09/14/2013, La Linea de la Concepcion
Photo taken from the Rock: Gibraltar in foreground, airport runway at the border, and La Linea, Spain, where we are right now in the Alcaidessa Marina.
We sailed back across the Strait from Ceuta to the mainland, this time to La Linea, Spain, right next to the enclave of Gibraltar. The large, half-empty Alcaidesa Marina is very nice, inexpensive, with finger piers and diy laundry, a convenient 10-minute walk to the border. Gibraltar's international airport runway skirts the border. Where else in the world do you walk across a major runway to get to the next country?
You may have read about the latest flare-up between Spain and the UK over control of Gibraltar. Boats are no longer allowed to anchor near the marina, and we can hear the car horns honking angrily due to artificially long queues at the border crossing. Yesterday RAF fighter jets made an appearance flitting noisily around the Rock, and a UK nuclear sub was spotted surfacing in the Strait recently, in a show of UK strength, supposedly. But other than that we're unaffected. As pedestrians we're waved through with barely a glance at our passports.
Union Jacks continue to fly everywhere around Gib town in support of continued UK rule. According to the news, officials are squabbling about when best to sit down and discuss the issues.
The reason we returned from Ceuta was to to pick up a spare part ordered for us by the chandler in Gibraltar ... which took longer than expected ... and when it finally arrived, it was the wrong part! It seems the middleman in the UK got the part # wrong by one digit. Ordering parts from abroad is often a frustrating affair. So now we're waiting again for the hopefully correct part to arrive (it's for the hydraulic pump that controls the centerboard). It's supposed to be delivered tomorrow. Stay tuned!
But the delay hasn't been a hardship. The weather is cooler--with the turn of the calendar the worst of the August heat has disappeared. We've kept busy with boat chores and yet more provisioning at Lidl, Carrefour, SuperSol and Eroski's (we like to shop!). La Linea isn't a very attractive town but it has a pedestrian area with lots of cafes and shops. Anyone who knows Burger knows he can't walk past an ice cream store, and by now has found his favorite ice cream haunt.
Three nights ago we had ringside seats for fireworks celebrating Gib's National Day. The Rock and the Moorish Tower are illuminated at night, a beautiful site from our cockpit. Two yachts arrived yesterday who spent the winter with Halekai in Marina di Ragusa, Canadian sv Meredith and the Aussie catamaran Fabuloso. Last night we got acquainted over sundowners. We're all headed the same way--Morocco and the Canaries--so we'll likely be seeing more of them.
09/03/2013, Chefchaouen, Morocco
While in Spanish Ceuta we decided to venture into Morocco for a day, so we rented a car and set off early next morning. Having read that it's best to get Moroccan money from an ATM once in the country, our adventure began when Burger stuck our debit card into the machine at the border, and it was "eaten"! The machine was attached to a bank, but it wasn't due to open for two hours. Disconcerted, we carried on and changed some Euros for Dirhams at Chefchaouen, our destination.
At first we drove south along a fast highway that bypassed the small city of Tetouan, with its tightly clustered, white flat-roofed houses. Then we climbed into the refreshingly green Rif mountains along a windy, two-lane road, well paved with only the occasional pothole. Thank goodness for our Ipad nav program, as the signs weren't always helpful. Burger proved just as capable of passing slow trucks as the locals--not sure that's a good thing? (see photo).
Chaouen ("chow-en"), as it's nicknamed, is famous for its blue-colored medieval old town (medina) built into a hillside, above the modern part of town. At first we couldn't find the medina and wondered why we'd just driven all that way to a rather ugly, bustling little place, unpleasant on a hot day. How do the Muslims survive the heat in their long clothing and head covering? Finally we asked directions in our stumbling French--amazing how words come back to you that you haven't spoken in years ("ou est le medina, s'il vous plait?) and at last we found the entrance arch.
Built by the Portuguese as a base camp to launch attacks against Ceuta in the 15th century, the town changed hands a few times over the centuries (typical of everywhere in Europe). When Jews expelled from Spain settled in Chaouen a couple of centuries later, they chose to paint their houses and the narrow, cobblestone lanes various shades of blue. To this day the medina is mostly blue, which has made it such a tourist attraction.
The streets were filled with vendors selling souvenirs, tin and brass items, brightly colored spools of thread, clothing, straw hats, etc. One hat style looked like a clown's hat with colored balls on it, which we saw both men and women wearing.
Muslim-dressed women carried large, flat loaves of bread to and from the communal bakeries, and filled plastic jugs from water fountains. Lots of children were playing, and there were skinny cats everywhere. The occasional Rifi Berber walked by, wearing a long, brown, hooded robe looking just like a Jedi in StarWars (see photo).
A donkey passed us (see his photo too), carrying propane tanks on his back. He looked so very sad. We walked to the end of town and looked down at a waterfall and river, where locals were washing their clothes. Colorful cloths were drying on nearby rooftops.
