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Spain's bouldering paradise

After Barcelona we headed off to Albarracin for what we thought was going to be a five or six day extravaganza on one Spain's few sandstone areas. We arrived late at night and had no idea where to go, so we followed the main road to some coordinates we found online. The first thing we saw were signs signifying that there was to be no camping despite the fact that we were told that car camping in the parking lot was a-ok. We weren't sure exactly what to do so we pulled into a small turnout off the road and set up camp, hoping that we would not be spotted from the road. The last thing we needed was to get harassed for wild camping during our last few weeks in the EU. We set the alarm for 7am, to assure that we would be out of there before any rangers came our way. Of course after we woke up the next morning to figure out where to go, we realized hat we had alternate GPS coordinates for the actual car camping area all along. We just didn't pay close enough attention to the guide. Those no camping signs that we saw everywhere were really for tents, as Spain is pretty chill when it comes to camping in your vehicle.

We arrived at the "camping" area for Albarracin at 8:30am the next day. It was shrouded in mist and a little rain came intermittently. Surprise, surprise...we were so used to this weather and hoped that it would clear up in a couple hours so we could at least hike around and check out the climbing. After a few hours of writing, reading, chilling, eating and playing some Scrabble, the weather looked a tiny bit better, so we headed out to see what this place was all about. We hiked around for two to three hours and got to see three of the surrounding areas.

Morning in the forest

When we had first pulled in to the back of the "lot", we parked next to a British van. We heard them making breakfast and chatting away, but we were so exhausted from our previous nights camping shenanigans that we didn't quite feel like socializing quite yet. While we were parked there chilling, eating, and Scrabbling they packed up and left. When we returned, they had as well and introduced ourselves. It turns out that Nick and Brit weren't Brits at all, but South Africans.

Nick and Brit

They even knew our friends Scott and Kaddi, Chris Kelk, and Micky Wiswedel. We became fast friends and they introduced us to two more couples, Shant and Claudia from Montreal and Norbert and Karin from Austria. They all became our new climbing buddies for the next ten days. As we have mentioned before, bouldering isn't just about the rock but it is about the people that you meet that truly make the experience something special.

The following day's weather proved to be a bit nicer. It wasn't perfect but there was no rain and you can always find some dry boulders if your willing to look hard enough. The eight of us plus 3 wee ones, Sierra, Micah and Jonathon, headed off to Arastradero, one of the largest sectors in Albarracin.

Shant, super dad with Micah and Sierra

Micah and his mutant arms

There was a roof there that several people wanted to try and we figured that roofs had the highest probability of being dry. There was even a little warm-up area behind the roof with some 5's for Corinne to climb. A couple hours later Shant and Steve decided to give El Varano a try; one of the classic 8a's of the area. Though Steve did not send El Varano that day, he conquered that problem several days later. This time we were climbing with a Polish couple, Pawel and Agata. Steve and Pawel had climbed and raged together in Rocklands in the summer of 2011.

On our third day in Albarracin, we were driving into town to grab a shower, we spotted none other than the illustrious Ivan Luengo. Ivan and Rosie were a couple that we climbed with in Rocklands earlier in the trip. Ivan was actually the one who helped Steve name his first ascent in the Big and Roof sector of the de Pakhyus bouldering area. It turns out that Ivan and Rosie actually moved to Albarracin in October, a short time after they returned to Madrid from South Africa. We had actually attempted to get in touch with them when we were in Madrid in September but to no avail. It was so crazy bumping into them on the streets of the small town of Albarracin! Unfortunately, we never were able to connect to boulder together while there. Though efforts were made, it just never seemed to work out. We would not be surprised if we see them again in the future. Probably in some other bouldering mecca of the world or maybe even upon our return to either Rocklands or Albarracin.

