There are many merits and joyful wonders to traveling abroad, from experiencing different cultures to seeing sights old and majestic and taking part in hedonistic rituals of gorging on international cuisines. For most, traveling is an opportunity for growth and cultural development. For others however, it is a chore and a non-worthwhile inconvenience. While I certainly do not fit into this latter category I am currently undergoing some of the mal effects of traveling in the form of jet lag. Having never succumbed to this most inconvenient and draining of maladies I remained blissfully ignorant to its guile. Unable to conquer this maddening effect of time zone illness I am sitting, currently at 4:30 am, in Tremp Spain, drinking a glass of wine and writing this what will soon be a long but hopefully entertaining and tiring (for me) blog post.
Tuesday, April 24
Jonathan and I began our travels to the newly founded Mecca of Spanish climbing on Monday, April 23rd at 10:30 am after Haley dropped me off at Jonathan’s house. After a short ride to the airport we were en route and very psyched. A surprisingly painless plane ride to New York led to a 3-hour layover and soon we were on a plane headed for what would be our home and playground for the next 3½ weeks. The flight went well, as the flight was not nearly full. Over eager and surprisingly accurate in foresight Jonathan quickly took controlling interest in an unoccupied row of four seats, in great hopes of sleeping prone for the entirety of the flight. I settled into my personal row of two seats to do a bit of reading, a smidge of drinking and a hair of movie watching. The movie was mediocre; the beer unhelpful in sleep inducement (as I am finding this wine to be) and the reading was nice and led to a solid two-hour nap. All said the flight was not unpleasant. I cannot say the same for Jonathan who had the misfortune of landing just behind a crying baby and got somewhere around 30 minutes of sleep. Well travel worn, we landed in Barcelona Spain at 9:40 am April 24th.
Despite our sleep deprivation and with stomachs ¼ full of laughable airline breakfast we headed into Barcelona in our small and zippy Manual VW Polo. One Problem. The car doesn’t reverse. Stuck in between a hairpin turn and a row of rental cars Jonathan and I discussed the prospect of putting the car in neutral and pushing it backwards in order to free ourselves from this automotive conundrum. Then, to our horror an approaching rental car driven by a Spanish rental car employee flanked us. Without a word and seemingly deaf to our rambling pleadings of ‘the car doesn’t reverse, its not out fault,’ The Spaniard jumped out of his car, marched straight to the driver side with terminator candor, reached over Jonathan, slammed the shifter down, and then over into the reverse gear, grinned, and was back in his car in the same silent and deft manner with which he fixed our broken car. Laughing at this incident, we decided to try our hand at navigating Barcelona with a bad map and low sense of direction.
Once out of the parking deck we headed into Barcelona, guessing the direction and choosing to follow signs, which read, ‘Barcelona Port Center.’ We had resolved, despite out lack of knowledge of the city or directions that we would go into town, get something to eat, exchange money and perhaps pick up some cigars. If we felt spry we were also going to do a shop; an idea that quickly went by the wayside as a wave of tired, hungry and worry that we may never get into the main part of Barcelona swept over us.
The city is dense and confusing, dotted with signs to disallow turns and other European road signs, which to us, seemed to all mean the same thing; ‘no.’ After about 40 minutes of guessing at where we were we found an underground parking area near where we assumed there would be many restaurants and other delights to walk around and see. It was about 11 am. Walking down the block towards an area where we had seen a lot of eateries we discussed the possibility of eating at a Restaurant that Claudiu had recommended. Taller de Tapas. Realizing that we had no way of finding it or knowing even about where it could be in the city we opted to walk into a hotel and ask for a good place to eat in the area. Of course we were sent on our merry way 10 blocks away to a grossly overpriced restaurant. Deciding to forgo a 50 dollar lunch meal we headed back to the parking area hopeful that we would find another location to satisfy our now ravenous nature. Taking a few wrong turns we ended up on the proper street, Carrer La Rambla and to our pleasant surprise were left standing awestruck before Taller de Tapas! Oh by what twist of fate would we be standing outside the one restaurant that was recommended to us! It did not disappoint either as the breakfast style tapas they were serving far made up for our lackluster plane fare and long restaurant discovery walk.
