21 January 2018

Sun., Jan. 21, 2018

Cap Monastir Marina
Monastir, Tunisia

Tunisians have a love affair with eggs.  The smallest number to buy in a cardboard carton is 15 and they go up in 5's from there.  Alternatively, you can buy them singly from a big pile and carry them home in plastic bags.  They often have a hint of feather or muck on them.  Eggs are an ingredient in many of the "fast" street foods.  Omelettes, a chapati incredibly spicy sandwich, soup, bricks and ...




This is a chicken store.  Meat on the inside, heaps of eggs on the sidewalk - bags or trays. 
Strangely, it was via our daughter in Canada through her travels in Israel where she had loved a popular Israeli brunch item adapted from a typical Tunisian egg dish that we discovered shakshuka or Tunisian baked eggs.  We had sampled them for lunch, homemade by a Berber woman, in the troglodyte home in the Sahara without knowing what we were eating.   
Our lunch on tour.  The dish in left upper corner is shakshuka.
My variation for dinner.  Delish!
Try this recipe, if you're interested - it's spicy

2 T olive oil
2 T harissa
5 very ripe tomatoes (Tomatoes in Tunisia are fantastic with a rich, fresh taste.  If you can only get the hothouse variety, canned tomatoes would probably be better)
1 chopped red pepper (I only had green pepper)
1-2 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp cumin
4 free range eggs
thick yoghurt

You can really add anything you want to the sauce.  I parboiled and then fried some cubed potatoes.  Spinach would be good.  Some kind of bean or chick pea would too.

Heat the oil.  Add the harissa and garlic for a few seconds.  Soften the peppers and tomatoes.  Cook until sauce pretty thick and a well keeps it's shape.  Make four wells.  Crack the eggs into the wells.  Cover for a few minutes checking the yolk.  You want a yolk that runs - at least I do.  Serve with a dollop of yoghurt.


20 January 2018

Passage to Freedom from Schengen

Our last unofficial port of call in Portugal - up a river, around a few bends and in very narrow water.  The policia gave us a long look as they passed but we think it was only because they hadn't seen a catamaran so far up the river.  And we thought we were being inconspicuous!
You may have read in a previous blog that my time in most EU countries is limited by the Schengen Agreement, the purpose of which is to allow most citizens in the EU to travel freely across Schengen borders without checking in or out.  NonEU citizens are limited in time as they are in most countries but the limit includes all Schengen countries as if it was one large nation.  Hence, Canadians may stay in Schengen countries for 90 days in 180 days.  Not sure which officious official is going to take the time to count the days on my hyper stamped passport but lore says it all depends on the officer who receives you and how their day is going.  We have not yet met one who cares to look at the passport of a friendly, middle-aged, female Canadian but who knows it could happen.  Most seem completely uninterested and it is tempting to gambol in the game of risk and just stay past the 90-day alarm but I have always been rule abiding.

Peter, born in Britain, has an EU passport. Although Britain is nonSchengen, British citizens can travel without Schengen limitations in Schengen countries - for now, anyway.  Even though we have been married for 30 years, I would need to live with him in United Kingdom with less and less time away, over three years to qualify for a British passport.  I understand this rule for those who get married in order to get the passport.  But surely thirty years of happy marriage, three of which have been on a boat the size of a tiny condo, is a good enough history to negate the risk that I'm only in it for the passport.  Officialdom does not make exceptions, however.

It was wonderful to arrive in Europe but once we checked into the Azores, my 90 Schengen days were counting down.

After clearing out of Portugal with the almighty stamp on my passport - no easy affair (see The Algarve blog) we were officially out of Schengen and our time was counting up on nonSchengen instead of down on precious time in Schengen.  Our objective was to check into Gibraltar without touching down in Spain, Gibraltar being a nonSchengen country.  We planned to leave Portugal and sail with one or two nights at anchor off the coast of Spain.  If we didn't go ashore, I wouldn't be illegal.  Problem was that we wouldn't see Cadiz.  There are a mounting number of places to which we have to return.

