After being rained out the first day of hiking, we were very much looking forward to the Ruta de Cares - which is a path that follows the River Cares through the deep gorge that the water made thousands of years ago. One of the most popular hikes in Picos, we were pumped and jumped in the car to race to the starting point. However, when we put in the starting point (the city Cain) in the GPS, we were sad to find out it was 1.5 hours away, and so begin the drive to the hike.
Although long, the drive was beautiful. With hillls carpeted in trees, we were lucky enough to be in the park at the exact time that the leaves had started to change. The result was a gorgeous pallet of harvest oranges, muted greens, rustic browns and sometimes bright reds (that one's always my favorite to see). Going only about 30 or 40 miles per hour, the curvy road sometimes looked as if it were going to go off the edge but then quickly we would make a sharp turn and continue driving along the steep rocks looking out at the landscape.
We arrived in Cain and laced up our hiking boots (mine, which I bought 3 days before and only cost 14€ woo hoo!). The hike started with a control house of the hyrdoelectrical project that was created in in the 40s. Years of geological work made the river but man harnessed the water's power from the river that connects two Spanish provinces (Leon and Asturias). After passing by the control house we entered a narrrow and low-hanging cave, or more a series of small tunnels. Thankfully, I am short and didn't worry too much about hitting my head, but it was quite comical to see the tall people crunching down and walking. With dripping water, I was also lucky to be wearing a hat. As you will see in most of the photos, I sport a winter hat that Joseba bought when he was trekking in Peru. I kind of stole it, so now it's mine because I like it so much :)
In the small breaks between the caves, we were able to gaze down in the gorge and were quite surprised at how turquoise blue some areas of water seemed. To me it looked as if we were on a tropical island hiking instead of hiking between slabs of massive limestone wearing fleeces and hats! Being the most popular hike in the Peaks, the tunnels were crowded but it gave us an idea of what it might have been like in pre-historic times to take the trek from Cain to Poncebos (our finishing city).
Emerging from the moist caves, the path became more simple, a medium-size gravel way hugging the wall. From time to time we could hear a loose rock fall off the path into the Divine Gorge as they call it here. Don't worry, I didn't go too close to the edge - I left that to Joseba, so he could take some good photos! Continuing along the path we came in contact with the Goat King of the mountain. Perched atop a rock that hung out over the gorge, we sat regally on his perch while his goat friends (or maybe his followers) rambled about the path. Not as scary of an incident as the bull the day before, we allowed ourselves to take a few moments and have a photo shoot of him - and he loved it! It was if he were posing!
We kept on, paralleling the man-made canal that operates the hydroelectic powerhouse, and eventually crossed a small bridge that connected the province of Leon into Asturias. Kind of like crossing state lines, but instead of driving across the border, we stepped across, with a small waterfall to mark the crossing. From Leon we couldn't see how beautiful the canal we had been walking along had been, but from the other side of the wall in Asturias, we were able to see the arches that followed the route above and with the gaping gorge below, it was a stunning view.
All tour books say the first hour or so of the hike, starting in Cain, is the most beautiful with its narrow walkways and the tunnels, so since we had passed this part already we were now enjoying the vast openeness of the gorge and from time to time a passing animal or a tree losing its leaves. More than halfway, we decided to eat lunch and picked a fantastic spot. Sitting on the poncho, we sat on the edge of the pathway, our feet dangling over the nothingness below. Sandwiches (turkey, sausage and mozzerela - quite delicious) in hand we peered out at the landscape. Something that I found somewhat surprising is that many people, as they walked by and saw us eating, said 'buen aprovecho' which means enjoy your meal. I thought to myself...if I were hiking in the States would I tell someone to enjoy thier meal if I passed them? Probably not, I would probably just say hello. A random thought, but it made me smile. Ohhhh how I adore this country.
After lunch and hiking a bit more, we turned around and did the same hike back, but this time with a different perspective. Funny thing was that we passed almost the exact same people as when we were walking to Poncebos because walking from Poncebos to Cain and back or Cain to Poncebos and back are both very popular and since it can be done in about 4 hours, a lot of people do it. We said lots of 'holas' and from time-to-time and 'aupa' (which is sort of like hey in Euskera) when we came across a group of Basques. Avid outdoorsmen the Basques are, Joseba could not only tell a Basque from a few feet away by thier face and hair, but also by thier clothes. I guess there are certain clothes brands that Basques wear more than other people, so its a giveaway when you see someone. Because I went shopping with Joseba at the local sporting goods store and bought similar brands of clothes to his (because he is quite a hiking fan and knows good brands for the sport), I even got some 'Aupa'! Can you believe it!?
