Friday October 31, 2014
Sometimes all you need for the perfect morning is a breathtaking sunrise, a hot cup of coffee, and a good book.
It’s funny how after nothing but 3-30 day sail recently, one can still not look forward to a 35 mile jaunt because it just seems too tiring. Or that might be that we’ve had a few weeks in each location to properly relax before moving on, and now after only having the anchor down for three days, we’re on the move again. We really enjoyed our time in Play Francesca but we wanted to see some new things and that meant weighing anchor yesterday morning just after sunrise.
As far as exploring Lanzarote goes, we’d browsed enough of our guidebook and read enough posts by other bloggers to realize that it probably didn’t hold a whole lot of promise for us. Lots of sand and low volcanic cones. Which we did properly enjoy viewing from afar for the past few days, but anything more than that didn’t seem necessary. What we want are the lush green hills of the western islands. Until we can get ourselves over there though, if it’s possible in this time frame, we wanted to settle for more nice beaches.
Perusing other blogs about the Canaries and stumbling upon one that had basically fully reviewed the eastern islands, listed the best anchorages, and even posted little photos and reviews on them, (Thanks Island Drifter, you have no idea how helpful you were!), we found a spot on the southern tip of Lanzarote called the Papagayo Peninsula that housed a few spots that we’d be able to anchor as well as some delicious sandy beaches and clear waters to swim in. This was music to our ears as every other cruiser and website we can get our hands on has been spouting about how a lot of the anchorages in the Canary Islands are now being turned into moorings or marinas. Good anchorages are apparently becoming very few and far between in these areas, so to find one that looked protected and beautiful was a big stroke of luck for us.
The ride down to the Peninsula wasn’t as nice as I had originally been hoping, overcast skies and a chill in the air. Since the wind was out of the east and right on our nose as we made our way around the NE tip of Lanzarote we had to motor through the first few hours until we rounded the island and were pointing west before they could be shut off. The main had already been up to give us a bit of balance in the waves, but with Matt sleeping down below I unfurled the headsail and worked the sheets by myself until they looked good. I must actually be getting better at this sailing thing because when Matt came above deck a little later he barley had to touch anything.
We had been doing a nice job flying along down the coast, but it’s possible that all of our good speed was only due to being inside one of the Canaries notorious ‘Wind Zones’ where winds will rush down or around slopes and curves and double or triple in speed in certain areas. As soon as we were five miles down from the NE tip they suddenly cut out and we were left bobbing around while our sails flogged to and fro. Engine back on. Travel another 30 minutes and once again the wind picked up to 25 knots. Engine off. This seemed to be the theme of our trip down the coast, winds not sure if they wanted to be full or nonexistent. Finally we decided to leave the engine on regardless of what the wind was doing, which made for some very fast motor-sailing at times.
In the afternoon just when we were getting ready to round the point to the Papaguya Peninsula it did a sudden shift and came around on our nose which meant we’d be traveling the last mile or two with all the sails put in. By now the day had become fully overcast and winds were blowing strong. It was a little worrysome when we pulled up to the three other boats at anchor since we weren’t getting as much protection in the area as we originally thought we would from the 25 knot winds that were coming over us, but the bottom was nice and sandy and we didn’t have to worry about getting our anchor to stay in an area that could have been rocks or coral.
Waking up this morning though, conditions had calmed tremendously and there was barley a whisper of wind. Watching the sun come up behind the tall hills in front of us it illuminated the bay in a soft glow and making all the harsh lines we saw when coming in the previous evening much more beautiful. Across the stretch we could make out the island of Fuerteventua and further east on Lanzarote, the town of Playa Blanca. From what we can see, this is going to be another great anchorage to get a few days of R&R in.
Monday October 27, 2014
I am in love with being at anchor again, what a wonderful feeling. This has sorely been missing from our lives for the past few months. Although we were happy to have our dose of civilization and conveniences, there’s still nothing that beats a few days of seclusion with beautiful surroundings.
There wasn’t much that we did after arriving on Saturday, even though we came in first thing in the morning. Any time after an overnight passage it usually takes us a little time to recover from the loss of sleep, and honestly, we weren’t ready to get out of the lazy habit of doing nothing all day just like we had while sailing. Even dinner was just a pizza heated up in the oven as I couldn’t motivate myself to do much more than that.
