Sunday July 1 2007
Spanish endurance rider Bernat Casals picked me up from the Florac ride and hauled me home with his horse to Catalonia, Spain. Fortunately for me, he speaks good English (and is always soaking up new words) and was happy to talk on our 7+ hour journey, along the south coast of France, into Catalonia, in the very northeast of Spain, into the “pre-Pyrenees” foothills.
Catalonia has its own language, culture, and history. Bernat said there are still some who would prefer being an independent country... but he's far too busy to think about those things.
Bernat's family first raised rabbits, then goats, then they turned to horses, offering a riding stable for old and young people alike, teaching lessons. He started riding endurance about 9 years ago. He and his wife Neus have around 30 horses, about 15 of them endurance horses, the rest either boarders' horses or lesson horses, because they also run a summer riding camp for kids. About 6 kids at a time stay with them for 15 days at a time; more kids come to ride during the mornings or afternoons or both. In addition, the Casals offer horse trekking in the mountains for 4 or 5 days at a stretch, which people from the Netherlands especially enjoy.
Besides horses, we talked about ICE. Bernat wants ice in his drinks also! He thinks the Italians and French are crazy for not having ice readily available for drinks! He knew and endurance rider who went to a ride in France with a big Frigo – cooler – stocked only with ice, because he knew he wouldn't be able to get it in France anywhere near the ride. (So see, it's not just me who craves ice!)
We arrived at his family's place, stunningly beautiful Vilaformiu (old Catalonian language, “beautiful house”), perched on side of foothills of the mountains, horse pens and paddocks, stalls, and 2 stone houses (one a rebuilt old barn) terraced into the hillside. We got there around 6 PM, and Bernat's wife Neus was so happy to see me, she kissed my cheeks and welcomed me like I was the Queen of Catalonia. I would call Bernat and Neus the National Treasures of Catalonia – truly friendly, vivacious, gracious, welcoming, not to a mention a very hard working young couple.
Neus introduced me to some of their animals: dogs and ponies are named after good foods – so the children will remember them – Popcorn, Ice Cream Cone, etc. I think my horse Stormy would like this idea and would want his name to be changed to “Carrot.”
Bernat was very tired, from the ride at Florac and the long drive home, but he and Neus had to go visit some cousins, but not before Neus sat with me and asked me question after question, very interested in everything I had to say, giving me her full attention. She apologized for her English, which was very very good. Bernat and Neus introduced me to Bernat's family: his younger brother Uri, and Uri's girlfriend Anna, his dad Valentine and his mom (also) Neus. More absolutely lovely people; I joined them for dinner and we had a jolly, cacophonous meal, with Uri and Anna bombarding me with questions, and answering mine, and interpreting for Mom and Dad, though they understood some of what I said. I delighted them with my Spanish – a few of my whole 50 random words or so – and Mom delighted me with the meal she threw together (and worried about it not being enough).
Most memorable was the killer ajo – garlic, cloves of which we rubbed onto toasted fresh bread and covered with oil. Never have I had garlic like that – it was hot, like horseradish, made my eyes water when I put too much on, and I ate many pieces! Delicious! That should keep any cold away for about 3 months! And the cheese! Neus brought it out, with a type of yogurt, for the dessert. My lord it was spicy-hot like the garlic! It was delicious but so powerful I only had one slice.
I staggered up to my room after the delicious meal and wonderful company, and passed out.