Friday, July 22, 2011

Begonia is Getting a Little Cramped!

Nazaré, Portugal – One of the first questions people always ask when they hear or read about our trip is:  How is it living on a boat in such a small space, being all together 24/7?  Normally, our answer has been that in fact we are “very comfortable and by now we are used to the smaller living quarters.  And being together 24/7?  Well, that’s what this trip is about - family time!”  But since crossing the Atlantic and being in – unexpected – colder temperatures with days of wind, rain and fog…. Begonia is feeling quite cramped.  It’s not as if there will be a mutiny or anything like that… but we really need to get to the warmer climes of southern Portugal!

Not only does the weather affect us for prohibiting us from going off the boat to sight-see, but it affects how we are inside the boat as well.  It is sometimes difficult to stay warm on the boat at night, unless we have taken a hot shower.  We only have hot water on the boat if we have been sailing for a while or if we are in a marina.  But we have noticed most of the marinas we go to do not have great amenities, so even a hot shower can be difficult to come by… the temperature may vary, or the water is timed to automatically to go off after a certain time, etc.   We have come up with alternatives to this and very often will warm up the tea kettle and use this to pour water on ourselves, he old-fashioned way.  With the cold also comes the inability for things to dry out properly, so we have towels and clothes that are constantly damp and after a while don’t smell very nice.  Or cooking with the windows closed for the cold also makes it very damp and steamy inside the boat.  Bottom line: no sun = musty Begonia.
Most days we really like being onboard and we find things to do, but also the more we are onboard, the more messy things get, so we are cleaning and organizing constantly… much more than back home.  The kids always have toys all over their beds and clothes all untidy on their shelves.  They will organize, but it will get messy shortly afterward because their bed is there play space and sleeping space at the same time, there aren’t that many other places to play when the weather is nasty outside.

I must admit that as we are going along, I find myself wanting to get rid of things.  There is too much STUFF onboard.  I need to give Sebastian props for this, because he did warn me not to bring so much, but I really did not know how much or how little the kids would read or what they would play with, or when they would grow out of clothes. I am now giving away books we’ve already gone through, packing away  toys they no longer play with go swap out every once in a while.  I also keep putting fewer items of clothing on their shelves.  When there is too much on their shelves, it gets messy anyway and then difficult to see what is clean and what is dirty.  Forget about washing clothes after every wear like we are accustomed to back home.  We want the kids to use and reuse their clothes until they are almost disgustingly filthy.  So, now they have about 3 t-shirts and 3 bottoms on their shelves each that they just wear over and over again.  Sounds dirty?  But much easier for us! And less expensive – yesterday we paid 12 euros (about $18) to wash the kids sheets and towels.
Luckily, despite all this, we have met two other cruising families:  A British couple with children 10 and 8 whom I mentioned in the previous blog and a French couple with a daughter who is neuf ans. We have been loosely buddy-boating since leaving Bayona, Spain a week ago.  It is so great to compare notes and share strategies on homeschooling and keeping the kids entertained, but in reality, all the kids just want to PLAY.  And since we have been at a marina for the last three days all together, all five kids go back and forth seamlessly between the boats.

We have been trying to make it down the coast of Portugal for the last week, with the original idea of doing an overnight sail just to get there.  We had been planning on arriving last Saturday.  However, the weather has really taken a toll on our plans.  This coast is known for its strong N/NE winds, which when they are coming from behind is usually a good thing to push the boat along… but the gusts have reached up to 30 knots, and that plus the wave swell has made for very uncomfortable sailing.  Even Sebas was feeling icky, so we have been doing about 30-40 mile sails during the day, and tucking into the various ports down the coast.  I guess the annoying thing is that these are ports where we don’t really want to be necessarily, so getting “stuck” has been a little frustrating.
We even stopped at a port called Póvoa de Varzim, the first port in northern Portugal just south of the border with Spain.  It turns out that an old friend, Humberto, whom I met during my junior year aboard in Lisbon is now the Captain of the Port there.  We had wanted to surprise him, but unfortunately we arrived at about 4/4:30pm last Friday and while the woman working at the marina was trying to be helpful by calling his office on our behalf, she ended up misunderstanding and thought Humberto was coming to visit us right then and there.  It turns out he had told his secretary he was in fact “coming” – but TO THE PHONE, NOT THE MARINA!!!!!  The ironic thing was that his office was right there at the other end of the marina – we could see it from our boat - but we never tried to walk there since we thought he was coming to us, and by the time we figured out what had happened, it was after business hours and there was no way to get a hold of him. We ended up leaving the next morning anyway.  So close, but yet so far!  I guess we’ll have to try in another 20 years when we sail back through here.  ; )

