Gibraltar (the second time)

Gibraltar (the second time)

Several months ago, before Covid changed the world forever, Alec, Jack and I traveled to Gibraltar to do research for winter 2021, believing then that we would make our way into the Med for the following summer 2021. Even though that was only 6 months ago, everyone reading this can relate to how different our world looks, both individually and collectively now.

Still, having done the research months earlier, it made coming here easier in several ways in that we knew what to expect and we had made contacts for dockage as well. I had written a piece about Gib, as it is affectionately called by the locals, which I later sold to Ocean Navigator magazine, and for that reason, I never made a blog post about it then. Sometimes I write to get something that we experience on paper, wherever it ends up. Having done that, I find it difficult to write a different piece for a different audience on the same subject, but I am happy to have another opportunity to share our combined experiences of both trips here now.

Gratitude Med-Moored in Gibraltar

The great thing about coming to this lovely place twice and having one of those times before this Covid crisis was, we had the ability to sightsee in a way last time which was impossible this time due to the closure of many of the tourist attractions for the duration of our time here. We did manage to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar and visit the monkeys who seemed overly friendly in the wake of the drought of visitors of late. We had heard that they were “cheeky” little thieves and would welcome any chance to make off with hats, glasses or even back packs. On our first visit we saw none of this bold familiarity yet on our recent trip, with us the only visitors we saw in a full day of climbing up and down, cheeky was the perfect word to describe them. They grabbed at Jacks hat, desperate to abscond with it to who knows where. They grabbed my arms and tried to engage with me in a gentle sort of playful way. Given that I have had exactly 2 experiences with wild monkeys in my life, this was completely unnerving to me. Especially the males who appeared to be guarding the nursing females on our ascent up the rock. At nearly the top and after getting some “guff” from one such large ape like monkey, I felt it was time to turn tale and head back down – I had gotten close enough to the top to call it a victory.

On the previous trip and given that we only had 3 days not 3 weeks to explore, we took a taxi to the top and made the requisite stops at both the St. Michaels Caves and the Pillar of Hercules. So, a short history lesson here, The Rock of Gibraltar, only a 3 miles spit of land, (growing daily due to the high value of land and the attendant desire for reclamation) and completely surrounded by Spain on all land sides, has been home to inhabitants dating back to the Neanderthals. Travelers have been leaving their mark here since the Phoenicians and later, the Carthaginian’s who, traveling past believed that they were approaching the end of the earth, left gifts to the Gods in the caves in the years between roughly 800 BC and 200 BC. In 711 the Moors landed at the foot of the rock and so began the Muslim conquest of Iberia. Evidence of their occupation remains in the Moorish Baths located within the Gibraltar Museum. The British and Dutch forces captured the Rock in 1704 and under the Treaty of Ultrecht in 1717 ceded Gib to the British Crown in perpetuity. This would not be the last heard of the Spanish however and several more attempts were made on the rock the final and greatest being The Great Siege in 1779-1783. For Americans a point of significance is that date. The British had to endure a brutal siege by Spain for Gibraltar at the same time the Americans were fighting for their liberty. Dividing the British resources undoubtedly played a role in the success of the American and French in fighting the British for American sovereignty during those same years.

A quick glance at a map and one can easily see why this is so important a piece of land for the British. Given necessary trade with Asia and India the rights to the Straights of Gibraltar prevented Crown ships having to make the trip around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and all the way back up again. Cutting through the Med especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 gave them access to a far shorter trade route. Today that same shortened route is required to get access to precious oil from the Middle East. From a strictly military point of view, it is a critical strong hold and remains encamped today to provide supplies to allied ships proving invaluable during WW2.

On our earlier visit our guide shared with us a story of the myth of twin pillars of Hercules. Homer claimed that Hercules broke the mountain joining Europe and Africa resulting in two pillars on either side of Straights of Gibraltar. The European “pillar” is the Rock of Gibraltar and the “pillar” on the African side is Mount Hacho.

We dropped by the museum, closed due to covid, and discovered that with prior arrangement a visit may be possible. I sent an email and was delighted that they would permit us a private visit during a designated time slot. It was a perfectly wonderful museum exploration – we were the only visitors there and we were free to meander and discover completely at our own pace. They had reconstructed a couple of Neanderthals from found bones and just that alone was worth the trip. There have been carvings and evidence of their habitation in Gib for over 100,000 years.