And so began our passage, an approximate 120 NM as the crow flies, to Gibraltar.  We left our hideout in Tavira, Portugal - we had checked out of Portugal a couple of days before actually leaving - and headed across the Golfo de Cadiz.
Tavira, Portugal was worth a stop.  
We planned to anchor for the night in Puerto Sherry in the Bahia de Cadiz.  We weighed anchor and set off at 7:00 a.m. on a close reach, meaning slightly upwind as seems to be our habit.  At 8:45 as the wind backed, meaning started to go counterclockwise, the screecher head strap tore and the screecher began to slip down on it's luff line.  As it slipped, a bigger and bigger bag grew for the wind to catch, making it more and more difficult to pull in and down.  But after a bit of huffing and puffing and exclamations, we wrestled it to the deck, folded it up as best we could and struggled with it to the cockpit.  We were now limited to the smaller headsail - which probably should have been up anyway - or the spinnaker as headsails.
The head of the screecher was chafed right through.  We probably shouldn't have been using the sail on a slight upwind but ...it makes us go faster.  
The sail took up the entire cockpit until we wedged it into a tighter spot.
 The rest of the first leg to Puerto Sherry was lovely, even as the fishing fleet returning to home port looked like they might skewer us.
The little black boat is Milly.  The others are returning large industrial fishing boats.  The fish don't have a chance and for awhile it looked like we were in for the same fate.

Second day of sailing was lovely although upwind and therefore wet and salty with mounting winds as we approached the Strait.  The Strait of Gibraltar is renowned for it's very strong wind and currents.  As sailors we seek to have current carry us toward our destination and want it in harmony with the wind.  If wind is against current the sea waves become very steep and the period is short making the sea unpleasant at best and very hazardous at worst.  The Strait's currents are not just in one direction with incoming tide and the other direction as the tide goes out and don't follow the basic tidal timing rules.  As well, the strait is long enough that at some point we would be going against the tide.  We wanted to time it so we got there during the day.

Our cruising guide suggested a couple of anchorages to shelter from strong SW winds which is what we were experiencing.  We dropped anchor mid afternoon after only 44 NM, protected by a small point.  Beautiful surrounds, sunbathers and sea bathers at the beach which was surrounded by hills dotted by large villas.
Lovely anchorage.  Even with protection from the tiny point the swimmers were having a great time playing in the surf which was already big shortly after anchoring.

Taken from Milly, this is the minuscule point.  You can see the wilder conditions just off our stern.
 Peaceful dinner but as we slept the winds mounted and shifted, this time veering or clockwise making our anchorage more and more exposed.  Milly was now facing out to sea but pulling on her anchor toward shore - in sailor parlance we were on the leeshore.  We have a great anchor and I was not particularly worried about dragging in the sand bottom that the anchor was buried in but I could hear the breaking surf was getting louder and louder.  We couldn't see it but as the waves mounted with the rising wind, the waves would be breaking closer and closer to Milly.  We would have to escape.

The anchor system on a catamaran is such that the "bridle" has to be removed from the chain.  To do this on Milly I have to stick my arm through a smallish hole.  This is a bit anxiety-provoking in a strong wind but in breaking surf it would be downright dangerous and, of course, my overactive imagination had me envisioning the worst.  Peter agreed that we should weigh anchor before my imagination was tested.

At 1:17 a.m. we left.  Tarifa, only a few miles from Gibraltar, was not too far away but it would be dead upwind in big seas.  We decided to turn back toward Cadiz, the first time we had ever done that.  The sail was actually quite lovely going downwind - big waves are quite fun when you surf them instead of pounding through them with the motor on.  We had no regrets just a bit of frustration at lost miles.

When I got up from sleep after my watch, we were almost at Cadiz.  Peter had read that there was another anchorage described as protected south of Cadiz and, therefore, closer to Gibraltar.  We decide to turn around and check it out.  Nope.  No protection.
This was the so-called protected anchorage.  Perhaps the whitecaps are pretty but we didn't want a repeat of the night before.
So we turned north again and this time went back to Puerto Sherry which we knew would be protected from this high SW wind.  71NM of to-ing and fro-ing and backtracking.
As we went up and down and up and down the coast, we were astounded and impressed by the huge number of wind generators all along the high mountain slopes.  This photo was in Tarifa.  Note the turbines on the left.  Amazing.  Spain is doing something right.