Future mommy enjoying the practice

Over the next eight days, we visited a host of other areas in Albarracin. The weather was a bit warm and a bit humid but it didn't rain and after our experience in Font, we were in need of dry weather. November was turning out to be a true month of climbing and we were psyched since our trip was coming to an earlier end than originally anticipated.

Karin climbing at the most picturesque boulder in Albarracin

Corinne on Seiscerrano (6b)

Some of our faves from Albarracin include the El Molina del Gato, a bar with a river running through it; the Panaderia, home of the amazing round bread, muffins and chocolate rolls (these were to die for), the Carneceria, the morcilla might actually be one of the most amazing "sausages" we have ever eaten and lastly, the amazing farmers market every Wednesday. You could get some of the best Clementines we have ever had; 5 kilos for 3 euros!

The town of Albarracin

The folks in Albarracin are serious - This is part of a entire trebuchet park!

The rock quality in Albarracin is similar to that of Red Rocks or Joe's Valley. The style is a wild blend of Bishop table top volcanic roofs and Font style top outs. It is a fantastic mesh of power and static climbing; dynamic throws coupled with slow delicate movements. While the grades are inconsistent and the Euros can't seem to travel more than 2 meters from a boulder before dropping trough, it is a wildly fun place to climb with beautiful scenery and a relaxed lifestyle.

Norbert crushing La Rampa

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfRI0ggIlgw&feature=youtu.be;rel=0] Myself and Nick cranking out El Varano, Techos Don Pepo (left), el Orejas de las Regletas and Zatoichi.

If you go to Spain for hard sport, take some time to visit the boulders too. Some of our favorite problems in Albarracin included el Varano, el Orejas de las Regletas, Seiscerrano, el Grimpa, Zatoichi, el Mito de la Caverna and Motivos Personales (sit).

Brit, Nick, Corinne, Norbert, Karin and Jonathan in the bear hat

-C&S

Barcelona

After our week in Buoux, with the final day ending in rain, we decided it was time to move south to Spain and get to the better weather. We broke the trip up into two days again, as the Goose can only handle so much driving at a time (yes, we are still having our over-heating coolant issue; we have learned how to deal with it by driving around 80kph and always carrying coolant and distilled water with us). I found a campsite, using the ACSI website (the off-season camping card for Europe), which has proved to be quite useful when we can't find wild camping or when we know that we are going to arrive late in the evening and will have no time searching for wild camping.  The campsite was in Narbonne, a town on the southern coast of France.  Had also done a little bit of research on the town and found that on Sundays, there was a terrific food market that was a must-see for foodies, according to TripAdvisor.

Our beautiful campsite in Narbonne

Overall, Narbonne was a must-see, as the town was not even close to being on par with the small towns and cities that we had encountered during our travels. The campsite was horrible as well. Since it was off-season everything looked pretty downtrodden. i am sure that in the summer this place is bumping but in November, it was all pretty bleak. We did get our own bathroom though...strange place...

The one upside of Narbonne was the market. We headed out early and parked at the end of the outdoor market, an outdoor flea market that flooded the Quai and walked through to our true destination, the indoor food market.  Somewhat similar to the Embarcadero market (for you Bay area residents), the market had a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, patisseries and small restaurants. In the front, there is a wonderful spicery with fresh spices from all over. We even got to taste the spices prior to buying them.

Later that morning we left Narbonne and headed for straight for Barcelona. The drive took about 5.5 hours. We had a rough estimate of the address, along with some pics and a phone number, but of course, in Steve and Corinne traveling fashion, our phone minutes had expired and we didn't make sure that we knew exactly where we were going. Antonio, our Airbnb host, had not left the exact address, figuring that we were going to call or email prior to arriving.  So, knowing that in France, McD's was our internet savior, we asked Alice to find us one. We found one approximately 2 km away, but alas, no internet. Luckily for us, I found a wifi connection at the bar/pub next door, asked for the password and skyped Antonio's cell. A female voice answered, which turned out to be his ex-wife Margarita. As it had turned out, Antonio had had a heart-attack a couple of days prior. She assured me that he was going to be fine but had to stay in the hospital while we were to stay at the house but that she and her sons were going to help out and accommodate us at the house. We never got to meet Antonio, which we were looking forward to, but Margarita, her twin sons, Rafael and Santiago, Rafa's Brazilian girlfriend Daiana, live-in friend and helper, Roger, along with Antonio's 101 year old father made our stay incredibly warm, comfortable and welcoming. We highly recommend this house to anyone planning on staying in Barcelona. The house is unique and only twenty minutes from La Rambla via the green line. The rooms are spacious and inviting and the company is unforgettable. We loved it!

