Archive for October, 2011

Have A Nikita M’Dear: the non-eponymous drinks of Madeira

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Madeira archipelago with tags on October 15, 2011 by maidofmettle

(This is a bit of a jump in time, but it is going to take me a while to sort out videos etc. to write the full colour version of the sail back from the Azores – so here’s something I started writing in Madeira but didn’t get around to finishing at the time..)
Not that madeira wine isn’t very nice, but there are plenty of other options…

Although poncha is now very much associated with Madeira, some guides will admit that this was originally an English import from India in the mid eighteenth century, which was adapted to local ingredients and became extremely popular. The most common version comprises sugar cane spirit, honey, lemon juice and lemon zest.

(with carne de vinho e alho – beautifully tender pork marinated in wine and garlic)

Freshly made it is delicious, albeit with quite a kick, and is served hot or cold depending on the season. Some bars make a vast number of variations, from pescador (fisherman’s) to maracuja (passion fruit) and a rather lethal sounding verde (with absinthe as the spirit).

Bottled you mostly get the kick – or you did when I tried it once, and probably won’t again.

If you’re ordering a niquita, or nikita, that’s not really an issue since it contains ice cream. I might have had a bit more trepidation about drinking it if I hadn’t mistakenly though the alcohol content was just white wine, rather than white wine and beer, with vanilla ice cream and chunks of pineapple. It makes for a very refreshing long drink, especially on a hot day.

Having tried these, I was left with the one that definitely didn’t sound drinkable, or even edible, in whatever language. The Pe da Cabra, or the Goat’s Foot. I was rather expecting it to be a Regional Specialty very much in accord with the Pratchett usage of the term.

I knew it was a little strange, but I’d actually forgotten the full details of the ingredients list the day I tried it, so watching the barman make it was fascinating but tinged with revelatory horror at nearly every step.

He began with a small bottle of beer from the fridge.
Then he poured a small glass of dry Madeira wine, and mixed them.
Then he added some sugar.
Then he added a big heaped teaspoon of drinking chocolate powder and mixed that in too.
Then he cut some big chunks of rind off a lemon and added that in.

It was actually very good.

Now we go from the traditional to what’s apparently quite a modern idea – sugar cane juice (rum is of course very traditional). It’s unsurprisingly sweet, but not excessively so, and wonderful chilled in warm weather.

This cherry liqueur was unsurprisingly served up at the cherry festival in Jardim da Serra – a gorgeous colour and quite tasty as well, though actually a bit too sweet for me – rather surprising in comparison to the sugar cane juice!

And this is cidra (or sidra) – similar to English cider, this was quite a sweet version, but quite a few different versions are available.

I never actually got around to having a caipirinha, more famously associated with Brazil but unsurprisingly popular in Madeira and Portugal as well. They’re considerably easier to find elsewhere though..

P.S. I’ll be impressed if anyone figures out the reference in the title..

Going to Graciosa, and further on. Or should I say further back?

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, Walking with tags on October 6, 2011 by maidofmettle

After the tour of Faial my thoughts turned to leaving the island again. I had been hoping to travel a couple of hundred miles further west to Flores and Corvo, but after spending nearly a week in Horta it still wasn’t looking like it was going to happen, with either calms or wind from the west.

It was looking quite a good forecast for heading home, though I did want to make a stop at Graciosa first, and it looked like that might even be an advantage for the trip back.

Again it was a bit frustrating leaving, with the choice between either leaving in the day and probably arriving in the dark, or leaving in the evening and quite possibly getting becalmed by the wind dropping at night. I nearly left one evening, but I stopped by Harry’s boat to say goodbye, and got invited to share dinner with him and Reiner, by which time the wind had died.

Early the next morning was beautifully still

but the wind started picking up, so off I went.

The first hour or so sailing away from Horta were beautiful, but as I turned towards Graciosa the wind died, and I ended up rolling around while the catamaran I’d been more or less keeping pace with shot away to the east. I was starting to think that while I’d be sorry to leave the islands I was rather fed up of sailing between them.

The wind kept reappearing in bursts, sending Maid hurtling in one direction, then stopping, and then off in another.

Eventually I decided that on average, sailing straight downwind with one of the largest jibs up would probably work, and was rather surprised when it did!

You can see the end of Sao Jorge in the background. It’s a very long, narrow island, and the view of the western tip with the lighthouse I’d walked to and along the coast was quite something, especially with the thick layer of cloud above it.

Here’s the view from the other side of the point, where you can see further along the north coast.

The wind got slightly stronger and steadier and it turned into a superb sail until I eventually dropped the anchor off the little fishing harbour at Vila da Praia on Graciosa at about 4 am. Any doubts about the plan to stop had been firmly quashed when I realised I was considering starting a voyage that would probably take 2-3 weeks without any garlic aboard.

