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Old 09-16-2012, 10:54 AM   #61
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March 21 onwards - Volunteering at Can Jou - Part 1


March 21 onwards - Volunteering at Can Jou - Part 1

So, I had arrived at Can Jou and I ended up spending a fair bit of time there. This post I want to give you an idea of what a typical day of volunteering there involved and some background into the people and the place.


A storm rolls in from the Pyrenees. Can Jou sits perched on a hill in the North East of Spain in Catalunya.

Can Jou - a Can is a rural house in Catalonian, a Jou is that thing that holds the plough to the neck of the pulling animal. The house sits proudly in what we would describe as the saddle of two peaks on top of a mountain. A saddle the same shape as a Jou, where the house took its name. It consists of one main hotel building with over two dozen rooms. This hotel was built onto the side of a farm house that dates back over a thousand years. Surrounded are a couple of smaller cabin style houses for workers, a set of stables with yards for training and preparing horses. Horse paddocks, outlined by modern electric tape fence, cascade down either side of the hill. A horses appetite keeps the grass at bay, ensuring a each paddock is a mixture of mud and hay, clearly defined against the thick forrest surrounding.


Breakfast time for the horses. There were a total of 35 horses on the farm.

A typical day at Can Jou starts at 8am. Wake up and head down to the stables. Feed the horses, work them in the arena, send them out and then start work on any other tasks that might need doing. Greasing saddles and bridles, mending fences, trimming lawns and just general tasks around the farm. Horse blankes would also need washing, everyones least favourite job as the smell was less than favourable.


Cleaning horse blankets.

"Desayunar", breakfast, is at about 10 am we stop for a good long breakfast. Spanish meals are all a few hours back from the standard western meal schedule.

Breakfast is normally Jamon and Eggs on bread, or Muesli. Being a volunteer I have been given unfettered access to the larder in the Inn. Possibly a mistake on their part. There was always a giant leg of 'Jamon' to cut a slice off and I developed what will likely be an expensive taste for me in the future. When away from home, Catalonians will often cite 'proper Jamon' as the thing they miss most.


Raiding the larder.


Cooked jamon and eggs on toast... mmm.


We could look out to the mountains and watch over the horses from the window where the staff ate their meals.

The day from here always depended on whether or not there were clients. In late March and early April we had very few clients. This meant my day of work practically ended at breakfast. If there were clients we would have to prep the horses and help the clients saddle them before they went on their ride for the day. Then hang around until the afternoon when we would feed them on their return and help clean up the stables.


Prepping the horses for the clients. You can see the hotel up on the hill behind.


Brushing down a horse. As they were losing their winter coats through most of my stay I was nearly always covered in horse hair.

As a client you could either do one day treks on the horses, or, each week, a trail would run where clients came in on the Monday morning and each took a horse they would stay with for the week as they tour around the local area. They would stop at various rural inns around Catalunya and someone would go along to do trail support, make lunches for the clients, feed the horses and check the clients into that particular inn.

Clients mostly came from Germany, then the Netherlands, Scandanavia, Britain and the US. They were predominantly women. The array of nationalities meant there were always different languages being spoken.

Can Jou was started by a guy called Mick Peters, he was British, married to a local Catalonian woman. He found this old worn down farm house back in the 80s and rebuilt it with the vision of running horse trails around the local area. He ran it up until two years ago when tragedy struck. Mick was driving a tractor up a hill when it rolled, crushing him to death. He left 3 sons and a daughter behind.


Cutting fire wood to keep us warm was another of the many random tasks I had around the farm.


Exercising the horses in the ring.


Julian drives the guy in the back, another Aussie volunteer to court as we attempt to get him out of some trouble he managed to get into with the police... a story for the next post.

When I arrived at Can Jou it was in a state of transition. Julian and Marcus, both my age, had inherited the responsibility of running Can Jou. However their heart was not in it. Over the months I would get to know them better and I think they are very similar to their father. They wanted to start their own tourism style business in Costa Rica and make something of themselves in that respect, just like their father had. Julian and Marcus were great guys, always smiling, even when they were complaining, sometimes fiery, always with an abundance of energy. They lived the party life, prefering to live in their mothers apartment in one of the local nearby towns. Very rarely would we see them at Can Jou unless they needed to do managerial tasks or sweet talk the female clients. The latter being an art form they had perfected. I watched Marcus chat a woman into the bedroom in under half an hour. Having said that, they did treat me well, taking me out for long lunches, tapas, beers, squid breakfasts and making sure I always felt looked after.


