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June 21st, 2014

Returning to south west Europe for us is never hard.  Not sure if it is the richness of the food, the onslaught of the ridiculously cheap wine, the beautiful landscapes or the ancientness of it’s villages, but it’s fast becoming a tradition of ours to spend our June walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago in this corner of the world.  This June was no different as we set out on the Camino Portuguese to both spread the good word of Ohenro and to get a little bit of pilgrimage in us ourselves.  360km, 12 full days of walking, whining wineing  to the western most tip of continental Europe, Finisterre.

We had 1 night each in Lisboa and Porto before starting the walk, which is a damn shame, because both cities deserve so much more time.  For Lisboa, it was our first meal which won us over- just amazing seafood at this crazy hectic restaurant recommended by a couple of our best guests.

Of course the city too is really beautiful.

After an afternoon and following morning of exploring, we headed out on the train to Porto.  It’s hard to describe just how evocative this city is- and as these things go, the pictures don’t really help much either.  It has this medieval core straddling this beautiful river longed used as the main transport hub of the city’s most famous export, port wine.  Again, just didn’t have time to do it justice but got enough to KNOW we will go back someday.

After picking up our credentials at the cathedral in Porto, we headed out, via the beach for the 1st couple of days, which ended up being a pretty brutal slog along the coast and non-stop rain.  Sort of a weird start; no arrows, almost no other pilgrims- we saw 2 others, mainly walking along hammered boardwalks and newer buildings.  We later talked to a Portuguese women on the last days of our pilgrimage to Finisterre who told us about the massive waves, and destruction that the north coast of Portugal received last winter.  If you remember, the biggest wave ever ridden was last winter on this very coast.

We finally starting getting our grove, and into the pilgrimage when we cut inland from Vila do Conde.  We starting walking through some beautiful country side and some amazing little villages-all the while staying at some of the best albuergues on the camino.

We both really like Portugal, Noriko especially like the food- less rich than Spanish food with possibly a more nuanced flavor.  Walking in Portugal was really quite interesting, and crossing over the border from Valenca (Portugal) to Tui (Spain), one can sense an immediate difference.  It’s almost as if there is a layer of development, infrastructure and wealth that Spain has that Portugal is missing.  Portuguese people are great, quick to say hello and smile; all with a humble quality to them.  

One of the highlights for us, was the fortaleza (fortress) area of Valenca.  It is another world filled with bulwarks, towers, massive walls, tiny winding alley ways, churches and great places to sit and watch the sunset (with a bottle of vinho verde) with a surly Irish man that happens to be walking/riding the pilgrimage at the same times as us.

Crossing into Spain, well, Galicia, was pretty dramatic-the towns are much more substantial, the people are definitely busier with more attitude and the camino starts to have more people.  Of course, no where near the amount of people that we encountered on the Camino Frances last year, but still more.  It also started warming up significantly and we started putting in some long days.  I certainly felt like I was back in my element; speaking very broken Spanish, eating chorizo like I had a tapeworm (I didn’t) and bathing in wine.  Nori’s obsession was Pulpo Gallego (Galician style Octopus) the whole time we were in Galicia-rightfully so, pretty delicious.

It was a bit surreal to return to Santiago, especially from the south this time- actually a much better approach than the Camino Frances; way less urban and offering some nice views.  As opposed to our past caminos, we didn’t see anyone that we walked with, at all, we didn’t do the mass and we really just treated it like another stage of the pilgrimage.  Because we knew we were headed for Finisterre this time, it didn’t feel like the destination, just another beautiful city on the camino, albeit with many many tourists, both walkers and non.

The Camino Finisterre was really wonderful, neither of us had much of an idea what it would be like and we didn’t have a guide book.  Of course, as these things do, it worked out perfectly- we had one morning without our requisite cafe con leche but…was a small price to pay for the freedom and spontaneity of not carrying a guide.  Definitely gorgeous Galician trails through moss covered walls, stone hamlets, amazing food/wine but the nail in the coffin were the sick views of the coast from the tops of the mountains.  Of course, that first view of cabo Fisterre is something I’ll never forget.