Besides the obvious, I was also looking forward to following in Prince Albert of Monaco’s path and visiting the ‘Furnas do Enxhofre’ caves in one of the largest craters on the island.

So at 8 or 9 in the morning I nosed my way into the fishing harbour to try and find a berth. It was pretty windy, so initially I just went in for a look before going alongside the easiest looking pontoon on the second go, though I was guessing I’d probably have to move… once I could find someone to tell me.

Or as it ended up being, someone who would tell me the right answer. I didn’t really understand the first bloke I asked, but he didn’t seem very encouraging. Happily I could understand the second man I found much better, and he seemed to think Maid would be fine just where she was.

Handily there was a bus due to go into the capital where I could change to go to the crater, though I ended up going a bit earlier as the man I’d been checking directions with and I were both offered a lift in another local’s truck.

I had a little time to look around Santa Cruz, the not-particularly-bustling capital,

before getting a bus towards the Caldeira. From the nearest village it was quite a nice walk to the crater’s edge

though I was glad there was a tunnel through the rim rather than having to climb up it – maybe later..

I got as far as the entrance to the caves and accompanying visitor’s centre

but unfortunately no further. Carbon dioxide emissions within the caves are monitored continually as they can build up to dangerous levels at times, especially when the temperature difference between inside and outside is relatively small.

The readouts definitely didn’t look good today, in fact promising unconsciousness or death within a matter of seconds in the area of the subterranean lake. Here are a couple of pictures from the visitors centre to show you what I’d been hoping to see – the 7 storey entrance tower (strongly resembling Orthanc, I’m sure Saruman could have bred some hideous orcs down there)

and the underground lake.

Maybe another time, if there is one.

I got talking to Manny and Bea, an emigrant couple returning to the Azores on holiday from their home in America, on the way back up and accepted their kind offer of a lift up to and around the crater rim. We couldn’t always see very much due to low clouds, but it was still relatively clear over the east coast and Vila da Praia.

As the weather improved slightly I said my goodbyes and hopped out to continue on foot and visit a couple of lava tubes before returning to the boat.

The most impressive one was a big pear-drop shaped (as the lava tend to pool downwards) tunnel

going right through the top of the crater wall

The weather got better still as I descended the crater side, and in the end I was quite glad of the shade of an old tree-lined path once used by ox-carts hauling goods inland from the harbour.

There were lots of abandoned buildings along the route. Several waves of people have emigrated from many of the Azores in times of economic hardship or poor harvests, leaving a number of the islands still relatively sparsely populated today.

It was also time for me to head off once I’d done a final restocking of the galley and check out the weather forecast in Vila da Praia, in a little bar with the locals noisily watching bull-running videos inside and football outside.

That said, there was nearly a last-minute hiccup – just as I was stowing the food below another sailing boat which had temporarily moored alongside me during the day moved to another berth which had become free. In the process of very nearly executing an impressively slick turning manoeuvre they motored straight into the back of Horace.

Leaving for England with a damaged self-steering gear did not appeal – though nor did sailing the 40 miles or so back to Horta and the probable nearest machine shop if anything needed fixing. Fortunately Hydrovanes are very strongly built and he seemed fine, though I would now need to check the adjustable vane wouldn’t rub as it’s upright position appeared to have been shifted forwards slightly.

After that it was a bit of a relief to get out of the harbour and past the little island just offshore.

Normally I’ve had a strange kind of sense of unreality, of feeling almost like I’ll come to my senses and change my mind any moment, while leaving places, but though this would be easily the longest passage so far it was also very much the clearest good forecast.

Waiting would mean sitting out another few days of calms before rather strong westerlies, which might have tempted me to delay further, and that would get me uncomfortably close to the time I wanted to have gone by, with the likelihood of rough weather increasing as August wore on. Sooner definitely looked better than later.

Faial (out of imaginative titles at the moment)

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags on October 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

From the moment I stepped ashore to go and show my passport and papers I was walking across the paintings which cover pretty much every flat surface around the harbour of Horta.

Here are a few (!) of them with a bit more light, and Pico towering in the background.

It’s a long-standing tradition that the crew of visiting boats should make their mark somewhere or risk bad luck for the coming voyage away from the islands.

Since the nearest other land is hundreds of miles away, the result is that the harbour is very colourful indeed, although old designs get painted over as they become illegible.

It looks like this chap may have expired part-way through working on his…perhaps he was in a bit of a rush?

I think this is my favourite, managing to make rough concrete look like the natural surface for an impressionistic painting – I wonder if Monet ever tried it?

