Saturday, 22 August 2015

A weekend in the Picos de Europa

Occasionally friends organise a weekend away from home to explore local towns and mountains and sometimes when our schedule permits we sign up for these outings. Usually we have a lot of fun, a lot of eating and drinking and lovely places to explore. So when the suggestion came up to go and spend a weekend in a remote village at the base of a mountain known as the 'Naranjo de Bulnes' we joined the party.

One major attraction was that the village of Bulnes was inaccessible by road, and could only be reached by walking the last 5 kilometres up a steep climb that could take two hours to complete, or for the faint-hearted a tunnel had been cut to install a cablecar that zipped you up the mountain in 10 minutes.
Before the main event we stopped off in the small town of Cabrales, which is famous for its blue cheese, which is very popular in this region though I am not too fond of the rather smelly and bluish bacteria filled delicacy. We all made our way through the caves which are typically where the cheese is made and in due course arrived at the place where the Bulnes climb starts.
As we parked our cars at the starting point and made our way up the walk we were eager to find out if our information was right. When a young couple coming down the other way told us that they had taken three hours we figured that someone could be leading us astray. Marisol and I decided to skip the climb and take the cablecar, and we waved to the fast disappearing friends up the trail and made our way back.
The cablecar was fast and efficient and we were soon up the mountain and emerged into a stunning scene which only high mountains can produce. We walked into the small collection of houses not knowing even the name of the place where we were supposed to be staying, with Marisol saying that she did not think that the place was in the town itself and that it could be anywhere. Of course being up a mountain there was no phone signal on our mobiles so calling Montse who had arranged the stay was out of the question.  There were three or four bars or restaurants though many of them were shut.
The obvious thing to do was to wait for the climbers to appear but we were not sure how long they might be and a long wait might be in store. On a hunch I approached a 'mature' man sitting outside a restaurant door and asked if he would mind if I asked him a question which I was not sure how to ask. He waited for me to elaborate. I said that we had separated from our group and that we were not sure where we were staying and before I could finish formulating my question which could have been 'Do you know of any inns which may or may not be in this place?' or 'are there any rural accomodation places around here?' he said:
'Under what name is the reservation'?
Slightly taken aback I gave Montse's name and that we were 8 in the group. He thought for a second or two and smiled and came up with 'Has asertado' (You guessed right). 'It is here', he said. I could not believe it and Marisol even less - she was still sitting under a tree about 50 metres away!

We were soon in a room, backpacks off and refreshed we walked around and headed down the path which our friends would presumably come up. We timed it just right as the leading group soon came into view and we were reunited with rest of the group soon after. They had taken exactly an hour and half just as the web page stated, and not the dubious three hours by the inept couple who had taken to do the easier downhill.

There followed a period of resting drinking and eating which is normal for these trips. The infectious laugh of Kato and the raucous stories filled the night till late. We tried desperately to look for the rumoured shooting stars without success, though the sky was filled with stars but the high  mountains and the clouds gave us limited view of the heavens.

By 10 the only bar open in town (where we were) closed and the darkness was so intense that we had to retire for the night.
The next day we undertook a couple of excursions up the mountains in different directions, nothing too serious, but the views were stunning. Naturally everyone snapped everything in sight and we had a glimpse of the elusive 'Naranjo' which was hidden behind a smaller but immense mountain. Since most of the group was determined to walk back down the mountain, in part to evade the rather expensive charge on the cablecar (Marisol and I had return tickets ;-)), we made our way back around midday to be down in time for lunch.

The group decided to have lunch in Panes, a few kilometers down the road and the only major town nearby but when we arrived the town was heaving. The local festivities in Spanish towns are famous and people show up from long distances to take part and to look up friends. The festivities were in full swing, it was after 3pm and all the restaurants had 'completo' signs at the entrances.

It was time to think of a plan B for lunch when someone in the crowd called out 'Arvinder..what are you doing here?' It was one of those unexpected surprises when you least expect them. It was a photographer we had met some years ago at an art event in the neighbourhood, to which Marisol had been invited. After brief pleasantaries we asked Nel (that was his name) where we might be able to eat. He confirmed our fears that in Panes all the restaurants had been reserved well in advance, but suggested we try a small town nearby called Buelles, where Ramon ran a restaurant that might help us. I remembered this suggested place 'La Sauceda' from our event in the past and wondered if the owner would also remember me.

We drove the short distance, found the place (noting a 'completo' sign at the door) and I walked in and asked to see Ramon. Someone called him and he emerged from the recesses of the place and a smile lit his face as he greeted me as a long lost friend 'Hombre, ya has regresado'. Again a brief exchange of pleasantries and I asked him if we had any chance of being accomodated for lunch. After a brief think he said 'I am sure we can figure something out, although the cook will be mad with us'. Then he added to the group 'you all are in luck that you are with this man, because if not I would have had to disappoint you'. Everyone was even more impressed when he recalled that 'this guy can really eat a lot!'
Needless to say Ramon set us up a table for lunch and we had a most enjoyable meal.
All is well that ends well! And a thousand thanks to Ramon.

By six we had emerged from the restaurant, and drove on to the beautiful and impressively named San Vicente de la Barquera for a walkabout before returning to Laredo.

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