One thing we were particularly blown away by was how beautiful the water and beaches were in and around Finisterre…it really was like Thailand or the Caribbean.  Soft, pure white sound, multi-shaded turquoise water were definitely an inviting site on our approach to the (previously, errounously  thought of) end of the world.

After getting a cheap room and a little nap in, we hit the port for pulpo and paella.  It was a great way to end the day and the pilgrimage.  That evening, we (along with about 50 other pilgrims) went to light house that is at the western most tip of Europe, about 3.5km from town, to watch the sunset.

Easy to get superlative about the moment, but it was one of those times in life where you are just mindful of the moment, grateful to be there, witnessing something important.  It really added a component of  ”finishing” to the pilgrimage also that I haven’t felt before on my other pilgrimages.  I find something lacking when arriving at Santiago; it’s a great city, it’s dramatic, you get to meet up and hug some of the people that you met along the way, but, it all feels a bit rushed, as if you skipped the last part of a great film.  Walking the 3 days to Finisterre not only gives you time to reflect on your walk, the things you have brooded over, the places and people you have met, it also gives you the ultimate closure in the form of that sunset.

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May, 14th, 2014

Repeater guest, Kochi stalwart and all around good guy, Bear, hosted a really great live event at the guesthouse last weekend, May 10th.  His collection of ceramics really blew everyone away and he ended up selling quite a few pieces.  We also had the  awesome deal where if you bought a cup, you received a 15% discount on all drinks for the night-as you would expect, many people took us up on the offer.


There was also a group project aspect to the evening.  Bear brought a bunch of uncooked, soft tiles for the guests to mold, sculpt, engrave and decorate as they see fit.  There were all sorts of scalpels, knives, stamps and other implements to help shape the tiles.

It was really fun and a great way for everyone to interact with both the clay and each other and some of them came out really really good.  He took them all back home with him and he is going to glaze and fire them then send them back to us in one large piece which we will then display in the guesthouse.


In addition to all the pottery goodness, there was a revolving group of musicians entertaining all of us.  We had Japanese musicians playing original compositions; very unique, very good.

We also had a foreign contingent of Kochi musicians doing it all, from off-color originals to amazing re-imaginings of classics such as Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage”.  Such a good vibe, everyone was completely into it for the whole evening.


It truly was a great evening and one of the smoothest, most entertaining events we have had in the guesthouse.  Bear and his awesome lady Steph are unfortunately leaving after his current contract is over, but we hope to have more events similar to this one in the future!

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Super cute and lovely “Nemunemu no Ki” is coming back to SEN, Matsuyama.. Don’t miss it!!

Sunday, April 20th
Open 7:15 pm
Start 7:30 pm
FREE, but donation appreciated.
*1 drink order at our bar, please (if you don’t stay at our guesthouse)
*If you come by a car, please use a coin parking nearby.

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Feb. 23rd, 2014


Nori and I just got back from a really nice 5 day break where we went to Sapporo, Kiroro resort and Osaka.  Since coming to Japan 5 years ago, I’ve always wanted to go experience Hokkaido, both in the winter and in the summer.  And though the summer trip will have to wait for another day, the winter version just had its first installment.

After flying to Sapporo (on super cheap Peach) and checking in to our rather boring business hotel, we headed out to experience the last day of yuki matsuri, the annual snow festival of Sapporo.  And though it was very crowded, it was a large enough site that one didn’t feel too claustrophobic.  Yuki Matsuri is a 2 week festival celebrating all things snow, ice and (yes) Hokkaido.  There was a huge ski slope, 3 and 4 story ice and snow buildings, ice and snow sculptures, ice bars and other sorts of over-the-top ice stuff.  The highlights for me were the light/projection shows on those huge ice buildings.  The projections made the ice buildings come alive with music, opening doors, vines racing up the technocolored ice; very interesting and very well executed.

On another street, there were the clear ice sculptures, replete with fish, crab, lobster and other randomness frozen in the sculptures themselves.