For our first night in Barcelona, we wanted to go out for food and see some music. After doing some research, and talking to Rafa and Santiago, we decided to head into the center and grab some fresh pasta from Tucco and then make our way over to 23 Robadors for some live flamenco. Unfortunately, it being Sunday, Tucco was closed but luckily, there was another fresh pasta restaurant a couple blocks away. The meal was delicious and inexpensive. We then headed over to the Raval district for the flamenco show. The club was tiny and we had to stand in a hallway with a small view of the singer, guitar player, dancer and percussionist. We watched two sets of the show, though the show continued long after we decided to return home. No matter what night of the week, Barcelona is active all night. At this stage of the game, I can only handle so much nightlife. We returned to Gaspatxch via the metro and began planning our big day of sightseeing.

We arose to a delicious home cooked breakfast at 9am and began our perusal through the world of Gaudi. Though I had been to Barcelona six or seven years prior, I was excited for Steve to visit all of the wonderful sites and structures Gaudi created. Our first stop was Park Guell.

Next on the agenda was La Sagarda Familia. This was perhaps the most stunning piece of architecture we saw on our travels.

Some HDR photos of the amazing interior of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

We had a pretty aggressive plan and attempted to visit both Casa Batlló and La Pedrera but when we arrived and discovered that the cost was 15-20€ per person for each site, we changed our plans. We had already spent quite a bit in the city and been to many museums throughout our trip and we felt that spending money on food was more on the agenda than spending more money on museums. So, we continued to walk toward the center and find a nice lunch place. Of course we wanted to have some recommendations for where to eat, and luckily we walked directly passed the apple store and everyone knows that the apple store is a great place to mooch wifi. We got a great recommendation via yelp to a small restaurant in the outdoor vegetable and fruit immediately off of La Rambla. Unfortunately, after twenty minutes of waiting for some seats to free up, Steve and I hit our top frustration level and had to move on. Fortuitously, there was an amazing Crepe master around the corner to supply us with the necessary sustenance that we both so desperately needed. He included spinach, goat cheese, onion, tomato, and oregano wrapped in a beautifully made crepe that was absolutely delicious (Steve had the jamon as well, the delicacy of Spain that I have had to forego during my pregnancy :( ).

After lunch we continued to walk through the maze of central Barcelona, attempting to head into the gothic area. Exhausted from all the walking, we decided to stop in a square and grab a coffee before meeting my old colleague Laura Nuñez.  Laura and I taught at Lick-Wilmerding together, we started the same year and both left two years later after realizing that theschool just wasn't the right fit for either of us.

Laura has been living in Barcelona for the past four years, working at an international IB (International Baccalaureate) school. This is her fourth international school, as most of these international school jobs last for two years and then you move on. Her previous locations have been: Mexico city, Paris and Milan. She now speaks French and Spanish fluently and additionally has a good grasp of Italian. Teaching has taking her all over but not surprisingly, she misses the bay area; she is always considering working in SF again and bay area education would be lucky to have her.

Laura took us to more of the gothic sites and introduced us to her neighborhood, where we went out for a drink to catch up and then to her local favorite tapas restaurant for dinner that was absolutely delicious.