We are clearly moving into yet a new phase of our learning aboard Gratitude. So accustomed have we been to think of history in terms of the past 300 years in the US, upon reaching the UK we began thinking more in terms of the past 2000 years. Now we are beginning to look at History in terms of BC and AD as much of the Mediterranean history dates back well over 2000 years ago.

Jack turned 10 last week and we celebrated in a big way aboard Gratitude. Having experienced a bit of a Toy drought since we left -unable to just run to Target for something on which to spend his hard-earned money, the toy store abundance combined with his impending birthday made this the perfect place to be. Also, I lost a (dental) crown, which was repaired here, and Alec had some worrisome skin issues resolved.

Jack’s 10th birthday Coffee Cake practice for the main event later

Finally, if you have been following along you may be wondering why we are headed into the Med now when we were originally planning to be in the Baltic this summer. When the Covid thing hit and as we were waiting for Portugal to open and let us leave, we were simultaneously waiting for another country to open their border to let us in. We have the additional constraints of the shortened cruising season up North, in fact, as early as October the weather was changing quickly as far South as the Channel Islands. We certainly don’t wish to be in the North Sea that late in the year. Also, with our immigration concerns there seems to be a more lenient approach to allowing extensions in the Southern part of Europe as opposed to the Northern countries. And finally, Italy was the first country to open their doors and allow foreign visitors. So, armed with all of these constraints, we decided to move around some plans and hope that we may still make it to the Baltic in the summer of 2022 spending this summer and next in the Med. Of course, given so many variables up in the air, even now we aren’t certain where we will end up this winter, though we hope to be in Sicily. So, this is all just a wild guess.

What we do know now is that we are on our way to Cartegena, Spain and having the most gorgeous passage. Underway for about 25 hours thus, and with another 2 to go, the weather has been stunning and the views breathtaking. The Spanish coastline has made me wish we could stop at every little town we seem to pass.

One final note – many have asked us about the guidelines and requirements here in Europe in the wake of Covid. Mask usage is fairly consistent across the board anytime a 2-meter distance cannot be maintained. We just arrived in Spain where one can be fined 1,000 Euros on the spot for failure to comply and have with them a mask. As in Portugal, usage was mandatory in restaurants and cafes anytime not seated at the table and the tables and its occupants were required to be 2 meters apart. Nobody is complaining about this – nobody is even talking about it – it’s just become part of the program and without dispute, the Covid numbers are under control here. There have been a few tiny “brushfires” which have been quickly tamped down with contract tracing and immediate resolution but with mask usage – the asymptomatic carriers aren’t spreading it accidentally. When I read the US news I’m just so amazed that this is even an issue – using a mask saves lives – this is the undisputed fact of science. It has NOTHING to do with political affiliation or belief – it’s just science and across the board there is no dispute that wearing a mask prevents the spread – Just my 2 cents worth.

We hope wherever this finds you – you are enjoying your summer plans – upended though they most certainly are – and enjoying each other.

Blooming where we are planted, Lagos, Portugal

If you travel by boat, whether sail or motor, you have heard if not used the saying “plans made in the sand at low tide”. Of course, this recent Covid crisis has given new meaning to that phrase in ways none of us could have imagined even 6 months ago when the news reports of this novel corona virus first surfaced. Plans which normally changed by days or weeks are now changing by months even years and locales which were firmly planned; if timing uncertain, are completely up in the air.

For us aboard Gratitude, we feel your pain! It was our plan to head up to the Baltic region of Northern Europe from Portugal in late March/ Early April but as we are quickly approaching June, dock lines are still tied fast to terra firma in Lagos as required by the local state of emergency, and not only is the Baltic seeming unlikely, even Northern Europe is not assured as we are considering destinations in the Med – once planned for 2021.

Not only have we re-discovered the area in which we “live” but Gratitude herself has moved into a new season. With warmer temperatures we have been enjoying the outside living areas in a way we haven’t done since we left Florida. Covers off the cushions, we are back to eating multiple meals on the fly bridge and sleeping with all of the ports open, breezes filling the boat and bringing in the sounds of the numerous species of birds.