Marcos sits across from me as we enjoy a 'Clara' - basically a beer with lemon soda. At first the only way to tell him apart from Julian is the ear stretcher.


A squid breakfast very typical of that area of Catalunya.

So there were just a few regular people who I would see every day. The stable manager, Cammie, who cared for the horses and took out clients on day rides. Cammie was French born in a town close to the border with Spain. She had been coming to Can Jou every summer to volunteer for the past 14 years. Since she was 10 years old. Her degree in science had her running tests in a lab the year prior but that was not where she wanted to be. Julian put a call in to her a few months prior when the previous stable manager had to quit due to injury. She jumped at the chance to work outdoors with horses and took a significant pay cut so she could work with horses every day.


Cammie adoring a horse.

Cammie was a hard worker and expected the same from everyone. It was not unusual that you would see her still in the stables late into the afternoon, training horses and practicing her show jumping. She would prefer dirt over make-up and sometimes I wouldn't see her change her clothes for a few days.

Liam is the younger half-brother of Julian and Marcus. At a fresh seventeen he spends most of his time smoking joints when he should be helping out at Can Jou. Always smiling or laughing but he would always have his older brothers on him to do things. So he was always in fear of his brothers catching him skiving off. Liam loved the horses and taught me to ride, it was always a good excuse for him to take off into the scrub and smoke a joint while we watered the horses.


Senda on the left and Liam on the right, probably stoned, looking out over the Pyrenees.

Senda, pronounced send-ah, only spoke Catalan, a bit of Castilliano and a touch of english. Our conversations consisted of one word sentances at first, which slowly progressed to being able to talk about his boxing. The same age as Liam, but a bit more mature, he trained in boxing all the time and despite smoking nearly the same amount of weed as Liam, still had the motivation to go to training in the mornings and then run 7k uphill to help out a couple of days a week.

Senda rode his dirt bike around the local area, a little 150m. Now here is the clincher. He did this with road tyres that were down past the wear indicators. Never shying away from corners either.

Adina and Juan. A very warm Romanian couple who had come to Can Jou for work many years ago when Romania joined the European Union. Adina was the chef and cooked all the client meals. She had mastered the Catalonian cooking and I was often the beneficiary of the leftovers of these country home cooked meals. She spoke a small amount of English and so I was able to talk with her from the start and only learnt more about her as my Spanish improved.
Juan could only speak Castillian and so it wasn't unil my Spanish improved that I was able to understand his sense of humour. He helped Adina in the kitchen and looked after the other tasks in the small hotel. They have two daughters, Roberta and Sara, seven and five years old. They all lived together in a tiny little cottage on top of the hill at Can Jou. Roberta and Sara went to school in the local town and so they spoke Catalan. In the house, the whole family spoke Romanian but Adina and Juan only spoke Castillian so their daughters had their own secret language.


Adina and Juan in the kitchen.

Roberta and Sara were typical of children brought up in the country. With few friends nearby and only nature to entertain them they had broad imaginations, often riding sticks around and pretending they were horses.

Getting back to a typical day. Lunch was served up by Adina around 2 o'clock. Some days I would eat by myself, sitting on a rock, watching out to the Pyrennees. Earlier on in my stay it would be quite cold and so we would get a nice log fire going in the communal area of the house and sit around eating, chatting and maxing out the wifi connection. As it got warmer we would eat together outside and then nap in the sun on the grass for siesta.

The afternoons were either spent editing or writing emails and watching old reruns of america sitcoms. Some days we would ride the horses around the nearby mountains and slowly my riding skills progressed. Cammy would take me for long canters around the hills, happy to push my abilities. In my entire time at Can Jou I never fell off a horse and so I always had that naive optimism of someone that has never been burnt. When clients came back from rides in the afternoons we would have an hour or so of work removing the gear and feeding the horses before sending them to the paddocks for the night.


Enjoying the dirt roads in the hills around Can Jou after all the work is done.