We had lamb tangine, a sort of stew, for lunch at an outdoor cafe shaded by grapevines. The waiter was ever so nice and friendly, but the food was mediocre. Tangine is supposed to be sweet and spicy, but ours was bland, completely lacking in spices. We'll have to try it again somewhere less touristy.
We then made our way back down to our car and drove back to Ceuta. What luck! The bank at the border crossing was open when we got there--an adventure in itself driving through the throngs to get to it--and, amazingly, they retrieved our card from the ATM machine unharmed and returned it to us!
PHOTOS CLICK HERE
We had a fast two-hour sail south (16 miles @ 8 knots!) in strong easterlies, across the busy Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta. Ceuta has been a Spanish enclave in North Africa for the past 300+ years, much like Gibraltar has been a British enclave at the edge of Spain for 300 years. Both Gibraltar and Ceuta are peninsulas nestled between the Med on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Both have played major strategic roles over the centuries, guarding the entrance to the Med from invaders. According to Greek mythology, Hercules separated Europe from Africa by striking his mace, thus creating the Strait of Gibraltar.
As we entered the harbor of the Hercules Marina, what did we see but the large, familiar yellow and blue sign for Lidl, our favorite supermarket. After securing the boat we set off to explore the town and do some shopping. Next to Lidl is another big supermarket, SuperSol, and a large electronics/appliance store, MariSol. Ceuta is duty-free and we found the shopping better and more convenient than in Gib or La Linea.
We were surprised to find how pleasant and interesting Ceuta is, with its many statues and monuments and museums, its subtropical landscaping, the pedestrian-only city center and the several sandy beaches with buoyed swim areas.
Perhaps the most impressive site of Ceuta is the "Monumental Complex of the Royal Walls," a somewhat clumsy but descriptive name for the massive medieval fortresses, located at the narrowest point of the peninsula. The 500 year old Royal Moat is a still-navigable thoroughfare across the narrowest part of the peninsula and is popular with kayakers and small pleasure boats (see photos). At night several beautifully restored buildings that line the promenade are illuminated, casting a romantic glow along the waterfront.
Two Spanish warships tied up to the Naval Dock one day, and the white uniformed crew were seen walking all over town enjoying their leave while locals were invited to tour the festively flagged ships.
Another surprise in Ceuta was the large, well-maintained Mediterranean Maritime Park, located right next to the marina and alongside the Gran Casino. For a few Euros' entrance fee we enjoyed the park one afternoon, with its three connecting swimming pools, lush gardens and sculptures, a restaurant and a cafe. One pool has an island with a thatched roof bar on it. The only downer was that the pools were filled with saltwater instead of fresh (see photos).
Also next to the marina is a modern McDonald's with a "McAuto" drive-thru lane and free wifi. We'd never seen one with touchscreen customer kiosks inside the restaurant before, for even quicker ordering (see photo). The food was identical to what you'd get in the US--for better or worse, but actually they do make great french fries.
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The city of Gibraltar isn't very big (population 30,000) but it's somewhat difficult to explore, with its ugly casement walls slicing the narrow strip of land below the Rock. Lots of high-rise apartment complexes are everywhere. It's not a very appealing place. Yet the majority of the populace wants to remain under UK control, despite Spanish interest in taking it over. In fact, there's a tense situation here right now, causing long delays for vehicles crossing the border due to Spanish protests. Union Jacks are flying from apartment balconies, demonstrating local support of continued UK control.
We did some grocery shopping at the large Morrison's supermarket--great if you're Brit and can't live without Marmite or Golden Syrup, but otherwise unremarkable--and ordered a spare part for our centerboard hydraulic pump at one of the two chandleries. We walked and walked and walked all over, and window-shopped along bustling Main Street, filled with cruise ship tourists.
During our four days in Gib we had a US-quality pizza at Pizza Hut, tasty Indian food at Raj's Curry House (right outside the QQ marina), but mediocre fish 'n' chips at Lord Nelson's on Casemate (having been told they had won a prize for best fish and chips in Gibraltar!).
As we rounded the Rock of Gibraltar, we radioed Queensbay Quay Marina and--what luck!--there was a berth available for us! The marina is chock full this time of year and most everyone we know has been turned away, so we were delighted. The advantage of QQ is its prime location for sightseeing in Gib. We made friends that evening over beer with Alan aboard sv Ticketeeboo, with whom we have several mutual friends who wintered in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily.
Next day we rode up the cable car and then spent several hours seeing the sights on the long walk down. The famous barbary monkeys were everywhere, and seemed to delight in posing for photos. The younger ones scampered about, making me nervous as they chased one another right on the edge of the wall, with a long drop down should they lose their footing. But I'll be they never do. CLICK FOR MONKEY PHOTOS
A couple of the many facts we gleaned as we toured the extensive tunnel system and cave: There are 30 miles of tunnels inside the Rock, built for strategic purposes over several centuries and not completed till 1968. Next door neighbor La Linea, Spain, got its name due to being the line (linea) beyond which the 18th century cannon balls couldn't reach. Today the Gibraltar airport runway straddles the border, and cars and people scurry across between plane landings and take-offs.
