Archive for November, 2009


Yet Another Sector – Pedra Amarela – and more updates

November 27, 2009

And if I thought that the bouldering scene in Sintra was expanding and that I had plenty of projects… well, yesterday evening that was pushed out to another level.  At 2pm I met up with Pena and Rasta, Goncalo and Teresa, Philippe and another climber whose name I forget now at the Pedra Amarela (Yellow Stone) sector.  I had been there before, 8 years ago actually, when the area was completely overgrown with bushes and trees and when I was still taking my baby steps in climbing.  It is amazing how one’s view of a location can change with time.

Similarly to the other sectors in Sintra, Pedra Amarela is completely different.  The rock is a distinctly different color, the typical formations are distinctly different and the setting is different; by setting I mean the landscape, the environment.  I found myself again amazed at the diversity of this “small” mountain called Sintra.

Tapada sector is covered in trees and bushes and rock.  The feeling is of things close together, not cramped but covered, surrounded.  The rock in Tapada generally feels soft on the fingers (actually: read softer if you are not accustomed to Sintra… soft is not applicable to any rock here).

Pedra Amarela is more in the opposite direction, the view extends forever, hills with scattered boulders, in the distance you can see the ocean, the beaches, the city of Cascais and Lisbon.  The rock has a beautiful clean look, a pale yellow color which changes intensely as the day progresses, often forming tall slabs and rounded aretes.  A beautiful place for watching the sunset and for watching the stars.

…and for climbing too!!

Rasta on a nice slab problem (so many nice slabs in Pedra Amarela), foto by Teresa:

Goncalo on Doo Bop, foto by Teresa:

Myself on Doo Bop, foto by Teresa:

Phillipe on a nice line, foto by Teresa:

Pena on Estrela Decadente, foto by Teresa:

With good effort I managed to send both Doo Bop (7b) and Estrela Decadente (7a+ which I consider as hard as Doo Bop 7b).  Best news was that my ankle was not 100% but it was good enough to not bother me throughout the day!  and I feelt the bouldering form/motivation coming back after such a great night session.  Climbing with a bunch of happy motivated friends is the best way to get my spirits up, and it is my experience that most of the climbers here in Portugal are more motivated for the problem than they are motivated for their ego so the sessions end up being fun and we all try hard.


Two days later I was back in Sintra for another night session, this time at the Mecca area where my main project lies: O Mito (The Myth).  The picture below was taken at the end of September, on the 21st, when I first tried this line.  This is an overhanging crimp problem with shouldery moves, the stand start goes at 7a+ and the sit has seen two ascents: one by Leo and one by Andre.  Macau has worked this line for several months and got painfully close to sending (and taking the FA) before Leo did it, they both said 8a (V11).  Then Andre Neres got the second ascent and lowered the grade to V10.  Andre has been the rising mutant in Portuguese climbing for a few years now.  He progressed very quickly but then dropped out for some time and returned with a girlfriend and a baby girl; his return to climbing has seen the same progress as before and he has been crushing the hardest routes in Portugal, up to 5.14b, fast.  He doesn’t show up much in the bouldering world but when he does he normally sends several projects in a day.  On the day he sent O Mito sit he also sent a 10-year project in Sintra (graded it 7b …….) and a project Nico Favresse and I had been trying for about 4 days (grading it 7b+).

Photo by Macau

I was feeling super light that night and I very quickly sent the stand start which got me very motivated to work the moves on the sit.  After some figuring out I settled on a sequence which differs from both methods used by Macau, Leo and Andre but which suits me better and I started giving it burns.  The moves are still beyond my ability but feel very reachable!  We then moved on and scoped out some other climbs but nothing good enough to make me stop thinking about O Mito…

So, yesterday night I returned.  This time on a solo session in Sintra.  I took my pads to O Mito and spent a good hour methodically working the moves and listening to music.  Made some good progress but the link-up did not occur yet.  But it will.  To end the night I went to another sector to try the hardest line there called Eduardo Maos de Strappal (Edward Strappal Hands) rated 7b+.  This is a really nice overhanging compression problem on slopers, completely the opposite of O Mito.  The holds felt huge after working on crimps for an hour and compression moves are my favorite so I sent it quickly.  I started working on the sit start too which goes at 7c (V9) but couldn’t figure out how to do one of the moves… and then it started drizzling.

