Thursday, 26 July 2012

Chilling out on the road to Potes

We arrived in Spain on Monday, crossing the border at Hondaye. It’s just a few miles south of Labene Ocean, where we stayed for five days with old friends. It was a mighty wrench to prize ourselves away from the soporific routine of endless cuppas, surf sessions and nights drinking rose on the veranda, such was the hospitality of our hosts. With the van parked on the drive we had everything: five minutes’ walk to one of the heaviest breaks in Aquitaine, an ever whistling kettle, friends for the kids to play with and a hammock under the cork trees. It’s a good life they live, these friends of ours.
Even so, we packed up the van and headed south, stopping only for a lunch of chorizo and moules in Guethary, one of Europe’s more famous big wave spots.
The ocean was like a mill pond that day, thankfully. At another spot, Sopelana, we stopped for our first night on Spanish soil at an uninspiring site with views of the sea. Sunset was nice but the size of the pitches was not. The next night we found ourselves camping in a field by the beach near San Vincente de la Barquera with no facilities. It was one of the better stops and our kind of a place. The beach was just 100 yards away and, as long as you didn’t mind waiting until 10.00am to use the loo or showering with your baggies on, you’d be happy enough to call it home for the night.
At 10.05 (approximately – they were a little tardy opening the loo) we packed up the van and headed for the Picos de Europa, northern Spain’s mountain range in miniature. After the flat sand and forest of France we wanted to see a little drama in our landscapes. Our destination, Potes, a tourist town among the peaks is one of those gateway towns with an odd mix of serious climbers and weekenders like ourselves. As usual the van turned heads as he pootled through the main street.
However it wasn’t the destination that gave us the thrills of the day. To get to Potes you have to drive along the Desfiladero de la Hermida, a deep gorge with a crystal clear river gurgling away below.  As the road twisted, crossed bridges and dipped under dark overhangs we caught glimpses of sand fringed beaches, calm pools and chattering rapids.  From the cab of a hot little van, stuffed full of everything including the kitchen sink, and with a hot breeze barely able to cool our skin, we slowed up to look for somewhere to park and spill out into the water. Eventually we found a lay by with a path snaking down to the water’s edge through the undergrowth.  It opened out to reveal a slight bend in the river, with a sheer face on the opposite bank and tinkling shallows to the left and right. At the bend, on our side of the river there was a small beach which led to a deep and slow moving pool. The water looked dark.
Too hot to care what may lie beneath (not much more than likely) we slipped into the river, first for a cooling paddle then, what the heck, straight in over our heads. We swam the length and breadth of the pool but no one dared to test the depth below the cliff face. The cold, clear water made our skin tingle and feel soft and clean. It washed away the sand, salt and sunburn from the morning’s sea swimming. I couldn’t have thought about the mortgage if I’d tried (which I obviously didn’t) and for a few moments everything was perfect: a cool stream, surrounded by white limestone peaks, shaded by overhanging trees under a bright blue sky. That’s what we came for: the chance to swim in mountain streams, to feel free and to live and love our lives. Our home was parked a few metres away, we had food in the cooler and clothes to change into. We had no place to stay that night but we knew we’d find something eventually. We were living the life.
What more could you ask for? Feeling particularly free I stepped out of my shorts and slipped back in to the water.




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