I am sitting amidst the grasses on the Playa de Rodiles watching my children, Carson and Celia take a surfing lesson on a glorious day, even though the temperatures may not rise above 60 degrees. It doesn't seem to matter in Northern Spain, where it doesn't really warm up for very long during the year. Their instructor, Pablo, owns and operates the Special Surf surfing school. Pablo is not only amazing with kids, but is a professional surfer. He and a few others teach a successful surfing camp during the summers and private lessons in the spring and fall. During the winter he supplements his income by teaching yoga and pilates. He chooses to stay here because it is the place of the biggest wave in Spain, which is highest during the winter months. He has a
sparkle in his eyes and dreadlocks down to his knees. He could be anywhere from 25 to 45, with some grey in his dreadlocks betraying a little more life experience from the average surfer. He asked if we preferred English or Spanish and was willing to switch from one to the other if there was something Carson and Celia didn't understand. He laughed as Celia came out with her wetsuit on backwards and told them a story about one kid who got it wrong 5 times. He told us he never even tries on wetsuits. He know his size and just gets them because they are so hard to get on and off. For all the talent and popularity connected to him and his business, a private 2 hour lesson with gear included is only 30 euros. And, he truly seemed excited to start the lesson, which is an infectious feeling that not all instructors possess.
Playa de Rodiles on the Atlantic is one on the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The crashing waves are nestled between stone cliffs with trees and a small village. Next comes the spotlessly clean soft sand with grasslands all around. The next layer is a forest of sweet smelling birch trees with picnic tables nestled under their canopy. Finally, there is a trail and a narrow road bordering white cliffs. Along the road, under the cliffs are a few scattered cafes and Pablo's surf shop. It is unassuming and could be mistaken for a house except for its sign. At the end of the road are marshy wetlands with numerous waterfowl species, and a rock wall on which about 8 fisherman stand with their sea rods in the water. Most are older men with a bag of food, rubber boots, pipes and caps. As I walk slowly down the path to unobtrusively watch the surfing lesson, I am alone in the cool air, listening to birdsong and watching only one other person on the road coming toward me on horseback. Like our recent trip to Menorca, I think the off season is the best time, not only for the lack of crowds, but because the locals are living their lives out of view, and they are willing to give you their full attention.
We found out about Pablo from Ivan, the proprietor of the Hotel Costa de Rodiles where we have based ourselves for a week. I cannot begin to do justice to his place and his kindness. Our family is the only ones staying there for a week, so we have his undivided attention, and a spread of food in the morning, made by his mother, that could feed an army, made of homemade local specialties. Ivan speaks a tad of English, but Carson is becoming fluent, so we haven't needed much. But, Ivan has perfected the ability to explain things in any language. The first day he gave us a general overview of Asturias. Every day since, he has given us an itinerary, complete with hand-drawn maps, restaurant recommendations, friends to ask for, and trails to walk. At first we weren't sure how much we wanted to be guided, but after the first day, we knew he was helping us maximize our time. Every place he told us about was amazing and off the beaten path. The first day we rode bikes up the bear trail, a beautiful rural 16 km trail along the Trubia river. Then, we stopped off in the small town of Proazo, to eat la comida in a stone building popular with the locals. It couldn't be seen from the road, but the food was amazing, serving the northern fare of deer meat and goat cheese on cornbread, bean and sausage stew, and wild boar. Despite how different it was from anything we are used to in either the United States or Valencia, it was amazing. Asturias is also known for its local cider (or sidra). Like Valencia, which has rows of of orange groves, Asturias has apple orchards covering the fields and hillsides. Homemade alcoholic sidre is made in each parish. It is served out of barrels and poured above the head to increase the air in it.
All in all, I like Asturias the best of all we have seen in Spain. Rather than going to monuments or the old part of town to see history, the whole place seems to go back in time. Small villages are scattered amongst the hills, made of stone or painted brightly. People fish or grow apples for a living and cook the hearty dishes of their ancestors. It is incredibly green, going from the oceans to the large peaks of the Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa. As Pablo tells us, this is the only place that you can snowboard in the morning and surf in the afternoon.
Most of all, every person we have met has been open and generous, even trying to joke with us in Spanish. They seem to be very talkative and continue to speak Spanish despite our stumbling, waiting patiently for us to get things out. And, Carson thinks the northern dialect is easier to understand, slower and without the "th" sound that Valencians use. Regardless, it is a place to soak in beauty, move slowly, eat well, appreciate the people, and savor the ambiance of village life.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.