Enjoying breakfast outside with the new warmer weather

If you are finding yourself in the same proverbial “boat” – may I suggest taking another look at where you are. While feeling anxious with all of our plans disintegrating before our eyes, I heard the saying “Bloom where you are planted” and it got me thinking. At one time, eyes fresh and excitement abounded as we arrived in Portugal. That was only 6 months ago but now I have been feeling almost jaded by the familiarity of our surroundings. What was once comfort at knowing where to find the best coffee in this new area has become monotony. It was seriously time to take another look at this beautiful place in the Algarve which we have called home for 6 months. While this is a look at the Algarve through the fresh lens of our new prospective, why not take a look around your own comfortable “sand box” and see if there isn’t some new hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.

The Algarve, the magnificent coastline from the Atlantic Ocean on the most south-westerly point of Europe to the Portuguese border with Spain to the East, is home to some of the most stunning beaches, impressive caves and rock formations, and over 100 species of birds. The winter temperatures average between 55 and 65 Fahrenheit; too cold to swim in the 55 degree water, and unless the sea is calm, dinghy excursions were limited in both duration and time. So while we were taking a new look at our old surroundings, we were fortunate enough to have a whole new climate to help us to enjoy vistas and experiences which were, if not impossible, at least uncomfortable a few months ago.

Lagos

The Lagos de Marina, home to more than 400 boats during the winter season from ports all over Europe, most of the Ensigns hail from the UK. Floating docks accommodate the tidal change of 6’ and bars and restaurants abound to suit any palate. Just a few minutes’ walk down the Avenida and you will find cuisine ranging from burgers and pizza to Michelin stared restaurants. From this marina it is a short walk to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and hikes featuring dramatic cliffs and heart-stopping drop offs. Don’t turn your back to take a selfie or cast out too far fishing or you may join one of several per year who perish in the fall. No lawyers, no signs warning you – just your own good judgement to keep you safe. With a bus station in the front and a train station in the back, the Marina de Lagos is a gateway to anyplace else you may want to explore.

Alvor

It is crazy to me to believe that this quaint seaside fishing village, which is a mere 4 miles from Lagos by water, was nearly missed by us. While we have walked extensive trails all the way to Vila do Bispo, through the countryside and along the coast, this cobblestoned riverfront with an abundance of bars and restaurants was completely overlooked. As the weather permitted longer dinghy rides and further exploration, we found this little gem and enjoyed one of the best days yet, dining in the newly opened restaurants, post lockdown. Located on a protected wetland, we stopped and enjoyed walking and shelling on the sandbars and visiting fellow Americans at anchor. Boardwalks to the white sand beaches and hiking trails abound in this lovely seaside village.

Europe in general counts tourism responsible for roughly 10% of it’s GDP but in the Algarve that number is higher at 15%, which is the reason we never learned, or even made a concerted effort to learn, Portuguese.  With the abundance of UK flags both in the marina and occupying many of the second homes and condos, the local economy runs in English.    Given the tremendous hardship experienced by the shop keepers and restaurants,  we have been doing our level best to help by eating out several meals a week since the lockdown has been lifted.  One restaurant which was kind enough to leave the wifi on during their absence and whose business we work hard to support said that her numbers are 50% what they were same time last year.  They are struggling.    We have been so fortunate to be able to enjoy such abundance and varied restaurants during our time here – we hope they can make it through this difficult time.  

The kayaks aboard Gratitude have been getting a free ride since we left the states over a year ago and it is high time they earned their keep!   All of the destinations we have visited, while certainly beautiful enough to warrant a kayak around, were simply too cold for these Floridian whimps.   The weather here has warmed enough for us to tolerate the chill of 60 F degree water trickling down onto our laps so we have been out in the kayaks several times over the past few weeks.  What a treasure trove of discovery this has been!  

We have just received word that at least until June 15 we are NOT PERMITTED to leave the dock for any overnight trip.  This was so disappointing as we had heard from friends about a wonderful anchorage called Culatra which is at the convergence of a river with the estuary in Faro, Portugal a mere 45 miles away.    Alternatively we had hoped to spend a week in Lisbon as we make our way North for the winter.   It seems that neither of these trips will come to pass this time around.     As we always aim to follow local rules and customs and be a nice guest, here is where we will sit until it is time for us to move along.  

What can you discover while waiting for the tide to stay out long enough to re-write some of those plans?