Braña de La Falguera (Somiedo pt 3)
Not to be confused with La Felguera in Langreo, La Falguera is a beautiful summer braña and the Vaqueiros here used to participate in trajinería, short-range muleteering, meaning they belonged to a subgroup that Vaqueiros call ‘Parrondos’ (the relation to the surname and the casa is unclear to me).
According to José at El rincón de entomólogo, the Vaqueiros of La Falguera brought rye from León and sold it throughout xaldo towns in Somiedo and Tineo. He notes the winter brañas migrating to La Falguera as the Vaqueiro brañas in Belmonte de Miranda and those of the Coto Curiel area (Gijón).
Upon reaching the top of the path that connects Veigas and La Falguera, you can see the peaks of Punta del Michu and you can see the valley of Reguera Navachos and Braña Escobio. On maps it looks like turning a corner on a hill, but climbing, it feels like crossing to the other side of a mountain.
As I first crossed, there was a teitu on my left, though it was blocked by vines and an old fence, and I didn’t have the time to climb up and really see it.
Walking further, there was another teitu on my right, with great access, just up a small incline.
This teitu is more recent from the 90s and this one is listed as a protected structure.
I later find out it seems to be for sale, which does make me sad. It would be an understatement to say every other building in rural Asturias is for sale, and it is clear some of them have been for tens of years. It saddens me to think what will be done with Vaqueiro homes and lands when they are bought.
With that sad thought, I reach the beginnings of La Falguera. According to INE, it had a population of five people in 2019, though the census is taken in December and therefore would not count those who practice nomadism and are at the winter braña. Still, if that number does not represent the true population, it cannot be much higher than that, though from what I see in La Falguera, there are still Vaqueiros who plan to live here and devote their time to the braña.
The first thing that appears to properly be in La Falguera is the old fonte, set along the path.
The first house I reach in the braña is not much further in the braña. It is the layout of one of the most popular Vaqueiro architecture styles, the two-story double door house, which I don’t know if it has a name, but I have taken to calling it dúas alturas, two heights.
Its foundations are Vaqueiro, but it is a modern house and it looks like they plan to stay. It makes me happy to see the strong Vaqueiro elements played out in a modern way, for seeing Vaqueiro culture like this in our world today makes me think that our culture can be maintained and brought forward into the future; that Vaqueiros in the braña are no less Vaqueiro for using trucks in their nomadism instead of walking, just as Spaniards are no less Spanish for drinking Coke.
One of the things I notice upon reaching La Falguera is the sound of cowbells, and I walked around La Falguera and could not see cows anywhere, but I noticed it got louder when I got closer to the first house and the house behind it, also a two heights house.
And that was when I had the realization that just like in Vaqueiro tradition, the cows were living inside the houses and this made me tear up. Traditionally, especially of the two heights house, the cows live on the first floor of the house and the family lives above. I came expecting that I might find a few Vaqueiros who still practice transhumance, but I never expected that the Vaqueiros would still be living as our tradition has it, and it was overwhelming and gave hope.
I find it very moving that cattle traditionally live in the houses of Vaqueiros, like family, and I think it illustrates very well just how much cattle mean to Vaqueiros. I had no idea this was something that was still practiced today.
I wanted to see all the other teitus in La Falguera which I could see from far, but even only in the nucleus of La Falguera, the area was very steep and I had no idea how the Vaqueiros here walk it all the time and how the cows stand on it, though I suppose they are used to it.
There are however, teitus in the center of La Falguera, and mostly they seem to be used for storage, but the first one I come across appears to be used for a garden shed with a small garden in the back.
In La Falguera, I begin to really see the difference in Vaqueiro and xaldo agriculture, where Vaqueiros participate in subsistence farming, in small patches scattered about. Of the xaldo agriculture I see, there is large monocropped fields; a Vaqueiru taxi driver I meet later in Tineo tells me the xaldos here are growing avocados! The favored crop of the Vaqueiros at this time of year seems to be some variety of Brassica oleracea that looks most like Jersey/walking stick cabbage yet does not seem to be the same thing. I think it could perhaps be a variety of collards.
This pictures right below, among other similar ones, were ones that became important regarding a hypothesis on Vaqueiro land ownership and the casas. I brought these photos back to my research advisor, and he helped to come up with this hypothesis. I rarely if ever have seen Vaqueiros tear down the abandoned houses in the braña nor when their neighbors leave, rush to purchase or occupy the land that once belonged to their neighbor.
I come to think of the casas, the physical structures and the concept of casa, as part of the land itself and this becomes my hypothesis. This makes sense of course, but I would not jump to conclusions. On the maps of the Spanish cadaster, on IGN, and on SITPA, the brañas that have house markings are not marked on the structures themselves but instead on land area. Furthermore, even areas of land where physical houses no longer stand or are falling to ruins, it is still possible to find house markings.
Later driving through some Vaqueiro brañas and look at some satellite images and street-view of Vaqueiro brañas, I do see some Vaqueiros have grown flowers and bushes in the shells of the physical houses of their absent neighbors. But they do not acquisition the land to expand their estate for agriculture, as sedentary xaldos around the world would waste no time doing. I also note that María Cátedra Tomás mentions in This World, Other Worlds that Vaqueiros do not like to break up the casa or the land of the casa.
Up further, I find some more modernized houses. Satellite TV seems to be popular in the braña, where available. We also see this newly built fonte. I took many pictures of fontes in the braña which my research advisor found odd and funny. I suppose in Spain and this area of the world they are a fixture of most towns and villages, but these we do not have in the US or many other areas of the world. The fonte I see as a central part of the braña, it gives water, life, and is traditionally a common gathering place. So many folk tales and legends, Vaqueiro and xaldo Asturian, take place here, and here is where can be found creatures such as the xana and the encanta. I also find it worth noting still that there are still many Vaqueiro brañas that lack electricity and running water, usually not by choice.
This one I call braña phone.
These below are some of my favorite photos and I have shared much in the past couple years. As you see the sun begins to set here and I am still in the braña! Because of this I do end up doing some walking back to Pola de Somiedo in the dark (not recommended).
Next I finish off my trip in Somiedo in a shorter post. I hope not to leave you waiting for a year (sorry)!