I was hoping to head off to Flores within a few days, so my painting was one of the first things I did. It took a fair bit of walking round to find a free space, but I eventually managed it. I was surprised by the number of paintings I recognised even with the huge number of them.

As I started I realised just why it was free, and had to go back to the boat to get a bucket to stand on so I could actually reach it! Still, it worked out reasonably..

This is another icon of Horta – the Peter Cafe Sport, which has been a harbourside institution for years.

I went there for a drink with Harry, who we first met in Madeira and had sailed up from Las Palmas a month or two before me. I’m glad I left later and didn’t share his experience of tacking into a gale..

The walls and ceiling are covered with nautical memorabilia, and even this late in the season it was bustling. It’s still within the good season for cruising in the Azores, but many boats that have been away for a year doing a circuit across the Atlantic and back had been and gone already as it doesn’t allow so much time for stopping in the Azores.

Another tradition is the board of messages tacked up above the bar – I was delighted to find one from Trycha, Alice and Jilly who we’d met on Triple D on Porto Santo and Madeira the previous year, with another note from Mick who I’d met in Las Palmas.

There’s definitely more to Faial than the harbour and it’s surroundings though – in fact there’s a magnificent half-a-crater easily within walking distance

with a great view back over Horta

You can see most of the town there – it’s a bit surprising that it’s only home to about 15,000 people considering the fame of the harbour, but then these are quite remote islands. It is very pretty though.

The beach at Porto Pim was an unexpected delight, though sadly anchoring is forbidden to protect submarine data cables. It’s still a beautiful, gently shelving beach for a swim though, feeling really pretty warm.

Once it would have been rather different – the building on the far side of the bay is the old whale processing factory – now a museum, with a lot of the equipment still in situ, including the giant furnaces

and various machinery for grinding etc. – meal and oil were the main outputs.

I was surprised to learn that whaling was actually introduced here from North America rather than the other way round. Many Azorean men joined North American whalers as crew, and after a couple of decades they had more or less taken over most of the whaling ships in the north Atlantic until it became uneconomic in the 20’s. There are still large expatriate communities in American east coast ports today – in fact I think about as many Azoreans live abroad as in the islands.

Whaling from the islands continued until the 80’s – I’d imagine that the Portuguese economy wasn’t rich enough to enable it to be continued as ‘research’. A lot of the entries in the guestbook took a surprisingly moralising tone about whaling having been carried out here at all, though I’d imagine they weren’t all vegan. Apparently size matters.

It certainly does make an impression, even in photographic form.

It is quite strange to see the film clips from the 70’s and 80’s, with men still using hand harpoons in small boats towed out from the islands by motor launches – Herman Melville would probably have found it quite familiar. This is one of the whaling boats in the harbour

and here are a few more under sail

A lot of the locals interviewed were somewhat nostalgic for that way of life, but it’s also clear it was hard, dangerous and poorly paid work, and probably only continued after it had ceased in America because there were less alternative means of employment in the islands.

Happily whale and dolphin-watching trips are now proving very popular, though having arrived by boat I wasn’t really tempted!

I was keen to see more of the interior a few days later, thanks to the friends I’d made on Pen Duick II, who were there as part of a classic boat rally from France to Horta and back. The skipper David had stopped by to say hello and ask something about Maid, and after a few minutes of chatting and offering him a drink I found myself on Pen Duick enjoying some Pico wine and cheese with the rest of the very hospitable crew (thanks to Bernard for most of the following photos).

She’s quite some boat – much longer than Maid but less headroom inside- but then she was designed as a racing boat, most famously competing in an early singlehanded transatlantic race sailed by Eric Tabarly.

Having seen a bit more of each other over the next few days, including a very nice dinner cooked up by Bernard, I jumped at the chance to join them for a tour of the island.

We first went up to the main crater in the centre

– an opportunity to check roughly how far there was left to go –

– and then on a bit of a coastal tour, before stopping for a very nice barbecued buffet lunch in a woodland picnic similar to the one I’d walked through on Sao Jorge. Even with our coachload there were vast amounts of space free- it must be quite something if they ever get fully used. Probably half a village could picnic in one!

After lunch we carried on to the western end and another abandoned lighthouse, this one due to a volcanic eruption sometime in the 60’s or 70’s that filled it’s ground floor with sand

and created a large area of new land beyond it, presumably meaning it could be rather misleading. Most of that has been eroded away now but there’s an awful lot left!

Although the morning had been quite misty the afternoon was beautiful, and quite a few of us went for a quick swim when the coach stopped for a coffee break on the way back – a lovely end to a very nice day.

And being the start of August, time to think about moving on again..