Here are two links to nice videos of climbing in Sintra made by a spanish climber called Dani, Macau does the sit to Eduardo Maos de Strappal at the very end of the second movie, enjoy:


Sintra on the Evolution Tour

November 21, 2009

Quinta-feira, Thursday, and another night for bouldering in Sintra.  Truth is I have not been bouldering too much recently, a fact I attribute to a combination of reasons.  For one, I have been sport climbing more and really enjoying it; secondly: the weather has been gnarly, either rainy or not rainy but really humid and damp… when will the cold crisp weather arrive?!; and lastly because many/most/all of the projects I had before coming to Portugal have been sent.  There are plenty of lines, plenty!! but the main projects, and the ones that I could climb by myself with two pads, I have already done.

Well, it was a nice week and a half hiatus from bouldering and I was ready to start again.  I met up with Pena and Rasta at the Malveira sector and after an hour we were joined by Philippe Ribiere who is doing a yearlong climbing tour in Europe (the Evolution Tour), this is nearing the end of his tour.  You can check out Philippe’s website here.  The weather was good though not too cold and after 3 short climbs I tried a nice classic called Bife na Pedra (7b), an aethetically nice line with good moves and I got very close but decided to move on and come back to it later when I would be properly warmed-up and moving better (this was not to happen).

We then went to a climb which Pena wanted to try called: Talochas (7b+), this, for me, was the gem of the night.  Upon seeing it I remembered that I had been with Macau when he first scouted this problem, at night about 4 years ago.  The line climbs a really nice rounded corner, starting off with a few reachy and balancy moves to two good crimps, then a long dyno to a slopey left-hand hold leaves you footless and you have to figure out some way to past your feet on the wall to make a long reach to some better holds.  The landing is kind of spicy but can be well protected, you really don’t want to fall higher than the crux though.  We all gave it some good effort and I managed to get the second ascent.  It is hard for me to grade since it involves the mental crux as well but since it got done pretty quickly I might suggest a slightly lower grade.  Regardless, it is a beautiful line with nice committing moves.

That was the gem of the night, the anti-gem was O Bigorna (7a+).  The problem itself is not that bad.  It is an obvious line with a rounded and technical topout that would shrink your nuts if it were any higher than it already is.  It was MY anti-gem of the night because I peeled off the topout, fell on the spotter and twisted my left ankle…  I got back on and managed to send the problem after two more tries but the ankle cooled down and it was definitely not 100% so I couldn’t try any more climbs.  I was worried about further damaging the ankle so even though we went to a few more beautiful lines (Body Pump 7b+/7b, Dinossaurus 7c+ and back to Bife na Pedra) I was unable to give them any significant effort.  I have learned that I can’t boulder at 60% effort… it really has to be at least 90% and with my mind on the ankle I couldn’t do anything.

Two days later and the ankle is feeling better so I don’t think this injury will plague me for more than a week.

Philippe took many pictures of that night and I’ll put them up as soon as I have them.

Update: photo by Philippe of me on the Talochas dyno:

Photo by Philippe of Pena on Talochas:One of my few half-assed attempts at Body Pump, already with a sprained ankle, photo by Philippe.  Pena was so close!!!

Thanks Philippe.


Vipassana, Fixed Gear Bicycles and Training for Climbing

November 11, 2009

This post was originally posted in my yoga/massage page and I add it here because of the obvious overlap.

On the first of November I returned home from a 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat/course.  I returned filled with new sensations, bodily sensations, with plenty of revelations, insight, and with many questions.

As is costumary, the questions arose hand in hand with the insights and throughout the process I would mentally connect the dots (because no writting or speaking was allowed) and by the end, somehow, the themes: Vipassana Meditation, fixed gear bicycles and training for climbing were the key themes.  Allow me to explain why.

I had really no idea what Vipassana meditation was before going into the course.  I had done a few 2-day retreats back in Gainesville, and also several 1-hour sits but they were not instructional sessions, they were sometimes guided but in a more relaxed way, more intuitive.  The truth is that even if those previous sessions had been guided and in the traditional form I would still return from this experience saying the same thing because a 10-day retreat/pilgrimage/journey has instilled a experiential/somatic knowledge of what Vipassana meditation is for me that one or several two-day or 1-hour sessions could not.

It was a silent retreat.  The first few hours we were allowed to talk with the other people who had signed up, I talked to a couple of people but felt myself already gearing up for the retreat by talking less.  We had a light dinner consisting of soup and bread and then the men headed over to sleep on their side of the building and the women on their side.  The segregation was to be mainted throughout the retreat and was aided by separate dining halls and separate areas of meditation; its function was to make it easier for us, the meditators, in that we would have one less thing to think about (i.e. not thinking about courting, about sex, about flirting).  I would say that measure was about 50-60% effective.

