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Cangas de Onís to Cangas de Onís: May 19, 2022 103.56 Miles Walked
It Will Change Your View of Reality
How do you define heaven? This question has kept philosophers in business, or at least occupying college faculty positions, since the beginning of time. While many would define heaven in terms of major societal changes such as ending hunger or oppression, or say it’s something defined by religion, maybe heaven is simpler than that: like a gorgeous view, a comfortable chair, feeling rested, and a beloved pet climbing into your lap. A whole lot of those small things can add up and make a memory of a lifetime.
The picture below is what I saw when I walked downstairs at Heredad de la Cuesta, where we were in the middle of a three night stay. There’s Pam looking at a view to die for, in genuinely glorious weather, and Ari the cat zonked out underneath her after spending 30 minutes in Pam’s lap getting pets and suckling. There are few times in life where you capture a perfect moment, and this is one.
Now just imagine that right after taking this picture, out comes a perfect breakfast of scrambled farm eggs, homemade jam in multiple flavors, the freshest of fruit, Spanish bread, and perfectly steeped tea. Add in a perfect host like Jaime Rodriguez, who makes you feel as welcome as you could ever be, and you have heaven. All of us travel to see new things and experiences. Pam and I go on these big hikes to see views and feel nature in a way most people can’t or don’t want to. For us, expending that effort makes the sights even sweeter because you earned them with your sweat. But here we were, simply sitting on a patio, where everything was perfect and in the moment. No ups or downs; no distractions; no worrying about yesterday or today; just being present. The picture above captures a little bit of that wonderful-ness that makes you think heaven truly exists.
After breakfast, Jaime was heading into Cangas de Onís, about four miles from his inn, and we needed to go there to start today’s hike. We hitched a ride and got to spend a little more time learning about Jaime and his kind family that run the best inn on the planet. I always thought our wonderful niece Ali had quite the age spread in her kids with a twelve year old and a one year old, but Jaime has a sixteen year old and a thirty two year old. (You can pick your jaw up off the floor now.) Jaime and his wife are from the area and after moving around for jobs they settled in de la Cuesta. After getting the house from his wife’s side of the family, they decided to open an inn. They restored everything and did all the decorating themselves. I was stupid and didn’t get any pictures of the inside, but there’s a ton of antiques and many pictures of many generations of the family. It all works perfectly together and you see something interesting at every corner.
Those of you who know Pam know that chocolate is her jam. One place she wanted to stop in Cangas de Onís was the chocolate shop we had seen yesterday, but it was too early to be open At least we got a picture of her with the sign. In Spanish, Pam’s name is pronounced pamELa and the name of the shop is pronounced cremELa. I had to take a picture of “Pamela abajo la Cremela” because it made me laugh (“abajo la” means “under the”). This is probably the most you-had-to-be-there location joke ever, but it still makes me laugh. Thanks to PamELa for being a good sport and not groaning too hard.
To be honest, the hike we took, Sendas de Dobra, a trail following the Sella river to the Dobra river, wasn’t that interesting except that we only had somewhere around 100 feet of elevation gain. It doesn’t matter; I was on a hike with Pam and that made it wonderful. The most interesting part was that the water, especially on the Dobra river, was how crystal clear it is. At one point where the water wasn’t too fast, I laid on the bank and tried to see how deep it was by measuring with Pam’s hiking stick. We could see the bottom clear as day and it was over five feet deep. In many parts it looked like we were seeing a moving impressionist painting.
Because we are Americans, we had arranged to have dinner at 8:30, which is the earliest Jaime serves dinner. This is Spain, and most Spaniards don’t eat until 9:00 or later. Dinners are at least a three course feast of glorious food, and with a bottle of wine, can take between 1.5 and 2 hours. This is slow food, and all the better for it. Pam still has trouble adjusting to the late eating because she is, justifiably, tired from the day so generally goes to bed right after the meal. She doesn’t like to go to bed feeling full, which I understand. It’s not a problem for me because I stay up writing so I’m turning into a Spaniard. At least we are not like the British who ask Jaime to serve dinner at 6:30.
