, the cross-country event, passes right outside our block of apartments, so we all go out to give them a cheer. I learn how to do that in Spanish.
“¡Venga! ¡Arriba¡ ¡Animo¡ ¡Muy bien¡ ¡Guapo! ¡Así así!”
We were surprised to see a team go by from Manchester, not far from our previous home. We give them a special cheer. Our neighbours tell us there are competitors from 15 different countries, and in this particular event there are 8,001 entrants. After 30km or so, some riders look tired already. It’s a hot day, and they have the longest and toughest part of the ride still to do. Still they ride through as if it was a leisurely jaunt, having breakfast in various guises, and clearly having fun. We noticed that teams very often stayed together, supporting rather than competing with each other. It was refreshing.
There’s an additional event in two weeks time, the road bike race. This also passes our neighbourhood, so we’ll be exercising our voices again. This year they are marking the event by having the route cross over the boundary from Cantabria into Castilla y Leon. That means they have to climb – a lot.
Due to this hotter spell of weather, we take a break from our studies and endeavours, continuing to play tourist. We take the bikes for a ride through the mountains. Our destination is somewhere which promises to be cooler. It’s a sequoia forest.
What immediately strikes me about the forest is how quiet it is. It is like walking into a sacred temple. There are about 800 trees, varying in age. There are younger saplings, and older, grandparents of the forest. They are impressive in both height and girth. The tall canopy offers shelter from the heat as we hoped, but allows dappled sunlight to reach the earth. I’m not sure how I feel about the silence. I enjoy the peace and the splendour of the canopy’s height, but there is something unnatural about a forest that does not have bird song. We do hear some from time to time, but at a distance. They occupy the deciduous woods which surround the sequoia trees. The occasional robin and chaffinch appear, but they seem lured by the presence of picnickers. We also notice the difference in the understory layers, the deciduous forest dense in an undergrowth of ferns, wildflowers, brambles and more. The floor of the sequoia forest is a carpet of decaying needles. Despite the cautious misgivings, I am still in awe at this most remarkable of trees.
It is the start of a ‘normal’ week, and we attempt adherence to at least a minimal routine. We are now running 3 times a week, engage in learning Spanish daily, play our guitars. I tinker in the ‘garden’, this usually entails a daily hunt for snails and they are thrown overboard to the wild area below, and in the quiet times, I write. I’m avoiding the main project though. Why is it we do that?