Atlantic Ocean Departure...Almost: December 13 2010
La Gomera Island is different from the other Canary Islands. Although similarly created by volcanic eruption, there has not been any volcanic activity in over two million years. The lack of volcanic craters in the landscape has been replaced by mountain ranges and deep canyons formed by erosion. However, the volcanic foundation is still evident with black sand beaches and porous lava rocks underfoot. Uniquely, the mountains which crown the island capture moisture year round resulting in a dense rainforest type environment...Garajonay National Park...a completely different climate than anywhere else on the island...or the archipelago. From a population perspective the Berbers are believed to have been the first inhabitants of the island followed in the 15th century by the conquest of the Castile Crown (aka Spain). We began our inland exploration with a 20-minute bus ride to trail head #4 (Nov 22). Our trail resource is the red jacketed walking guide by Klaus and Annette Wolfsperger with detailed info about the trail as well as logistics to and from the hikes...maybe a bit is lost in the translation from German to English but, regardless, we cannot get too lost. It was sunny in San Sebastian but the trail was veiled in mist and fog when we began at a higher elevation in Degollada de Pereza. The lack of vistas combined with ocean-like plant life had us feeling more like we were scuba diving...rather than hiking. We eventually broke out below the clouds where we were rewarded with stunning panoramic views including Mt Teide on neighboring Tenerife Island, terraced hillsides laid over canyon ravines and villages tucked into small valleys. Not wanting to be cheated of vistas we waited for a cloudless day to do the hike in reverse from San Sebastian to Degollada de Pereza (Nov 24). Wow - just marvelous! Going up was definitely easier on the body than going down.... it was a 3,000 foot elevation change over six miles. After the hike and with a bit of spring left in our step we made three jerry can runs in order to top up our diesel tanks...short work with a marina wheel barrow and the homemade electric fuel filter/pump (good work Lino and Chris).
Weather gribs show that there is a storm forming in the Atlantic which left us in no doubt where we would be for Thanksgiving...tied up snug in a marina. No shoes were needed as we headed over to s/v Wings for a potluck Thanksgiving feast (Nov 25). We started with appetizers including chestnuts picked up along hiking trails and freshly roasted...delicious. It was a cozy fit for fourteen around the table...six countries represented with the seven Americans showing the ropes to the newbie Scots, Brits, Kiwis, Swiss and Germans. The table groaned as it was piled with familiar dishes such as mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing...even a turkey and gravy...as well as cheesy cauliflower, peas, salads and a no-form bread as big as a watermelon. Everything was delicious with plenty of seconds and thirds. Despite the cleaned plates there was just enough room for dessert...a pumpkin pie (thanks for the can of pumpkin, Linda) and an apple pie. Sated bellies and glasses of wine mellowed the crowd into tall tales and side-splitting jokes. It was a marvelous Thanksgiving...we'll get football next year.
We continue to mix boat projects with island exploration. Chris scraped coral worm off the speedo (measures boat speed taking into account ocean current) and Erin cooked food for the passage...now frozen, ready to be thawed and reheated (Nov 26). Island exploration took the form of Christopher Columbus and his local haunts. Between 1492 and 1503 Columbus made four roundtrip voyages between Spain and the Americas. His first voyage departed from San Sebastian, La Gomera, from which he went on to "discover" the Americas. This was certainly quite an accomplishment; however, Columbus always believed that he had arrived in Asia (the Asia as described by Marco Polo...THE Asia, Asia). Hhhmmm...sounds like an interesting character this Columbus...and more than a bit stubborn. Rumor has it that Columbus extended his visit in San Sebastian from a few days of provisioning to a month while he visited his lover Beatriz Enriquez de Arana. The Columbus lore is fun but all taken with a grain of salt because not even his birthplace is 100% certain; Genoa, Croatia, Corsica, Spain?! They all claim him as a native son. Around San Sebastian there is a bit of a "Columbus Walking Trail" which notes where he slept, where Beatriz lived, where he and his crew attended their last church service...you get the idea. Okay, and the church is not exactly the same church due to fires and reconstructions in the 18th century...but it is the same spot. It was a short walk and included the whole of San Sebastian town.