Tonight’s first course was a gazpacho soup that was so good I may never have another gazpacho soup. Have you ever seen a mathematical expression where a number is raised to an exponent and the exponent is raised to another exponent? (Who knew all that math I studied would come in handy when talking about food!?) That’s the best way to describe Jaime’s gazpacho: tomato raised to the tomato raise to the tomato! It was exactly what you think tomatoes would taste like in heaven. Mixed in were finely diced red peppers, cucumbers, hard boiled egg, and lightly toasted brown bread.
Jaime came in and apologized for making the gazpacho because he thought the day was going to be hotter. He wanted us to have something cool after a hike on a hot day. We nearly swooned thinking the meal was being custom tailored for us. I told Jaime that, with gazpacho this good, I could be on the verge of freezing to death in the middle of winter and I would still crave his gazpacho!
You might be wondering why there are no photographs of Jaime’s food. It’s because I am concerned about you, my good reader. Just showing you the photographs would induce a hunger and longing in you that would haunt you the rest of your life. Well, at least until you made your own pilgrimage to Heredad de la Cuesta.
At 9:00 the other couple staying at the inn came down to dinner and we warned them about how great the gazpacho was. We didn’t get to hear their reactions because our main dish had arrived. It was mariluza (hake in English) baked in a brown sauce with potatoes. While I love raw sushi, I think cooked fish is just OK. I’ve had a few great cooked fish meals in restaurants, but the best fish I have ever had was when I was a kid growing up in Alaska. As a family we would go fishing for grayling all summer long. They are a wonderful fish because they bite at anything you cast in front of them and fight like hell when caught. When we fished, we’d have a campfire going and as soon as we caught and cleaned the fish they went into the frying pan to quick fry them. As soon as they were done, they were in our mouths. Sometimes we’d be eating fish that had been caught ten minutes before. Until the day he died, my dad and I talked about how we have never had fish that good since. And then I had Jaime’s mariluza. It was perfect. I have no way to describe it other than I was 12 again eating fresh caught grayling with my dad.
We tried to eat slow but it was so hard because you want those flavors in your mouth. Fortunately, Jaime follows the Spanish custom of larger portions so you can keep tasting until you physically can’t do any more. By this point, the other guests were into their mariluza and they were raving as well. It’s not often that you have multiple tables in a restaurant having a religious experience over food.
It was dessert time and in this whirlwind of taste, texture, flavor, and memories, we were about to experience transcendence. It was a simple chocolate cake made in the Spanish way: it was sweet, but not overbearing like most American cakes. It was a small piece that was about two inches by three inches and an inch high. The layers were very thin and there was a white dusting of coconut on top. It was the ultimate desert. The four of us are trying to find ways to describe it when the other man said “It will change your view of reality.” That was it! The perfect description! It also described the whole meal and experience of four people eating what had to be the best meal of our lives.
Jaime makes various infusions of aguardiente so even Pam wanted to try them. These infusions are popular in Spain because they take the edge off the hard aguardiente and make perfect after dinner drinks. The Spaniards feel that a good chupito of an infusion can help settle the stomach and aid digestion. Pam’s not much of a drinker, but after having a chef make you a meal like that, you will do anything to keep it going. We told Jaime we wanted to try his favorites so he brought out two. One was his wife’s family recipe, which was anise and wild cherry. The other was his own infusion that he hopes will start his own family traditional recipe. Because the wine had some effect, we can’t remember what Jaime’s own infusion was (we apologize profusely and will rectify this by staying at Heredad de la Cuesta again so we can report back to you). We got to taste both and they were, of course, the best we’d ever had. I picked the anise and cherry and Pam picked Jaime’s recipe. We thanked everyone for an experience of a lifetime tonight and headed to bed with about the happiest bellies one could have.
It’s not often that a meal can show you the world can be a little better than you think it can be, but it did. We laughed so much with the other couple and Jaime. While we have loved all the earned views on this trip and have had wonderful experiences everywhere, even in the rain, sometimes that little peek at heaven sneaks up on you in an unexpected place. We had that today and built a forever in our heart memory. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so very much Jaime.