Yesterday was a bit more of a productive day and it started in the middle of the night when the winds picked up and shifted to the south where we were fully exposed. We had heard that southerlies were a big thing to watch out for in the Canaries as a lot of anchorages are exposed in that light, as well as the southerlies being quite powerful. Since our Weather Fax hasn’t been picking up a great signal this side of the pond we had even hailed a cruise ship a day outside of Lanzarote to get a forecast and specifically asked if any winds from the south were coming up in the next few days, in which we were told no. Come 2 am though and our whole anchorage was full of boats bouncing all over the place. Matt even took it upon himself at 3 am to jump in the dinghy and shuttle out to a neighboring boat that had dragged out toward the channel to make them aware of the situation and see if they needed help. I think they had just woken when he got there and thanked him for coming over, but since their anchor seemed to have caught again they didn’t want to go through the hassle of re-anchoring in the middle of the night.
The winds did not die down through the night and when the sun rose at 7am you could see cockpits full of people monitoring the conditions and making sure they were not moving anywhere themselves. I brewed a few cups of coffee for the two of us, and poor Matt who’d barley gotten any sleep through the night was sent down to get some rest, although it didn’t take and he was quickly back in the cockpit with me. In the late morning and early afternoon the winds began to shift a bit more to the east and calmed down just a little bit which allowed everyone to relax and resume normal cruising life. For us this meant getting our suits on and heading over to the beach for a day of sun and relaxing.
We’d heard through the grapevine that Spain has some nude and topless beaches, but we assumed they were in designated areas, and nothing prepared us for when we landed our dinghy on the picturesque beach here in Playa Francesa to find a couple laying out on the sand completely nude. They probably couldn’t have been more than 20 feet from us and it was one of those situations where you do everything to advert your eyes from that direction because you don’t know the protocol, and even glancing down the beach to take in the surrounding sights seems like peeping. We made sure to set up our sport-a-seats well down the beach as not to run into this issue all afternoon.
The next few hours on the beach were great and it felt so nice to get back into these elements after being forced into marinas for the past three months where there were no suitable sandy beaches nearby. Sandwiches were enjoyed, cold beers were sipped, and we slowly went back from pasty white to something resembling a little color (after slathering ourselves in SPF 30, of course). We did just a little bit of wandering around the beach, climbed the hill for some magnificent views, and waded in the water to find out it was much cooler than one would expect for such a lower lattitude. Matt had wanted to come back out later with our snorkel gear to check out some of the small reefs in here, but I’m not even sure I could spend 10 minutes in that water. Wow, I must be becoming very babied with the tropical waters I’ve become accustomed to over the past few years if I can’t spend much time in waters comparable to those I grew up with in Lake Michigan.
We did have a nice surprise waiting for us in the afternoon too. I should say, the surprise came earlier in the day, we just weren’t able to enjoy it until later. Just after we had showered in the morning and were getting ready to head out to the beach we saw a dinghy that was going from boat to boat and eventually made it’s way toward us. It ended up being a father and son from the boat Matt had visited in the middle of the night, and they were going around the anchorage trying to find out who had come out to them to let them know they had dragged out into the channel. When the man first pulled up he asked Matt, “We’re you the one that was on my boat last night?”. Matt, thinking this man was assuming someone had unlawfully boarded their boat in the middle of the night and this might lead to a big argument replied, “No, no, I wasn’t on your boat, but I did come up to it to see if you were ok”. Well it turns out this guy wasn’t looking to pick a fight at all, he just wanted to find and thank the person that had come out to check on them.
Even better, once he found this person he wanted to thank them with a bottle of champagne. Ummm, what? Champagne? Matt kept trying to turn him down saying that he was happy to have helped in any way he could, but the champagne was absolutely unnecessary. Which it was. But then again….free champagne. Luckily this guy would not take no for an answer. After thanking us a few more times in broken English (having a native tongue of French), him and his son were off again and we had a nice drink to chill and enjoy that evening. And boy did we.
Where we’re anchored in Playa Francesca there are stunning views of the cliffs of Lanzarote across the El Stretcho. With a bit more of luck on our side we had the sun setting behind us and lighting up these cliffs with orange and red hues as if they were on fire. Opening the champagne to enjoy with these fine views we soon realized we had no way to close the bottle back up and it would all have to be drank in one sitting. And since Matt isn’t very into champagne unless it’s incredibly sweet, a good portion of that job fell onto me. Not that you’d find me complaining, but it did make it a little harder to become productive once the bottle ran dry. My intended dinner of a KFC chicken bowl quickly turned into a pre-cooked pizza in the oven. Oh well. C’est la vie. When life gives you champagne, you drink that sh*t.
