Monday, October 16, 2017

1984 (10) – Lisbon, Portugal

View of Lisbon, and the Tagus River

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

It sometimes seemed a pity to see nothing more than the coasts of the islands and countries we visited.  So while we were at Vilamoura we decided to sign up for a bus tour to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.  We always felt like we were cutting the umbilical cord when we left Tropic Moon.  This trip suited us very well as it was only two days in length.  We were picked up at 7:40 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  The modern, air-conditioned bus traveled westward along the coast, collecting customers.  It was 9:00 a.m. by the time we had a full busload of about 50 passengers. 

Me, at the monastery in Lisbon

The tour guide, Jorge, introduced himself, and also our driver, Neto.  About half the passengers were British, half German, one French couple, and us.  When I had asked at the travel agency if our guide would speak English, I had been told that he would speak all languages that were necessary.  She hadn't been joking, because Jorge gave every spiel in English, then German, and then, for the benefit of the lone French pair, would repeat everything a third time.  When I later spoke with Jorge, I learned that he was also fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

Monument of the Discoveries

Neto, though he seemed to speak only Portuguese, was something of a wonder in his own right; the ride north to Lisbon was at times quite exciting.  We had heard that, when driving, the Portuguese only pass cars on curves, but that wasn't true - we occasionally passed cars on the straightaways as well.  There were several times when the car we were passing was most of the way off onto the right shoulder of the road, and the car approaching, off on the left shoulder, while - with horn tooting gently - Neto would drive through the center, down the middle white line.

Hotel Avenida Palace
We reached Lisbon just after noon, and checked into our five-star hotel, the Avenida Palace.  It was quite plush, and very comfortable.  We had time for a quick lunch, and then it was back on the bus for an afternoon of sightseeing.  Lisbon was a beautiful, clean city and we managed to see a fair portion of it that afternoon.  We toured monuments, churches, and a "carriage museum" with a collection of gilded and brocaded coaches from the days of royalty.  We saw the tomb of Vasco da Gama.  Jorge, knowing that Ed and I were from the marina at Vilamoura, pointed out da Gama to us as a "fellow sailor." 
Lisbon rooftops

Neto drove the bus up through the narrowest of streets to the Castle of St. George.  From there we had a beautiful view overlooking the red rooftops of the city, and the Tagus River, leading out to the Atlantic.  And all through the afternoon, as we looked at what to us was rather ancient history, Jorge continually stressed what a "new" city Lisbon was.  The older Lisbon had been destroyed in an earthquake in the 1750's and the city had been rebuilt since that time, making it young by European standards.

Belem Tower

We arrived back at the hotel at 6:30 p.m.  An optional "typical" dinner with fado and folklore was available that evening, bus departing at 9:00 p.m., for an additional 2000 escudos.  We decided we'd had enough of the group, didn't want to go to dinner that late, and didn't want to spend the 2000 escudos.  Instead, we went to the movies!  The theater was really sumptuous - gold curtain over the screen, balconies, ushers to tip, and cushy seats to sink into.  We saw an American movie, "Romancing the Stone," with Michael Douglas (in English, with Portuguese subtitles). 

Restaurant window, with live shellfish

After the movie ended at 9:00 p.m., we wandered the crowded streets and picked out a restaurant for dinner.  Many of the restaurant windows had fascinating displays of the foods available within.  Picturesque tableaus were formed with hanging crabs, lobsters, and pineapples, with platters of prawns and other delicacies arranged below.  I was admiring the display, when Ed's sharp eye caught the fact that the string-hung crabs and lobsters were still alive.  Then the whole thing seemed rather macabre to me.  I made a point of not ordering seafood that night. As it turned out, we didn't eat dinner till after 9:00 p.m., and didn't get back to the hotel till after 11:00 p.m.  Between the movie and dinner, we spent the 2000 escudos ($13.30) anyway, but we had done what we wanted with our evening and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mountain Village

Monday morning we ate our continental breakfast in the plush hotel dining room, beneath crystal chandeliers.  We admired the brocaded, silk-covered walls, while waiters served us sweet rolls, toast, jams, tea and juice.  The rest of the morning was free time for shopping.  At 11:30 a.m., we were once again loaded into the bus, and heading southward.  The bus traveled by a different route, climbing steep, winding roads through verdant hills, with precipitous views down to Portugal’s western coastline.  We returned to sea level for lunch at the seaside resort of Sesimbra, then made our weary way back to Vilamoura.  The bus ride, sightseeing tour of Lisbon, including museum tickets, an overnight stay in our 5-star hotel, and continental breakfast had come to $80 for the two of us.  When we had toured Colonial Williamsburg for a day before we left the States, it had cost us $40 just to rent a car!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1984 (9) – Vilamoura, Portugal

The marina at Vilamoura, Portugal

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We were anchored in Sagres for three days while a levanter coated our boat with gritty red sand from the beach.  A levanter is strong Mediterranean winds, with wind speeds of 40-50 knots.  A levanter generally comes up with little warning, rapidly increases in strength, and usually blows from the east for three days.  Unless you were heading west, you just sit tight and wait it out.