We learned Vipassana meditation as taught by Goenka (a.k.a. Sri Satya Narayan Goenka). The technique behind this was very simple, very straightforward, very devoid of belief structures or cerebral games (such as imagining something, some person, form or deity).  I ressonated very much with this right from the beginning in that it was all centered around developing a heightened awareness of the body.  The technique is, in part (or at its root), noticing the entirity of what the body is sensing at each moment; through that noticing, equanimous noticing, one becomes aware of the games they play and in which they get trapped.  Mind games of craving and aversion which limit juan’s full perception of the world by filtering filtering filtering the incoming information.

That is as far as I’m going to go in describing the technique because that has very little to do with what I experienced, and what I experienced is what I can really write about (or else I would be going around the world teaching the technique myself).

We meditated for 10 hours and watched a 1-hour video of Goenka talking each day.  That is 11 hours of sitting.  Exercise was … minimal.  I stretched every now and then, did a few handstands, walked around the limited area allowed for students and that is all.  We would sit for 1.5 hours and then get a 5-minute break and then another 1-hour or more sitting… and so on and so on.  The first 3 days were the most difficult ones for me.  During those days the sitting was the most painful, as the body was still adapting to the routine, and the thought of staying for 10 days… it felt like a long time, like time was going sooooooo slow.  I say: “the first 3 days” but the truth is that I am generalizing each day, giving an overall impression, what really happened was that during each day I would experience moments when everything seemed sooooo easy and in which I would think to myself: “I could sit like this for hours on end with no effort” and then moments when 5 minutes were AN ETERNITY!!!  Overall, the first 3 days were hard.  Goenka says that the 2nd and 6th days are when students most want to leave the course (and often do, Goenka himself had packed to leave on the second day of his first 10-day course).

Up to, and including, the third day I would wake up, meditate, eat, sleep, meditate, eat, sleep, meditate, snack, meditate, sleep.  But in the fourth day something really shifted.  The sky seemed clearer, things were less foggy inside.  I felt lighter, more expanded, less turmoil.  I started to feel more aligned.  I was feeling so much more awake that I attempted skipping the day-sleeps, day-naps, and though I thought I would become sleepy at the meditations I didn’t, I felt more awake.  Wondering what exactly I was feeling, how to describe it to myself, and what could be the reason for this led me to the memory of the first time I tried a fixed gear bicycle.

Fixed gear bicycles are for crazy people, that was the impression I had before trying them.  I mean, you don’t have brakes!  You can’t just be biking along and then hit the brakes.  Who would want to not have brakes??  The other thing is the uphills, you can’t shift into a different gear when you get close to an uphill or a downhill for that matter, you have to put more effort or less effort the bottom line being that the wheels only move as much as the feet move and the feet move as much as the wheels move.  If you loved to cruise down those steep hills, to raise your arms and close your eyes and feel the breeze in your face then fixed gear bikes are not for you: if your bike starts going fast because of gravity then your feet have to keep up.  So I got on this beautiful, gorgeous fixed gear bike and decided to just give it a small ride around the block; what happened next I can only describe by saying that as soon as I strapped into the bike it became a part of my body.  There is a sense of alignment when I ride a fixie, lightness, there are no extra pieces rattling around, no extra baggage, just the essential and it is working in unison with the body.  It was definitely awkward the first turn that I made but also correct, true; I had to slow down with the whole body in order to slow the bike, not simply grip the brakes.  Furthermore, the bike’s simplicity forces a simplicity in myself, an honesty in my own movement, a heightened awareness of my body.

Wanna know how they brake while going on the downhill? watch this first video:


Having Fixie Fun:

So in the Vipassana retreat, around the 4th day onwards, each day I was greeted with a deeper sense of alignment, and with that alignment came a feeling of strength too.  To describe it further: I see my body as a complex, very complex, instrument.  It has so many parts and they are all working together to make the whole.  Many of those parts are so present in my mind, such as the hands since I use them alllll the time; but many of those parts are blind spots, areas that are not really in the forefront of my mind.  When I want to do any action, running, jumping, swimming, sitting, standing, walking, anything I can only do it with those parts that are conscious, the other parts, the blind spots go along for the ride.  Sometimes, the blind spots are so important, however, that they influence the movement of the whole body.  The top notch athlete that after excelling at a sport for years “had” to get a normal 9-5 sitting job and his body changed but when he looks again at the sport he used to do he knows he can still run the 100m in 9.5s but his body (or parts of his body) cannot perform (an perhaps in attempting he injures himself).  I noticed I had more control of the movements I wished to make (a handstand or a stretch for example), like those blind spots were being integrated, like the Vipassana meditation was bringing consciousness to those blind spots and thus they could become part of the conscious whole.

