Hackathon 2022 | Livin’ la Vida Loja
As the philosophical thought experiment queried, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" With that in mind, if a Gravitywell team spends a week in Spain on a hackathon and no one documents it, did it even happen? Quite. Well, as is customary for a Gravitywell hack, our daily blog is here to keep you updated on the goings-on from Cortijo el Cachete, near lovely Loja, Andalucia. ¡Diviértete!
The team gathered at Bristol Airport for a cushy 17:45 flight to Malaga. A slight delay in departure time gave us an opportunity to sample the acclaimed airport cuisine — Julian, resident Gravitywell foodie, opted for vending machine Mini Cheddars. *Chef’s kiss*
Touching down at Malaga-Costa del Sol airport felt reassuringly familiar, having made the same journey for our 2019 adventure. You’d think two and a half years would be long enough to learn from our mistakes, but once again, we found ourselves on a late-night Easter egg hunt for our rental cars. Fortunately, Hugo’s exquisite
pidgin Spanish saved the day and we were on our way north into the night.
Our residence for the week, Cortijo El Cachete, is stunning. Tucked away in the Andalucian countryside and surrounded by 80 acres of olive groves, the traditional Spanish farmhouse has been beautifully renovated to accommodate large groups for holidays, yoga retreats and… hackathons. Obviously.
Upon arrival, we were welcomed with starlit skies, freshly-made paella and red wine aplenty (Simon’s reaction: 😄) that dio en el clavo and helped us wind down before bed.
Our first full day began in true Gravitywell hackathon style, by deciphering the in-house coffee-making equipment, making said coffee, and launching into a project kickoff meeting. You can follow what we get up to from a project/technical perspective in our daily Project Journal but, in short, our plan is to build a realtime photo-sharing app — smart curation for all your best moments.
While the bulk of the team searched for laptop-friendly suntraps, Henry and Simon hunted for food. In Lidl. One of the joys of a Spanish hackathon is, of course, the cuisine. Cured meat fans are well and truly living their best life. We’re also blessed to have a number of talented chefs in our ranks. On the dinner menu (yes, there’s a menu) for Monday night: pulled chicken burritos.
Due to a concerning 3-month drought across much of the region, when El Cachete’s well had literally run dry, the enormous swimming pool had been running on half-empty. Recent rain had allowed the refilling process to begin, so George had the green light to test its depth with a deep dive. Tom Daley eat your heart out.
After an afternoon of al fresco designing, coding and posing, we assembled for an end-of-day standup (stand down?). Amazing progress had been made — we already had a brand and the development of the app was coming together nicely.
Henry’s Mexican feast was the perfect way to round up a successful, sunny day. In some very serious after-dinner movie debate, we learnt that a) The Lord of the Rings is quite popular, and b) Dulcie has a penchant for early-noughties Teen Rom-Coms. Who knew?
Sadly, the rain in Spain didn’t stay mainly in the plain. Unless Loja is in the plain, of course. Who knows. Either way, Tuesday morning felt more Arboroath than Andalucia, but this allowed us to focus fully on Scrappi (our project for the week) and we made some serious progress — make sure you follow our daily Project Journal for some dev-approved content.
Another supermarket sweep by Henry and Simon meant that we now had a mountain of Alhambra cases taller than the Alhambra itself, plus ingredients to cover our colourful array of dietary requirements for the next day or two. Chef Osadzinski got to work preparing his evening menu of bruschetta with a tomato puree and feta topping.
As evening fell and we wrapped up project work for the day, George, Matt and Lewis huddled around Hugo’s phone to watch Villareal lose admirably to Liverpool. It’s cultural experiences like Glenn Hoddle's punditry that make hackathons so special. Simon could hardly contain his excitement.
After dinner (and Matt’s passionate piano-top impression of Peggy Gou) things got serious as MasterChef / GamesMaster Henry brought out the Werewolf — the game, that is. Most of us hadn’t played before but it’s a lot of fun and we highly recommend it! Following a few rounds of whooping, hollering and actual howling, drinks were finished (then poured and finished again) and we called it a noche.
The project intensity had really revved up and the scene in the living room this morning felt very Startup featuring Martin Freeman; laptops everywhere, Post-it notes covering the mirror, last night’s wine bottles in the swimming pool — okay, maybe not that bit. We had a couple of hours to smash out some code (or whatever it is the devs do) before our mid-morning yoga session.
Cortijo El Cachete is used primarily as a retreat for yogis and has a beautiful studio on-site. If, like us, you are a group of tech nerds and don’t know your Downward-Facing Dog from your Dog Day Afternoon, here’s some suitable style inspo from Simon.
There was certainly some trepidation prior to our yoga session since it would be the first time for a few of us, but these fears were quickly allayed by our wonderful instructor, Lidia. In fact, Lidia somehow had the entire Gravitywell team holding a Crow Pose (or Bakasana for the purists out there) long enough at least to take photographic evidence. Look, mum, no legs!
Feeling revitalised, we spent the afternoon speeding on with Scrappi, accompanied by Spotify and plenty of snacks — crisps, olives, chorizo. You know the score. With dinner in mind, Matt took off his Leading Designer hat and put on his Twisted Firestarter beret, stoking up the flames in the outdoor pizza oven while Henry kneaded dough en masse.