We watch the sun set over the mountains as Sara and Roberta in the Pink and Red run a muck around us.

In line with the late schedule we wouldn't eat dinner until about 9pm. Dinner was often not made for us and so I would usually cook for myself. This meant getting creative with whatever happened to be in the larder. Garbanzos, zucchini and carrots with tomatos and some pasta. Lucikly we had an endless supply of onions and garlic to give the meal some base flavour and plenty of herbs and spices to top it off with some punch. There were a few things in the larder labelled 'No tocar' - No touching, and so we couldn't quite pull together the same meals as Adina.


We were more often than not treated with some pretty spectacular sunsets. Photos cannot do justice.

Initially nights were cold, anywhere from 2 to 7 degrees. The small Kabana that Cammie and I shared had no insulation or heating. Just half an inch of wood between us and the elements. To cope we would sit in front of the fireplace in the main house until the very last minute where we would run back to the Kabana and into bed. Cammie was born of the mountains and so coped with a couple of big blankets. Used to a more tropical Australian climate I would bury myself five blankets deep only to emerge the next morning for a new day.


The 'Cabana' where Cammie and I slept.

Next post I will go into the events that happened over the course of my time at Can Jou that will ultimately define the path of the rest of my travels.
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Old 10-08-2012, 08:18 AM   #62
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Just confirmed that I will be doing a presentation at the HUBB travellers meeting in Dayboro, QLD in September, 2013. I will doing a presentation on how people can make better films of their travels, basically sharing what I have learnt while making my video blogs :) Will be discussing how you can make better film on a small budget, up to a very high budget.

On a side note, just editing up the next video blog now, should be posted by the end of this week.
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Old 10-09-2012, 07:49 AM   #63
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Originally Posted by jetjackson;19772191[COLOR=DarkOrange

On a side note, just editing up the next video blog now, should be posted by the end of this week.
[/COLOR]
Cool..... I've been waiting for an update!
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Old 10-15-2012, 01:52 AM   #64
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Here is the latest one... includes some very bad driving and amazing coastlines. Amalfi, Cilentro and more...


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Old 10-15-2012, 06:53 AM   #65
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...

Great update!! Man oh man, those drivers.....
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Old 10-15-2012, 07:06 AM   #66
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Great, as always.

Thanks.

JM.
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Old 10-15-2012, 09:00 AM   #67
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Great update!! Man oh man, those drivers.....
I know right, and there was plenty more where that came from. I have about 5 hours worth of Gopro footage from Italy, full of crazy manoeuvres. I could probably pull together a whole 10 minute clip with just crazy Italian driving.

Cheers for the replies!
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Old 10-16-2012, 02:59 PM   #68
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Great clip. Have you found that the Banana suit increase safety due to bright colour or its just bright and that's that sort of thing?
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Old 10-18-2012, 03:32 PM   #69
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Volunteering at Can Jou - Part 2


Volunteering at Can Jou - Part 2


Unfortunately all my cameras were broken except for the Gopro, so this is the only picture I have in this post unfortunately, lots more pictures coming on the next post, which I am already working on...

Can Jou is an interesting story, and something I will refer back to over the rest of this report. I learnt a lot about horses, Catalonian life, running a tourism business and the importance of succession planning.

When I arrived at Can Jou the twins, Julian and Marcus weren't there, Cammie told me that they were off at some music festival and would arrive later in the week. So it was myself, Cammie, the younger Liam, Adina and Juan. The earlier days were easy, we got stuck into the work in the mornings but were usually finished by 11 or so. It was still cold and so I would spend my afternoons editing, either in front of the fire on overcast days or out in the sun on better days.
Weather came in patterns, nights would get very cold and snow would fall on the Pyrennees. It was quite the view in the mornings, looking out to the Pyrennees covered in snow. I would be freezing while I worked in the stables until the day started to warm up.

Liam lived in Sant Jaume, the closest town to Can Jou, about 10 k's down the bottom of the mountain. After most of the work was done we would either go horse riding or he would head straight down to Sant Jaume to hang out with his mates.

Cammie also had friends down in Sant Jaume but she is horse obsessed and would spend all of her free time riding. Even on her days off she would be practicing show jumping. She had also made a group of close friends in Sant Jaume, care of her ability to speak Catalan, and so would spend most nights in the town only to return in the morning for work.

