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Falling Down and Living It Up - Hiking in the Picos of Spain September 2019

Spain - September 17


Steve and I headed our separate directions in Barcelona and he headed home to LAX. I went north from Barcelona to Santander by plane and up into the Picos de Europa to hike in the mountains. The coast of Mediterranean, Costa Brava, is a totally different look than that of the more northern Costa Verde. After a long wait at the Santander bus station I caught my bus and wove through the deep gorges of Picos de Europa National Park to the beautiful town of Potes. It is so quaint. I've got to figure out how to get where I need to go tomorrow and find a good map and maybe some hiking there are some loose ends to tie up. Over a gin and tonic I watched the colors of the sunset fade and the lights of the small town come on. Peaceful beyond words.

Potes - Espinama - Fuente De - Sotres

It was a silent night in Potes and I woke up well before the sun to the sound of some geese honking from the river that runs through town. Yesterday I was unable to get any detailed information, but it looked like the bus I needed to catch left at 8:15. I had a glass of lukewarm Via coffee and a Clif Bar and headed down to the town square hoping that things would come together. The bus did show up and it took 30 minutes to get the few of us who were waiting to the small, sleepy village of Espinama. The driver pulled over and opened the door to let the 5 of us out. He pointed up the road and said "Fuente De, 4 kilometers" then pointed across the street and said "Or, taxi". I couldn't imagine that I was going to wait there in the hope that some taxi would eventually come along, and the other 4 people seemed more interested in looking for some breakfast, so I saddled up and started walking. It was foggy and still and the only sounds were the small river and cow bells. ...and like I always say, More Cowbell!

It was a steady uphill all the way but I made it to the cable car station in about 40 minutes, just before the busses of German, French and British hikers started coming in and lining up with their tour groups. I got my ticket and was on the first cable car up.

The ascent was quick and the surrounding peaks are severe and massive. Once out of the cable station there was nothing else to do but find the right direction and get my hike on. It was 10:20 when I began and from what I could figure, I had about 8.5 miles to go. The benefit of being on the first car up was that no one was in front of me. The downside of being on the first car up was that there was no one to follow. Pretty quickly I got my bearings and was completely transported into a whole new world...a landscape I've never experienced.

The trail wove it's way up and came to a fork. The day hikers headed left to make a loop and ride the cable back down. The sign I was looking for, pointing me to Sotres took me over a pass and the view opened up and took by breath away.

There aren't words other than to say that it was exactly what I came for. Not just the hike and the scenery... but the solitude, the opportunity to be quieted and so filled with gratitude....overcome actually. I don't know a better way to say what I felt than that in these majestic settings I feel very small, but not unseen or insignificant. I feel God meeting me so personally and graciously and lovingly. There is no fear.

...well...for a brief moment when I thought I would try to pet a cow I was passing and it let me know that it would be a problema if I came any closer. That caused a little fear for a minute. Lesson learned. Peace restored.

I have edited the bizillion pics I took today down to only the essential mizillion. I am posting more than I ought. Can't help it.

The day finished with a steep road into Sotres where I found my delightful little hotel with a terrace looking over the town and back at the mountains I came through. I had some chorizo cooked in the local cider and a baked local goat cheese salad and Spanish olives. It is well with my soul.

Spain - September 19

Sotres - Bulnes - Poncebos

I had a dream before I woke up this morning that was so profoundly heart wrenching the pain of it woke me up. I laid there for a very long time still feeling the sorrow and heaviness of it. It was real. Eventually I got up and got my things together and went downstairs to try to find a little breakfast before heading toward Poncebos. After coffee and toast I set out for Bulnes, a tiny, carless village a couple of mountains over to the west. If information was scarce yesterday it was nonexistent this morning. I got a 20 minute warm up in the wrong direction but turned around and followed my intuition which took me up the other side of the valley from Sotres where I had begun. (In Swiss terms... it was from Murren to Lauterbrunnen and up to Wengen)

The sun rise had been beautiful on the mountain peaks and there was not a cloud in the sky and I actually enjoyed the challenge of the long, steep grade. It gave me plenty of time to think about my dream and about some unfinished grieving that it seemed to address I thought about the contrast between the “lightness” of yesterday and the heaviness of this morning. It might be easy to see one as positive and one as negative but I didn’t judge them that way. They are both just a natural part of the human experience and I think we must really experience both fully. I think we spend a lot of energy running away from feeling the hard, painful stuff, but it’s necessary. And it’s essential if we really want to fully experience the glory days too.