During WW II, Franco of Spain, although allied with the Nazis, prevented Germany from taking over Gibraltar from the Brits, a decision that strengthened the Allied Forces' control of the Mediterranean. When America joined the war, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was stationed inside the Rock, from where he planned the crucial invasion of North Africa. Gibraltar was of major importance to the outcome of the war.
We also visited a large, beautiful but very wet cave with stalagmites and stalactites inside the Rock, used as a hospital during the War and as a concert hall today, with amazing acoustics (see photos). We wonder how the surgeons then, and musicians now, liked the steady drip, drip on their instruments, not to mention the patients and audiences.
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08/28/2013, Underway toward Gibraltar
Photo: Land Ho! The Rock of Gibraltar!
I'm writing this on my laptop while keeping watch in the cockpit on a hazy, windless, yet surprisingly cool day. Burger is below taking a nap. We left Benalmadena early this morning and are now weaving our way through a fleet of fishing boats and freighters at anchor along the coast.
By this afternoon we shall have reached British-governed Gibraltar. Of all times to visit "Gib," there's a political dispute going on right now between Spain and the UK. Just last week Spanish fishermen evicted pleasure boats from the La Linea anchorage, right next to the border with Gibraltar. A nuclear submarine surfaced in the Strait the other day, and a British warship is paying a visit tomorrow, ostensibly to make a show of British sovereignity.
Politics are shaping cruiser plans more and more these days. Hopefully no anti-American sentiment will arise in Morocco, our next destination, in light of the Syrian crisis. Musings while we sail along ...
08/27/2013, Torremolinos, Costa del Sol
Many many years ago, 45 to be exact, I was fresh out of college and on my way to my first real job, in Germany. A cheap flight brought me first to Ireland, where I spent two weeks of August 1968 in a student hotel on the west coast, in the village of Lisdoonvarna. What fun I had! Together with a bunch of young people from all over the world, we spent our days being bussed around to the local sights, such as castle ruins and the famous Cliffs of Moher.
Nights were spent pubbing, which is a national pastime in Ireland. Young and old gathered for self-improvised entertainment, from children dancing the jig to grandpas sawing on fiddles or playing the spoons, with everyone singing folk songs while someone accompanied on the piano. I fondly remember being serenaded with one of Frank Sinatra's hits, Nancy with the Laughing Face.
What does this have to do with our sailing trip, you ask? Patience ...
Some of my new-found friends back then decided that their next destination after Ireland would be Torremolinos, a budding resort town in southern Spain. "Come along with us," they cajoled. "But I have a job waiting in Berlin," I replied. "Ah, forget Berlin, who wants to go there? Those boring Germans, they wait till the light turns green to cross even if there's no traffic. They always obey the 'don't walk on the grass' signs. Come along with us instead!"
But being the responsible young person that I was, driven by my family's mantra, common sense, I bid them farewell and flew on to Germany. Where, six months later, I met my Schatzi, Burger. I think I made the better choice!
A couple of years later James Mitchener published The Drifters, a novel set in the late 60's about a group of young people from different parts of the world, on a trip of self-discovery during troubling times that brought them together in, among other places, Torremolinos. Where would I be today had I followed my Lisdoonvarna friends in 1968??
What's it like here in Torremolinos today? Right now in high season August, it's a hot and crowded beach town. High-rises and a Disneyesque marina center (Benalmadana) and mostly British and Spanish tourists. Restaurants and pubs and shops and rows and rows of plastic "flesh benches," as Burger calls the sun beds you can rent on the beach.
We searched the crowds for remnants from the 60's, but those who looked our age were prim and proper-looking Brits, no sign of aging hippies.
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Photo: ingeniously created shade hangs over the main pedestrian street.
Sadly we missed visiting the famous Alhambra in Granada, where it was 100 F the day we would have gone by bus from Motril. Standing on line for hours and touring the huge complex in the hot sun would have done me in. Burger hates the cold and I hate the heat, so we try to avoid the extremes of both.
Luckily the August heatwave abated a bit (mid 80's) by the time we sailed down the coast to Benalmadena, so we took a 30 minute bus ride from there to Malaga, and visited the smaller but nevertheless impressive 11th century Moorish citadel Alcazaba instead.
Right next to the entrance to Alcazaba is the excavation site of a Roman amphitheater, and a large Cathedral renowned for its missing tower is down the street. Supposedly the funds for the tower were diverted to help the American colonists fight off the English during the Revolutionary War.
The highlight of the day was actually the Pablo Picasso Museum, wonderfully air conditioned, celebrating its 10th anniversary in a beautifully restored Renaissance palace. Picasso was born in Malaga, and family members donated many of his works to the collection.
We had lunch in a sidewalk cafe while being serenaded by a pathetic violinist who murdered Spanish love songs. He was so desperate for tips that he danced, laid down on his back, and did various acrobatics while his playing got worse and worse. No sooner did he leave than he was replaced by an equally bad musician. We were so pleased to hear a talented street guitarist later on that we made a point of complimenting and tipping him.
