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Posada de Valdeón to Cangas de Onís: May 17, 2022 80.56 Miles Walked
A Wonderful Hike and Even More Wonderful People!
How do you leave a place that is perfect? After hanging out in Posada de Valdeón, I realized it’s where I want to spend a lot of time. It’s hemmed in by three large mountain ranges, it’s small, and achingly beautiful. I told Pam last night at dinner that I could easily spend a month just hiking the trails shown on the maps around there. When I get back home I’m going to start looking up house rentals to see if I can make my dream a reality.
We had a hearty breakfast at Rural Picos de Europa and I got one of my favorite Spanish foods of all, fried eggs. In America we would call these sunny side up, but they are so much better. The eggs are fried such that they get a crust around the edges and are just perfect. I think that also the eggs are real and fresher than you get in your average American supermarket. I could go on and on about Spanish food but will save that for another day.
The day was sunny and in the low 50s F, so that’s perfect hiking weather. We headed back through town and got on the trail. What was exciting about today was it was pretty much all down hill. Since there was very little up, Pam and I decided it was to be a rest day, even though we did 15.5 miles. Your perspective changes when you have a lot of up in the mix.
The Valdeón valley only has one drivable outlet to the south. Today our job was to walk through the outlet to the north, which is a very narrow stream. We could never figure out a way to capture those big mastiffs along both of our sides. Seeing huge vertical cliffs and lots of peaks that close is just thrilling to me. After slowly (for us) poking our way down we came to Mirador del Tombo la Parada. If you ever travel in Spain and see a Mirador (Look out/View Point) on the map you have to go because you are going to see gorgeous country. If the Spanish make a Mirador, they are not screwing around. The views of all the peaks was amazing, but we were looking straight into the morning sun so none of the pictures came out.
Not too soon after the Mirador, I saw something on the trail and pushed Pam back. She’s not to thrilled with snakes and I didn’t want her freaking out at the little snake warming up on the trail. It was only about six or seven inches long but totally cool to see. However, this snake has a surprise ending, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out what that is.
Soon after the snake, we saw a sign for Necrópolis Medieval, which is a medieval cemetery, and given our fascination with cemeteries, we had to go. When the government was putting in a small electrical substation they uncovered this surprise cemetery. There were 25 graves dating from mid 700 to mid 800s All the graves indicated they were Christian and some of the people were of advanced age. Since stone is so common here, the caskets were made of stone slabs, which they left uncovered at the site. It was fascinating to me to see how small they were. The longest I saw was maybe five and a half feet long. When you consider the width of the stone slabs, the people were only about five feet tall. It goes to show you the power of good nutrition when looking at how tall people are today.
Along the route north we visited one of the few Chorco de los Lobos (Wold Traps) left in Spain. Being most of the people in this area were herders of goats, sheep, and cows, they were extremely concerned about livestock losses, they thought the wolves were a menace to their livestock losses. Wolf hunting was a huge community affair where each family was required by law to provide a male, and each baron was required to attend. They used the old “beater” technique where the men would deploy in spirals of many miles wide driving the wolves towards the center. That would eventually squeeze the wolf into a narrow passage of two six foot high wooden walls that was about 50 yards long. That funneled the wolf down the hill into a huge stone circular trap that looks like a giant cistern. You can imagine what happened after the wolf was trapped.
Near the wolf trap was Hermita Corona (Crown Hermitage). This site has been a hermitage since 1093, but is far more famous for something that they think happened in the early 700s. Up until 722, the Muslim invaders of Spain had been conquering their way up the country. In 722 near Covadonga, the Asturian king Don Pelayo (also known as Pelagius) fought the brought the first victory for Spanish Christian forces over the Muslim invaders. Before winning that battle, Don Pelayo was supposedly crowned the first King of Spain in this very location. Since Don Pelayo is such an important figure in Spanish history anything associated with him is cherished. It’s sort of like American towns/buildings with their “George Washington Slept Here” claims. Today, there’s s small church and a few other buildings that have been restored. I guess we were supposed to feel the vibrations of history there.
As Pam and I poked around the Hermita, a lady walked through with a butterfly net and she had on a National Park vest. We caught up to her and found out she is a full time guide in the park, but on her days off is helping conduct a species survey of a two kilometer section as a volunteer. We talked for quite a while about the study and what she was finding. What surprised us was that through the year, she has found 89 species of butterflies. It was super interesting to talk to her about what they were finding with the study. She also lives in Posada de Valdeón year round. Yesterday, I had looked up that the population of the eight town area was 526 and she told me that was the census number, but through the winter only around 100 people lived in the whole valley. Additionally, there were only eleven children in that census finding. She said it was quite lonely in the winters.
Since we were talking to a Park guide and wildlife expert I asked her about the snake we had seen. She laughed and said it was not a snake. We were quite confused because it had a tongue like a snake, looked exactly like a snake, and slithered like a snake. She said it was called a lución in Spanish (a slow worm in English) and is actually a lizard! That was definitely not on our bingo card of options! (I have to add a humble brag here in that the entire conversation was in Spanish.) Also, we couldn’t believe it but ten minutes after we went off on separate trails, we found another snake. We haven’t been able to identify it yet.
