This is our first longer stay in a city. We find a very pleasant parking with a huge park overlooking the big sweep of beach that fronts the town. The first day turns out to be a bit of a shopping spree – we pick up our second fold-up bike, a speaker and some storage boxes that fit our new shelving system perfectly. Soon there will be enough space inside our Emma for Frank to be able to set up his massage table! The speaker was a last minute necessity – I picked up 2 private Tango lessons to be held in the park on my lovely portable dance floor. In the evening, we stumble upon a treat: a free Flamenco and Tango performance in a tiny art gallery – very intimate and very passionate on both counts!
We have some fun washing in the sea at night. The waves are quite strong and there is an undertow too, and as I have a bad toe having stubbed it on a rock the day before, I keep falling over as if I’m drunk. The sea is lovely and warm. So far we’ve found great places to swim/wash and have not had any need for showers. Just have a look at these two – last Tuesday and Wednesday’s. One in the Picos, one by the sea. Probably about 30 Minutes driving in between. Who needs a bathroom when you got this??? And don’t they both remind you of Devon?
I wonder though what it’s going to be like when the temperatures sink….
We can really explore the city now that we have two bikes! Gijon has an old part of the town near the fortress that is overlooking the ports. When I go to explore it one afternoon, it seems eerily quiet compared to the lively city with its bustling parks where people meet in the evenings and watch the children play in the playgrounds. Gijon has a huge sandy beach at the waterfront, several kilometers long and impeccably clean (it gets swept every night). The people seem relaxed and friendly here.
There is a different culture in Spain about helping people. People stop and help whenever someone is in need, effortlessly and without being asked. For example when Frank’s bike chain comes off, another man stops and starts helping him without even talking to him first.
An old couple park their mobile home near ours, and I see something dangling underneath in a way that probably it shouldn’t. I alert them to it and see how the old man has problems even looking underneath, let alone reach under to sort it out. So I shuffle myself underneath to find a relais dangling that should be fixed. I fix it for them and we chat a bit, and they leave me two water bottles. Being in need and also looking out for others in need is a good opportunity to connect with people. After an exchange like that, I feel so much richer.
On Sunday, we join a group of people for food and Tango in a restaurant in Villaviciosa. The food is excellent, the company is joyful, and the dancing is friendly. It turns out that the head chef is a renowned Asturian singer, and once the food is all under way, she regales us with her songs. First from the kitchen via microphone, but then she also comes out of hiding and sings for us without amplification. She has an extraordinary voice and the songs are exquisite – beautifully decorated laments, strong and with a very interesting non-western tonality. A little bit like Corsican music, but also like flamenco, and like Bulgarian singing too…
Alejandro and Umbe are at the dance. They are the Tango teachers in this area, and they were in fact the performers from a few days ago. They are really nice people and they have a little Tango school called Tango Brujo, beautifully done up, right in the centre of Gijon, where they teach but also host all sorts of other classes from Pilates to Flamenco and swing. They have a Tango festival too. Unfortunately it’s next weekend, when we are both away, Frank in Wales and I in Germany…
We are not looking forward to having to break our journey, but needs must, and most likely we will enjoy our time away once we are there. Frank is off to Wales, to do a clown gig, to see his family and to sort out some stuff. I’m off to teach in Dresden and then in Proitze, meeting Yoli on the way. We will reunite in just over a week to continue our journey.
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We got your number from the bio shop in Cangas de Onis and would be very interested in meeting you and seeing your permaculture project. We live in the UK, where we recently got married at Coed Hills, who have a permaculture market garden. We’re now on a year-long honeymoon/sabbatical, exploring Europe and meeting people. We will ring you later today to see if you’d like us to visit. We are currently in the Picos, travelling in a 7.5 ton Merc (8mtrs long, 3.25mtrs high and 2.4mtrs wide), so we might need some guidance re getting to your place! We look forward to meeting/talking to you.
Love, Ruth & Frank x
For Photos of this chapter, and they are worth a click, go to
We couldn’t quite tear ourselves away from the Picos, so on the recommendation of a lady in the local wholefood shop of Cangas de Onis, we contacted Tim, who’d set up a permaculture smallholding.