The highlights of this past week are that there were a couple of sunny days which allowed for some interesting “field trips.”  One was to the city of Oporto famous for port wine.  Of course we had to tour one of the more well-known “lodges” – perhaps you’ve heard of SANDEMAN?  This is the company that has the logo of a man in a cape that resembles Zorro… but never say that to the people who work there because the logo was very well thought out as it took the “cape” that has been used throughout centuries by the university students in Coimbra, Portugal to represent the port wine, as well as the “bolero” hat used in Southern Spain, to represent the sherries this company also makes.  In fact, the Sandeman logo, which was created in the late 20’s is said to be one of the first internationally recognized brands that still exist today –or at least that’s what they tell you on the tour.

All the kids were fascinated by this tour and the logo especially.  Sofia kept calling him “Sandy-man,” and insisted that he was a super-hero along the lines of Batman, or Superman, or Spiderman.  She declared him her new invisible friend, and now has added him into her repertoire of characters that she dresses up as and makes up stories about.  “But what does he do with the sand, Mamá? Is that his power?” she kept asking.
The tour ended with a wine tasting, of course and many bottles purchased to now add to our collection on board.  I must tell you as of this writing, we have already gone through a couple of those bottles with our fellow seafarers.

Speaking of “seafarers,” the second big field trip was visiting the tomb of “Henry the Navigator.”  He was the son of King João and Queen Filipa (of Lancaster, England) and is famous for being the very first person to embark on a journey out to sea to start the Portuguese legacy of “The Discoveries.”  During his life (before Columbus) they still believed he Earth was flat and all journeys had a religious purpose, not a commercial one, like Columbus who wanted to reach India for its spices.  The idea was to spread Christianity throughout all the lands visited.  Henry started with conquering Ceuta, on the northern tip of Africa.  I recall in my studies in here, reading copies of some of the original manuscripts of these first voyages.  The reaction was strong to seeing people who live in such a different fashion than in Europe at the time.  It’s difficult for us to fathom such a reaction today. 

Portugal is a small country which you rarely hear about, except recently with its economic and political turmoil.  But in its heyday, it was a very strong empire, with colonies in Ceuta, Madeira, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, South Africa, India (Goa), Indonesia (Timor Leste), China (Macau), etc.  I have always found it interesting to note that Portugal has discovered most of the world, but most of the world has not discovered it.  I am truly enjoying being back here after so many years.
Lisbon and the warmer weather await us, and the weather forecasts all show that tomorrow, Saturday, is the window to sail.  We will all caravan down the coast for the 60 mile or so voyage and hope to arrive late in the day.   The further south we get, the less cramped I will feel, I am sure.

NEXT STOP:  Cascais, Portugal (just west of Lisbon).

Did we mention it has been foggy???

Only the kids would be tempted to try to swim in the ocean.  This lasted about 15 minutes!

Peter giving the kids a tour in his boat.

Benj later sailing the boat himself.

He works the outboard too!

Typical "azulejo" tiles line the walls of the Porto train station.  Beautiful!

The Begonias on the Rio D'Ouro

Portugal of today:  look at all those satellite dishes!

But still the Portugal of yesterday is more beautiful.

Mom and Daughter just hanging out.

Now for the wine tour...

These barrels are full of wine...

Absolutely enthralled.

Tour guide dressed as the "superhero."

Sampling the goods wih Dave.  We liked the tawny port better than the aperitiv, white one.

The Gang.

Typical scene along the river.

Seeing the city from an overhead tram.

Up, up and away!

Sofia and her bro, the superhero.

IT'S SANDEMAN!!! Ta-da-daaaah!

Cathedral at Batalha.

The gang after our picnic in the park.

All these cruising kids really like their nautical paraphenalia.

Just playing in the plaza...

Inside the cahedral.

The Two Navigators:  Sebas and Henry

Tinfish on the water....
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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Galicia Brims with Hospitality

Bayona, Galicia, Spain – Who would have thought we would be so pleasantly surprised by everything we’ve experienced in Galicia?  The northwest region of Spain was not on our original itinerary, but we kept hearing about its beauty so we could not pass up the opportunity to visit.