Winds on the nose continued in the Atlantic. Thankfully, we were oblivious to them in sunny, light winds San Sebastian...where village life leisurely carried on. A weekly market gave us a flair for the local population with homemade breads and cakes; garden fresh vegetables and cactus fruit; herbs and spices; locally made goat cheese; and charming ladies out for a bit of gossip (Nov 27). The morning Rum Runner's net also continues daily at 9am on 6516 of the SSB radio. There have been approximately half-a-dozen boats who have started the Atlantic crossing with the majority diverting to the Cape Verde Islands due to bad weather conditions and need for fuel (winds on the nose mean motoring...not sailing). The stormy conditions eventually reached us with heavy rains, lightening, thunder and strong winds (Nov 29). We bounced around in our slip while mono hulls swayed like metronomes...but that was the worst of it...no real dramas and the day was filled watching movies on the computer.
The bulk of the Rum Runners remain scattered around the Canary Islands, hunkered down and with all eyes on back-to-back weather systems in the Atlantic...tough to see an end to it at the moment...maybe December 7 (eight days away)? But wait, a narrow sliver of departure appears to have opened...tomorrow, on Dec 1...but it is pretty sketchy and will REQUIRE a stop in the Cape Verdes. The docks and morning net were abuzz with diesel/passage mile calculations and rehashing of the weather...to go or not to go?! Where is a crystal ball when you need one?! We can motor approximately 800 miles which would barely make a dent in the 2800 mile passage. We need to be able to sail...and sail a lot. Thankfully, we have no schedule in the Caribbean so we decided not to depart on this sketchy weather window. Instead, we made another stab at our provisioning by targeting two, of the five, supermarkets. Each market has a slightly different inventory which means they are all worth visiting. Wow, great success...including a 3 kilo loaf of gouda cheese that we will cut into smaller sections and individually vacuum seal (thanks Jen and Jeff...sealer is still going strong). Pizza will not be a problem due to lack of cheese.
December 1 dawned clear and sunny which meant it was a good day for us to hike high into the hills of La Gomera. We did hike #49 from Garajonay National Park, through the hamlet of El Cedro and finished in the village of Hermigua. It was amazing from start to finish! The National Park was lush and wet from almost constant moisture created from low clouds and evening dew. Moss and lichen dripped from trees and giant green ferns carpeted the forest floor. A chestnut tree along the trail had baseball sized prickly pod balls protecting 3-4 nuts...hundreds were scattered among the fallen leaves. We saw silver beaked birds unafraid to come close to us...we were startled out of our socks by goats around blind corners...and we were charmed by a newborn sheep on legs that still wobbled. Most valleys of La Gomera are exceptionally fertile. Hermigua was no exception with grape vines, peppers, squash, sugar cane, wheat...and the largest cash crop of the island...bananas. Countless stone steps were the trail's finale down to the village of Hermigua...quite stunning with its terraced ravines and stark rock pinnacle which bordered a few colorful homes and buildings. The nearby waterfall and streams were flowing quickly after nearly 24-hours of rain the day before...wonderful. This was a very different landscape than we had seen on Graciosa Island or Lanzarote Island.
We completed a few more boat projects; spot varnishing the floor, re-filling one emptied propane tank (gravity feed method), laundry, provisioning at supermarket no. three of five and welcoming the arrival of cruiser friends s/v Samsara (Dec 2). Oh, and the Christmas spirit has begun in town with gorgeous red poinsettias planted in every planter and light posts strung with lights and stars. It is festive on Barefeet, too, with a Cadbury advent calendar picked up in Gib...deck the halls! Yippee, another sunny day means another interesting hike (Dec 3). This time we took the bus northwest 1.5 hours to Vallehermosa where we did hike #40, a 3.5 hour circuit route. The trail was well marked and well tended with nearly constant jaw-dropping scenery and views. Steep ravines have been 80% terraced for crops and we cannot imagine the amount of sweat equity required to build the stunning rock walls perched vertically without a road in sight. Yikes! Our legs are getting some good exercise before our sedentary passage...might be a tougher transition than we think to sit still for 20-ish days. Back in Vallehermosa we sat with coffees and a bocadillo (sandwich) in the town plaza while we waited for the bus back to San Sebastian. The sidewalk cafe gave us a ringside seat of Roque Cano that loomed majestically above the town. The bus ride was not a dull ending to our excursions...it is a tourist attraction unto itself with stunning views of the ocean cliffs, Tenerife's snow capped Mt Tiede, fertile ravines and tight squeezes through valley towns such as Agulo.
