Vulture feeding and Catalan hospitality

A photographer came to the village today to take pictures of the vultures, and we went to help out. We were on our way to Alinyà when we met one of the local guys, Juan-Anton, and got chatting. It was really interesting hearing his story. He moved from Barcelona four years ago, and has rebuilt a pig shed and yard into a beautiful house, which he showed us around. There is a book about the area called “Alinyà, Muntanya Viva” (Living Mountian), and Juan-Anton showed us pictures of people butchering pigs and preparing sausages, which were taken in his house! We also saw photos of Lluis, who runs the restaurant, weaving baskets. The people here have many skills!

Rafael (Silvia’s husband) came to collect us and we went to meet Silvia and the photographer, Herr Storsberg, at the visitor centre. Herr Storsberg is German and speaks little English and no Catalan, and Silvia doesn’t speak German. Luckily Anna does speak German so we were soon chatting away, with Anna translating from German to English, and Silvia from English to Catalan for Rafael, who claims not to speak English (but after today we think his English is OK!).

Silvia stayed at the visitor centre and the rest of us set off back up the mountain with a babel of voices in the car, and six big barrels of carcasses on the back of the van. With no Silvia we had no English-Catalan translation service and we felt a bit sorry for Rafael driving along with the conversation going straight past him.

We got to the top of the hill, and found a luxury bird hide, with a toilet, drinking water and big thick walls to insulate from the sun. British birdwatchers would be green with envy! Herr Storsberg went inside to set up, and we set about scattering chunks of rabbit and sheep across the feeding area. The smell wasn’t great, but I think the worst bit was the recognizable bits of rabbit. They were so cute, and soooo dismembererd!

Nice hide

Nice hide

Stinky birdfeed

Stinky birdfeed

There were no vultures in sight as we started scattering carrion, but by the time we finished five minutes later there were about 20 griffon vultures circling overhead. We put the empty meat barrels back on the van as the first ones came in to land. They were massive up close! It was amazing to get such a good view of them after seeing them at a distance so many times, it felt like being in a nature documentary! Rafael was suddenly in a hurry so we jumped in the van and started to pull off. I asked if I could take a quick picture but he said we couldn’t because it’s very important that the vultures don’t get used to people. That’s why he wanted to get out of there. So we headed back down the hill and left Herr Storsberg to enjoy himself for 4 hours!

On the way back we started trying out our Spanish on Rafael. I managed “Le vultures es aqui rapido” (hopefully that’s something like “the vultures is here quickly”). Not exactly Cervantes, but he understood and started telling us about the vultures in a mix of Catalan, French and English. In totally natural situations, it is actually the ravens that are usually the first to the carrion. The vultures have amazing eyesight and they look for the brilliant black of the ravens to identify feeding sites. Here they are also accustomed to the white van with the red barrels as well as the various feeding sites so they are even quicker to lunch! This conversation was a good ice-breaker, and after that we were less shy about trying to talk to each other. It was a nice drive back down the track feeling like we could actually communicate a little bit in another language.

We were dropped off at home while Rafael went and did more work. Anna pursued her journey to become the Ultimate Yogi (she’s at the start at the moment), while I read my book and took photos of things.

Nice butterfly I photographed at some point today

Nice butterfly

After a few hours Rafael came back and we went to pick up Herr Storsberg. He was pretty happy, he saw loads of griffon vultures and a black vulture. He saw a bearded vulture (the money shot) flying around, but it didn’t land. He plans to come back in October for another go at it!

Picking up Herr Storsberg

Picking up Herr Storsberg

On the way down the track Rafael pointed out an impressive looking peak with a little village nestled under it. The peak is called Eagle Mountain – very appropriate! Back in Alinyà, Herr Storsberg wanted to buy us a coffee, so we went to Cal Celso and looked at some of his previous photos while we chatted away in our various languages. He’s got some great pictures, if you want to check them out, have a look at his website here.

Eagle Mountain

Eagle Mountain

After saying goodbye to Herr Storsberg, Rafael wanted to move two of his horses up to El Ribatell where we are staying, so we helped him prepare some electric fencing, and later on we went with him and the kids, Joaquim (who is 11) and Carel (who is 5) to collect the horses. Rafael was leading one of the horses with Carel riding. Anna, Quim (pronounced Keem) and I were walking along behind, occasionally chasing on the other horse who was determined to try and eat every bit of grass in sight. We were halfway back to El Ribatell when it started to rain, massive fat drops. Two minutes later we got the rest, a heavy downpour which soon felt cold. Rafael told us to wait in an animal shelter while he sorted out the horses (we always suspected he didn’t really need us there!) so we hung around trying to learn Spanish and Catalan from Quim while Carel played in the straw. We saw a mouse climbing the wall, which was a good opportunity to learn a new word (ratolí). Rafael was back pretty quick, and told us to wait, he was going to get the car, take us home for dry clothes, then take us the their place for dinner!

We didn’t need to be asked twice, and we were soon sitting in Silvia and Rafael’s beautiful old house in front of a massive fire chatting with Quim while Rafael prepared dinner. Carel didn’t talk to us much; she was intent on trying to strangle Quim – but in a nice way. She was shouting “I love you – you’re in the prison!” while hanging onto his neck. Eventually we managed to distract her by playing a card game, and that kept us busy until Silvia got home. Rafael knocked the fire down to embers and cooked the meat for dinner (lamb, beef AND duck) over them, and then we sat down to the most delicious meal we’ve had for ages. Loads of perfectly cooked meat with a mushroom sauce and a cream sauce, salad, ravioli, catalan tomato bread (Pa amb tomàquet) with a tasty white wine (they had red but refused to serve it as it wasn’t good enough!).

We chatted about the food, the area and the lifestyle over dinner. Silvia said the only thing she misses from living in Girona is the people she worked with, apart from that everything here is better. I can believe it!

The good life at Rafael and Silvia's

The good life at Rafael and Silvia’s

At about 11 pm, Carel started complaining that she was tired – the first time Anna and I have seen a child actually ask to be put to bed! So Quim and Carel went to bed while we had a dessert of delicious yoghurts from one of Rafael’s many jobs working at a dairy farm. We talked a bit more about the forestry project, and the way that the two Foundations that are active in the valley work together to try and met their respective goals.

Finally it was time to go, and we got our stuff together. We were planning to walk back but Silvia insisted on driving us, saying that the curtains in the village would be twitching if we were left to walk home! On the way back we were found out that Rafael and Silvia have been together since she was 15! She said that she’d never found a better man. Aaaah!

– Dave

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