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Cadiz Carnaval: Less “Carne Vale”, More “Manducare cibum, bibe epulare”

21 Feb

Call it what you will; Carnival, Carnaval, or Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday), this annual bacchanalia was first celebrated in Venice in 1162, but by the 1700s had made its way through Europe and across to South Louisiana and New Orleans. Whilst Venetians claim an historical aspect to their celebration, notably the birth of the Republic of Venice, other countries had murkier motivations.

For observant Roman Catholics and many other Western Christians, Shrove Tuesday marks the final blowout day of pancake-eating, dress up fun, frolic and indulging in carnal pleasures. Pleasures of the flesh include, but are not limited to, alcohol, meat (the latin Carne Vale = Carnaval = Carnival), and sex. Ash Wednesday begins 40 days of Lent observances that end with Easter.

Interestingly, the six Sundays are excluded from Lent as Christians believe every Sunday celebrates Jesus Christ overcoming sin and death (by his resurrection) and thus is a celebratory day.

This year (2018) Ash Wednesday fell on February 14 which is also St Valentine’s Day, the commercially sanctioned annual day for celebrating romantic attachments. Awkward much. No problem for Andalusians though. They sacrificed red roses by the hundreds, toasted each other with litres of alcohol and couple selfies crammed Instagram.

I could observe zero difference in Andalusians’ behaviour during the first week of Lent, whether it was in Seville, or in Cadiz, where Carnaval officially started on February 8 and ran to the 18th. City Hall’s very own La Bruja.

In Rio de Janeiro the official 2018 Carnaval dates were similar, February 9 to 17th. Venice has the longest Mardi Gras calendar, starting this year on January 27, but pulling up abruptly February 13th.

The usual explanation for Cadiz celebrating Carnaval, while Jerez and Seville have Feria (the spring equestrian, drinking and dancing fair) is that, as a port city trading heavily with Venice, Cadiz adopted their customs.

Got me thinking.

Here I nail my colours to the mast: I am a vegan atheist. I voice no opinion about Christian beliefs or observances as long as they don’t harm people, other creatures and our shared planet. Big ask I know based on historical precedents.

Live and let live is my motto, but as a frequent visitor to Spain, and more specifically Andalusia for flamenco, I have become sensitised to hypocrisy. This is my fifth trip to Cadiz over ten years or so. I have a great affection for the city.

Seeing Cadiz streets awash this weekend with revellers from midday to 4am I’m left with burning questions. How do these party people then observe Lent? Is it like Muslims who can choose to do extra fasting days at a later date to make up for any missed during Ramadan due to travel, illness or pregnancy?

Are the sombrely dressed, candle-holding, incense-swinging citizens walking in front of and carrying the statue of a purple-robed Jesus, who blocked streets around Cadiz Cathedral last night possibly the self same ones who were dancing a drunken conga outside my apartment at 3am Sunday morning?

Overwhelmingly the driver for Mardi Gras /Carnaval is money. Certainly Cadiz City Council is happy to take the cash and clean up after revellers have finally crashed or gone home.Two Fridas, my prize for the most beautiful.

Sentimental favourites.

Overnight the beer bottles, plastic cups and food wrappers overspilling garbage cans are collected by garbos with trucks. Streets and plazas are pressure hosed down.

Here I give you exhibit A, Plaza San Juan de Dios, shot from my apartment.

In Cadiz the water runs off, with the tons of confetti, streamers, cigarette butts and foam spray, straight through the grates in the road then directly into the storm water system.

The next day the partying and cleaning happens all over again.

Lest you think I’m a party pooper, I support tourism events that drive employment for Andalusia, with the important exception of bullfighting which nothing can justify. The province is still in financial strife, as is much of Spain. I do however believe that more sustainable practices could be introduced by Cadiz City Council. What happened to rubbish separation and recycling? Why must so much water be used for street cleaning? Why the glitter confetti? And what the hell are they doing selling that horrible coloured foam string stuff anyway?!

To give them their due I recognise Council made explicit in their Carnaval messaging that, as in Rio: ‘No means No’.

Other messaging against violence and concerning Carnaval etiquette, reads: ‘In Carnaval if one is attacked all are attacked’, ‘In Carnaval all have the right to move in safety and security’,  ‘But, don’t try it on, flirting is not harassment’, ‘For a free and egalitarian Carnaval respect diversity’, and finally, ‘Neither crowding nor alcohol justify aggression’. Admirable.

Moreover, on the positive side, the entertaining and well rehearsed groups of singers and musicians hauled through the streets by tractors, or strolling as small groups of minstrels, are no doubt a great community adhesive. Months of work must go into the costumes, logistics and rehearsals.

Once the hoopla ended Monday and the bulk of tourists exited the city, winter’s cloudless blue skies, quiet streets and beaches were perfect for cycling and walking.

I sang along loudly and badly to my flamenco recordings while strolling on the sand with only gulls to complain.

I watched a group of novices during their longboard lesson from a surf school at Victoria Beach. The water temperature was 15 degrees celsius and the air 20 degrees celsius.

Cadiz’ famous sunsets did not disappoint. La Quilla cafe-bar is my favourite spot to watch the sun sink slowly in the west accompanied by a generous pour of G+T.

Flamenco classes were thin on the ground. I could find only kids classes and the University of Cadiz student term module. Live flamenco was limited to the tablao La Cava, which Sugika and I went to last time. Not recommended. The season at La Merced ended in November. To add insult to injury Leo Iglesias, the Cadiz singer I first met in 2011 at La Perla had a gig in London and was away at exactly the time I was there. No tientos or tangos lessons this time for me!Cantaora Cadiz estupenda, La Perla de Cadiz.

Instead I signed up for daily yoga classes with Georgie, a young, relocated, English mum of one, at her Escuela Internacional de Yoga. My “Ve invertido” benefited enormously. This week Georgie taught in Spanish so I also had a language lesson for free.

There were quiet evenings for watching back to back episodes of CSI in Spanish, reading “A Gentleman in Moscow” and “Two Years Before the Mast”, and research, specifically about the Cadiz Meridian.

“Que es eso?” I hear you ask.

For over a hundred years, between 1717 and 1850, Spanish sailors used a longitudinal (pole to pole) line running through Cadiz as their prime meridian, that is, zero degrees of longitude. No Greenwich or Paris meridian for them. The Cadiz meridian, as it was drawn on navigational charts, is said to have passed through a point where the Las Cortes statue stands today in Plaza De España, marking the first Spanish legislative body who established the Spanish Constitution.

However, I think it more likely that Plaza de la Hispanidad, 50 metres to the east, which has an unmarked large, modern, metal sculpture in the centre of the roundabout actually marks the meridian, but for the life of me I cannot find confirmation of that. If you know for sure I am keen to hear.

And for those of you wondering what in the world Stuart is up to this week, he is on ski safari in Italy in the Dolomites with his Australian ski buddy, Michael C.

Tomorrow I jump on the train to Jerez. The Flamenco Festival starts in 48 hours!

Favourite cafe: Monkey Bakery Cafe

Favourite Restaurant, Rosario Uno, a brilliant conversion of an historic building.

Cadiz February 2017:

Cadiz 2012

Cadiz 2011

References for the Cadiz Meridian:

Jesus A. Caños, in ‘El Pais’, (9 January 2017), accessed 20/02/2018

Brian Hooker article (2006) accessed 20/02/2018

Jose Manuel Oneto blog post (20 August 209), accessed 20/02/2018

Carnaval 2018, Rio De Janeiro

16 Feb

In seven years of travel blogging no story has been as difficult to write as this experience of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval.

A week after the event I’m still processing and debating with myself what I should and shouldn’t say. I don’t get paid to write, I report to no one except my own conscience, and in conscience I am sorely conflicted.

Laying the groundwork first, this was not my first Rio rodeo. Some years back I enjoyed a glorious weekend sandwiched between work commitments and took in the tourist sights. Scenically Rio rates up there with Sydney and San Francisco as one of the most stunning oceanside cities in the world and Cariocas love to party like it’s 1999.

Coming back for Carnaval was a once in a lifetime treat for one who lives to dance. And isn’t Rio’s Carnaval the biggest and best annual dance party in the world?

The answer to the first part has to be – yes, it is probably the biggest based on body count (maybe North Korea has bigger, I don’t know), but best – no.

Let me break it down.

I won’t concern myself here with Rio’s horrendous crime rate and the current drug gang war that’s raging. Travellers make their own decisions about personal safety and there is much one can do to reduce risks. I’ll stick to the Carnaval program for my commentary.

A detailed, free program in Portuguese was given to me at the first event and, along with the Sambodromo ticket I bought online, I was sent a multipage guide and program for Carnaval. I’d done additional research so was as informed as I could be.


Starting with the Sambodromo opening night and the six Samba Schools that paraded. This is a competition by the lower tier ‘Access’ schools on the first two nights. They’re trying to move up into the next ‘Special’ tier who perform on the third and fourth nights. Access schools are as large (up to 3,000 performers) and as passionate about their school, but may not have the money or talent of the currently more successful schools. Schools can move up and down year on year.

Paradoxically for a country whose tourism seems based on ‘Anything goes!’, a myriad of detailed rules govern the Sambodromo performance and its judging.

Nine judges dressed in white sit in a box in prime seating area eight (this year I counted eight men and one woman – go figure). Each judge is responsible for scoring a specific aspect of the performance, from the song created for the school that year, to the theme, to the quality of the spinning and flag waving couple who lead the school. Points are deducted for going under 65 minutes or over 82 minutes to complete the parade. Rules and regs are as prescriptive and persnickety as ballroom dancing competitions.

