spring in spain: finding an unexpected casita

*** Hello from South Africa! We’ve been lagging on this post, mostly because internet access has been so difficult in Rocklands that I haven’t been able to go through the photos. I’m in Cape Town for the next week or two, recovering from minor surgery (I had a cyst removed, and thankfully all is fine). While I’m sidelined from climbing and have internet access, I thought I’d take a stab at summarizing our February through May in Cataluña, Spain. xo Angie ***

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This year, we decided to keep on our nomadic journey but give it even more of a climbing focus. Cataluña, Spain and Rocklands, South Africa had been among our favorite climbing destinations, and we decided to flip between the two: sport climbing in Spain in the spring; bouldering in Rocklands for the winter (Northern Hemisphere summer); then a return to Spain for the autumn where we’d (hopefully) tackle some bigger projects with more power from all that bouldering.

As we had spent a lot of time in Siruana last year in Spain, we aimed to check out spots in northern Cataluña, which is dotted with famous limestone crags… and full of climbers from all over.

We rented an apartment in a tiny town called Figuerola de Meia, located off the pass which runs between Camarasa and Terradets. But before we found it, we posted up in the barn of the friendly mayor of Sant Llorenc de Montgai (he also runs the town’s sole bar/cafe/meeting spot).

Our barn dwelling brings us horses as neighbors

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Evening light catches the cacti

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The happening plaza mayor of Figuerola de Meia, population: 6. Our rented apartment was in the building at the edge of the photo on the left.

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Rainbow in the fields below our town

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We were lucky to host a bunch of friends at our place. Dinner parties were had and Scrabble games were won and lost.

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We came to Spain not just to climb but also with the mission of buying a little house or plot of land to use as a base for future time in Europe.

The experience gave us a set of new vocab words, a better understanding of Spain’s confounding land laws, and a closer look at Catalan culture… not to mention an excuse to traipse around some beautiful pieces of land and explore tiny hidden towns and villages.

Enchanted by the stunning views over Baronia

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Old farming tools decorate the streets

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Land-looking

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Ruin-hopping
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Views from the hermita at Sant Llorenc de Montgai

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Fallen butterfly

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Plazas and their fountains

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Laundry day

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Like elsewhere in the world, most young people are heading to the cities for work, which leaves these little farming towns feeling like abuela-ville. I found this brochure advertising an elderly ‘playground’ rather amusing.

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Nighttime sets in on Sant Llorenc de Montgai

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While dreamy in theory, the actual down-and-dirty investigation of buying property in Spain was not always fun. Everything seemed possible at first, until we began to realize the difficulty of Spain’s archaic land laws. It turned out that all the beautiful old ruins in our price range were zoned non-residential and most of the houses people had built on them were technically illegal. We then turned our attention to finding something in a town, but just couldn’t get excited within our price range.

In the end, we put in an offer on a loft apartment sitting on a castle perch on a hilltop in the town where we were staying.  Unfortunately (or actually fortunately), engineering friends of ours, Mike and Gerd, helped uncover that the apartment was mounted on top of a structurally unsound building held up by temporary scaffolding! We felt silly to make such a rookie error, realizing that in many ways Spain is a lot closer to Africa than Europe. With the help of our friend Miki who stepped in when our Spanish skills couldn’t keep up, and Steve’s shouting and vigorous attempts to break the floor we were standing on, we just managed to escape with our deposit. The experience is one I don’t think either of us will soon forget.

We took the next few days to recover from the drama and think about what to do next. We looked at some more houses and apartments, but suddenly the whole idea seemed flawed.

The idea of having a vacation home in a tiny town tucked away from it all sounds charming, and we had arrived determined to make it work. But we were also finding that living tucked away was a tad lonely and inconvenient. Spanish climbers all seem to have vans, and they roll around in little packs depending on whim and weather. Instead of being able to join them, we were getting into our car at the end of a long day of climbing and driving over an hour to get back to our place.