Anyway....all that to say that if yesterday was about glory and peace and grace today’s theme was fortitude, inner and outer strength, perseverance ...and gravity.

2.5 miles and the equivalent of 60 flights of stairs got me to the top of the pass with the Urriellu peak looming overhead. The cows were my only companions until I started down the other side. Now, I don’t have any qualms about being alone in the wilderness but do get a qualm or two when there is a single man near me in my aloneness in the wilderness, and there was one who happened to be traversing somewhat parallel to me a hundred yards higher up the hillside. I assessed my surroundings and resources and realized I had a cork screw in my “Middle Age Housewife Emergency Kit”. I prayed for protection chuckled aloud to myself that I’d really open him up if he gave he any trouble! (ps. I also have a compass in there... I have no idea what to do with that).

Unfortunately that wine opener couldn’t help me a few minutes later when I lost the trail and ended up trudging through deep grasses and thick low bushes. I stepped down onto something that looked like a big rock, but was actually a bush. Plunging in up to my thigh, I got spun around and pulled down into the bush like a wet and wooly sheep...trapped with all fours sticking up. I’m pretty sure that the strange man/would be attacker on the hillside saw that and said to himself “ya...I don’t want nothing to do with that”. Eventually...with great effort and nervous laughter I righted myself...acted very intentional and casual, identified where I had lost the trail and recalculated.

The problem with this trail is that it isn’t heavily traveled or well marked and the bovine foot traffic has established some trails that don’t go where I wanted to that caused some confusion. About 15 minutes after the bush incident I hit a muddy, cow-poopy slog and got in up to my laces on one boot, slipped and had a couple of near tragic tumbles. I was able to recover my balance before falling down completely, but was losing confidence that my good luck would hold up for the duration of the trail to Bulnes.

This led me to a mental fork in the road about trials and challenges and rollovers and slip and falls. There is quite a different attitudinal outcome if you focus on the bad luck of having been roughed up a bit vs. the good” luck” of only a couple of superficial flesh wounds and a poopy boot. It can be hard to choose the right mental path to take, especially when you are tired and kind of beat up. But the choice is always yours and yours alone to make.

I chose trust, and joy and humor and I stepped, slipped and slid another hour or so down hill to Bulnes where I had fully intended to stop for a snack before continuing on to Poncebos. Instead, after taking a few pictures I opted to beeline it to the funicular train that would deliver me down the mountain and to my stop for the night in the Cares Gorge.

Laundry in the sink and a shower and I hauled my hungry, weary old bones out to find some food. Too late for lunch and too early for Spanish dinner, I was able to find a place serving my new favorite dish of chorizo cooked in local cider and a salad. I stuffed some bread in my backpack and scurried off to my room at the Garganta del Cares hotel where I will spend the next two nights.

I’m not sure of the accuracy of the IPhone Health App but for today it shows

9.3 (uphill) miles, just shy of 25k steps and 83 floors.

Spain - September 20 and September 21

Poncebos - Ruta de Cares - Cain - Ruta de Cares - Poncebos.

I loved my little room for one at Hotel Garganta del Cares in Poncebos...a comfy bed, a big window and a spacious bathroom. I felt blessed right when I walked in the door.

The internet is problematic though and I couldn’t get the tv to work either so I was rather cut off from the world tonight and had to just try to go to sleep. That gave me an advantage to be up and ready for breakfast early ...which would be great if the Spaniards got up and at it early... but they are a late to bed and late to rise bunch. Anyway, eventually I got my breakfast and strapped on my pack and headed off to walk the Ruta de Cares river gorge. It is about 13 miles round trip. I got inconsistent distances from different sources but figured that it really didn’t matter. It was what it was and roundtrip would be roundtrip. Several people I talked to got taxi rides back one way but that wasn’t in my plan, and this ol’ gal actually cut 20 minutes off her time on the return.