Songs are quite simple and short, only eight lines of lyrics sung like a football chant and the best become ear worms after listening to it for an hour. Mostly amplified, live male voices are laid over a strong drum beat. The song is sung by all performers (and by supporters in the crowd) for the entire parade.

The easiest way to describe the composition of each school’s parade, which starts with fireworks at the entrance to the 700 metre concourse, is as massed groups of ‘dancers’ led by an individual or a couple of special dancers, interspersed with gigantic floats, often with mechanically moving parts, carrying more dancers. These dancers usually hold on to poles to stay upright. I use quotation marks on ‘dancers’ because some performers don’t qualify as dancers in my estimation.

They may have shaken a leg or a hip, but there were a lot of unfit people (not all were women), some chewing gum and looking bored, with costumes sliding off, who were an embarrassment. I don’t think they were tourists who pay to learn their role and perform with a school. I think they were no hopers making up numbers.

Choreography was pretty average generally. I probably saw only three outstanding samba dancers (the woman decorated like a blue bird was the best) and two groups that had anything exciting by way of moves. I checked online videos tonight and the quality of the dancing this year wasn’t really in a different league on the other nights.

The schools seem to rely on surreal, fantastical costuming and the mass of numbers to generate colour and movement. Humour, surprise, athleticism, circus skills, staging, props are under utilised.

Echoing current political controversies, this year’s overall winner and the runner-up both had anti-corruption themes. The theme I liked best on my night was the Amazonian theme by GRES Renascer de Jacarepagua Sexta-feira. Overall I enjoyed Sossego School most, as they seemed the most energetic and genuinely committed.

That’s the parade, but what about the spectators?

As is true on the street during Carnaval, people come to Sambodromo dressed up or down as the fancy takes them. Groups sitting together coordinate as angels or devils or whatever floats their boat, or like a group of men opposite me, as Playboy bunnies. You’ll se more tutus than at the Bolshoi. Couples may be pirates or super heroes and there is, of course, lots of cross dressing with Edna Everage sparkly glasses and wigs. Mounds of female flesh are on display, much of it articially pumped up.

Many people start drinking well before the show starts at 10:30pm and continue through the night. Men seem particularly keen to take their shirts off although it wasn’t a hot night.

One of the booths at the event promoted sexual safety for women (and by extension any vulnerable individual). One lot of cardboard fans handed out read, ‘No means No’ in Portuguese. Sexual violence and exploitation of minors are continuing huge problems. Why else would every hotel reception have large signs saying it is against the law to discriminate based on sexual orientation, or to exploit people sexually, especially minors.

Plenty of fast food outlets are located outside the seating areas, but attendees are allowed to take in a couple of snacks and two bottles of water. No glass and no guns! Ambulances on site are kept busy looking after those with alcohol poisoning. The last parade on the night I went finished at 4am.

Crowd management and security is good inside the venue and my seating in a box (an area a couple of tiers back from the edge of the concourse allocated to a maximum of 12 people) had bench seating around the perimeter of the box and was occupied by only nine people. Being the first night the event was not sold out.

I was lucky to share the box with fellow travellers and first time Sambodromers Natalia (Brasilia) and her partner Frederik (Oslo) and Monica (California). As a solo traveller it was lovely to have their company and as Natalia is a talented professional photographer I anticipate enjoying her fabulous photos down the track The others were a family from Argentina plus an older man who spoke not a word, but videoed every single parade exhaustively. Someone kindly said, ‘Maybe he’s videotaping for his wife who couldn’t make it’.


The second component of Carnaval (the third is the paid entry balls and parties), and probably the most important for Cariocas, are the free street parties held in many neighbourhoods throughout greater Rio de Janeiro.

I stayed in Arena Hotel next to Copacabana Fort which is exactly between Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches. The Empolga As 9 Bloc Street Party was scheduled for 11am on the beach avenue just down the road on the morning following my Sambodromo experience. Enough time to catch some shut eye and breakfast beforehand.

When I stepped into the street at 11am the last section of the main wave of people was passing. Street cleaners were fighting a losing battle against trash and groups of tourist police and military police were watching disinterestedly. I caught up with the main body of revellers following a large truck crammed with singers and dancers atop.

Again almost every person was in costume and most were carrying drinks, often carry bags full of alcohol on ice. Overwhelmingly they were Brazilian, not international tourists. A lot were the worse for wear. Drink vendors pushed their wheeled eskies through the crowd calling out their wares. When the truck stopped for a while at the intersection of Avenida Atlantica and Rua Rhaina Elizabeth the crowd condensed. Thousands of bodies were clearly more than the road and pavements could hold. Thousands more spilled onto the beach.

The beach was on my right, but the pavement was crowded and I decided I would exit the parade via a side street. Bad move. A lot of other people, including families, had the same idea and as we got funnelled along and pushed by the press of people it became distinctly uncomfortable. Matters were made worse by a truck illegally parked.

The inevitable happened, a fight broke out between two men and people tried to back away. That made a small space momentarily, however when the fighters were forcibly separated by onlookers people surged forward into the gap. A drink vendor was pushed over and his cool box with its entire contents spilled onto the road with everyone (bar one young woman who tried to help him) continuing to push past, slipping on the ice. Groups were linking hands and pulling each other along.

At that point I became quite concerned people were going to be crushed, including me. Everyone was sweating and pushing. The liberal sprinklings of body glitter got spread around…

Luckily I was strong enough to wedge myself behind the largest, fittest man I could find going at an angle to the main flow and stuck to them until I got back onto the main beachfront road where the crowd had thinned considerably. Two policeman had watched the whole episode and done nothing. It seems shots have to be fired before they act.

Soaked to the skin and tired of the whole scene I headed to an air-conditioned Japanese restaurant for a civilised lunch.

Do I recommend Rio Carnaval? On balance no. Yes, visit Rio for its beauty and vitality. The city is extrovert and social enough at any other time of year.

Sambodromo parades don’t rate for me as a dance spectacle. No amount of razzamatazz can paper over that.

The group pictured above had just completed their sports training session at Copacabana at 8am. I would definitely be that!

Personal highlights of this visit were fiery sunsets over Ipanema and Stand Up Paddleboarding off Copacabana with my mobile phone tucked under my big hat!

The Pantanal, Brazil: Home of Barefoot Cowboys and Tropical Wild Things

9 Feb

I’ve swapped salt water for fresh, jumping into the wet, beating heart of Brazil’s World Heritage Pantanal. This is no metaphor. Squillions of litres of rain water drain from the high plains, down through the savannah of the Cerrado and thence into the veins of the Pantanal, pumping life into this vast tropical wetland, the largest in the world.

Yep, the dark green blob in the image above is the Pantanal.

And see the long-legged Jabiru? That’s my destination.

Why choose Pantanal for my Brazilian wildlife experience? For the jaguar of course! In Bandhavgarh, India, during a tiger expedition – a 60th birthday gift to myself – I met a wildlife specialist tour guide, Luis, who waxed lyrical about the natural beauty of the Pantanal. Few things make my heart sing like seeing big cats roam free. Lions tick! Tigers tick! Now I was on the hunt to see a jaguar and the Pantanal has the highest concentration.

After all my planning and prepping for a Transatlantic sailing trip on Skyelark and the Rio Carnival experience that comes next, I took the easy route by booking an independent Pantanal tour through Peregrine (Intrepid) Travel. That was months ago and the only thing I’d done since was ensure I had anti-malarial medication.

The extent of my knowledge of the detail of this trip was that I would be transported by car 330K from Campo Grande, the closest airport, to a lodge in the Pantanal. All questions would be answered once I got there. Connecting Avianca flights from Joao Pessoa to Brasilia and then on to Campo Grande were unproblematic and the soulless modern hotel I’d booked in Campo Grande compensated with super fast wifi. Nice to catch up with friends and family after being incommunicado for weeks.

21 kinds of cake for breakfast leave me cold, but look, avocado!

Handsome, young, Portuguese-speaking driver, Nilson, collected me fifteen minutes early next morning. There was clearly no need for the lecture I had organised Paolo from reception to deliver to him on the illegality and perils of using a mobile phone whilst driving. Nilson is a professional (he doesn’t even have the car radio on) and his vehicle is an all terrain beast of a four-wheel drive. Water buffalo might well come off worse.

Nilson handed me an A4 sheet in English that explained we would be travelling for four hours with one planned stop for refreshments and that I could request to stop as many times as I liked for photos and such.

Road conditions in Matto Grosso do Sul state are good, much less traffic than in Paraiba. I would even consider self-driving here. We were quickly out of the city and into verdant cattle pastureland and soya fields. A newly asphalted 80k/hr road leads in an almost dead straight line into the Pantanal for 400 kilometres north-west.

The highway pierces Bolivia, which shares the Pantanal (along with Paraguay), and according to Nilson is the main supply route for drugs coming into Brazil. We slow down to drive through two serious looking Federal Police checkpoints.

Main street Campo Grande.

Either side of the road clusters of tiny, huts appear. Flimsy constructions of wood, plastic, palm fronds and whatever other materials the owner-builders can cobble together. These tributes to optimism were mandated by former Socialist President Lula da Silva as part of his poverty alleviation program.

The promised break happened at a spotless roadside restaurant and souvenir shop, Rancho do Pescador. I mention the name because I was deeply impressed with the food and staff. Menus in Portuguese, Spanish and English! My breakfast of fruit and bread had long been digested. Vegan beans, rice, fries and salad were just the ticket.

More palm trees and green vistas, but the topography changes. The plain steps down into the distance and either side of the road imposing red cliffs topped by a fuzz of green shrubs rise in an undulating, narrow ridge line.

Road signs announcing the Pantanal and images of protected animals make an appearance. Every few kilometres radar speed camera towers pop up and drivers slow from 100k plus to 80. My road kill count was one fox and two capybara (the giant rodents that look like longer-legged wombats). Nilson said that by day the animals stand a chance, but night time is carnage with so much trucking passing through.

