Birthday In Brazil

Huge rocks in the Jungle with faces

Dear Squeak

I want to tell you about my Birthday because it just so happens, it was the best day of the trip so far.  We decided to hire a car for a few days and head into the countryside for a bit of exploring. We had decided to visit Boca da Pedra (Mouth of Rock) a small area of national Park where the giant rocks all have faces. And one of them has a very large gob. It’s about 300km from the Paraiba River where the boat was anchored and we wanted to have maximum time to look around and take lots of lovely photos so we had to make an early start.

A mouth carved into the rock by wind and water.

On the day in question we set off at sparrow fart and took the highway north out of town.  At first we were surrounded by mile after mile of sugar cane fields. All the ones we could see burning as we approached the coast when we first arrived in Brazil.  Then we entered the grass plains full of cows and lots of horses to round them all up with.   It’s Cowboy country here for sure.  a

We thought Brazil had reputation for good meat and plenty of it. Second, perhaps, only to Argentina.  Not so, almost every piece of beef we ate while we were there was tough as old boots.  From what we could see the cows in that area were not being bread for their meat, but rather for their leather.  We passed more tanneries within a few miles of each other than I have ever seen in my life.. 

As we progressed towards our intended destination the roads got smaller and smaller and lumpier and lumpier. Finally it was just a severely rutted dirt track that was barely passable in places. Thank god the rainy season was only just beginning or it would have been a total mud bath. 

We thought we were lost a bunch of times because when researching the place on the internet it said that 2000 people a week visit there in summer.  To see the place now, I think, that hasn’t happened, for a very long time.  So much the better for us!  We had the whole place entirely to ourselves!!  And the silence aside from the wind and the birds and the insects was absolutely mesmerizing. 

Lump of Rock with face carved out that looks like a skull

All the rocks did indeed have faces etched into them.  Not man made though. Created by wind, water and erosion over millions of years I suppose.  Not just one face either, but as you walked around them, and viewed them from different angles, more and more faces seemed to appear.   The place had a real atmosphere: mystical and timeless.  You just had to take time to soak it all in.  It seemed like the rocks would have liked to whisper their stories to you.  To pass on the deep wisdom of all the spirits fossilised inside them, represented by all those faces.  Sounds a bit far-fetched I know.  Im not really sure I go with that kind of mumbo jumbo,  but it did feel like they had a story to tell. 

The more you study these rocks the more faces you see

At one end of the park under a huge overhanging rock a shrine to Our Lady Fatima has been built and people go there on pilgrimages on her saints’ day.  To accommodate all her followers a huge ugly auditorium has been built where they hold mass in her honour.  That concrete monstrosity was so out of place in the midst of such wild beauty.  

 

We had a fantastic day soaking it all in, taking lots of photos, flying the drone, picnicing and hiking around.  We had to cut our way through the jungle, as so few people have been there for so long.  Nature is fast reclaiming the place for herself.  It seems that in that part of the world, nature has an agenda all of its own. What we experienced that day was one of her finest displays. 

We would have liked to stay longer.  Golden hour with that backdrop would have been a photographers’ wet dream, but we hadn’t planned for an overnight stop.  It was still a long way back and the boat is best not left overnight with no-one on board and no-one keeping an eye out. Even though the holding in our spot was pretty good, you never know.  

Well, all good things must come to an end sooner or later. That was a “super, smashing , great” day though; and a birthday I’ll always remember. I wonder where I’ll be when the next birthday comes around.

Well dear Squeak, must dash. We are heading off from here soon. As soon as we can get the boat fit and ready for another Atlantic adventure.  French Guyana here we come! So I’ll tell you all about that, really soon.

Lots of love Al and of course a big squeeze from Stevie too.

Rocks with faces

waves breaking on Tambaba beach with blue sky

Brazil Has the Friendliest people in the World

So what can I tell you about Brazil? Actually I don’t know, despite all the time we spent there we just don’t quite get the place.  It’s a land of contradictions, on the one hand you have beautiful scenery, fantastic,  lush countryside with fields of sugarcane or dense green jungle filled with wildlife. Or you have the coastline with mile after mile of gorgeous white sandy beaches with palm trees and turquoise water.

