Sunday, September 27, 2009

la garrotxa and gorgas by k

the end of a lovely weekend is here. i just put potatoes with olive and rosemary in the oven, homework is done and things are calm. a nice end to a nice weekend.

we went to an area we have never explored in catalunya called la garrotxa. it is northwest of here. between the costa brava and the pyrennes. it is known mostly as a volcanic region with roughly 40 now-dormant volcanoes all around. it's also the foothills to the pyrenees...very green, some amazing granite, beautiful little towns. i found something like a bed and breakfast there and barak called and got us a room for three nights. vegetarian dinner optional...he signed us up for the first night.

we had a good drive...probably an hour and a half total. we were a little ahead of schedule so we decided to stop at decatlon, a french sporting goods chain (cheap!) to buy a bike pump and some tools to fix up a bike our neighbors gave to dorian. besides that stuff we found a mini tennis set with net, balls and cheap rackets to set up in our garage. we're not using it for a car, so we thought it would be good to have a place arel and dorian can move a bit. we'll probably also get a basketball hoop and ball once we find out if we're allowed to attach it to the wall.

barak hit is shopping threshold quickly and headed to the car, but arel, dorian and i checked out "mediamart," which turned out to be kind of like best buy. i wanted to buy one of those handheld blender things so we can have pureed soups this year. we got it and the kids tried out the massaging chairs, fake exercise machines...the ones that just make you jiggle, and arel oohed and ahed over the cell phones. we walked out with the blender and a bob marley cd for the car. it was a auspicious beginning for our trip.

from there we headed west and finally got to the town of st. joan de les fonts (st john of the spring) and called to get the final directions to "mas colom." mas is a farmhouse in catalan. we were greeted by the groovy young catalan women and shown to our room. they gave us the lay of the land and said that dinner was at 9:00. ah, yes, still in spain! it was about 5:30 by now and we decided to explore a nearby creek they told us about that has swimming holes. on our way through the forest on a very iffy path we all decided this was a jeanne darrah experience. jeanne is a good friend of ours who has the biggest capacity for get-up-and-go and exploration of anyone i know. it was a jeanne darrah experience both because we headed off right after arriving and because of the sort of iffy nature of the trail and destination. we found the first swimming hole and all jumped in. i lasted for maybe three seconds because that water was cold! oh yeah, and a swimming hole like that is called a gorga...i had never heard that word before. i guess i'd never been in a swimming hole in spain before!

with the success of the gorga and dinner still far off, we decided to venture on to find the second gorga. we had been told there were about 9 of them. not too much further on we came to an even nicer gorga because this one wasn't completely surrounded by trees and dark. again, some plunging and jumping...this one was deeper too.

having had enough excitement for the moment, we head back down to mas colom and went to the self serve refrigerator in the dining area. arel and dorian got ecologic soda and barak and i had ecologic beer. arel, dorian and i sat of the huge terrace overlooking the town and surrounding mountains and watched the moon rise. barak was up in the room working.

finally dinner time arrived and we headed down, curious what we would find. the first thing we found out was that we were surrounded by catalans! i realized that we usually rent an apartment and don't really find ourselves surrounded by catalans. but here we were. catalans are known for being brusque and private and unfriendly...a stereotype, but often true. i felt my pang of guilt for not speaking catalan, but also my annoyance at this other language that makes life more complicated here. but soon enough, between babies at our table, shared food and curiosity, we started talking. turns out one guy at our table is basque. he is married to a catalan woman. he misses his home terribly. they speak to their 10-month-old son, larun, in basque and catalan. poor little guy holding these two very limited languages for future generations! we're so lucky in a way that our native language is such a useful and widely spoken one.

breakfast: typical spanish/catalan. dorian and i had fantasized about farm fresh eggs for breakfast when we saw the chickens, but i knew that would probably not come to pass and it didn't. white bread, hard, dry and tasteless wheat bread, cheese, sausage and the requisite olive oil and tomato (for making pa amb tomaquet...bread smeared with tomato and liberally drizzled with olive oil and then salted). oh yeah, they also had butter and jam, which dorian scarfed. barak and arel went native and i enjoyed my cafe con leche and ate the wheat bread with jam.

on our last morning there, a new guy was sitting across from me and i wondered where he got the delicious looking whole grain bread on his plate. then i saw it was just a really thick slab of some sort of speckled sausage thing...gross!