Some of you may know that Spain is divided by about 4 or 5 different regions, all with their local traditions and language.  “Castellano,” or Castilian Spanish, is the official language of the country (what we in the US know as “Spanish”) but there are other languages such as “Catalán,” “Basque,” and “Gallego.”  In Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, there is a very distinct accent different to other regions of the country, but it is not a separate language – although sometimes it seems like it could be!  Here in Galicia, “Gallego” is widely spoken, since there has been a resurgence of the language since the end of Franco’s regime and the regionalists’ desire to preserve it.  “Gallego” sounds like a cross between Portuguese and Spanish.  We have been in the bigger cities of Galicia such as Bayona and Santiago de Compostela where the “Castellano” is probably spoken first, however in the smaller fishing villages we have also spent time in, you will find that some of the older generation does not speak “Castellano” very well at all.  In primary schools around the area, from what I understand, the children learn about half of their subjects in “Gallego” and half in “Castellano.”  You will find that many people of Sebastian and my generation do not speak a lot of the language, but their children do…. And so do their parents!   In whatever language though, we all understand each other and I am continually fascinated by the subtleties of different languages.

Bayona was our first stop… a beautiful city, like many European cities that have a section of town where cars cannot get through, the streets are cobblestones, the buildings are hundreds of years old and there are many plazas and fountains.  In Bayona there is also a fort overlooking the water and the town is famous for the arrival of the Pinta’s  (one of Columbus’ 3 caravelas) return from the Americas in 1493.  The Santa María sank, the Niña returned to Huelva, but the Pinta came back here.  The locals are very proud of this and there are museums and a replica of the boat, etc.

One of the things we love most about Spanish culture is their “joie de vivre.”  They really know how to socialize, eat and stay up late strolling along.  In Bayona they like to see and be seen, and people are very fashionable.  Our friends from PRATI sure like to live it up too and make sure to show us many of the wonderful restaurants, however, we find it difficult to keep up with them with the children – and us! - getting tired.  People are barely just beginning to eat dinner at 11 or 12 midnight (of course it doesn’t even get dark until about 11pm), so you can imagine how difficult it has been for the kids to get used to the hours.

The PRATIs introduced us to all the typical Galician foods:  Lots of seafood such as octopus (grilled or boiled and then seasoned with paprika(?) and sugar), and “percebes” which look exactly like rhinoceros hooves with fingernails but are actually in the barnacle family and are a very expensive delicacy here.  They are boiled, I think, and you twist open the “fingernail” part and suck out the meat.  They were very good actually.  One more traditional goodie we ate were the “pimientos de padrón,” which are small green peppers (not as hot as the ones in the States) that are quickly fried in olive oil until they are crispy on the outside and then showered in coarse salt.  Delish!

In Bayona, we met a family from Brazil who live on their 50 foot monohull:  a couple with three small children ages 7, 6 and 2, plus one set of grandparents.  Again, all the kids had a blast running from boat to boat showing each other their rooms and toys.  It seems that most sailing children are very sociable and open… and right away become fast friends.  It is so rare, they have to take advantage of the times when there are children.

This past week we have been living on the “Rías Gallegas” (the Galician creeks or saltwater inlets – I am still not sure what the exact translation of a “ría” is) where we originally headed with PRATI.  They decided to leave their boat in Bayona and come with us to tour the five main “creeks” on our boat.  Imagine their bad luck when they received a call regarding a family emergency they had to take care of immediately.  So, as soon as we arrived to the first port, we dropped he fenders, dropped them off and sailed away. 

Luckily we still ended up meeting Jose Antonio and his wife, friends of PRATI, who we spent a couple of days with.  They are a very nice couple from Pontevedra in Galicia with two small children – our kids were delighted – whom we agreed to visit with again on our way back down the creeks.  After touring other parts of the Rías, we went to Pontevedra, where José Antonio and his family are from.  Incredible hospitality again, touring us all around the city.  José Antonio owns a boat of his own, the “Incomunicado,” which he purchased at a great price after it had been impounded in a drug bust.

While here, Sebastian realized he had worked with a Galician man back in Argentina at a fishing company, who was from the region.  The man had once given Sebastian a t-shirt that said “Cabo de Cruz Rowing Club” or something like this, and Sebastian saw the town of Cabo de Cruz on the map.  He figured it wouldn’t hurt to try to find him “to say hi.”  So, we tied up to some mussel fishing boats in the little bay of Cabo de Cruz and started our scavenger hunt.  Sure enough, with each person we ran into, we got more clues and a little closer to Arturo… with little tidbits of information about his life along the way. “Oh yes, the one who came back from Argentina and retired… ,” and “oh yes, he just pained his house…” and “oh yes, go ask for him at such-and-such café on the corner… It is owned by his cousins,” – in typical small town fashion.  Arturo was quite surprised and perplexed when we rang his doorbell and he did not know us from Adam… you can bet he never thought Sebastian Koziura from Puerto Madryn, Argentina would be standing at his front door after 15 years!