Paraiba Coast in Brazil looking along the beach

 

On the other hand you have cities full of crumbling colonial buildings interspersed with ugly skyscrapers to cram more people into a small space. Or favelas for the disenfranchised.  Adorning it all  is the ubiquitous third world problem of litter strewn along every street, railway-line and watercourse.  In fairness we only managed to explore one tiny corner of this vast country,  but I think we saw a good enough  cross section of people and places to form an opinion. 

Trash in the jungle

The problem is: none of it quite adds up.  We saw our fair share of poverty and squalor but what we personally met were the friendliest open people.  They were all inquisitive and interested in who we are, where we come from and what we are about. They will stop and chat to you, as if you have known them, all your lives.  They are polite in a very “old fashioned” kind of a way; people go out of their way to help you. They stop their cars and  offer you a lift. They give up their seat to you  on a bus or train. They wait nicely in queues and don’t barge. 

Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendliness but also concern for our safety.  We were warned to stay away from lots of places, especially at night and not to carry bags or cameras. This is a bit tricky when you are trying to share your trip on You-tube.   We went to all kinds places and we personally never felt we were in danger though the underlying threat was always there.  We were constantly being reminded by locals to keep our wits about us.

 After a while, having only encountered helpfulness and friendship we started to wonder. Is the crime and violence in Brazil just an urban myth spread far and wide to keep people in fear? Then we met some sailors for whom it was no myth, but a very real and grim reality.

Soon after arriving and talking to a few sailors we made the decision not to travel along the north coast of Brazil. Cruising from town to town as first planned, was reputed to be too dangerous. Only a few days after we arrived, the newspapers were full of stories of a nightclub in Fortaleza which had been raided. 18 people, many of them tourists, had been killed.

Bad things happen to good people  

Then the news reached us of a very sweet couple Paul and Liliane SV Luna Blu whom we met when we first arrived in Jacare. They left heading for French Guyana but had engine trouble on the way. They put into Fortaleza to try and fix it.  Their boat was boarded that night. They were tied up, forced to hand over all their valuables and their boat was ransacked. The armed robbers even messed up their radio so they couldn’t communicate with the shore for assistance.  You can read all about their misadventure on Noonsite. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-fortaleza-armed-night-robbery-february-2018.

We still had plans to make the four day trip to Salvador. We wanted to see the city and some of the beauty spots in the surrounding area until we met Peter on SV Andromeda.

He preferred to jump off his boat and swim ashore. Rather than be held up at gunpoint by armed robbers  who boarded his boat and made off with his valuables and dinghy.  You can read his story on this link. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-maragogipe-armed-night-robbery-march-2018

Having met all the lovely people we did it seems unfathomable that such awful things can happen there, but they do, and the threat of them, was enough to deter us from the bigger adventure we had first dreamed of. 

Paraiba and Pernambuco

Sao Fransisco Church Joao Pessoa BrazilJoao Pessoa – shame about the wires

We contented ourselves with exploring the small corner of Brazil we had arrived in.   We looked round Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa.  We visited Olinda for Carnival. Olinda  is a beautiful town, designated world heritage site, full of brightly painted old colonial houses and buildings.  We took part in their humongous street party with samba bands playing and so many celebrating people. The streets were packed to bursting.

 Our favourite spot of all was the national Park at Boca da Pedra  “mouth of rock” which we visited on my birthday.  It was a stunning place with huge outcrops of rock rising up out of the landscape.  At every turn as we walked round them you could see faces eroded by time wind and water. They looked  down .at you like they had all the wisdom of millennia in them. If only they could speak.  It was a magical place and the countryside around it was pristine and gorgeous such a change from all the trash everywhere in the cities.  We both said we could live there, if only it weren’t so isolated. 

Rocks at Boca Da Pedra surrounded by Jungle. the rocks have faces

We learned that Brazil is perhaps not best visited by boat. We would have loved to go to Rio and see Carnival there, so it is still on our bucket list.  The distances are so huge though.   With only a three month visa, a 15 day trek south, where you see nothing but ocean, and 15 days back is too long. When subtracted from only 90 days, that is just too much.  If you fly you can get such a thing as the South America pass which offers really affordable flights for a given time period but you need  to give your ticket number from Europe to south America to qualify for the pass. And if you arrived by boat you haven’t got one!

