Growing food and friendships

Even though there’s been zero progress on finding ourselves a property over the last few weeks, I’m starting to feel like we’re getting on well here.

Last week we went to the bank to open an account.  We met a nice cashier who told us lots of useful things. Unfortunately we couldn’t understand most of them, and since we didn’t come out with a bank account, I can only assume that we’re not allowed one. The internet tells me that’s because we’re foreign. A follow-up trip to the town hall is required!

The week was spent in the usual fashion – weeding and watering for Richard and Suzanne in the apartment gardens, weeding and watering for ourselves in the vegetable garden, doing a bit of Spanish practice and making plans for our hypothetical future. This week we collected fig suckers and hazel cuttings and put them in a dark box to promote root growth in the hope that next year we will have our own trees, although I’m painfully aware that we might not have anywhere to put them!

The bad news of the week is that our car broke down. The old Subaru just refused to start one morning. All the men in the village (all 3 of them) gathered around and looked at the engine whilst it made pathetic noises. It wasn’t the battery so the diagnosis was an electrical fault. Bummer. Richard booked us a tow tractor and Dave went into town with it the next morning. A jimmy-rigged replacement fuse was installed and we’re driving around with it like that until either it breaks down again or we can be bothered to drive 2 hours to Santander to go to the Subaru garage.

The good news of the week is that we made friends with the neighbour Pila. She was born in the next village and moved here when her mother passed away. Pila has always been friendly with us in passing then started inviting us into her house for coffee and giving us food, so we decided some payback was required. I cooked dinner and we took it over one evening. It didn’t really go according to plan though! She didn’t want to eat anything because it was too late (I forgot old people only eat at lunchtime) so we sat and scoffed our food and she kept feeding us more food until we could barely move, let alone eat any more. But we enjoyed each other’s company and I know to do lunch next time.

Then finally, at the weekend, a day I’d been waiting over a month for… we went on a hike with a Santander hiking club! Dave and I drove 45 minutes to the town of Panes to meet them on their bus which would take us another hour to the start of the walk. A bus-full of tanned smiling faces greeted us and we were surrounded by Spanish chatter and hearty laughter on the way up the winding roads.

It was a fabulous walk – a sweltering but beautiful day, fabulous views, wonderful people and the most fantastic hiking lunch break I’ve ever witnessed. After we’d summited the highest point on the hike, we headed for a cluster of trees to sit in the shade. Dave and I got out our usual lunch boxes, but all around us, out came knives and forks, wheels of cheese, loaves of bread, chorizo sausages, boxes of pastries, bottles of wine, flasks of liqueur, home made cakes, jars of jam…! And much of it got passed around for everyone to share. Oh joyous Spanish siesta, long may you live on.

0-12 Hike siesta

At the end of lunch, some people napped off the liqueur for a few minutes then we packed up to set off. The lady next to me produced a tiny mirror, lipstick and a comb and spent a moment making herself presentable for the descent! Then we picked our way down a steep hillside in the heat of the afternoon, a few of us starting to hope that the end was near.

It was a very long descent. We’d done 800m on the way up, which was bearable, but then we had to do 1400m down, which was fairly brutal. The trails were rocky and sometimes slippery and generally pretty challenging. Dave and I, in spite of being the youngest there by a fair margin, were shown up by almost everyone. They skipped down the trail like mountain goats, even the most rotund of the men taking the punishing descent in their stride. Finally we emerged at a village and stopped for a beer in the shade.

But this was no usual village. This village was not accessible by road, and we still had another hour of descent to go post-beer! We completed the hike with José Luis, who thankfully was feeling as tired as me. Between his smattering of English and our horrible Spanish, we kept each other company all the way to the bus, where we arrived sweaty and dishevelled and we greeted by the rest of the gang, who looked the same as they did at the beginning of the day. Outrageous.

The bus took us back to Panes and we departed with a thank-you that José Luis had taught us to say in perfect Spanish, which was met with hearty appreciation from the gang. They gifted us a beautiful hand-crafted walking cane made by an old member of the club, which was very lovely. We couldn’t have felt more welcome and we’ll definitely be joining them again. We’d better start training for it now!

The weather has just continued to get hotter and hotter over the last ten days, with the temperature today reaching 40 degrees. I haven’t seen a cloud for over a week! Hopefully the wind is whipping some up now…


Busy busy

Things had really started to heat up here. The hay meadows have all been cut, the grass drying in the sun before being baled for winter feed. Anna and I had started to swelter in the heat, we had been doing our gardening either first thing in the morning or (more often) in the evening. The days were spent indoors looking wistfully out the window at the heat haze in the valley. Finally though the weather broke with a couple of huge storms. The rain came down in sheets and there were some amazing lightning displays across the hillside. We were worried for our newly planted beetroots and carrots, but the little seedlings coped remarkably well.