Saturday October 25, 2014
It feels like we’ve been trying to get out of Maderia forever. Not that we actually want to leave this place, although peaceful anchorages are calling our names and we will be happy to leave the marina life behind once and for all. At least, until we get to Florida next spring and spend quite a bit of time in a marina fixing up our new boat. But as it stands we haven’t felt the gentle sway of being at anchor since our quick stop in Bermuda, and feeling like we’ve been on display to all the tourists and cruise ship passengers that wander past the ‘Dip is starting to get a little old. We haven’t even been sitting in the cockpit because it literally feels like we’re behind the wall in a zoo. Some people have even tried to feed Georgie, as we’ve come out and found bread crumbs on the deck more than once. Yes, it is time to leave, and the weather gods have finally smiled on us and given us a three day window of favorable winds to the Canaries.
Although the swells were confused and coming from every direction as we left the harbor, once we were a few miles out from shore they chose one angle and our ride became much smoother. Having filled the aft cabin with as much Pepsi it could hold and got our hands on the closest thing we could find to Nacho Cheese Doritos (I have to say, ‘queso’ has a broad definition of what kind of cheese is acceptable to pair up with tortilla chips), it was an enjoyable afternoon as we glided out into the great beyond with the sun beating down on us and music floating through the air as we enjoyed our spoils of what we think might be our last modern supermarket for awhile.
While Matt took a late afternoon nap below to prepare himself for the first night watch I was watching the sun get lower in the sky and throw beautiful red hues on the Islas Desertas off to our port side. The sailing was beautiful and it was such a treat after our last passage where nothing was going our way. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders as I had been dreading this trip ever since we docked in Maderia and was ready to tell Matt to find crew to get Serendipity back to Florida while I took a smoother ride back at 35,000 ft. Not actually an option, but this sail was beginning to prove that I could take on the ocean again.
Through the next few days we experienced light winds to none, which meant a bit more motoring than we normally like. Personally I was ok with it though as it meant calm seas and a smooth ride. Exactly what I needed at this point in my life. Even when the winds were lightly floating through at 10-15 knots we had a nice although somewhat slow ride across the water. After having transited the Atlantic at an average speed of 3 knots though, the 4 we were now holding felt like good progress and neither of us minded that the trip would take 3 days instead of 2.5. One more night at sea, but that was fine with us.
The only thing that did get on our nerves was the amount of chatter on the radio. All on channel 16 too, it was ridiculous. None of it was in English, a mix of French, Portuguese, and a bit of Spanish instead, so we never knew exactly what was being said, but it was pretty apparent they were all using it in the way one would chat to friends on a cell phone. Lots of laughing and even the occasional drunk just making random noises. All hours of the day. It became so bad that we eventually had to change the channel just to rid ourselves of it.
Overall the trip passed very quickly with sunny skies and calm nights filled with brilliant stars. On our last night out I was also treated with something I’ve been wanting to see for a few years before we even left for this trip. I have to say that the stretch between Madeira and the Canaries have given us the best phosphorus we’ve seen so far on our travels, which in itself could be mesmerizing for hours as you’d stare at the wake thrown out by the boat. I was doing just this in the middle of my night shift when I heard the familiar sounds of dolphins surfacing and blowing air behind me. Quickly jumping up on the combing I scanned the water to see if I could make them out. For a few minutes they stayed behind the boat, but then I could make out bright blue marks in the water next to me as they caught up and shot forward to the bow, outlining their shapes as they glided by. It was only for a moment, and I’m sad they didn’t stay longer to light up the water next to me for longer, but now I can check one more thing off my bucket list.
The sighting put me into a happy slumber when my shift ended just a little bit later, and before I knew it I was being woken up by Matt as we approached Isla Graciosa and Lanzarote. The sun was just raising in the sky and highlighting all the sharp cones and small volcanoes that the islands are made of. Once more, a stunning welcome back to land. Just a little bit later we pulled into the anchorage of Playa Francesa and nestled ourselves between the fifteen or so other boats already there. Immediately all the hatches and ports were opened up as we let fresh air roll into the boat and and we took up spots in the cockpit enjoying our surroundings. There’s not much civilization around here, but I think a few days of seclusion is just what the doctor ordered. Prescription: filled.
For anyone who’s traveled and tried to keep a blog about it, you know how hard it is to stay up to date with your posts. For anyone who hasn’t, trust me, it’s hard. Keeping busy with activities, finding time to write, and usually trying to hunt down an internet signal can pretty much guarantee that you’re not still in the same spot that you’re posting about.