 Well there is always next time.  With such friendly people, I’m sure there will be another time before too long.  In spite of the underlying threat to your property a trip to Brazil is easily worth it just for the people.

 If you fly and you are attacked in the street you might lose a camera, a phone or a bit of money, it’s not pleasant, but not the end of the world. In a boat however you are carrying with you, your whole home and possibly everything you own.   In reality on a boat there is nowhere to hide your stuff.  An ocean going boat, to a poor man reduced to life in the favelas seems like a rich man’s paradise and you look like you could afford to lose a chunk of it with no real harm done. In reality it may be your entire savings, all that you own and a lifetime’s worth of dreams that you stand to lose

Blue Sky and Frigate Bird Flying. An Acrobat with a brown body and white chest

This Photo was originally posted on Flickr as “Magnificent Frigate Bird” by putneymark. We tried to get some snaps of our “Sanity Bird” but because it was so lumpy a lot of the time none of them came out that well.

Brava to Brazil

with a Frigate Bird and a Lucky Ship

Dear Squeak

It was a bit of an unpleasant crossing this time around. At least the first 5 days were just plain nasty. We are so glad we left you cuddled up by the fire with some lovely people; you’d have hated this trip.

 It was proper lumpy! A big swell was running and on top of it were short choppy waves that seemed to have no direction in particular.  The boat handled most of it admirably.

Once in a while, like every 20 mins or so, a huge wave would ride over the swell and hit us from completely the wrong direction.It would  slam against the hull with a loud slap.  this caused  the boat to shimmy at the top of the swells and send  a shower of spray into the cockpit. It drenched everything so no cushions allowed and foulies a must.  I thought, heading for the tropics, we would not have to dig them out of the wardrobe again. No such luck, wet and sticky, deep joy!

After our hike with John John our legs were still feeling the pain and the continual bracing against the motion, even when trying to sleep, wasn’t helping.  The mounting number of bruised we were acquiring just from going below to the loo or to make food weren’t adding to our comfort either, especially as we had to sit on bare boards with no cushions.  We got through it; but was it fun? No!

It reminded me of my sailing days, long ago in Scotland. Back then, I’d be standing out in the fog and pouring rain, steering the boat, wondering why I was using up my holiday entitlement for this.   I try to remind myself that we are paying ahead for all the fantastic sailing days that we’re expecting on this adventure.

The biggest trial of all on this trip was the boredom.  It was too lumpy to read without throwing up.  It was too rough to tackle any little jobs, or tidying up.  There was the trial of preparing meals which took an inordinate amount of time and effort. Preparing food without it flying all over the boat is a definite challenge in those conditions.  That was the total distraction to break up the boredom.   I had a stack of “homemade ready meals” waiting in the fridge as we knew the forecast was a bit suspect.  They still took a monumental effort to get them to the table.  Actually no table just nice wooden bowls filled not too full, held in your hand with a tight grip to avoid accidents and eaten up on deck with a drizzle of salt spray for extra seasoning.

Why leave in those conditions? I hear you say.  There was never any sign of anything else in the forecasts, so sooner or later you just say to yourself in for a penny in for a pound. Off we go. So off we went.

The start of the Trip was pretty lonesome for us both. First off we pass each other like ships in the night. One heading to bed as the other gets up. But outside the boat there was no other sign of life either, except for the wind and the raging sea. No wildlife, no ships, no planes overhead.

There was just one little visitor that came along with us on the trip and he was the highlight of our days. Especially those first five boring days until the weather calmed down a bit and I could pass some of the time with my head in a book.

  On the second or third day long after all the other seabirds had  given up on us, a Frigate bird came and circled round our boat a few times. He  landed on the deck and  flew off again. He gave the place a good once over and decided that we would do as a pit stop for his trip.

Our Frigate bird  stayed with us for almost the entire trip.  Finally leaving us, when he could pass responsibility for us over to the care of the local Brazilian sea-birds that came out from the coast to greet us.