This meant that as the only volunteer at Can Jou I would normally be alone on the mountain on the dark nights. I don't have a thought for the supernatural but that doesn't mean that being alone in the darkness on the mountain was easy. At first the isolation was a novelty and I appreciated the time alone to work on writing and video blogs. After a few weeks though it started to wear on me.

Five or so days after I arrived Julian and Marcus turned up for lunch. Full of life and enthusiasm they went through what their expectations of me were. When they found out I had a trailer license they were stoked and organised for me to learn how to run the trail support. For me this meant that I was going to have more variations in work and I would get to know the local area very well. Both of them being around my age, I had thought at the time that they would be spending most of their time at Can Jou and I would have people to keep me company.

The twins explained to me about how they were trying to sell Can Jou. They went through the sad story of how their father had suddenly passed away in a tractor roll over about 18 months prior and they had to take the reins and keep the business going. Their father had remarried and had Liam, their younger brother in a second marriage. He had also adopted a girl and so there were various interests all vying for their piece of the estate. Unforunately this had all come to a head during these bad economic times and they were only looking at selling the business for a third of what it had been valued at 5 years earlier.

It was obvious that the boys had been accustomed to an easy life, travelling around the world and Europe, partying and only ever returning to Can Jou when they needed to work to pay down loans from their Father. This had changed very quickly after the accident and both the twins were dreaming of moving on to bigger things. They were entrepreneurial though and wanted to start their own tourism related business in Costa Rica, where they had made contacts through their travels. Their plan was to try and settle the estate, take their inheritance and head to Costa Rica to start the business. They were expecting to do this in the next 6 weeks or so, which kind of didn't fit in with my plans to stay in Can Jou until the end of July. However in the same breath they were telling me this they were also confirming that I was going to stay until August. I confirmed with others on the ranch that the twins were just being overly optimistic, as was their nature.

Over the next few weeks I didn't really see them that much. They would come and chat to me to make sure everything was okay and would talk up a big party they had planned for us for the weekend.

All the while nights were cold and tough. The thermometer in my room would get down to 6 degrees some mornings. I would be stuck under 4 layers of blankets but still cold. The flimsy walls might as well have not been there as the temperature was the same inside as out. There were no shortage on blankets at Can Jou though and I nailed blankets to every wall in the room which helped to hold in some heat.

About a week and a half in it was late at night and I was the only person at Can Jou. Anxiety started to creep in. Now I have had anxiety attacks in the past, they are not fun, generally I can control them fairly easily in most circumstances. Being alone however, away from anything and everything that could be used as a metaphorical anchor to reality, it got out of hand fairly fast.

Perhaps it was the situation I was in. I forgot to mention already, but I rode into Can Jou with only a couple of hundred miles of tread left on my tyres, with the bike needing a service. At the time I was also low on funds, awaiting money to come in a few months later from Australia, and couldn't afford to get new wheels put on the bike, as well as spend the 90 Euros for the return trip to see Nicole. I had let myself become stuck in the situation with what I saw at the time as no exit strategy. The thought of another 3 months like this weighed heavily on me. Up until this point the novelty of the natural beauty and new lifestyle at Can Jou had masked this.

An anxiety attack is somewhat just fight or flight. Rationality goes out the window as emotion takes over your every thought and holds you in an infinite loop that it seems there is no escape from. At home I would just call a friend, drive the fifteen minutes over to my parents or friends houses for a chat if I was feeling out of sorts. The very ability to do this usually means you avoid anxiety attacks all together. Anxiety doesn't even appear on the radar because you have a support network, a safety net that coccoons you from such things.

Now I was in the middle of nowhere, with few options. A positive side effect of an anxiety attack is that you quickly establish who the people you care about are in your life. They are the people you can talk to in a situation like this without reluctance. Unfortunately the time difference was not on my side and family and friends back home were still in bed. Nicole, the closest to me in France, was out for the night with friends. I sent them emails, asking to call me once recieved. Mostly though I knew that I would have to find a way to deal with this by myself.

