LAGOS AND TRIP TO SPAIN OCTOBER 2009
 

Lagos, Portugal
At the end of September we met up with Brian and Sandy on Moonshadow Star. We first met them on a RYA First Aid course in 2003. They crossed the Atlantic when we did but returned to Europe that same year. It was great fun to see them again, they came to the boat for a meal and we met up for happy hour drinks catching up with where we had all been. We gave them a hand when they relaunched their boat and then they left to go back over the Atlantic on October 8th. We also met up with Vince and Lynn on Gretel, who we first met in Mazagon, Spain in 2004.

There is quite a large liveaboard community here but while some leave the marina in high season (because of the cost) many don't seem to go anywhere and have been here for years. When we asked about it somebody called the marina Port Velcro. We've also saw a number of ARC boats come and go during the early autumn, heading to the Canaries.

Because of the liveaboard community there is quite an active social scene. This ranges from country walks, to a computer users group, to social get togethers, to a Portuguese language course and line dancing. There is also a VHF radio net twice a week and a Lagos web site for cruisers. Two highlights have been a visit to the Sopromar boatyard followed by free drinks and barbecued suckling pig and a free trip with drinks and lunch on a two masted Caravel. A 'don't miss' event is the weekly farmers' market. Although there is a commercial fruit and vegetable market open all week in Lagos, the farmers market is for smallholders, thus everything is very fresh and extremely cheap. We've seen fantastic salads, huge cabbages, lovely onions, potatoes, figs, nuts of all kinds, oranges (of course!) and we get our eggs there. We've stopped short of a live rabbit, duck or chicken however!

Caravels were first built in the second half of the thirteenth century and because of the Moorish influence in Portugal, at the time, Caravels are lateen rigged. They were used by all the famous Portuguese explorers and latterly for trading. The Caravel we sailed on is a replica (launched in 1990) but a proper working ship that has sailed over seventy thousand miles. Her name is Boa Esperança (Good Hope). On her sails are a red cross the symbol of the Order of Christ of which Infante D Henrique (Henry the Navigator) was Governor. It was an amazing experience to sail her, we've never seen such a huge amount of rigging, all rope and wooden turning blocks (see picture section). We helped release and later fully reef the mainsail. There are ten reefing lines, five each side of the boat needing ten people to do the job! We also steered the boat. The helm is about ten feet long and around twelve inches diameter with an enormous rudder. The loading on the rudder is so high that even with the two of us holding the tiller it was difficult to steer a straight course. In heavy weather six people have to man the tiller. One of the most striking things was the creaking of the rigging, that doesn't happen with modern boats. You could close your eyes, step back in time, and think you were in the middle of the Atlantic wondering whether you would ever see land again. One strange thing is that given Portugal's maritime history we only saw one Portuguese cruising boat in the Caribbean.

On Tuesday October 20th we returned to the UK for seven days to attend the funeral of Mike's father. We stayed with Simon (Jane's brother) and Angela, Ian, Keren and Adam (Mike's sister, her husband, Mike's niece and her husband). Our thanks go to them for looking after us so well. It was a sad reason to go back to the UK but it was lightened by Mike being able to meet his great niece (tee hee) Isabel, a cheerful energetic 9 month old sweetie.

When we got back to Portugal the nights were getting colder and we began to get some mild condensation inside the boat. This is bad news in a steel boat but we hadn't been able to find anywhere selling dehumidifiers or electric heaters earlier in the autumn. However, the day after we arrived back we went to the supermarket and both were on sale. Overnight the dehumidifier takes out of the air about two and a half litres of water - it's amazing it doesn't rain inside the boat. We also had to replace a broken toaster that Mike couldn't get apart to fix.