Good for the plants!



Our friend Jo came to visit for a couple of days. Richard and Suzanne kindly offered to let Jo sleep in the big house, which is a beautifully kept old building and which Jo loved. Unfortunately her love for it couldn’t overcome her fear of unexplained noises in the night, so I ended up sleeping in there while Anna and Jo stayed in the apartment. Best couple of nights’ sleep I’ve had for ages! The ghosts were very well behaved.

We spent a lot of our time with Jo chatting and catching up at the apartment. When you have good food and good company there’s not much need to go anywhere! We did manage a little trip to Mogrovejo, one of the loveliest of the many lovely villages here, where we talked over our plans and further analysed the bizarre happenings at Mazo de Mon! We also did a bit of gardening for Suzanne and Richard as a token attempt to say thanks for letting all our mates stay over! In no time we found ourselves waving goodbye to Jo at the bus station in Unquera as she headed to Santander for her flight home.

Over the weekend we went for another walk. After last week’s expedition we decided on a nice short waymarked path, the Ruta Bajo los Picos (The Route Under the Picos). It started and ended in Mogrovejo, following cart tracks up towards the huge rock face that marks the start of the national park.From there we circled around, crossing a lovely little river and heading back down to town on the other side of the river valley.


Surveying the boundary of the Picos


Heading home

On Monday we went to the local Ayuntamiento (town hall) to get ourselves registered at the apartment. This is the first step towards residency. Since the UK is now apparently leaving the EU, we feel the more roots we can put down here now, the better! Richard came along to help us, which was an absolute godsend because they guys at the Ayuntamiento spoke no English, and our Spanish was way too basic. We were amused to find that no-one (including Richard) knew what his house number was. Eventually the lady asked him to take his pick, so we are now Number 30, Basieda. The official register appears to be a printed map of the village with peoples’ names written on by hand next to the houses.


Anna nurturing her salvaged tomato

The garden is looking really good. A few of our beetroot seedlings succumbed to the heat when we missed a day watering, but the majority are OK. The carrot seedlings we planted at the same time seem to cope with drought much better and are perky and happy looking even in the heat of the day. When we first arrived here we found a rogue tomato plant growing between cracks in the courtyard. Anna salvaged it and potted it up, and after a rocky start it is now the tallest (although skinniest) of all our tomatoes. It has a small fruit now, and we look forward to seeing how it tastes.


Lettuce and nasturtium salad!

We now have a regular supply of lettuce from the veg garden (huerta). We are supplying a bag to Richard and Suzanne and a bag for ourselves every couple of days. Anna is getting pretty creative with it now; I didn’t realise until today that you can eat nasturtiums, but the flowers and a couple of the leaves made their way into today’s offering. The flowers were quite sweet, and the whole thing worked very well.


Egyptian vulture!

Anna spotted a couple of birds circling one of the fields today. I said they were storks, but she reckoned they were Egyptian vultures. I grabbed the camera and she was proved right! Very exciting. We only need black and bearded vultures here now to make up the European full house!

– Dave

Slow progress

Last week felt a little slow. I wasn’t feeling well for a few days, we’ve been slacking off a bit and we haven’t really made any progress on anything! But we did have a lovely visit from Dave’s friend Richard, we got our first harvest from the veg patch and we did a particularly challenging Sunday hike.

Don’t get too excited about the ‘first harvest’, it’s only lettuce! But I was pretty excited – and now we get to have a home-grown fresh-from-the-garden crispy salad every few days, which is pretty sweet if you ask me.

0 First harvest

Rich was here for 3 days and we got an excuse to be tourists, which was great. We ate in restaurants, drank in bars and went up the Fuente De cable car. And I don’t think we stopped talking the entire time!

There were a few late nights during the week but we managed to pull ourselves together by the weekend to get up for a hike on Sunday. And it’s a good job we started the walk by 10am, because it turned out to be an 11-hour walk! I already knew we’d be doing a lot of up and down, but we were way slower than I’d anticipated. What looked on the map like a 10k route turned out to require extensive switch-backs over tough terrain, multiple detours and a large amount of bush-whacking. I think someone in an office somewhere drew a line on the map on their computer, having never actually been out there to look at it. Still, there were some great views to make up for it and we certainly learned a few things.

This week is off to a better start than the last at least – maybe we will make some progress…

– Anna