Sunday 13 September 2020

Offbeat's Excursions!

August / September 2020

Offbeat's Adventures have stalled a bit this year, as we have focused more on doing all those odd jobs needed rather than going off sailing for the summer.  

We had planned to cruise either westwards towards Cadiz or eastwards towards Cabo de Gata, depending on which way the wind blew, but each time we made plans, something came up that scuppered it. Like diesel bug in the tanks, water leaking into the bilges and no wind!  Having said that, we have gone out for days and had some fun cruising along the coastline. 

Our first excursion out on Offbeat was on the 1st August.  Looking back, we can't believe we waited this long to take Offbeat out, but when your boat is your home as well, it takes a bit of planning and lots of stowing away.  

So, after a couple of days of putting tools, project work bits and odds and sods away, we were filled with excitement at the thought of going for a little trip and anchoring overnight.  Our plan was to go and find dolphins and then anchor in the bay of Playa del Cristo, which is just the other side of the marina.

Heading out of the marina felt so good, even though we were under engine, having a slight breeze caress your face and flow through your hair was so welcome.

Once out of the marina there wasn't enough wind to put the sails up, but it didn't really matter as we were just happy to be on the water.

And then, just as we heading north towards San Pedro, they arrived. The dolphins came to say hello. It was such a joyous sight and quite unusual for them to be so close but they were obviously hunting for food, so we changed course to follow them for a little while and then set anchor in the bay. We were so lucky that day as whilst we were setting anchor, another small pod came along. They were quite close to the boat but obviously feeding as we watched them heading south along the coastline. 

Was this a good omen for our first night out at anchor? We hoped so!

Jumping into the Mediterranean for a swim was a complete shock to the system.  This was not like the balmy waters of the Balearics, more like the Walton Back Waters on a sunny afternoon.  It was freezing (well, 19°). A quick swim around Offbeat and we were back on board for lunch and siesta.

By late afternoon an uncomfortable swell had arrived and as there was no wind to face us into the swell, Offbeat's preference is to go beam on. We have learnt that the swell is a bit of a phenomenon in this part of Spain.  Even if we don't have strong winds in our area, the sea swell heads from strong winds hundreds of miles to the East and ends up crashing along our coastline.  It is known as the 'Moron' by locals and can last for days, forcing red flags on beaches with no swimming allowed.

By the time dusk arrived we had decided to go back into the marina for the night. As much as we love sleeping out on anchor,  with the swell knocking us from side to side, it would have made for a very uncomfortable night.

We were treated to a gorgeous sunset and although the trip hadn't gone to plan, it was a good day out.

Our next trip out was exactly the same.  Lulled into a false sense of security with flat calm seas, only to find a nasty swell creeping in as the day progressed.  No dolphins this time either to lift our spirits and the sea temperature was down to 16° which put both of us off going in the water.

We had arranged to meet our friends Richard and Edita in the evening and raft up for a socially distanced glass of wine over sunset.   However, given the swell this wasn't possible so we just waved at each other at a distance and decided to head back and have drinks in comfort on our boats in the marina. 

Just as well, as the wind blew and the storm clouds rolled in! 

Mid August and I went to England for a week. Whilst I was away, Mark made the most of it and took Offbeat out for a sail (yes, there was enough wind!) And anchored out overnight off the coast of Duquesa in a nice little bay that reminded him - slightly - of the gorgeous anchorages of the Balearics.

After a restful night at anchor Mark had a lazy morning. He noticed the coast about 20 miles to the East becoming fuzzy and then a wall of fog appear. It soon became a race to see who could reach the harbour at Estepona first. The fog won by about three miles! A fishing boat overtook Offbeat as he was creeping slowly along the beach, following the line of yellow bouys that mark the swim zone.  He decided to follow it in, thinking if there was anything in the way, the fishing boat would hit it first! It worked out OK.

Our daughter Georgina came to visit at the end of August. She's not a great sailor as she suffers from sea sickness quite badly, so we chose a flat calm day to take Offbeat out and possibly anchor overnight (if no Moron) in a sheltered area further down the coast near Duquesa, where Mark had stayed previously

We headed out of the marina and took a course towards the fish 'factoria' - a maze of nets and traps - which is just north of Estepona.  Based on previous experience and watching the tour boats, we knew that dolphins sometimes hang around this area. Twenty minutes out and we were not disappointed.  With binoculars in hand Georgina and I were on dolphin watch at the bow of the boat and could quite clearly see dolphins playing in the flat calm sea, so we changed course and headed towards them. 