One section of road is hosting a yellow butterfly exhibition. Clouds of them flutter by.

Soon we start to see live animals ourselves. Small groups of capybara nibble grass on the verges and kites wheel overhead. Where the road veers left to Bonito, we take the right hand exit to Corumba, then turn onto a dirt road for another half hour. We start to see standing water and cross the Miranda River. Colourful painted houseboats for anglers to rent are tied up to both banks.

Nilson slowed and pointed ahead, a fox was crossing the dirt road. He waited and another crossed. He waited longer and said “baby”. Sure enough a tiny fox scampered across and the family disappeared into long grass.

The rutted dirt road became red mud in places and we crossed and recrossed a meandering stream on plank bridges. At this point Nilson mentioned that they’d had an exceptionally wet three months. Then we stopped at a flooded sign for Pousada Xaraes. That looks familiar. A long, whip-thin black snake swims at high speed across the track.

The penny dropped. That’s the name of my lodge. I understood Nilson to say that since the road flooded three months ago they’d had to take guests a different way way in. Off we went again.

Another fifteen minutes and I saw small animals on the road ahead and some buildings. These were piglets and we had arrived in Bridge 24 over the Abobral River, one of the main veins of the Pantanal. I look quizzically at Nilson who points to a dark, stocky man in a big hat standing by an aluminium outboard dinghy. “That is your boat man, he will take you.” We agree to meet again here at 3pm in four days time.

Nilson holding the boat while my driver goes for a pee.

My water taxi driver should be cast in the Brazilian version of Steve Irwin’s show, as a cowboy eco-warrior. He swash buckles up to greet me, machete protruding from a leather pouch tucked into the back of ancient jeans. Thrusting his right hand out to shake I see his middle finger is missing. “Caiman”, he says with a grin. (Yeah, right, crocodile my arse, I think to myself).

“My name is Paulo”, he adds in English, so I introduce myself in English and say I am from Australia. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, OY OY OY”, he comes back at me quick as a flash. I smile but groan inside. He must have been devastatingly handsome in his youth but the typical Brazilian diet has taken its toll.Paolo on a mission at the pousada.

Paulo loads my bags into the boat and covers then with a plastic sheet, motioning for me to take the seat in front. Apparently we’ll take one and a half hours by water to reach the lodge.

Seconds later we are whizzing down the narrow, flooded waterways at high speed. I jam my straw hat on my head, tighten the chin strap, drop my shoulders, breathe out and lean forward onto my knees. We take blind corners like Moto GP riders. I haven’t had this much fun with someone else at the controls since my chopper flight over the Vic Falls! Birds scatter in all directions.

Every so often something will catch Paolo’s attention and he’ll throttle back and point to the bird, name it in Portuguese and English and, if it’s calling, call back. Amazon Kingfishers in their grey and white pin strip suits with a red cravat are my immediate favourites. So fast on the wing!

We stop to greet piranha fisherman. Not an activity for me!

I am excited to be the first to spot a caiman (freshwater crocodile). It’s lurking close to a cluster of trees, just the eyes and tip of the snout visible.

I start to film it and I swear on my Irish Grandmother’s grave, this is what happens next. If you’ve seen “Crocodile Dundee” you’ll get it. If you haven’t then watch films 1 and 2, they are comedy classics.

More caiman and bird spotting and finally we round a bend and I see the first red-roofed building, then the jetty of Pousada Xaraes (Xaraes is the traditional Pantanal name for a farm and pousada is lodge).

Staff come to greet me and take the bags. Vanessa the office manager introduces herself.

Vanessa is the only staff member (besides Paolo) who understands any English, but most comprehend some Spanish so our communications lurch along okay. I learn that I am the only guest and will be so during my stay. Basically, I have the run of the place and eight staff looking after me. Paolo is my guide for any and all activities I’d like to do. Up to two a day are included.

I ask him what my chances are of seeing a jaguar. “Zero”, is his instant reply. Okaaaay, expectations lowered to zero.

On the way to my room I surprise a family of capybara munching grass outside my patio. They are shy and sit abruptly on their haunches like rats, or sidle away when I approach.

I’ve been given a family suite with a shared, insect screened patio, my hammock ready to go in the corner. I make good use of it.

I agree with Paolo to take a sunset boat trip with some spotlighting on the way back. Lourdes, Paolo’s wife comes too, and we identify masses more birds and several caiman including this six-month-old juvenile frozen with fear. Apparently he can’t move to hunt until night falls or predators, the main one being his father, will eat him.

Paolo calling birds. Woven nest is of a Crested Oropendola.

My greatest thrill comes when I spy my first Toucan with his ridiculous long red beak.  Shy birds, they like to sit together high up in tall trees. By the time that two-hour trip is over I have counted twelve.

When it’s almost dark we turn back for the lodge and, as though a gate has opened, the air fills with clouds of tiny insects. We zoom through them and soon I’m covered and eating them. Paolo had tried to loan me clear wrap around eye protectors, but I explained I wear spectacles so they would not be necessary. Paolo has a scarf over his face (noted for next time) so I resort to pulling my shirt up over my nose and hunkering down. Lourdes has to hold the flashlight so Paolo can see to drive. Conditions are not ideal for spotting wildlife so we agree to call it a day and zip back.

The cook, Claudia, had seemed perplexed to learn she would be feeding a vegan (three meals a day are included), but she produced spaghetti with Italian-style tomato sauce, lightly oiled plain rice, a savoury soya dish, Brazilan-style beans, salad and fruit for desert. I ate until my stomach hurt. I am underweight after the sailing trip. Claudia’s food is exactly what I need. I find out later that what she cooks for me everyone has to eat. She jokes that they are going to lose weight on a plant diet which she is pretty stoked about.

A noticeboard in the dining room gave the background to the property, originally an additional income stream for a 4,400 hectare cattle ranch. Ecotourism is encouraged in the Pantanal and every small contribution helps. Commerce and conservation have co-existed here since the area was first settled by non-Indigenous Brazilians and the Brazilian Government has no plan to reverse that approach.

Breakfast at 6:30am is coffee, fruit and two fresh, unsweetened fruit juices and home made bread which I eat with olive oil and salt. Maria shows me a photo on her phone of her daughter, Daniella, two years old next month. Maria is 19 but looks 16. The child lives with Maria’s mother far away. Maria’s husband, Jonathon, cares for horses on the next door property. “I get sad”, she says, “But I have to work”. A tear escapes down her cheek.

By 7:30am I’m back on the water with Paolo and Moshy, the cook’s son who is on pre-Carnaval  holiday back with his Mum (seems there is a pattern of parents staying at their place of work and the kids in the city). This time we only dinghy ten minutes upstream to tie up to a dilapidated boardwalk where we proceed on foot, a combination of walking and wading where the path, such as it is, is mostly inundated. Paolo and Moshy go barefoot but I am well shod, I have stretchy boat shoes. My tetanus shot is up to date, but I don’t want to invite drama.

Paolo employs his machete frequently. The high pitched cutting sound, “Ching”, is like an effect from a kung fu movie. That blade is wicked sharp!

Paolo doing his best Paul Hogan, ‘That’s not a knife. THIS is a knife’.

We ease ourselves through wire fences (the Pantanal is 99 per cent privately owned) and at times the water reaches my waist. It’s an odd sensation stepping on the silty, muddy bottom of the stream as each footstep compresses trapped gas that bubbles up tickling my legs.

Lourdes refused this trip as she is scared of caiman, snakes, fish, and it seems, any other animal that moves. The only beasts that disturb me are on dry land – insects. Big black ants like to bite my feet and ankles and mosquitoes are dense in places. I have plastered myself in insect repellant but they seem to love it.

I develop a dance routine that goes like this: step one foot forward, raise the other leg and swipe the ants off my foot. Repeat on the other side. Two regular steps then bat the mozzies away from my face and neck. It’s actually better in the water. If Paolo starts to slip in the mud he reaches back for my hand at shoulder height elegantly, as if leading me onto a ballroom floor to dance a minuet. I’m not sure who is assisting who.

Little wildlife is willing to be spotted this morning. Three mamma howler monkeys perched high up in three different palm trees are mainly discernible from the shaking of the branches. Paolo did find a Blue Fronted Parrot feather though. It’s my new book mark.

The real threat is from two hives of African Bees. Those can kill you! We hear the buzzing trees from a distance and give them a wide berth. A large tapir has walked this path recently. It’s footprint is nearly as big as my shoe.

Coming back across one loop of the stream I see a caiman off to the side. Moshy isn’t thrilled about it, but it’s the only way to go.

Paolo stopped the boat at the horse ranch on the way back to introduce me to Jonathon, and Moshy showed me around. Divorced just one year, Sebastiana lives in a two-roomed cottage on the property with three of her four kids, four dogs, and more frisky piglets than I could count. She invited me to sit and offered me coffee from her thermos in a small glass. It’s fragrant, sweet and strong. This gave me an excuse to politely refuse to share the metal mate straw Jonathon, Maria’s husband, was drinking with Paolo. They drink it Paraguayan style, continuously adding chilled water to a mass of finely chopped mate leaves in a cup. And like cowboys the world over they love their country music.

A hen nested on an old saddle in the tack shed.

Eager to try all modes of Pantanal transport I canoed this afternoon. Paolo and Moshy followed me in the outboard. I had hoped to glide downstream silently with the current, but engine noise and Moshy’s constant chatter put paid to that. Still, I saw plenty of birdlife.

Actually I don’t need to go far to see animals. Iguanas frequently walk across the lawn and if I sit quietly by the water masses of birds come close by to search for insects and grubs. I watched a capybara family swim across to a small island.