Full and excited about getting to Tremp we exchanged some money at a bank (never do this as they charge you a hefty fee), bought a couple of Cuban cigars each, that’s right America and your stupid embargo, Cuban!, and headed off to Tremp. The countryside was beautiful and I did my best not to doze off on the car ride. It was around 3:30 pm by now and Jonathan and I had minimal sleep in the past 25 hours. The deep greens of the grass, sea like in its windswept motions, helped to pass the time and keep my attention on the drive. A short 2-hour route complete with an Espresso (café) stop had us in Tremp. Once in the city, or small town rather, we eventually found our street Carrer de Mig and began discussing our next step. The issue now was that we were not sure if we had the landlady’s number and we certainly did not have phone service to call her. Guessing that she may be in one of the apartments in the building we were staying we rang the buzzer which gave off a loud and distinct ringing sound.
“Are you the Americans?”
Startled and curious we turned to see an affable man standing on his balcony. Looking down at us, he repeated, “Are you the Americans?” “Yes.” We replied. Sensing our confusion he informed us that Tremp is a small town and he knew that we were coming and is friends with Sylvia, the landlady. After he kindly offered to call her, he let us know that she would be by in an hour and invited us up for tea. Mike, this nice gentleman, as it turns out is British and along with his Finnish wife, Lotta, lives in a humble apartment across the way from us with their two young sons. Mike and his wife met in Vietnam, just to add some internationality to this international story.
Just before the tea was ready we heard a call from the street below. It was Sylvia’s husband, Jordi, with the keys to our new home for the interim. Hearing only Catalan out of his mouth we nodded in lost submission to his French influenced Spanish dialect and returned to Mike’s with the promise of tea and Sylvia’s sister in another hour. Tea time was quite nice as we watched some silly cat videos with the boys and gathered a little bit of background on Mike, his life in Tremp and the town generally. Tremp we learned is in a bit of a bad way as a Military academy employing a large number of individuals in town and affecting a larger number indirectly by bringing business down. So if you’re coming to climb in the area stay in Tremp! Full of tea and stories, Jonathan and I went to pay the apartment fees and go on a shop for the next few days. After becoming slightly lost and discovering more of Tremp we settled down in the apartment for some much-needed dinner, wine and a bit of Spanish television.
The need for slumber hit us both at around 11pm and after effectively being awake for 35 hours Jonathan and I passed out almost immediately. It was not until 1:45 pm that Jonathan and I dragged ourselves out of bed. A dreamless and exhausted 15 hours of sleep had seemingly recharged our batteries. In retrospect, as sunrise fast approaches and I lay still awake at the computer, sleeping this long was perhaps a misstep. Regardless, we were happy to have had the opportunity and decided to go climbing after a quick breakfast of eggs, bacon and veggies.
Wednesday, April 25
We packed our quaint VW Polo with the climbing necessities and sailed over the Spanish countryside to our destination, Tarredets. Upon arrival we started the short hike above a dam to the wall we had chosen for the day, Paret de les Bruixes. The wall is quite long holding some of Spains most classic tufas. Seeing this grand sweeping wall that looks like melting sand, had us tired but still very excited to climb.
The first climb we decided to try was a 7a+ called “L’Ansia”. This climb is guarded by an odd slopey start complete with slick limestone featuring. After about a 10 minute, most frustrating session, Jonathan was able to climb past his first bolt, nearly clippable from the ground, and make it into the actual climb. A low tufa section gave way to slabby balance climbing and pumpy finish. Jonthan finished the climbed after his ever so inauspicious start and I one hung this pumpy beast. We both almost threw up from our tiring ordeal the day before compounded by the disappointment at how hard the climb felt and the exertion we put forth.