After sleeping in a bit too long, we left at 10 a.m. and motored into the wind for 8 hours arriving in Tarifa, the Spanish city at the narrowest point of the Strait.  The wind had again shifted to east and we found a protected anchorage just as the sun set.
Our protected anchorage in Tarifa was right beside this fort and lighthouse, still used by the navy.  This point is the most consistently windy in the whole strait.

(Interestingly, during the day and for the rest of our stay in Gibraltar when near Morocco, the Spanish coastguard would radio that "nomadic" boats were sited in a particular area near the Moroccan coast.  They directed to avoid them and to radio the coast guard if seen.  These were refugee boats which offer cruisers who may come across them a dilemma.  Often these boats and the people on them are in dire, if not life threatening, circumstances.  A rule of seamanship is to help all craft who need assistance.  With overcrowded boats an desperate people on board, cruising boats have been boarded bringing their own boat into peril.  It is against the law to assist these boats.  We have decided that we would call the coast guard.  We hope to never be faced with this heartbreaking dilemma though.)

I know it's getting repetitive but during the night the wind again shifted and the surf was again mounting.  We were up early for the last 17 NM to Gibraltar in high winds downwind.  We zipped across the harbour crowded with anchored ships, accompanied by welcoming dolphins and a clear blue sky for our stay on The Rock.

We had taken five days and gone 271 NM to go what should have been a two day trip of 120 NM. A bit arduous. On the bright side, my nonSchengen time was higher and more was to come in Gibraltar.
Our back and forth passage.




19 January 2018

Fri., Jan. 19, 2018

Cap Monastir Marina
Monastir, Tunisia

In Tunisia, we hear calls to prayer, megaphoned from every minaret, five times a day.  These are always male chants in a minor key that last about a minute - most are not particularly pleasant to our western ears.  The first one is at about five a.m., well before sunrise which at this time of year is at about 7:45 or so.  And the last one is at sunset or thereabouts.  The times are dictated by a sundial like thing with Arabic scroll in the courtyard of the mosque.

This morning in our very chilly cabin, covered by four blankets, I woke to the first call.  On Friday, the Islam Holy Day, the calls are especially long and, it seems to my ear, more melodious.  At the marina we are able to hear the calls from several minarets which begin and end only seconds from each other, kind of like a campfire round but with different melodies, growing louder and then gradually dying away.  Today was more melodious than most and, although it woke me up, I was happy to listen and even enjoy the still strange-to-my-ear and otherworldly chant.

The mosque and minaret that is beside the rabat here in Monastir and one of the several that we can hear broadcast from Milly.  It is not the main mosque but is a popular one for the men who attend.

18 January 2018

Tues., Jan. 16, 2018 - Cooking Class

Cap Monastir Marina
Monastir, Tunisia

Since we are in Monastir for five months, we are looking for ways to enjoy the community.  I searched for a Tunisian cooking class and choices were limited to only one within one hour's drive.   A group of four of us signed up and headed out by taxi to Sousse, a larger city near by.
Rabaa and her absolutely charming daughter who is a commerce student at a French university in Aix En Provence.  She told us that she had been sad and homesick so came home for a week to be with her mum.  She was incredibly vivacious and sweet, happy and excited.  Made me miss my Emily but so fun to be around.  Lots of love between those two.

Rabaa, the woman who taught the class was widowed about ten years ago.  She lived alone in an enormous house and her two adult daughters felt that she needed someone to share it with.  Her home is now a AirBNB, with cooking classes one of the offered accompaniments.