Trip to Spain
We left Lagos by coach at 06.30 on November 7th, heading to Seville with nine stops on the way. The trip took five and a half hours - enough time for Mike to get bored which is when he gets dangerous (or plain embarassing). This time I knew what we were passing because he would make baaing, or clippity clopping or mooing etc sounds. Fortunately he hasn't heard a Stork's call otherwise I would have had that too. He kept this up when driving around Spain even mooing when we passed a 'cattle crossing the road sign'. His mental age doesn't increase unfortunately. One interesting thing on the coach ride was that many of the Portuguese farm houses were derelict (ripe for development?), the land wasn't being worked and the huge plastic greenhouses were empty. Once we'd crossed the River Guadiana into Spain it all changed. The farmhouses were pristine and the land was being worked with crops, olive, lemon and orange groves.

We checked in to a hostel in the old part of Seville that was obviously a converted Spanish rich man's house, with a slight difference. The 'courtyard' was on the first floor, with a glass ceiling, it was very pretty (see pictures). We spent the afternoon afternoon wandering around to get our bearings and came across an Irish bar that was showing the England/Australia rugby match (our first sight of a match for 5 years). The following day (8th) we went to visit the Alcazar, a palace with palaces added on by subsequent monarchs. It's a wonderful place with stunning architecture and beautiful gardens. One room you can visit is the room Queen Isabella used to host the explorers and their crews to pray for fair winds before setting sail. On one wall is a painting of the Queen and some sailors, if you look closely you can see the image of an American Indian. It is the first image of an Indian ever seen in Europe. The room and picture are quite moving.(See pictures).

Then we went to the Gothic Cathedral which is close by - the third biggest in the world by floorplan and the biggest overall by volume. Initially we weren't going to go in but we had read that the coffin of Christopher Columbus was on display. There is some dispute as to whether his remains are in there or how much of them, as after he died his body became 'well travelled' between Spain and what was then known as Hispaniola due to various disputes. Anyway, the coffin is held aloft by four statues each with the shield emblem for one of the four provinces that made up Spain when Queen Isabella united the country. We also climbed to the top of the Giralda tower for fantastic views over Seville. After the Cathedral we hired a horse and coach with driver and had a ride round the city. It's not something we would normally do but all the horses were in pristine condition, the carriages were the same and some carriages are one hundred years old (they all have the same design and colouring). As well as all the people taking pictures of us we will always remember how bumpy the carriages are, especially on cobbles.

On the ninth we got a taxi to the railway station to pick up a hire car. Then we set off south eastward towards the Sierra de Grazalema to visit the 'white villages'. These are either set on high cliffs or in deep valleys and all are beautiful. To get there fast we used the motorway but once we reached the Sierra we used the winding, hairpin, hairy driving, backroads that give stunning views. Once when we stopped to admire the view we saw two Spanish Imperial Eagles circling. We stopped in Grazalema (built on a cliff) for lunch, then went to El Bosque (in a valley) where we spent the night. Although in a valley we were still at altitude and it was very cold at night even though we had clear skies and sunny warm days. Lower down towards Cadiz and Medina Sidonia we saw many huge bulls that are bred for bull fighting. One morning we were flashed by two lorries coming towards us and we came across a monster bull on the road. He was so big we reckoned he could have turned the car over like a toy, we gave him a wide berth. Mike was doing much mooing as we passed. Do bulls moo?

On the tenth we went to Arcos de la Frontera (built on a cliff) where we had lunch and a walkabout to see the church, the castle and the views. The same day we drove to Jerez and again had a walkabout to get our bearings. Jerez is a beautiful city with wonderful Spanish architecture, some amazing sculptures and many impressive fountains. On the 11th we walked around the Alcazar (palace) and Cathedral. Then we had a tour round the Gonzalez Byass Bodega. Gonzalez Byass is still family owned and makes the world's largest selling sherry Tio Pepe. They take you round the site on a train which periodically dropped us off to see how they make Brandy and Sherry, how they blend the sherries and how they store them. Afterwards they fed us tapas with two different sherries to try. It was a very interesting tour.