Of course, no trip to Hokkaido is complete without raving about the food eaten on said trip.  I will be no exception, the food was just amazing- I thought that I had eaten sushi before; I was deliciously mistaken.  The freshest fish and seafood, cheap, huge quantities.  I don’t really want to get too ridiculous here, but, I have deliberately not eaten sushi since coming back because I wish to not disrespect the critters in Hokkaido nor disrupt the memories of how good it was.

Ok, on to the ski slopes.  If you haven’t heard, Hokkaido probably has the best powder snow in the world; must be ridden to be believed.  I am almost a complete beginner when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, but even me, in my infancy, know how amazing that powder is.  There are points when you are snow boarding, flying down the mountain, and you can’t even see below your knees because you are sunk so far in the powder.  You fall, and it doesn’t hurt and you don’t get wet; you just look up in sky, with the flakes falling, just happy you are experiencing it.

KiRoRo, which is about 1 1/2 away from Sapporo, is quite near Niseko, but unlike it’s bigger, more famous older brother, KiRoRo has way less people and it is a great ski mountain for beginners-tons of long “green” runs.  The food was good, the view from our room was epic, and there was 3 1/2 meters of snow just everywhere.  I did take one really bad hit to the head, but thanks to Jim and his recommendation to always use a helmet, I was ok.  There is just something sublime about standing at the top of a mountain, strapped to a board taking in the beautiful view, flurries all around, and knowing that in a second you will be surfing down the slope.  I can’t wait till I’m good enough where I won’t have to think about what I’m doing and just experience it pure and simple.

After an amazing couple of days on the mountain, we did have to get back to Matsuyama.  Unfortunately, that day Osaka was getting hit by a huge snow storm, so our flight was delayed by 6 hours.  Luckily, New Chitose airport (Sapporo) is really good; they have tons of excellent Hokkaido restaurants and speciality stores, chocolate museum, stuffed animal zoo and a movie theatre.  So, I was able to catch a movie, have a last great sushi meal, and buy a bunch of chocolate.  I can say, best airport delay I have ever had.

We did eventually get to Osaka, and caught the last train to our great friend, Kiyo’s house, where we were sleeping that night.  Even though she had a slight cough, she stayed up with us and drank a last beer and chatted with us.  She is a crazy good host, and randomly enough, she is in Hokkaido now.

And though this was my first time to Hokkaido, this will surely not be my last.


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January 3rd 2014

After an intense 3 weeks in the US seeing friends and family, we came back to Japan on the 28th of December and hit the ground running.  Tons of great guests, cleaning, music, conversations and food…which lead right up till new years eve.

Every year Ishiteji (the 88 temple pilgrimage temple near us) has a pretty amazing music/illumination event and like last year, we made the obvious choice to “ring” in the new year there.  One of our favorite artists, senkuro san played again this year.


After Ishiteji, we moved to our local shrine, Matsuyama jinja, and got blessed by the priest.

On Jan. 1st, at 7:30, we hosted an amazing show by a group called sora oto, or space sound.

Yoda-san and Sayuri-san put on a great performance.  Yoda plays the hang drum, which sort of sounds like a way more ambient steal drum.  Sayuri sung, danced and played the random chimes and bells….the video can explain much better than I can (sorry for the poor quality)…


It was a really cool evening, super intimate but also intense at times.  They are on a tour of Japan right now, and after playing here, on the Janurary 2nd they played  2 times at wanitosai,as far as we are concerned, the only bar in Matsuyama, well, at least in Dogo.


To check out more music and to follow this artist, please check out his webpage.

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November 26th, 2013

This is an article that I wrote for Tokyo Weekender that may or may not make it in to the print magazine…in theory it should make it on to the website….should…


Incense streaming past statues and worshipers alike, a crowd of O-henro (pilgrims) chant the hannya shingyo, or heart sutra, in eerie unison. Eyes turned downward, hands clutching prayer beads, every single one hoping their prayers and devotion will reach the inner recess of the temple where Kobo Daishi is said to reside.  People come to the 88 temple pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku for a myriad of reasons; some looking for forgiveness, some to honor a commitment to a deceased family member, some merely looking to experience the beauty of Shikoku.  I came to this centuries old Buddhist pilgrimage hoping to gain a foothold into my past, and insight into my future.  Strapped with only a backpack, guidebook and a sense of adventure, I calmly took my first step into what turned out to be a life-changing experience.