Late afternoons are perfect for yoga and flamenco drill practice in the pool cabana. Cooling off with some lazy breaststroke laps two Red and Green Macaws zoom in formation straight over my head and I laugh out loud.

Paolo asks if I am up for a 4-5 hour horse ride to another property. There’s just one catch. Because the roads are flooded the horses will be mostly walking in water, and much more than usual. Paolo assures me these semi-retired cattle horses are fit for the exercise. He never asks me if I can ride, just assumes I will say if I can’t or don’t want to do it. This is an opportunity to see another side to the Pantanal, one most outsiders don’t see. “Okay, I say, let’s do it.

The horses check me out and I check out the saddles.

Dining in solitary splendour, chickpea stew, potatoes and corn.

By 7:35am Paolo (on Bella Vista), Moshy (on Typhoon) and I (riding Ourso/Bear) are in the saddle and walking the only dry bit of land, a whole 50 metres, that we will ride in the next four hours.

Paolo and Moshy are barefoot. I have the closest approximation of riding gear I can cobble together, including shoes and a bicycle helmet I picked up from the office. No legal waiver to sign, I am expected to take care of myself like a grown up. Novel.

When we head into deeper water along what was once a dirt road, I try to keep my shoes dry however I realise pretty quickly that’s a wasted effort.

Ourso is steadily wading through the water following Bella Vista and when it starts lapping my knees (up to the base of his tail) he seems to like it. Most of the time the water is about a metre deep with masses of river grasses and lily pads and small fish. Only once does he startle, a black fish the size of my hand has darted between his front legs.

About two hours in a house and outbuildings become visible in the distance. As if on cue three cowboys enter the frame riding in from the left. They’re barefoot too, wearing tshirts and board shorts. Paolo greets them and asks me if I want to stop at the gauchos’ place. “Hell, yes!” A chance to stretch my legs and see more gauchos up close and personal.

I am formally introduced to Anderson, Luis and Hugo. All in their twenties, they are slim, fit and joke a lot. Paolo is talking about nick names and how people here often have native birds as their nick names. Paolo’s is “Boogly” which means Indian (he was born on a cattle ranch in the Pantanal and there is some Indian in his ancestry, but it’s complicated). Paolo calls Moshy “Calvin Klein” because of the smart shirt he is wearing.

Moshy decides to model Paolo’s felt gaucho hat that cost 300 real. He wears it well.

Luis is a dead ringer for a young Marlon Brando. They smoke thin roll your own cigarettes and share water from a large orange, plastic beaker.

Their set up is tidier than Jonathon’s and their tack more impressive, but then their role is different. Because of the unusually high level of summer water this year (the highest since the 2011 flood, eerily the same summer our Brisbane riverside home was inundated) they have to go out at 3am with headlights on the horses carrying feed to supplement the cattle’s grass diet. They had just finished. Sometimes they can leave early and be out all day.

Luis is married and his wife stays with him but the other two are unmarried. They all work six weeks then have a week off. I ask if, given the problems with flooding in recent years, the ranchers are rethinking cattle farming. “No”, comes back the answer emphatically.

Paolo checks out the gaucho’s saddles as we depart and compliments Henderson on the fine leather plaiting he has done. It is similar to rope detail you would find on a ship, fine, intricate work. Paolo is handy with a knot too. I tied my Mother’s tiger eye pendant (wards off misfortune on the water) with a dodgy Chinese slip knot. In one minute Paolo has refashioned perfect double, floating slip knots.

We take a wide loop back through the drowned landscape. Lily pods look ready to burst into flower. Cattle we pass are mostly white Brahmin steers, their hip bones jutting out painfully.

Past the rear side of Jonathon and Sebastiana’s place Paolo points out mom and pop Hyacinth Macaw guarding their offspring in a nest in a dead tree in the horse corral.

When we reach a large field with only a shallow covering of water I sense a canter coming on and ask Paolo to wait for me to get the video function ready to film him. He does and I count him in, “3, 2, 1, go!’

Grinning widely Paolo takes off. Ourso decides that’s his cue to canter too! This is my epic fail at gaucho cinematography.

How I didn’t drop my phone and/or fall off I don’t know but happily we all ended up laughing, Moshy the hardest. I couldn’t ask Paolo to repeat the exercise, but I can attest to his formidable riding skills.

Back at our ranch I asked Paolo why the stirrup straps have a large metal ring that digs into the middle of your shin. “No, you are doing it wrong. Look, when you ride barefoot you hook your toes like this and straighten your legs!”  Oh well, more bruises to add to my fine collection! Barefoot riding gaucho style is a lesson for another day.

I’m ready to call it a day but Paolo offers a “Slide Show” that night. It’s a well constructed thirty-minute Powerpoint presentation about the property and the Pantanal. I have the impression that some years ago the Portuguese owners stopped injecting cash into the pousada. It is starting to degrade in places, a common problem of maintenance in the tropics.

Next morning is my last chance to spot the elusive jaguar. I am waiting for Paolo at the jetty at 5:30am and we set off with a powerful torch heading upriver. Insects are bad but not like at dusk.

Paolo scans the banks and across the stream constantly looking for eye gleam. Nothing. But I am happy just to be out on the river. I recognise a bank where Paolo last saw a jaguar three months ago (he shared his photo). Empty.

From a black, starry sky with a half moon the day opens with an orange and pink spectacle of fluffy clouds.

On the return we see a solitary howler monkey high in a tree, too well camouflaged to photograph. The Amazon Kingfishers are out in full force. This must be peak fishing time for them.

Vultures really love this dead tree.

Breakfast is waiting on my return, and an hour later we are back on the water. We’re heading downstream this time. Paolo is nothing if not diligent.

A large solo Capybara sits half submerged in the water munching contentedly.

We pass the gauchos’ from yesterday and all three are outside the cabin, sweeping or sitting. We shout greetings and continue.

Highlight of this excursion are the twin Rufescent Tiger Heron chicks sitting in their nest in a tree curved over the water. They crane their necks for mum who is high in a tree on the opposite bank. She isn’t exhibiting any concern even though we approach closely.

A close second is the large caiman lying on a bank with mouth wide open to the sun. Paolo explained that sunshine is a natural remedy for parasites that infest the gums of crocs. UV treatment!

Third is the large cormorant that dives like a stone from a tree in front of the boat and stays under for ages.

But my parting gift from Xaraes is delivered by Maria on our return. She has spotted a large Anaconda crossing the paddock. Everyone is excited to see this gorgeous specimen (not so much the Cobra that was sighted on the property last night).

The snake is unperturbed by our presence and takes his/her time passing through.

When I tally my list with Paolo’s help I’m thrilled to see how many Pantanal natives I’ve identified. Of course the jaguar is missing, but Paolo assures me we will see one when I come back in the dry season!

In the meantime here is the first jaguar I could find.

My heartiest thanks to the marvellously kind staff of Xaraes Lodge:

Office Manager, Vanessa

Restaurant staff, Maria

Chambermaids, Eloise and Reina

Cook, Claudia

Gardener, Jose

Driver and Engineer, Elcio

(Maria had disappeared when we took this photo.)

And saving the best to last – my deepest gratitude to a peerless Guide, Paolo and to his side kick, ‘Calvin Klein. Moshy wielded my camera for me when asked so I didn’t have to resort to selfies.

To the rest of the people of the Pantanal who made this such an fascinating and enjoyable experience for me, “Obrigada!”

PS For the return boat trip we are joined by Paolo’s excitable, older cousin, wife Lourdes, three other unidentified women and Jose, the gardener, plus masses of bags, and last but not least a kid, i.e. a baby goat! I stop the obvious question before it escapes from my mouth. I don’t want to know the answer.

The benefit of this load is that we can fit under the bridge Paolo and I had to detour around this morning.

Punting Pantanal style!

Essential tools of a gaucho’s trade.


Amazon Kingfisher

Tucu Toucan

Green Kingfisher

Chaco Chachalaca


Hyacinth Macaw (Arara Azul)

Blue Fronted Parrot (feather)

Buff Necked Ibis

Black Faced Parakeet

Red and Green Macaw


Guiya Cuckoo

Great Potoo (Owl)








False Water Snake


Armadillo (two crossing the dirt road on our way out)

Photography Note:I upgraded to an iphone 8S in January 2018 and use a Lifeproof case to protect it from the worst I can throw at it. So far so good.

Nilson works for Transpantanal transport company. Look them up if you like to stay alive!


Life’s Beachy in Brazil: João Pessoa, Paraiba

8 Feb

João Pessoa hits with full sensory overload after three weeks on the Atlantic. At sea you smell only what is in the boat; people, cooking smells, or things that land on deck, i.e. fishy stuff.

You also look out on a seemingly endless sea to the far horizon, and up to clouds, sun, stars, moon, glimpses of a rare passing ship, jet streams, birds, nothing more.

Sounds at sea; groans, creaks, rattles, flapping of sails and rigging on the boat and the slapping of waves against hull become background noise. The wind generator hums quietly above the bimini, and a petrol generator complements the wave, wind and solar for a couple of hours a day.

On night watch nearly three hours drifts by without a word spoken or heard. Thoughts quieten, then still, a calmness creeps into your core.

That calm stayed all of ten minutes once I was out of the cocoon of Skyelark and the Cabedelo marina. Traffic, noisy people, pollution, it was an assault. I was relieved to reach my hotel room and shut the door on the world for the night.

The most easterly point in Brazil, João Pessoa city, was renamed for its state reformist governor João Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque assassinated in 1930. His name means John of the People.

Proudly proclaimed the world’s second greenest city after Paris, and the third oldest city in Brazil, João Pessoa’s beachfront high rise apartments and resort hotels; first sighted from sea, create an almost unbroken line for several kilometres.

