You’ve no doubt heard of the “luck of the Irish,” but how about “the luck of the Scottish”? Last month, a new Scottish friend of mine, Eileen, joined the intermediate Spanish class I’m taking. Before her arrival, our teacher Cristina, explained how much Asturians love Scottish people. She wasn’t sure why, but she said the love affair was real.
When I asked Eileen about it, she said she had noticed that bureaucrats in the mayor’s office, the bank and the police station who often have the reputation for being a bit prickly towards foreigners, always seemed to soften when they found out she was from Escocia (Scotland.) So much so that her partner Kieran, who is American, has taken to saying he is from Scotland or Ireland, as well. With her welcoming smile and red hair and his imposing stature and white hair, they definitely stand out as foreigners amongst the Spaniards but have had the most encouraging interactions thus far.
Eileen used to own a yoga studio in Boston, MA, where she and Kieran met. Three years ago she sold the studio to one of her long-time students and she and Kieran moved to Luanco, a beach town just outside of Gijon. We were originally introduced by Judy, the owner of Hotel Fuentes de Lucia, the retreat center where Eileen and I have both held yoga retreats. With so much in common, we quickly became friends. In fact we often joke, saying to each other, “Too bad we don’t have anything in common!” whenever we discover yet another shared interest.
Maybe because Eileen and Kieran are English speaking foreigners in Asturias, or maybe because we share a background in yoga and were introduced by a mutual friend, our friendship seems to be on fast forward, as if we are watching a flower go quickly from bud to bloom with time lapse photography. The normally slow building of a friendship over time gave way to an immediate bond with the two of them and my husband Rocky and I. Consequently, after just one dinner together, we started making plans for a coastal hike and picnic.
Eileen and Kieran offered to pick us up in their car and drive us to a beach town named Celorio, about an hour away. From there we would hike a coastal trail to another beach town called Llanes.
Sunday, May 2nd was Mother’s Day here in Spain and the weather was perfect for our plans: sunny and almost 60 degrees. They picked us up in front of the Arbol de Sidra, a giant tower of recycled green Sidra bottles just steps from our apartment, and whisked us away on our first car trip since moving here two months ago. Our pup, Wilma, was with us and seemed as excited as we were to be getting back into a car.
We parked near a beautiful beach in Celorio. The trail to Llanes from there proved to be spectacular, sloping upward gently from sandy beaches to rocky cliffs and meandering through meadows full of wild flowers. In one field, Eileen pointed out the largest fig tree we had ever seen, the branches already weighed down with the many buds that will become juicy, ripe figs later this year. We made a promise to return at that time to harvest a few.
Although the topography is similar here to that of the Pacific Northwest, it is not uncommon to come across ancient ruins in Northern Spain, reminding us how much older this country is than our own. While Nature does her best to take back the remains of rock walls and arches, covering them with new greenery, ferns and vines, the evidence lingers allowing us to feel like true explorers. We saw very few other hikers that day which made the path even more alluring.
We saw quite a few cows though, hearing their bells from a distance before rounding the corner to see them feeding. Last time we hiked in Asturias, our guide told us that each lead cow wears a distinct sounding cow bell so that her owner can locate and identify the herd easily when they wander. Every time I hear the cacophony of cow bells, I think of Christopher Walken saying, “More cow bell!” on that hilarious skit with Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live years ago.
Wilma, a city dog, had never seen a cow and could not decide how to proceed. Should she roll over and make friends like she does with a big dog or should she bark and run away? Clearly, she thought, approaching them was out of the question! She hesitated, her whole body shaking slightly and letting the quietest of growls escape as though she was afraid to really let them know what she thought of them. As we kept walking, she turned back multiple times to see if they were following us.
After a couple of hours, we stopped to have a picnic high on a bluff with breathtaking views in every direction. The sea reflected many intense shades of blue and wrapped around large rock outcroppings that were sizeable but too small to be considered islands. One grouping looked like a triceratops rising from the sea. I have not seen water that color anywhere before, except in the Caribbean.