We strolled along the main pedestrian street of the Old Town, made pleasant with an ingeniously suspended shade cover (see photo above). A cruise ship was in port, and a guided tour group rolled by us on their Segways--why I don't know, since it's a very walkable city. It's also very bike-friendly, with a two-lane bike path winding around town, just like we saw in Palma, Mallorca. A wide, lushly landscaped park promenade, with shady benches and a playground, has been built along the waterfront, welcoming the cruise ship tourists ashore.
Malaga is a commercial port not known for its attractiveness, but their heavy investment in restoration and improvement has paid off, as they've been chosen as the 2016 European Capital of Culture. We unfortunately just missed the traditional 10-day annual festival, with bullfights, parades, Flamenco music, dancing and fireworks. But then, I muse, had we been there I would have melted during the heatwave. Why don't they schedule these things in the spring or fall, when it's cooler?
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08/22/2013, Almerimar, Costa del Sol
Last painted in Leros, Greece a year ago, Halekai's bottom was growing greener and greener, faster and faster between cleanings. We could have waited a bit longer but Almerimar, a beach town on the Costa del Sol, is supposedly one of the cheapest boatyards in the Med. So we hauled out for new antifouling. It's no fun living on the hard without plumbing, but the two days and nights went by quickly and we splashed this morning, glad to be back afloat.
Having spent quite a bit of time in Spanish-speaking countries over the years (especially Burger, with his several volunteer stints in Ecuador) we manage to communicate quite well in Spain. But in Almerimar it seems more English and German are spoken than Spanish, what with all the expats and yachties here. Chris the boatyard manager is a Brit, as well as the manager of the chandlery. Frank the electronics guy is from Berlin.
Last year we visited Gaby, a childhood neighbor of Burger's, and her husband Himmi, a retired ENT doc from Flensburg, at their summer home in Kos, Turkey. In the meantime they sailed their boat in the Caribbean this past winter and then returned to the Med, parking her here in Almerimar. We found Himmi aboard, preparing for the passage back to Kos. Last night we peppered him with questions about his trip over beer at the Stumble Inn, the local expat hang-out.
Just outside of Almerimar lies a large flat plain that's literally covered in plastic! You can see it if you click on the Follow Our Tracks satellite map to the right of this post. Click on our last position and enlarge it. Under the plastic grows many of the vegetables that feed Europe. Winter gales sometimes send huge sheets of plastic 300 feet square, flying into the sea.
An easy overnight sail from Ibiza brought us to Cartegena, Spain. It's not pretty upon approach, with its oil refinery and container shipping harbor, and had we relied on our outdated Rough Guide we would have given it a miss (note to self: buy new guide). It was actually described as "unpleasant," even dangerous at night. But Gini and Manfred spent a week here aboard Mindedal last month, and sang its praises. We're so glad we took their advice.
What luxury! We were ushered into a berth with a finger pontoon in the high security, friendly marina, and the price was a reasonable 50 EUR/night (for our 15 meter length). The old part of town was nearby and very walkable, with its wide harborfront promenade, sculptures, modern museums, narrow medieval streets, tastefully renovated buildings and ancient Roman ruins. The only downside was the ugly graffiti on some buildings and walls. Why can't these people get a life! We walked and walked all over, replenishing our fruit and veggies at the morning market and shopping in a large, blessedly air-conditioned supermercado. We then people-watched while dining on calamari and ice cream.
The 3000 year old city was once a powerful fortress and port of Spain, yet till recently, its history had been sadly neglected. It's been on a major renovation and excavation spree over the last 15 or so years, and it'll only get better. Some streets are lined with just the facades of former buildings, their ornate but crumbling windows and balconies covered with netting and held up with scaffolding, waiting for restoration.
The Roman amphitheater (yet another! I've lost count how many we've toured), right in the heart of the city, was completely buried and forgotten till it was discovered and excavated in the late 1980's, along with Roman baths and other remains of long ago.
Cruise ships have discovered Cartegena, with two in port at the same time our second day there. With their diesel electric engines they docked so silently that we didn't even realize they were there till we looked out the companionway and saw them looming over the marina right next to us.
But the small city is large enough to absorb the masses without becoming overcrowded. By day the streets and shops are filled will pale-faced or sunburnt tourists--we were surprised to see some sitting at one cafe in the broiling midday sun! At night the locals and Spanish tourists come out and take over the many sidewalk restaurants, cafes and bars. Investment in the city has paid off and the tourist business is booming!
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We had lumpy seas all day yesterday as we sailed south along the east coast of Ibiza. The anchorages were exposed to the onshore wind and the marinas were full--and would have been beyond our budget anyway. The cheapest, no-frills berth in Ibiza Town would have cost 163 EUR (over $200) a night, power and water extra! So we continued around the southern tip and anchored in a sheltered spot just around the corner, with high rock walls on two sides.