The road to his smallholding turns out not to be suitable for Emma, so after following instructions that include stopping at a kilometer stone by the side of the road, we meet a very friendly and relaxed young Dutch guy, who takes us up the hill, invites us for a delicious lunch made with produce from the land, and shows us the little chalet he built himself – a new version of the traditional Horreo, which he rents out via airbnb. He says, it’s quite busy, and I can imagine why. It’s absolutely beautiful, and the views are to die for. A little love nest, or a writers refuge, depending on your needs…
Nearby, we stop for the night and swim/wash in a beautifully clear, if cold, mountain stream and have dinner on our fire wok for the second time. This is a very special place. The valley is absolutely quiet at night, and stars abound. In the morning, we wake up to another clear sunny day and see that we are surrounded by high mountains on every side. The land we camped on belongs to an old farmer of over 80 years. Manolo is incredibly strong, still looking after his 14 cows and tending to the fields and fruit & nut trees. What’s his Motto? ‘Tiene que moverse’ (you have to keep moving) and two bottles a day of his home made cider, poured from a great height, to make it bubbly.
It is amazing actually how similar our kombucha tastes to the cider of the region! Manolo is also a musician, and we visit him in his house to hear him play the accordion. He must be deaf, because he cranks the amplification right up (yes, amplification for an accordion in a small room!!!). He used to play for dancing in the region, so his repertoire is a bit of this and a bit of that, all with an Asturian touch, including Tango Asturiano. I can’t make head or tail out of his choice of left hand accompaniment. It seems to me that he almost randomly hits the chords, using them more like percussion than harmony. It has an odd effect – to my ears it sounds like bi-tonal; the melody in one key, the chords in another. We also play together, Accordeon and bandoneon – he knows a number of Tangos but doesn’t know the chords, so just plays the right hand side. Volver sounded really nice!
I’m definitely more impressed by the way he shovels the cow shit, carelessly flinging a huge forkful right across the barn as if it’s got no weight at all. Tim says Manolo is stronger than the three of us together, and that the one summer when he tried to help him for a week, it took him a week to recover afterwards!
When we say good bye, Manolo invites us to come back and camp on his land any time we like. Thank you, Manolo thank you Tim, for your hospitality! We are grateful that our paths crossed.
Here’s the link to Tim’s beautiful Horreo Panoramico:
The next day, we visit a donkey sanctuary and stay on their property amongst the apple orchards, where we end up doing a very early morning shift, looking after one of the donkeys that had fallen the day before, with a weak “ankle”, that she first had difficulty standing on. By the time we leave, having had breakfast with the owner, a dutch woman, and five volunteers, she is limping a little but out of the stable and back in an enclosure with her son (the donkey, that is!).
As with all organisations like this, money is in short supply and there is a lot of work to do. The grounds are beautiful – apple trees everywhere, meadows for the donkeys, but also woodlands, a stream and a pond. Marleen tells us that when she retired she was looking for an adventure – and she got it in heaps! She built a beautiful house incorporating an old barn, and then ran out of money. The house is not quite finished, but since the government is asking for a big sum of money to have a house signed off, it probably will not be finished for a few more years…. Meanwhile, the income from the apple orchards support the running costs of the donkey sanctuary.
The donkeys are beautiful, and so well cared for and loved!
The team of volunteers is international; Italian, Czech, Irish, Calfornian, Estonian… This feels like a good place to come and do volunteer work if you’d like to be somewhere within reach of a train station but off the beaten track, quiet and beautiful, and with the main work of the day being communing with donkeys.
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There had been diverging opinion as to whether it would work to go up to the lakes in our Emma or not. Some said it was no problem, others said it was a hairy drive. So we decided to do it at night, to save us seeing the sheer drops that people told us about J
Actually, going up at night was a good idea in as much as you can see approaching cars more easily because of the lights, and also there was hardly any traffic around, making it easier to manage the hairpin bends. But as soon as we had settled up at the top, a ranger came and told us we couldn’t stay over night. I discussed the matter with him in my best Spanish, explaining that we don’t make noise or litter, in fact we clean up other people’s litter… While behind my back, Frank was offering a Champagne bottle as a bribe!!! Eventually, with a lot of sighing, he allowed us to stay one night. We probably softened his heart with our honeymoon story.
The next day we went for a walk. What stunning views!!!
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Time to initiate our lovely firewok!
Frank hadn’t been well for a few days, so I thought it would be good to feed him some proper meat….
Hans recommended us a fantastic butcher in Llanes, where we got three lovely steaks. When we got back to our Emma, someone had mucked the fields around us causing a stink and a massive fly invasion, so we had to move to where the air is fresh and clean. We went back up towards the Picos, and once we had found a lovely spot by a stream we texted Hans our coordinates, so that he could join us for dinner ‘bajo las estrellas’. We had a lovely evening; good conversations -and also pauses, to hear the deep silence around us and to marvel at the stars above.
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