The Algarve - the southern Portuguese coast

There was an additional 40 miles of coastline to travel along to reach our destination of Vilamoura, on the southern coast of Portugal.  We saw countryside new to us - sandy beaches, backed by steep red sandstone cliffs, and white houses with red tile roofs.  Desolate stretches of rustic beauty would suddenly give way to areas of high-rise condominiums and hotels - very "Miami Beach" in appearance.


We reached Vilamoura on August 29th.  Vilamoura had a large marina with over 1000 berths.  There was a shopping center with bars, restaurants, boutiques, and more practical businesses like a supermarket, laundry, bank and pharmacy.  The whole package was surrounded by high-rise condominiums and hotels, complete with beaches, tennis clubs, pool clubs, golf courses, horseback riding, a cinema and a casino. 

Entrance to the harbor in the background. 
Portuguese fishing boats moored to the shore.

We had a comfortable berth at the marina - no trouble getting on or off the boat, because the docks floated.  They rose and fell with the tide, along with the boat.  Water and electricity came with the berth.  We'd use our hose for fresh-water showers on the dock.  Those showers were especially welcome after walking back, salty and sandy, from a swim at the nearby beach.

The beach at Vilamoura

Early one evening, Ed announced he was going for a walk.  I decided to tag along, and we headed for the beach.  It was the night of the full moon.  When we reached the water, we looked eastward and saw the biggest, fattest, yellowest moon rising among the condominiums of Vilamoura.  In the other direction, the beach stretched away for miles of sand, red cliffs, and no buildings, so we turned our backs on the moon and headed west. 

Red, sandstone cliffs

The sun was just setting; the sky was a brilliant orange, contrasting with the gunmetal gray of the sea, but coloring the wave-washed sands a burning orange to match the sky.  The crowds of the day were gone; only a few couples strolled the beach.  We walked westward, the orange always glimmering ahead of us, but disappearing behind us with each step we took, as if we were erasing the color from the surf with our progress. 

Beach at Vilamoura.  A lighthouse at the harbor entrance
is visible in the background.

I had thought to save the moon for the return trip, but it was impossible not to occasionally glance over our shoulders as the moon rose higher in the sky, shrinking a bit in size with its ascent.  We passed the popular beach area, and continued along the red sandstone cliffs, which stood tall, like dark sentinels.  Still the sky and the wet sand held their color, darkening slowly from orange to red. 

A beach that went on forever.

I'm usually the one who says we've walked far enough, but I felt I could walk on forever in that beauty.  It was Ed who finally remarked he was hungry for supper, and we turned back.  On the return walk, the moon was so bright that the thought of sunglasses (moonglasses?) crossed our minds.  As we walked, we were trailed by our long-legged shadows, stretching out on the beach behind us.  Up ahead were the winking red and green beacons of the two lighthouses on the breakwaters, marking the entrance to the harbor.  On our right out to sea were the scattered white lights of the many small Portuguese fishing boats plying their trade.

Another view of the marina at Vilamoura.

Friday, October 13, 2017

1984 (8) – Leaving the Azores

Coeur de Lion, Krystal's home.  Getting ready to participate in the regatta.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We loved the Azores, and had considered wintering there, but learned from other boat people that the Azores had a long, damp, dreary winter, with the possibility of severe storms.  Toward the end of the season, as the excitement of the summer came to an end, Othon would have liked to see us stay on, and have me continue as his student.  Since Ed wasn’t interested in scrimshaw, Othon had come up with something for Ed to do - building dinghies for Othon and a few other people.  But the thought of the long winter, in an unsafe harbor, discouraged us from staying.

The end of Horta's tourist season was celebrated with an annual festival called "Sea Week."  The climax of the week was a regatta.  All yachts were not only invited, but also encouraged, to participate.  If a yacht completed the course of twenty miles in five hours, the crew received a free case of Pico wine.  Despite that dubious incentive, Tropic Moon (with her lazy crew), sat at her mooring, while over 30 yachts - 80-90% of those there - were out earning their wine, and maybe a trophy or two.

The island of Pico, in the background.  Source of really cheap wine.

Sea Week in Horta ended with a bang - a beautiful display of fireworks over the harbor.  Our preparations for departure began in earnest.  We sailed out of Horta on August 16th.  On August 25th we made our landfall at Cape St. Vincent, Portugal (the southwesternmost tip of Europe).  Rounding the point, we dropped the anchor in the bay at Sagres.  A few days later I was trying to write home about the passage, and I couldn't think of a thing to say. 

Turning to Ed, I asked, "What happened on the trip here from the Azores?"

Ed:  "Nothing."

Me:  "That's what I thought."

An uneventful passage, favorable winds, gently rolling seas, sailing all the way, but with the engine running a couple hours each night to keep the batteries charged.  As a result of the miserable trip from Bermuda to the Azores, feeling a certain amount of tension waiting for the feathers to hit the fan, but they never did.  Nine days and 944 miles.  No dolphins, but three turtles seen on different days, dog-paddling westward across the ocean. Seeing them made me feel like we were doing it the easy way!  Crossing the north-south shipping lane off the western coast of Europe, just where the chart said it would be; tracking the lights of several tankers and freighters during our night watches.  And, once in Portugal, a sense of accomplishment, as well as a huge feeling of relief that the Atlantic was finally behind us.