Saturday 22 June 2013
Our accommodation in Cudillero is promoted as an “eco lodge”. It is located in a sturdy colonial building that has been divided into four apartments, two upstairs and two downstairs. We are in one of the downstairs apartments, which have very little light. The renovator’s options were no doubt limited by the fact that the stone walls are at least four feet thick. The building is surrounded by manicured lawns which are trimmed by a robot that looks uncannily like a horseshoe crab. It trundles around the property in a random fashion, changing direction every time it hits an obstacle or verge. We were never quite sure how the robot fitted the “eco” theme because it did not appear to be solar powered; but it was endearing in a paleozoic kind of way, and its antics were a pleasant distraction while Susie nutted out the sudoko after breakfast.
On our final day in Cudillero we opted for a short, level walk in the local area along the Rio Esqueiro. It begins at a bridge that crosses a stream just on the outskirts of Soto de Luiña opposite a small hardware shop, and it follows the stream through rural blocks that have been carved out of a forest on the slopes of the steep, surrounding hills. The remains of an aqueduct soar over the rooftops, and there are some curious, rustic structures in the area that look like they are for storage or possibly for drying crops or animal hides. The foundations are stone pillars with roughly hewn, conical tree-stumps placed atop; they have thatched roofs; the walls are partly open, and it is easy to imagine an orc or perhaps an elf suddenly appearing in the gap, demanding to know your business.
After our bucolic stroll through the local fields, we drove back to the town of Ovinaña, which Susie thought was the most likely place to harbour an interesting lunch spot. We settled for a place called Café Tizon, which had a cheerful waiter and proved to be popular with the locals. After we ordered some of the “seafood rice” that appeared to be the main attraction, a group of Spanish-speakers moved into the neighbouring table and began consuming vast quantities of cider. This is a local speciality, and Susan had become intensely curious about it. The bottle is opened by the waiter at the table, like a bottle of wine, and the drinker pours it in to a glass from a height by holding the glass as low as possible with one hand, and the bottle as high as possible with the other. The fall of the liquid generates the “fizz”. The poured cider is consumed in a single draught, and what remains in the glass is discarded onto the ground. Needless to say that this is a very messy business that leaves a huge sticky puddle on the (usually) cement floor of the café; but no-one seems to care about that.
As well as embarking on an extended and noisy drinking session, our neighbours began smoking incessantly. I haven’t written about the ubiquitous presence of cigarette smoke in Iberia, so perhaps I should mention it here. The prevalence of smoking in Spain is about twice the rate that currently prevails in Australia, and the tobacco control policies are about a decade behind. Smoking is banned on public transport and inside most café and restaurants, but it is permitted in outside eating areas. Given that the border between the inside and the outside is often—by design—a very permeable one, you can end up doing a lot of passive smoking while you eat. Unfortunately, a lot of young people seem to smoke cigarettes, and the habit has not yet acquired the moral taint it has in Australia. It is one area of public policy where the Iberian authorities could certainly learn a thing or two from us. Anyway, the smoke on this day was particularly unfortunate because I was coming down with a respiratory infection that was to plague me for the next week or so. There was nothing we could do about it, however, so we just made the best of the situation.
The “seafood rice” was a curious concoction. It was like a large serving of rice with several large crabs smashed into it with a hammer. The flavour of the crab suffused the rice, but the crab meat was difficult to access. I watched one Spanish woman at a neighbouring table doing an admirable job of using her jaw as a nutcracker, but we contented ourselves with the meagre flesh we could retrieve using a knife and fork. The lunch came with a full bottle of chilled, red wine and another course, both of which were impossible to finish.
Apart from the cigarette smoke, the atmosphere in the café was very lively and we seemed to have lucked out on our choice. Susie is very fussy about what kind of experience each outing will offer, and her choosiness often yields excellent results. After settling up at the bar, she emerged from the café with a bottle of the dreaded cider tucked triumphantly under her arm. Now we knew how to drink it, the next obvious question needed to be answered: Would you want to?
After lunch, we felt the need to walk off some of the calories we had adopted, so we strolled out to the lighthouse on Cape Vidío again to admire vistas of Asturian coastline in the fading light of day. After wandering out and back again—skirting the Dreaded Abyss—we drove back to Castañedo for the last time and cracked the bottle of cider. With the first draught, our senses were immediately suffused with the taste of sweet and sour socks and the aroma of mouldy mushrooms.
Like tobacco smoke, Asturian apple cider is definitely an “acquired” taste.