The next climb, “Jam Session” 7b felt much easier and we both completed it first try. Our success was short lived however as we were both shut down on this climb’s neighbor, “Derribos Arias” 7b+. Climbing today was very hard indeed. A combination of travel, too much and too little sleep, dehydration, unique and unfamiliar climbing style, an inherent ability to rely on excuses, and a panache for getting too pumped to quickly all lent themselves to a fun and excellent day of poor rock climbing. With our laughably low expectations met we took a short tour of the cliff line and headed back into Tremp for dinner and a Spanish lesson.
The plan tomorrow, or today rather, is to head back to the same area and tackle some of the harder rock climbs. With an alarm set for 9:30, a mere 4 hours away we will see how tomorrow goes.
|Cliff of Tarradets|
Thursday, April 26
We woke up a bit later than planned this day but as far as the climbing goes the plan remained the same; head back to Terradets and the Les Bruixes wall. I was anxious to see if I felt any better and give tufa resistance climbing a shot. I was also looking forward to shaking off the feelings of being tired and have a proper climbing day. After getting packed up and set for the day, Jonathan and I climbed into the Polo to head to the veiny tufa fortress of Les Bruixes.
Once there, the climbing day kicked off to a much better start. The temperature felt pleasant, the sun was out, we made friends with a Greek couple and I almost didn’t feel like death on the hike up to the crag. Once we summated the short Spanish approach we found some dozing Frenchmen stealing what little shade they could from a sun blasted wall. The entire crag was giving the sun a free show. There was to be no respite from the blazing light until the sun set behind a tall cliff in about 6 hours. Psyched to climb we quickly began the necessary ritual of preparation for the day; Naproxen, stretching, getting the rope out, more stretching, tape harness and gear and up the first route.
Our warm up for the day was to be the 7b from the day before. It had felt easy and having done the route I didn’t mind taking on it for a warm up. Of course I was hopeful that I would feel great and a take would not be necessary. From the minute I pulled off the ground through the moment I messed up my beta, got pumped, took, finished the route and hit the ground, I felt terrible. Climbing was beginning to feel like suffering and a wave of terrified frustration washed over me. I was fearful that my time in Spain would be spent epic-ing on easier routes and I wasn’t going to want to climb anymore.
Jonathan did the route with ease and provided none of the much-needed negative commiseration that I was seeking. Regardless, the baking sun afforded me opportunity to waste time under the pretense of waiting for it to cool off. In the interim, I walked the cliff line some checking out some of the harder longer routes we hadn’t even touched. When I returned Jonathan was deep in conversation with the Greeks. The main topic was politics and our new friend, whose name escapes me, was all too eager to berate the Germans for not waiving the debt of Greece and haranguing the government for not finding an elegant solution to the debt crisis. While all very interesting to see worldviews on the socio-economics of the world and have political discussions, I was eager to steer the conversation back to climbing. After a bit more jawing and trading some coaching tips and secrets they went on their way and Jonathan and I decided to try one of the cooler looking lines on the wall, Red Bull 7c+.
It was my charge to hang the draws on this streaked rock climb. Feeling decent and anxious once again to feel good on a climb I began my arduous journey up, laden with what felt like Orion’s belt of draws. Trouble quickly ensued as once again my ineptitude of climbing on tufas reared its stunningly devious head. By the time I made it to the fourth bolt I started to fall. After around 5 tries I finally managed to hang the draw and clip in. The rest of the route went this way and worse. Every hold felt small and I felt a deep river of weakness throughout my entire body. It is a strange and helpless feeling to not be able to pull off of holds you know to be good and be unable to link more than four moves in a row.
When I finally made it back to the ground, thoroughly tired and bewildered, a stark sense of levity came to me. It was so ridiculous what was happening. I just spent 40 minutes, fighting tooth and nail to get up this 7c+. What exactly was going on I can’t be sure, but I certainly was entertained by how bad I was climbing and quickly gave into the morbid hilarity of the entire situation. I resigned myself to beta spraying Jonathan and work as hard as I could to help him to the top of the climb and make sure he didn’t die in the case that he for some reason let go of the wall.