As a child, Rabaa  had learned to cook from the women in her extended family who all gathered in the kitchen to prepare meals together.  Her large kitchen was still a gathering place - through the day, people dropped by and were always welcome to sit on the stools at the counter or around the kitchen table to chat and chop or just read in convivial silence.  Rabaa's shelves were full of preserves - jams, spiced lemons, pickles, syrups.  She had three very large amphorae of olive oil pressed from the tree in her yard.  Her fruits and vegetables were kept on a large sill at the window.
An enthusiastic vendor at the market.  Tunisians are very friendly and welcoming.

Breads are a bit of conundrum here.  Mainly in round flat loaves.  We had a lesson in identification.  White baguettes are ubiquitous.  People buy dozens at a time for a CDN dime.  They are served in enormous baskets at all restaurants with olives and harissa.

Spices.  In our cooking class we used garlic, cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and ginger in combinations .

Our class began with an excursion to the medina.  A group of us had previously been to the Sousse medina, a World Heritage Site.  It is a collection of narrow walkways, some covered with all sorts of specialty shops - a jewelry area, rug area, spice area, clothing, produce, fish, meat, pastries, sweets, etc. etc.  There are mosques, museums, a residential area, all squished into a relatively small walled area.  We had explored and wandered the many streets on the previous visit.  It was an eye-opener with things to see, hear and smell around every corner.
Instead of a sign...we knew what this shop sold.

Fish is always tough for me to buy.  Besides tuna, flounder, sardines and mahi mahi, I usually can't identify any in the market.  In the Monastir market, the fish are seldom iced, just sitting on a wet counter which also makes me a bit leery.  It was great to wander with Rabaa who obviously knew what she was looking for.  We didn't find these Murling or Whiting until we'd wondered through two different fish markets.  I was glad to see the ice.

This time we headed straight to the food area buying a honeyed, very light pastry on the way which resembled a doughnut but melted in your mouth.  We checked out spices and bought cookies, fish, tons of vegetables and octopus for our dinner.  Then to the chicken store outside the medina.  At a cheese boutique we sampled Tunisian-made cheese of European varieties.  Tunisians are not traditionally into cheese.  As a matter of fact, the cheese most often offered in grocery stores are those processed cream cheese things that come in a round box with each triangle wrapped in tin foil - you know the ones.  So a cheese boutique was a real find. Then to the shop that only sells wraps for bricks, a very traditional Tunisian appetizer or lunch.  It is an exceptionally thin, deep-fried pastry stuffed with assorted meats, tuna, egg, and/or veg.  The shop only sold the wraps - freshly made each day by the hundreds by the mother of the shop owner and kept under a cloth to keep them moist on a single table.
These brick wraps on this single table was all there was for sale in this otherwise empty shop where the male shopkeeper sold his mother's creations by the hundreds, maybe even thousands.
 Finally, we went to the herbalist who had all kinds of concoctions in jars lining his large shop.  Tunisians seem to be into medicinal herbs to treat assorted complaints - if only we could speak French well enough we could have an interesting lesson.

After four hours of shopping, we headed back to the house to cook up a storm - one chef and four kitchen staff
On the menu:
Octopus
Chicken stew
Eggplant and tomato salad
Fennel and cabbage salad
Fried cauliflower
Baked herbed fish with roe sacs
Chicken Bricks
We love octopus but have always been a bit intimidated at the idea of cooking it.  I was very happy that it was on the menu.  Boil until tender.  Cut up and saute in all the good stuff.  Easy really.
Left to right:  fennel, cabbage and tomato salad, fried cauliflower, eggplant, tomato salad.  At the back some leftover filling for the brick.

Bricks filled with chicken, potato, green onions and lots of spice.

Chicken stew with zucchini, carrots, shelled peas, artichoke hearts, quince and again lots of spice.  All vegetables were prepared from fresh.

After eight hours of shopping, cooking and eating, we headed home by taxi with leftovers to be shared with our husbands.  Great fun, great day!





15 January 2018

The Algarve

At high season the beaches nestled between cliffs near Lagos were crowded and lively.  Not really our fave but fun to see.