Eventually the emotion would subside, a friend of mine who studies psychology told me these things usually only last about 15 minutes. The body has trouble sustaining your adrenalin levels at such a high level for long. So it's essentially like being strapped in a rollercoaster you didn't want to be on and having to wait it out until the end. These are rational statements though and are have very little positive effect during said rollercoaster ride. After an hour or so, I started to calm down, I stopped pacing and changing what I was trying to do every minute, I was able to focus on a single thing.

I was through it by the timeI got to speak to Nicole and family, who insisted that I call them in such a situation in future.

The next morning I was fragile. The worst thing about having an anxiety attack in a situation is that you start to relate the attack to that situation. This can then feed more attacks as starting to feel anxious feeds itself until it becomes a full blown attack. I didn't discuss it with anyone at Can Jou, it tends not to be something you tell people you don't know well. Instead I talked to Nicole and we started progressing our discussions on how we were going to see eachother and travel together.

Our plan became that Nicole would come to Can Jou at the end of April once her placement at the school in Avignon had finished. Her work Visa was due to expire a week after her placement finished. The laws relating to her staying longer in he Shengen zone after this though, were very vague. As an Australian she had 90 days free in every 180 in the Shengen zone without needing a visa. (Shengen is basically every European country, except Romania/Bulgaria/UK and the Balkans). What was very unclear was whether the time she had spent on her French work visa counted towards those 90 days, or if she could spend 90 days in Shengen after the expiry of her French work visa. The easier way seemed to be that she would go to Germany, where apparently German work visas are very easy for Australians to get, and get a work visa to cover her for 12 months. She could then come back to Can Jou and work on the ranch until we would leave together to travel the rest of Europe after August.

That meant that she wouldn't be in Can Jou for another 8 weeks or so. The thing was, if I rode to Avignon from Can Jou not using the toll roads it would take 6 hours and not the sort of thing I could just do in a weekend. Taking tolls meant it was a 3 hour drive, definitely doable for a weekend, but that cost about 30 euro in tolls each way. We decided to split the cost so I could head up to see her in 2 weeks time. I thought at the time that I had at least enough tread to get me there and back once.

Having a plan in place and something to look forward to eased my mind. All I had to do was occupy myself for the two weeks in the mean time.

I forgot to mention, but my mother had managed to get a new video camera for me on warranty back in London about a week prior to me leaving Avignon. She had also decided that she didn't like the camera I had swapped her for hers, so she was going to send me both my old camera and the new one on warranty. Thanks mum! She had mailed them to the address in Avignon though, before I could ask her to send them to Can Jou. Another good reason for me to head up to Avignon to visit Nicole. To pick up the cameras. What this means though, is that I don't have any photos from this time at
Can Jou. Hence the heavy wordedness of this report to try and convery the picture of what was happening.

The next week things started to change. I was still getting bouts of anxiety but managed to put them at bay. Avoiding strong coffee in the morning and ensuring I got a bit of cardio in the day really helped.

On a sunday night we went down to pick up clients who were coming to ride on the trail through the week. It was the first clients of the year and finally Can Jou was coming to life. The twins came down with me to pick them up in the fourbies in what would become a weekly routine. We would stop in Sant Jaume, the town at the bottom of the hill I was talking about before, and the clients for the week would all hop of the bus. We would greet them as they came off, smiles on our faces. What Julian and Marcus were really doing though, was sussing out to see if there was any talent for the week. Two german sisters had come by themselves along with a couple of other families and the twins eyes sparkled.
I was no longer a single man though, I'm just not that kind of guy and I was skyping with Nicole every night anyway. The twins however gave me the whole run down on how to court the ladies and I was quite amused in watching them at work. The clients were there from Sunday until the following Sunday. They told me that they wouldn't really talk to the girls until Thursday or Friday as they didn't want to peak too early. Then on Saturday night the Cava, that is the local champagne would start flowing and the twins would crack open as many bottles as necessary.

So that was how it was, later in the week Marcus and Julian spent a little time around the stables flashing a smile at the German girls. Then on the Saturday afternoon Julian and Marcus turned up and started burning wood for the BBQ. Three of their mates from Munich had been driving since the very early morning and turned up a little later. They brought cases of German beer and we started to get stuck into it. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.