But this is egalitarian, democratic Brazil. The palm-fringed beach is worshipped by rich and poor alike and no buildings are allowed on the sandy side of the road apart from cafe-bar kiosks. Separate jogging and cycle paths run the length of the strip, but just in case citizens and visitors need more space to walk/jog/cycle/skate/skateboard, every morning from 5-8am the beachfront four-lane road is closed to vehicle traffic. Yes, that’s right, every day. Take note Australia.

I see grandmas walking their pampered pooches, silver stallions in dick togs, tshirt and trainers jogging, serious lycra-clad cyclists, and a middle-aged woman wearing full elbow, wrist and knee protection out for what is clearly her first or second (I hope) attempt to inline skate. There is no glide, just step, step, step….Even with my odd sailor-style rollicking gait I walk faster than she skates.

I feel I’ve earned some self-indulgence after the passage. My ambitions are modest, to sleep through the night, eat well, toast myself with a caiparinha, have a massage and, most importantly, get in touch with family and friends.

But first I have a urgent and compelling desire to buy a pair of canary yellow bermuda shorts and tshirt. Everyone else looks so colourful and vibrant. Besides, I have no clean clothes and the laundry deal I negotiated will take 24 hours. Thus we persuade ourselves to consume.

Jumping a cab to Mangobeira, the biggest mall this side of the city, I’m immediately back in shoppingland. Brands are different, but it would be recognisable the world over as a typical aspirational destination. I make the mistake of asking directions of a security guard. The words are out of my mouth before I notice he is not alone, there are three guards, two with semi-automatic weapons. “Ask someone else”, he grunts and refuses to look at me. I back away.

The yellow bermudas are easy to find, once I get past 27 different styles of denim cut-off shorts.

Eventually I locate the beauty salon I’d identified online. They’d changed their trading name, but not yet their website. What follows is a fiasco. A cautionary tale in failed communications.

My massage could be taken in my hotel room so I booked one for tomorrow’s treat. Instead today I would have a facial and that most important beauty treatment of the aging thin-eyebrowed woman, a brow tint to pick up all the fine, sun bleached hairs and give me back some brow definition. Do not over pluck your brows girls and boys, they may not grow back!

Anastasia seems to understand, but she’s a bit distracted by being late to work and whoever is calling her on her mobile. I have mimed, I have used the correct words in Spanish, I have indicated on the salon menu, what could possibly go wrong?

In a bright back room with no sink (dead giveaway), but lots of waxing paraphenalia (this is Brazil after all) she snaps on blue gloves and attacks my face with scrub and cotton balls, more cleanser, then a mask which I gather is a coffee mask (below), followed by a glycolic peel. All this with bright lights on, constant interruptions for phone conversations and a manner that can only be described as brusque.

I am left for 15 minutes to marinate then she returns, removes the mask with damp cotton balls (from a spray water bottle) and begins the assault on my eyebrows. Twice she tries to remove brow hairs. No, I repeat, no plucking, just the tinting por favor! She looks disappointed.

The brow tint goes on my left brow and I decide to sit up and check her handiwork in the mirror before proceeding. Bloody hell, she’s given me black Chinese Opera eyebrows. For a horrible couple of seconds I think it’s permanent then realise it can’t be. That was close!

When I tell her I don’t want what she has done she protests, “But that is what you asked for!” Um, no, it’s not. She agrees to remove it and we call it a day. She even deducts the brow tint charge from the bill. I don’t feel obliged to tip.

I have more luck renting a bicycle from Rent A Bike (And be Happy) a pop up bicycle rental on the main beachfront road. The owner-manager has no English, beyond hello, thank you and goodbye, but his attitude is customer-oriented and his service impeccable. I spend a happy hour dodging vendors, kids, dogs, other cyclists and joggers on the beachfront path then celebrate with beer and fries.

The ultimate in cool, two smartly uniformed cops on Segways with super fat tyres cruise in tandem up and down the strip.

I had already been cautioned that morning when walking the beach path. A concerned, older gentleman stopped his bicycle ride to tell me not to have my mobile phone in my hand (I was taking photos at the time).

I’d hoped that now, on a bicycle, wearing the national colour, I would fly under the opportunist thief’s radar, but probably not. Just being a solo traveller makes me stand out. Brazilians don’t holiday alone.

I have had to review my risk management strategies. Crime of all kinds has ramped up in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, my destination for Carnaval. I checked news websites, checked local transport options, registered on for alerts, got a local sim card for my spare mobile and loaded emergency contacts, then made sure family knew where I would be and when and also when I would next check in with them. I told hotel staff where I was going and when I expected to return.

This is not over the top. Military Police moved into Rio last August at the request of the city as police were losing control. The day I arrived in João Pessoa Military Police were in the middle of a gun fight in a slum area of Rio which had spilled over onto a main arterial highway of the city. It shut the highway for the day and locked down a chunk of the city as gangsters set fire to buses and cars to form barricades. Innocent bystanders were shot. Three gang members taken out. Roads have twice since been closed and just two days ago a three-year-old girl and  13-year-old boy were killed by gunfire – collateral damage. 126 military police were killed in a six-month period.

All kinds of crimes against persons have increased too and tourists during Carnaval are sitting ducks.

This won’t stop me trying to do what I came to experience, I shall just be as circumspect as I can and present a small, and hopefully uninteresting target.

I’m reunited with my laundry, now as clean as the day I bought the items, and am fully recharged for the next part of the sojourn, four days in central Brazil in the Pantanal, wildlife spotting. I still can’t sleep more than five hours at night. No matter, pre-dawn I read, write and muse on my experiences. Sleep will return eventually.

How’s this for a wash and fold?!

The bruises too will fade. I got a shock the first time I saw myself in a full length mirror. My left butt cheek is black and blue. I felt obliged to explain to the masseur, Lejer, that the bruises were self-inflicted. Adventure comes at a cost. I’ll happily pay the toll. On the plus side all that boat rocking and rolling loosened up my hips and low back and toned my core muscles more than pilates ever could. I am stronger and more flexible despite not having practiced yoga as I would normally. An unexpected reward.

Now I’m packed and ready to go bush!

Into the Deep Blue on Skyelark of London: Ship’s Journal Part Three – Saint Helena to Cabedelo, Brazil

6 Feb

This is part three of a Trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the 51 foot charter yacht, Skyelark of London with a merry crew of assorted international sailors.

The order comes down, report to Jamestown dockside at 3pm for a water taxi back to Skyelark to prepare for a 4pm departure from St Helena island. Skippers Dan and Em are already on board the tiny ferry waiting patiently. I pile on with backpack, clean laundry and a large bag of provisions, and shortly thereafter the rest of our mob arrive.

Once alongside Skyelark the crew climbs aboard. I pass up my bags. By the time it’s my turn to clamber up, the water taxi has moved past the step fender and I’m struggling try to climb out with nothing to step on to and little solid to grip. The blue gap widens and I’m about to fall between taxi and Skyelark into the drink, when Dan grabs me and hauls me aboard. In so doing he badly wrenches a shoulder. Not an auspicious start. I feel guilty about that for the rest of the trip.

We’re underway at 4:05pm and right on cue a pod of dolphins appears to see us off.

Skyelark is second of the fleet to depart, Arabella are eight hours ahead. All except Em and Dan are making for Salvador further south. The weather is fine and forecasts are good for our 1800 nautical mile north-westerly run line. The GPS is set for Joao Pessao, the most easterly point of the Brazilian coast. We’ll berth in Cabedelo Marina, up the Paraiba River, the final destination for Skyelark on this leg of the World ARC.

I hope Mum and Dad have spotted that I’m on the move again. I installed a yacht race data app on Dad’s ipad so they could track my progress and it seems like Mum has enjoyed following our little purple boat icon across the Atlantic. I did the same for my husband Stuart, but judging by my conversation with him on the phone from the Jamestown hotel, he hasn’t looked at it. I guess he’s too busy on our Broken Head house installation.

As the distinct shape of St Helena recedes into the distance I reflect soberly on all those who have passed this way before me, down through the hundreds of years sailors have been using this Tradewind route. There’s not much time to be philosophical though, our three hours on six hours off watch system is reinstituted almost immediately. This time I am paired with Sjaak and Hermann with Tim.

I have a different cabin companion too. The large, new spinnaker sail, fashioned in Cape Town, has been swapped for the small, old one and is now stored in its bright red bag on the top bunk. It’s a bother hauling it out, putting it up and stowing it away again. And it smells of off-gassing plastics.

On one occasion we go through the packing process twice back to back, as we’d changed the other sail set up. Stuffing it into its storage bag is quite a chore. Still, the boat’s motion is easier with a spinnaker up and we make better speeds, so I don’t completely dislike it. We shall just have to rub along.

The daily routine resumes the same pattern;  meal prep, watches, a daily brief cold shower, the 4pm fleet quiz, and sleep snatched whenever possible. A couple of days into this leg radio reception becomes too weak to continue the quiz as the rest of the fleet peels off to Salvador.

One day blurrs into the next and the distance to our destination ticks down until on night six we slip past 900 nautical miles, halfway to Cabedelo and three-quarters of the total trip is in our wake! This happens on the 6am watch so no one is in the mood for a celebratory tot of rum. It’s warm now, just one layer and a jacket at night and the sleeping bag is swapped for a top sheet.

No rum for the driver.

Nicest moments are clear nights when the stars look tantalisingly close. The crescent moon rises directly in our path, glinting between the two butterfly winged sails. It’s so bright it lights up the sea ahead and we glide over a trail of quick silver.

Last night I saw my first ever shooting star and made a wish. No prizes for guessing what it was, it wasn’t for myself. Next night one illuminated the starboard side of the boat, as though someone turned on a light switch. We found out later from another boat in the fleet that the white flare was actually the second stage of a rocket launched from French Guiana. What are the odds!?

