Alive in Spain

A travel diary

Árboles y Raíces (Trees and Roots)

“You have to go to Los Picos de Europa,” the lady at the market tells me. My landlady echoes the sentiment. “Es el lugar mas hermoso en todo España” (It’s the most beautiful place in Spain). I’ve heard there are cave paintings in Los Picos, which intrigues me. The weather has changed overnight. Everywhere I go, people talk about it with pride and relief. It’s finally cold! Some say there may even be snow in Los Picos. I’ve also heard no buses or trains travel there, and I don’t want to incur the expense of renting a car. I also don’t want to drive through snowy, narrow, railless mountain roads in a foreign car with manual transmission. I’ve seen those roads. They’re scary, even on warm, sunny days.

My BU sweatshirt knows Spain as well as I do. The historical section of Gijón is in the background.

My BU sweatshirt knows Spain as well as I do. The historical section of Gijón is in the background.

I came to Asturias knowing very little about it, except it has mountains, a coastline, lots of rain, and most importantly, the origins of my paternal family. Unlike Colombia, however, there aren’t any businesses or parks with our name. In Cali, Colombia, they’ve gone as far as naming one half of a park Plaza Caycedo and the other Plaza Caicedo, evidencing a significant event in our family’s history and acknowledging that we share the same roots.

My aunt in Galicia, the family’s historian, says our family split over a marriage — a matter having to do with race. Disowned by the family, the couple changed their name to Caicedo and settled in Ecuador. The original Caycedos made their way to Colombia. Their name can be found in the history books. Both sides now have a presence in Colombia, Ecuador, and the United States. I bear the original spelling. “The proud ones.” “The ones with the upturned noses,” I’ve heard Caicedos call us. But the broadness of my cheekbones and that of other Caycedos evidence our lack of “racial purity.” I am happily a mixed-breed.

A Typical Street in Gijón.

A Typical Street in Gijón.

A short bus ride from my apartment, the city of Gijón reminds me of midtown Manhattan. In the neighborhood where I’m staying, there are palm trees and pine trees (which I didn’t know could coexist). Chestnut- and Eucalyptus-covered mountains lead to the ocean. Roosters crow each morning from local apple orchards. Neighborhoods with Spanish-tiled houses are sprinkled with structures that resemble those of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s as if every place where I’ve lived converged into one. It’s like having Caicedos and Caycedos, white, black, and Native American honored in one park.

Eucalyptus roads lead to the ocean.

Eucalyptus roads lead to the ocean.

My neighbor says my name sounds more Galician, or at least not from the center of Asturias. My landlady has never heard the name. Maybe it’s from an area closer to Cantabria, closer to Los Picos. That could very well be. I once heard we had family in Santander.

I’m not a big fan of organized tours, preferring to set my own schedule and agenda. To paraphrase Thoreau, I prefer marching to my own drummer. I could have been that relative who refused to do things “the right way” and changed my family’s history. But if I want to see cave paintings, I figured I may have to at least pretend to hear the drummers other people hear. So today I set out to the city’s tourist center hoping to find information about excursions. There are advantages and disadvantages to traveling off season. One disadvantage is that tourist information centers are closed! I guess I’ll have to find another way to get to Los Picos. In the same way, I’ll have to try other ways of finding the origins of my paternal family. They’re both near, and at the moment, inaccessible.


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