Sheep crossing on the way home from climbing

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Amazingly, mail and packages were hand-delivered to our doorstep, despite being so far off the main road

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Miki had recently bought an autocaravana (RV or as South Africans say, campervan). He kept recommending that we consider one rather than being locked into a specific piece of land. Originally we had dismissed his idea as a cop-out, but after months of land-hunting-misadventures, it suddenly looked appealing: if we owned an autocaravana, we could park it right at the crag. We didn’t have to commit to any one part of Spain. And one day, it could take us all over Europe…

Miki at home in his autocaravana

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In a quick change of tack, we dropped the land idea and within 24 hours had purchased this little gem, a 1987 diesel Fiat Ducatu autocaravana. In hindsight, the land idea felt very silly. This was so much more our style, so much simpler, so much less committing.

Et viola! There she is in all her glory. We still haven’t named her. Any ideas?

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On her first test-camp, in the parking lot of the Terradets refujio, we concluded we’d made the right call. And we haven’t looked back since.

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Unfortunately, all this land-looking left us a little short of energy for climbing photo-shoots. We did do quite a bit of climbing.

My personal favorite new crag was the Bruixes wall at Terradets. Gorgeous, slightly overhung limestone with fantastic views. This wall catches lots of sun, which makes it perfect for cold winter days. It’s also home to my first-ever 7b, Jam Session. I hope to tick more routes in this area when we return this fall.

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Andrew’s laundry-with-a-view, looking at from Los Bruixes

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Steve was especially into Santa Linya, a huge cave on the edge of a farming town. Steep and boulder-y (aka completely not my style and totally his)!

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And Oliana is an amazing crag with such long, beautiful, hard routes. The view isn’t too bad, either.

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We were hit with a lot of rain towards the end of our stay. On a whim, we headed down to Madrid to see our friends Juanma and Helena, who graciously took us in on short notice.

Steve mans the wheel on her maiden road trip voyage to Madrid. (I admit I have yet to drive it!)

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Jualena entertain themselves on their first ride in our campervan (yes, I refuse to refer to it as an RV)

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We headed off to Cuenca, a few hours from Madrid, for a week of blissful campervaning and climbing. Living with your house trailing behind you turns out to be pretty amazing. #wordsineverthoughtidsay

Breakfast, Spanish style, at one of the campervan sites in Cuenca. Lots of toastadas y cafe consumed.

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This is what road-tripping looks like in Spain: heading through ancient archways as we rumble through Cuenca in our ride

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Steve climbing in Cuenca

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An evening stroll through the charming town of Cuenca

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Love locks on the Cuenca bridge

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Juanma and Helena connected us with their friend Jose, who does van reforms. He’s been busy overhauling the interior of our vintage ride this summer to bring her a little more into the modern era.

Jose has a think about how to fix the window

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Though all those hours spent looking for property felt like a massive waste of time, in the end the experience turned out to be helpful. We gained some clarity on what we wanted and why. (Side note: looking for property is an excellent free Spanish lesson, ha!)

We head back to Spain at the end of September, and I’m psyched to get back on a rope and start projecting. And to hit the road in style!

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2 Responses to spring in spain: finding an unexpected casita

  1. Donna Hammond says:

    Dear Angie, I just loved your pictures and am happy to hear you are fine after surgery.Uncle Mike spent Saturday boating with your dad and brother. We hope toget together again soon with your mom and dad so we can catch up more onall your adventures. All my love, Aunt Donna

    Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2013 14:21:18 +0000 To: dhammond13@hotmail.com

  2. Pam & Mark Early says:

    Hi Angie,

    Thanks for posting the photos and comments. Just LOVE the gorgeous views. Just love your campervan. Beats staying in a tent.

    So glad your surgery went well. Rest when you can and take care of yourself.

    Tell Steve we said hi. Glad his shoulder is healing.

    Love, Hugs, & Kisses, Aunt Pam

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