Visit with Joan, C31US and the Andorra Contest Station, C37NL
In the 1980s, I made numerous trips through Europe while working in Saudi Arabia. At one point, I made plans to go on a dxpedition to C3, Andorra, and even got a license. Plans changed, and the operation did not happen, but I never forgot about the possibility of going there.
My XYL, Kay, and I planned to take a cruise out of Barcelona in June 2013, and this gave me the break I had been waiting for — the possibility of going to Andorra. Out came the maps, travel guides, and emails to any ham I could find there. Fortunately, I had received a QSL from C37N from the 2011 CQWW SSB contest. A quick search on QRZ.com for C37N, showed that Ruben, EA5BZ, was involved with that operation, so off went an email to Ruben. He quickly replied and put me in touch with Joan, C31US, the President of URA, the country’s Amateur Radio Association. From that point on, the plans for a C3 visit fell into place. Joan and I emailed back and forth several times, and when the time came for me to phone him, I was very pleased to hear that he spoke perfect English. (My Spanish is virtually nonexistent, not to mention my complete lack of familiarity with Catalan, the national and only official language of Andorra.)
Getting to Andorra from the Barcelona airport was a breeze. We caught a daily bus that was a large Mercedes Benz passenger van with a friendly English-speaking driver. As the bus went north out of Barcelona, we went through farm country with fields of June wild flowers and finally high into the Pyrenees. After a few hours, we arrived at a spectacular hotel in the capital city of Andorra La Vella. After checking in, we walked up the main shopping street to Joan’s toy store, aptly named Tic-Toc. The tour books refer to Andorra as the world’s largest shopping center, and we could believe it. Andorra is a tax free haven, and many French and Spanish shoppers and tourists from all over go there to shop.
We met Joan at his store, and had an enjoyable first visit. As planned, we agreed to return the next afternoon, and he would take us on a tour of the country. This would include a visit to their contest station, C31NL, at NaturLandia, Andorra’s national park in the mountains and far away from Andorra La Vella. During the next day’s trip, we had a pleasurable visit to Joan’s beautiful home and his C31US station. Joan’s station is well equipped with a Yaeus FT1000 and a large Force12 tribander on the roof of the multi-story building in which they live. We next visited the URA where I presented Joan an FCG hat and ARRL Handbook and, in return, he gave me a generous collection of C3 QSL cards and URA memorabilia. The URA headquarters also has a fine station, a tribander on the roof of the large office building and, of course, the official C3 QSL Bureau.
An interesting thing happened when we were at the URA. Kay looked at an old PX1GX QSL card that was displayed on the wall, and casually said to me, “Don’t you know Joe Dreifuss?” I said, “Yes, we knew Joe and his XYL, Fran, when we lived in Ethiopia and I operated from ET3USA.” Well, the PX1GX card was from a dxpedition that Joe, who was WA2GSY / F7GX at the time, and Lou Varney, G5RV, made to Andorra in 1961. I have stayed in touch with Joe, now W2KQ, so when we returned home, I told him about seeing his old QSL at the URA Hq, and sent him a picture of his card. He told me the whole story about their trip. Joe and Fran were living in Paris at the time, and drove to Andorra with Lou. Each day Joe and Fran would drive to a mountain top to run the pileups from their mobile while Lou operated from a hotel rooftop in Andorra La Vella down in the valley. As a side story, one day Joe and Fran came across a mountain climber who had taken a bad fall and was seriously injured. Joe was able to raise a French ham from his mobile, who in turn contacted a doctor. Joe and Fran then transported the climber to a hospital, most likely saving his life.
From the URA, Joan took us on a spectacular drive to NaturLandia where the C37N QSOs from that 2011 contest came alive in my mind. We met up with Josep, C31JM, and toured the station that is housed in a strikingly large building that belongs to the local government Parish. Their club has plans to expand the station layout from three stations to six operating positions for improved participation in multi-operator contests. (They generally only participate in SSB contests, as CW operators are scarce in C3.) I got a chance to do a little operating, and made a handful of QSOs on 20m SSB, but unfortunately missed a sked with K1TO back home. Joan asked me to return three bandpass filters to Dunestar for repair, and also to help them with a station grounding and antenna switching plan for their expanded stations. Of course, I was happy to help them with these things, which I did upon returning home. After 31 years, my dream of operating from C3 had finally come true!
An interesting side note about multi-op contests at C37NL is that during contests the entire team stays at a small resort hotel in NaturLandia less than a mile from the station. The operators take over the entire facility for lodging and meals during the contests. Following the visit to the C37NL station, we went to that hotel for a nice chat over some local 807s, and had a perfect dinner, followed by a treat of crema catalana, the favored local dessert.
In all, Kay and I had a wonderful three day visit to Andorra. In addition to the time we spent with Joan, we had plenty of time for sightseeing and shopping in Andorra La Vella, although we didn’t buy much other than souvenirs at Tic-Toc. I would welcome with the opportunity to lend my CW skills at one of the C37NL contest operations someday.
G. Wagner, K5KG
November 10, 2013
 Andorra is a small country only about 15% the size of the US smallest state, Rhode Island. Andorra’s population of 78,000 is roughly equivalent to Yuma, AZ. Here is a nice video with sites of Andorra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ji21497C9sk
 Joan is a man’s name, and is pronounced “joe ahn’”. On the air, Joan goes by the name of John.
 The PX prefix was later changed to C3 to resolve a dispute over the PX prefix that was allocated to Brazil.
 Parishes or “Parroquies” – Religious districts adopted over 700 years ago that serve like states with their own governments and authorities. There is not a Worked All Parroquies award, as working all seven Parroquies would be very difficult!