We awoke Tuesday morning to another wonderful breakfast thanks to Rafa and Daiana. We packed up our things and began our journey to Albarracin. Our trip to Barcelona was absolutely perfect thanks to our wonderful hosts and Laura. We were sad to leave but also excited to get back to the mountains and to do some bouldering.

Daiana, Rafael, Roger and Corinne

Bleau part Deux

Steve preps L'Etrave as Yannick, Stephanie, and Morgan chillax

Perfect rounded boulders clustered throughout a golden, orange and red Autumn forest. Enough established climbs to last several lifetimes with more to be discovered in the lush mossy forest. Quaint little French towns with boulangeries on every corner serving delicious pastries and breads. Free camping sites with climbers from around the globe meeting and exchanging beta and stories. In a nutshell a bouldering paradise. What can make such a wonderful place lose it's luster? In one word....rain. Endless, unrelenting, mud conjuring rain. Or hot days and 100% humidity following that rain....

Lost in Cul de Chien on a wet day

We expected some wetness upon our return to Font, but we also thought there might be colder temps and overall better conditions. We met quite the opposite when we arrived in early October. The 3 plus weeks we spent in France's premiere bouldering destination started off well enough. It would rain a bit, then clear and we would get in a day or half day of climbing. This quickly degraded into solid rain with a forecast for days of the same. We decided that sitting in the Goose day after day was getting on the dull side and pointed the van north to Amsterdam!

Fast forward five days and we arrived back in Font with renewed skin, high hopes and a slightly better forecast. The weather held for about a day, then rained, and when all hope was lost, it stopped! Only to be replaced by temps in the mid twenties, no wind and a dampness that hung in the air like a wet towel. Think east coast summers, just not quite as hot. I was climbing in shorts; just shorts. This in Font in October?! Give me a break.

Bleausard showing us how it is done

In a few days our friends Scott and Kaddi were planning on visiting. We told them of the endless rain and terrible summer like conditions. They were coming either way as Kaddi's brother's friends were having a 30th bday blowout in Bleau and climbing was second, if not third to drinking and partying.

The fiery end of the German's birthday party

On an overcast day after another day of rain and season 4 of True Blood and reading in the van we set out in the humidity to the infamous Bas Cuvier. I had not been there yet even after a cumulative month spent in Bleau and Corinne had visited it once on a single day trip to Font with our friend Mike Silva back in '07. Upon our arrival we ran into our friend Clement whom we had met in Rocklands. A part time videographer and creator of Sandstones Media. He was also planning on meeting Scott and Kaddi when they arrived. He showed us a few classic in Bas Cuvier, then set off to pick up his girlfriend Julie. We spent most of the day in just one sector where I managed to crank out the first 7a, 7b and 7c in the forest. Not a bad day considering the friction reminded me of a slice of pizza. Corinne also busted out a few sends despite her growing belly. She managed to finesse her way up a Font 6a which would be 6b+ anywhere else on the planet. Not too shabby for 40 and pregnant in the day's pizza like conditions. We relearned the valuable lesson that the results of no expectations, unadulterated psyched and the only goal being to have fun, is that you actually end up sending a lot of boulder problems despite conditions.

Clement centimeters shy

The beautiful Contrôle Technique 7c+ Bas Cuvier

I left the shoe on for 3 hours

A few days before team Germany was scheduled to arrive our Swiss/French friends from Geneva Morgan, Stephanie and Yannick showed up to join us for a few days of sloppy sloper groping. We spent a few days in the humid rainforest conditions climbing classics and discovering 'new to us' lines. In the evenings we would all retreat to their small gite and prepared yummy warm meals.

Yannick topping out the classic La Marie Rose 6a Bas Cuvier

Morgan dyno'ing on a slab..go figure ;)

After a few days we had to go back in Paris for another ultrasound (stay tuned!) and checkup for Corinne. Upon our return the weather had finally shifted to cold October conditions and we spent our final days with Scott and Kaddi experiencing a small taste of Font friction.

