Valley of Benasque

A couple of weeks ago I was in the Valley of Benasque (Huesca, Spain), for some trekking, and just had some time to upload the photos, so here they are for your pleasure, since it is a very nice place. It was the first time I was there not in winter, so had the chance to visit some places that, in winter, are almost impossible to visit (unless you want to take the risk of an avalanche).

Specially nice was the Glacier of the Aneto peak, the highest peak in the Pyrenees (from the distance, we didn’t have time to get to the top, since it takes many, many hours):


Also nice to see was the water from the Glacier disappearing into the rocks (and appearing again, by magic, in the Valley of Arán, on the other side of the mountains):


I took more photos, so go here to see the rest.

Skiing in Cervinia

The week before Christmas I went in vacation for the first time to the Alps for some skiing, to Cervinia, a wonderful village below the famous Cervino/Matterhorn, in the Valley of Aosta, in Italy.


The week of vacation started on Friday 12th, in the evening, when we (Cristina, Yolanda, Nicolás and myself) started a 15 hour drive from Peralta to Cervinia, crossing to France via La Junquera, the South East of France through Grenoble (where Vincent and I couldn’t coordinate a short visit), and from there, crossing part of the Alps, still in France, through many ski resorts (Megève, Saint Gervais, Houches Blanches, etc), along with (at least we could see the traffic signs) some Tour de France mytical places (Alpe d’Huez, Bourg d’Oisans, Mont Ventoux, etc), up to the Mont Blanc tunnel entrance.

Crossing that tunnel was a bit uncomfortable, after a few minutes you could feel the hot (22ºC compared to the -4ºC outside), but it was worth it, since as you cross it, you get to Italy and to Courmayeur, another ski resort (it’s plenty of them around there :-) ) and then through the valley of Aosta up to Cervinia.

Cervinia is just part of a huge ski resort, composed of the Italian Breuil Cervinia and Valtournenche, connected to the Swiss resort of Zermatt, with the Cervino/Matterhorn mountain in the middle, all of this making up to 350 kms of pistes to enjoy. Unfortunately for skiing, the weather was quite bad the whole week (lots of snow the first few days, then avalanches danger, then huge winds), which forced the resort to be closed fully one day and have most of the pistes and lifts closed the rest of the days. Specially bad was that the connection to Zermatt was closed the whole week, so we couldn’t visit it unfortunately.

We could neither visit the glacier in the Plateau Rosa and the Swiss part of it, nor the nice Swiss village of Fury, where you pass skiing through the village streets. And, of course, we couldn’t see the best face of the Cervino/Matterhorn, but at least we could see it one day (it was covered with fog most of the week). But the worst was that, just in the 2nd hour of the 1st day of ski, Cristina fell down and broke a bone in her arm. This made her not ski at all for a couple of days, and ski just in the beginners area in the sunny days. For the rest of us, we could just use 3/4 different pistes for the whole week. Fortunately they were long enough and with very good snow as to enjoy them a lot, and since we were skiing slowly for Cristina, we visited some bars that are in the middle of the pistes, for some good food and drinks.



But the bad weather gave us the chance to enjoy being at 2000 meters above the sea level, surrounded by mountains with 3/4 meters of snow, and the whole village being covered by snow all the time, despite the work being done by lots of people the whole day to clean it. I know this may sound a bad thing for some people, but really, I wouldn’t mind having been isolated there for a few weeks more :-)

But it’s not all about skiing and snow, since, being in Italy, eating was a priority on this trip, and the stuff we tasted was just wonderful every day at dinner, at the hotel, quite ellaborated cuisine, with very nice decorations (like some soar ham being served in the form of a rose and that kind of things). And in the bars and restaurants of the village and ski resort, we could try lots of nice local cuisine, like the Crespella (like a French Crêpe), the Goulash (beef stew), different kinds of cheese, pasta, red wines, and, of course, the pizzas (I love them, so I couldn’t be in Italy and not try them).