Aside from the other mystical experiences I had during those 10 days (the snake charming, the levitation, the awakening of the kundalini, and so on and so on) I left with a sense of health like no other I had experienced before.  This was the health I have wanted to have through training.  This was the strength and whole-body bliss I have wanted to feel through the exercises.  Here it was.  After 10 days of sitting on my ass for 10-hours a day.  The analytical part of me was very perplexed.

It has now been 10 days since the retreat and I have had time to digest and process the experiences.  I have learned what aspects of my previous lifestyle do not support the presence of that superior state of health, what aspects add baggage to this instrument that is the body-mind and which ones respect it.  I have gone climbing and noticed how much more pleasant it is to climb with such health, such full-body awareness.  I have made love and noticed how much richer lovemaking is when I am more fully present, there is sensation everywhere.  I really notice how large of a role the food that I eat has on my health, the type and the quantity.

Having a curious scientific mind I have conjured up many a theory about this, one such theory is as such:  during my training for climbing, for example, I do exercises on top of exercises, pull-ups, sit-ups, climbing, levers, finger hangs et cetra.  All those exercises are traumatic to the body, it is as if I am trying to shape the body into a certain shape/form that I believe will make it optimal for climbing.  They are also traumatic to the mind for these exercise regiments tend to bring me to a result-level state of mind which removes awareness/acuity of the body senses.  I measure my health, my progress, by how many pull-ups I can do that day, or how many sets, or how much weight is being lifted – that becomes the gauge, the thermometer.  The goal is to do more, to do them more statically perhaps, more controlled, or faster and more controlled.  Patxi Usobiaga, for example, a top climber trains8 hours a day for months on end with no rest .  Often times that training is simply volume,  1000 moves on the climbing wall for example.  Often times it is power, campusing with weights.  He also receives massage and constant evaluation and so on, no doubt about that, but I question how much introspection he does?  How much time he spends simply sensing his body, as it is when it is quiet, still, without having it do anything or anything done to it.  Maybe he knows that his left bicep can lift less than his right by 2% because his charts tell him so but what does he really sense?  I wonder what is the concept he has of his body.  Chris Sharma, another top climber, spent 2 months working on his new house, I heard he climbed twice or three times during those months, yet he competed amongst the very best and came in … what was it 2nd? 3rd?  I wonder what is the concept he has of his body, his body-mind.  I know that I watch Patxi climb and I feel like I’m watching a machine, precise, and methodical.  Whereas when watching Chris it’s like watching something more natural like a wave in the ocean, very little restricted motion, not much order/rigidity, and Adam Ondra is like watching a ball of fire, pure motivation somehow exhibiting shape/form.  Now what is “healthy”?  I know I came out of those 10-days being able to climb much better yet I couldn’t do 600 pull-ups in an hour anymore; climb better and simply feel better, move better, breath better.

What is the best goal when training then?  Internal alignment?  External performance?  What is your concept of your body and what are you reinforcing when you train?  Reinforcing blind spots and strengths?  Reinforcing overall health?




I again think that that 10-day period was essential because it allowed enough time for me to experiment a different way of life and it gave time for that way of life to sink into a body feeling and then into mental knowledge, which is real knowledge, not knowledge from a book that says to eat this and that in order to be “healthy” but knowledge born from experience, REAL experience which is to say: your own, my own, juan’s own somatic experience.


Final Note: I already talked to two friends who at some time in their lives also did a similar 10-day Vipassana retreat and their experiences were very different.


Inspirational Climbing Movie, step aside Progression

November 10, 2009
I loved the new Josh Lowell movie: Progression.  It was really well filmed and had awesome shots of really good climbers on hard routes… having said that, I much prefer this movie:

The Joy of Climbing!

November 9, 2009

Since I arrived back in Portugal I have been bouldering bouldering bouldering.  This was expected because that is what I have always felt most comfortable doing and because for the past 7.5 years (since leaving Portugal to study in the US) that is what I have been doing.  However, somewhere in those last years something shifted.

