“Can I come back?” A couple months ago, after returning from our trip abroad and well into homeschooling back in Folly Beach, Quinn made an error in judgement and was promptly kicked out of school (yes, that means ‘sent to his room’). Our session was interrupted by an airplane with those very words. Humbled, he returned. And humbled, we shall return as well. August became December more quickly than I thought possible. And now I sit at this desk trying to pull together our last weeks in Spain in an effort to create a book to remember and to excite. For return, we must and we will. Our new journey is not so far off now. We will go by train through the lands of Europe not quite reachable by Madame Geneva. And then we will go by sea deeper into the Mediterranean. My ease with pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) was rather thwarted the last weeks of Spain. And there is so much to uncover and discover so these last pages will be a retrospective instead of an introspective, an archaeological dig instead of a gentle burial. May this be a lesson to me to keep a journal!
We set off from Mallorca with little plan other than to reach Menorca, port unknown. With the Med laid out, and Sardinia rumored to have wind, we thought perhaps the east coast would serve well for a quick stop, regroup, and launch to the Italian Med. Time, once seemingly endless, began to loudly tick its reminder that the trip was not infinite. The kids were restless, and the ‘real’ world beckoned and called just above the sirens. Still, we had the weeks ahead to make the 180-mile journey and after the many days of being island-bound, we were antsy to have a passage. And with every plan, we learn a bit more of could’ve-should’ve and have it in the vault for another day, another time.
Quinn began to feel queasy right out of the harbor. We had planned on an early departure, so Justin and I would have a few hours before the kids even awoke, but even the smallest of plans seem not to be executed. As such, the cockpit was soon filled with moans, although the sea was like glass. When the haze of land fell to Mallorca and still Menorca remained just a glimpse on the horizon, we found ourselves in mile deep water. The islands are close, a mere forty miles. Yet with that desert wind (even as still as it was on that day) carrying the heat, the light bent and broken from that heat, the land, water and sky played tricks and managed to mask all states of mass, until one became the other or never seemed to be what it was. We knew the land from the cloud formation, but we could not see the island until we were well to it. So, when Quinn decided on a dip in the mile-deep sea, I was quick to agree. And Justin followed suit as well, after my return to the boat. Back on board, cooled off, and motoring back along, Justin suddenly says, “Dolphins! Wait, no.” The black dorsal fin did not glide and did not resurface after it traveled zig-zag through the dark blue waters.
We decided to travel to Mahon, as the harbor looked deep and appeared a perfect launch to Sardinia. Expectation can bless or curse a day. Our assumption that Menorca would be a simple stopover was faulty. Menorca would in fact capture us, and our designs on Sardinia would need wait.
Forts and castles surround the entrance to Mao. Ruins and cannons stand prominent, in contrast to the blue sea and the great green hills. Crumbled walls topple to the water’s edge and fade distant to pristine architecture. And that is just the entrance to the harbor! Restaurants line the sea wall and the streets of Mahon climb high into the old town. We circled out of the harbor and found an anchorage at the edge of Es Castell. We anchored and moored in many places around Menorca but this was my favorite. We swam, we cooked, we motored to the ruins and the fort; and we even watched a total lunar eclipse.
The next couple weeks found us in small festival towns and beautiful old cities. We traveled through the countryside and saw the great ruins of the Taulas. We went horseback riding. We drove the tiniest of streets in the most ancient of towns. We visited museums, cathedrals, and cafes. We swam and we climbed. And then we set sail for the south of Spain mainland.
We left after dinner to sail through the night. There was a general stillness and no wind, so we motored. Justin and I took shifts. Radar, AIS, and eyes on the water keep us aware of our surroundings. When I awoke to take my early morning shift, Justin warned me of a ghost ship. unmanned, and adrift off the coast of Barcelona. AIS had us mere feet from one another at our closest point, about two hours away. The direction of the ghost ship was unclear. AIS had it pointed to Barcelona but drifting our way, slowly. Very slowly. I keep vigilant for fishing boats without AIS but on the radar and waited for the ghost ship. The predawn light brought a bit of calm when I spotted the ship. Empty cranes, empty deck…just a wandering ship under no one’s control…headed our way. I pointed twenty degrees off and let the ship pass my stern.
We approached Barcelona in the haze of the morning and headed for the marina. A bridge lay between. It is funny that you can cross a large body of water and it is the navigation to docking that causes stress. The pedestrian bridge opened. We knew that, but we were not exactly sure when, how and for how long. Justin never fails to impress. He maneuvered Madame Geneva expertly, even while being yelled at in German. The slip lay just inside the bridge. With a quick dodge of a previously unseen outgoing vessel and even quicker three point turn, we were backed into our Med mooring. Happy birthday, Justin! I know you’d have it no other way!
Barcelona was dirty and spectacular. Cathedrals, museums, and restaurants distracted our walks. The heat was rather intolerable. A wave had hit Europe hard, and Spain especially. The old buildings offered a cool sanctuary, and we accepted. One of the most impressive displays was the collection of Federic Mares. Sculptures of the 3rd and 4th centuries filled the basement; other floors included those from the 12th to the 19th centuries. All of this housed in a palace of the inquisition. The kids loved it.
We moved Madame Geneva to Port Roda de Bera (between Barcelona and Tarragona). This was (and is) to be her home for the winter. We explored the small beach town, a locale frequented by Spanish tourists. We spent days getting Madame Geneva set up for our absence which mainly meant making sure the newly purchased solar panels worked so that our house batteries could stay charged. Can you say “dongle” in Spanish? And even better, should you?! We opted for a trip into the mountains to cool off and found ourselves staying at a particularly strange, but fantastic Russian house. Our host was quite friendly. The house had a pool table, a hot tub, a trampoline, and sauna. The mountains had ancient towns, lush forests, and a gorgeous volcanic park.
We climbed down into a dormant crater, now grown over in wildflowers and fine, bright green grasses, where a stone building stood boarded up. Cracks in the boards reflected nothing, but I pointed my camera inside and discovered a church. The kids, initially dragging from climbing up and then down the hillside, ran through the field and discovered a perfect childhood summer day.
The drives through the mountainside and the tours of the villages gave breath to the politics of the region. Yellow ribbons in support of a Catalan independence were everywhere. We played with the language to communicate, sometimes with success. No English was spoken. No discernable Spanish. Catalan was the language and the pride was clear. The rural cafes offered a more rustic fare, with a lot of “bone in”. The people were nice; there was just a lot of figuring out on both sides which left a bit of ‘huh?’. How do you say ‘huh?’ in Catalan?!
We returned to Roda de Bera and spent some time in Tarragona. Roman ruins there are as normal as the beach to the sea. How humbling to walk on the roads of so many civilizations. Caves, dug into the sides of cliffs, and columns, cracked but standing, face out to the deep blue Med. The old stone buildings of the town rise proudly along the tight streets. The squares, open to football and markets, encourage a community of gathering. Stores and restaurants line the long and wide boulevard to the water’s edge.
“Can I come back?” Maybe we all needed to leave, to be on the other side of the wall (or the ocean), to ask that very question. The days spent traveling, sailing, raising (and being raised) in this way are not always easy. Sometimes we act poorly. Sometimes we beg understanding. And sometimes it takes just a minute to step outside the frame to see how truly incredible this life is.
Much love and stay tuned.