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Cahecho to Tollo: May 12, 2022, 16.8 Miles Walked
Up and Up and Up and I Need an Indulgence
(Sorry there are no pictures. Apple iCloud is taking hours to upload each one from my phone so I don’t have them on my iPad, where I am writing this.)
And so the mileage begins! After breakfast we got on the trail at 9:15 and started what we really came here to do: hike! Unfortunately, we didn’t have any of the views we had last night because the clouds had moved in and blocked off all the mountains. We were hoping that they stayed clouds because some of the weather reports said we were in for rain. We were prepared, but if we had to miss the views, we’d miss them instead of getting drenched.
All morning we walked a dirt road through the hills enjoying the cow sightings and especially the mothers with their baby cows. Everything was down hill, which was nice, but some of it was rather steep. We felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere when out popped a church, San Tirso. We couldn’t get in, but the small church had been restored in 1993 and there was a bust celebrating a gentleman who helped keep the tradition of the church alive. Being that it was an hour walk in any direction from anything we wondered what that tradition was.
At about noon, we popped out in the “big city” of Potes down in the valley. This is a tourist town, but with that perfect mix of ancient and modern, it represents the best of tourism. Potes is important because four different mountain valleys meet up there. While there is little evidence of prehistoric settlement, the Romans realized how important it was by naming it Pontes, the Latin word for bridge, because they built a bridge there to cross the Rio Deva and a fortification to defend that bridge. With the mix of the old, represented by Torre de la Infantada, a 14th century tower, the new with tourist shops and tons of restaurants, all in a valley surrounded by big mountains, it shows the rest of the world how to do tourism right.
We had a super important mission in Potes. If you know Pam, you know she sometimes wears these great Spanish t-shirts with cool designs on them. Her stock is getting old so we needed to freshen up her t-shirt collection. It looks like her favorite place in Potes where she got all her great t-shirts didn’t survive the Pandemic, so we had to look through a few different shops for a bit. Eventually we stumbled into a shop where the owner was thrilled that we came back for t-shirts to represent her beloved Cantabria and their Celtic heritage in the USA. She was so nice to basically tear through her entire stock to find shirts that Pam liked.
When we got finished, it was time for lunch. The tour recommended a place, Casa Cayo, as the most classic and popular in town, and especially popular with the locals. That was all I needed to hear and off we went. Everything was top notch and I knew we had chosen well. One of Pam’s goals on this trip was to get a plate of Padrón Peppers, a delicacy that’s only available in northern Spain in the Spring. Check that box! When it came to meals, the waitress strongly recommended the roasted lamb, made from lamb in the valley, so that had Pam sold. On the menu I saw the house specialty and just had to have it. The waitress was surprised that an American would order that and warned me that it was spicy, but I was not deterred because I knew I would love it. Now that you are wondering what that dish is, I need to tell you this specialty of Spain is such that if you haven’t had it, you are living a sad life. It’s tripe. Stop wincing and making faces now! Until you have tasted Spanish tripe you haven’t experienced the true FOOD OF THE GODS! It is that damn good. Casa Cayo proudly lived up to the Spanish reputation, but the spice was light and accented the dish perfectly. The waitress was thrilled I ate it all, and admitted that it was her favorite dish. She was so happy an American would go for the great stuff. I had to top off the meal with a chupito, (AKA aguardiente) which is Spanish moonshine made from the grape skins after fermentation. It’s the closest I can get to the world class moonshine I used to buy from Popcorn Sutton behind my high school. There’s something glorious about really hard alcohol done right. The only sad part was that when we did the Camino de Santiago with the family members in 2019, my nephew Al and I would top off every meal with a chupito and I miss that. This chupito was for you, Al!
After lunch, we had a conundrum. I really wanted to see the Monastery of Santo Toribio, which was not on our route. I had to see it because it is only one of four places in the entire Catholic religion that is allowed to issue perpetual indulgences. Given my sin filled life, I need all the help I can get. Additionally, the monastery has the largest piece of the “True Cross”, which is the cross that Jesus was crucified on. (They have the left side where supposedly Jesus’s hand was nailed.) With those credentials, how could you not go? The problem is that it is a 1.6 mile straight uphill walk from Potes. Our idea was to get a taxi so we went to the taxi stand in town but it was empty. I have a Spanish ESIM card in my phone so I went to call a taxi and it said I had no minutes left on the card. Hmm. The plan I bought an Orange (the telephone company) gave us 60 GB of data, 100 minutes of calls, and reasonably priced text messages. I’d only had one 7 minute call prior to this moment, so I had no idea what was wrong. Poking around the Orange web site, because the data part still worked, basically told me we were screwed. If you come to Europe, avoid Orange SIMS and ESIMS like the plague. They absolutely suck. (When my data runs out I’m just going to use my international AT&T plan at $10 per day because I know everything will work and they only bill a maximum of $100 per billing period. I could write a book on all the research I did about European telecommunication plans and how they are worthless.)
So we are stuck, Pam doesn’t want to walk the 1.6 miles uphill and I really, really, want to go. After a bunch of back and forth, Pam says “Fine” (because she’s had it) and heads up the hill. We grind our way up to the monastery and arrive at 3:15. The first sign we see says they are closed until 4:00. Yeah, it was that kind of afternoon. I’m committed so I tell Pam I’m waiting because I want to see this “True Cross.” She reluctantly agrees, but I can tell she’s not to happy with me. 4:00 finally roll around so we can go in, and, of course, it is completely, and I mean, completely underwhelming. They had the cross blocked off in a chapel and no one gave me any indulgence. The whole experience made Pam just super happy. What put the icing on the cake was when we were trudging back down the hill, we started getting a little rain. Fortunately, it didn’t last.
We got back to Potes and now it was time for the real up, and up, and up, and up. Did I mention we had to walk up? It was a true grind it out hike and it was up. We did get to walk through a huge cork forest and it was neat to see the trees where the bark that had been harvested for your wine corks. A sign along the way said this forest had been harvested since the 16th century and in those days if you harvested without permission, there was sever punishment, including death. We left the cork alone.
We finally roll into Tollo, our destination for the night at 7:15 PM. Sitting out in her garden was Pepa, who owns the inn, La Posada de Tollo, we are staying at. (Check out her web site, there’s videos and you can see her puppies, one if which is the employee of the year!) She was thrilled to see us because she said she was getting worried about us being so late. Again, we are the only people in the six rooms in so that’s a treat. After some quick showers, it was time for Pepa to shine. Everything she served for dinner came from the local area around the inn. We stared with melt in your mouth green beans cooked with pork and had Spanish steak with fried potatoes for the main course. It was paired with a local wine from the next town over. A second great meal of the day. Even better was without me even asking she brought out chupitos using a very locally made aguardiente infused with cream. It’s a lower alcohol version of what I had a lunch and is the perfect end to a great meal.
Pepa is a painter and actress so we had lots of fun conversation about her work. She was also very interested in Pam’s Purple Crayon studio. We also talked about making aguardiente and how she loved doing it with her grandfather. She doesn’t speak English so it was a joy to really have conversations in Spanish with her and to translate for Pam. I guess I also like her because she said my pronunciation was super clear. I think she was just being nice, but will have to tell all my teachers at UNCA they have done an amazing job.
The best part of the evening is that I got my indulgence. Pam isn’t too mad at me for making her walk a whole bunch extra.