Dorne Chorus

The nudie anchorage stayed warm and clear. We spent two nights off the short grey beach beneath the tall grey rock face, peppered with bare browning couples, and though we never joined them ashore I was confident that my own undress on deck would not offend. When I did suit up it was in my wetsuit, exploring the nearby rocks with Rich, glad of a rest from sailing and a chance to do something fun together.

On the cloudy morning of our departure I realised I’d run out of Rizlas, and it was decided by he who doesn’t smoke that I should go ashore and get some.

“No, you’re alright”. I was happy to wait until our next anchorage.
“No, you really need to go and get some”. Forced smile.

It seems the notion of sailing with me in nicotine withdrawal is not appealing, and as Rich’s addiction to bread is equally strong I could grab a loaf or two at the same time. We pottered Gwen to the next beach, off the town of La Rabita, but with an opportune wind due any moment (ha!) and after two days of not using a dinghy, neither of us could be bothered to get one off the boat. I descended the swimming ladder in my bikini with a brief shudder, the dry bag we use for Rich’s tablet stuffed with money and a frock and slung around my shoulder, and swam over to the long empty beach. There, a merry chap popped over to greet me, and we conversed poorly in Spanish and arm waving until I couldn’t understand any more.

“Has your engine broken?”
“No”
“So why did you swim?”
“I want to buy bread”
“Ah, you go to that shop there by the Coca Cola sign”
“Thank you very much”
“Are you Australian?”

I got my dress on, did the shopping and then swam back to Gwen carrying a drybag full of papers and torn loaves, with a parcel of folded frock and breakfast strapped to my head. I felt extraordinarily proud, like a flat-chested brunette Ursula Andress carrying ham and cheese croissants instead of shells, and I bragged about it all morning as we motored away.

14446200_10153778774621990_7932696896237616898_n

Not as exotic as it sounds, is it?

Now the wind seems to always come from the east. Unfortunately, we’re heading east, and our topsail-less 16 tonne boat doesn’t point well to windward. In very low winds she doesn’t point anywhere bloody near windward, hence the first use of our motor in the Med and the ensuing afternoon of zigzagging that followed us getting sick of the noise and turning it off. By the time we got near somewhere, anywhere, to stay the night we were both sick of shooting miles away from our destination to return only slightly closer to it, and we were squeezing less than two knots out of the meagre breeze. We put the engine back on.

Running the engine has one redeeming feature. The Chard, who has a lifelong fear of singing, will deign to give it a go when masked by the growling, squeaking chunder of Perkins 4-107. The challenge is to find songs that we both know the words to, which as far as we know is limited to The Muppets’ Rainbow Connection and most of Pulp’s Different Class, but for me there is little more wonderful than seeing Rich set loose his voice to the sun kissed sky. In brief rare moments I can even hear him.

alm01

Mountains, bridges, polytunnels and buildings, all in glorious brown and grey

We stayed a single, shoreless night off Almerimar, which is at the edge of a low curve of land that extends from the mountainous coast. Southern Spain looks how Mars will look once terraforming has just started to work and the property developers and tour companies take over. Like much of the Costas we’ve seen so far this area was baked, barren and dirt coloured, and featured even more wide, plastic covered polytunnels – so many that the area they inhabit can been seen as a huge white patch on a zoomed out Google Earth. As we sailed along more of it the next day we reminisced about the lush green of the north, and of back ‘ome.

We rounded the corner to find the wind turning generously. For a few glorious hours we were able to sail in a steady, strong wind that was just enough shy of ahead of us that the boat could keep to our envisioned course, and our moods became joyous. In England, a sail to windward means three jumpers, two pairs of trousers and some sturdy socks – here, we were still in our t-shirts as hair flew and songs were sung to the graciously miniature waves (by me, of course). We listened to podcasts that were gifted by a recent surge in internet access, learned some Spanish and chatted about all sorts, and had to shed sail quickly to slow down for our new anchorage at Almeria.

alm06

The entrance to Almeria features a huge railway bridge to nowhere

alm02

They’re very fond of fountains, but they aren’t all turned on

alm15

This one had a cat resting in the middle (until I came over to take a photo)

alm05

The cathedral, originally built to be a mosque

alm08

Sadly we didn’t get to go to Manchester Club

alm11

Can anyone explain what the shitting hell is going on here?

alm12

Cave homes in the hillsides

We had a day of rest due to mild hangover and bad weather – including actual rain! – and got kicked out of that anchorage by the guarded but civil Guardia Civil, so now we’re a little further down the coast. Today we went ashore again. Almeria’s a big city with all the navigational challenges that suggests, and it’s not terribly well labelled. We’ve seen signs pointing to a photography gallery and later a house of butterflies, that when followed seemed to lead to a network of small restaurants and a Lidl, which is a bit frustrating in the formidable afternoon sizzle. One thing could be easily located – in the west of the city, where there is a strong Moroccan influence in buildings and restaurants, we visited the huge walled fortification of the Alcazaba. This megacastle was built by the Moors, expanded by the Christians, and (not that this is the most important thing to me or anything) is currently serving as the capital of Dorne in Game of Thrones. I’ll put some pictures here so I don’t have to describe it because I’m lazy.

alm04

Rich in the Muslim end, from the Christian end

alm09

The gardeny end

alm07

Some of the excavations they didn’t turn in to gardens

alm13

We’re in a castle! (It’s very educational)

alm14

The walled walk to the other, smaller castle

alm03

It’s a broody one, this, isn’t it.

