How Now Brown Cow

We begin our 4.5 hour trek from the Hotel Posada in the Asturian Arriondas hills, with the suggestion from the walking guide to keep an eye out for red squirrels. Now, if I look out into my garden long enough I could probably spot a grey squirrel; so understandably, the possibility of seeing a red one didn’t set my heart racing.

However, it isn’t long after we enter the coolly aired woodland, with strips of sunlight searing through the trees that we hear the tinkle tinkle of bells. No, not the sound of musical squirrels, but the sound of the Asturian brown cow. Both sides of the pine and eucalyptus tree-lined path are steep, so the cows in possession of these bells would be happily grazing on the slopes.

Ah. Apart from the family of cows who suddenly appear in the middle of our path. Cows are quite big. And we’re girls. And quite slight. So the only thing to do of course, is to get the phone out and call our hotel.

This is how it goes:
Hotel owner: “Hola, digame.”
Me: “Hi… it’s the two girls from Room 8. Um, we’re on the walk and there are cows in our way. What shall we do?”
Hotel owner: “HA HA HA. The cows are very timid, so just walk slowly past them and you’ll be fine.”
Me: “But they’re big and there’s not that much room.”
Hotel owner: “Well, I’ve been walking here for 15 years and have never had trouble with them.”

I hang up. We find defensive sticks and take a deep breath. We tentatively make a few steps toward the cows. It’s at this point that the daddy cow shows not only his face, but his horns too. Who knew cows had horns?! He’s also not the now seemingly harmless tan brown colour of his family. He is aggressively dark brown, almost black – with horns!

We back track and scramble up a verge and start shouting at the cows: “Shoo!”; “Go this way!”; “Move, dammit!” Eventually, the dopey cows start walking in our direction, stopping to eat, walk, eat, walk. As soon as the last one passes, we jump down and sprint in the opposite direction.

And from this point on, the trek is a delight: we catch glimpses of the jagged and rocky Picos de Europa mountain range, surrounded by the oscillating, lush, verdant valleys. We play hop-scotch trying to avoid cow pats as large as dinner plates, occasionally and literally landing in the sh*t.

About three-quarters of the way through our trek, we’re now walking along the grassy green knolls of the hills with pretty pink and purple wild flowers peeking through. We turn a sharp corner and facing us standing in the middle of a very narrow path is a big, male, horned cow. Oh for f*ck’s sake!

There really isn’t any room either side of this massive hunk of living beef. If we try and pass him on the left, we could get horned and pinned into the side of the rocky hill and if we go the other side, we run the risk of getting shoved down into deep, dark, depths of the valley. Neither ways of dying are very appealing.

By now, we’re fed up. The sun is beating down on us. There’s nowhere to go. And this piece of meat is not moving. We half-heartedly shout at it, throw a few things in his direction, but have really given up and leave our fate in his… hooves? Finally he starts to move – in our direction – and we mutter curses under our breaths as he passes. He, clearly, is just as scared and almost falls down into the valley.

We breathe a huge sigh of relief and continue without looking back. I have a feeling that crossing paths with those red squirrels wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic…

F Chang

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