We arrived on The Algarve, Portugal in August - high season.  With the exception of our first anchorage in windswept Sagres, it was crowded with holiday makers with sophisticated beachwear, backpacks or boats.  One could understand why they were there - it had a stunning cliffed coastline, clear blue sky, hot temperatures during the day and cool at night, delicious fish and shellfish, well-marked albeit short trails along the coast, reasonable roads for biking, proudly kept, ancient towns, and friendly and helpful people who could speak English as we spoke no Portuguese beyond "obligada".  We were happy to have our first taste of the European continent.

Beautiful rocky outcrops and pillars in the very blue ocean near Lagos.  


The gate into the old historic town of Lagos, a lovely place with meandering, narrow pedestrian streets lined with boutiques and eateries.  But it was packed with people and, hence, rather unpleasant.  I went to do a chore early one morning before the mainly British and German hordes arrived and it made all the difference.  I could see what was around me and it was lovely.  Don't go in August!

Picturesque houses far from the madding crowd - maybe it was the hill.  

We walked from beach to beach through manmade tunnels for a couple of miles toward Ponta da Piedade.  

The view from the point near Lagos down into caves and coves.  Small boat tours going into these were very popular.  We didn't do the tour but, alas, didn't find a day when we could take our own inflatable kayak.  So crowded with motorized boats, swells and pointy rocks that we thought it unwise.  Have to do it next time around.

Those lines are trains of kayaks being pulled by the tour guides who must have very strong arms!  There were dozens of groups, motorized and paddled - the appeal of exploring this coast is obvious.  


We had to stay longer than expected in the rather expensive Lagos marina awaiting the availability of boat service.  The battery was replaced very quickly but the rigger required to replace our main halyard was on holiday.  We chose to go along the coast to anchor and return when he was expected back.


The anchorage at the mouth of the Rio Alvor proved to be totally different than Lagos surrounds only a few miles away.  Sandbanks were completely exposed during low tide showing a very small area deep enough for anchoring.  The beds were alive with all kinds of shellfish - this is where we got our lesson on razor clam digging from a kind Portuguese couple (see the fishing blog).  Mountains in the background provided the only real hill in an otherwise flat topography.

At high tide when the water covered the sandbanks, we were entertained by kiteboarders whizzing by.


Digging for clams in the tidal flats near the village.

Alvor, a dinghy ride away from the anchorage, was quaint and relatively tranquil compared to Lagos, although it, too, was crowded with tourists just on a smaller scale.  This old boathouse for the rowing and sailing lifeboat is proudly kept up.
After the completion of boat repairs, we sailed east along the coast and anchored at Portimao, a large city whose man-enlarged beachfront is full of resorts.  The town, built on a river, is not of particular interest.  But across the river and dinghiable is a lovely, smaller town, Ferragudo, with waterfront cafes serving grilled sardinhas.  This waterfront castle on prime riverfront real estate is privately owned!


Cobbled streets.  Behind those doors, I'm sure there were lovely flowered courtyards.

Ferragudo from the dinghy, after a delicious lunch and walk through town.
We were finally able to get our bikes out of Milly storage and rode inland to Silves, an ancient town with hilltop castle.  So good to get on our bikes again.  We rode through orchards of figs, ripe and waiting to be picked.  I stopped quickly and snagged two, feeling guilty all the while.  This is not a well-to-do land.  Although Portugal was one of the first to repay it's debt to the EU, austerity is still in effect and taking it's toll.  People are obviously struggling with high unemployment.  One couple who befriended us said that even though he was a practising neurologist, they had sacrificed holidays and moved into a small condo in order to be able to keep their older catamaran.  I don't think the farmer noticed the two figs though. 
 This stork was one of several nesting on the top of a chimney - I guess it's a good view up there.  It explains why most of the chimneys here have a distinctive peaked chimney cap.

Silves was set up for a medieval festival which did not get going until the evening.  We couldn't stay but  it was a  sweet town with steep well-worn cobbled streets - and hence slippery in bike shoes - going up to the castle.


A hike along the coast with spectacular views.  I was surprised by the topography of the Algarve.  The flat lands on top of the cliffs were unexpected, the mountains only being visible far inland and only on a clear day.  I now know that I prefer the mountainous coastlines but the cliffs of soft sedimentary rock were beautiful.