Overall, despite not having skied as much as we wanted and Cristina’s injury, we had a lot of fun, and are already willing to come back as soon as possible. The Pyrennes, where I ski usually, are great, but the Alps are just a bigger dimension, better prepared and with much better pistes/snow, so now that I know them, more visits are mandatory.

For all photos, see here.

Qi

I started a few months ago training Taijiquan, a Chinese martial art, most known in the Western World by its non-martial derivative Taichi. As with other martial arts, the learning process doesn’t involve just ways for hitting your opponent or defending yourself from an attack (I wouldn’t really be interested in it if it only offered that, given that the last time I had a fight I was a teenager, many years ago), but some other things. And one of them is the theory of Qi, which is the Chinese term for energy, which is supposed to be flowing on your body and, via an intensive training, can be driven to whatever part of your body by your mind. The idea is to, for instance, direct the flow of Qi to your hands right when you hit your opponent, multiplying the strength of the punch, or, also, to get more strength on some part of your body when you receive a kick/punch to not get injured, or, even more interesting, to heal some injuries. All this sounded to me quite strange, being a science person, until recently, when I read Dr Yang, Jwing Ming’s book that explains it very well, in a scientific way. So, to not keep this post too long, and given my still limited knowledge on this, I’ll try to summarize:

Human body’s Qi can be what we call biolectricity, which is just electricity flowing around the body. It is very easy to experiment it, just rub your hands and after a few seconds doing it, pass your hands over your head, without touching the hair: you will see your hair being attracted by the electricity in your hands. And this biolectricity flows all over the body because the body is plenty of tissues that conduct it. And, interestingly, there are organs that are made of non-conductive tissue which store the electricity (a battery!). So, with Taijiquan (and Qigong) techniques, you are supposed to control the flow of this electricity through your body, sending it to the batteries for storage or to other parts of the body for reactivation of tissues and other things, all done with the mind and breathing. That is why Taichi (the non-martial derivative well known in the Western World) has such popularity, given it helps a lot in keeping your body healthy. Does it still sound strange? Maybe, the last part of driving it with your mind is still beyond my knowledge, so can’t say it’s true, but at least the rest of the theory about the electricity circulation not only sounds convincing, but it is indeed scientifically confirmed AFAIK.

This theory makes a lot of sense in Taijiquan, where brute force is not used against your opponent (only in very rare occasions), the idea being to just use the force from your oponent and, via accompanying movements, reduce it completely, making your opponent fell down or just hit the air. And when in trouble, you just use your Qi :-)

For a nice demo of what Taijiquan looks like, see this video. And for some Qi force stuff see this.

Olympics over

[Note: if you don’t care about sports, just skip this post]

Another Olympic games over, and, as always, I enjoyed them a lot, even though now I miss a lot having top level sport events all day on TV. But good things always last too little. So, here are the things I’d like to highlight:

  • As always, coverage on the public TV was a not as good as I expected, since they just follow competitions where there are Spaniards (fortunately with some exceptions, like the athletics and gymnastics). While this is good for some sports (ie, live coverage of all Spain’s basketball games), it sucks for others. Luckily, I got Eurosport, which had a better coverage of some sports, like swimming, gymnastics and volleyball.
  • While there are lots of bad things around professional sports (dopping, corruption, etc), there are many more good things about it, like the case of Aelemayehu Bezabeh, a guy from Africa (sorry, can’t remember the country) who came to Spain, like thousands of other poor and desperate people, in a little boat, risking his life, and ended up in an inmigrants’ detention center where someone from the Spanish Athletics Federation saw him running and got him to get into the Spanish Athletics team (after being naturalised) and to an 11th place in the 5000 meters final of the Olympic Games. Sport helps a lot in integrating cultures, and this is a very good example.
  • Depending on how you look at the medal table, China has won the Olympic Games, with an insulting superiority in some sports, like Gymnastics (9 golds out of 14 events), table tennis (100%), weighlifting and diving (7 golds in 8 events). They have indeed prepared very well the games, even though they did win very few medals in the most important sports, like athletics and swimming.
  • Spain’s performance (18 medals, 5 golds, 9 silvers and 3 bronzes) was good IMO, even though the big media here are talking about total failures in some sports (0 medals in athletics and swimming). But, let’s be serious, in Spain 90% of the money and media attention goes to football, so it’s quite funny to see people, who don’t care about other sports the rest of the year, demand medals on those sports, and talk about total failure when there are no medals. It’s true though that the performance in athletics and swimming has been quite inferior to what was expected, but at the end, except for a few surprise medals, medals were won in the sports that get some attention here, like cycling (4 medals), team sports (3 medals) and tennis (2 medals, with the gold for Rafael Nadal). Of course, we would all have liked to have a performance like countries similar to us (economically), like Italy, France and Great Britain (great improvement by the Britains, btw), but in those countries, it seems to me, much more money is spent in sports, and thus the different results, I think.
  • I’ve read lots of comments and articles about some Chinese gymnasts having fake passports for being able to participate in the games. While I’m not an expert and can’t really comment on whether having a child (or teenager) prepare for top level competitions is good or not, I really think the Olympic games should have the best in each sport, and if some child is the best, why can’t he/she participate? Also, it’s funny to see all the attention to this case because it was a Chinese athlete, but I saw nobody complain about the youngest athlete in these games, Thomas Daley, an English diver (very good by the way, a pleasure to watch him) who is 14 years old, and who became European champion a few months ago, when he was 13. If the English can have 14 years old athletes, I guess the Chinese should be able to also :-)
  • Even though basketball is clearly my favorite sport, I never have really enjoyed women’s basketball, mainly because even though women are usually smaller than men, they play with the same baskets (3.05 meters height), which make them play totally different when playing inside the paint than what I’m used to. Why the hell don’t they use a smaller height for the baskets? There are a few women that can slam dunk, but just a few, so the women’s games lose that part of the game, which is, IMO, a very needed thing for this sport. When shooting from outside, I see no differences, the women score as good as men, but the inside the paint playing makes it look a bit more boring.

And now for some stars of these games:

  • The Spanish basketball team have done, once again, a perfect performance, even putting the USA team under some problems during the final (118-107). As the Eurosport commentators said, we changed from being happy about the silver medal before the game to feel sad for having lost the gold medal. And this was because Spain played at the same level, face-to-face, against one of the best basketball teams in history (still eons behind of the 1992 USA dream team, of course), demonstrating, once again, the good health of Spanish basketball (with followers like myself, how can it not be healthy :-) ). European media even said this Spanish team was the best European team in history. But anyway, I’m a bit happy about the USA team winning the gold medal, because Kobe Bryant said he would not come back to the US if they didn’t win the gold medal, which would have been a very bad thing, provided we want him back at Los Angeles Lakers, with Pau Gasol.
  • Nastia Lukin is one of the stars, IMO, of these games. She’s one of the best gymnastics I’ve ever seen (along my favorite Svetlana Boginskaia), and it was a real pleasure to watch her performing awesome things. The same for some of the Chinese gymnasts, although, I think, in some cases, they got higher points than what they deserved. In most cases they didn’t need any help from the judges, they were simply the best, but there were a couple of gold medals that, I think, were not deserved by the Chinese. But this always happens in gymnastics, even after having found a quite good scoring system, there are always this kind of things for helping the local athletes.
  • What to say about Michael Phelps that hasn’t been said? I’ll just mention how he does the turns. He was, in some races, a few meters behind the leader, and after the turn, he was the leader, with a few meters distance between him and the 2nd one, just amazing! I’ll also mention the 4×100 freestyle relays, one of the best (if not the best) swimming races I’ve seen in my life, with 5 teams swimming under the previous world record. It’s been amazing to see so many world records (26!) in the swimming competitions.
  • Britta Steffen was another amazing performer, she won 2 gold medals (50 and 100 m freestyle) at the very last millisecond, in one of them she didn’t even know she had won, since she was behind the leaders by a few meters.
  • Kenenisa Bekele and the Ethiopians and Kenyans in athletics are just amazing also. And made me think about a good way of convincing racist people about the white people not being superior. On the contrary, the black people are the ones that are superior, at least in sports (and music, I might add :-) ), and specially in Athletics. It’s quite unusual to see some white athlete in the first places in some events, and the medals won by European countries in those events are from naturalised Africans.
  • The Jamaicans did a great performance in the speed races (100, 200 and 4×100 relays), both men and women, and specially worth mentioning is Usain Bolt, who won 3 gold medals with 3 world records. Worth mentioning also is the case of the 4×100 relays USA team, who, year after year, even though they have some of the best athletes, they end up dropping the relay and losing all chances to win a medal. After watching the replays and hearing the commentators, it was clear that they don’t train passing the relay, which is a very basic and needed thing if you want to do something in this event :-)