Back in Cain we stopped for a hot coffee and a small break to look over the photos we had just taken. All stunning! Luckily the fog from the day before had left and provided us with a quite sunny day, but as we headed home it rolled in again. We didn't mind much though, since we had just finished a great day of hiking!
The good weather quickly changed bad on Monday and instead of hiking in non-stop rain we took some time to check out Cangas de Onis - the city we were staying in. Of course we had went to dinner and walked around a bit in town before, but with the rain we focused more on being tourists than hiking.
Our first experience of the city was 'El Abuelo', a restaurant recommended to us by the clerk in our hotel. With a Menu of the Day for only 10€, it was a bargain and the clerk told us it was also quite tasty food. Our first night in Cangas we went to a bar for some Asturian cider and some tapas (as they call them in Spain - you probably are more used to me saying pintxos). However, the next 3 nights that we were in Cangas we ONLY went to El Abuelo.
El Abuelo (grandfather in Spanish) actually exists too - a cute old man with peppered grey hair and black glasses with a blue checkered shirt - just like on his menu. While the food was delicious and the rice pudding dessert was scrumptous, the thing I liked most was the cider-pouring contraption they had at the restaurant. Sold in most of the souveiner shops in the town, an old grandpa holds a bottle above his head and when you press the button and put your glass in his other hand, a stream of cider squirts out into your cup! In this area (as well as in the Basque Country), they pour the cider holding the bottle high above thier head and somehow manage to get it into the cup. Although we ordered wine at the restaurant I never tired of watching someone press the button - and oddly enough, the grandpa was a spitting image of the cider-pouring man. It made me wonder if he cut his hair and got glasses just to match his cider machines haha.
On the topic of food we were also lucky enough to be in Cangas de Onis during not one but two food festivals - a cheese festival and a honey festival! After one day of hiking we passed the large tent that had been set up in the center of town to try some of the famous cheese from this area - queso de cabrales. Kind of like a blue cheese, it is made with the milk from a morning milking and a night milking of the cows, goats and sheep. After the curd is formed the cheese is put in a mold and kept at a very hot temperature for a few days. Next, the cheese is placed in the caves of the area (Asturias is famous for its numerous caves). With 90% humidity and temperatures from 40º-50º, the cheese is left for two to four months covered with wet maples leaves until it is ready to eat. A creamy blue-cheese, I was surprised I thought it was good, because I am not the biggest blue cheese fan. We passed a restaurant and ordered a plate of french fries covered with cabrales cheese and although tasty it was quite heavy, due to the richness of the cheese - but yummy nonetheless. Besides this famous cheese, there were also various others types of cheese for our testing pleasure. Free to the public, we even got to participate in the cheese associations ranking table - where we ranked 4 cheeses on thier appearance, aroma, cut, taste, texture, etc. Such experts we are! We of course couldn't spend an hour testing cheese without buying any and in the end bought a light creamy cow cheese, a hard dry sheep cheese and a soft and rich goat/sheep cheese mix. That sure brought an aroma to the car on the drive home!
The honey festival was not as exciting but still gave us a chance to try some homemade honeys and in the end we bought one that was made with eucalyptus for the sore throats we will have once it starts getting chilly here. Besides giving us a place to gobble down cheese and honey, Cangas de Onis was also a cute little town to walk around in. Founded in 718 by Pelayo (that Spanish King who won the battle at Covadonga from last blog), Cangas de Onis used to be the capital of the Spanish Kingdom, so as you can imagine it has quite a lot of history. Before Pelayo, Romans ruled the area and although long gone, thier mark still remains with the famous Roman footbridge that has been rebuilt to reflect how it was in the Middle Ages. Hanging from the center of the bridge is the Cross of Victory with Roman letters.
I wish I could say I hiked more on this trip that I ate but I think its opposite. Between the cheese, honey, tapas and dinners at El Abuelo, we ate quite well. The hikes were spectacular and we have already decided that we will come back another time, stay on the other side of Picos and do other great hikes. So...maybe next year you will read another blog about the Picos de Europa!