Sunsets are hit and miss. There is usually a cloud bank on the horizon. Last night the sun disappeared into cloud and I was disapponted. Lo and behold over the next thirty minutes, the blue sky and snowy clouds slowly coloured the most wonderful shades of pink.

Other vessels are few, however some lurk about. One container ship could be seen by the naked eye. There is excitement when we spot a plane’s jet stream overhead. Sea life is confined again to flying fish. Happily fewer are leaping into the boat on my night watches. Dan’s fishing line stays empty. Twice a huge fish takes the lure. The second time it happens I’m brushing my teeth in the bow head. There’s a loud commotion and Dan shouts orders. Whatever is on the line is so big he calls for the jib to be furled. The fish breaks free with the lure. The score is fish two : Dan one.

Low points are the two further falls I’ve had, once again in the galley (damn slippery, timber floor) and once down the gangway, spraining my pinkie finger on my right hand as I tried to hang on. Next day I realise the pain in my left butt cheek is a haematoma. The boat’s motion is unpredictable, every so often it lurches suddenly to the left or right. Makes going to the loo interesting!

I am not the only casualty. On our second day out Hermann spent too long in the sun and became dehydrated. Dan diagnosed mild heatstroke. After 24 hours pushing fluids and resting between his watches Hermann recovered well.

The wind intensity is variable. In one watch it will go from light 10-11 up to gusts of 25. Sailing along with the smaller spinnaker up and Sjaak helming, a 26 knot gust came in. Like a rifle shot the sail ripped with a godalmighty tearing sound. All hands leapt to pull the sail in, but a torn piece escaped over the side and was dragging in the water. It was a fierce wrestle, but eventually we got all of it down below. Tim and I stuffed it back in its bag and that’s where it will stay until it gets recut.

When the wind drops below 14 knots, which happens frequently, there is a lot of sail flapping and mast crunching caused by wave action. The metal on fibreglass sounds make me flinch. It’s worse than nails on a blackboard. Time for ear plugs.

Yesterday I was in my bunk at 9pm when there was the most frightening, loud bang overhead. The main halyard (wire that runs up the mast) had snapped and the whole mainsail dropped from the top of the mast. If ever there was a demonstration of just how good Dan and Em are in a crisis it was then. Within 45 minutes a new halyard was rigged and the sail was back up, all with the boat pitching all points of the compass.

It’s often hard to keep to the rhumb line in these light, variable  winds so we do a lot of useless nautical miles on night watch just to keep the sails filled. Seas are less variable, with waves a mixture of big following rollers and messy white horses. There are no other vessels for days.Tim hard at work.

As we come into the tropics squalls and rain showers are frequent. It’s hardly worth putting a rain jacket on, the wind dries you off in half an hour.

The calm sea and windless state did deliver a bonus on day seven. Dan dropped the sails, put the ladder on the side of the boat and while Em kept the motor ticking over in case of a sudden change, the rest of us took turns jumping in and swimming beside the boat. The ocean is the most incredible cobalt blue when viewed from the water, the result of refraction from a thousand fathoms to the sea floor. A magical moment stored in the memory bank.

I marked Australia Day/Invasion Day by making a vegan cake with stewed apple, cinnamon and dates. Not sure where I went wrong remembering the recipe, but the result is much more damper or pudding than cake. My shipmates are very kind and eat it anyway.

For the final five days my watch partner is Tim. A diehard optimist Tim could put a positive spin on disaster. Unsurprisingly that’s been one of his jobs in PR. He’s much more chatty than Hermann and Sjaak, with a great stock of anecdotes from his years travelling for business and pleasure.

I have been in survival mode for the past two days. Again stupidly I thought that six days of Scopolomine skin patches would cover me until I adjusted to the rocking of the boat. Wrong…. Mal de Mer came back even worse and it took 48 hours to get it under control with Stugerone and a stronger oral medication as I was out of patches. Dry crackers were the only food I could keep down and even those made their way up at one point. Still, I kept to my watches and did my share of sail change work. The only concession I made was a request to not have to stuff the new spinnaker back into its bag in the cabin, a job I usually did with Tim. Dan knew my “..or I’ll throw up” was no idle threat. Since I can’t read or write and am poor company I spend an awful lot of time on deck staring at the horizon or flat out on my bunk. (Example of our log below)

The nadir was midnight watch on a particularly rainy, blustery night. I was wet, cold, sea sick and wishing myself on dry land. The longest three hours of my life, including childbirth. To regain perspective I reminded myself of just how puny was my complaint compared with cancer and chemotherapy patients who may suffer nausea for months on end. It worked.

Meanwhile the rest of the crew (sans Em) seem to have become obsessed with cooking, concocting elaborate dishes that create an awful lot of washing up. Sjaak and Dan compete to see who can produce the best desserts, conjuring up tiramisu (Sjaak), creme caramel, chocolate brownies and peach crumble (Dan). One night there was a choice of two puddings! Since I wouldn’t eat them anyway, even if I weren’t vegan, this is no loss to me. I do enjoy a slice of chilled rockmelon that has survived since Cape Town.

After rain look for a rainbow over your shoulder!

We’ve move higher into the tropics the temperature ratchets up every day. Day watches are dangerously hot as the shade of the Bimini shrinks to almost nothing. My temperature regulation relies on dousing my head and back with fresh water from the hose on the stern deck and wearing my big straw hat. Today I also wet a scarf and drape it around my neck and shoulders. Sunshine reflected off the water burns badly. I have to force the fluids down as my taste buds have changed and the boat’s tank water, a mixture of Capetown water and water made by the onboard desalinator, is unpalatable to me. An unnaturally red cordial helps somewhat. A lifesaver is the small fan above each bunk.

Our progress too has become maddeningly slow. Where once we could reliably predict 25-26 nautical miles per watch we now see it whittled down to 21 or even 19. And with wind shifts and stalls the true course is much less. A counter on the navigation program on the computer screen shows the distance to destination and approximates the time we will take. It seems an eternity for it to drop from 400 to 300 miles and where once it estimated three days suddenly it maddeningly stretched to four. At that point I nearly lost the will to live….

Today, hopefully with just 24 hours until we make landfall at Cabedelo, I’ve started to feel well enough to rejoin the human race. Tim made me crispy, vegan pizza for lunch (that man is a marvel) and I managed to read on deck. Sadly I finished Michelle De Kretser’s tour de force, ‘The Life To Come’. I love her surprising, inventive language, wit and empathy for her characters (‘Questions of Travel’ is brilliant too). So much so I’ve gone back to the beginning and started again. Never done that with a book before.

Birdlife has started to reappear and the pretty, translucent purple bubbles floating past every so often are revealed to be deadly Portuguese Man of War jellyfish. Two ships were picked up on night watch. Hyper vigilance returns.

Tonight will be the last meal I have to cook, hellelujah! Tim will fry the carnivores’ steaks and I’ll have the last of my falafel balls. It’s as hot as hades and the galley is a sauna, but there will be baked potato, roast squash, courgettes (Peter’s from St Helena) and carrots, followed by Tim’s signature bread and butter pudding. Tim cooks most of it. I would have opted for salad.

This trip has been the adventure I sought, albeit accompanied by considerable discomfort. Much of it could have been prevented had I brought sufficient Scopolomine skin patches. Lesson learned. Still, crossing the Atlantic Ocean without losing my $hit is something I can be proud of. And our wonderful three-day stopover in Saint Helena was a revelation, a picturesque, tiny island community with a wonderful historical tapestry.

My shipmates have been exemplary; relentlessly upbeat co-skipper Dan, and his endlessly patient wife Em, cheerful ‘Mr Wonderful’ Tim, quietly competent Sjaak, and our resident gentle giant, Hermann, with his sly, wry humour bringing a light touch to dark moments – thank you one and all.

Chef Sjaak making seeded rolls for the last lunch.

At 3pm boat time on January 31, 2018, in the final minute of our watch on the eleventh day, Tim calls “Land Ho!” from the helm. I have been sitting up the bow looking ahead and starboard for the low outline of the Paraiba coast. In fact I should have been spotting for clumps of high rise buildings portside!

‘Land Ho!’ beers for the men.

We’re prepping the boat for arrival when Dan hollers, “Dolphins, big dolphins”, from the bow. We rush up to the pointy end practically falling overboard with excitement. Bloody hell, these are monsters! Three times the size of anything we’ve ever seen, they’re the colour of concrete. Three of them samba in the bow wave and quick as a flash one does the ‘full body out of the water’ jump. I squeal laughing like a child. Another arcs out of a wave moments later. They dance around us for two minutes then disappear. Bem vindo ao Brasil!

Access to our parking place is tide dependent. Luckily we’ve hit the perfect moment and with Em helming and full main up we zig zag between channel markers. The deep blue Atlantic pales to aqua then the Paraiba River water is milky brown, but clean. I only see one aluminium can. So different to much of Asia.

It’s another 40 minutes motoring up river before we pull into Marina Village Jacare where locals help us tie skyelark up securely in the fast ebbing tide. The first party boat cruises by blaring out live samba music. We’ve arrived in Brazil!

Lyrics to “Moonlight Bay” As taught to me by Don Tickle

“We were sailing along, on Moonlight Bay,

You can hear the voices singing,

They seem to say…..

You have stolen my heart,

Now don’t go away….

As we sing love’s old sweet song on Moonlight Bay.

On Moonlight Bay…….”

Saint Helena: Sailors’ Salvation (Personal Journal Part Two – Sailing from Cape Town to Brazil)

3 Feb

(Part One of this journal.)