Unfortunately, so did another boat who, with engine at full blast, proceeded to go straight through the pod of dolphins and then chase them when they tried to flee.  It makes me so angry that people can't observe them from a distance and appreciate them in their natural surroundings. 

Upset and disillusioned by the experience,  we headed off towards our planned anchorage. Although Georgina had got to see dolphins in their natural habitat, it wasn't quite the experience we wanted her to have.

We had no idea what was to come.  Motoring south, we saw another pod of dolphins. And they heard us. And then decided to come and check us out. Mark slowed the engine down and wow, what a treat we had. Between 20 and 30 dolphins, of all ages playing and flipping in the water, upsetting the flying fish. We even got to see one female dolphin nursing a very young calf. The pod stayed with us for quite a while, before we had to change course towards our anchorage.

Our third sighting of dolphins was just past the entrance to our marina.  Heading south was a fishing boat trawling, and in its wake was a large pod of dolphins focused on feeding anything that escaped.   We could not believe our luck. One pod was a treat, but three pods in one day was absolutely awesome. 

Shows over, we headed to the anchorage for swimming and lunch. When we arrived we could feel a bit of a swell, but nothing too uncomfortable. Mark and Georgina went for their swim whilst I made lunch. I say swim in a loose context, with water barely reaching 20°, it was a lap around the boat and back on board. 

Following lunch, Mark went for his siesta whilst we went on deck.  For me it was sunbathing, which is bit of a rare treat and for Georgina it was an opportunity to practice her yoga on deck.  And then the swell arrived and yes, Offbeat turned beam on to it. With Georgina getting quieter and quieter, it was a sure sign that she wasn't feeling her best so rather than clean up later, we lifted anchor and headed back to the marina.

As it would take about an hour and we needed to do something to get Georgina to take her mind off feeling sick, we put her on the helm. There's nothing like being on the helm for the first time ever to take your mind off feeling sick.  She did a fantastic job and the look of concentration was a picture, although Mark wasn't so confident about letting her steer us into the marina.

Even so, it was a wonderful day at sea and gave Georgina a tiny glimpse of our cruising life and I think it's safe to say,  she was slightly impressed!

Offbeat's final day out so far was a spectacular sail in Force 6/7 winds. 

Mark, his friend Richard and his son Richie took Offbeat out, marooning Georgie and I on shore.  We had a lovely time by the pool at the gorgeous hose of Richard and his wife Edita, who have become very special friends. Meanwhile Mark and the Richards headed out to sea in strong winds - Force Six to Seven for you sailors. 

They started out reefed heavily but released more and more sail as they gained confidence. The waves got higher as they neared Gibraltar so Mark chose his moment to turn stern onto the waves and try to surf Offbeat! Yes, given strong enough wind and big enough waves Offbeat will pick up her skirts and break all theoretical speed limits on a boat of her modest type. 

We have seen speeds of nine knots from time to time and Mark gleefully reports, 11 knots once. OK, 14 or 15 mph sounds slow, but its the equivalent of deliberately aquaplaning a family saloon car at 60mph. A touch wrong on the steering wheel and you'll be off the road and on the roof! But the waves were just a bit too small and a bit too short between each other.

Next time Mark, next time....


Monday 7 September 2020

Lakes, Mountains and a Rabbit!

June 2020

With lockdown restrictions removed and freedom of movement once again allowed, we were eager to get out and about.  During lockdown we had talked about places we wanted to visit and high on our priority list was to visit our family in Tolox. 

Caminito Del Rey from the aeroplane
We also wanted to visit El Caminito Del Rey, a beautiful walkway pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge near Ardales to the northwest of Malaga.  We had flown over this area a number of times coming in and going out of Malaga airport and were intrigued by the sheer beauty that we saw from the sky.

So, we contacted family in Tolox to make sure that it was ok to visit, hired a car and booked hotel accommodation.  The only part of our trip that we couldn't do was visit El Caminito as it was completely booked up until end July.  Not to be put off though, we still planned to visit the reservoirs and the town of Ardales.