Jonathan made a pretty good go of flashing the route, using a bit too much energy down low and not being able to recover enough for the high crux section. After a further beta inspection he waited for the sun to drop and tried the route one more time. Near success, but alas, we remained empty handed in our attempts to accomplish some harder rock climbs.
That night we decided to get dinner out and have a little internet session. We found a restaurant in town that looked decent (the menu was in Catalan and Spanish so really I was judging by quantity of items) and they had WeeFee, as the Spaniards pronounce it. After checking the requisite facebook and comparing our status “Likes” we had perhaps the most ridiculous and stoner inspired meal of our lives. With a good beer called Voll-Damm at hand we were quite blindsided by the fare that exited the kitchen. Our Tapas plates were one of fried feta cheese squares and on of Vienna sausage wrapped in bacon topped with French fries. Okay, I thought, this isn’t so bad, kind of funny and not undelicious. Our main plates were truly laughable though. A plate of pork cutlets and a cheap, thin cut of steak arrived to our table completely covered to a point of hedonistic excess with cheese sauce, and of course, topped with fries. Not exactly what we expected of a more traditional Spanish restaurant. Truly though, if I were very, very high, that would have been about the best meal of my life. After dinner we made some Skype calls, most importantly to Haley who I was hoping would reassure me that one day I would climb well again. She did an excellent job and with a full of weirdness stomach and a more positive outlook, Jonathan and I headed off to find ice cream and then went to bed, ready for a new area to rock climb the next day.
|The Perfect shoe for Les Bruixes|
|Needing a drink after some hard climbing days|
|Straight Steez. EL YEAH VLine!|
Friday, April 27
One of the main goals for the day was to wake up early around 9:30 and get a jumpstart on the day and by doing so tire ourselves out and be able to get to sleep earlier so as to get on a more familiarly normal sleep/wake schedule. We woke up at Noon, an occurrence, which as it happens turned out to work more in our favor, or determent perhaps, but more on that later.
The crag for the day was St. Llorenc de Montgai (the ‘c’ in Llorenc should have a little curvy flare beneath it but I do not know how to type those. It sounds like an ‘s’ as well). This area is home to two large caves and some steeper climbing without the overbearing compliment of tufas. We quickly found that this style was much more our own and though the rock was the polished limestone of our dreams we were able to unlock moves much more quickly.
Following our perilous hike on the wrong trail up to the cave we decided to warm up on a short 6 meter, 6c called “Lerbertad Condicional.” (Note: not hoping to sound cool and European or pretentious I am using meters and the French grading system in order to get more comfortable with it so that when discussing routes with locals I can communicate more easily. Don’t worry, I am not like a super awesome heady Spanish climbing bro dog who is too good to use the Yosemite scale. No, I still hate tools and douches. But I like to party). This route was not fun. Short, weird and amazingly polished we decided to climb its extension to better warm up. This 7c called “Libertad Perpetua” was very gymnastic and juggy. A style we are very much used to. Next on the to-do list was a climb called “Patiasso al Pallaso” 7c+.
After watching some Polish gents on the climb Jonathan decided on the beta and stepped up for a flash go. Awestruck by his hulking shirtless muscle and thick, never wavering beard, the Pols shouted words of encouragement as Jonathan neared the top of the climb. Two moves from the top side pull jug, Jonathan moved into a deep two finger pocket undercling and gunned for a decent side-pull pinchy thing. To his chagrin, a rope maintenance error led him to get his arm caught underneath the rope (a circumstance that has left Jonathan tattooed in the past). Able to move his right hand but not his left the last move proved to be impossible and he fell one hold from flashing 7c+, and completing one of his goals for the trip.
After this impressive effort it was my turn to try my hand at the route. With full beta spray from JB and a little flare of my own I headed up the route. I was surprised, mostly because of how I climbed the two days before, at how easy the route felt. Certainly a style indicative of the southeast, this climb was very familiar. I quickly found myself not pumped and at the last crux section. With my arm stealthily flipped over the rope I set up for the top moves and completed the climb. A 7c+ flash and I was feeling pretty good about rock climbing again.