The gorge was pretty spectacular. The walls are steep and the drop off from the un-railed walkway is straight down….way down. Death. Not injury type stuff. Given my relationship with gravity I stayed toward the inside edges. I saw several mountain goats high above the trail and on my way back a few surprised me inside a tunnel. Goats are weird. I like baby goats wearing pajamas but big goats with big horns kind of give me the creeps.

The water running through the gorge generates electricity which is why this trail exists in the first place. The electric company built it some time ago…like 1912. It was updated in the 1940s. It is a true marvel of man’s ingenuity and perseverance. Practicality aside, the crystal clarity of the water and it’s bright aqua pools is so inviting... but hundreds of feet below keeps one’s feet firmly planted.


-Morning people seem way more “ friendly “ and willing to say hello and engage. (I find this to be true in Spain…Austria…. San Diego)

-The Instagram aged people seem to be looking at How They look in the world around them and are missing out on The World around them.

-I seem to have a deficit in the foreign language processing part of my brain. I have almost zero recall of Spanish at the time I need to drum some up.

Dark clouds gathered over the peaks by the time I was almost back to my hotel, and by the end of the trail I could see rain and hear thunder. I ran up to my room to hop in the shower and make it back down to the bar to order lunch before lunchtime was over (at 4:30!) I didn’t tell them that it was actually my dinner because I cannot possibly stay awake and go down to eat dinner at 8 o’clock when dinner is served.

By the time I got out of the shower it was pouring rain outside. I was so thankful to have finished up my hike day before the skies unleashed. It would’ve been a very slippery downhill had it been all wet. I feel sorry for the people that were heading up the trail when I was heading down.

Today’s mileage was about 14 miles

116 floors

36.5k steps on rocky path. Sore.

My plan is to leave Poncebos in the morning. My US power outlet plug converter just broke off in the outlet. Hmmmm. This ‘town’ consists of two “hotels” (generous terminology) and a hostel. When I asked if my hotel people could help me, I got a shoulder shrug so I powered down for the night (5pm) and did bunch of push ups and considered my options and my plan for the morning and how to get out of town and some other mental exercises until I could fall asleep.

I was all set to turn off my light and open the window to feel the cool mountain air, when I opened the curtain there was a large cat looking at me. I had seen him in the bar area and knew he could be friendly at one moment and then lash out. I wanted to open my window…I thought maybe it would be nice for him to come in…but, the possibilities that he could get bossy made me rethink and I said Lo Siento… which I though maybe meant “Im sorry” but maybe meant “I can’t find a seat”. Either way, He was Out and I was In and I drifted off to sleep….

Spain - September 21

Poncebos - Arenas de Cabrales - Cangas de Onis - Covadonga

At this point as a solo traveler I hardly recognize myself. I come from a long line of worriers and hand wringers. I’m a planner. Upheavals and challenges…especially tech stuff cause me some angst. I had to settle myself down and look at what really needed to be accomplished and what I needed to possibly communicate before my phone charge would run out. When I got up this morning I got the Google Translate fired up and quickly wrote down all the questions I would have to find a taxi to the nearest “real” town and find a plug converter and find a bus or taxi to my next destination. And I prayed for wisdom, peace of mind, boldness and human connections that would help me. I think that is how God shows up really graciously, through the human connections.

I headed out to the end of the road where my hotel was located to look for a taxi. Taxis bring people to hike the gorge, coming up from Arenas de Cabrales, the next real town down the hill and I thought if I was lucky I would find one that was going back and wouldn’t have to use my phone to call one. When I came out of the hotel a group of my “peers” #oldgals asked me to take their picture and we began to talk. They finally asked where I was going and I let them know my predicament. They told me that the rest of their group was coming up in a cab and that I could probably catch a ride back down with the driver…which is what happened…easily, and at a reduced rate. My goal when I arrived in Arenas was to try to find a plug converter, but when I saw what a small town it was I couldn’t imagine where I would even begin to look. I found the tourist office which was a kiosk with some bus schedules posted in the closed window. The next bus to where I wanted to go wasn’t for 4 hours… Soooo…. I looked around the tiny town and assessed.