A few more cruisers have filtered into the marina hoping to be tucked in before the next blow howls through the area. After tying up, cruisers John, Kim and daughter Hannah of s/v Naya walked the docks distributing bonito steaks...caught just an hour before they entered the marina. Wow, the flesh is so soft that it feels and cuts like butter. Erin made delicious ceviche with local limes and cilantro as a nibble with sundowners. A few odds and ends remain on our shopping list but we have full larders and feel ready for the passage (Dec 5). This means that our strolls through the supermarkets are leisurely rather than focused. Our new laidback style has allowed us to notice some unique items on the Spanish shelves...jars of sauerkraut and bags of muesli?! Ah yes, the Germans comprise the largest number of tourists on the island...and are widely courted. As forecast, strong winds arrived and heavy rain washed Barefeet. But we were still able to squeeze in walk #1 along the steep ocean cliffs. The trail head is just steps from the marina for a "quicker" return if it rains than a bus ride (Dec 6). Each day brings a new weather forecast and optimism is again seeping into the cruiser fleet as a weather window is tentatively opening on December 11 (five days away). In an effort to keep from over provisioning we headed for a walk to the lighthouse (Dec 8). Winds were strong until we rounded a corner behind a cliff where we sat and looked at the ocean...vainly hoping to spot a whale swimming past. No luck and we returned to Barefeet...stopping along the way to kibitz about the weather with Mark and Kimberly (s/v Soignée).
Ceviche with Jalapenos and Coconut: 1 pound fish fillets, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick strips; 1.5 cups fresh lime juice; 1.5 teaspoons dried oregano; 1/2 red onion, finely chopped; 4 jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced; 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut; 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro; saltine crackers. 1) Combine fish, lime juice and oregano in a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Chill until fish turns opaque, stirring occasionally, about 50 minutes. 2) Strain almost all lime juice from fish and return to bowl. Stir in onion, jalapenos, coconut and cilantro. Season with salt. 3) Chill at least 20 minutes and up to two hours. Serve with saltine crackers as a dip/appetizer.
We did not want to sit and contemplate the weather gods any longer so we got out of town and away from the chattering docks. We took the bus to Chipude where we hiked trail #18 to Valle Gran Rey, on the western side of the island (Dec 10). Chipude was a charming mountain village high in the clouds with cozy chimney smoke scenting the air. We were chilly in our shorts and t-shirts which kept our pace quick to get into the sunlight. The often cobblestone trail/slope wound through agricultural terraces, along a babbling stream, below palm trees and was always surrounded by majestic cliffs that soared steeply around us. We stopped and gawked often...maybe a bit too often because we barely made the ferry departure...with less than 15 minutes to spare. Oh, looks like it will be the bus instead of the ferry due to rough seas...one more data point to add to the "go or stay debate." The 3000 foot descent left our legs a bit wobbly after the hour bus ride back to San Sebastian but we were ready to put on long pants and jackets to wander into town for some dinner. However, we could not avoid the passage jibber jabber from those committed to departure as well as the fence sitters like us. Well, the weather window came and went on December 11. We decided to sit out another one in the hopes of getting seasonal trade winds in a week or so...now lovingly called "the big lie" by us cruisers still in port. After all, weather forecasts are anything but certain. And, after waiting all this time we might end up stopping in the Cape Verdes like so many cruisers before us; however, we will give Mother Nature a bit more time to settle into seasonal patterns in the hopes of a straight shot to Antigua on the rum line. In the meantime...you guessed it...we had a party (Dec 11). It was a potluck barbeque on Barefeet and Wings with both grills going. There was BBQ chicken, kebabs, burgers...and tuna from the neighbor sport fisher that had a VERY good day.
It was a fun party. Later on, we walked into town for a holiday concert in the plaza...start time...midnight. Definitely still in the Med. There were classical Spanish guitars and a full orchestra...with Santas dangling from instruments and Santa hats on heads. We still have cruiser friends in the marina...heck, there were at least 12 boats at our barbeque party...but it is hard to see friends leave while we stay behind. We battle decision remorse and keep focused on another weather window. Stay tuned for our Atlantic departure.