Pilgrimage is a fundamental part of many world religions; from the Hajj in Islam to the Kumbh Mela in Hinduism to the pilgrimages to Santiago and Rome in Christianity.  It allows the pilgrim to fulfill a commitment to his or her religion and frees up time to reflect on life.  The 88 temple pilgrimage fills this same need for the people who subscribe to the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan.  Following in the footsteps of the revered saint, Kobo Daishi, this 1000 year old Buddhist pilgrimage passes through ancient and modern Japan, across rice paddies, busy intersections and old growth forest trails.


Kobo Daishi (774-834), founder of the Shingon or esoteric, sect of Buddhism, is one of the most important people in Japanese history, and he still holds considerable sway and respect in Japan today.  Aside from being a priest, he was also a master calligrapher, poet, scholar and advisor to the emperor.  In his early years, he forwent his aristocratic upbringing and became a wandering ascetic in the mountains and valleys of Shikoku; the 88 temple pilgrimage recreates his journeys around Shikoku.  One is never far from the presence of O-Daishi-san when on Shikoku and pilgrims believe that he accompanies them through out the journey.  In fact, written on the back of every O-Henro are the words dogyo ninin (same practice, two people) and the staff that all pilgrims use is said to embody Kobo Daishi.




There are a number of ways to do the pilgrimage; on foot, by bike, car, train, bus or a combination of some or all of these.  There is no “correct” procedure for doing the pilgrimage but walking is obviously the most traditional method and the one which the pilgrim gets the most out of.  Most walking O-Henro start and end at temple #1 located in Naruto, near Tokushima city, but again, there is not fixed way to do it- the only rule is to end where you begin.  The temples on the pilgrimage are known for their stark simplicity and rustic beauty, though each one is different they all share an underlying feeling.  If the opulent (and touristy) temples of Kyoto and Nara were built for the nobility and upper classes, the temples on the pilgrimage were built to serve the common man.  The difference is quite stark and one gets a sense that the temples themselves feel more meaningful and alive than their more famous counterparts on the mainland.


At around 1200 kms, it takes anywhere from 45 to 60 days to complete the circuit.  Some people do it in one go, and others take years to complete it, using holidays and 3 day weekends.  Others will only do a 3-10 day portion of it or will walk 1 prefecture worth of temples.  Walking O-henro fall into 2 main camps: the ones that stay in paid lodging every night, and the ones that mainly camp and/or sleep in free accommodation.  Paid-lodging types include: temples (syukudo), minshuku/ryokan, business hotels and guesthouses/hostels.  They are spaced out nicely on the pilgrimage and it only involves minimal planning to secure a nice roof over your head.


To keep costs down and to feel closer to nature, many pilgrims decide to sleep nojuku, or outside, and use the plentiful amount of free accommodation located around Shikoku.  Tsuyado are free places to sleep that are part of a temple complex and zenkonyado are homes or other spaces that local people provide for pilgrims for free or for a very low cost.  These places are usually quite basic, sometimes only a space on a tatami floor somewhere, though at times they can be quite nice with a bath and clean futons to use.  Places to pitch a tent along the pilgrimage include: michi no eki (road stations), uninhabited shrine grounds, public parks, temple grounds and beaches.  The general rule is to leave places better than you find them and if there is every any question on whether or not you can camp there, please ask permission from the locals.

The trail itself is very well marked by the ubiquitous red arrows and other markers that populate the trail.  The necessary 88 Route Guide, published by Buyodo, is the only guidebook written in English and contains all the information and maps you will need to walk some or all of the pilgrimage.  Most O-henro also carry a stampbook (nokyocho) where they receive beautifully drawn chinese characters over dramatic stamps at each temple (¥300) -an amazing souvenir that will always be cherished.  Pilgrims are easily identified by their white vest (hakui), sedge hat (segegasa) and wooden staff (kongozue).  Clearly identifying yourself as a pilgrim has many advantages; not only is it part of saturating yourself in the full experience, but people all over Shikoku will go out of their way to help you by offering you accommodation, helping you if you are lost and most of all, offering you ossetai.