Our peace was short-lived. As dusk approached we began to be rocked by the wakes of dozens of powerboats speeding back to Ibiza Town, famous for its trendy night life. But the consolation was our sunset view of Isla Vedra up the coast, a rock island that was used as Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific. Now we have to find that movie ...
Photo: at anchor in Cala de la Calobra
We finally left Puerto de Pollensa yesterday, and sailed south along the dramatic, forbidding west coast. The high cliffs are honey-combed with caves and dotted with medieval round watchtowers (see photos!).
We anchored overnight at one of Mallorca's major tourist attractions, the Cala de la Calobra. There's a small sand beach and a lagoon inshore of it, in a crevice between the rocks. A narrow tunnel connects the beach with the next cove. That's where the tourists arrive, by bus or by ferry.
We arrived just before dusk after the tourists had gone and left this morning before the next bus and ferry-loads arrived, so we didn't get to experience the mayhem. Plenty of charter yachts filled the anchorage, but it was still peaceful as we dined in the cockpit in the shelter of the surrounding cliffs.
As we continued down the coast today, I noticed a large area with red trees and wondered if there was a blight, but then saw the black ground and realized there'd been a wildfire. We learned later that the fire was just two weeks ago, caused by an unattended barbecue grill. We missed the headlines about the hundreds of tourists and locals who had to be evacuated. It was the worst forest fire in Mallorca in 15 years.
We had to pay 29 EUR ($40) just to tie up to a mooring ball in Sant Elm Bay, a small beach resort area on the southwest corner of the island. Summer moorings have been laid all over the island to generate more tourist income, although in many places one can still find room to anchor if you're lucky and it's not full.
What cute little "water cars" they have here, with their mini water slides! Wish our grandkiddies were here, they'd love it. A humongous motor yacht, at least a couple of hundred feet long, is anchored behind us (see photos).
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS
A whole week has gone by since we arrived in Mallorca. Lest my "readership" think that all we do is sail and sightsee, here's the real picture: Of our seven days in Puerto de Pollensa, only two were spent exploring the island. The rest of the time we were busy maintaining and fixing things (Burger), doing laundry, cleaning, managing our finances, route planning, blogging, etc. (me). We like to shop together and we take turns cooking, depending on who feels most inspired.
What did my Schatzi fix this week? Let's see ... without going into much detail, this time it was the outboard (cleaned carburetor, changed spark plugs), the engine (oil change), the starter battery (replaced, but it didn't fix the starter problem) and the electric system, which is very complicated with our dual 110/220 volt set-up. Depending on the situation, the batteries can be charged by shore power, the generator, the engine, the wind generator, the towing generator, the solar panels, or a combination of two or more.
Whenever Burger starts fuming while troubleshooting a problem, I just lay low till he's fixed it, more confident than he is that he'll figure it out. Which he always does. Then he beams with pride, and gets a big kiss. :)
We didn't want to leave Mallorca without visiting Palma, the largest yachting center of the Balearics and perhaps the Med, and a port city of almost half a million people. And we're so glad we did! We had no idea what an attractive city it is. Instead of sailing there we took the convenient, hour-long nonstop bus from Pollensa.
It was easy to explore the old town by foot, with its many pedestrian lanes and restricted traffic district. There are many modern sculptures and architecture mixed in with the old, making it a delightful place to explore. The weather was sunny and breezy, perfect. There were lots of shady, tree-lined streets. A two-lane bike path wound its way all throughout the city, with bikes for rent at the bus/train station.
A strange bit of street entertainment we'd never encountered before: a costumed person would appear to be sitting on air, holding onto a post with one arm. The most charming one was a black man who expressed his pleasure with a large white-toothed grin and a shout of glee each time someone added to his donation jug. (See photo: can you guess what's holding him up?)
We stopped to visit a contemporary museum of Spanish art, Museu Fundación Juan March, housed in a beautifully restored 17th century mansion. It was a small collection but there were works by Picasso, Miro and Dali among others. We added to our own art collection by buying a mobile inspired by Miro.
While having lunch in a cafe, we marveled at the hordes of cruise ship tourists who were shopping across the street in, of all things, a Disney store! Why would you want to buy Disney stuff in Mallorca??
About the only Moorish remains left in the city are the Banyos Arabes, a Muslim hamam that was once part of a larger estate. We took a quick tour and then rested on a bench in the peaceful garden.
Palma's main tourist attraction is the huge limestone Gothic cathedral that dominates the waterfront, built after the Spanish conquered the islands from the Moors in the 13th century. We've seen so many churches and cathedrals that we're a bit jaded by now, but this cathedral was amazing. The altar was redesigned a hundred years ago quite unconventionally by Antonio Gaudi, and a side altar was reformed recently by Mallorcan artist Miquel Barcelo, most unusually and amid a lot of controversy (see photos). Many of the stained glass windows are magnificent.
We walked along the waterfront park past the several marinas. We decided to give the palace and the castle a miss, as just too much for one day, and made our way back to the bus station, stopping en route for ice coffee. It was a particularly lovely day.
