We spent a few relatively abstemious hours in the bar of Sotres’s Casa Cipriano reading, playing games and failing to make a lot of sense of the news in the local paper though it was good to see an article extolling the virtues of tap water as opposed to the bottled variety. The tension mounted: what would be for dinner? At last we took the plunge and sat down to a meal that seemed to whisk past, so fast was the service. We started with fabada, a local stew of butter beans, ham, chorizo and black pudding: it was as good as I remembered and Laurie tucked into his with gusto. We also both chose breaded veal with chips and a dressing of the local blue cheese. Not a chicken, hen or pollo in sight! The “homemade” puddings were something of a let-down as the only “de la casa” aspect seemed to be a tin opener for Laurie’s rice pudding and a whisk to mix the powder from which my “creme brulee” had been conjured. The wine was red, rough and ready, so acceptable.
We had a disappointment after breakfast when it turned out that, unlike our night in Bejes, we had been reserved on a B&B basis, so had to pay for our dinner: at least we’d gone for the table d’hote. We will have to see how this develops in the days ahead.
Our walk to Urriellu refuge was consistently up-hill – which was much as we expected. The weather was fine: cloudy mostly above the tops, dry and coolish. Not bad for walking. As we ascended we moved from the definitely green environs of Sotres to the rocky and limestone mountainsides. Pico Urriellu is a striking lump of rock that sticks up 400m vertically on all sides and its conquering by a Spaniard some years back was possibly the start of the country’s mountaineering history. It is nicknamed El Naranjo because of some orange colouring on its rockface.
The refuge is large, but pretty basic: our dorm sleeps 24 on tiered shelving with 6 per shelf packed a bit like sardines. If one sleeper turns over, I think the rest will be rotated as well. The communal dining and sitting area is beginning to warm up now that the stove is on and L&I have completed two Times crosswords, bar one clue in the second.
Our meal was not at all bad: soup, followed by stew and a banana. We chatted in pidgin Spanish and its English equivalent with the other ‘guests’. A Spanish chap and woman had flown from Ibiza where they work in order to climb Picu Urriellu. They had 3 female friends accompanying them. A Canadian woman in her fifties was spending six weeks alone walking in Spain. She had a silly little map of the Picos that gave no more than a minimal overview of the area and she spoke no Spanish.
I don’t think anyone slept well: certainly L&I didn’t. The loos – of the squat variety, which is never a great joy – seemed an obstacle course away. The refuge provided duvets and pillows and I had a sleeping bag liner: L had brought his own sleeping bag.
In the morning the weather was horrid: a steadily soaking drizzle falling through dense low cloud which limited visibility to a few yards. The poor Ibizans were beginning to accept that there would be no climbing today and all five would have to fly home dissatisfied. L&I decided that the best thing would be to retrace our steps from yesterday until the turn-off for Bulnes. It was not a pleasant walk: full waterproof gear dripping inside with condensation, low visibility, slippy wet paths…
The section down to the pretty little village of Bulnes was particularly treacherous and we both agreed our wives would hate this. Mind you, so did we!
When I was first in Bulnes, sixteen years ago, it was reputedly the only village in Europe without a road. Soon after I passed through, they opened an underground funicular railway. On the way to the station, we met an English guy out reconnoitring the route to Picu Urrielu in case it was too hard for a group of Nepalese sherpas he was going to bring.
For the sake of my marriage, I’m keeping shtum about the price of a one way ticket down to Poncebos and what passes round here for civilisation, but it did cause a sharp intake of breath, particularly from Laurie who – I think – rather fancied walking down: he makes no allowance for age! Arrival in Poncebos was met by increased temperature and, soon after, sun. However, the forecast for tomorrow is not great and that’s me trying to give it a positive spin.
During the long dark watches of the night in the refuge, I just lay sweating and trying to balance the hassle of going to the loo (sit up, bang head, wriggle out of bedding, bang head, slip on the Crocs® provided by the refuge, stagger out of the dorm, along the corridor and down the metal stairs, then into the squattery…, reverse the process) with the putative relief to gained. Laurie, however, used his time more creatively – at least by his lights – and came up with some terrible Spanish-themed puns. Earlier in the day we had discussed the patrician Rees-Mogg, whom Laurie now refers to as being “the Tory adored by the right wing”. Geddit? If you can take another, he now reckons he should have said “leave that cat alone, ya…” when I discouraged a moggie from drinking my cup of coffee at a wayside cafe / refuge en route for Urriellu.
Anyway, having arrived in the Garganta del Cares hotel, we both felt the better of a shower and dry, non-odiferous clothing. After a refreshing beer and being talked at for a while by the Canadian woman who was just passing through, one of us – who had wanted to walk down from Bulnes – was ready for a siesta, whilst the other one climbed up a very steep road to explore. I must show you the pictures.
It’s always difficult to know when to post this blog: from the reader’s point of view, bedtime would make sense, but not from the writer’s. So you’ll have to wait for tonight’s food review. Anyway, I’ll try to add a few photos from the last few days. I may not manage.
As a footnote, whilst I was writing the above, L went out for a stroll and I fell asleep.