Thursday, 23 October 2014

Catalunya 2014


We spotted this event when it was published back in October last year, we'd been to the Costa Brava in the previous October of 2012 and the weather was just perfect for caching, warm, sunny and dry so we decided it would be a great idea to combine a trip to the mega event with a holiday to the area again - let the planning begin!

Over the months our plans fell into place then before we knew it we were on our flight to Barcelona.  Last time we visited we did a short section of the CSJ series on foot, a lot of the caches are on really good tracks and suitable for bikes so we decided that if we ever came back go the area we'd hire bikes.  Since our last trip to Spain we have bought folding bikes so we decided to take them with us.  This proved a really great idea as it was so handy having them with us and we could keep them in the hire car.  It was so much easier to get around on them than driving as parking was really tricky in Platja d'Aro and was obviously much quicker than walking.

We arrived at the Mega event before it opened and mingled and chatted with lots of cachers outside the venue as we all waited to go in.  Once inside there were a selection of stalls where we made a few purchases, then we got chatting to lots of cachers and it was really good to meet and chat with Nate from Geocaching HQ (Jeremy Irish's brother).

We managed FTF on two of the lab caches and eventually found all 10 of them over the course of the weekend.  There was only a very short timespan in which to log these caches which is a really good idea.
Yes, we had to go in here for one of the answers to a Lab cache!

After leaving the mega venue we whizzed back to our apartment for some lunch and to chill out before going off to play the three Wherigos, The Box, Places a PdA and The Challenge, they had been placed specially for the mega.  Once again our bikes proved invaluable whizzing between the different zones.

Mega CITO '14 *

There were 2 CITOs organised for the mega weekend and the first one was in a great location on a wooded hill.  There was a great viewpoint at the top of the hill, we made a detour for a couple of caches and then back to the start after an hour.  We were amazed at the big pile of rubbish and black bags that had been collected.  It was certainly a job well done.

Mega CITO '14 **

We arrived at GZ at the same time as Amaya Tom and Turner Tribe (aka La Lunatica) so we teamed up with them to pick up litter.  We really enjoyed chatting and picking up litter as we went.  There didn't seem to be as much litter as the previous CITO but after an hour we returned to the start co-ords with a full bag and there was an enormous pile of rubbish!  I really love a good CITO, there's something really therapeutic about picking up litter.

Meet and Greet Event

We skipped our breakfast to attend this event then when we arrived at 8am there were only a handful of cachers which we thought was unusual, so we waited around for half an hour and eventually one of the organisers turned up and told us that the time had been changed to 9am as some cachers had complained that they would miss their breakfast!!! Lightweights We hadn't seen the notification for this.  Luckily the event was at the same location as an earthcache and as it was Earthcache day we were able to claim one for the souvenir.

Mega Flash Mob

This was brilliant fun and not something that we've seen before.  We all had to wear green T shirts and bring along a handkerchief.  The idea being that everyone was to take part in a stop motion movie.  It took a bit of time to sort everyone out into positions but it was really well organised and we chatted to other cachers from whilst we waited for the photos to be taken.

You can see the end result here.

