Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spain 4

The end of our stay on Mallorca has arrived and we are in the process of packing for our short flight to Alicante. Our five-week stay flew by, as always, but we packed a lot of exploration into the trip and feel as though we know the island quite well by now. It's a beautiful spot and perfect for outdoor activities - we'd highly recommend it.

Although most of the kittens disappeared in the end, including Molly, we ended up with three adult cats who visited us daily and spent the evenings in our house, eating and lounging on the comfortable chairs. The one pictured below was named "Precious" by Elise, and the two of them would snuggle in the evening before bed, much to her delight. We'll all miss them.



As the final week drew near, we made a list prioritizing the hikes and areas we wanted to visit across the island. High on this list was a traverse of the rocky ridge pictured behind Pam and Elise. It featured a number of striking rock towers and looked like an exposed, adventurous objective. We waited for a nice day, packed our gear and headed out. Much to our surprise, the weather began to deteriorate as we neared the ridge and we could see a storm cell in the sea to the north. The forecast had been for perfect, stable weather so I didn't know what to make of this. We continued up onto the ridge where we watched, with horror, as the cell blew straight toward us, coming hard and fast. To make a long story short, we dashed for a cave and spent the next two hours huddled inside as it poured with rain, hammering the rock all around us. We made a small fire, which Elise found very exciting, but we eventually ran out of dry fuel.

When the rain finally stopped, we bee-lined it back to the valley bottom - a technical rock scramble along the rest of the ridge was out of the question on the rain slickened rock. The day turned out to be an adventure all right, but not the one we had bargained for. Regardless, it's these kind of experiences that seem to stick in our memories. The event-free days often fade...

Luckily, sunny days filled the gaps between the storms and we took full advantage to get into the water. Elise and I brought "shorty" wetsuits on the trip, which allowed us to swim and snorkel in colder waters. On one day, we returned to our favourite beach near Alcudia and found moderate storm swell making it's way into the bay. We had an inflatable air mattress and Elise "surfed" in the shore break for at least half an hour. She had an absolute blast riding the waves, and we all enjoyed watching her wipe out in the foamy water. Everyone was laughing by day's end and Elise now thinks she wants to try surfing!

Look closely for the arm...

As promised, Pam took Elise to the caves near our village and they both had a great time. The guide led them on a one-hour tour of an amazing underground cavern. Pam, who's been in quite a few limestone caves over the years, claimed it was the most amazing she'd ever seen. There were 20-foot long columns as thin as a pencil, amongst other amazing features. Elise couldn't stop chattering about it upon their return.

A few days later I took Elise to the Palma Aquarium and we, too, had a nice adventure. Elise enjoyed the company of a young girl who spoke English and the two looked at many tanks together before playing outside in the park afterward. The one exhibit that really stood out for me was the shark pool. It was huge and housed a number of massive nurse sharks that swam within inches of your face. Elise loved the touch pools and the stingray pond outside. The weather cooperated perfectly.

For our final week, I unearthed some information about a secret climbing spot on the island and managed to find it on a solo reconnaissance mission. The crag was very impressive and in a beautiful location. I was disappointed I'd not discovered this area earlier, but after chatting with the locals, it seems as though much of the climbing in Mallorca is on private land with very tenuous access. Understandably, they keep these cliffs to themselves. After the locals' surprise at seeing me at their secret cliff wore off, they gave me a grand tour which was greatly appreciated. After weeks of climbing in solitude, it was nice to finally meet some of the Mallorcan climbers and hear more about their local challenges. My only disappointment was that my body was not in better shape to fully take advantage of the amazing routes.

For one of our last major hiking excursions, we chose the highest accessible peak on Mallorca, Puig Massenella. The day was perfect - cool and windy - and we covered the 12 km of trail up and down the mountain in about 5 hours. It was a fantastic hike that awarded us with great views and a broad summit plateau that allowed us to choose our own route. We were all exhausted by day's end and relaxed at the cafe in the col near the trail head with some hot chocolate and sweet "churros" (deep fried dough covered with sugar).

Our final two days were very blustery. On the first, we asked Elise what she'd like to do and she chose to tour a restored castle on a hill above Palma. The lower level housed a museum dedicated to Palma's history and the upper level had restored castle rooms, much to Elise's delight. She's really into make believe right now and wandering the narrow hallways and huge rooms was very interesting for her. We all enjoyed the views of Palma from the upper level - they were magnificent.

Our final day dawned clear and cool. We had planned to do a hike to a small village and have lunch, but at the last moment changed our minds. Instead, we headed out to Cap Formentor, the most impressive part of the island, and climbed a small peak called El Fumat. The hike was relatively short, but provided incredible views of the sea and the northern tip of the island. We sat on the summit for about half an hour, soaking in the fall sunshine, munching on cookies and taking in the view. After hiking back down, we headed straight for the Formentor beach so Elise could have one final play in the sea before we left Mallorca. The water was cold, but we all braved it.  Elise really loves the beach and the chilly conditions didn't seem to phase her.

We returned to our house for a casual dinner and then went to the town square for a final evening stroll. This turned out to be a noteworthy choice as we all joined in an impromptu soccer/football match with the local kids after dark. The exercise felt great and Elise had a grand time rushing around the square, however her ball handling skills leave much to be desired.