And now we’re back on the boat, in the comfort of our own living room, listening to the cozy drone of recently downloaded Radio 4. Gwen is home, and she commands an intense love from both of us. I have never before heaped adoration on a house or, save for a few short love affairs with bicycles, a mode of transport, but this wide-hipped beast that has been our gaff(er) for the last few years is not just where I keep my stuff or move from a to b, she is the centre of my ever changing world. We might yell at Geordi, the cooker, the anchor, and curse the elements, but Gwen is spoken to only in the gentlest terms, even in times of stress “now come on, Gwen, wouldn’t you rather pack that in”. I hug bits of her sometimes, especially when I need to to stand up. Rich often talks about changing her to a junk, and though he’s almost selling me on the rig, I’m not sure that it’s practical for her. But I noticed the other day that if we ever talk about one day getting another boat, we do it ashore, out of her earshot. She’s lurching right now in a wavey windless anchorage, and I’m rocking into snooziness. I ask her to calm down. We’ve another windward wander tomorrow, and I’m about ready for some food.

Advertisements

Off The Track

The daily downloaded wind forecast may guide our journey, and this often works, but sometimes processing and deciding what to do with it is like reading tea leaves or runes – belief over science. Sometimes that belief is enough to have us packed up and raring to go into five hours of fuck all, sometimes it has us watching from ashore saying “that’s weird, that looks like a good wind. Shall we… well it’s a bit late now… another beer?”. In these day of low winds the moral of the story is to sail when you see the waves ripple and the tell tails flutter, and not mind where you end up or when.

The dolphins have disappeared since Gibraltar, and I miss them. Rain has become a thing of memory, and cold is something that happens only when you’ve snorkelled too long or stayed out late in damp clothes. Nerja provided a little of the latter on a nicely unexpected day of exploration. The day before I’d had a snoozy day to myself and explored more of the town while Rich went off to climb up something. I don’t have the same fascination with mountains that he does – they look very pretty from down here, if you ask me, so I’d expected to hear some fantastic stories and not feel like I’d missed very much. But when he’d returned, he’d been oddly coy about the day’s events. “It was really good, and I think you should come back there with me tomorrow. I’m not going to tell you anything, except you need to wear your trainers”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The closest thing I get to a garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They do good aqueducts in Nerja. Here’s one of the more elaborate ones.

The morning came and I was gently guided in what to wear and when to be ready. We dinghied ashore and walked towards the caves, then took a turning up a mountain pass that Rich hadn’t walked the day before “I’m trying out a new route, yesterday was a bit rocky”, enjoying the smells of wild rosemary and thyme, and nicking a bit for the galley. He divulged morsels of his previous journey, and we saw black tufty squirrels and steep, craggy peaks as described. After a few sweaty, umbrella-shaded hours on a wide cliff edge path we descended to the side of an aqueduct that followed two mountains’ curves, over a valley carved with stunning swirls of rock and the occasional cave, huge trees and grasses bursting from the unseen depths below. Here we ate our packed lunch and bathed our feet in the aqueduct’s narrow stream.

I deliberately allowed Rich’s vague answers to my questions to pass, particularly as there were choices to be made. We could either go the way Rich had the day before, straight down and walk back along the valley, or we could try to follow the narrow aqueduct wall further into the unknown before descending. Rich didn’t want to scare me, so he suggested the former. I smiled, knowing what we both really wanted, and made our decision. Soon we were teetering along the step’s-width ledge of the aqueduct, sometimes with the aid of the ricketiest of thin metal hand rails (that occasionally sloped away suggesting the comeuppance of previous pedestrians), sometimes with nothing between us and the 200ft drop but our sense of balance and ability to block out thoughts of rocky death. The path stopped just short of too much, just past exciting as hell. We stepped down the rocks and my earlier suspicions were confirmed – I could hear the water down the valley get even louder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aqueduct of doom. “Turn your brain off” Rich advises. I comply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Massive bloody grasses. Human male showed here for scale.