On the eleventh we went to see Jerez's famous Andalucian dancing horses at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art. The setting was a beautiful indoor arena, rectangular in shape with a semi circle at one end. The show includes single horses; two horses; four horses all with riders; six horses with saddles on but being led; three horses and carriages (one carrige with two horses and two with four horses). The finale was ten horses and riders. Each horse/group of horses displayed an increasing number of things the horses can do - raised knees when walking then trotting; walking with one hoof in front of the other; walking and trotting crabwise across the arena; kicking out their hind legs; rearing up on their hind legs then jumping one foot off the floor. The larger the number of horses and riders the more spectacular the movement and dancing was. There were some things we had to do a doubletake on because we couldn't believe what we were seeing. For example, the two four-horse coaches went down each side of the arena then turned to pass each other at the curved end. They were literally inches apart. In the ten-horse show five went down one side of the arena and the other five crabbed across the arena and merged with the five at the side - horse five between six and four etc. The amazing thing was that the timing and positioning was perfect with noses and tails no more than a couple of inches apart. One interesting thing is that Spain is still a male dominated society (e.g. the man always gets the bill even if the woman asks for it) but there were lady riders. Progress! The dancing is a 'must see' if you are in the area.

On the the twelfth we drove to the Cota Donana the wildlife sanctuary. The reserve is the largest unpaved area, with the longest unspoilt beach, in Europe. The town we stayed in El Rocio has wide sand roads (no markings or signs) and Andalucian horses are a means of transport for both travel and work in the wetlands. You will see as many hoof prints in the sand roads as tyre tracks (yes, Mike was making Horse noises). On the Thirteenth we went on a tour of the reserve and what turned out to be the drylands, they had had no rain since March and all the migrant birds we were hoping to see were further north in the paddy fields and the salt marshes to the east. However it wasn't too disappointing. We saw: wild marsh horses and wild bulls/cows; wild boar including three junior ones; Red Deer; Fallow Deer. Birds seen included: Lesser Black Backed Gull; Herring Gulls; Audouin's Gull (very rare); Oystercatcher; Kentish plover; Spanish Imperial Eagle (rare); Red-Legged Partridge; Hoopoe; Egret; Cattle egret; Azure Winged Magpie; Common Magpie; Stonechat; Greylag Geese; Sanderling; Knot (like a smaller Sanderling). A big male Wild Boar we saw was asleep and our guide said they sleep so deeply that you can make as much noise as you want and he won't wake up - and the guide went on to prove it. Another interesting thing is that Red Deer will run off as soon as they see you. The Fallow deer however stand their ground, stock still, and hope you won't see them. Apparently they are really fast and thus are confident that they can outrun anything.

Our guide told us about their tree management in the Coto. They have employed three hundred and fifty contract workers who have been working for six months. They are taking out the Eucalyptus trees (a non-native species) because they are poisonous and drink huge amounts of water thereby stopping anything growing beneath or around them. They are also cutting off the lower branches of all the pine trees, which are dead, but stop any light beneath the tree and thus stop things growing again. The reason is to enlarge the food source for the animals. The night before our visit one of the contract workers allegedly started a fire. With no rain, the whole of the Cota Donana is a tinderbox and the fire could have been devastating. Fortunately a Park Ranger saw the fire and it was put out quickly. The culprit didn't come forward so all the workers are on notice that if it happens again they will ALL lose their jobs. Brutal but no doubt effective.

The following day we asked if we could have our hotel room for another night but they were full. However they said that they had an apartment available for the same price. It was an amazing place (see pictures). Then we went to the Coto Donana again to some of the viewing hides and to some more hides further north. The highlight was seeing a young Wild Boar close up. When we got back to El Rocio we could see why the hotel was full, there were cars everywhere. We discovered that the people in the area celebrate Spring, Autumn and Winter with parties and there was a major party that night to celebrate Autumn .

One thing not to miss is El Rocio's pretty (newish, totally rebuilt 1969) church (see pictures). Inside is the statue of the Virgin of El Rocio. This is a major Spanish shrine that attracts one million pilgrims around Whitsun. If you visit you must go inside to see the Virgin and the background she is against - it's stunnning, particularly at night when the church is lit inside. Unfortunately taking pictures is not allowed inside the church.