He didn’t stay with us the entire time. He came and went as he saw fit.  As the sun came up on a couple of mornings, I could see that he’d had himself a few hours of shut-eye up on the spreaders.   But he didn’t stay all the time.  We wondered how he knew where to find us. With the boat averaging about 150 miles a day we were obviously not in the same place he left us. But  he kept coming back to check we were alright. 

He would fly round the boat a couple of times, give us a little air-show of acrobatics and disappear again. He kept us entertained with his daily performance.  Sometimes even two shows a day. Im fairly sure he was a Frigate bird I still have to check google to make sure, but for now, let’s just call him the “Sanity bird”.  He certainly broke up the monotony.

Frigate birds can fly for weeks and weeks without stopping and nobody quite knows how they do it.  They are super agile flyers, but are unable to swim or rest on water.  They just keep going for weeks on end. They use the air currents, especially the updrafts to soar and conserve their energy that way.

 As Frigate birds can’t swim, they live off flying fish, or food which they steal from other birds.  I wondered why we had no flying fish on the deck this trip, but clearly our Frigate bird was making a happy meal of them all. The only flying fish we did find was one that flew all the way into the boat and landed at the bottom of the companionway behind the freezer box. We weren’t aware it had come in until a few days later, when a rather pungent aroma started to emanate from behind the freezer. Horror panic, I first thought it had defrosted without me noticing.  It took us 11 days to cross to Brazil from Brava and he stayed with us almost all that time.

Nature’s Beauty never gets old

I love the Sunsets and Sunrises that you witness at sea. I love the feeling of wide open space and I love gazing up at the stars at night. These things never get old and at sea with no light pollution the night skies are spectacular.  We often say how nice it would be if we could set up a time-lapse to show people on land what it’s like, but on a moving boat that’s simply not possible.

 I love the fact that I have plenty of time to just sit and think though I must confess that over thinking things is a dangerous pastime.  I Try to put the time to the most productive use possible.  I now have our garden back home  and our website all totally redesigned in my head.  So lots to get stuck into when we get back.

The downside of our brand of sailing is that although it is a team effort each of us is essentially solo sailing when we are on passage.  Mostly, Steve is asleep when I am on watch and vice- versa.  After a few days  I start to miss him

Finally on day 6 our first ship came into view and ships kept coming steadily after that.  Not many of them were kind enough to respond to the radio but one ship in particular was super sweet to us.  The” Saga Monal” popped up behind us just as we were approaching the equator, chatted to us and slowed down so we had witnesses and company to cross the line.  What are the chances of being nearly a thousand miles from anywhere and having another ship arrive at just the perfect moment? And slowing down? Big ships are usually on a tight schedule. They don’t do that. Well this one did, so how lucky were we?

After the Equator the weather calmed down, we were treated to big rain squalls instead of big wind and big waves.  We didn’t mind the rain as the boat desperately needed washing after the dust storms in Cape Verde.   The temperature warmed right up and we were flying along with the spinnaker wearing only a bikini.  Well I was wearing the bikini Steve’s not really into that sort of thing, not even on Sundays. 

A few days later we finally arrived in Brazil having taken 11 days to travel about 1500 miles.  Finally we could relax in the sunshine for a bit before going out to explore our surroundings. 

Well dear Squeak I’m going to press send on this one now, and tell you all about what we’ve been up to over here in Brazil in my next letter. 

Catch up soon, lots of love A&S x

If you haven’t yet seen the Video of our 2018 Atlantic crossing that accompanies this post why not check it out now

Click to view Atlantic Crossing Video

SV Fatpadds Catamaran in Olhao Bay at sunrise with orange sky
SV Fattpadds in Olhao Bay

 

Thankyou Mareijke Van Ekeren for the fantastic photo of Fatpadds in the bay at Olhao

Boatyard Friends

Some of the most long lasting sailing friendships are the friends made in boatyards rather than in a little anchorage or a port somewhere.  So often in the cruising life you only pass through each place and that’s not enough time to build true friendships. It always takes more time than anticipated for the new parts for your vessel to arrive so in the boatyard you get the chance to actually get to know your fellow sailors.

