We spent last weekend camping and climbing in Santa Gadea and on Monday we slowly wound our way back home, taking advantage of the opportunity to explore a little of the neighbouring province of Burgos on the way.
We had been told that there was a world-class crag in the area that had yet to be developed (i.e. bolted for sports climbing) so we set off on a hunt. We never did find it (next time) but our search did inadvertently lead us to this beautiful waterfall – la Cascada de la Mea. Undoubtedly not the best time of year to view it, the dried-up river-beds in the floor of the valley meant it was a pleasant surprise to see any water there at all when we arrived.
After our somewhat fruitless, yet somehow fruitful, search we had a riverside picnic lunch under the natural limestone arch upon which the picturesque village of Puentedey is built, before getting back in the car and continuing down to Cantabria.
Just outside Santander we broke our journey with a stop at El Parque de la Naturaleza de Cabarceno. This place is amazing. Set on 750 hectares of land that was previously used for open cast mining, its enormous size allows the hundred or so species of animals from across the globe to live in semi-liberty. Different species co-exist in massive enclosures and, apart from being provided with food, the animals live as they would in the wild and display all the natural instinctive behaviours, such as fighting for control of females in mating season. It is rated as amongst the best in the world by animal welfare organisations.
If you ever get the chance to go then do. The whole park has a magical atmosphere. I always feel like I have somewhow stepped into Jurassic Park, a sensation heightened by the various craggy outcrops that surround you, the soundtrack of animals roaring and shrieking and the impressive birds of prey circling the skies above.
This visit, we only had a few hours to spend (the intention being to break our journey, not knacker it entirely!) but as ‘friends of the park’ we have year-round passes (40 euros per adult or 100 euros per family, children under 6 free) so could afford to do so, knowing we’d be back again soon. By the second visit the passes have already paid for themselves (day entry is 21 euros per adult and 13 euros for children over 6.)
Arriving late in the day, we decided to head straight (well, via coffee and a pincho) to the afternoon birds of prey exhibition at 4pm. We’ve seen it twice before but it doesn’t get old. The show is in two parts. Firstly the birds show off their aerial skills within the outdoor arena, demonstrating up close and personal their flying manoeuvres and identifying features.
The demonstration is so up close and personal, in fact, that the birds often skim the heads of the audience, sometimes even knocking sunhats off and often causing a lot of ducking and gasping. You are warned beforehand not to raise your hands, stand up, or to have any food with you.
In the second part of the show, birds are enticed in from crags on the far-distant horizon with prey being swung on lengths of rope. The birds swoop in dramatically from the skies, displaying awesome speed and precision. (Just ask the people in the back row about how precise their flight can be!)
At the end of the show you get the opportunity to have your photo taken with a golden eagle or eagle owl. This young man didn’t look so sure that this was altogether a great idea.
After the show we paid a quick visit to the giraffes and their roomies the ostriches and buffalo before going on to pay our respects to the elephants. A quick tour of the petting zoo to see some of the smaller animals was all we then had time for before the park was due to close at 6pm and it was time to hit the road again.
We managed to squeeze in just one more stop, at one of our favourite Cantabrian towns, San Vicente de la Barquera. Here we had dinner and gave the dog a run on the coastal path above the extensive beaches. Poor thing had been on rather a tight leash in the park as I had no desire to see shaky handi-cam, eyewitness footage of my greyhound chasing gazelles on the evening news.
All in all it may have been a rather circuitous route home but you know what they say – it’s all about the journey.
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