I hate being behind and if it were up to me I’d always be posting within a week of when events happened. I had actually gotten myself back to that point near the end of our stay in Miami, but one ocean crossing plus writers block, plus a dying computer that now shuts down on me at least once every 30 minutes means I’m not as on top of things as I’d like to be. In fact, right now I’m in the horrible spot that I’m extremely far behind and we’re just about to cross an ocean again. Believe me, I spent hours the first time searching it for a McDonald’s with a wifi hot spot, but I just couldn’t find one.
Now that we’re coming up on our next Atlantic crossing (again), it’s time for my friend Jackie to step in and keep all of you updated with our exact whereabouts and well being from text messages sent from our satellite phone that she then posts on the blog. I’m warning you about this now because I don’t want you to be confused that we were on our way to the Canaries and all of a sudden we’re now crossing the Atlantic. I will get back to those posts as soon as I can, but for the moment they’ll be on hold until we hit land again.
As I said, I hate being more than a week or two behind and even though I have every intention of catching myself up as soon as possible, A.) I still won’t be posting from our current location for a long, long time, and B.) I’m sure it will happen again at some point down the road. To help you avoid confusion on where I’m writing about and where we actually are, I can help you with that in two ways. The first is by checking the top left corner of our blog. Awhile ago I started a section called ‘Currently In -‘ that I try and update as soon as we get to a new place so that even if I’m behind on my posting you’ll always know where we are.
The second is to head over to our Facebook page and give us a Like. Getting a quick note up there is obviously much easier than getting a post up on the blog and I’m constantly updating it whenever internet access allows. So make sure to keep an eye on us there, see what we’ve been up to that day, and enjoy more photos that don’t make it onto the blog!
Wednesday October 22, 2014
As we embark on our next journey from Madeira to the Canary Islands, I’d like to take a moment to talk about sailing superstitions. Let us not forget our last journey to get where we are from Sao Miguel Azores. I swear we did everything right and still had what I consider our worst overall passage to date. Maybe there was something out there I missed and need to pay closer attention to?
Most of the superstitions in the maritime world have been around quite awhile, and based on technology for the modern day seafarer versus our gadget-less ancestors, I can see why. Matt and I often joke that we would not be able to take this kind of trip if technology was even 30 years behind where it is today. Without our satellite phone, electronic navigation and charts, weather fax and even decent VHF radio signals, we would be completely lost. Celestial navigation? Hah, yeah right. Taking a position with a sextant? Nope. Basing our entrance to a tricky harbor on lining up with a building as a guide post that may not even be there anymore? No thanks.
We’ll be the first to admit that we heavily rely on all the tech that’s offered to us today, but it’s easy to see why the mariner’s of yesteryear based a lot of it on fate and superstitions. If I thought that keeping flowers off the boat or speaking to a red head before they spoke to me would give me any kind of control over the situation or guarantee me a good passage, I’d probably do them too.
I think this quote on an article on Seafaring Superstitions sums up this theory perfectly.
You are a 19th Century mariner, living in the dank, dark quarters of a sailing ship, at the mercy of capricious wind and weather, six weeks from your last sighting of land. There is no marine weather forecast, no radio, no satellite communication; in fact no communication with the world as you knew it for periods ranging from months to years. You are virtually isolated from the rest of humanity. The captain is the absolute dictator; the ship is his kingdom. You and the rest of the crew are serfs. Small wonder you grasp at any support you can, whether real or imaginary.
LOOK Insurance is amassing the largest compilation of superstitions they can find and asked us to give our personal list of what we follow to avoid toil and trouble on the water. So here I will break into two sections, popular superstitions that we follow for particular reasons, and also little ones I’ve made up myself.
Well Known Superstitions
Never Leave for a Passage on a Friday
If we ever follow one superstition, this one would be it. This is supposed to be incredibly bad luck, and we’d probably laugh it off if not for all of our modern day fellow sailors I’ve read about that have done just this and encountered the worst storms they’ve ever seen or major damage to their vessel in one way or another. None of these sound worth tempting fate for, and even if we see that a weather window will give us a perfect opportunity to leave on a Friday, we won’t do it. We may try and find a sneaky way around it by leaving at 11:50 pm on a Thursday night, but never ever will will leave on a Friday for any jaunt of more than 100 miles. The first time we encountered this, before even really hearing about the superstition, was our first overnight trip on Serendipity, traveling across Lake Michigan from Muskegon to Milwaukee. Storms of epic proportions, especially for beginner sailors, dodging boats in the Chicago to Mac race, and total sleep deprivation.