Smooching the stone on Mégalithe 7c/7c+ at Rocher Gréau

As we prepared to leave, the rain clouds returned and with it our desire to move south in hopes of warmer, drier weather were solidified. While conditions could have been better, they in no way altered the fact that Fontainebleau is the best bouldering the world has to offer and we are sure to return time and again in the future; even if it might rain the entire time.

-S

PS - A shout out must go to Corinne for once again shooting some great shots that I plaster my name all over. Thanks baby!

Post from the Past : Reunited with the Goose

The following is a post lost in the annals of the blogosphere...enjoy: After our lengthy and eventful busride (a guy in in the back got busted for smuggling hash!), we arrived in Plüderhausen tired but glad to be close to home. We had told Kaddi's folks that we would be there close to 8:30pm, as our bus was originally supposed to arrive in Stuttgart at 7:30pm and we figured about an hour for our travels to Plüderhausen. BUT we didn't get in until close to 11pm and despite our incredibly tardy arrival time, as we literally threw the crashpads off the train, Erik, Kaddi's father walked toward us with a big smile and a warm welcome. Once we reached their home, Cristal, Kaddi's mom welcomed us into their home with hot mushroom soup and fresh baked bread. This welcome was indicative of our entire visit; every meal was amazing, fresh from the garden and homemade. Cristal used the Thermomix for practically every meal; this amazing invention chops, dices, blends, purees and even cooks. Unfortunately, they do not offer the Thermomix in the states. It is unfortunate as I truly think that it makes cooking easier. I may be able to get one in Canada, thus bypassing the 220 to 110 volt issue. We ended up staying with Cristal and Erik for two nights and then made our way to Geneva to go see our new friends, Stephanie and Morgan, whom we met in SA.

Though our stay in Plüderhausen was relaxing and needed, we were so excited to jump back into the Iron Goose and continue traveling the way that we originally intended. We couldn't wait to get back to our home on the road, where we are able to camp in the wild and go wherever we choose.

Reunited!

We wanted to take our time during our drive, so we decided to stop in Constance, next to Lake Constance, as recommended by Erik and Jochum, a close friend of Christy, that we also met in SA. The drive was beautiful. We arrived in Constance and a guy on a scooter gave us a thumbs up; though this was not the first thumbs up that we had received but this one turned to be a bit more significant. After parking and taking a walk toward the lake, a man came up to us and began admiring the Goose. It turned out to be the same guy that we saw earlier on the scooter. He was so excited and asked us if we needed a shower or wanted to go get a beer. He gave us his card and told us all about his Syncro group, made up of nineteen Syncros in the town of Constance. They were having a BBQ that weekend and would love for us to come and join them. We really wanted to stay but knew that we were expected in Geneva later that day. It was Friday and since Steph and Morgan work during the week, we wanted to be able to spend the weekend climbing with them, so we had to decline the invitation. We wished we had created more flexibility for ourselves so that we could begin taking advantage of these random encounters, as you never know who you are going to meet on the road when traveling in a Westy. The VW Westy community is a good one and we all tend to join together no matter where in the world we encounter one another.

Madrid Climbing

Here you are in the biggest city in Spain and in less than an hours drive, you can be climbing on some granite boulders or limestone routes. Spain has some of the best climbing in the world but even if you don't hit the best areas (Albarracin, Rodellar, Marguelif, etc), you can still find decent spots with terrific problems.

Erin toured us around some of her favorite spots near Madrid. Though she hadn't been climbing much of late, as soccer was more of the current priority, she took us to the spots that she enjoyed close to home. Our first stop was Zarzalejo, a granite bouldering area north of Madrid. We first picked up Juan, one of her bouldering buddies from the local gym. He toured us around the area. The rock was sharp but many of the holds were conglomerate pieces that were "cemented" into the rock. We started at an easier area where we could all climb and then moved on to a more difficult area where Steve and Juan could really get down to business. After a few hours some of Juan's other climbing friends joined us. We continued to climb for a couple more hours and then headed to El Escorial de San Lorenzo for dinner.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6dPY14RG5U&feature=youtu.be;rel=0]

Five days later, we headed to Patones, yet another European limestone rock band, also north of Madrid. The rock was smooth but not completely featureless, as we were able to read the line prior to making movement. We arrived later than originally planned, but we still were able to do four or five routes. This was my first time using my full body harness, thanks to Stephanie. Not the most comfortable harness but no pressure on the belly, which is exactly what I need right now.