Late afternoon came and the Germans had put away more than their fair share of beer. I went looking for Marcus and Julian and only found the Germans by the pool, stark naked, drinking more beer. As was customary the clients came back from the final day of riding late in the afternoon. Cava was cracked to celebrate the end of the week and everyone would stand on the balcony watching me wash down the horses and send them out to the fields.

Later that night I was looking for Julian for some reason and knocked on the bathroom door. Now we had a huge bathroom in the house with a bath the size of a spa. The three German boys had decided to have a bubble bath together, again, stark naked, with glasses of champagne and strawberries. This was not the first time I had experienced this strange level of comfort that Germans have with being naked together. Earlier in my trip when I was in the Phillipines I met two German sisters who insisted on showering together. Personally champagne in the bath is something that I reserve for the special woman in my life and I would much rather sit around a camp fire with my mates after a hard day of riding... call me traditional.

Cava flowed into the night and I found myself at a table answering all the clients questions about my trip. They had heard through one of the twins what I was up to and they were curious. Fast forward a couple of hours and I was with the twins, Cammie, the German boys and the two German sisters in the staff kitchen drinking Estrella (the local beer). It seemed that one of the German sisters had taken a liking to me. We had a good chat, but as I said before, I am a one woman guy. As is the way with these things though, if I was single I would have been sporting the eye of the tiger and she wouldn't have given me a second glance. About fifteen minutes after we had started drinking in the kitchen I turned to see that Marcus and the other German sister were missing. I bid everyone goodnight and went back to my room to sleep. Along the way I saw the tails of Marcus and the German girl sneaking off into a room.

The next day we dropped the clients back off at the bus. Dusted off our hangovers and got ready to welcome the next busload of clients that evening. I was happier in the thought that more people would be around to keep things interesting at Can Jou. Also happy though, because I was two days away from heading to Avignon to see Nicole.


jetjackson screwed with this post 10-18-2012 at 04:54 PM
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Old 10-18-2012, 04:36 PM   #70
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..,.

Jackson, I gotta admit, your ride report is the one I look forward to the most!!
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Old 10-19-2012, 02:43 AM   #71
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Hi Jet,

Enjoying the RR....Guessing it is covering time from quite a few months back. We have spent quite a lot of time in the Montagut i Oix area (not far from Can Jou and Sant Jaume) and it's been scorching, no need for your banana suit. What are your thoughts on the Beemer, did she give much trouble?

Cheers
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Old 10-19-2012, 07:59 AM   #72
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Cheers guys!

Quote:
Originally Posted by potski View Post
Hi Jet,

Enjoying the RR....Guessing it is covering time from quite a few months back. We have spent quite a lot of time in the Montagut i Oix area (not far from Can Jou and Sant Jaume) and it's been scorching, no need for your banana suit. What are your thoughts on the Beemer, did she give much trouble?

Cheers
Potski
Hi Potski,

Yeah that is just around the corner, I did a few rides through there, you will recognise some of it from footage I will post in the coming months. We would go swimming at the pont, it was really cold though. A lot of the horse trails ran through there. Actually they still do. I can't say too much more, don't want to ruin the story, but I am working on another blog post now.
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Old 10-19-2012, 08:13 AM   #73
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Hi Jet,

Yes, "the Pont" beautiful spot... swam there quite a bit too, but it wasn't the cold that got me (actually I usually go there in summer to cool down) it was swallowing the pea green water..let's just say I was green too

If you find yourself in the Pyrenees again come say hi.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Cheers
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Old 10-19-2012, 08:25 AM   #74
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Cheers, yeah to be honest, after covering nearly all of Europe that part of Spain up there in the north, Avignon and up around the lower Pyrenees is one of my favourite areas. Maybe I will live somewhere near there for a while one day.
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Old 10-19-2012, 08:49 AM   #75
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Joined: Sep 2007
Location: In the mountains
Oddometer: 508
Quote:
Originally Posted by jetjackson View Post
Maybe I will live somewhere near there for a while one day.
Yes, good plan..as you know apart from being a beautiful region the folks here are pretty friendly too; then there's the wine , the cheese the culture.

Re your anxiety attack, had one myself one time..totally weird.

BTW, Enjoying your style of film making...keep em coming.

Cheers
Potski
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