Asturias at Last
It’s a comfortable summer evening in the coastal Asturian town of Tapia de Casariego and the locals are still reveling in the energy of their revered fiesta honoring the La Virgen Carmen, Patron Saint of Fishermen.
We, an American, Italian, and two Australians, sit down at a terraza table on a quiet street for an aperitif. While Evelyn and Henry, our Aussie’s friend’s young children chase each other in post helado chocolate delight, we foreigners attempt the graceful and confident sidra pour. Amateurs, we stand over a wooden bucket following the tips of the amicable Asturian gentleman at the table behind us.
My left arm points downwards, holding my glass nearly horizontal and I reach my right arm upwards, bending it over my head, hand clutching the cider bottle. In one quick, awkwardly positioned pour, I empty enough into my glass for an exaggerated gulp. I’m evidently joyful to participate in the Asturian tradition, although my technique is open for improvement. I don’t think I’ll mind the practice.
The day began, where else than on the Camino. My Italian peregrino took me by car down a less traversed stretch of the Camino de Norte to his favorite surfing beach, Peñarronda. My spot of sand fully met my standards, as the waves did his, and we both agreed we could have stayed there all day.
By lunchtime we were picnicking in a shady spot in Coaña next to the ruins of a Roman hilltop fortress. One leisurely self-guided tour later, we were back on the road, wind in our hair. Literally, the AC was broken and we were being pummeled in a wind vortex.
Our next stop was the photographic jewel of a fishing village, Cudillero. The coastal town had been high on my travel list, lovingly reviewed by friends and seasoned Spain travelers. Set into a lush hill in a cozy cove, Cudillero is a striking kaleidoscope of colors, yet from sea level, didn’t invoke my natural photo-snapping response. I knew there had to be more to this place.
We found the “wow”, winding up narrow stone staircases, salivating at each lookout point, each better than the last. From above, buildings of minty greens collided into cerulean blues all nestled together under rusty orange terra-cotta roofs.
We smiled at a relaxed señora sunning on her terrace as we turned a corner where vibrant blue and purple hydrangeas exquisitely framed our views of the sea. Now below us, hundreds of seagulls serenaded the undoubtedly picturesque scene.
We passed a lone elderly man at his humble door and bid him “buenas tardes” as we continued along the hillside path. The señor tripled our polite venture, offering us any item of food he could, seemingly disappointed that he didn’t have more to offer us. He encouraged us to cut a hydrangea to take with us, and I gratefully accepted, knowing it would bring this kind fellow joy. His hand searched his pocket and emerged with one golden butterscotch caramelo. My own late grandfather’s image flashed before me and the glass jar of these same candies next to his rocking chair.
After sharing a brief moment together, before we parted I asked him if I could take his photo, to which he kindly agreed.
As we retraced our steps to leave, we once again passed the sunning señora, who spoke out to us, “No tiene familia. Nadie. Está solo.” “He doesn’t have family. Nobody. He’s alone.” Our hearts sank at the thought of this kind hearted abuelo on his own. I longed to linger in Cudillero a bit more, keeping the man company as the summer’s golden hour emerged. Some of the shortest stays though, are surely the sweetest.
Our final day in Asturias took us further back in history to Ribadesella with a visit to the prehistoric caves of Tito Bustillo. Discovered by a group of speleologists in the 1960s, Tito Bustillo is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Kicking myself over my choice of footwear, I painstakingly puddle hopped the 1.5 kilometers that our seasoned guide led us through the cave.
The temperature dropped with each selective step. Wrapping my light sweater tighter around my upper body, I warmed up recognizing the magnitude of this moment— to see with my own eyes the markings of man thousands of years ago. We were not gathered around a recreation or looking through glass at a museum’s displays. We were standing in history itself.
When our guide had carefully positioned each of us where he knew our views would be optimal, he brushed the beam of his flashlight across the rock to reveal the pièce de résistance. It was a page in my college art history book alive in front of me. Guiding his light from one image to the next, our guide explained each marking, animal, color, and what it revealed about the artists who painted them 30,000 years ago. It. was. so. cool.
A weekend in Asturias was time enough to appreciate the northern comunidad autonoma, to feel its past, savor its present, and hope that I find myself content in its verdant charm once again.