The next day, we headed back to El Escorial de San Lorenzo, which actually also had some Granite bouldering. Both Steve and Erin enjoyed the bouldering here. Unfortunately, much of the bouldering was just a little too hard for me at this point.

Time to spray

Epic sunrise at the camp

Rocklands has exploded over the past six years. It went from a relatively unknown far away climbing destination, to a seasonal epicenter for the world's hardest crushers to come and lay down the bouldering law. The average visitor climbs hard 7s or 8s and for the three months of the high season, climbing becomes the main topic of discussion and the primary activity of every visitor in the small farm town of Clanwilliam. Obviously this can become obnoxious as not all the climbers eat, breath and sleep the sport. Some of us try to pull down hard but would rather have fun climbing, visit with friends, and braii our brains out. However sometimes, one can't help getting caught up in the hullabaloo of hard climbing. :)

Since we were going to have close to seven weeks here, we decided that it would be best to start out very slow. We began climbing half days. That way we would save our skin and be able to enjoy getting outside and climbing most days. We both knew that rest days were key and that there was no reason to trash ourselves no matter how excited we were.

De Pakhuys campground in the evening

Resting and taking it slow worked out very well for both of us. We both came with some projects in mind. Things from the previous seasons that we had tried and wanted to complete; as well as lines we had not tried, but had inspired us before and wanted to give a shot.

Corinne and Charlie, the resident crag dog at De Pakhuys, on a rest day

We arrived mid season and it was colder than it was last year, which is both a blessing and a curse. This year our down coat and hats became a permanent part of our attire. The actual climbing was far better this year but we missed being able to chill out in the hot sun during the afternoon at the campsite. As the season progressed the temps slowly warmed up during the day and within the last weeks we managed to get a pretty nice tan. ;)

Life in Rocklands is rough

The biggest downer this season has been Steve's ability to pick up every virus that passed our way. He was sick half the time that we have been here. Something is seriously wrong with his immune system in this country. Before we got to South Africa, he hadn't been sick once, but here he was sick all of the time, which put a damper on the trip. Eventually he kicked the what we coined the Rocklands Plague and managed to get back into climbing the final weeks.

As has been the theme of our journey so far, the weather went from damp and rainy to warm over the season. When Steve wasn't sick, chances were it was raining, so the amount of climbing was less than expected in our seven weeks. That said we managed to send many of our projects, climb lines we never intended to do and Steve managed to add a number of first ascents to a few sectors around the northern Cederberg.

Corinne on Bullet Proof at Plateau

Steve knocking out Shosholoza before a hold broke this season...

Corinne sending here long term project Girl on our mind at Plateau, Photo Courtesy of Morgan Boiss

When we first arrived we met up with our good friend and Rocklands legend Scott Noy; the very man who convinced us to come back to ZA for the season during our visit in Freiburg.

Scott crushing Witness the Sickness at the de Pakhuys

Then a few weeks into our visit some of our friends from San Francisco came to Rocklands for the first time. Will Wolcott, Colin Trenter and Jen Szeto arrived in late July and joined our small troop. The psych was high and much sending ensued.

Will Up Top at Roadside

Jen and the 5 crash pad stack. Ready to send.

She used em all on Creaking Heights at Roadside.