Plan of our road trip
Heading off early Saturday morning, we collected the hire car and set off for the reservoirs.  The plan was to visit the reservoirs first, then head on up to Laguna de Furente de Piedra, a large salt lake renowned for its colonies of flamingos, come back on ourselves taking in Ardeles and then on to El Burgo where we were staying for the night.

Judging by the terrain on the maps, our journey should take us through some beautiful mountainsides and landscapes and as navigator, I just hoped I didn't get us lost as turning around on mountain roads is near on impossible!

Embalse del Conde de Gualdahorce
First of the reservoirs to visit was Embalse del Conde de Gualdahorce.  We knew that it would be special, but I don't think either of us was prepared for the sheer natural beauty before our eyes.

Whilst the photos are lovely, they do not do the reservoir justice as there is no way you can capture the peace and tranquillity or the smell of the trees or the gentle tweeting of the birds.  It was as if we had found a piece of paradise and neither of us could quite believe.

We could have quite happily stayed there for the day, but we were on a time schedule so as much as we wanted to stay, we had to press on.  Poor Mark, trying to drive whilst appreciating the beauty along the road was torture for him so we did make a few stops along the way so that he didn't miss out completely on the beautiful scenery.

Views and a rabbit!
By the time we reached the north of the reservoir we were ready for lunch.  We're not used to getting up early in the morning and it had come as bit of a shock to our system.  That and I'd only had one cup of coffee!

So, we stopped at a restaurant situated on the side of the road.  We didn't have high expectations but so long as we could get a sandwich and a drink we would be happy. 

How wrong we were.  The food was absolutely delicious and the portions were overwhelmingly generous.  I ordered what I thought was going to be a tapa portion of Paella.  No, it was a full on large pan of Paella for one!  Mark ordered rabbit.  Usually, when he has this it comes in either a stew or chopped and fried.  No, we were in the mountains of Andalucia at a restaurant clearly frequented by locals, so the rabbit came semi whole.  Basically, half a rabbit on the plate.  It came as a bit of a shock and it was a bit disturbing watching Mark eat it, but he assures me it was delicious!  Lunch over and we had a wander to stretch our legs and walk off a bit of lunch and appreciate the beautiful countryside.

Suitably refreshed we headed off to our next stop, Laguna de Fuente de Piedra.  This is a wetland, north of Malaga that is used by the greater flamingo for breeding and claims to have the largest colony on the Iberian peninsula.  Upon arrival, we climbed to the viewing point with a sense of excitement.  Mark had read up on the Laguna and had been looking forward to going there for some time and as it was a clear day and you could see for miles and miles, we hoped to clearly see the flamingos.  But, what a disappointment.  Whilst the views were incredible, the Laguna was almost dry and there was only a small flock of flamingos huddled together in a small area of water.

Laguna de Fuente de Piedra

Oh well, some you win and some you loose and clearly,  visiting in the June heat is not the best time!

Time to head to our hotel for the night in the small village of El Burgo, which is north of Tolox and on the northern edge of the Sierra de las Nieves mountain range.  To get there we would go through Ardales, a pretty little white village perched on a hillside and then up and over the mountains set behind it.

What we hadn't appreciated was that to get to the mountains the other side, you literally had to go to the top of the village, through very very narrow winding streets.  It was an experience!  To start with it wasn't too bad, but we knew it was challenging when we passed through a street and the people sitting outside a bar having a quiet drink had to move their table and chairs back so that we could get through.  You could feel all eyes on us and a sense of 'bloody tourists'.  Needless to say, with such challenging streets the opportunity to stop, park up and have a wander around didn't appear.  

On our way out of the village, we felt a bit better after we got stuck behind a local's car, reversing out of one of the side streets.  Back and forth he went trying to get round the corner without scratching the car.  Poor guy, his final humiliation was when he swapped places with his wife and with one manoeuvre she reversed the car out and zoomed off up the street.

Looking back on the lakes
The journey through the mountains to El Burgo was pretty spectacular, with constantly changing scenery and landscape.  There were a couple of times where I couldn't look because of the sheer drop down the mountain side, but most of the time I was able to enjoy the view.  They were so spectacular that we had to stop so that Mark could just soak up the scenery as well.  There are no words that can do this justice, so the photos will speak for themselves.