The rest of the climbing day was rather uneventful. Jonathan tried Patiasso again and ran into the same rope conundrum. We tried an 8a+ with a broken hold, which proved to be impossible. We finished the day by working out the moves on a cool 8b called “Preventiva,” complete with two moves involving dynos off of shallow two finger pockets, a favorite pastime of all those with a history of pulley tendon problems.
The truly entertaining story of the day begins with a Spaniard named Ruben. Ruben walked up to the crag quite unassumingly with a couple of friends and began climbing. Being the outgoing and friendly even to the most herbie looking of herb fests, Jonathan quickly struck up a conversation. As we talked more, we learned that Ruben’s wife, Sarah is an American from Connecticut and they spend long periods of time in the area. Intrigued and always ready to talk about climbing I asked if Ruben if he had bouldered in the Northeast much. He told me that they didn’t know the area and the climbing was bad. As I disagreed and began naming areas and good climbs his eyes lit up. After I was done prattling on, Ruben quietly asked what we were doing later and then invited us over for dinner so that I could tell him more about the climbing in the Northeast. We…Were…Psyched. Tasty home cooked meal from some locals? What could be better?
We left the crag and followed Ruben to his house in Bauleger. Once we arrived we grabbed some wine and rode the lift up to the seventh floor. A heavy door led us to a pretty luxury looking apartment with some very comfortable leather couches and in the bathroom a bidet. That’s right, the magical toilet compliment where with one flick of the wrist warm water flows to clean your ass. Fancy I know. And if you are wondering, which I know you are, you old flirts, I did not use it. It was on the fritz. Next time to be sure. And I’ll tell you about it.
For dinner we had some delicious pasta with homemade sauce, veggies and chicken. We also dined on some Catalan style bread in which bread is simply toasted, rubbed with raw garlic and tomato. During dinner our conversation drifted once again to politics in Spain and America as well as the education system. It was nice to have someone to talk with who had the same outlook on education as I do. For dessert we drank more wine and spoke about climbing. Ruben, laughing at the idea that we had come to Spain with a goal in mind of climbing 8b+ in addition to sampling all of the Spanish wonders etched in stone, drew us the most contrived and useless map on the planet. He did have some good suggestions and wrote down a few climbs and areas we should check out. With time limited, I let Ruben know that I would give him a map of the Northeast and some beta via email or next time we saw each other. As time began to run short Jonathan and I were anxious to make the 40-minute drive back to Tremp to get a normal night’s sleep.
When we arrived at our apartment we decided to stay up a bit later and enjoy a nice cigar and a beer. In doing so we struck up a conversation with Mike, our British friend from across the way and then the night really got going. After about 30 minutes of chatting, Mike’s wife, Lotta popped her head out and asked why were still in our apartment and indicated that we should come over. Psyched on the idea of drinking a bit more and hearing some stories, we headed across at about 2 am. The next 4 hours were a blur. That’s right 4 hours. We had a few more beers while Mike regaled us with tales of his motorcycle trip from Vietnam to England with wife, Lotta. He spun tales of Taliban encounters and police escorts while traveling through Pakistan and Iran, all the while keeping Jonathan and I enwrapped and somehow away from the precipice of slumber. After finally realizing that it was 6 am we decided it was time to go to sleep and headed back to our apartment.
Spain to this point has been amazing and adventurous. We have met so many people from all over the world and climbed in world-class locations. We have eaten random weird stoner food and delicious Spanish delights. It’s hard to believe that we have only been here for 4 days. With so many days left who knows what is going to happen. More climbing, more adventure and more eating. Let’s get Weeeeirdddddddd!
|Our Kitchen. Small but effective. Wink Wink|
|Our Street. Longer. Less Effective|
|St Llorenc de Montgai|
|Whoa, steep (Actual quote)|