Writing this blog is always done in a hurry, and I apologise to my readers for the messy style – the plan is to combine it into a book one day, when it will all be edited down and made more readable.
Yesterday’s highlights (following the discovery of the hotel key) were that we passed Poo (a small hamlet on the main road), where a tiny high-arched medieval bridge showed how – until very recently – people travelled: on mule or donkey. Later we saw a nice statue in another village of a woman riding side-saddle on a donkey. I should think this is all within living memory, so swift has been the transformation of remote rural Spanish places with the influx of European money, roads, visitors, etc. etc.
This was where we lunched – another nondescript little place, really – and it is noticeable how (compared to England where every village and town knows its place in the social hierarchy) each place here is perfectly content with itself. So Benia has the new main road, and a marvellous little messy trout-river at the back, and some spectacularly collapsing medieval houses which once faced the water but are now just in a back-alley as newer buildings intruded onto their useful access, and an iron-works (scrap-yard + weldery), and a few restaurants to snaffle passers-by, and that’s about it. We had a coffee, and then wandered, and then went back for lunch, serenaded by the vast repertoire of a caged grey parrot.
We called then to the cave at Cavadonga – oh dear! A honeypot for tourists and devout Catholics, with vast bus carparks, dozens of tat stalls, and the quite interesting big shallow cave-over-a-waterfall transformed into a church or basilica. Incense, chanting, brasswork, candles, pews, images, shrines, polished marble steps…. Not our sort of thing and a stark contrast to the quiet and untouched feel of Sotres. We fled.
Down we went to Ribadesella, where a smart little tat market lines part of the huge natural harbour or estuary. We walked over the bridge to the cave at Tito Bustillo – and this too has been exploited but in a different way. The whole complex is about 3km in extent under the lowish limestone cliffs and plateau on the other side of the estuary, and was only discovered in the 70s. There in the most inaccessible places they have found masses of Paleolithic paintings – all sorts of animals and anthropomorphic figures, many superimposed, and almost impossible to make out. For me, the draw is the very very rare (unique?) slabs which show vaginas… ovals with slits, made in red. They are joyous. I have to admit – since access to the real thing is very very difficult (you have to be a climber, really), and damaging (human breath spoils things), and with a 2-week waiting list for a ticket – we only saw the reproductions in the museum beside the cave entrance, but it was enough for me. It all just takes your breath away. Stupdendous.
Our hotel is in the countryside near Ribadesella...a slightly luridly coloured family-run place where the bedroom is spacious but a tiny bit damp…. But the people are so hospitable. Their son who must be about 11 speaks pretty good English and translated everything for us when we arrived. He and his mother recommended we go and see the sea blowholes on the cliffs nearby, so after our delicious supper of salad and baby squid at the pub down the road (100% recommended, thank you Casa Anton), we drove down a completely un-developed track, past jolly little holiday bars and groups of laughing youngsters, past a river/sea bay where everyone was rushing in and out of the water on the white sands, and out to the cliff top where the rocks are worn into hundreds, thousands of ankle-breaking low sculptures and formations set into red sand. There are the blowholes – quiet last night with the tide out – looking dangerous and deep, with booming pressure-noises and whooshing sounds coming from far beneath them. It was really magic. This place is called Bufones de Lllames and there are lots of films of it on YouTube.
Now we’re off to our luxy hotel in the western mountains, at Boal – the Palacio de Prelo.