All week long I waited for Friday to come back around, and I watched the weather for any chance that the persistent drizzle that had been falling all week would subside before then. Friday morning, I awoke to a partly-cloudy and gorgeous, very un-wintery day. It looked perfect for a bit of exploring the outskirts of Oviedo in search of heavy food, unseemly conversation and cold beer.
Above: The loop from La Carta de Ajuste in Oviedo clockwise to El Fondín for lunch and El Garitu for suds
Just like last Friday, two O’clock came and went and we were still sitting around La Carta de Ajuste
tinkering with bikes and trying to keep warm by lifting bottles. Late departures like this seem to be a tradition among bike groups. Whether it be Friday Vespas in Oviedo or week-long enduro journeys in Tanzania, the schedule is the first thing to be jettisoned on any trip. I took advantage of our late start to try out my steed for the day, a beautiful Orange 125 cc bike recently retired from the Spanish postal service. It was much easier to shift, but the brakes were rougher than a badger’s ass. The steep, slippery descent on the dark side of Naranco was the plan for the day, and it was going to be interesting, I was repeatedly promised.
Above: a Mahou and a worrying cigarette health warning, Vespa Views, and repairs ala Carta
Closer to four than two O’clock, we buzzed out of town, north over the steeply rising Naranco mountain. The sun was bright behind a doily of clouds and the smell of damp earth and fallen eucalyptus leaves was fantastic. The narrow road climbed quickly out of town and afforded amazing views down valley that unfortunately I didn’t take time to photograph. I was too busy being happy and on the move.
On the dark side of Naranco, the road narrowed and descended in switchback turns through fields and small copses like a snake gliding in and out of tall grass. Asturias is a very green place thanks to the year-round tendency toward gray, rainy days. The northern section of road had probably not seen direct sunlight for more than four months, and was very damp from the wet week. So, although paved, it sported a patina of green moss from wheel track to wheel track that was just waiting to take somebody out. One of our party, we’ll call him Five-O, came around a bend a bit too spritely and slid sideways a few meters madly grabbing at controls in a futile attempt to correct the slide before coming to a stop facing back the way he’d come. Witnesses attested to his bravery, but reckoned he should have seen his ass. All agreed the Vespa gods were on his side.
Above: The northern descent, a couple of slipshod locals, Vesperos perdidos
If I’d had any doubt about whether or not the Vespa 125 would be a good form of transportation before, it was quelled by the time we made it to our lunch spot. These little bikes are great fun. The roads in the mountains of Asturias are so narrow and zigzagging that riding a big bike would be like using a Clydesdale to pull a Radio Flyer… you could do it, but it would cost a ton of money and you wouldn’t exactly be tapping into its full potential (so you’d wind up feeling like a putz).
Above: Arrivival at our lunch spot
Before I knew it, we were parking the bikes at a restaurant at the end of lonesome country lane. It was amazing how the scenery could be so rustic so near the city and that at the edge of what looked like a forgotten village lay a funky old bar serving up excellent meals.
Above: A rainbow of Vespa flavors, me and El Carpinteru and I at El Fondín
After our celebratory arrival beer, we installed ourselves around the table in the restaurant. The place was adorned with all sorts of random stuff, from an old wooden rattle used to shoo domestic livestock to bizarre portraits of local yokels to a creepy old stuffed falcon. It’s just the sort of back-woodsy place you want to find in Asturias. The patrons are always a curious bunch hell bent on feeding you till you burst. El Fondín
in Brañes was certainly no exception!
Above: A relief map showing our lunch spot, Vesperos hambrientes, the stuffed falcon (creepy)
Here, I must devote a paragraph to the food. We let El Presidente order for us, which meant we were going to be in for a memorable gastronomic experience. For starters, we were served Pote Asturiano (thick bean and vegetable stew with meat) in a clay dish as big as a kiddy swimming pool which we happily dove into, divvying up the tasty bits of chorizo, lacon (fatty pork bits) and morcilla (blood sausage) in a remarkably civilized manner for guys who had been telling stories that would have made Keith Richards blush. Next up was a cachopo (thin fillets of beef with cheese sandwiched inside, breaded and fried) the size of a pillow case which El Prez divided evenly and distributed like a king to his grateful serfs. And if that weren’t enough, our third plate arrived heaped with cordero (mutton on the bone) steaming from the oven. I tell you, I couldn’t move by the time we were done, but I was a happy boy.
Above: The Pote and Cachopo and the men who put it all away… there isn’t room for a picture of the cordero
Dragging ourselves out of the restaurant, we heaved our overfed selves back on to the bikes and spluttered down the road in the twilight. One of our happy party managed to bump into the verge on the way out of the restaurant. He later said he was avoiding a chicken, but nobody could corroborate. Otherwise, the ride was easy and there were no incidents on the relatively flat and dry stretch toward Luanco and our next stop.
Above: Vespas in the country, proof of a close call
We may have pulled into another bar before moving on to El Garitu. I’m not saying we did, I’m not saying we didn’t. But el Garitu was where we hid from the rain awhile and contemplated the dark and stormy night. We’d left the horse-lined idyllic countryside for the graffiti adorned urban streets and the Vespas held their own just fine in spite of their weak headlights and obnoxious pilots.
Above: Outside El Garitu
Well past dark, we set off for Oviedo and La Carte de Ajuste. It was a straight shot from Luanco on wet, shimmering streets and we arrived to find El Prez behind the bar tending to his adoring masses. We passed several happy hours between La Carta and the workshop downstairs. People were in good spirits, and there was a lot of nonsense going on. The highlight for me was when an animated El Carpintero started on about the drivers in Thailand which I had to capture on video (below). All the rest of the stories I heard, alas, I promised I wouldn’t repeat (which is just as well, cause I don’t remember any of them anyway).
Above: Some riding, some talking, and a lot of gesturing and sound effects (1:45)
Above: Bits and pieces from the day, the workshop is well stocked
I’m now sold on the 125. I have it from a reliable source that I’ll soon be the proud owner of one if I play my cards right. Hopefully the next Friday ride I take will be on a bike of my own!