“You’re not married, but I think it’s the same with all relationships between a man and a woman. They can survive anything so long as some kind of basic humanity exists between the two people. When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good. That particular insult to the ego – worse, to the instinct of self-preservation – can never be forgiven. I’ve noticed this in hundreds of marriages. I’ve seen flagrant infidelities patched up, I’ve seen crimes and even murder forgiven by the other party, let alone bankruptcy and every other form of social crime. Incurable disease, blindness, disaster – all these can be overcome. But never the death of common humanity in one of the partners. I’ve thought about this and I’ve invented a rather high-sounding title for this basic factor in human relations. I have called it the Law of the Quantum of Solace.”*
This excerpt from a short James Bond story defines the smallest measurable unit of well-being between two people. And when this drops to zero, love dies. But don’t get me started on love. The quarantine had put the well-being of all of us to the test, even without calling into question the most abused (misused? misunderstood?) word of time immemorial. Enter into equation the heat of Madrid in July and the quantum of solace is indeterminate. Or rather, the general well-being of a single person confined in a 30 sqm apartment is nil as the outside temperatures approach 40°C. Fortunately, the single person in question came up with a brilliant plan on one mournful morning back in April and turned the unfortunate circumstances of 2020 into the best summer in a long while.
Disclaimer: Rant ahead (I have been neglecting the blog for a while, and I know you’ve missed them).
Now, I imagine some of you are not happy about the difficulties regarding international travel this summer. As much as it sucks having to isolate for two weeks upon return instead of showing off your Ibiza tan, despair not, for you can still have wonderful holiday in whichever place you live. For one, sunbathing is really bad for you anyway, but this may be a once in a lifetime (hopefully) occasion to discover the treasures you most likely have at your doorstep. There are stunning places in every single country in the world. You may need to swap your Jimmy Choo’s for some decent shoes to see them, but if even that is too much of an effort, I am sure there are tacky resorts in every country where you can get drunk by a pool (may be an indoor one, bummer), get pampered, massaged, scrubbed and whatever else you people do for two weeks in a resort. Plenty of occasions to pay horrendous amount of money for mediocre food too, I’m sure, if you really must.
If I was still in the UK, I’d have loved this summer. The Lake District, the Peak District, the Highlands of Scotland, all to discover. Hordes of overseas tourist come to Europe every year to admire the diversity of our landscape and cultural riches of our cities (same as we do when we travel there, if you make it far enough from the pool), but the neighbour’s lawn actually isn’t always greener. I would have loved being in Czech Republic and spending the summer cycling around the country, or canoeing down some river and camping, as we used to do no too long ago. I would have loved being in Italy and visiting places I have not yet been to, or trekking the Balkans, the Transylvanian Alps, enjoying midnight sun in the north, if I lived in those parts of the world. I happen to live in Spain, which according to some is one of the most diverse countries in Europe. My main issue however wasn’t to find a nice holiday spot, but to find a suitable place to move my homeoffice to during the hottest period of the year: decent internet connection, not too big and below 20°C temperatures at night, anything else would have been a bonus. A fortunate stroke of serendipity did the rest.
At the beginning of July, I packed my bike, hiking shoes, anything else I may need for a month away from home, and oh, my computers of course, and moved to Verdiago, a village of 19 stable inhabitants in the mountain range of Montaña Oriental de León at the foot of Picos de Europa national park. The next few blogs will feature photos and infinite activities from the area, starting with an easy circular hike around the abandoned mines around the village of Sabero, la Ruta de las Minas.
The extraction of coal has been the main economy in the basin of Sabero since the first third of the 19th century. The last mines closed in 1991 taking away the main source of employment, leaving the locals with very few alternatives. Some turned to tourism, given the extraordinary natural beauty of the area, some to agriculture (apparently the locally produced beef is second only to Kobe), but most people moved away. The population of the valley has since decreased by over 50%. La Ruta de las Minas (the path of the mines) is an educational trail of about 10 km (15 if you opt for climbing to the cave of Trigal) that will take you around the historic mines around Sabero. I’d recommend walking it counterclockwise, especially if you start from Verdiago, as you’ll get most of the climbing out of the way in the beginning, and you’ll trade a steep ascend for a milder and much more comfortable descend. Also, this way you’ll get to the river beach of Sabero towards the end of the hike. It’s a nice picnic area (buy the refreshments in the village, there is no bar on the beach), and if you are brave enough, you may enjoy an invigorating dip in the 7°C Esla river. Take enough water with you. The only fountains along the way are by the mining museum of Sabero, which is about mid way if you start from Verdiago, and at the beach.
Local fauna and flora
The level of my quantum of solace improved rapidly as soon as I was surrounded by this beautiful scenery and it has reached considerable values for the 5 weeks I spent up there. I’m back to Madrid while I’m writing this post, but it’s all good. More to follow shortly.
*) Ian Fleming: Quantum of Solace (a short story first published in 1959 in Cosmopolitan, when glossy magazines contained literature and not just malnourished teenagers in impossible couture).