Now, just looking back to London 2012, which, I hope, I might be able to feel live, since my sister lives in the UK, so a visit to her during the Olympics is a must.

Olympics’ hopes

With the Olympic Games about to start, here’s what I hope to see:

  • While I fully support the protests for a Free Tibet (and against the Chinese regime), Beijing was chosen 6 years ago, and if people did want to boycott the Olympic Games in China, it would have been wiser to do it so 6 years ago. Of course, I’m not saying all protests should stop, it is nice to have the dictatorial regime get nervous by all the international media’s attention to protests, but I really hope nothing like this (skip to 4:30) happens again. That is, please protest as much as you want, but please pretty please, don’t ruin the years of preparation of the sportsmen and women that have dedicated a big part of their lifes to get here. Doing so would be like having someone remove all the GNOME (or any other free software project) subversion code, for instance, to protest against the Chinese regime. I’m sure we wouldn’t like that at all, even if we support the protests.
  • No dopping cases please.
  • I really hope to see a USA-Spain final in basketball, for a Los Angeles 84 revenge. Although it’s going to be hard, with Argentina, Russia and Greece being part also of the favorites for the medals.
  • In cycling, the Spanish team is one of the best in history for this kind of race (Freire, Samuel Sánchez and Valverde, accompanied by Contador and Sastre, the 2 last Tour de France winners), so, like every year in the World Championships, it seems it’s going to be a very nice race, specially since the Italians are very strong also (with Paolo Bettini). Also, mountain bike/BMX competitions are quite funny to watch on TV.
  • I hope to see as many (and as long as possible) Cuban women volleyball team games as possible. If you want to know why, just watch their games :-)
  • Won’t miss any of the Athletics, Swimming and Gymnastics competitions.
  • After my experience in the river Sella, I’m willing to watch also some rowing/canoeing action.

Anyway, good luck to everyone, and please, try to not stay too much time in the sofa watching the games :-) You can just do some exercises while you watch the sports or when going to the sofa to somewhere else and back, so as to feel the Olympic spirit also :-D

Asturias patria querida

I was out last week on vacation in Asturias, in the North-West of Spain. Asturias is one of the few regions in Spain I had never visited, so it was time, and what a good idea indeed. Asturias (or at least the East part of it, where I’ve been) is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in my life. With the sea in the North, and a land full of huge mountains (totally covered with forests or with land full of cows and horses), it is indeed a paradise (that’s what they say when you get into Asturias, ‘Welcome to Asturias, a nature paradise’).

We went to Cangas de Onís, a very nice village close to the river Sella (the real reason we came here, more later), just a few kms close to the Picos de Europa national park, and with lots of things to do around.