Our time on the island hasn't been without incident, but we've banked some great memories.
Adios Mallorca!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Spain 3

We are nearing our final week in Mallorca, and the weather is becoming more and more unstable. Despite the heat, I think we've been fortunate to have had a couple of weeks of sunny weather, which allowed us to thoroughly explore the beautiful beaches and coastline. Storms are now rolling through on a regular basis which has improved the temperatures somewhat, but the swimming has become a bit hit or miss. Luckily, Elise has now decided she loves (!) playing in moderate storm surf, so blustery days still provide much entertainment at the water. Not a year ago Elise was terrified of waves, so this is a big step forward. Hawaii, home of the huge wave, should prove interesting at Christmas

We spent a day hiking to Platja des Coll Baix, the lovely beach pictured below. The afternoon was glorious and I snorkeled far along the coastline. My best sighting was a large eel snaking in and out of a hole in a rock shelf and I studied it for some time. Elsie enjoyed the snorkeling, too, and was delighted when she and Pam discovered a moderately sized octopus lurking in a hole near the shore. She loves to be the first to find something of interest, and excitedly waved me in on my way back to the beach. We all studied it for some time, and when I got too close it reached out and grabbed my fin! It was shockingly strong and there was true resistance as I pulled my foot away.

On another note, we've discovered there's no such thing as a designated "nude" beach in Mallorca. They all seem to be nude beaches to some degree and it's not uncommon to see people, young and old, strip completely naked and stroll across the sand to go for a swim. Platja des Coll Baix had a greater element of this, likely due to its somewhat remote location. We find it curious - Elise doesn't bat an eye...

Our house remains our sanctuary, which we return to after each day's adventure. It's got some idiosyncrasies, but we've got no major complaints.This is the view down our street to the front door. Our house sits one short block below the town's main road, so it's a tad quieter than the other homes.

The view of our back porch, where we eat outside when the weather is dry. It's a very peaceful place to eat and enjoy the surrounding countryside.

There are a lot of lizards around, which keep the bug population at bay. We've enjoyed watching them catch insects while we dine outside at night. Pam found a rather large specimen in our bedroom, though, and we decided we weren't super comfortable going to sleep at night with it roaming the room. Amazingly, Pam captured it (much to Elise's delight) and we released it outside. No harm done.

Rainbow over Campanet as seen from out back patio.

Elise doing her morning homework in the kitchen. Pam directs all the away-from-home learning and Elise writes in her journal each day chronicling her experiences in Mallorca.

Cats seem to mysteriously appear and disappear around here. We don't know why, but fear they live short, dangerous lives. A few of the kittens Elise had "adopted" suddenly stopped showing up, and now she's found a new friend, "Molly". This cat is a little darling, and we hope she remains "around" for the rest of our stay. Elise loves cats, especially kittens, and they remain a very prominent highlight of our stay here. Isn't this one sweet?

We journey into Palma, the big city, for a lunch and exploratory walk. We enjoyed the sights, but both Pam and I agree cities are not really our "thing". They're busy, crowded and we typically get lost. We seem to have much more fun exploring the villages and countryside, both in the car and on foot. However, the food in the cities is often very worth seeking out, and we enjoyed the "house platter" (a typically Spanish lunch selection) pictured below at a small cafe. Elise loved the homemade blueberry jelly and ate eight pieces of bread to go with it! She is not a very adventurous eater, unfortunately, and we have to basically trick her to try the simplest of new foods.

No lunch would be complete without dessert. This place came highly recommended and we all enjoyed homemade ice cream (almond and vanilla), sponge cake and hot chocolate. Yum!

A view of Palma's main cathedral during a brief break in the day's storms. We went inside, but were limited in our exploration due to a fiesta related service that was taking place.

On another day, we visited the medieval village of Arta in the northern part of the island. We enjoyed walking the narrow streets and picking delicious grapes from the many wild vines

A large truck BARELY squeezing between a parked car and the adjacent buildings. This is a common occurrence in these small villages. The drivers are amazing!

We climb every second or third day, depending on the weather and our bodies. Here, a climber scales a 7c+ route in El Museo, a super steep cave that's not in the guidebooks, unfortunately.

Elise and I sheltering in a "bar" she made at Fraguel. She served us lunch items and created a menu and a sign to the washrooms, which she hung in a bush.

The menu beside the sign for the "bar". See if you can read the food items. From the top, they are "chocolate, kiwi, an M & M, orange, water, rosemary crackers, nuts and chocolate cookies". You certainly can't say she's not adventurous when it comes to her writing!

Elise climbing the start of a 6c+ at Fraguel. She wanted to try because of the stalactites, et cetera. We thought she was quite ambitious for jumping on this steep climb.

Me climbing a very nice 6b+ at Gorg Blau. A German fellow belayed me while Pam took pictures.

Our climbing is periodically interrupted by days of wet weather, so we shift gears. One "iffy" day, we decided to do a hike up Puig Tomir, a great excursion that had been recommended by a friend of ours at home. This hike would be similar to hiking up the Chief in Squamish, and the views from the top were equally spectacular. It was a bit cloudy, but we could still see most of the island from the windy summit plateau. Elise did a great job, as usual, and enjoyed fondling a large Mallorcan beetle on the way back down the approach road.

There is a traditional glass making factory near our village and we went for a tour the other day. Unfortunately, the factory was closed, but the glass shop was open and Elise got a hand-made glass horse as a souvenir from Mallorca. If she doesn't break this before we got home, it will be a miracle. We hope to go back to the factory next week when we will be able to take a tour and watch them blow the glass.

The unsettled weather does make for brilliant sunsets, like this one over the houses beside our back porch.

Ten days to go in Mallorca! A trip to the Palma aquarium and some underground caves is on the agenda for the final week and Elise is very excited about both. We have secured accommodation in the village of Sella near Alicante Spain for our final four weeks and are starting to plan activities and adventures for the second half of our trip.

Marc, Pam and Elise