Santillana del Mar and Altamira

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July 24th 2013
Published: July 24th 2013
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Santillana del MarSantillana del MarSantillana del Mar

Right when I got in. My hotel is literally just up the little street on the left. You can just see the sign actually.
Without a car, it takes dedication to get to Santillana del Mar and then up to the Altamira Caves. Even Rick Steves, my travel guru, doesn't recommend it. But, I made it happen. It involved taking a crack of dawn bus from Bilbao to Santander, the regional hub of Cantabria. Then another bus a bit inland to Santillana del Mar, until finally hiking up into the hills for maybe 40 minutes. And I'm honestly proud of myself. I was at the caves by 12. Pretty good, if you ask me.

And why come all this way, against most travel writers better judgments? The answer is that Altamira contains cave paintings from 14,000 years ago, by the earliest of humans. They were discovered in the 1870s, and actually the masses of people got to be too much for the fragile works, so they closed the cave in 1979, opening up a replica cave right next to the original I think in 2001. It's not the original cave, true, but everything is identical, from the temperature to every crack and fissure in the rock. A true, exact replica.

Still, why come all this way? Because, for me at least, I think
Hiking up to AltamiraHiking up to AltamiraHiking up to Altamira

Beautiful countryside around Santillana.
the massive bisons and horses and even hand prints on the ceiling of this cave represent the moment when humans actually became human. We weren't just surviving anymore. We were making art, being creative, producing something beyond ourselves that obviously shows an intimate connection to the natural world. And those hand prints. The hands of 14,000 year old humans! Why did they do this? They signed their work perhaps. They owned it. They put the first truly human mark down in the history books. I don't know, this was such a literally awe-some sight. I gawked at that ceiling for something like an hour. The Sistine Chapel of Pre-historic art. Wouldn't change it for the world.

Santillana del Mar also is a little village nicely trapped in a time warp. Cobbled streets and old, old buildings covered in flowers. The town seems like it's just permanently napping, like Rip van Winkle. I'm also staying in this great hotel, the Hospidaje Angelica, right off the main square. It's truly a family affair here, and has like 9 rooms in a house that just goes straight up with really tight, windy stairs. I also think I'm like the only person here
Looking Back Towards SantillanaLooking Back Towards SantillanaLooking Back Towards Santillana

That's Santillana down there in the valley.
right now - so they gave me this great big room up in the attic. I think in the past day, to actually talk to this family, my Spanish has improved ten-fold. I'm not just saying si all the time and grinning like an idiot, which is actually a huge improvement.

Tomorrow I head towards the Pyrenees, staying in Hemingway's city, Pamplona, until at last heading to Madrid on Friday.

Additional photos below
Photos: 15, Displayed: 15


At the MuseumAt the Museum
At the Museum

Unassuming entrance, but houses wonders inside.
14,000 Year Old Hands14,000 Year Old Hands
14,000 Year Old Hands

These are replicas, not originals. But how cool is it that early humans would do this. Ask if saying, "I was here."
More HandsMore Hands
More Hands

Another replica. No photos even in the replica cave.
Replica BisonReplica Bison
Replica Bison

You have to imagine the entire ceiling covered in these bison, and having a full body. Should look it up online to really appreciate what I saw.
The Main StreetThe Main Street
The Main Street

Only 3 streets in Santillana. Here's what I think is the main one.
Down to the ChurchDown to the Church
Down to the Church

Maybe you know by now that this is a Romanesque church: round arches and heavy walls, with little light.
Better View of ChurchBetter View of Church
Better View of Church

For some reason a little dog started following me around about right now. Walked with me for like 20 minutes. Never sure what it wanted.
My Little Family HotelMy Little Family Hotel
My Little Family Hotel

Like being part of the family. I'm the American that doesn't speak Spanish - what a stereotype!
Tight Little StairsTight Little Stairs
Tight Little Stairs

If you fell down these you'd probably never quite be the same.
My Room in the AtticMy Room in the Attic
My Room in the Attic

Here's the landing. My room is just to the right.

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