Arturo and his wife were marvelous…after they caught up on old times, they showed us around their “huerta,” a typical Galician vegetable and fruit garden, with potatoes and onions, tomatoes, pear, apple and lemon trees, etc., etc.  When it was time for us to leave, they showed us off with bags and bags full of these natural treats.  Boy, was I thrilled to get about 5 pounds of fresh “pimientos de padrón,” and when we returned to the boat I decided to surprise Sebastian by frying them up, while he went off to find an internet connection.  The thing is, they were so delicious looking that I could not wait for him, so I ended up eating a full platter by myself.  Bad idea! They ended up making me quite sick later on and… let’s put it this way:  I never have to eat his delicacy again in my life.  We ended up giving away the rest of the bushel we were so kindly given by Arturo and his wife.

That same day, while Sebastian was still gone and I was stuffing my face with the peppers on he boat, I heard a honk on a car horn.  I went out to the cockpit to find a man sitting in his car on the dock and in full Argentinean accent ask me if I was from Argentina.  He was driving by and had seen the flag we have hanging on our mast.  I responded that I was not, but my husband was… and that he had just left to find “wee-fee” (Wi-Fi).  The man said, “I’ll go find him!”  Sure enough within about a half hour, Sebastian came back to Begonia with Juan Carlos from Argentina who had driven around this small village until he saw Sebastian walking down the street and picked him up.  I swear, in the US are we this hospitable and welcoming?!  It turns out, JC took us sightseeing to a mountain-top that gives you peripheral view of the sea and the “rías,” then took us to meet his family and then to a street fair (I think this festival was to celebrate summer… again, streets closed, carnival rides, music, parades, etc. the whole shebang).  We ended the evening back at their restaurant eating dinner about 1 in the morning.

It turns out Juan Carlos emigrated from Buenos Aires 10 years ago and brought with him, his wife, his parents (whose parents were from Galicia and had emigrated to Argentina two generations ago!), and his four children – two of whom are married with families, so the spouses and kids came too.  Together they opened a storefront that has a casual café/bar, an ice cream parlor/pastry shop, a birthday party location that has inflatables and games and things, as well as a fine-dining restaurant all in the same location.  Each member of the family manages his/her section as their own profit and loss center:  the daughter and her husband run the café/bar; the wife runs he birthday party center; the three brothers run the fine-dining restaurant and cook as well, etc.  It was an amazing example of how family can work well together to accomplish a goal.  They are exceptional people and we were thrilled to meet them.

One cannot come to Galicia without visiting Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the region.  Famous for its cathedral and endpoint of many religious pilgrimages, we saw many, many tourists and groups who had come from a long distances with backpacks and walking sticks experience Santiago for themselves.  Absolutely beautiful!

The PRATIs, Jose Antonio, Arturo, Juan Carlos and their families all went out of their way to make us feel welcome and comfortable in their surroundings – their home.  I truly hope that we can be as generous with our time and open with our homes when we return and wish to have them as visitors in the US one day.  We are leaving Galicia very pleasantly surprised by all that we’ve found here.
NEXT STOP:  Póvoa do Varzim, Portgual.  DEPARTING:  July 14.  It will be about a 10-hour sail.

Bayona/Baiona - marina and town view from castle.  Can you find Begonia in the picture???

Another view of Bayona/Baiona

Rhonoceraus fingernails.... no, I mean, percebes

The Begonias and the Pratis enjoying a meal al fresco in the old section of Bayona.

The sailors and the Pinta.

Sofia cooking in the kitchen of the Pinta.

Sebas and Carlos trying to right a twisted spinnaker.  Very heavy in the wind.

The Begonia kids with Mencia, Jose Antonio's daughter.

Jose Antonio showing us Pontevedra.  (We cannot believe this is the only picture we have of him!!!)

Mencia and kids in downtown Pontevedra.

Just a typical Spanish summer evening.... everyone out and dining in the town square at midnight!  There are so many of these scenes and the camera just does not capture the entire essence.

Begonia tied up to mussel fishing boats in Cabo de Cruz.  Snazzy!

Sebas with Arturo and his wife.

Part of their huerta. No more pimientos, please!

The Argentinian, Juan Carlos showing us Galicia from above.

The Koziuras.

Wild horses roaming in the mountains of Galicia.

Sofia the Adventurer!

Juan Carlos and two of his sons at their restaurant.

Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral at Santiago

Some of the many pilgrims making arriving at their destination....

The tide in some areas is very extreme.  Here there is a variance of about 18 feet/6m, which means that when the tide is very low,  you need to climbup these ladders to get from the fishing boats up to the dock,

There's Begonia again, tied up to three fishing boats.  It has been cold and rainy in Galicia during many days of our stay.

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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.