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Photo: View of Puerto Soller from the town of Soller.
The weather of the western Mediterranean is often unpredictable, with days of calm common in summer. We set out from Bonifacio under power and were pleasantly surprised when the wind picked up from the north for several hours, saving us fuel while allowing us to sail along the rugged north coast of Sardinia at a brisk 7-8 knots. It was 300 miles to our next destination Mallorca in the Balearics.
By sunset the wind died and we motored through the night, a pattern that continued till we reached Puerto de Pollensa on the north coast. There we anchored in the crowded bay, encircled by craggy but beautiful mountains. The next day we were able to get a berth in the marina, so we could leave the boat securely while we did some sightseeing around the island.
We rented a car for a day and drove along windy steep roads along the northwest coast, stopping first at the 13th century monastery of Lluch, famous among other things for the contributions of Spanish artist Antonio Gaudi. Though there were several large tour buses in the parking lot the grounds were large enough to absorb the masses without it being crowded.
Next we drove on for lunch at Fornalutx (never did learn how to pronounce that final "tx"), touted by our Rough Guide as the prettiest town on the island. It was indeed pretty, with its honey-colored houses and quaint cobblestoned lanes decorated profusely with potted plants.
From there we drove to the beach town of Puerto de Soller, which was packed full of tourists. We had considered it as our next port but seeing how crowded the busy the little harbor is, we've decided to give it a miss. There was also a surge coming in the entrance, causing some boats to rock violently. No thanks!
Onward to Deya, where poet Robert Graves spent much of his life. Deya competes with Fornalutx for the beauty prize, in our opinion. Wealthy villas enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, cliffs and ocean.
Our last stop was yet another beautiful place, Valldemossa, made famous by George Sands and Frederic Chopin who spent the cold, dreary winter of 1838-39 in the centuries old Cartuja de Valldemossa (monastery). After exploring the small town we restored our energy with ice cream and capucchino while people watching outside the monastery walls.
The road south led out of the mountains to the bypass road around Palma, where we stopped in to shop at the largest Lidl's we've seen yet. Then we drove north along the fast highway, through the flat central plain of Mallorca, back "home."
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We were urged not to miss Bonifacio on the southern coast of nearby Corsica, which belongs to France. So before leaving for the Balearics we first motored across the notorious, but on this day placid, Bonifacio Strait. Bonifacio is an amazing little enclave at the end of a narrow fjord-like inlet between high sandstone cliffs, topped by medieval walls guarding the entrance. Multi-story houses cling perilously to the top of the cliffs. It's very exclusive and filled with wealthy French and Italian motoryachts.
The waters were roiling in the wake of a big tourist ferry that arrived with us from Sardinia, and powerboats raced back and forth around us, creating havoc and making me a nervous wreck. But Burger steered confidently amidst the madness, making a tight turn at the end of the inlet that surely set a few tongues wagging and boatowner hearts pounding. I waved cheerily and snapped photos as we made our way out again. We didn't try to go ashore as we wanted to take advantage of a weather window to Mallorca. But we're very glad we at least got to see it!
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Photo: A rare view of the Spargi anchorage before the deluge of boaters arrived.
When the weather settled down we sailed as a threesome around the Maddelena Islands, a beautiful Nature Preserve with gorgeous coves, sandy beaches and clear water. To our surprise there was a US naval base on one of the islands, Santo Stefano, right in the middle of the Nature Preserve!
Mario wisely suggested we get an early start so we left at daybreak (6 am) for the short trip to the island of Spargi. We arrived in a gorgeous little bay all to ourselves. In the cool of the morning Burger and I went ashore and scrambled up rocks and boulders for a spectacular view of our boats at anchor below.
Uh oh, in the distance we could see the white streaks of motorboat wakes, all headed our way. We quickly retraced our steps and swam back to the boat before the deluge arrived. The Maddelenas are the summer playground of yacht charterers and large daytripper boats from nearby towns. We'd been forewarned yet were unprepared for the onslaught of at least 50 boats that surrounded us by mid afternoon, jostling us with their wake enough to almost make us seasick. (To see photos of the mayhem, click below.)
We sat in the cockpit all afternoon, watching the antics of the bikini/Speedo crowd, shooing anyone who tried to anchor too close. Thankfully most of them left by late afternoon so we were able to enjoy a quiet evening at anchor.
Together with our friends we visited a few different islands, swimming and beach walking in the morning, napping in the afternoon and taking turns hosting cockpit parties each evening. As is usual among cruisers, the men talked shop (engine repair, rigging issues, etc.) while we ladies caught up on news of mutual friends and exchanged information about places we'd been and were about to go to.
At one island we took our three dinghies for a snorkel expedition. After swimming we found a little cove all to ourselves, and while the men cracked open spiny sea urchins for appetizers, we ladies sat at the water's edge and exfoliated ourselves with sand.
It was a fun, very special few days. From here our paths diverged, with Maltese Falcon sailing northeast to Corsica, Plankton south down the coast of Sardinia, while we headed west to the Balearic Islands of Spain.