There were a few classic tourist gift shops open and I didn’t even bother going in there. But, I came across a sports shop that said Foto on the sign outside which sounded tech-ish and I thought maybe I should ask in there where I might find a plug. Very thankfully the guy spoke some English and I showed him my broken plug and asked if he knew where I might find one to buy. He disappeared in back and returned with one…a very hearty looking, durable plug! For 2.00. I’m sure it was the only plug in town. I felt very blessed and left with a confidence boost that all would be well. I tried to call a taxi but with language challenges it didn’t work out so I went into the best hotel in town (**) and asked the woman at the desk to call one for me. She told me it would cost about 35 Euros for the ride. A very sweet old man picked me up and drove me about 40 minutes to the town of Cangas de Onis, and charged me only 25 Euros. He rattled off a bunch of ‘must sees’ in Cangas and with a wave goodbye, pointed me to the bus station.

I missed my bus stop when arriving in the mountains of Covadonga, but got off at the next stop up the hill and walked back down to my hotel. As I walked I heard church bells echoing through the valley and looked up. Beautiful church spires towered above the trees. My chest filled with air and my body felt strengthened and filled with confidence as I realized that every need every need I had this morning had been met…from my taxi ride out of Poncebos, to finding the converter plug, to my great taxi driver and to this beautiful mountain town, it all was taken care of, with grace and with beautiful human connection that we too often miss when we are in our daily, hurried deal.

When I opened the door in my hotel for the next two nights I was greeted with a beautiful room with terrace doors that open up to a view of the church spires of Covadonga. The room is spacious and there is a ….hairdryer!

As I drove through the winding roads with my kind taxi driver this morning, wizzing through tiny, isolated, little towns with the wind in my bad hair, I took a minute to step outside of myself and look back at me. My mind had a great soundtrack playing. The whole scene was so far from my normal daily church lady / Trader Joe’s grocery shopping/ mom life. I love what is happening to me and in my life. I hope that doesn't sound bad. But I do. I think about the music that played in my ears a couple of years ago when I got my wings as a solo traveler… ”This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” (Switchfoot). Yes. Yes. I am. And I’m also still getting there. Tomorrow I will hike in the Covadonga lakes where in the 900s Don Pelayo ran the Muslims outta town with the help of Our Lady of Covadonga.

Spain - September 22, 2019

Covadonga Lakes

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want for anything. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still water. He restores my soul. cup is filled to overflow.

My time hiking in the mountains of Picos de Europa National Park has come to an end. Tomorrow I will take a few busses to find my way to the northern coastal town of Ribadesella. I'll be saying adios to my old friends and leaving them behind. They've served me well.

Spain - September 23, 2019

Covadonga - Cangas de Onis - Arriondas - Ribadesella

My high school friend Bob, who has become an even better friend through the years since school met me in Ribadesella when I came out of the mountains today. Ribadesella is a little seaside town, and the place where the Sella river runs into the sea. It is apparently a kayaker haven because of the river there is a big race every year that gets the town pretty worked up. Today there were just a few rowers on the river and some guys out surfing on the quiet, calm and huge empty beach. the tourist season looks over and there was a light drizzle it felt fallsih.

Anyway, Bob and I met up outside the hotel meeting spot and went for lunch and coffee and explored the beach front. As we wandered back into town and through the little streets a man stopped us because he heard us speaking English... Real American English. Anyway we talked for while and he asked if we had tried the Sidra, the Asturian made cider drink which is a big thing here. The next thing we knew we were at his family's restaurant having sidra and George who is Cuban, born in New York of immigrant parents and raised in Miami, a well known artist, is telling us of family history (his father went to school with Fidel Castro) and of Spanish church history and of Church artifacts that are hidden away in tiny churches in the mountains of Spain, and of his family here in Asturia. The amazing stories went on and on. We had a great evening with "Local George"...quite a find. We are leaving Ribadesella in the morning and going on to explore some other nearby towns.