Looking forward to the mountains 

Road to Tolox
Next day we headed off to Tolox where we were going to stay for a few days.  Our plan was to spend a day catching up with family, a day walking in the mountains and then on our last day I had an appointment at the local town hall to get copies of my Dad's birth certificate and any other information I could glean about his family.

The journey to Tolox took about an hour and again took us through stunningly beautiful countryside, high up into the mountains overlooking deep gorges and valleys.  I always feel quite nostalgic when I near Tolox, knowing that my Dad would have walked these same roads and paths at some stage during his life in the village and even though I've only known my extended family for a year or so, I get a sense of joy at the prospect of seeing them again.

Ladies of Tolox!
We spent a wonderful day with the family at their 'campo' which is a small holding just outside the village and over a very long and lazy 5 course lunch, we got to know Juana and Jose's son Miguel and his three sons, Anna's husband David and their two daughters and Juana's sister-in-law Anna.  The food was superb, the wine flowed and the chatter, whilst at times was a bit stilted and interspersed with google translate, was lively and interesting.

Back in the village that evening Mark and I were having a night cap in the square, reflecting on what a great day we had had and how lucky we were to be where we are in life.

Up early the next morning, we set off for our walk in the mountains.  Anna had told us the previous day about a lovely walk we could take up to the Hermitage of La Virgen de la Nieves which is set in a large pine forest and which would take us about 3 hours there and back.  

Just a gentle stroll!
Leaving the village we decided to take the dirt track rather than the road as this way you get to experience more things and as it had recently been cleared, should be relatively safe.
It was a good choice, as it gave us glimpses of the mountains, streams and small holdings that would have been missed had we walked along the road.  Walking along the dirt track, with only the sound of birds and the occasional dog barking, there was a real sense of time standing still and a glimpse of how life would have been.

The hardest part of the walk was when we reached the end of the track and had to rejoin the road to access the hermitage.  With an incline of about 45 degrees, it was rather challenging on the legs and lungs.  

The pineforest and Hermitage
Walking into the forest was a welcome relief from the sun, but what hit us most was the smell.  Not the usual smell of pine, but more a cedarwood smell that wafted past us with the gentle breeze.  Taking time to sit in the forest, absorbing its beauty and views was a pretty special moment for us, particularly as we were the only ones there so we had it all to ourselves.

Walking back to the village along the road was a lot less spectacular, but it was a lot quicker as by this time we had worked up quite an appetite and thirst! 

Beautiful umbrellas of Tolox
That evening we had dinner with Juana and Jose in their favourite local restaurant.  Nothing too fancy, but a lovely family run place where everyone knows everyone and you get the warmest of welcomes.  Walking through the streets, we admired the beautiful crocheted umberellas that are made every year to brighten up the village and Juana had particular pride in pointing out hers to us. 

Next day we met Anna and headed up to the local town hall for our appointment with the Encarni, the towns registrar.  Anna explained that I was tryng to piece together my family history and wanted a copy of my Dad's birth certificate and if possible, any information on my grandparents that was available.

To appreciate the next bit, I have to set the scene.  In a small office there is a desk with a computer, keyboard, phone etc and at the side of the desk is a photocopier.  On the far wall behind the desk are bookshelves with leather bound folders and it turns out that each leather bound folder is the keeper of births, marriages and deaths of all occupants of Tolox, going back to goodness knows when.

So, asking for details of my Dad's birth date, his full name, the names of his parents and typing them into the computer to cross reference with the leather bound journals, I was able to get information on my family that went back as far as my great great grandparents on both my grandmother and grandfather's side.  I also learnt that my Dad had a sister who was born four days after the start of the Spanish Civil War and was named Libertad. My Dad had mentioned a sister who had died at a very young age near Barcelona, but I never knew her name. To say that all this information blew my mind would be an understatement.  I initially went in hoping for a copy of his birth certificate and came out with generations of family history and I will be forever grateful to this lady for giving up her time to give me all that information.

The story so far!

After a final lunch with Juana and Jose out in the countryside, it was time to head on back to Estepona, reflecting on what a road trip it had been and whilst it wasn't officially an Offbeat Adventure, it was none the less an adventure!