after our first breakfast we headed off to the alta garrotxa (the high garrotxa) is search of more gorgas and a nice hike. it was unclear how far we could drive and so we parked and started walking. but cars kept passing, so barak ran back and got our car. then we drove up an incredibly narrow "road" up and up. now we were bold and kept driving past each parking area, but at some point we realized we had gone too far from the river and turned around. by this time the little parking areas were mostly full and barak drove back further in search of parking. we still couldn't find the gorgas...all we saw was bone dry river bed. arel and especially dorian were getting antsy. eventually we found some places to swim about a five minute walk where we had originally been when barak went back to get the car!

we sat on boulders and ate our picnic lunch, plunged into the cold water and explored a bit. the kids were fascinated by an older couple upstream from us. they were totally naked and as arel pointed out, had no tan lines...this was not their first time naked in the wilderness!

eventually started to head back. on the way down we stopped to look at an amazing stone bridge we had seen on our way up. it was from the 15th century. hopefully barak will put a picture of it up here...really amazing. turns out that was over some amazing swimming places too, so the kids decided we should go down to that part of the river and swim. it almost happened until arel and dorian saw a water snake and got freaked out.

we drove back to mas colom and dropped arel and dorian off there. barak and i headed out to the nearby town that sits on some cliffs...castellfollit de la roca. a similar feel to luxembourg, but on a much smaller scale. very charming. barak and i walked around and the sat at a cafe on the cliff's edge and drank beer and at patatas bravas...potato chunks with hot sauce.

arel and dorian wanted to explore our local 9 gorgas on the last full day in the garrotxa and after that we were going to go horseback riding in volcano territory. we followed out old route through the forest and found one gorga after another. arel and dorian wanted to go to the top one and then come down, jumping into each one. since we were really off the beaten path here, they both decided to go naked and then went down most of the way naked. really, one of the cutest sights imaginable. these two little lithe bodies, naked except crocs, navigating the terrain. barak and i jumped into one gorga, but then we dressed for the descent. (not as cute a sight if we do it!)

the kids dunked in 4 or 5 gorgas, but then they got cold and had enough dunking. we kept going down, getting lost a couple times but eventually making it back to mas colom in time to rush off to buy some food and meet our horse guy. turns out he's a dutchman, guillem, who has lived in the garrotxa for over 25 years. he was serious and a little stern for the arel and dorian's taste. we helped him saddle up the horses, norwegian fjord horses, which are smaller than other horses. one of the foals had followed her mother out of the pasture when guillem was taking out the horses for our trip, so that foal, felicitat, was coming along. she was only 3 months old and her mane stuck straight up like a mohawk...very cute. barak was in love! not ironically, dorian rode on the mother of foal, who trotted along with us for almost two hours.

the beginning of the trip was a bit stressful. the kids didn't feel comfortable, guillem got annoyed when they didn't follow directions, barak dropped his cell phone and had to dismount to pick it up, arel dropped his stick to hit the horse with twice in a row. i began wondering how we would survive this journey and in my mind knew this would very likely be my last horseback ride. i'm just not a horse person. they are beautiful animals, but i don't feel that pull that some people seem to feel. i'd rather be walking on the ground and pulling my own weight. fortunately, after a while we all relaxed into it and quite enjoyed our frequent trots. i had to crack up watching the kids bumping up and down on the horses, guillem trying to tell dorian how to do it. i knew, as a mother knows, that dorian was not enjoying his proximity to guillem. guillem had dorian's horse on on a rope the whole ride, which was good, but dorian didn't like it. i was relieved, though, that dorian couldn't complain to me about horse was bringing up the rear!

we got back to the pasture just as it started to rain, and i would say that overall it was a good experience. much better than most rides i've gone on in the past. guillem involved us in taking off the saddles and putting the horses back in the pasture, which i think was cool for the kids to see. as we approached the pasture, all the other horses started whinnying in was very sweet. and then we saw how many other foals there were. they wanted their mommies too, and one stuck out to start suckling at the horse i rode on.

that night we decided to eat out and went to a place recommended by the women at mas colom. it was close to full and completely reserved when we got there just after nine. fortunately, the guy there took pity on us and let us sit in a back room that serves as a wine cellar and tasting room. it was great! the food was good, the service good...i would definitely go back there.

we got back to mas colom at 11:30 and went to sleep. after breakfast the next day, we headed back for barcelona. barak returned the car while the rest of us set up our mini tennis court and fixed up dorian's new bike. a good weekend.

wednesday evening barak, dorian and i head to venice to meet barak's parents. arel goes on his school trip from wednesday to friday and will then stay with a friend until we come back on sunday.