We drove back to Seville on the fifteenth, went to the bus station to buy return tickets to Portugal and then went wandering. As we walked back we stopped to watch the Ireland/Australia rugby match. The next day we visited the Flamenco museum. It was fascinating, an interactive experience giving the history of Flamenco with verbal/dance examples of the nine dance styles. There is also a beautiful costume display. We then went wandering again. In the evening we went back to the museum for a forty five minute Flamenco show with guitarist, singer, male dancer and female dancer. The little theatre only seats about forty people and we were in the front row a matter of feet fron the dancers - we were getting wind gusts off the dancer's dress. What we saw was original Flamenco not what is put on for tourists. I've mentioned before that proper/original Flamenco dancers don't use Castanets. The best dancers can snap three fingers on each hand very fast and loud. Initially you do another doubletake looking for the Castanets and only then realise what's going on. The female dancer wore different dresses for the different dance styles - using a shawl; a floor length dress; a dress with train. When they use their tap shoes it's so fast that it's impossible to count the beats. If you blink you can miss a three hundred and sixty degree spin. Cameras are allowed but you cannot use flash (pointless really, it's not well lit). Afterwards we couldn't stop talking about what we had seen. Highly recommended.

We loved both Jerez and Seville. We spent some time in the latter watching the world go by at various cafes. There are trams now reintroduced in the centre of Seville, right along the main pedestrainised area (forget Health and Safety!). Also we saw a number of places around the city where identical bicycles were chained in a row. At each there is a pay station, you submit your credit card, unlock a bike and use it, drop it off at another bicycle station. You only pay for the time the bike was unlocked from one station to another. We saw them being used by tourists as well as locals. One guy arrived on an out of town bus, when we were waiting at the bus station to leave, picked up a bike from the area outside, presumably to ride it to work where he dropped it off at another station. Great idea.

Back to Portugal
We left Seville on Tuesday 17th of November, tired but exhilarated by what we had seen on the trip. On the bus back we passed through Stork city! Each side of the road were small and then large and small electricity pylons. It started with a run of one nest on twelve consecutive small pylons. Then there were long runs of small pylons again with one nest and the large pylons with up to four nests per pylon! We must must have passed a hundred plus nests. Mike said they nest on pylons so they can plug in their AC units and toasters. He's still forgetting to take his tablets.

A couple of interesting things that happened on the trip were that we remembered to take our passports with us - easy to forget in 'borderless' Europe. We were asked for our passports at every hotel we stayed in and they were photocopied. Then on our return journey there was a roadblock at the Spain/Portugal border manned by Police and Immigration officials from both countries. Everybody on the bus had to show their passports. Talking to another cruising boat the same thing happened to them and two people were taken off their bus. We thought there are no border checks but clearly there are, which is good news. Moral of the story, always have your passport with you.

When we came back from Spain I started a Basic Survival in Portuguese course. There were nine three hour lessons spread over three weeks - plus a huge amount of homework. Each set of homework took me ages, so there wasn't much time to do anything else with just Sunday off, (well that's my excuse). It's a strange language that originally didn't have what we would call a full alphabet. If you walk round the marina the pontoon letters jump from J to L, no K. They also didn't have W, a nightmare when the World Wide Web and the www addresses came along. Brazil eventually talked Portugal into having a full alphabet because the lack of letters was causing communication difficulties and thus trade issues (and Brazil has a bigger population so size does matter). Over the next few years all Portuguese speaking countries will adopt the same alphabet and agreed spelling of words.

The days of week are strange - Monday is literally translated as day one, Tuesday day two etc. This can cause difficulties if you ask how long a job might take. They say day three, you understand it will take three days but if it's day four today that is a week away. Like Spain, Portugal is a male dominated society, and again like Spanish nouns Portuguese nouns have a male or female gender. Monday to Friday are female, the weekends are male! Hmmm.

The language has many words that are simillar to Spanish but completely different pronuciations. The course was fantastic and I'd highly recommend it if anybody has the time when passing through Lagos.

After the course boat life went back to normal. Mike fitted a new calorofier so we've got hot water back. He also went sailing for four hours helping Andy and Lesley on Kodiak to set up their new Hydrovane wind vane. They were oohing and ahhing about it. Later we had port and cheese with them. We also had a meal with Sue and Dick on Tamar Swallow and Mike and Helen on Island Drifter.