On Monday we checked  out of our accommodation and set off towards Manresa, stopping off to find a few Wherigos along the way.
It was good to revisit Girona as last time we were in Spain we only had a short time there as we were heading to the airport.  We played 3 Wherigos in Girona, all really enjoyable with amazing views of the town.  
Then we stopped off to relax with a coffee and cake in the late afternoon sunshine before  continuing on our journey to Manresa.
After a morning of being badly bitten by mosquitoes we knew it was time to get some repellent so we stopped at a supermarket in the middle of a small town on our way to Girona and we asked the assistant in our pigeon Spanish if they sold mosquito spray, she directed us to a shelf and then disappeared, it seemed she'd shown us to where the household sprays were, we picked one up and tried to decipher the instructions but as it was on the same shelf as the rat poison and ant powder we were really unsure.  In the end, Mark, who will talk to anyone went round the store randomly asking people if they could speak English eventually finding someone who could understand him and the man reassured us by making spraying sounds and acting out using the spray on himself that it was indeed OK for using on your skin, all highly amusing.
Urbi Apartment
We arrived in Manresa and navigated our way around the narrow hilly streets until we found our way to our apartment.  A really interesting building that had been renovated 9 years ago.  Communicating with the receptionist was 'fun' as he didn't speak a word of English, OK that's not entirely true, he could say 'yes' and 'here' and used both words frequently when trying to describe where the parking was to us.
I've lost count of the amount of times people have said to me, when I tell them which language I am trying to learn now, that you don't need to learn any foreign language as everyone speaks English.  Well that is complete and utter rubbish, might be true if you never leave the resort hotel but we nearly always go places off the beaten track and it really does pay to learn a bit of the local language, it has got us out of quite a few sticky situations when travelling abroad.
CSJ pilgrim route
Two years ago we did a short section of the CSJ trail whilst on holiday with our daughter, so we thought it would be fun on this visit to do some more so set a day aside to do another section at least.  I'm not a massive fan of power trails when we're in a foreign country as to me there is so much more to experience than just finding 100s of caches if you're only there for a short time.  So after a day of this we were ready for something else.
We had an initial plan to find the cache on Montserrat as it's the oldest active cache in Spain but it was just half a plan really as the cache instructions were confusing and we weren't sure how long it was going to take or whether we needed any specialist equipment etc.  We had a conversation with Amaya Tom at the mega event on Saturday about his visit and we knew then we really ought to look into it further as it sounded amazing.
As we drove towards Manresa these spiky mountains appeared on the horizon and we both said 'WOW is that Montserrat?'.  It looked amazing and we knew we had to give it a go. We parked where Amaya Tom had suggested and off we went. 
Come on, it's only half a mile!
 It was only half a mile walk how difficult could it be?  After an hour of walking up steepish slopes we eventually got to a part that looked like no one ever walked there, we started climbing up using our hands and I was started to get worried that we should at least be using ropes and be wearing a helmet as loose stones were falling down.  I started imagining mountain rescue coming out to look for us when we didn't return home in a week's time!! Probably saying something like 'yes here, yes here' :D  Then to top it all we lost satellite signal!  I told Mark I didn't think I could carry on and he tried his best to encourage me but I was scared that if I got up I wouldn't be able to get down, or worse that I would slip and injure myself.  So I stood and looked at the task ahead of me and knew that I would regret it if I didn't do it, so 10 minutes later after a bit of self-talk I decided to carry on. 
Are you sure it's this way?
After 30 mins of tricky climbing, well tricky for me anyway as gazelle-like Mark just seem to fly up. we eventually found our way to a flat wooded area with a sign which we think translated to something like 'ropes needed beyond this point' but this seemed to be the only route to take to the cache - keeping in mind Amaya Tom's log we decided to push on.
I was quite scared at this point, especially when I looked over the ledge and saw the drop beneath us. 
Don't look down!
Then after 10 mins of more scrambling and pulling ourselves up with our hands we reached the top.   I can only describe the feeling at the top as being one of complete exhilaration, I felt literally on top of the world and that I could conquer anything.
After enjoying the amazing, breathtaking views and taking a few selfie or bothie photos we had to start the walk down.  This didn't seem anywhere near as bad as I knew what was coming and just took each section as I got to it, carefully finding hand holds and lowering myself down - all with Mark's encouragement, I couldn't have done it without that
Once back down at the car we enjoyed a picnic lunch and then drove around to visit the impressive Monastery in an amazing location which is extremely popular with the tourists.  We enjoyed a relaxing coffee with a magnificent view before heading back to Manresa.
View from Montserrat cafe
ANDORRA When we visited Spain two years ago we'd seen that Andorra wasn't all that far away but as we were only there for 5 days and we were also with our daughter we decided it was too far to drive.  This time we decided that as we were visiting for much longer we'd have time to factor in a trip. There are only 4 cache types in Andorra so we decided to put on an event to provide a 5th icon for anyone else wishing to visit. The drive from Manresa to Andorra took about 3 hours, bizarrely as it was only 58 miles in a straight line it was actually twice that by road! There are only 4 multis and the one we'd planned to do at the last minute we noticed had lots of DNFs so rather than risk wasting time on that we chose the next easiest D/T rating one which was a short way away from Andorra's only puzzle cache. So we decided to do Llac dels Pessons and Wordle andorrà first before heading to Andorra la Vella to do Andorra's only earthcache and then explore the local area before our event at 17:00.
When we have an event in a foreign country we always choose a local landmark and this piece of art by Salvador Dali caught our eye as we'd visited the Salvador Dali museum in Figueres on our previous visit in 2012.
Port d'Envalira (el. 2408 m.) is a mountain pass in the Pyrenees in Andorra, that connects El Pas de la Casa with the rest of the country. It is the highest paved road in the Pyrenees. The climb has been featured several times at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España cycling races.
We had no idea how many cachers would turn up and by 17:15 we thought we were going to be the only attendees.  Then just as we'd given up hope Cache42bears appeared, we knew it was them as we'd met them at the mega event a few days before. 
Then 2 others appeared, a couple of cachers from Portugal that were working nearby, then 2 Swiss cachers and another 2 German cachers.  We were pleased to see that we weren't the only ones crazy enough to drive that distance as the Swiss and Germans had travelled up from Platja d'Aro for the day.

We enjoyed a chat, took a couple of group photos before going our separate ways - we were conscious of the time as we had to travel back to Platja as we were going back to our original accommodation to spend the last few days of our holiday - keep up!  Now, quite often when Mark is trying to convince me that something is a good idea he will bend the truth, I distinctly remember asking him how far it was going to be to travel to Andorra and I distinctly remember him saying 'oh not long, a couple of hours at the most'.  Well we put Platja d'Aro into the satnav and I thought my eyes were deceiving me as it said 4½ hours!  160 miles which included over 100 miles of hairpin bends and mountain roads in the dark - it was hard going to say the least.  Eventually we made it back to our apartment in Platja d'Aro where we spent the next couple of days relaxing before checking out and heading to Barcelona.
We made a very early start as we had quite a bit to fit in before we needed to be at the airport later that evening. First stop was Calella to do a wherigo, then continued on to the next Wherigo in Arenys de Mar.

Then to the 3rd wherigo of the day - when we were planning our trip we noticed that this wherigo was only accessible the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month which was perfect as it was now the 3rd Sunday.  The listing also said we needed a torch and mentioned spiders - yikes!  It took far longer than we'd first anticipated but was in a brilliant location so really glad we took the time to do it.  Unfortunately it meant that it left us less time to explore Barcelona itself.

So we then headed off to do to the Barcelona virtual - we have been really looking forward to doing this virtual as it has been on our to-do list for a very long time.
Amazing views

 We were worried we hadn't left enough time for it as there was a long queue of slow traffic going up the hill.  We had to wait for a while to find a parking space and eventually we got in and parked.  Fantastic views from the top, well worth a visit.
Then the last cache of the holiday was a wherigo El tesoro del gran brujo - this was a really enjoyable walk and rounded off our day nicely before heading to the airport.

A very memorable trip - we met so many lovely people and visited some fantastic places.

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