Spain - September 24-25

Yesterday Bob and I left Ribadesella. We met out in front of the hotel early in the morning while it was still dark and wandered through the silent streets, up to the lookout point, above where the river meets the sea to watch the sunrise. Our plan was to leave by bus, but after waiting a long time for the bus to show up, we were "declined" a ride by the driver because we hadn't bought a ticket online. Every other bus sells a ticket at a kiosk or from the driver...but not this one. So, we quickly Plan B'd and scurried off to the little regional, slow train which worked out very nicely and we had a leisurely and scenic ride to San Vicente de la Barquera train stop and peaceful walk through a wooded path into town.

After checking in to our rooms and a stroll around the town, a great lunch of crazy good seafoods, the essential nap was required. Later in the day we cruised around some more and grocery shopped for a hotel room picnic dinner and turned in early. I'm sure there are some big historical points of interest that someone would think we should have seen but we both really like just checking out the side streets and view points and weird meat and cheese shops.

This morning we caught a bus to the very nice town of Comillas. This place had sounded interesting to me when doing some research but ended up being a real unexpected treat. The bus drops off just below the palace built by the first marquis of Comilla and his buddy the king, and the house built by Gaudi which is more or less next door. After dodging through the tour groups lined up to get in we found our way to some really good coffees in the town square and walked up to the high point of the city to look out over the tiny port on the Atlantic and the heavy surf banging up against the cliffs. We had left overs from our dinner for picnic lunch at the view point and we walked through the little cobbled streets and sat for a bit in the old central church in rich silence.

One more bus ride took us winding through the country side, past small groups of Camino de Santiago "pilgrims" and we landed at our final stop together in Santander...quite a big city compared to the places I've been in the last 10 days.

Tomorrow morning Bob will fly off to Madrid and on home and I will make my way back toward Barcelona area to be close to the airport to catch a flight home on the 27th.

It has been a great trip. My feet are tired. My heart is full.

September 28, 2019

...and in no time a year's worth of planning and plotting and three weeks of exploring and adventuring are over. My solo trips of 2017 and 2018 had some big, very easy to see areas of growth and personal expansion for me. I don't know that I can see that so easily for this year's trip...yet. I do know that in previous years, just being alone and figuring stuff out by myself was the main challenge. This time I felt the challenges when Steve left and I was alone, were a bit bigger, a little thicker...and I didn't really have a clue how things would work out, but knew I could only decide what just my next step would be and hope/trust for the rest.

That has gotten easier and easier to do trust and have faith. It seems that the more I exercise that faith muscle it becomes the default rather than going directly to fear, stress or anxiety, and I can look back afterward see how things all worked out.

all worked out.

The "awe and wonder" of the journey isn't always just in the views and experiences of travel. Sometimes it's in seeing how God met me in my places of need in some really cool ways and through people I met along the way. Good stuff. Rich stuff.

I landed at LAX at 6:38pm last night, was through customs and out on the curb by 7:00 (miracle in itself) and had to make a quick decision between trying to get to Union Station and catch a train in time or getting a car and driving home. The car seemed more of a sure thing on a Friday evening considering traffic. I saw a Hertz bus about 100 yards away pulling up to the curb and ran (running! another miracle...and probably a tad unsightly) and jumped on that bus before it pulled away. I was in a car and pulling out of the Hertz lot in less than an hour after landing time...and home before 10:00.

Sitting in bed with a huge, American sized cup of coffee, with my two cats snuggled close this morning, I open my lap top to check on the world and see that Steve has hidden a small piece of paper for me to find with a quote on it. It feels like the way to end the "blog" for this adventure...

"May the sun bring you new energy by day. May the moon softly restore you by night. May the rain wash away your worries. May the breeze blow new strength into your being. May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life." (an Apache blessing), off to Costco, laundry and putting the house back in order.

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