There are countless old towers along the coast in Portugal and Spain.  Every promontory or high headland seems to have one.  They acted as watchtowers, the watchers signalling up or down the coast to alerting to invading pirates or navies.  There were many invaders over the centuries from all around the Mediterranean whether Phoenician, Genoese, Roman, Moors or later Spanish, British.  
So many lovely vistas!



The soft sedimentary rock of the cliffs were spotted with caves.  When they were above the tide line like this one, they often seemed to serve as shady respites for sunbathers if the beach was accessible.  If the entrance was below the water line, we saw small tour boats entering for a look see. 

Views from the sea are so different then from on land.  Coastlines are always beautiful no matter the vantage point but we had biked to this crowded town and somehow it looked much prettier from the peaceful water than from the hectic beach.
Small beaches are dotted all along the coast, nestled between points and backed by cliffs.  Some look completely inaccessible but are colourfully spotted by determined sunbathers.

A successful attempt to keep a pristine beach pure - small returnable cups for cigarette butts.  Great idea!  This seemed to be a local community initiative which desperately needs to be copied....everywhere.

Still Portugal in high season but this beach which went for miles was on Ilha da Culatra, a carless, roadless island with sandy paths winding through a village to this magnificent beach on the ocean side, accessible to tourists who made the effort to take a small ferry.  We spent several days anchored in the lagoon, enjoying the sunshine and water.

We traversed the lagoon at low tide squelching through the ankle deep, fertile muck.

People and birds digging for clams.
Our walk took longer than expected and the tide came in requiring a wade out to retrieve anchored TomTom.

The market at the closest town on the mainland, Olhao.  A lively, colourful collection of everything edible on the waterfront.

Lupini beans are served in bars all over Portugal including the Azores.  These yellow, buttery beans are soaked in water overnight and then in a salt and vinegar, sometimes red pepper flakes and/or garlic mix. They have an outer heavier peel that you pierce with your teeth and squirt the bean out with combination action of teeth and tongue.  Reject the peel and eat the salty, soft bean.  Or you can add fibre to your diet and eat the whole thing.  They are served free of charge along with an order of beer.  

You can get everything at this market.  Not sure if these were to be stroked or eaten.

Very cool graffiti in action.  Not sure how he could see what he was doing - the painting was enormous.

We spent much longer than expected enjoying the market and tiny town streets and this time the tide left us high but not quite dry.  We had to drag TomTom quite a long way through sandbanks.  Not really a hardship!
The larger, more sophisticated, neighbouring town of Faro with a walled Cidade Velha (old town).  The arch of the cathedral in this photo has a stork perched on his/her untidy nest.

Under the Schengen agreement, I am allowed 90 days in 180 days in Schengen countries (much of Europe).  We had a date with friends and family in Spain over a month in the fall and so had to manage my Schengen time carefully.  It was important that I got a passport stamp, clearing me out of Portugal to end my current Schengen countdown.  Although Faro was supposed to be a city where "formalities" could take place, no one seemed to be able to direct us.  The port authority didn't know what we were talking about and sent us to a large gov't building where we had to first figure out which counter to go to - luckily some kind soul who spoke English could see our confusion and took us to the right place - and then take a number and wait. When we finally arrived at the counter, the very accommodating guy sent us back to what we understood as the Port Authority and from where we had come.  On returning, the Port Authority wrote up some custom form for Milly at high cost and then sent us back to the gov't office where the guy we had seen was on lunch.  When he arrived, I broke all protocol and hustled over to see him.  We had gone to the wrong port - instead of the marina port authority we had to go to the commercial port.  We walked a long way through deserted industrial land to the deluxo building above and again waited on the curb with some friendly but wild dogs for the official.  The interior was sparce and just as rundown as the outside.  He had never cleared a yachtie out before.  The beginning of our Schengen dance.

We were now cleared out of Portugal but we made one more stop in Tavira, another lovely old town with fort, the usual cathedral and quaint streets.