Spain – Day 6: Cangas de Onis to Ambasmestas

Posted on 17 Aug ’14 by Earl Moore

Looking from our hotel window on the morning after our second night in Cangas de Onis the weather appeared much as previous morning — misty with drifting clouds wrapping around the mountain peaks.  A visually interesting dreariness which was opposed by blue sky promises peeking through.

For some places on our trip itinerary I was ready to move on at the end of the planned stay, but I could have spent at least one more day, maybe two, exploring the areas surrounding Cangas de Onis.

Day six, was a travel day with a destination of Ambasmestas, Spain, for a one night layover.  As we departed Cangas de Onis the terrain began changing almost immediately from steep rocky mountain to smaller mountains with valley’s and then to mostly hilly plains.

As we drove further southwest we saw more signs of rural farms and small villages. With any long drive there are stops or rest breaks. One break was at a small cafe for Coffee and a snack.

We reached Ambasmestas mid-afternoon. Ambasmestas is a small village which happens to be a good location for two interesting reasons:

  • it’s directly on the route of the Santiago Camino (500 mile religious pilgrimage;) and
  • it’s located near the historical Las Médulas site (the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire.)

While we were in Ambasmestas there was a procession of people moving through town on the Santiago Camino — mostly backpacking, some on bicycles, one on a unicycle and at least one leading a pack animal.  There are a number of these pilgrimages in France and Spain. I’ve included below an interesting and informative excerpt and link from a story about this particular one.

For more than 1,000 years, pilgrims have journeyed the 500 miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Whether the narrative of Compostela started as brilliant advertising campaign or miraculous history will never be definitively settled, but the story goes something like this: The apostle James left Jerusalem after the Crucifixion and ended up for a few years in Spain looking for converts. He wasn’t wildly successful. Perhaps it wasn’t easy having a brother who had the moniker “the Evangelist” trailing after his name like a dust cloud. The apostle Mark claimed that Jesus gave the pair of brothers the nickname “the sons of thunder”—so it might be fair to assume James wasn’t a good listener. After his unsuccessful mission in Spain, he returned to Jerusalem and got beheaded by Herod Agrippa, ensuring himself a ticket to canonization. His disciples took off from Jerusalem with his head—and body, too, we assume—in, of all things, a stone boat. (I’m not a sailor, so I can’t comment on how difficult it might have been, if he didn’t have angels behind him, to sail a stone boat across the Mediterranean Sea and tack right into the Atlantic Ocean after Gibraltar, landing at Padron, near Finisterre, what was then considered the end of the world.) In northwestern Spain, which at that time was Roman Galicia, James settled in. That is, his followers buried him in a Roman cemetery. (The Morning News)

We also visited the historical site of the Roman Empire’s important gold mine, Las Médulas, a World Heritage Site in 1997.  The gold mine was established in the 1st century AD and it is believe over 1.6 million kg of gold was extracted over a period of 200+ years. This level of mining required the work of approximately 60,000 laborers and there were many deaths due to the dangerous conditions.

The spectacular landscape of Las Médulas resulted from the ruina montium, a Roman mining technique described by Pliny the Elder in 77 AD. The technique employed was a type of hydraulic mining which involved undermining a mountain with large quantities of water…

“What happens is far beyond the work of giants. The mountains are bored with corridors and galleries made by lamplight with a duration that is used to measure the shifts. For months, the miners cannot see the sunlight and many of them die inside the tunnels. This type of mine has been given the name of ruina montium. The cracks made in the entrails of the stone are so dangerous that it would be easier to find purpurine or pearls at the bottom of the sea than make scars in the rock. How dangerous we have made the Earth!” — Las Médulas, wikipedia.org

We returned to our Ambasmestas hotel for dinner and a single nights stay.

This might be a good spot to mention our impression of the food in Spain.  During our 2012 Italy trip I can’t remember having a bad meal and two of the best dishes I’ve experienced in my life came from that trip.  Our expectations and hopes were much the same for Spain. This was not to be the case. I was really wanting to like it and we tried many local foods and also followed the Fodor’s Spain Guide for some of the better places to dine but over-all found it to be a bit boring and under seasoned, which was surprising.  That’s not to say there wasn’t some good food, but there was also some which was pretty bad.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Steve Skinner 17 Aug ’14 at 10:30 pm

    The food in Spain was so, so? I guess that a visit to Spain will drop a few notches on my bucket list.
    Steve Skinner recently posted… The End of An Era

    • Earl 18 Aug ’14 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Steve, The food in Spain was kinda so-so, not terrible, but not up to our expectations. Maybe that was part of the problem…our expectations were too high. It being bland was the most surprising thing.

  2. Tom Dills 17 Aug ’14 at 10:52 pm

    That’s some amazingly varied terrain, considering that it was all within a short drive of your location. Of course the dramatic cloud and fog photos are my favorites. The Las Medulas area is strikingly beautiful, and would be even more impressive if it was naturally occurring.

    The cat doesn’t do much for me, but it might bring in a few more viewers. ;)
    Tom Dills recently posted… Holmes County Court House

    • Earl 18 Aug ’14 at 2:23 pm

      Tom, Las Medulas was even more impressive from closer up where the huge scale of the terrain shown in these photos became more apparent. I looked for the numbers and couldn’t confirm it but I think I read or heard somewhere at the site that as many as 250k people may have died during these Roman mining operations. What price for gold?

  3. Monte Stevens 18 Aug ’14 at 11:15 am

    Those Las Medulas are beautiful. The red and green make it pop for me. I’ll, also be interested in knowing if the traffic picks up due to the cat. It’s actually a darn good image. I notice the mountains are rugged and rocky. For some reason I did not expect that. Interesting about the food being boring and under seasoned. Maybe that’s just a misconception on our part, one of those expectations we set up. Another nice series of images ND lots of good information along with it. Thanks, Earl!
    Monte Stevens recently posted… Estes Park and RMNP

    • Earl 18 Aug ’14 at 2:29 pm

      Monte, perhaps since Mexico and Spain share a common language we here in North America would natural expect more shared culture. Mexican food is normally spicy with bold flavors. Spain’s food was bland often without even salt and pepper — or so it seemed. Thanks.

  4. Cedric Canard 20 Aug ’14 at 6:29 am

    Ok, these may be my favourite so far. Your panorama and all the landscape shots are beautiful. The region around De Luna looks like extreme wilderness which would seem impossible considering how populated Spain is. But my absolute favourites are the third and fourth photo of the clouds and mountains. Those two shots are pure magic Earl. That one with the lone tree… wow! If this had been my trip, those two shots alone would have made my holiday.
    Cedric Canard recently posted… Three walls in Venice Beach

    • Earl 20 Aug ’14 at 11:20 am

      That was an expectation of Spain I had to redefine as well, Cedric — a good deal of northern Spain is sparsely populated. Perhaps part of that is due to the rough terrain and of course large national parks. Thanks about the third and fourth images, made them braced against the frame of those very windows in photo two. I knew they were going to be pretty good when I took them but then they were quickly lost in the excitement of the continuing journey only to be discovered again during post-processing. Thanks for visiting and your comments!

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