Eileen and Kieran shared yummy homemade pesto and hummus. We brought a Spanish cheese, a sardine empanada that would make your cats drool, and some carrot sticks that we dipped in the pesto and hummus. Of course there was chocolate for dessert. I had intended to make my only specialty, tortilla de patatas, for the occasion, but found the markets were closed the day before because it was Labor Day. We found a cheese, jamon and empanada store open and made do with what we could buy there. Surprisingly, the sardine empanada was much improved when dipped in hummus, although Wilma enjoyed it just fine without.
When we neared Llanes we were welcomed by an impressive strip of grassy lawn that would have been perfect for bocce ball or lawn bowling except it was over a mile long. Every few feet were benches situated perfectly to face the ocean. We found what looked like a bench of power and sat for a few minutes to send our intentions out on the breeze. Then we descended a stone staircase into the town of Llanes.
Llanes is an old walled city, reminiscent of the days of castles, with cobblestone streets and rock walls everywhere. Those walls made me want to run my hands over them, feeling each stone carefully as though they might give up their ancient secrets if I did. A café in the middle of the square beckoned us to have a drink. Kieran ordered a “corto” (a solo shot of expresso) and the rest of us ordered fresh orange juice which is so popular in Asturias.
Before our drinks arrived, two uniformed members of the Guardia Civil, the national police, entered the square and crossed purposefully to the café. They did not appear to be stopping for descanso, or break, but approached each table instead, asking to see the NIEs, the legal residence cards. Relief washed over me, knowing we had just gotten our cards and were now official residents of Gijon. It was our understanding that we could not leave the province of Asturias because of the COVID quarantine but we could travel to any town within the province.
When they approached our table, we respectfully took out our NIEs and handed them over, not very concerned since we all live in Asturias. Eileen discovered that she had left her NIE in the car in Celorio. Initially they both seemed irritated by that. Luckily, Kieran had a photo on his phone of Eileen’s NIE card and was able to show them.
“Ah, you are from Scotland?” the first one said in Spanish when he read her nationality on her card. Was it my imagination? He seemed to soften, even smile a little, knowing that he was in the company of someone from Escocia. I grinned inwardly noting that the Scottish effect was real, indeed.
They told us in a firm tone, we were not allowed to be in Llanes because it was specifically under it’s own lock-down within Asturias. Since we had gotten out of the habit of listening to the news here, we had no idea. They told us in a very serious tone that we would need to leave immediately. Innocently, we asked if we could at least enjoy the beverages we had ordered and they said as long as we left immediately afterwards, and didn’t order any food, that we could. They reiterated that we were in violation of the lock-down orders but handed back our cards.
The fresh orange juice tasted especially delicious in light of the fact that we thought for a moment that we might not be able to stay and drink them. We headed back to the trail, high fiving the luck of the Scottish, and enjoyed a very leisurely hike back to Celorio. We had intended to go for a swim there before getting back in the car but ran out of time and Keiran asked if we could postpone that to the next time. After all, it was only 57 degrees and the water was chilly. I had worn my bathing suit under my clothes the entire way, just to be prepared, but was relieved to put off what I considered a “polar bear plunge” to another, hopefully warmer day.
By 8 pm that night, Wilma was snoring loudly on the couch, exhausted from her big outing. At one point we looked over to see her running in her sleep, her little paws moving very quickly while the rest of her body stayed still. She let out a few big sleepy snorts, with her cheeks puffing out with the effort. I could only imagine she was reliving her encounter with those big “dogs” with bells. Maybe this time, she got a little closer and introduced herself.
On the following Tuesday, when I was telling my Spanish class about our adventure, I was informed that the fine for entering Llanes during lock-down was 600 Euros, or $720 dollars per person! I was so grateful we had our lucky charm, Eileen from Scotland, with us when we entered Llanes. Otherwise, that would have been a very expensive orange juice. Luck of the Scottish, indeed!