Assembled boat friends Drinking coffee under the boats
Coffee time in the Boatyard

Now back in the boatyard almost exactly 6 years since my late partner Chris and I spent a few weeks in this very yard  building a new dinghy together. It drags back so many memories, actually of good times we spent together and lifelong friends we made right here.  There is just a big taint of sadness that he’s no longer here to share the next adventures with us.

Building that dinghy turned out to be the last big project we did together and repairing it was the first big project Steve and I tackled together when we first met. 

rear View of Dinghy just completed with Chris and I beside
Mieow dinghy Just Completed with Chris and I
Front view of Completed Dinghy
Mieow Dinghy front view


 

Poor ‘Mieow’ suffered a bit of damage when she got wedged under someone’s jetty while I attended a ‘singlehanders’ party one night.  Big tip! If you are going to a party where everyone will be arriving by dinghy be fashionably late so your dinghy is on the outside, not wedged in a compromising position by all the other boats. Another big tip! When they say its marine ply in this part of the world, don’t believe them, it never is.

 The upshot of the altercation with the jetty – she needed a whole new floor. 

Self built colourful plywood dinghy
Mieow Dinghy

The bonus is she got a lovely new paint job making her look much more at home with the local boats.

So just being back here in the height of summer is dragging up a lot of stuff for me. Grief changes you. The person that was here with Chris went with him. The life I had back then, all the plans we had, all had to change the moment he got sick.  I guess  in actual fact you find yourself grieving for your own life, the one that you planned, that has been taken from you as much as the loss of the person you love.  You then have to reinvent yourself in a new world without  the  soulmate that made you feel complete and try not to let the brutality that life throws at you sometimes  make you bitter and hard. 

“When life gives you lemons” 

I know I know, make lemonade, but you need water and sugar to make lemonade.  Chris always used to say “I want to complain to the management” when things didn’t turn out quite the way we anticipated and by management he usually meant me, though sometimes it was just out there for whoever is in charge of bad luck.

It’s taken me 5 years to get all my ducks back in a row. We left England all those years ago, on a mission to see as much of the world as we could. Then life gave me lemons and the dream was on hold for a while.  But it’s still there it was my dream and it’s still strong. Life is not a rehearsal and time and tide will not wait for you. Few people end up regretting the things they did.  At the final hour they regret the things they didn’t do. So here’s to lemonade, cheers!

Well now I’ve got sugar, well a ‘sweet thang’ back in my life, Steve, and a whole lot of water coming up! But I’m not sure about lemonade – I think mines a Caipirinha.

Brazil here  we come!                                                                                                                                                      

 

 

 

And then there’s the cat!  

Cat's Garden
My Garden

Is it fair to take her with  us knowing all the challenges she’ll have to face? Or is there some kind soul out there willing to look after her till we get back?

the big trip

Getting ready for the big trip, there are so many things to do its difficult to get your brain in gear. There are so many things competing with each other for your time.

Obviously there is a ton of work to do to the boat to get her ‘Ship Shape’ for the trip. All the systems need to be serviced;  engine, generator, self- steering, water maker, winches, pumps  etc.  Our SSB has to be set up and reconfigured to talk to a new computer, as the old one blew up. The Dinghy needs to be patched and a new cover made, and the list goes on….

In a few days’ time we are off to the boatyard to scrape back the hull to zero and apply Copper Coat. We know that won’t stop the dreaded beasties altogether but it will mean that we can at least clean the hull without rubbing off all the antifoul. We need  to take the mast down and replace some of the 12 year old rigging.  Our boat has very sophisticated B&R rigging with no backstay so those wires have been under a lot of tension for a long time and have probably earned their retirement, but we will see when we get the mast down.

We are in the fortunate position that we have been here many times before, we know what we are up against and we have a few t-shirts in the bag for getting ready for the off. We are not first timers, sailing out into the complete unknown. This may prove to be a ‘swan song’ trip for us as the boat now has to compete with a Motor Cycle tours business and a rural property.

