Ribadesella, Lastres, cave paintings, and dinosaurs… oh my!
June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
Today has been good luck followed by better luck from the moment I woke up. Today was the first truly sunny and clear day we’ve had since I arrived, and it was an absolute pleasure. Remember all the stunning views of earlier posts? Imagine them multiplied and brought into crisp, clear focus. It’s amazing.
My aunt and I had planned to visit a couple of local museums sometime this week, and my aunt discovered a couple of days ago that Wednesdays are free admission days at both museums. We got up this morning with the intention of leaving midmorning to head to Cueva de Tito Bustillo (Tito Bustillo Cave) in Ribadesella, a historical landmark with paleolithic cave paintings. My aunt called around 10:15 to see if we could get a spot in a tour this morning. The answer was yes, at 11:30. Guess how long it takes to drive there? 1 hour. Perfect timing! The drive was beautiful, of course, with unbelievable views in every direction. The only time there weren’t great views were when we drove through tunnels, which happened quite often because the highway cuts through mountains and across valleys all along the coast. I found it quite charming to be driving right through the mountains, instead of up and over or through passes like we do in New Hampshire.
At one point while we were driving, I happened to turn my head and catch sight of a view that was really, sincerely stunning. It was the view along a valley where the bases of the mountains met and overlapped, like weaving your fingers together, fingertips down and wrists up. The view was so perfect and clear that it was like seeing a giant 3D diorama. The depth of it was incredible, especially as we drove along and the view shifted. It was really astounding, but it only lasted for a few moments.
Cueva de Tito Bustillo is an attraction not just for the actual caves but also for the small museum which has been built to compliment the caves. It’s a top-notch facility with great exhibits. The caves themselves are great – dark and damp and cold and very dimly lit (for preservation purposes). The paintings are incredible! The first time you see one it’s like you lose your footing a little as you blast backward a few millennia. I think the oldest one we saw was from about 15,000 years ago. Others were about 11,000 years old. Pretty incredible stuff! The cave paintings in Ribadesella are pretty important historically, and they are unique because of the use of purple pigment. I’m not sure how they got purple pigment, but it’s unique, apparently. The tour through the caves was great; it was a blast just to walk through these caves that were used so, so many thousands of years ago (it’s hard for me to even conceptualize beyond about 500 B.C.) by people. The tour guide said that it’s a very common misconception that people actually lived in the caves; they made use of them, certainly, but only near the entrance of the cave where they could use natural light. The caves were not home to communities; it is far more likely that the caves held some sort of spiritual significance, like a temple, to those who used them.
I had a unique experience during the tour as the explanations and descriptions were given in Spanish. While much of it was self-explanatory (“Don’t walk off that ledge.” “Try not to slip on the rocks.” “Look where I’m pointing this flashlight.”), much of it was not so obvious (like the information I’ve relayed above). Luckily, I had my own personal translator there with me, so I got the gist of things and still got to enjoy the tour immensely. After our trip through the caves, we made a quick zip around the museum which recreates some of the material inside the cave and provides lots of background information and history. Everything in the museum was in Spanish and English, so it was very informative for me. The tours only take visitors to see two different sections of the cave, but the museum provides pictures and descriptions of all of the different sections of the cave. Way cool stuff!
We were, of course, prohibited from photographing the cave paintings or the museum, but that didn’t stop me from taking a couple of shots of the outskirts of Ribadesella near the museum. Ribadesella is right on the coast where the Sella River has it’s outlet into the ocean (“riba” is a word that means something similar to “delta,” thus “riba de Sella”). The area by the museum (which is right on the river) was muddy and salty-smelling while we were there because it is in an area that is affected by the tides. When the tides are in, the river/delta fills with water, but when the tide is out it’s sort of salt marshy. Apparently a delicacy in the area is eels harvested from that spot; there is a unique ecosystem where the freshwater and saltwater overlap like that.
Ribadesella is not a very big town, but it is a huge tourist attraction. It’s got a beautiful stretch of beach. Before leaving, we took a quick jaunt to see it. Pretty gorgeous! It was hot in the sun, but the wind was still quite chilly so there were not many people out sunbathing. In the summer, the town fills with tourists and the beach can get quite crowded.
When we left Ribadesella, we took a smaller road to get to our next stop, Lastres, which is about half way between Ribadesella and Gijon (we’d passed it on the highway on our way to the cave). Lastres is a fairly tiny town perched on the side of a hill right on the shore. I’m really not sure why everyone on the planet hasn’t tried to move there by now. It is indescribably beautiful. My aunt and I had lunch at a wonderful restaurant perched at the very top of the hill; it really has the best view in the whole town. From there, we could see out over the entire town, into the bay edged with beach, and up a valley to jagged mountains behind. Although my pictures probably don’t show it, we could see upwards of three layers of mountain ranges way off in the distance. I am pretty sure I dreamed the whole thing.
For lunch, we had a mixed salad with some typical stuff (lettuce, carrot, tomato, onion), white asparagus, hard boiled egg, Spanish olives, and tuna (which was probably locally caught and canned right at the restaurant – it was way better than what I’m used to). Next was a delicious dish, sort of like pate but the texture of mousse, made with fish (of course). It’s my new favorite. It’s served chilled with mayonnaise and a spiced up version of mayo (I tried both, but I liked it best alone). You eat it on the toasted bites of bread in the picture or on regular bread. As with every single restaurant we’ve been to, this one had their own homemade, wonderful bread.
Next came onions stuffed with tuna and cooked in a tomato-y sauce with potatoes and garnished with a type of red pepper. This was also very good, although I couldn’t really tear myself away from the first dish.
Last came a dish of navajas (which are long, skinny clams), which were delicious; they have a very strong flavor… clam-like, but far more intense. My aunt describes them as “taking a bite out of the ocean.”
After our delicious lunch in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, my aunt and I continued on our journey to our second museum, the Museo del Jurásico de Asturias. I’m not positive if it is located in Lastres or in the neighboring town of Colunga. The museum itself is shaped like a giant dinosaur footprint, so when seen from the air it looks like a dinosaur just stomped on the hill. The museum is geared toward people who are roughly one quarter to one third my age, but I’m shameless. Outside, there were a few large sculptures of dinosaurs. Like the obnoxious tourist that I freely admit I am, I insisted on taking pictures of myself with the dinos (one where I am running away in terror from a mean looking dino and one where I am happily linking arms with a much friendlier dino). These pictures, I promise, are for the benefit of my young nephew. The museum displays were all in Spanish, so again I had to rely on my trusty translator. She did a great job of getting the point across on the bits that I was curious about, although we did a pretty cursory overview of the museum.
Asturias is of significance when it comes to dinosaurs. Apparently, it’s an area that is pretty rich in fossils, dino footprints, and so on. I know next to nothing about dinosaurs, but apparently those in the know think Asturias es muy importante.