One of the local restaurant/bars started a quiz night that we entered with Steve and Sue on Kaivalya. For the first two weeks there were forty general knowledge questions (total forty points) and we won both nights (it came as a shock to us too..). Then Steve and Sue went back to the UK and we teamed up with Andy and Lesley. For the next two weeks the quizmaster (the owner of the restaurant) changed the format. In the third week there were still forty general knowledge questions but also a further twenty points for music questions and forty points for celebrity questions. The following week general knowledge was cut to twenty questions, still twenty points for music and forty points for Coronation Street questions. Needless to say we knew hardly anything about Coronation Street and came fourth each week. We don't have a problem whether we win or lose but what the restaurant owner didn't understand is that if you get a bunch of cruisers together it's almost certain to be an international gathering. There were Dutch and Australians at the quiz who had never even heard of Coronation Street, thus potentially forty points down at the start. We patiently pointed this out to the owner and that the quiz was now points biased to two 'specialist' subjects but he didn't want to listen. From then on we didn't bother going because we thought his attitude was rather disappointing. Well, that's not quite what Mike said.

The autumn weather had been sunny and warm, we were even on the beach on the last day of October. By November the weather changed and one night the temperature dropped to zero, with ice on the pontoons. In mid December the Jetstream moved south and aimed a series of lows and cold fronts in our direction. Between the hours of 00.00 and 03.00 on December 23rd we got no sleep. The wind was thirty nine knots and gusting, there was torrential rain and the rigging of all the boats was howling. Add to that thunder and lightning and the noise generated kept us awake. The only advantage was that when the lows came through the temperature went up, often to 20C.

We went to the marina's Christmas dinner on Friday 18th of December and the day before, at 01.30 there was an earthquake (only!) fifty miles southwest of us. It was 6.3 on the Richter scale and apparently all the boats were shaking - we slept through it needless to say. That's our third earthquake! On Christmas day we went to West Bar, another local restaurant, for a wonderful five course meal. The weather was dreadful, strong winds and rain, but it did brighten up later.

On New Year's Eve we walked in full wet weather to near the entrance of the river to watch a firework display put on by the local council. At any one time there were at least five fireworks in the air at the same time. The finale was awesome, the five or more slowly increased until there around twenty five rockets exploding at different heights, truly spectacular. Added to that we could see round the curve of the bay the fireworks at Alvor and Portimao as well. Happy New Year to all.

Odds and ends
Pretty white flower. You may recall that in the last log we asked if anyone could identify a flower we found on the sandbank in Olhau. The flower had five petals and five stamens. First past the post was Matthew Waldram (thank you!) again, he previously named the tiny frog we found on the boat. The answer is Pancratium maritimum, commonly known as a Sea Daffodil or a Sea Lily, although it is not of the Lily family. How does Matthew know these things - take a look at his website http://www.mattwaldram.com/pubs.html.

Strange car. When we were in Seville the engine of a taxi we were in cut out when we stopped at traffic lights i.e. complete silence but we didn't see the lady driver turn the engine off. When the lights went green she didn't start the car either, she just accelerated. We couldn't work out what was going on, so we asked her. It was a hybrid car diesel/electricity (our first). She showed us a sophisticated computer display that showed the power train and whether it was running on diesel or electricity, the amount of power being used, consumption and much more. It was very impressive and she said very fuel efficient. Also it seemed to perform as well as a traditional car.

Birds
The Storks are still here and don't look like migrating. On the way to the supermarket we can see five Stork nests and one day all were empty. However as we approached the nests ten Storks flew overhead and branched off to their own nests - it was a fantastic sight. We've also had some migrants arrive: lots of Cormorants and Shags; Grey Wagtail (sounds boring but very pretty yellow underparts) and Razorbills. Mike was walking along the pontoon and a Razorbill dived, the water was clear so he could see it 'flying' under water. Apparently Navy divers have seen Razorbills at a depth of nine hundred feet. We've also spotted Slender Billed Gulls.