First mandatory thing to do was to visit the Lagos de Covadonga, mytical finish of lots of stages of the Vuelta a España (cyclism’ Tour of Spain), with the sanctuary of Covadonga in the way to it:

The road to the lakes, which goes from less than 200 meters to more than 1000 meters above the sea level, is indeed perfect for a cycling race, except for the cows, which just hang around the road and the mountains around without caring about the cars, just laying down in the middle of the road :-)

At the top of the road, the landscape is really wonderful:

But as I said, we came to Cangas de Onís because we wanted to do some canoieng in the river Sella, famous because of the International Descent of the River Sella, a race, to take place on August 9th, where 1000s of people participate, racing and in the different celebrations in all the villages and towns along the river bank. I don’t have many photos of this, since I didn’t want to ruin my camera if my canoe got sinked :-) So the first day we did it, I didn’t take any photos, the 2nd one, I took my cell phone with me and just got a few photos.

You just need to pay 25 € per person, and you are given a single/double/triple canoe, and then you can go on your own, stop in any of the many beaches around the river to eat the snadwiches you are given, or just relax. And then there are different places where you can stop, at 7, 10 or 12 kms. We got, although quite tired, both days to the last exit, and, believe me, we would have continued for more time, since just being in the river, surrounded by mountains, without seeing any civilization apart from the (lots of) people canoeing also and the few bars around the river bank is indeed a very funny thing to do, which, hopefully, I’ll be doing again around here, if I can find a place to do it (there are lots of rivers around here, but not sure if you are allowed to navigate them, and also, I wouldn’t like going on my own without knowing if a place is safe or not).

Also, while I don’t fancy much going to the beach in summer (I love it in winter), I have to confess I’ve changed a bit my mind after being in some beaches in Asturias. First of all, the weather is ok, not too hot (as in the Mediterranean, where I’ve almost always been when going to the beach in Summer), and there are just a few people, and finally, but most important, the beaches are just spectacular. We found one, called Playa de las Cuevas del Mar, which was a perfect place to just sit down and contemplate.

We also did lots of walking around the countryside, some tourism sightseeing, and, every day, we ate wonderful stuff like Chorizos a la Sidra, Escalopines al Cabrales, etc, and, specially, Fabada:

I’ll be back to Asturias soon for sure.

UEFA Euro 2008

I have been always a football fan (and player when I was much younger), but in the last couple of years or so, I stopped watching games because I usually just fell asleep while watching them. Compared to other sports I like (cycling, basketball, motor racing, etc), I find football very boring, except for a few games once in a while. But for this Euro 2008 that finished yesterday, I decided to try watching first only the Spanish team games, and, if I didn’t fall asleep, maybe try with others. So I just watched the 3 Spain’s games in the 1st round, the 1/4 finals against Italy, and then the 2 semifinals and, yesterday, the final. I have to confess I really enjoyed those games, specially the 2 semifinals in general and the 2nd half of the Spain-Russia in particular.

But, even though I might be back into watching more football games in the upcoming season (at least until I fall asleep again :-) ), there are some things in football that I wanted changed many years ago and that, as I’ve witnessed during these last few weeks, haven’t changed yet:

  • First of all is the referees. As in all sports, they make mistakes, that’s normal, what’s not normal is that such mistakes can have such a huge impact on the final result (media here in Spain usually even have an alternative standing with the points lost/won by each team from referee’s mistakes). So, why the UEFA/FIFA or whatever don’t do as in other sports, where video replays are used when referees are not sure? Of course, I’m not saying the referee should stop the game to watch the replay for every doubtful play, as is done in some sports, but there could be a group of judges watching the game on TV, with special cameras, and just communicate via radio with the referee. Also, there could be more referees on the field, like in basketball, for instance, where there are 3 in a much smaller playing field. I’m starting to think nothing is done to fix this so as to allow the media to talk after the games about the referee’s mistakes, which is what the media do most of the week while waiting for the next game, at least here.
  • Lots of team play very deffensive, and that makes some games as boring as watching your hair grow. I used to like a lot football back in the days of Johann Cruyff’s FC Barcelona Dream Team. The best was Barcelona, playing very offensive, and so the rest of the teams copied the playing style, and it was very common to have very high results, like 7-3, 4-3, 5-4, etc, etc, which make the games, at least for me, very attractive to watch. So, why not do again like in other sports, where the rules are more dynamic, and are changed to cut the very defensive styles and make the game more offensive? That happened a few years ago, for instance, on the NBA, the scores were getting very low, so they added/changed a couple of rules to make the game more offensive. I would really like to have, in football, a much less restrictive off-side rule, there would be many more scores and make the games more attractive, since you can’t be too defensive if you are losing 2-0.
  • Spanish people got totally crazy last night, with lots of injured people and even one death in Madrid, as I’ve heard on the radio this morning. 2 years ago, the basketball team won the world championship, and, AFAIR, there were no problems, people went to receive the team to the airport and just cheered at them while they were driven across the city, so, why does this always happen around football? I guess it’s got nothing to do with the sport, just that it’s the most popular one around here and it attracts all kinds of weird people.

Anyway, congratulations to the Spanish team for this win, specially because this is the only thing that unifies Spaniards, the football national team. Before and after this Euro Cup, people did/will complain about the other regions’ people, and some did/will even say they don’t feel Spanish at all, but these days, with an European champion team, everyone likes Spain, yay for football nationalism! :-D

Supermotard at Cascante

I’ve been recently taking lots of pictures that I haven’t blogged about, so here is the first post about them.

To start with, last Sunday I went to Cascante, 50 kms from my place, to watch the Basque-Navarre Supermotard championship.

I didn’t take many photos, because I met there with a few friends, and we left early to drive some kms around in our bikes.

World champions!

Even without superstar Pau Gasol (injured at the semifinal), Spain won yesterday the FIBA World Cup, for the first time in history. This outperforms the silver medal won in Los Angeles’84, the most outstanding success of Spanish basketball until yesterday (and which I also witnessed, 22 years ago).

The real final was the semifinal against Argentina (75-74), and the final was much easier than expected (70-47), with Greece totally unable to score against the splendid Spanish defense. The game was a bit boring in terms of emotion, since Spain was so superior since the beginning, but this allowed us, Spaniards, to enjoy the victory many minutes before the end of the game.

One of the good things also has been that, for the first time in history, a Spanish TV has been broadcasting all games (not only Spain’s games, as in previous years, but *all* games), which is something already done in more “boring” sports (like football :-) Let’s hope the TVs take notes so that we can watch more Spanish league games in the upcoming season (last seasons it’s been only 1 game per week, 2 if you leave in some regions).

Another thing to note about this championship is the bronze medal for USA, another disappointment for NBA basketball. Even though they have the best players, they keep forgetting that basketball is a team game, and that now the difference between FIBA and NBA players is not as big as many years ago (when USA brought university teams and won almost always the gold medal, or when the splendid Dream Team in Barcelona’92). This makes it impossible for them to beat real teams (like Greece, Spain or Argentina) without doing team play. So let’s hope this makes a good lesson for them, so that we can see the best NBA-based team in Beijing’08, which is what we all want, even though that would mean no gold medal for Spain or any other country.

Mundobasket 2006

It was mostly clear, before the start of the 2006 FIBA World Championship, that Argentina, USA and Spain were superior to the other teams. And so far, that’s what has happened, maybe with the inclusion of Greece. Although happy for the Spain’s way to semifinals, I must confess it hasn’t been as funny as other championships, since Spain has been so superior to the teams they’ve played against that games were without emotion. Fortunately Spain is the real dream team in this championship :-), so there were lots of spectacular plays.

Next Friday, the moment of truth will come, Spain-Argentina. A pity, since a final between Spain and Argentina is what I would have liked. After that, either USA or Greece in the final.