We thought we could counteract this superstition, or at least worry about it on someone else’s boat, when we tried to join our friend Luis on his motor vessel last summer for a trip from Guatemala to the Bay Islands of Honduras, leaving on a Friday morning. The trip turned out to be ill fated from the beginning and was aborted before anything could really go wrong. So it stands, never leave for passage on a Friday.
This is an incredibly old superstition with religious background since it was written in the bible that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Other bad days to leave on due to religious affiliation are: December 31st (the day Judas hung himself), the first Monday in April (when Cain slew Able), and the second Monday in August (when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed). Huh. Who knew?
Don’t spit in the Ocean
Spitting in anyone’s face is just plain disrespectful, and Neptune is no exception. Not that we’re the kind of slack jawed yokels that can’t keep our drool in our mouth, we very rarely have any reason to spit, but on the occasions that we do, we keep it in the sink while on passage. While in harbor though is a completely different story, I trust our anchor to keep us safe even though some pretty nasty storms have been thrown at it, and I say ‘Spit away’. Just don’t ever ask me to take that chance while underway. Let’s face it, the ocean, although calm and soothing at times, can also be one crazy biotch. We’ve been back and forth at each others throats sometimes and although I consider us frenemies I’d like to stay on her good side here for the next couple of months, so don’t tell her I’m calling her names behind her back.
Think these guys are superstitious about their races?
My Personal Made-up Superstitions
Do not trim your hair or nails while at sea
This is supposed to anger Neptune, although I have no idea why. I’d actually never heard this was a known superstition until now, although the funny thing is, I’ve already found it incredibly true. Without even knowing that this act was supposed to bring storms with it, I swear I’ve learned through my own practice that it will in fact do just that. I’m not exaggerating, every time we’ve had a storm while on passage I most likely trimmed or bit my nails the previous day. After noticing this trend on previous sails in the Caribbean I purposely tried it on our Atlantic crossing, and guess what?, we got a storm the next day. I will no longer even think of touching my nails now while on passage. In fact, I’ll actually freak out if I break a nail on accident. I’ve also found out that giving myself a pedicure within a few days of a passage brings storms. Truth is, I’ve noticed that the longer I go without putting pretty little colors on my piggies, the nicer our passages have been. So my nails will now be polish free until we reach the Caribbean.
Use Blistex lip balm for more wind and Carmex for less wind
Do you know where I got this one from? Yup, our Atlantic crossing. I’m not even sure what day into our crossing during my sleep deprived state that I was able to catch on to this little trick, and even if it’s just in my head, I promise it’s worked for me. The days we were in dead calms with barely 5 knots behind us carrying us along, if I put on my favorite Bistex lip balm the wind would pick up a little bit. Now maybe this meant just up to 8 knots where it wasn’t doing us a whole heck of a lot of good, but it was still something. Then on one day when we had one of our rare storms and I couldn’t find my Bistex, I turned to my Carmax instead. I’m not even joking, within an hour the winds died down at least 5-10 knots, which in my book is still soothing when you’re getting cannonballs of water exploding against your hull. I tried this trick again on our sail from the Azores to Madeira, and just and promised, if the winds threatened to stay above 30 I’d just swipe on my Carmex and they’d calm right down to mid 20’s.
I’ve had a lot of fun writing this post, and in searching for a little more background on some of these maritime superstitions, I came across this quote:
Animals including particular birds were thought to bestow either bad or
good fortune. Swallows seen at sea signified good luck while curlews and
cormorants were bad luck. And killing a gull, dolphin or albatross was especially
troubling as these creatures were believed to hold the soul of deceased sailors.
All I want to know is….why would you kill any of these animals? Why??!! I hope that it is bad luck to kill a dolphin, you deserve to have your soul stolen if you do.
On another animal side note, who knew that black cats bring good luck at sea? Since Georgie is partially black, I wonder if she brings us partial good luck.
What sailing superstitions do you follow or have your made up? I’d also be curious to know, what ones do you blatantly disregard, and why?
Once you’ve thought of your answer, head over to LOOK Insurance and take their boating superstition survey!
Monday October 20, 2014
I have not picked up my camera once since our trip to Pico Ruivo last Wednesday. To put it plainly, I have been completely engrossed in my computer. Writing posts, editing video, and trying to keep in touch with friends back home before my internet disappears in a few days as we make our way to the Canaries and finally out of marinas. So since there isn’t anything new to talk about, here’s some random images of our almost three weeks here. Crazy how the time flies!