Colin in crush mode on The Rhino

Will on Pinotage at the Sassies

After hard days of pulling on the bullet hard orange and gold sandstone we would gather back at the campsite and visit the De Pakhuys bar. Built early last season, the bar has proven itself both a blessing and a curse. It brings together the climbing community during the cold evenings for story and beta swapping. It can also turn your future climbing day into an unintentional rest day...or two.

Bar night - Scott, Val and Thys

Other evening we gather around the campfire and braii and chat; hopefully about anything but climbing. Though some nights we can avoid it and may go out for a night session with headlamps.

Our campsite in the evening

Night session on Koevoet (crowbar)

Another season in Rocklands has come to an end. The destination has gotten a lot of bad press this year because of potentially inflated grades, access complications and over crowding. While these issues hold validity and certainly need attention and discussion, I think some visitors overlook the other aspects that make this place a magical little corner of the world. It remains a special place to hike, explore, meet new friends, visit old ones and take some time to live life at a different pace. I want to give a big thanks to all the wonderful people of Clanwilliam and the hard working folks behind De Pakhuys, Alpha Excelsior, and Traveller's Rest. Without them life in the northern Cederberg would not be the same.

Cheers -Steve

A little more video spraying:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ5gFSQ8wys&rel=0]

First ascent of The Power and the Glory at Big and Roof

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShULNKKm9zA&rel=0]

First ascent of Crankenstein at 8 Day Rain

Singing, Dancing and Climbing

Near the end of our trip, Thys set up a day of climbing with some of the local kids who attend Elizabethfontaine Primary. The idea was that a group of climbers would go out with the kids, spot them and get them psyched on climbing. There was even a TV crew coming to film some of the kids with the climbers.

Our international group of climbers included Sandra and Yves from Switzerland, Kaddi from Germany, Jen Szeto and myself from the US and Marinus and Rebecca from South Africa. The kids natively spoke Afrikaans but also had a very good grasp of English, so communicating was not a problem.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0TV1FDidCU&rel=0]

Future crusher

Most of the kids hadn't climbed before but there were a couple who had been out a few times before and were quite good. But the kids were not just interested in climbing, they wanted to listen to music, sing and dance as well.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2mi1y4Bag4&rel=0]

Singing...

[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA1i1g5XhIc&rel=0]

...and dancing

We hung out with them for three hours and everyone had a blast. I hope to see some of still climbing the next time I visit South Africa.

-C

The whole gang. Can you find me?

Holy Backblogged Batman!

We departed from South Africa yesterday afternoon and are on our way to Madrid. In six weeks of climbing, exploring, meeting new friends and visiting with old ones we managed only two updates. Obviously a bit more happened during our holiday away from our Euro holiday. We attempted to defend a championship, sent projects, put up new boulder problems, had visitors from SF, forgot what it was like to eat green vegetables, and have some very big news. Stay tuned as we sort out text and photos.

The Heart of Italy

It is rare in life that you meet individuals that in only a few days can have such a wonderful and positive effect on your life. After our time in Croatia we set Alice (our GPS) to the small town of Zandobbio in the Bergamo Province of Italy and pointed the Goose west. Our destination was the home of Stefano Codazzi and his girlfriend Laura Gugolati.

The notorious Tommy G had put us in contact with Stefano after having met him on the sunny shores of Railay Thailand some years ago. We did not know what to expect and thought we would spend no more than two days in their company before we set out again on our way north.

Upon our arrival Stefano greeted us with a big grin and open arms. We realized we had briefly met him a few years ago when he and his friend Paolo had visited Thomas in San Francisco. Stefano ushered us into his home and we met Laura for the first time. We spent a quiet evening chatting and planned to climb the next day. In the morning we had the pleasure of meeting Giulia, their adorable nine month old daughter.  A bubbly, inquisitive ball of joy, Giulia accepted us with no hesitation.