Yet in spite of knowing what we are up against, the list is long and daunting and at times confusing. Not only is there the boat to get ready, but the house needs to be put in a state that we can leave it; or we need to find someone to rent it. We have had to find someone to keep the garden under control when we are gone so we don’t get a massive fine from the fire department.  Wild fires are a huge issue here in Portugal and letting your plot go, puts all your neighbours at risk.

Then there is all the paperwork to sort before heading off the grid again.  Everything needs to be sorted while we still have a proper address that people can reach us at. Here in Portugal all your bills have to be set up to be paid by direct debit or in person by a friend as its impossible to pay when the ‘system’ knows you are outside the country.  Everything has a built in GPS these days and ‘Big Brother’ knows your if you are not home.

Then there are all the Visas which need to be applied for, while you are still  in your home country, inoculations to get up to date and health and dental checks to take care of. A big stash of your usual medication needs to be ordered and the emergency drugs you might need if something bad happens on the trip, far from any doctor.  The checks are not just for you though, what about the cat?

We never wanted to have a pet because we knew that sooner or later we would want to get wet feet again. But two years ago this little scraggly bag of skin and bones appeared on our doorstep looking for food. She was so weak and thin she could barely stand up.  We felt so sorry for her we gave her some food, and the rest as they say, is history.  Now we have the choice to either find some nice person to look after her while we are gone or turn her into a boat cat, but for that she needs to be got ready too.

 She also needs the once over from the vet, the inoculations, the chip and the pet passport before we can go.   It would be a big wrench for us to leave her, as she has got very attached to us, and we to her, but she’s a campo/country cat used to running about, chasing crickets and climbing trees. We’re worried she will find life aboard too sedentary and will miss her local feline friends.  Also we took her on a little trial trip for a month last summer, she did very well adjusting to a different life.  Although she wasn’t actually seasick though, she got so wobbly her legs wouldn’t hold her up and looked awful green about the gills when the weather got a bit lively. 

We are running out of time now to find another good  home for her and she and the ever lengthening list of jobs are starting to keep me awake at night.  Ever notice how the lists only get longer? At least two jobs go on before one comes off.  But…

If you wait until everything is done, you will never leave.

Cat Nap
Cat Nap

So we have checked the tides, which for our deep draft boat, is crucial and set the date.  Hell and high water, ready or not, first week in September if the weather will play we are off! 

 

                                                                      Cat or no Cat?

 

.

Actually we don’t know what State we are in. Currently we are in Portugal and have ourselves, what we believe to be, a little slice of paradise to call our home. Neither Steve nor I want to return to the UK/frozen north to live full time. We both feel we are much better suited to warmer climes.

Having already voted with our feet to leave the UK it was in our best interest that the UK remains in Europe which allows us the freedom to live, work and travel anywhere in the Union.   On the eve of the referendum, we sat glued to the television and eventually went to bed feeling relieved that it seemed like the status quo would prevail. We awoke to find shock horror that Britain was leaving. Don’t get me wrong, we agree the European parliament has become an enormous, self-serving unwieldy beast that needs taming and massive reform, but for us leaving may turn out to be a catastrophe.

The problem is we just don’t know, nobody knows and when you are trying to launch a business, the wait is both agonising and financially crippling. Our grand plan for our little slice of paradise is to build a small holiday complex from which we provide motorbike tours in this stunning countryside. With beautiful scenery, empty roads and warm sunshine what’s not to love?

We had just about put the finishing touches to our first cabin and were getting the plans finalised to start the next one when the folks back home upset the apple cart. Well the upshot is all our plans are on hold. If we take the most pessimistic view and prepare for the worst, then we can only be pleasantly surprised. In the meantime we have a sadly neglected boat, which has had to play second fiddle to our building projects for some time now. So while all the politicians scrap and knock heads we are off sailing until they sort it all out. Knowing how they operate, we could be gone for some time!

So Brazil here we come!!

We both fancy a new cruising ground that neither of us has visited before. When we have seen enough of Brazil, we will venture slowly northwards. Cuba has been on my bucket list for many years now so it’s on the itinerary too

First though, there is a ton of work to get through to prepare for another epic adventure. Its exciting times and we can hardly wait. Already we have reached the dichotomy where the lists get longer and longer but time speeds up. So much to do and so little time …