After our 10 day spring break trip, we were greeted with 4 days of exams. It was a busy week, but it’s good to know that now I’m done with four out of my five classes that I’ve been taking while abroad. There wasn’t really much time to rest after they ended though, because Friday morning we headed left at 09:00 for our trip to Northern Spain.
We were told during our orientation by the Director of the Program, MariCarmen Cabellero, that was the “trip of the beauty”. Our trip was a little sadder because of her recent death a few days before we left for the trip after a hard battle with cancer, but even though we missed her funeral that morning, we knew that the best memorial we could have given her was going on her favorite trip and continuing on the program that she founded 18 years ago. Coming from it, we certainly have to say that she was right and it was one of our favorite trips we’ve taken during our time in Spain. Despite the forecasted rain, the weather was great except for one day and our trip was the perfect way to bond together one last time before half of the kids go back home to the United States.
During our trip we went to a few different places, but the first few days were spent in the autonomous community of Asturias. On our way there though, we did stop for lunch in San Vicente de la Barquera, a town in Cantabria right by the water, wanting to take advantage of the beautiful sun that MariCarmen likely arranged for us. After finishing up there, we piled back into the bus to continue our long bus ride to our hotel that night. (Madrid is very centrally located in the middle of the country, but it still takes a while to get to places because Spain is like the US with most of the other big cities concentrated on the coasts.) We finally arrived that night in Ribadedeva where we would be spending the next two nights. Our hotel, Mirador de la Franca, was amazing. It was a quaint little hotel right on the beach that we really loved. Paco, the head of our program, even shared that that beach was where his daughter learned to walk. Even though the weather wasn’t conducive to swimming, it was great that we had a chance to relax and chill on the beach, giving us a chance to rest after finals and a long abroad program.
That next day was the only one where the rainy weather held us up a little. We headed to the nearby town of Covadonga, home to Our Lady of Covadonga and a church/shrine built into the mountains. We were going to head further up to see the Lakes of Covadonga, but the bad weather meant that the drive up into the Picos de Europa mountains would be very tough with the bus. The weather got better though, so we stopped for coffee at yet another beach before heading to llagar de sidra. We ended up going to a lot of beaches because most of the sights we visited were along the coast of the Mar Cantábrico (Bay of Biscay), so basically every town wasn’t too far from a beautiful view of the water.
Asturias is known for its sidra, or hard cider, and the long history of regional production has influenced the culture there. Many of the words related to cider-making actually have origins the historical Asturian language that’s slowly dying out, which makes sense considering 80% of the cider produced in Spain comes from Asturias. We went to a town called Poo in Llanes, which made us laugh because of the funny word but actually now has the shortest name in Spain after it was renamed to Po. The llagar, an Asturian word for the placed where sidra is made, was a small family-run business that’s trying to grow. We got a tour of their farm, learned a little more about their business, and then had the chance to try some as part of an espicha. An espicha is a traditional Asturian gathering where people come together to drink cider and often eat traditional foods like chorizo cooked in cider, boiled eggs, tortilla, empanadas, and lots of amazing fresh cheeses. These normally take place outside because the correct way to drink cider is a little messy: you have to hold the bottle up very high above your head and pour a small amount in a cup (echar un culín). This gives the cider a bubbly taste that only lasts for a little bit, so you have to quickly drunk it without chugging it, leaving a little bit to clean out the glass for the next one, because the glass you use is passed around for everyone to drink from. Between the good food, good drinks, and good cultural experience, as well as the farm’s two local dogs, we were all in heaven and didn’t really want to leave.
Since we would be leaving the hotel the next morning, a few friends and I decided to gather some wood before dinner so we could have all have a bonfire on the beach together that night. I’m really glad we did because even though the tide kicked us out at around midnight, it was an awesome bonding experience and a great way for us to have some fun before leaving the beach. We sang some songs, told some stories, and just laughed and hung out before heading to bad. The only that was missing was the s’mores!
After checking out the next morning we headed to Ribadesella where, after some pictures on the beach and free time for lunch in the town, we visited the Cave of Tito Bustillo, which was totally awesome. Spain’s Northern Spain region is home to many examples of Paleolithic cave art, and this cave is one of the ones you can actually go into to see them. We couldn’t take pictures, but we saw a huge wall with tons of individual paintings. They’re from 22,000 B.C. and 10,000 B.C., meaning they were done over a period spanning 12,000 years with the most recent one being produced over 12,000 years ago, which is a totally crazy thought to imagine. The pictures on the website really don’t do it justice, but they help get an idea of how cool it was. For me, one of the coolest parts was that they were not all simply drawn onto any old cave wall; many of the locations were intentionally chosen so the existing contours and shapes of the cave wall were incorporated in the artwork.
We really enjoyed our time in Asturias, but our trip was barely half over, so we headed back into the bus to continue our long drive to Santiago de Compestela in Galicia.