After breakfast we set out for Valgua; a crag that Stefano has assisted in developing over the past twenty years. He continues to develop new crags in the area, always making sure that there are lines for people of all levels. His newest crag even contains a board where climbers can give their input about the new routes, grades, stars, info, etc.  We picked up Paolo (no, a different one) on our way. We spent the day climbing wonderful moderate routes on the tricky limestone.

Thumbs up to a day of crushing limestone!

After dropping off Paolo and meeting his beautiful twins we went to Stefano's home and enjoyed the first of Laura's many delicious home cooked meals.

Sunday morning, we were invited to join the family for an excursion into the historic city of Bergamo. We spent the day winding our way through the cobblestone streets and vast array of stunning Catholic churches.

The wall surrounding the upper city.

Lunch break - Delizioso!

That evening we enjoyed another fantastic Milanese meal, made by none other than Laura the master chef. Laughter and conversation continued until late despite the fact that Stefano needed to wake up at 6am for work. He works as the production manager for Climbing Technology, creators of the Click Up and Alpine Up. Unfortunately, Stefano woke up late...something he has never done. Sorry for keeping you up so late!

Our next day consisted mainly of admin tasks. Changing the oil, organizing and cleaning the van, which included a trip to one of the many autolavaggio in Italy; they are everywhere, and trying to get flights to South Africa with our United miles (what?! South Africa? More later....). We spent the latter half of the day with Laura and Giulia; eating, playing, napping and practicing English. Stefano returned home later that evening and we all enjoyed another night of chef Laura's amazing cooking.

For our last day in Zandobbio, we went to Milan to meet with the consulate general for South Africa; there was this little fine that Steve had to pay for overstaying his visa last summer (a whole 14 hours!).  We had a a bit of a late late start due to never ending rain, but headed to Milan and paid the fine. We then decided to spend a couple of hours actually enjoying Milan and seeing what the city has to offer. After doing a little research, we decided to go and view The Last Supper, as it is housed in the abbey of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the ZA consulate was quite close to the church. We found parking right next to the church but unfortunately, to view one of the most important and famous paintings in the world you need to book tickets three months in advance.  Lucky for us, there was an exhibit of Da Vinci's sketches that was available for viewing in another area of the church.

We viewed twenty sketches and notes in the Great Masters crazy backwards writing. The twenty sketches consisted of diagrams and notes on water irrigation systems but also included one or two sketches on flight and geometry, much to Steve and my delight. The water stuff was cool, but flight and Geometry was way cooler.

Next we decided to head over to the Duomo, Milan's most impressive Cathedral. We walked through the crowded streets of Milan and suddenly arrived at a large open square packed with tourists, in addition to masses of Senegalese men hocking their wares. As we walked up, one looks at us and says "my african friends, come, let me talk to you." Knowing that he was going to either try to sell us something or attempt to have us give him money, I attempted to veer off, but he walked quickly and grinning from ear to ear, he spoke again "look at how dark you are, you must be African". He held his arm next to my white but slightly tanned arm. We laughed and decided that it wouldn't hurt us to talk with him for a few moments. We told him that though we weren't African, we had indeed been to Africa and that we were going back again next month. He put bracelets on our wrists (string friendship bracelets) and we, in turn, gave him a couple of euros. He was so sweet that we just didn't mind being swindled at the time...

The Duomo of Milan is an amazing sight. Stretching up high above the piazza del Duomo, it's the third largest church in Christendom. A staggering 3,500 statues and 135 spires adorn the marble structure, which has a Baroque and neo-Gothic façade, as well as five bronze doors carved by different artists. It's no wonder that it took 500 years to complete and building work continues today.

Stefano says that it is very common to say that you are like the Duomo, if you take far too long to get ready...I guess 500 years is quite a bit of time...

That evening we went back to Zandobbio to spend another lovely evening with our newfound Italian "family"; we enjoyed laughter, great food and conversation for yet another glorious night.  Stefano and Laura are two of the most caring and generous people we have met on our travels and we will cherish the time we spent with them in the small valley town of Zandobbio.

Ciao S&C