Saturday October 18, 2014
In Funchal there’s a little street in the old town called Rua de Santa Maria. This is kind of a back alley area that houses dozens and dozens of restaurants and is very popular with tourists to sit and have a bite to eat or a glass of traditional Madeira wine while enjoying the charm of the cobblestone streets and the antiquity of the area. Another fun thing about this street is the doors to some of these shops. Just about every one of them is decorated with ornate paintings and designs. Even further up this road you’ll find decorated doors as the restaurants dwindle into private residences.
During our few weeks here I have wandered this street many a time, with it quickly becoming my favorite area in Funchal. A few times now I’ve traipsed back and forth through here with my camera and tried to capture images of my absolute favorite doors I came across. There’s many I missed, only because I was starting to get strange looks from the diners around me, but here is a list of my top 9 doors on this little alley that I found the most fascinating.
Thursday October 16, 2014
I don’t have to tell you how in love we are with this island. I’ve pretty much been talking about it non stop lately. The only problem is, I can’t quite say we love this island just yet, because we’ve only seen Funchal. I’m sure I could fall deeply in love with the rest of it, I just needed a chance to see it.
So with great public transportation and nothing but time on our hands as we wait for a decent window to the Canaries, I kept bugging Matt that we needed to do an inland tour. See more than just this one town. So that years down the road when we finally give up our life at sea and get our land legs back I can say with authority, ‘We should move to Madeira. We loved that entire island.’
I had spent hours online researching the best places of the island to visit, but with only a bus at our fingertips instead of a car it wouldn’t be as easy to see multiple parts and we’d have to stick to one area. Looking at photo after photo and spending one whole evening on a certain flickr account, I decided that São Vicente on the north side of the island was the place for us. It looked as if it had a gorgeous beach with high rising cliffs on each side, a quaint little town for wandering, and caves to explore should the mood hit. I was all set to buy our bus tickets out.
That was, until we ran into the Norwegian guys the morning of their departure. We had noticed that they’d been gone the entire previous day and found out they went on an amazing hike through the center of the island from Pico Ruivo to Pico Areeiro. They described it as very long at 15 km total, difficult at times as most of it was uphill, but by far one of the best hikes they’ve ever taken in their life. “It challenges hiking through the fjords of Norway”, they told me. It did sound incredibly long and tedious, but how could you pass up something right in front of you that challenges the views of Norway? That night I researched Pico Areeiro and decided that São Vicente would have to wait. We were going to hike a mountain.
Stopping at the information center in Funchal I picked up a few maps as the woman behind the counter stared at me with leery eyes as I told her my plans. “It’s a very long walk”, she told me. “Yes”, I replied, “I’m fully aware. It will be about six hours”. “Tomorrow is supposed to be very bad weather”, she confronted. I paid her no mind. For some reason the woman of Portugal don’t seem to like me and are always telling me I can’t or shouldn’t do things that I later find are incredibly easy. Like lugging our propane containers a mile outside town to have them filled instead of getting a taxi.
So as we woke this morning I prepared us the best I could, dressing us in layers for the elevation and even putting in a windbreaker since I remembered the fresh breeze at the top of Faial, although Matt declined his. Hopping on the bus we rode through extremely beautiful seaside and mountain roads until we began climbing to the interior town of Encumeada where we would then follow the 11 km path to Pico Ruivo and from there continue on about another 5 km to Pico Areeiro. Encumeada would start us at an elevation of 1007 m , the climb up to Pico Ruivo would bring us up to 1862 m, and we’d descend to Pico Areeiro just a little bit at 1816 m, although this was supposed to be the more difficult part of the hike, winding through extremely narrow paths and through caves in the mountains.
As the bus chugged and climbed it’s way up the mountain we watched the sun disappear and a thick fog settled in. The winds were picking up as well and just as we started to laugh and point out how quickly they were rushing through this area, whipping around peaks and pushing bushes on their side, the bus driver stopped and motioned for us to get off. Oh crap. This did not look so fun anymore. Stepping off the bus into 40 knot winds and a 20 degree temperature drop, we began to second guess ourselves as the bus sped away down the mountain toward São Vicente.