If you search for Gravitywell on YouTube, you might also come across an act called Gravity Well, who describe themselves as a 5-piece Doom/Stoner band formed in Belfast in 2019, influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Sleep and Windhand. Well, we might have to ditch the software and set up our own band after a spontaneous jam session broke out post-pizza. Here’s the lineup:
Piano/Vocals - Hugo 'Living For The Weeknd' Walker
Guitar/Vocals - Henry 'Oasis Request' Osadzinski
Drums - Simon 'Boomtown' Bos
Percussion - Sam 'The Less I Know The Better' Lihou
MC - Julian Regan aka Bermondsey Bad Boi
Electric Piano - Evridiki 'EP Out Now' Christodoulou
Harp - Lewis 'Ashton Gate Tour Date' Alderman
Jazz Flute - Dulcie Jackson '5'
Alto Sax - 'Filthy/Gorgeous' George Evans
DJ Set - Matt Boyle presents: Boyler Room Live
One of the hallmarks of a Gravitywell hackathon is the day we set aside for our 'death march' — don’t worry, it’s not quite as ominous as it sounds. Depending on who you ask, it’s a ramble/hike in scenic/treacherous terrain. Thursday had been set aside for this year’s event, with the plan to head to Granada where our very own Grand Old Duke of York (Simon) would march his troops into the hills surrounding the Alhambra, after which we’d have a tour of the ancient Islamic palace, followed by dinner in town.
After approximately 10 metres into our hike, there was a clear team divide between those for whom traversing Cheddar Gorge is a relaxing Sunday morning and those who think a 'walk' shouldn’t last much longer than a quick stroll to Tesco Metro. Luckily, numerous stops to clown around on outdoor gym equipment kept the pack together and, fueled by pistachio nuts and Henry’s personalised packed lunches , we made it back down the mountain in time for our appointment at the Alhambra.
Constructed on a plateau that overlooks Granada, the Alhambra was built between 1238 and 1358, during the reigns of Ibn al-Ahmar, founder of the Nasrid dynasty, and his successors. One of Spain’s premier tourist attractions, it’s easy to see why. (Smouldering Alhambra selfies are also available upon request.)
Following a quick pitstop in an impressively stocked craft beer bar, we sat down for dinner at Picoteca 3 Maneras, a sublime little tapas joint in the heart of Granada. Word of warning: if you ever visit Picoteca, the steak on their menu translates as 'lizard'. Alas, much to Lewis’ disappointment, it is not lizard.
We wound down the evening back at our Cortijo discussing hairdressers, hair washing routines and any other hair-related topic you can think of. This may or may not have been the catalyst for Hugo to embarrass himself by revealing footage from a past life as a casino TV presenter. The less said about that the better.
Friday was the hottest day of the week so far and the enormous swimming pool had never looked more tempting, so a poolside rendezvous was agreed for sometime after lunch. The project was approaching its climax and the team was in the zone, working furiously while the palm trees gently swayed overhead. My personal hackathon observation: woe betide the person who gets in between a dev and their laptop.
We eventually downed tools and sent a pull request for a pool request. Hugo had set up a content studio in the corner by the deep end to film some quickfire questions (coming soon!) so this doubled up nicely as a DJ booth. ‘Twas a vibe.
Suitably drip-dried, the devs migrated their workspace over to the swimming pool while Simon got started on a BBQ and Hugo served up a debut batch of sangria — free pouring the brandy is key, apparently. As the sun slowly disappeared behind the hills, a smorgasbord of barbequed deliciousness appeared on the table courtesy of El Patron, supplemented by a couple of jugs of Dulcie’s rum punch. George, like Bosque the Spanish Mastiff, was a very happy puppy.
Under normal circumstances, the idea of whipping out the laptop and working on a Saturday is less-than-ideal. However, this is a hackathon and the “office” closely resembles a Visit Ibiza marketing video clip, so the team rolled their sleeves up (ha, what sleeves?) and made the most of our final full working day.
Simon was, ahem, a little worse for wear today. Let’s blame the barbequed aubergines. However, he did manage to film Hugo’s customary 'Hackathon Life' video, in which Evridiki expertly demonstrates how to build an app from the comfort of a hammock. #DevGoals
We spent Saturday evening in Riofrío, a quaint village just west of Loja. Here we had dinner and drinks with former Gravitywell-er, Jesús and his beautiful family. As you can imagine, traditional Andalucían food is pretty epic. Here’s a summary: meat, meat, fish, cheese, meat and more meat.
Tonight was our last sleep in Spain, so naturally, we stayed up late ensuring no supermarket-bought beverages went to waste, discussing the eye-watering price of rail fares in the UK. And other, less lame things. Promise.
Our final day! 😢 What a week it’s been. A late flight back to Bristol meant that we could get packed up, head to Malaga and spend most of the day at the beach. We bade farewell to Cortijo El Cachete (y los perros) and made our way to the coast. To Dulcie’s joy/amazement, we found a vegan lunch spot just a stone's throw from Los Álamos beach. The restaurant, The Wala Room, was so good in fact, that even staunch carnivore George gave it a thumbs-up.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing as all patriotic Brits in the Costa del Sol do — drinking beers on the beach while narrowly avoiding (or not avoiding) sunburn. After a quick trip to a nearby supermarket for absurdly cheap Rioja followed by the last seafood supper in the sunset, team Gravitywell made its way to the airport for a punctual 21:55 flight home. Just kidding, it was an hour delayed. Classic RyanAir.
It’s difficult to describe how special a Gravitywell hackathon is. It’s a truly unique and invaluable experience that brings us closer together as a team in so many ways. If you’d like to understand more about the app we built this week, check out our Hackathon 2022 | Project Journal.