Much has been written on the unique culture of ossetai on the island of Shikoku.  It roughly translates as ritualized gift giving, where local people offer pilgrims services or items for free.  It can be food, canned coffee, rides, money, beer or one of the myriad of fruit that grow in hills around the island.  In actuality it is so much more, and gifts should be accepted humbly and with respect.  By gifting ossetai, the local people are further entrenching themselves in the culture of pilgrimage and continuing an over 1000 year tradition.  By supporting the pilgrim with ossetai they are helping you complete your pilgrimage, and in turn, helping Kobo Daishi complete his pilgrimage, for the pilgrim and O-Daishi san are always together.  My most important ossetai when I walked the pilgrimage in early 2009, wasn’t by a local person at all, but by a fellow foreign pilgrim who really taught me “how” to walk the pilgrimage, and through our conversations, made the experience real for me.

Now that I live in Shikoku, I try to impart that same guidance that I received as ossetai all those years ago.  My wife and I opened a guesthouse near Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama where one of our main focuses is to support walking/biking O-henro.  We also encourage our guests as much as possible to experience at least some of the pilgrimage by walking a bit of the trail around Matsuyama.  As being one of the few circular pilgrimages in the world, the 88 temples, as in life, always comes around full circle, so we too have chosen to help and support, where we have been helped and supported.  No matter what your intent for doing all or some of the pilgrimage, one thing is for certain, you leave Shikoku a different person.


For more information please check out:




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October 13th, 2013

Last week, we were invited by the fine people of Forest Canyoning to go sliding, bouldering, waterfall climbing, rappelling and cliff jumping in the spectacular Nametoko gorge in south west Ehime.


It was probably the most adreniline-filled thing I have done in Japan.
We rented a car, and took the 2 hour drive to the headquarters of Forest Canyoning, near the village of Matsuo no Cho about 45 mins due east of Uwajima.  The drive from Matsuo to the canyon is really nice and scenic, zig zagging through rice-farming villages and single lane forest roads.  Once you arrive, you are greeted with the fresh mountain air and the sounds of birds and other wildlife (there were lots of deer and monkeys frolicking around when we were there).
Ishikawa-san (guide name-goemon) who both greeted us when we arrived and was our adventure guide, is a really nice and capable guy.  We geared up and headed out, it’s about a 5 min walk to the first slide along the amazing gorge.
We were able to do the full day course in a 3 1/2 hours because it was just the 2 of us and they wanted us to get a sense of what it would be like to do the full course.
According to Wikipedia, canyoning is:  is traveling in canyons using a variety of techniques that may include other outdoor activities such as walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling (rapelling), and/or swimming…and in Nametoko, we did all of them.
The thing that is quite unique with Nametoko is that there are all of these perfect rock slides.  Some as long as 40 meters. This was a level 4 slide, crazy fast.
And this was the level 5 slide, Nori decided to bow out….understandably, it was pretty intimidating jumping through that, but just awesome!
Really can’t recommend this course enough, it makes for an amazing day trip from Matsuyama, or if you are doing a bigger Shikoku wide trip, makes a good stopping point from Matsuyama to Kochi.  They have an amazing campground on site, and there is also a wonderful onsen/ryokan near by also.

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Friday, September 27th, 2013


The 50th largest island by area in the world, Shikoku is smaller than Sardinia and Bananal, but larger than Halmahera and Seram.  At 18,000 sq kms, spatially, it really isn’t that big, but being completely mountainous, driving anywhere is particularly time consuming. Breathtaking, but time consuming.

Using a couple of rare days off for us, we decided to see some parts of southern Ehime/western Kochi that we haven’t been to before.  Our first stop was Shikoku Karst.



After driving 3 hours down crazy winding roads through dense forest, you come to the surreal mountain”table top” plateau of Shikoku Karst, one of 3 “karst” regions in Japan.  With cattle grazing lazily, strange granite rocks protruding out of the ground and the amazing view in all directions, it doesn’t feel like you are in Japan anymore.