Bundling ourselves up in every layer of clothing we had on us, we found the beginning of the trail while at the same time muttering to ourselves ‘How the hell are we going to do this?’. At this point we were pretty sure that the two of us together would not be coming back down alive. Pushing our way up a dirt trodden path we found a bit of sanctuary behind the giant ridges in front of us, the wind luckily coming from the opposite side. The side we were on still held it’s challenges though in the form of never ending steps. This was not looking like it was going to be a gradual path up those 850 m. Climbing and huffing and puffing we tried to gauge how much initial elevation we were making, hoping that it was all at the beginning and the rest would level out. That we might be able to handle. But if it was going to be 11 km of climbing stairs, that was a guarantee that neither of us would be making it back down.
On the bright side, during many of our breaks to stop and catch our breath we had amazing views down the cliffs to the north side of the island where São Vicente was nestled at the bottom. The clouds on that side of us cleared just enough for us to see out to the valley below, but whenever we turned to look where we were headed next it was nothing but white. We began to wonder if the hike would be worth it at all, coming mostly for the views and realizing there was a chance we wouldn’t even be able to make them out through the fog.
On and on we continued to huff and puff as we climbed higher and higher. The rocky stones in the dirt path would sometimes give way to grand staircases, but the theme always seemed to be onward and upward. For a few moments we had forgotten about the wind since there had been no exposure to it since the beginning of the hike. While rising up one of these grand stair cases we found another couple close to our age coming back down. They stopped to chat for a moment, both of us asking where the other was heading. It turns out they were trying to do the same hike as us, or at least just get to the top of Pico Ruivo, but about a quarter mile up ahead they found themselves exposed to the wind again and decided to turn around.
As the guy tried to explain, we think they were French and English was a second language, they were by no means professionals and they felt that to continue would be too dangerous and they were better off coming back down and completing their tour of the island from the safety of their rental car. We don’t consider ourselves professionals either, but can sometimes muster ourselves up to be hardcore for just a little bit, and decided to continue on. At least to the point they were referring to and could decide there if we wanted to move forward or turn around. Progressing up the mountain another ten minutes we came up to a clearing that had no protection from the strong winds we initially experienced and suddenly saw exactly what they were talking about.
The winds here hit us like a freight train, suddenly gusting up from a light breeze to somewhere near 60 knots. Not only that, but we were in complete cloud cover and could not see more than 100 feet in front of us. No wonder this other couple turned around. To venture on looked like suicide. We quickly agreed that to continue on would be completely unwise and possibly even dangerous and we also turned ourselves around, even rushing back down the areas we could, trying to catch this couple to see if maybe they would give us a ride back into town instead of waiting for the bus to swing around again that afternoon.
Back at the bottom of the hill the French couple was long gone and the next bus through this area was still hours away from arriving. Scouting the small diner and gift shop that made up this town we looked for vehicles of only two people that might be able to give us a ride back to Funchal or at least down the mountain to São Vicente, but every car or van we came across was packed full. Giving up we decided to walk the 10 km ourselves since we figured we had planned on getting a hike in that day anyway and at least this was downhill.
This notion only lasted about half the way down until it felt like we were never going to reach our destination. Every time we’d round a corner and look down the valley we’d think, ‘Ok, only about two more turns and we should be there’, except every turn led to at least five more. Finally at one lookout point we broke down and asked a couple that had stopped to enjoy the views if they could give us a lift the remaining few miles. They kindly obliged and our weary legs finally had a rest.
When we got down to São Vicente we realized the town itself didn’t have a whole lot going for it. Not that it was a bad place, it was just much smaller than we were expecting. There were a few shops, lots of restaurants, but that was about it. Coming from the metropolis of Funchal though, I can see how anything could look kind of small.
What the town lacked though, the seaside definitely made up for. There were gorgeous black sand beaches with tremendous waves constantly crashing on them. A true surfers paradise. With an hour to kill before the next bus would come around to bring us home, we just sat on the seawall and took in the views of the staggering cliffs that sat on the ocean while thundering waves crashed at their feet.
In the end, I guess the day worked out kind of perfectly. I doubt we would have had the strength to hike the entire way to Pico Areelio even on a clear and calm day, but there also wasn’t enough in São Vicente to entertain us for an entire day. So breaking it up between the two gave us a taste of both worlds. It also gave us a chance to see more than just one spot on the island and let me say for sure that Yes, I could absolutely see myself living here someday.
Here’s a quick little clip of some of our sights for the day.
