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Man verse GPS through Spain’s Basque country

They say the journey can be more important than the destination. Reader Paul Manser discovers that both are essential when it comes to his holiday in the Asturias Mountains, Spain.

The road we are on is about as straight as Liza Minnelli’s first husband.

It hugs the side of a mountain and runs perilously close to a ravine. The evening is coming to its darkest hour and there are no other cars on the road. No other lights. No other people.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We should be there by now.

The car erupts in an explosion of angry voices. My father-in-law only has himself to blame.

Driving through the Asturias Mountains in Spain, an electronic voice interrupted our conversation some hours ago. It said to stay on our current road for another three kilometres.

My father-in-law is a proud Basque man. He had never been on these roads before, but insisted the GPS must have it wrong. He knew a quicker way.

The GPS is eventually switched back on. We are greeted with the message: “Wrong way. Wrong way. Turn around.”

My father-in-law is abused for always thinking he knows best. We make a wide turn and drive back the direction we came.

We finally reach our destination, a small village called Llanes, only to find the streets empty. Like a plague has recently passed through.

We stop several times to ask for directions, but no-one has heard of the guest house we are staying in. My mother-in-law swears. I wonder if my father-in-law has checked his life insurance policy recently.

The night is old by the time we find our guest house. However, the next morning all is forgiven. Bright shards of light burst through our bedroom’s mustard curtains.

Opening up the windows I am presented with a clean blue sky. My eyes salivate. The Asturias Mountains stand proudly in the early morning air.

We are in an area called Picos de Europa or the Peaks of Europe, a mountain range named for being the first sight of Europe for ships arriving from the Americas.

Getting lost today is not an option, so we just drive. Hillside villages come and go. We stop for an early lunch that is heavy on pungent cheese. After lunch we walk the narrow streets of a mountain village.

An old lady laughs when we try and take a photo outside the local church. She says don’t bother, it’s falling down. By the time we drive back into Llanes for dinner, the sun has slipped behind the mountains.

Walking into a restaurant my lungs are assaulted by a thick haze of cigar smoke. We have come to a place where the locals eat. Be damned with the national smoking laws.

Dinner is a gigantic hunk of blood-oozing beef. It is the size of our table. A waiter approaches trying to put a cheese sauce on my plate. I stab at him widely with a bloodied fork until he runs away.

I barely make a dent in the recently-carved corpse before I feel like a heart attack is only a mouthful away. Sleep does not come easy as I nurse my swollen belly through the night.

After a lazy morning spent walking local farming trails, we pack up and return the house keys to a local. He isn’t the landlord, but knows him and will give back the keys next time they meet.

That’s how things are done in this part of Spain: simply, honestly and as part of a community.

It’s a long drive back to Basque country. From the back seat my mother-in-law reaches over to the dashboard where the GPS is located.

An electronic voice tells us to go left at the next intersection. She nods her head and repeats the direction just in case.

 

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This article appeared in issue 3

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