Wednesday, 28 March 2012

First thoughts from aother land

It seems our strange luck continues. This area is beautiful. The houses and villages wonderful, the food good, the wine good and cheap and the people, like most Spanish, happy and friendly - and proud. But there is smoke everywhere. It drifts through the valleys putting a blue haze on all we see. It clogs the lungs and everything is covered in a blizzard of white wood ash. Asturias is burning.
Not just Asturias but most of Spain it seems. The driest winter for years and some remarkable early sun have added to the usual risk - I read that 80% of all forest fires in Spain are started deliberately - well that's what itsaid. I see all around that where wood is cut - and they burn millions of trees - the underbrush is littered with the debris of twig and branch stripping. It gathers, it dries, it heats up in the blazing sun and it takes but a spark or abandoned bottle to ignite. With little wind it burns up the hillsides. El Bombero stands by, watching and calling up the helicopter water bombers when the risk gets too great. For the rest of the time they must, perforce, let it burn. And fill the air with its carcinogenic fumes. God help the locals - and the tourists. So we plan to move on early and aggravated. We shall hug the coast for clean air and less risk. My emphysema and J's bronchial asthma demand common sense.
But we have had good timesalready. Up the mountain to a place reputed to have started the reconquest of Spain (as in el Pope and co kicking out the moors). Covadonga is small and mountain hemmed. Here a chap called Pelayo reputedly killed 1,000 or possibly 12,000 or even in one story 124,000 Moors with the help of just 29 other Spaniards - or something! Anyway he is credited with the first victory over the Moors in Spain and thus gets the credit for rolling back the Islam invasion. Whatever.
Interesting sort of place. A small but bling filled chapel marks his burial (alongside the virtually ignored tiny hole in the rock which preceded the bling). And a 19th century tour de force of a church has been built to house the worshipful and provide a starting point for a trail up to the chapel. Lovely jubbly.
Onward then to something of a rare road penetrating well into the otherwise walk it or ride it fastness of the Picos. Lake Ecol and Lake Ecrina are pretty, very cold and surrouned by fair sized mountains backed to the south by the snow-capped might of their 2,500 meter plus big brothers. Dramatic and charming.
Down then to our smoke filled valley for some decent local wine, cheese and imported welsh lamb which we must finish now it has thawed.
Escaping the smoke on Tuesday we headed to the coast, following a charming river valley - the Rio Sella - to its esturial mouth at Ribadesella. Which disappointed greatly. But the large Rio Sella version helped to show why the Spanish call all these Rias - they are indeed what geographers call rias - depressed glacial and meltwater valleys flooded by the sea. Similar to but much gentler than the actual ice cut fiords of the north.
We then found a beautiful little rias with a wonderful sandy beach which should have been Llanes but was actually at Llames. So we re-navigated and found Llanes - super place. Working fishing harbour plus marina on rias (natch) of decent size, much commerce and at least one good resto where we ate a salad mixte, a huge plate of clamari romana and a big dish of croquettas cabrales - a rich mix of goat cheese and the Spanish take on mashed potatoes - pureed to perfection. And that plus a beer, water, bread and oils, and two cortado for 25 euro - not bad. Later learn that Kate and Sarah and co were here a few years back.
Tuesday, March 28
Today we were again forced to head for the coast. By 11.30 it was obvious the smoke was still a problem. So we drove to Cangas for some food shopping - amazing cheese shop! And took time out to see and climb the wrongly named Ponte Romano - it is medieval. Very cobbled,very narrow,very steep and with a huge central arch presumably to accommodate the vast melt waters of the nearby Picos.
Then on to a headland, Cabo Llastres. On the way we found a really nice little town having its entire main street dug up and replaced! Poor little Colunga. We did not stop - few will for a few weeks yet.
Found a splendid little cove near La Isla (not found!) for lunch - a delicious flakey pie thing with tuna, tomatoes and olives. And a bun, inside which a piece of chorizo had been secreted with some sort of tomatoey sauce - brilliant!
The drive to Llastres was short and the town super - a harbour crammed into a tiny space beneath tall cliffs but at the end of a fine bay (which included our lunch stop). A couple of harbourside restos provided coffee and beers. The harbour was still a working fishing port with medium sized inshore fishers. And in the marina a host of plastic day fishing boats which suggest the locals still see their opportunity to catch fish for the family as a necessity and a right. Good for them. In the UK such a harbour would just be filled with noddy boats and ski tugs! None such here.
We then overdid it. Llastres has a lighthouse and such promontories are cheese and wine to this photographer. So we headed for the fero (faro) and found ourselves on a completely beat up road that bounced us for 4k - to find the car park for two full - and their occupants 300 feet below us on the rocks fishing! The walk back for them scared the willies out of me just looking!
Back to the van and the other world - the risk assessment for the NHS reform has been published. Too late, of course. RIP the NHS - good thing is that this is what Cameron will be remembered for. You would think he was bright anough to get it would you not?
And reality number 2 - as you can see (via I did not exaggerate. It seems much of Spain and Portugal is burning. And most of it is on our route! We need to take stock,given our health. The forecast is for rain in the next week. How much and whether it will be enough remains to be seen.
Our decision to head down to the coast near Ribadeo, in the north east corner of Galicia (yep, burning!) still seems the best. We may return from there to some of the Picos.Or not. Flexible - that's us caravanners!

Forest fires in Spain come early
or try this!

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