Monday October 13, 2014
I really must stop picking our activities based on TripAdvisor reviews. But this act never ceases, it happens everywhere we go. As soon as we get to a new city I’m busy typing into my computer ‘Things to do in …’. And what else comes up besides a million and one TripAdvisor reviews.
That’s exactly what I did our first morning here in Funchal, and right after riding the cable cars up to a botanical garden, making your way to the Mercado dos Lavradores, or Workers Market was a close number two. Just about every review I read on this market said it was a bustling colorful place and was an absolute must see on your stop in Funchal. Then I clicked on the pictures. Oh my god, the pictures! Every single one was stunning and vibrant, full of people, baskets of overflowing fruit, and bushels of flowers crowding the lens. I’d never heard of this place until now, but I was pretty sure I couldn’t go the rest of my life without seeing it.
Since all the reviews advise that you get there early in the morning and the fact that our internet isn’t decent until after 11 pm, let’s just say that we’ve become night owls as of late and don’t tend to get ourselves up and moving until the market is probably closing down. For a few days now I’ve set our alarm for 8:30, and this morning we finally roused ourselves out of bed to it’s sound and got moving.
Walking the few blocks through the morning haze and getting there just after 9, we were surprised to find we were just about the only ones in the whole indoor market. We (I) had assumed that every morning it would be full of locals buying their daily produce as well as tourists fresh off their cruise ships, and we’d have to elbow our way through the square to actually see anything before it was all snatched up. Not quite the case. At all.
Since we seem to visit the local supermarkets just about every other day we were fully stocked on all the necessities and this was really more just a chance to look around and for me to snap a few photos. There were still baskets brimming with tasty looking fruits on the ground level, but instead of taking up the entire center square like I had pictured, they were all tucked off to the side and the fact that no one was standing near them made me wonder if we’d just entered a zombie apocalypse. (Surely a fruit stand is the last place you’d find a zombie, so it should be where all the remaining humans are hiding.)
Anyway…it did seem as if we had the full run of the place between both shoppers and shopkeepers. It took us all of 4-5 minutes to wander the ground floor before walking up the steps to the upper level where there did seem to be just a little bit of life, mostly in the form of vendors trying to sell us things. Fresh off the staircase we did stop at one stand where a gentleman had a beautiful display of a wide variety of items, many of them things we’d never seen before.
He began pulling out partially exposed fruits and slicing off pieces to offer us a taste. The first item is what he called a pineapple-banana and looked like a very long green pine cone from the outside. Upon tasting it, it actually did taste like both a pineapple and banana (called a Monstera). He asked if we would like to purchase one of these local and found no where else in the world fruits, and we thought, ‘Why not? It’s not like we’ll ever find it anywhere else!’.* After this he motioned for us to put our hands out, and on our wrists he dolloped little gooey seeds that we were hesitant to try at first, but after sampling them found they were the sweetest and most delicious things we’d ever tried. We quickly ordered a few of them as well.
After finding out our bill for these five items was 12€ we decided that would be it for our shopping portion of the day and just began to wander instead. Matt always keeping his distance from any of the future stands since he finds it rude to browse closely without the intent to buy. ‘Why just get their hopes up for a sale and end up wasting their time in the end?’, he always tells me. So we made a round of the remaining top floor without ever really stopping again, although some of the spice oriented stalls did look pretty interesting. Getting back to the staircase we wound down it and found ourselves outside the doors again after having only spent a grand total of 20 minutes inside.
I may be judging this place a little harshly, but I think we may have just come at completely the wrong time of day or the wrong day of the week altogether. As I mentioned before, we weren’t really looking to purchase, just to browse. But being the only visitors there instead of coming while it was bustling with other people and we could have been flies on the wall, we were instead the sole target of all vendors and didn’t feel like we could freely peruse as we had originally wanted. We went there for the experience and it kind of turned out to be a non-experience.
My overall thoughts on this place? It really does have everything you could want in a market if you are looking to purchase. Fruits, vegetables, a fish market, carneceria, spices, nuts, ect. An interesting spot to pop in and check out, but don’t plan your day around it. Plus, expect it to cost more than you’ll be paying at the Pingo Doce right around the corner.
*Editors Note: It turns out these pineapple-bananas are actually from Central and South America and are imported to Madeira. Liar! Now that I’m going back again and looking at a few new TripAdvisor reviews, it looks as if a few others were as underwhelmed as we were. Plus we found out they sweeten their sample fruits with sugar. No wonder the ones we tried at the market tasted so much better than the ones we brought home with us!
This is what I was looking forward to, when does this happen?
(Photo taken from here)