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Photo: Halekai is the middle boat at anchor off the beach at Golfo Aranci.
Onward up the coast we sailed to Golfo Aranci, a very pleasant little beachside town with an attractive, newly renovated waterfront park, with lush green grass and flowers and a stone sculpture by Pinuccio Sciola from San Sperate.
We marveled at how pleasantly clean the town was, not a speck of litter to be seen in the streets. Come to think of it, we haven't noticed much litter anywhere in Sardinia. What's their secret?
At night we were serenaded by live music on the waterfront while we dined in our cockpit under the stars.
Then we continued north along the posh coast of Smerelda, past huge motoryachts of the rich and perhaps famous, to Golfo di Arzachena. There we anchored next to Mario and Lillian of Maltese Falcon, last seen when we visited them in Malta last month. Barb and Doug, Texans from sv Plankton, joined us soon thereafter, and together we weathered a predicted westerly gale in the shelter of a little island.
The nearby village of Cannignione was particularly charming, and we were in luck once again: we took in yet another folklore performance and another pig roast!
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It seems that wherever we go, we always manage to just miss the local fairs and festivals, but lately our luck has turned.
Unbeknownst to us till we exited the train, that night was the beginning of a weekend festival. Decorative streamers and music made for a festive atmosphere along the main street, where vendors were selling everything from trinkets and toys to handbags and clothes and -- roast pig on the spit! But still full from lunch, we strolled along, enjoying gelati and free samples of candy, postponing the pork till the next evening.
Late next afternoon we joined the masses lined up to watch the parade. A uniformed brass band, flag twirlers and a wheelchair brigade of the town's handicapped passed by. Townsfolk and visiting holiday makers mumbled their Hail Mary's as the madonna figure was carried ceremoniously along the route.
We followed the parade till we came to the food vendors, and ordered roast suckling pig with crackling, salad and beer. Burger was a happy man! There were also racks of lamb, chicken, tripe, and, of all things, live eels pierced like curling ribbon on spits, their eyes blinking and tongues darting as they were being roasted to death! Where were the animal rights protestors?! (See photos.)
Back aboard Halekai, we had ringside seats for the evening boat parade. All manner of watercraft, from fishing boats to cabin cruisers to sailboats, motored past our bow and circled twice around the small harbor. There were also three separate boats for local Police, Coast Guard, and Customs, each manned with several uniformed officials.
Costumed folklore dancers performed at the town quay, and a wreath was laid in memory of war veterans. At midnight we watched from our cockpit as an impressive fireworks display lit the sky, set off on the seawall just opposite us. We're glad we came to Arbatax!
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The following day we motor-sailed up the east coast past rugged mountains and long white beaches to the small port town of Arbatax, where sv Sandra II, yet another German boat we know, was stored (last time we saw them was when they sailed to Annapolis over 10 years ago). But alas, our schedules didn't mesh and Monika and Harry were back in Germany. We could have anchored in the harbor but decided to splurge and took a berth in the modern, affordable marina. That evening we shared a pizza in their upstairs restaurant overlooking the lights of the harbor.
We were planning on renting a car and exploring the Gennargentu National Park, a mountain chain of the Barbagia region of Sardinia. It was named Barbaria by the Romans due to the successful guerilla warfare tactics of the people against invaders. More recently the area received notoriety for the kidnapping for ransom of wealthy Italians from the Costa Smerelda further north. The banditos held their victims in remote locations and communicated by whistling whenever the Cabinieri tried to track them down.
But then we learned that a tourist train left each morning from Arbatax, taking tourists to the area we wanted to go to, which would be a lot more relaxing than finding our way around bandito country on narrow windy roads.
So next morning at 8 am we boarded the trenino verde, a little 2-car train on narrow gauge tracks that took us deep into the interior. The ride was bumpy as we gradually climbed higher and higher into the mountains, giving us spectacular views.
After 3 1/2 hours our small tour group was met at the station in the village of Sadalo and taken by bus to a large grotto, where we descended into refreshingly cool temps while being led along from one illuminated "room" to the next. We saw huge, centuries old stalagmite and stalactite formations of bizarre shapes. The final room was off-limits to visitors, left dark for the remaining cave dwellers, bats, moths and lizards.
Back in the daylight, we were bussed to a local family restaurant for a "Sard tipici" multi-course dinner, which began with a locally made aperitif and included a carafe of red wine. Luckily each course was a small portion so we weren't overstuffed by the time dessert (a homemade macaroon) expresso and a sweet lemony liqueur were served. We were feeling very relaxed by the end of the meal! Over all it was very good though the advertised roast pig, which Burger had been so looking forward to, was anything but succulent.
Our guide met us outside and accompanied us along the quaint streets of Sadalo for a history lesson of the village and the surrounding area. Water water everywhere, ancient springs and fountains and even a small waterfall, right in town. The sole church was Romanesque. We then found our way back to the train station by the 5 pm departure, happy to sit and enjoy the long, sleepy ride back to Arbatax. It had been a long but eventful day. But it wasn't over yet!
