The view from the tent in the morning of September 2nd was everything I imagined it to be – the sleepy town waking up as the sun rose behind my tent, illuminating the mountains on the other side gradually until the ever moving border between shade and warm sunlight bathes the town in a warm glow. Although the builders working on the roof of what would probably be another hotel next to the campsite were also up early, their noise wasn’t intrusive, merely a respectful tapping of slate and manual sawing of wood. Despite the morning chill, several of them were down to their shorts, the expected accessories of yellow vests and safety helmets probably still in their original wrappers in some locker. It occurred to me that had I pitched the tent a few feet further back, I would probably have remained hidden from most of the town. In any case, the morning was mine. I brewed tea and left it to cool in my annoyingly well insulated travel mug while I took down first the tarp shelter and then my tent. By the time I was finished it was already 12:00 (getting into the Spanish way of life nicely) and I went to the hotel in order to settle my bill for the campsite. Since the lack of common language between myself and the receptionist proved no problem at all, I decided to push my luck and order some breakfast (desayuno) which transpired to be an espresso and fresh bread. I wanted black coffee, and the only thing other than café con leche seemed to be espresso rather than the expected cup without milk. I love the taste of espresso despite being a decaffeinated soul, and following a visit to the campsite toilet block where I’d showered earlier I hit the road.
And what a road it turned out to be! The high pass over Puerto de Somiedo was signposted as being open by virtue of the kind of flip-flop open/closed sign often seen at alpine roads, which I took to be a sign that some serious climbing was about to begin. I wasn’t wrong; from memory the top of the pass was about 1300 meters, the only other living things in the small car park serving an information sign at the summit being the farmer’s cows, complete with brass bells and nose-licking disinterested stares. Small purple blooms sprouted without stalks between the cow dung, lending the early September afternoon a distinctly springtime feel.
The descent on the other side of the peak gave me a first taste of Spanish roadworks. The tarmac had literally been removed for the width of the entire carriageway for a stretch of perhaps a mile, leaving road users to negotiate 1:8 downhill hairpins covered in small round gravel. No big drama for the GS, though in retrospect I should have switched off the ABS.
Avoiding the motorway (AP66 heading south) I ended up following a dogleg route far longer than it needed have been, but was rewarded with the most spectacular vistas yet. The road from Ventosilla to Collada de Aralla meandered along the floor of a massive crater, surrounded by the kind of volcanic mountains that put me in mind of marble layer cake. In the middle is San Martin de la Tercia, a small, self-contained farming community specialising in cattle, horses, and a landscape comparable to a cross between Russian steppe and the moon, all underneath a deep blue sky criss-crossed with thin wisps of cloud and the occasional jet trail. The whole scene looked even more impressive as I climbed the hills on the other side of Casares de Arbas, and I found myself stopping every minute or so for more photos as the composition changed from one impossibly beautiful view to another. No matter – the ride is momentary, the pictures eternal.
A small tunnel brought me through the last of the hills to Aralla de Luna and a similar vista but with the addition of the snaking, somehow sparkling road I was about to ride. Getting fed up with stopping and retrieving the camera from my top-box each time nature chose to show off, I simply hung the G10 round my neck and be done with it. Another thing I was nearly done with was my tank of fuel, the gauge showing just 30 miles left. A quick tap on the Garmin told me that there was a Repsol garage just 3 miles to my right, so without checking the roads on the map I headed off. I should really have looked more closely though, for that 3 miles was measured as the crow flies, and it wasn’t until I started to follow the road back to Ventosilla that I checked to see where this garage was. I don’t remember passing one, and it appeared that the Repsol was a motorway service station which I would need to ride another 60 km to reach, despite being just the other side of the mountain. I don’t think so. Turning around and cursing the 10 miles wasted by my lack of forethought, I resolved to push on the remaining 5 miles to the campsite which I had again found on the Garmin, this time by the side of a lake.
And what a lake! The Embalse de los Barrios de Luna is a huge, elongated hole in the ground which, judging by the rings all around the sloping banks, had once been a good 200 feet higher. That must have been long ago however, as trees had taken root and grown tall in the silt banks, and locals had built low brick walls reminiscent of Lake District field boundaries on the shallower estuaries. I wonder what they contained?
After following the lakeside road for a while I arrived at the campsite, announced by an open gate and the flags of various European countries. Helena met me in reception and, speaking surprisingly good English, took a copy of my passport before handing me over to Papa, who spoke no English but made up for lack of common language with enthusiasm as he showed me around the campsite. Again, nobody else here unless you count the creamy coloured mongrel chained to a tree by the entrance, and the two small rabbits chained to their rose bushes in the flowerbed outside reception. During my tour I am shown a superb shaded spot on a level next to three caravans that looked like they hadn’t moved in years. On Papa’s recommendation (as far as I can make out) I pitch my tent here. The middle caravan turns out to be the home of either teenage brother and sister or boyfriend and girlfriend, I can’t tell which, but they’re later seen working the bar and restaurant and generally helping out.
Dinner isn’t available until 21:00 and it’s only 17:00, so I sit by the bar, find a power outlet, and catch up on the blog via several beers. Time flies, and when I realize it’s 22:00 I ask if it would be OK to get something to eat. Rather than asking for the menu, and causing a member of the family to open the kitchen for my sole benefit, I ask for something simple and after much protestation on the hosts part am served noodle and egg soup with bread. This turns out to be an excellent fly trap as I eat, the insects present in alarming numbers. The kitchen is then brought into full swing anyway, as the entire family push two tables together and have dinner in the bar.
My tent is besieged by flies and other assorted insects, and despite climbing into the tent inner through as small an opening as I can muster I bring a few of them with me, and spend a happy 10 minutes swatting at them with my gloves like a deranged French aristocrat. By then my head torch as drawn hundreds more into the void between my tent’s two layers, and as hopes of a quiet night by the lake are abandoned I reach for the resident ear plugs once more.