When I started climbing it was always rope climbing, sport climbing, not bouldering.  I only took to bouldering after several months of sport climbing.  Those first months were great, I went to the crags with my brother or with Jonas and messed around on easy climbs, rarely eyeing anything more difficult than 6b.  Then I began to become familiarized with the climbing community and started to go to a newly opened climbing wall; a miniature thing in a miniature spot.  That was when the addiction really started.  I got addicted to being capable of doing a harder move, a trickier move; of inventing problems that were fun and involved intricate sequences.  I got so addicted that I managed to convince the owners to give me a key and I would go there alone and try hard on this 2.5×2.5×2.5 meter room.  I didn’t apply it to outdoor bouldering, only on a couple of occassions but I found that that was too hard still, but applying that to the rope climbing I noticed that I quickly progressed through the grades… however, it was all about grades for me at the time.  Not to show off to others but it was the grade that I was trying for.  The grade, the hard moves, and the fear of falling were the three most present things on every trip.

Skip forward 8 years, 8 years of bouldering and growing up, and somewhere in the end of those 8 years of sobering I found myself enjoying rope climbing in a new way.

Yesterday I went back to the premier (though recently rivaled) climbing spot in central Portugal: Fenda.  My heart was overjoyed to be back there and it was so refreshing to see it full of new eager climbers.  At the moment rope climbing for me has become a bliss trip.  I tie in and start to feel so much happiness, then I begin the route and do the first 10 moves and notice that I still have 30 more to go, or 40, and it feels so good.  It has become like reading a good book, but so much better because the interaction is fully somatic, full-body, not cerebral.  It’s like my body got so saturated of doing 3-7 move boulder problems that now it is in bliss to go on a long trip.  Like a sprinter who has been told he can leave the indoor track and go for a long jog on the beach.

Other than that bliss there is the challenge.  The challenge in climbing has, for me, become less and less about the grade and more and more about my inner fears.  In bouldering I have enjoyed going alone more often because I am frequently self-conscious and can get in a rut if the people I’m climbing with are not easy-going, if they are too serious (of course, all judgements on my part).  In rope climbing it is the fear of falling, the fear of trying.  Yesterday I felt that as I eyed the hardest route I had sent 8 years ago.  It had been the next step in my progression and those steps were coming fast; it wasn’t like I was established on any grade, I just wanted to go further, growing higher not wider.  It was a 5.12b/c and I was feeling the little voice telling me not to get on it.  So I did.  I said fuck it, said it was time for a new pattern and put the shoes on and went on it.  I gave it what I had and got through the bouldery crux section, climbing well, and fell after hanging after the crux looking for the correct sequence.  Then made it to the top, and came down happy as ever (and pumped as ever).

For the final route I decided to try an new 5.12b/c, a long route, knowing that this was too early to go into a 40+ move route at the end of the day.  I gave it a go and had to hang about 5 times; it wasn’t even a question of fear of falling but just that the forearms got overpumped and lost and strength and I had to wait a few minutes between attempts in order to do 5 more moves.  I finally made it to the top, lowered, and belayed a friend on it who showed me all the moves.  I decided I’d give it another go before leaving so after a good 20-30 minute rest and as the sun went down I got back on the route.  Somewhere about the 7th move I sunk into myself, got out of my head, noticed where I was, what I was doing, and my body relaxed.  I stopped gripping as hard, started breathing easier, moving more openly and the thought crossed my mind that with good technique I might send the route.  So I climbed smart, took good rests, stayed relaxed and lo-and-behold I got to the very last 2 moves with fatigued forearms.  Giving it all I had I stabbed for the holds in the last moves and made it to the anchors!

Before flying to Portugal I made a long tick-list of the routes I wanted to do, yesterday the first one got scratched off.  So much more than a name and a number… I’m really really looking forward to experiencing the other climbs, getting to know their stories, and doing it in the company of good friends as was the case yesterday!!!

IMG_5277IMG_5278IMG_5279IMG_5280IMG_5283IMG_5285IMG_5286A short but important p.s.

The word Fenda, in Portuguese, means a crevice.  This climbing area is located very close to the beach but from the beach you can only see the rising mountain side, not the climbing wall because the wall is located in a crevice.  There are several sectors in this area and most of the routes are overhanging. The routes are made of limestone rock in tones of orange to black and the holds are very varied: tufas, crimps, pockets, slopers…  The Fenda has been a climbing spot for about 2 decades now and despite this long time it has few greasy/polished routes since the climbing community has not been very numerous … Climbing is possible year-round; summer time you belay the climber as he/she drips sweat into your eyes, winter time is perhaps the most recommended as the holds are less greasy and the overhanging rock allows for climbing even during rain.

I’m really grateful to those who bolted these routes a long time ago and to those who have kept them in good conditions by replacing bolts and anchors.  This is definitely an excellent spot for climbing!