The path was difficult to follow around the first bit of river we found. “You might as well get your feet wet – it’s like this all the way back” Rich warned me. But it wasn’t – it was a lot more. The first waterfall we found tumbled into a little chest-high pool, and Rich got my bikini top and our shorts out of his bag “you’re probably going to need these”. I gasped with gratitude and amazement – Rich is so bad at surprises that when I do get them, they’re extra surprising. We both got in, trainers and all, and after the initial shock of this freshwater power shower I tore down the river to find the next, and the next. We continued to come across short waterfalls dribbling between the river’s rocks as we clambered over them for the rest of the afternoon. Sometimes they’d have a powerful jaccuzi-like bubble pool at the bottom, or a rock you could sit on to soak in the splash, and many were lined with a crust of mineral build-up that gave them the unreal feel of a movie set. We’d only seen a couple of people but we’d decided to stay clothed, which proved to be a good thing as over the next few hours we found more and more popular pools, rammed with Spanish walkers of all ages who had trudged up the path we were about to descend. Eventually the river narrowed between two mighty curving faces of rock and we got to admire the patterned corridor of the valley up close, our tired feet still stumbling through the ankle-high waters of the rocky riverbed. We dried, walked back to Nerja and ate at the first place we thought we could afford, and went to bed delighted and exhausted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Surprise waterfall glee

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of many grand cliffs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The guide, paddling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Planning an attack

We had one more day in Nerja to recover, and we’ve been flitting along the coast east of there ever since. Like our time in the rias, we stay a day or so, sail a day, see what happens. There hasn’t been much wind so we do between 5 and 20 miles at a time. When we drop anchor one or both of us leaps into the briney and snorkels round to see where it’s set. We eat, maybe go ashore, maybe spend too much on a hammock and decide we can’t go ashore for another couple of days because it’s too expensive. Though it’d be nice to stay and nice to spend we’re limited by both time and money – they expire together in late October so we have to get to Mallorca by then.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Snorkel heaven in Ensenada de los Berengueles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Weird thing underwater

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even weirder thing underwater…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is getting ridiculous.

And I wish that was all I had to say about the last few days, but I’m afraid it isn’t. Even in paradise, this appartment-blasted mountainous coast of unending sun and clear fishy waters, you’re only as happy as your head. After Nerja mine got ill, though I couldn’t have told you how at first. One day we had an argument, but it ended, things were okay. On the next day a grumble from Rich hit me hard – a comment, a sound of disgust in his voice – I reacted and he bit back. Within the hour I started to feel scared of upsetting him. The next day I was scared of everything except the sailing. I held my tongue, cried when he was on deck and I was below or vice versa, started doing everything I could around the boat to ward off any more anger – don’t take pens from the nav table, he doesn’t like that, don’t leave water around the sink, wash up – he won’t be angry about that. I scolded and tried to coax myself, gripping tight to any faint feeling of power.

rab05

Calm on the surface and mental underneath

Over two days this melted glob of fearful feelings hardened. I checked and double checked things I could be doing wrong. I wrote notes to myself on how to respond to things, how to behave. I felt like giving up all the time but remained determined to persevere, shaking and screaming inside if necessary. Out loud I would suppress anything but for the simplest agreements and boat discussions. Rich seemed not to notice except to avoid me sometimes, which hurt all the more – did he not care that the happy girl had gone? But I knew he would be upset if I let anything out so I cowered in silence, broken by rare but precious distractions – a good book chapter, a solitary smile at the sea. I knew it was fake and flimsy – a coping mechanism like holding your breath under the surface and gasping for air when nobody’s watching – but it was the only programme I was running. Then, through writing it all down, I gradually started to wonder that maybe this wasn’t reality, that it probably started with the hormone pills that I started taking… when? After leaving Nerja. Ah. I stopped taking them yesterday, and though I can’t say the jitters are all gone I can see clearer now. I can see the angry ghosts from pasts I’ve projected on to my simple life with a grumpy gorgeous man who I know better than that, the kind who takes me on surprise waterfall rambles. I can see my anxiety in overload chewing at my self worth, and I can feel its jaws loosening. I can’t breathe a sigh of relief yet, but I’m enjoying our new spot a lot. And I won’t be taking those pills again.

rab12

Gwen in Ensenada de los Berengueles

Tonight’s spot’s off a nudist beach near La Rabita. I was so happy to see the naked folk on our arrival I insisted we both leap in to the water in the buff as a sign of good faith. Swimming in the nud around my burly home is another dream I didn’t know I had, come true. The water’s clear as anything but empty – it lacks the clicky clicky fish sound we’ve come to know in previous anchorages (what is it that makes the fish tick?). There’s no wind forecast for tomorrow, so we may explore the rocks, and apparently we’re due some big winds in the next few days – all in the wrong direction but who cares, it’s wind, and we have somewhere to go. That’s if the wind does like the grib file says it will, and that’s not for us to know. We’ll just watch the waves, go with whatever they tell us, and enjoy each other and the beautiful new in between.