The valley continued to get much more narrow and we stared seeing a few more people. The hike we are on is one of the most famous in Spain so we were expecting it. Our goal for the lunch is the little town of Caín, which from the picture below is jammed into the only flattish spot left in the valley. We had a nice lunch two course lunch at the La Senda restaurant and were thrilled to get chicken for a change as this is beef, sheep, and lamb country. It was pollo de horno (oven chicken) where the thigh and leg was roasted together and managed magically was crispy and floating in juice at the same time.
Here in Caín is the start of the famous Senda de Cares (Cares Gorge) trail. The Cares River we were following north narrows even more and cuts a path into the 6,500 foot deep canyon. The walls are so close together in many parts you can throw a rock, even with my weak arm, and hit the other side. In the old days hiking this amazing water route required rock climbing and was a large effort. From 1916-1921 the electric company of Spain built a very narrow road through the gorge so they could build a canal to take water from Caín to Poncebos at the other end for a hydroelectric plant. The distance between those towns in a little over seven miles. Without that road connection, it required a 62 miles trip around the mountains. Both towns are tiny, but the hydroelectricity is very important for the towns around both ends. In 1945-1950, they widened the road and improved the canal. The canal is still in use today. As we looked at the extreme amount of effort to construct and wondered why it was done. Later I found out that the hydroelectric plant was planned by the Franco dictatorship to be part of a defensive strategy to make it more difficult to attack such plants. There are places on the coast which made much more sense to build a hydroelectric plant, but the dictatorship was being very defensive minded.
Because of the water carrying canal requirements, the road through the canyon is mostly flat. Annually, 300,000 people hike the route but, like so far on the rest of the trip, we saw relatively few people which was quite the treat. From what we heard from locals is that in June and July the hike is “bumper to bumper” hikers.
The road is quite the feat given the narrowness of the gorge in some places. At the beginning the route is blasted directly through the rock and you walk through tunnels and enclosures. Other parts of the route is vertiginously high with huge drops of a thousand feet or more. Fortunately, the path is at least five feet wide so people like me who are afraid of heights can just hug the wall when needed.
The herders don’t waste any land so we countered a few goat herds along the way. Pam insisted that I include a picture of the goats. We saw two young goats practicing their head butting and jumping around playing right in front of us. They were very cute, but my foot slipped on some loose stone, which scared them so I wasn’t able to get a picture. For that, I was very sad because I had the perfect caption: “Kids will be kids!”.
We got to the end at Poncebos and our job was to call a taxi to take us on to Cangas de Onís and the hotel for the next three nights. We stopped at the first bar and got some celebratory drinks before I made the phone call. I went to the bathroom and when I came out to the table, Pam was all excited. She pointed and said, “There’s our taxi!” The taxi company has been working with Pura Adventura for almost two decades so they have everything completely under control and knew when we’d be finishing the route. The taxi drive had been waiting less that 20 minutes for us. We were impressed.
We arrived at Heredad de la Cuesta, and the small hotel is even more beautiful than any of the pictures we have seen. There are beautiful views to the Picos, inside the house is gorgeously done, and the host, Jaime Rodriguez, is as welcoming as can be. They have a dog and a cat here and both desperately wanted to be your friend. Your tired travelers were thrilled to be staying here. We talked for a little bit making dinner reservations and headed up to our room.
We looked around and our bags weren’t there, which are supposed to be transferred automatically between hotels. We walked downstairs to get them because not every place puts them in your room. We asked Jaime were he’d put the suitcases and we got quite the shock we he said, “I don’t have them.” Thus, another adventure began! Jaime was right on it calling the Rural Picos de Europa to see if they had been picked up. They hadn’t, but they didn’t know why. The folks at Rural Picos de Europa started calling around to see where the mix up was as well.
After a flurry of phone calls we got the news that the bags would be delivered in the morning because it’s a 1.5 hour one way trip between the two hotels. While we could walk through the mountains in seven miles, cars have to go all the way around those same mountains. I told Jaime that we wouldn’t die without the bags but given we only have one set of sweaty, stinky hiking clothes, maybe for dinner he should seat us outside so we don’t ruin it for the other couple staying here. Jaime was not deterred and quickly rounded up some shirts and sandals for us to wear for the night. We took our showers and headed down to dinner having a chuckle at this little twist.
We are in the middle of eating an excellent dinner Jaime’s wife cooked (beef pot roast from their own cows) when the door to the hotel flies opens and there’s a lady dragging in our bags! It was the lady who runs the taxi company and she was hell bent on getting us our bags. She showed me her instructions from Pura Aventura and it turned out Pura Aventura forgot to include the suitcase pickup instructions. We were thrilled and I offered to pay or at least give her a big tip for this huge extra effort. She refused and was out the door as fast as she came in. Jaime had told the other couple staying here the whole situation and they were just as happy as us for the bags showing up. I told everyone that now we can finally get dressed for dinner and we’d be right back in my tuxedo and Pam in an evening dress.