We blew into Jamestown like thousands of sailors before us, with the southeast tradewind at our backs, and our sights set on Jamestown’s diversions. And like most who’ve stepped ashore since St Helena was first mapped in 1502 by the Portuguese, we’re just passing through.

This originally unpopulated speck of an island, roughly 10 by 6 miles (10x17kilometres), one of the few remaining British overseas territories, formed from a ancient volcanic plug. Sheer cliffs rise imposingly from the sea with some folds that dip into deep gorges. 1700 nautical miles from Cape Town and 1800 from Skyelark’s next port of call, Cabedelo, north east Brazil, Saint Helena has fed and watered the famous and the infamous on the trade and slave route for centuries.

Temporary residents included political prisoners such as Napoleon Bonaparte for his final six years, 6000 Boer soldiers and generals captured in the war for the independence of South Africa from Britain, a sophisticated Zulu chief and his entourage, and more recently a couple of Bahraini royals.

I’ve jumped ship to take a brief holiday from Skyelark ashore in Georgian-built Jamestown. Three nights of flush toilets, a comfy bed that doesn’t move, and a hot shower whenever I want will be bliss. I’ll rejoin the rest of the crew for immigration clearance out of Saint Helena, but until then I can do exactly as I please.

From the little research I did the Consulate Hotel looked like the most suitable accommodation in Jamestown. It’s certainly the longest established, but why it’s called The Consulate, no one seems to know. The island’s official archives record the title deed changing hands in 1757. The sale price, 800 pounds, makes it the most expensive private dwelling on the island in that period.

I made a beeline on wobbly shore legs for the hotel and tried to find reception to check if they had a room. Reception was closed. A chap dressed like a farmer explained that Hazel, the owner-manager, was on a long distance business call and I should sit and wait for five minutes. Five minutes turned into ten, but it was well spent chatting on the airy verandah with Peter who turned out to be an actual farmer, originally from Devon. He seems to be Hazel’s right hand man, as after she had shown me to my room, an elegant suite overlooking the main street, she directed him to drive me to Annie’s Laundry at the top of town. Hazel had clocked me for a yachtie and decided that given my wonky gait I couldn’t possibly be expected to walk 200 metres up the hill.

The Napoleon Lounge, The Consulate Hotel

The drive, in Peter’s farm utility, gave me another opportunity to ask Peter about Saint Helena. As a relative newcomer Peter is forthcoming in his opinions of the decisions made by and for the island over recent years. During the course of my stay I learn that not only is he an experienced and well travelled sailor, he is a retired physics professor, originally at Oxford and more latterly South Africa. I gleaned that Hazel is from Botswana and bought the hotel from a local family ten years previously. Hazel is camera shy and dodge all my attempts to capture her lovely, expressive face.

Annie whisked my bag of laundry away and weighed it. For six pounds eighty they would wash, dry, fold and deliver it to my hotel next day. Now that’s service! (True to their word it appeared outside my door 24 hours later, received and paid for by Peter.)

Next stop was the smart, well staffed tourist office across the road. I collected relevant guides and information and booked into a tour of the British Governor’s Residence, Plantation House, for the next day. As Saint Helena has so few tourists the historic sites have limited opening hours. The long serving RMS St Helena shipping service (pictured below on its penultimate visit when I was there) is expensive (1200 pounds round trip to Capetown) and the much anticipated new air strip hasn’t delivered the tourist numbers they’d been promised. Only small aircraft can land. And with the service limited to a weekly flight from Windhoek, South Africa, tourism revenue can’t now deliver the economic boost they’d been hoping for.

Hazel helped me book a taxi guide for the next day. After a wobbly perambulation around the main streets of town, greeted with a smile and a warm “hello” or “good afternoon” by everyone I passed, I felt I had earned a nap. When I woke at dusk the streets were deserted apart from the two pubs at the top of Market Street. At one, The Standard, a single door in a nonedescript whitewashed building held the only signs of life. Patrons with drinks in hand spilled noisily out of the doorway, down the stairs and into the street.

But my need was food, not grog. The best bet for a vegan dinner was The Orange Tree, tucked away through an archway off the main Market Street. Promising Chinese and Thai food on an extensive menu I dined in solitary splendour on tasty Thai green curry. And so nice to eat from a plate at a table instead of from a bowl on my lap on deck!

Seven hours sleep straight through and with a cooked English breakfast under my belt I was eager for my half-day tour with Mr Hensel Peters in his small red taxi. Seventy-something Hensel is a respected elder on the island, evidenced by greetings from almost every person we passed. People born on Saint Helena are “Saints” and though they may go overseas for study or work, once a Saint always a Saint. Equally incomers are “Ex-Pats” and will always remain so.

Lower Jamestown on the harbour nestles into a gorge between towering cliffs. The only way in or out is via narrow, winding roads cut into the cliff face. Thankfully most sections have sturdy barriers and passing places. I remind myself I have survived worse!

Hensel drives us in a broad loop around the island from the unvegetated outer rim to the arid plain where the controversial airport has been gouged out of the eastern side. We continue past the nine-hole golf course and the green lawns of Napoleon’s final residence, Longwood House, and onwards, dodging stray goats, into the interior’s lush flax covered steep hillsides and rolling green sheep and cattle pasture lands.

I spot my first shockingly red Madagascar fody (credit to reader, Nick Warner, who corrected my initial identification of it as a Cardinal).

Hensel points out Deadwood Plain where the 6,000 or so Boer Prisoners, some only boys in their early teens, were interned by the British between 1900 and 1902. He indicates too Lemon Valley, temporary home to most of the 25,000-30,000 African slaves ‘liberated’ by the British navy from Portuguese slave traders hauling their human cargo to Latin America, mostly to Brazil during the period 1840 to 1874. It’s estimated 8,000 or more died and are buried in unmarked mass graves on the island. Victims of disease, malnutrition and God know what else.

The British in turn sent the fittest of the freed slaves to the Caribbean to work for the East India Company as indentured labour. Some stayed on the island and prospered. Their genetic heritage mingled with the Indian, SE Asian and Madagascan slaves who had been brought to the island by the British East India Company prior to the abolition of slavery. That story can be seen in many of the faces of Saints today.

A brief stop at the island’s 1850 Cathedral Church of St Paul’s, a tidy graveyard and church with both its doors wide open, brought the full force of the weight of white history to bear. This is the final resting place for many of the island’s notables, governors, East India Company officers, and too many infants and mothers lost in childbirth and on the way to or from the island.

The gardener stopped clipping around gravestones to greet me in the church. He apologised that it wasn’t looking its best. I assured him he was doing a marvelous job.

The appointment at Plantation House is for 11am. With ten minutes in hand I have time to admire the landscaping and gardens and observe Jonathon, the giant tortoise, brought to the island in 1882. Jonathon is now 185 years old, the oldest known living reptile on the planet. I find tortoises generally kind of creepy and Jonathon’s blackened face holds no attraction to me. Without anthropomorphising too much, he looks pretty dim. Certainly he has a good life, with plenty of lawn to roam, someone to feed and care for him and the company of three other younger tortoises.

But it’s time to ring the highly polished brass bell on the Governor’s door. House Manager, guide and proud Saint, Debbie Stroud, ushers me into an elegantly furnished hall waiting room and checks my name off the list. I am to wait for the other five visitors to arrive. Time enough to peruse the stern formal portraits of the British Royal Family lining the walls and to pet the Governor’s sweet-natured black labrador who pads through the house like he owns the place. The House was built and rebuilt several times, first by the British East India Company and then from1834 for the bemeddled ranks of serious looking British Governors. The current house dates back to 1792.

When our group finally assembles Debbie leads us on an exhaustive tour of all the rooms apart from the present Governor, Lisa Phillips’, bedroom and dressing room. Governors are appointed by the Crown for three-year terms. Lisa is the first female Governor. An energetic 59-year-old she has surprised the islanders in many ways, none more so than by becoming engaged to a younger local policeman. Their wedding will take place in Plantation House in March. We round off the tour with coffee and biscuits in a small garden room converted for this purpose.

Lisa introduced this full house tour. The ten pound charge goes wholly to a fund for St Helena community projects. The current one is a university scholarship. Respect Lisa.

When Hensel drops me back in Jamestown I’m itching to visit the town museum (free entry!) in an 18th century building. The museum answers some questions but raises more. I’m especially intrigued to see a portrait of Dr James Barry with a note to say he/she was stationed on the island as army doctor from1834-1836. A museum volunteer offers a little more information about her/him but the logical next step is to see what they hold on Dr Barry in the official archives in The Castle, the Government’s administrative centre.

A pink folder of newspaper clippings and excerpts from offical reports and letters tells me that in summary, a female teenager, took the identity of James Barry and was accepted to train as a doctor in Edinburgh, graduating in 1812. This makes her the first female British doctor. In the following year she qualified as a surgeon in London. She/he is described as five foot tall, slightly built, with a fair complexion, a long nose and wavy, red hair. Dr Barry served with distinction as a Colonial Medical Inspector in Cape Town for ten years, and Surgeon to the Forces in Mauritius and Jamaica. In Cape Town she performed the first successful caesarian section in Africa and only the fourth in the world. Three generations of sons are named after her/him. In St Helena she was best known for her progressive medical practices and outspokenness which ruffled many conservative male feathers.

She served with distinction all over the British Empire and rose to the rank of Inspector General of Hospitals.

When I finally get web access I learn Barry started life in 1789 as Margaret Ann Bulkley in Ireland

It was only upon her death due to dysentery aged 70, when she was being laid out for burial, that the woman attending her discovered Barry was a female and reported it to the authorities. To avoid embarassment the British Army suppressed that information for a century. Couldn’t make this stuff up! Hollywood should bring her fascinating story fully to life.