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Photo: Old friends Felix and Monika, sv Makani.
No sooner did we help Gini and Manfred maneuver Mindedal out of their berth than we reunited with another German boat we know well, Felix and Monika of Makani, who were berthed almost opposite us in the marina. It wasn't entirely a surprise as we've been in email contact, but it was great fun seeing them again. We last cruised together a year ago in the Aegean islands of Greece. We first met Felix and Monika aboard Makani in New Zealand, and cruised together with them in Tonga back in 2007, during their circumnavigation. We visited them at their home in Germany in 2009.
We rendezvoused that evening at Villasimius, on the east side of the bay of Cagliari. No sooner was our anchor down than we both dove in the water, the first swim we've had since returning to the boat in May! (Having been in marinas ever since.) Later we dinghied ashore and had dinner together at the marina restaurant. Burger had fried calimari while I had my favorite, octopus salad. Felix's sister was visiting for a week, and they were returning her to the airport in Cagliari before planning to follow in our wake.
Photo: Old friends Gini and Manfred, sv Mindedal
On our last day in Cagliari we did the mundane, shopping and laundry, etc., and then walked together with Manfred and Gini to a brand new, all-you-can-eat (EUR 17 pp) Asian restaurant, named Hasu Sushi Wok. Two giant white plastic horses greeted us at the entrance. We were among the first customers when it opened at 8:30 pm (typical Med dining time), and it was packed by the time we left, mostly with stylish young people. The girls had tattooed backs and tippled along in their CFM shoes :).
All kinds of Chinese and Japanese food was served buffet-style, from sushi to teppanyaki to wok stir fried to order. Manfred and Burger surely ate their money's worth! It was a fitting farewell dinner with our old friends, who once sailed Mindedal to Japan and had stories to tell.
The next morning it was time to part company, as Mindedal was sailing west to Cartegena, Spain and we were heading north along the east coast of Sardinia. When will our paths cross again?
First stop was San Sperate, an otherwise nondescript little town just outside of Cagliari. Renowned Sardinian sculptor Pinuccio Sciola lives here, and is responsible for San Sperate's fame. Over 300 murals and sculptures by local and international artists are everywhere you look, on buildings and street corners and parks. (See photos!) We found the Casa de Sciola on a map and toured his stone garden with permission of the caretaker.
What makes some of Sciola's stone sculptures unique is that they are musical! The sculptor sawed parallel slits, sometimes in a grid pattern, which when brushed like a harp produce tones of various pitch. I later found a U-tube video of Sciola "playing" one of his sound stones. Fascinating!
After taking dozens of photos in the garden and along the streets, we drove on to the southeast coast, enjoying the scenery along the way. We then drove across the causeway, past pink flamingoes feeding in a shallow lagoon and past a part of the original Roman stone bridge, to the island of Sant Antioco. There we had lunch on the waterfront before visiting the museum at Tofet, an ancient Phoenician necropolis where where the ashes of cremated stillborn babies were found in clay funerary urns.
From Sant Antioco Manfred negotiated the curvy mountainous road south to the beachside town of Nora, where we planned to visit some Roman ruins. But by then we were "ruined out" so we gave it a pass, opting for gelati and cold drinks instead.
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Thus replenished and refreshed, our goal for the afternoon was nearby Su Nuraxi, the largest and best preserved prehistoric ruins in Sardinia, dating back to 1500 BC. In the museum in Cagliari the day before, we saw an original clay model of the site, which has helped archeologists understand the original appearance and construction of the nuraghic towers.
Traipsing around ruins on a guided tour in the blazing sun is not my favorite thing, but exploring on one's own was not an option. First our guide spoke on and on for the Italians in our small group, then gave a short translation in English for the rest of us. We climbed up and then down into the large, multi-story conical tower, and poked around the many small, dark, and blessedly cool alcoves inside.
The stone walls were constructed without mortar and with surprisingly sophisticated architecture.Though there are theories it's not really known if the towers were used as ceremonial temples or for defense against enemy attack. Or both. There are numerous nuraghic ruins all over Sardinia.
We ended the day with a shopping spree at Lidl's, our favorite German discount supermarket, a chain found all over Europe with imported foods not found in local stores. Navigator Burger directed Manfred to one using a Lidl Finder app. How did we manage pre-Ipad??
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Next morning we set off for Barumini, north of the city. As we had done together in Greece last year, Manfred did the driving while Burger navigated on the Ipad. Gini was the backseat driver (slow down, Manfredo!) and I was the route planner, with the help of our Rough Guide and the excellent travel notes of Judi and Dan, sv Koa, who had been berthed next to us in Marina di Ragusa.
We were all hungry by the time we arrived in Barumini. It was a hot day and we were happy to find a small hotel with a cool, rustic dining room. The men ordered grilled horsemeat ribs -- delicious! -- which tasted just like beef. Gini and I had homemade filled pasta. Cold beer hit the spot. Ahhh.