We slept in a really nice bungalow, had a bbq at night and woke up at 5 to catch the sunset from the top of tengu no mori peak.  We brought our camping stove with us on the 30 min. hike, made some nice coffee and had some pastry while waiting for the inevitable.  The sunset was amazing (the picture wasn’t) and on the way down we went through a purpose-built obstacle course-felt like boy scouts all over again.


Coming down off of the plateau, we headed towards Japan’s cleanest river, the Shimanto kawa.  This was just an exhausting drive, down 1 lane winding roads for hours past old-growth forests, seldom visited villages and amazing views.  Again, just beautiful but quite challenging.

Since the river is remote from major cities and does not have any dams, it has been named one of the “Three Clear-Flowing Rivers in Japan”.   Another interesting feature of the river and it’s tributaries are the bridges that span the river called Chinka bashi.  Chinkabashi are low water crossings without parapets in order not to be washed away by floods. The prefecture decided to preserve them as cultural heritages.

After driving along the river, visiting random spots, we decided to head for Kochi’s famous pacific coast.  Kochi is a different world from the rest of Shikoku, if not Japan.  Where the coast of the inland sea is calm and tranquil, Kochi’s coast is wild and untamed- renowned for it’s surf breaks, whale watching and amazing diving.  We stayed a great spot, Ohki Marine on Ohki beach; unfortunately, we couldn’t swim because there was a typhoon somewhere out in the Pacific and the waves were even crazier and bigger than normal!  It was an intense day of driving, probably 8 hours in total going only 150kms or so…



Next morning, we headed up the coast back to Matsuyama, passing beautiful spots along the way.  Notable places included: Tatsukushi Marine park, Odo coast and Otsuki.  We wish we could  have spent more time on this coast line-just magical/intersting places abound…we will definitely be back.

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September 18th, 2013


We had 2 live music events last weekend…both super interesting, both very different; needless to say a good time was had by all.


On Friday the 13th (spooky) we had a duo from Spain that played Klezmer music, which is Eastern European Jewish music that is usually played at celebrations such as marriages.  2 days earlier, they also played to a packed house in the very atmospheric wanitosai.



The pair both live in Spain, but hail from Japan and France.  We probably had upwards of 40 people that night, 15 of them children.  It was a super energetic performance and the crowd was very much into it.  Near the end of the set, they started a congo line that weeded itself though the guesthouse, with most of the guests in tow.   Also, Takahiro from aforementioned wanitosai joined with a marionette perfomance featuring the slightly scary labrino and friends.



Two days later, on Sunday, September 15h, we had  a last minute show by Alice Sato from Amami Oshima, which is located on a remote island in Kagoshima ken, slightly north of Okinawa.  She was accompanied by her mother who sang some call and response and also played a traditional drum amami taico.



It was my first time to witness the music, but will surely not be my last; it was very very beautiful.  We hope to continue to have live music and art events at Sen; it makes the guesthouse more than a place for people to stay, but becomes part of peoples’ trips and part of the community.


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Sake tasting Seminar

On September 20th, Friday night



We are having a nihonshu (Japanese sake) tasting seminar.

We will be trying 5 or 6 types of sake from an amazing brewery in Saijo (northern Ehime) named Seiryo. The brewmaster will be serving and explaining what we will be tasting, with an introduction to how sake is brewed. We will also be pairing the sake with food, both Japanese and western. It will last approximately 2 hours and it will cost ¥1000 per person. There is a limit of 15 people, appointment only, please send us a message if you would like to attend!


September 13th, Friday night

We will have a super interesting live music Event on September 13th, Friday!!
It will be free to attend, but we ask you to buy a drink from our bar, a hat will be passed around also for the band!
Live will start at 19:00! (1 hour)

CONCHINDON is an international trio that plays “Klezmer” music. Klezmer music can be described as
Eastern European Jewish polka punk.
They formed in Madrid, Spain sin 2012.
The members are BRICE from France who plays a trombone, ABUELO from Spain who plays a banjo,
and YUKAA from Japan who plays a clarinet.
Their music is based on Klezmer, but each of them is influenced by SKA, ’80s Madrid rock,
Classic music, so it’s really mixed.



They play on street,bars and festival in Madrid mainly,
*Abuelo won’t join this time.

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