The evening’s diversion is a stair climb up Jacob’s Ladder for sunset drinks at Rosies’ Restaurant on the deck organised by World ARC. Built in 1829 as an incline plane to haul animal manure up and fresh produce down, it was adapted to carry people up in a box too. The donkeys who did the pulling were put to pasture when the ladder was converted to a staircase. Their progeny live in a donkey sanctuary inland.

699 steps straight up would be a challenge for anyone and I am sweating and panting when I reach the top. The Museum creates a personalised certificate for two pounds fifty for people who complete the stairclimb, adding their self-reported time. Sadly I have nowhere to put a paper certificate, but I did proudly take a snapshot of the timer on my phone. 14 minutes and 15 seconds.

I have concerns for the yachties walking down after their sundowners. One stumble and you’d be cactus. I found it amusing that most local people rarely if ever use the stairs. They must love watching the tourists heave themselves slowly up the cliff. I stay up at Rosie’s for dinner, an excellent black bean burger and fries.

Next day I join the rest of Skyelark’s crew, plus a couple from Solo, for an excursion to Diana’s Peak, at 823 metres the highest point on the island. Our transport is provided by Mr Robert Peters and his clapped out minivan. He explains that although he had the van’s radiator repaired it still overheats with heavy loads (like us). Sitting next to him I watch the temperatue indicator steadily creep up to maximum. Just when it looks like it’s going to boil over we reach a tableland and the temperature starts to drop.

From our start point at Cabbage Tree to the peak is lush with vegetation. A knife thin ridge top presents panoramas, however we arrive to stubborn clouds at the summit obscuring the hoped for 360 degree view of the island.

Mr Robert Peters

From our start point at Cabbage Tree to the peak is lush with vegetation. A knife thin ridge top presents panoramas, however we arrive to stubborn clouds at the summit obscuring the hoped for 360 degree view of the island.

Completing the up and back trek swiftly leaves time for Robert to show us the western part of the island, more pastureland and an impressive fortification. Robert’s commentary is amost non-stop.

His own proud family history is bound up in the boom-bust cycles of several of the island’s economic projects. After just five years schooling, aged fourteen, Robert went to work in the flax mill for the next five years. When that industry folded he turned his hand to many jobs, both in St Helena and during a stint in the UK with his young family. All three of his adult children have good careers. His eldest daughter is CEO of the most significant company on the island, Solomons. At 82, with three knee replacements behind him and well-managed Type 2 Diabetes Robert has no plans to retire from his guiding job.

He was especially chuffed to tell us his mother turns 100 very soon. She will receive a letter from the Queen and a reception by the Governor at Plantation House.

Solomons’ current leadership duo. #womenontop

I shop in Solomon’s supermarket for scarce vegan food supplies (fresh food and some other items are scarce, it all depends what the ship brings in and who gets to it first). I then post a card to my parents and another to myself to remind myself that I really was here. St Helena’s highly collectable stamps are one of the few recession-proof industries on the island.

After a final visit to the Archives to speed read Theale’s two volume thesis on St Helena’s history, public works and architecture, I sip my one and only cup of real, island grown St Helena coffee (they don’t grow enough to scale up) at the waterfront Coffee Shop kiosk. Sitting under an umbrella watching primary school kids jump, skip and hop through interval training around the basketball court next to me I ponder what the future will hold for them. The vast majority of the kids are slim, fit and every shade of complexion from pink to ebony.

The rest of my time on Saint Helena goes too quickly. The final World ARC social is pizza and music is hosted by the Saints’ yacht club and I gather the festivities went on quite some time. I was happily tucked up and snoring!

I have been wonderfully cared for by staff at The Consulate and feel much better equipped to handle the demands of the next sea leg to Cabedelo, North East Brazil.

Saying farewell to Peter, Cathy and Hazel brings a pang of regret that I can’t stay longer to do more walks around the island and here more stories. With typical islander generosity Hazel presses a bag of small, fresh courgettes (from Peter’s farm) and a nine-pack of green olives on me. Cathy gifts me a small, soft, stuffed bear sporting a red and white St Helena jersey. Peter insists on driving me down to the dockside as I’m now loaded down with supplies, laundry etc..

Cathy! (Above) and with me with the husband of Empress Josephine (below).

I hope with all my heart that prospects for Saint Helena’s economy look up soon. The 4,800 islanders, especially the next generation deserve their shot at prosperity.

You may be wondering why I’ve said nothing about Napoleon Bonaparte, the island’s most famous resident. Whilst I appreciate the civil improvements Napoleon made in France and his institution of the Napoleonic code, I believe he receives too much attention and credit for expansionist war mongering. For every hit there was a miss and a huge body count. And when I found this quote attributed to him I liked him even less. “We Westerners have spoilt everything by treating women too well. We are quite wrong to make them almost our equals. The Eastern people have been much more sensible.” Napoleon Bonaparte

One Perfect Sydney Weekend: Flamenco, Friendship and Sailing

14 Nov

It might not be for everyone, but for me the combination of an intense long weekend flamenco dance workshop amongst friends, followed by an afternoon of blue sky sailing on Sydney harbour is bloody hard to beat.

Andres Peña Moron just completed another sucessful three-city teaching tour of Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. This was his fourth Australian visit and Sydney turned out in strength to study Bulerias, Jaleos and Tientos with the best maestro from Jerez.

Can you guess who is who? Stuart left and Andres right.

Damian Wright, the phenomenal Sydney-based flamenco guitarist who heads up Bandaluzia, played for the classes which flamenco artist, Jessica Statham, organised at the Spanish Dance School in Stanmore.

Left to right Jessica, Damian and Andres

I hadn’t seen some of my classmates since Andres’ first Brisbane workshop so there was a lot of catching up to do. I also forged new friendships in the sweat of the dance studio. When egos are removed, as happens when called on to dance solo to Andres’ singing, barriers come down too. There was a lot of love and laughter in that room.

Three sweaty flamencas post Jaleos L to R Alessandra, me and Jocelyn.

Andres was also on fine form. He has much more English at his command now than when his sum total was ‘My people’, ‘Very possible’ and ‘I love you’. Some of his new expressions had us in stitches.

As you can see from the photos above our dinner party was a flamenco talk fest!

Explaining how to rescue yourself from coming in too early in the Bulerias remate/close Andres urged us to ‘keep them (the moves) in your pocket’. And a neat remate break he taught us is ‘pure gold’. When we reached a tricky step in jaleos he offered us ‘Plan A and Plan B’, i.e. the easy and the less easy sequence.

It’s only been a month since I broke the fifth metatarsal on my right foot so I was uncertain how long I could cope with dancing in flamenco shoes. Luckily jaleos was scheduled first. I could tolerate dancing for an hour and half, then changed into daggy Birkenstocks for Bulerias.

Given that I expect if I ever dance bulerias por fiesta it will be at a party, not a performance, flamenco shoes would be redundant anyway. I did get the last laugh on Andres when he invited me to dance solo and quipped about me wearing stinky sandals. I immediately kicked the ‘stinky sandals’ off and danced my pataita barefoot, gypsy style, and did rather well I thought!

After eleven hours of flamenco and a fond farewell to Andres and friends we were ready for something completely different. On Friday morning we’d walked to Sturrocks chandlers at Rushcutters Bay to buy gear for my 2017-18 World ARC passage Cape Town to Brazil and gawked at the gorgeous yachts at the marina. I suggested Stuart try to book us a day sail on the harbour for our free Monday prior to the evening flight back to Brisbane. He duly did.

We arrived at Darling Harbour early enough to see Kay Cottee’s exhibit at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Kay is my female sailing idol. In 1988 at 34 years of age she became the first woman to circumnavigate the world single-handedly, unassisted and without stopping.

Her world record 189-day sailing feat has been replicated many time since by younger female sailors, but no one comes close to Kay in my eyes. Remember, this was pre-GPS, pre-satellite phones, pre-mobile phones. Paper charts, instruments, radio only. Just let that sink in.

We were able to board her 11.2 metre yacht, First Lady, preserved exactly as it was when she entered Sydney Harbour 29 years ago. Her first mate, Teddy, sits in the cabin and family photos still line the galley.

But there was no time to tarry over the other exhibits, we were due on the water ourselves. Sydney By Sail runs daily afternoon trips from dockside at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

We were the only guests today so Skipper Neil, a charming Englishman turned Aussie, let us helm the 31 foot Dufour yacht. The weather could not have been better. Neil managed the exit and entry to the berth, but Stuart took us out just past the last green bouy before you get to Sydney Heads proper and I sailed and motored her back in. Sailing past the Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.

Being a Monday few boats were about, just the regular ferries and water taxis. We waved ahoy as we passed an obvious ‘round the world’ yacht with seven children and two women aboard. I’ll bet those kids have some stories to tell!

By coincidence I discovered in chatting with Neil that the owner of the sailing business is preparing his own yacht to participate in the 2018-19 World ARC starting from Darwin in September. We’re now in touch and will be swapping experiences down the track. The flamenco family and sailing fraternity make our blue planet seem a much smaller place!


(Just a reminder, this is not a commercial blog. I pay to keep it ad free and do not receive discounts, contras or freebies, ever!)

To follow Andres Peña Moron you will find him on Facebook or get in touch with me through the comments section. He and Pilar Ogalla, his wife and dance partner, will premier a new work at the Festival de Jerez, on March 3, 2018.

Bandaluzia promotes their gigs and recordings here

Australian National Maritime Museum Free entry to the permanent galleries including First Lady exhibit

Sydney By Sail

Yots Cafe next to the Maritime Museum do a speedy, tasty, vegan pizza and pasta

An update about Sailing Hall of Fame yachtswoman, Kay Cottee

World ARC

Sturrocks Chandlery at Rushcutters Bay is a boaties’ candy store