Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Sailing Trip

This post is LONG overdue. And it's going to be lengthy. So get yourself a glass of rose and get ready. Or skip straight to the pictures.

Sometime near the end of June, I was down by the lake drinking rose and suntanning with Bhav and Annie and some other friends, and Bhav's friend Anjali's boyfriend Markus came along and stopped by to chat with us. The next day he sent a message to invite us on his catamaran on Lake Geneva in the afternoon. So the 4 of us sailed around the lake on this baby cat for an hour, which was really fun. He was telling us about a sailing trip he was planning beginning July 5, to go between Mallorca and Ibiza, Spain, for a week on a 10-person catamaran. Unfortunately there were still 2 places on the boat which were not full and the trip was 2 weeks away.

Something started buzzing up in my brain. "Well, give me the info...maybe I can go." I said.

The fact that I have never been sailing and that it was with 9 random people kind of scared me at first. But then I kind of looked at it with the same philosophy I had when I was considering Switzerland. What's the worst than could happen? I get seasick? Everyone is mean? I would still get to see beautiful beaches and get a tan. Plus Bhav knew some of them, so it was like having a referral (I found out later they included me partly for the same reason). So I decided that not really knowing the people was a stupid reason not to go, and the other thing I was worried about (missing work) was an even more stupid reason, so I decided to go for it and ask for the vacation. I was supposed to go to Greece the weekend before and it ended up the flight was cancelled. So I saw this as a sign that instead I was supposed to go on the sailing trip. Right? Right.

Overall we were 2 Germans (Markus, the Skipper, and Voelker), 1 Swiss (Carola) , 2 French (Youcef and Flo), 2 Canadian (Anj and Sherrie), 2 American (Greg and me), and one Polish (Agnes), 6 girls and 4 guys, ages from 24 to 40. It was like a little floating UN. Or a week long version of Real World, Semester at Sea. All I knew was that I was flying into Palma, sailing to Ibiza, and at some point sailing back to Palma to fly home. And also that I had probably packed too much.

There were 6 of us who flew out on July 4th, which happened to also be Greg's birthday. Random small talk was made at the airport and on the way to the hotel. Later we met up with the rest of the crew in an area of Palma that had somehow been transformed into a pub-filled street in Germany. We ended up going into this bar called Uberbaynen where one half of the bar played techno and the other played traditional German songs. Guess which side was 10 times more popular? Markus translated some of the songs for us, my favorite of which had a chorus which went "I'm a doner kebab, I have an onion on my head." Next thing we were all sharing one of those fishbowl type drinks with long goofy straws and belting "Country Rooooooads." Yep, I pretty much knew from then it would be a great trip.

Saturday morning we took a bus to Porto Colom, which was where we were picking up the boat. We sat in 100 degree heat and tried to figure out how to buy food and drinks for 10 people, for a week. Of course there was always someone who wanted apple juice, not orange. Whole milk and not "lite milk." But overall everyone was pretty flexible. Being the accountant, I was assigned the task to track all the money for the trip and promptly collected 100 EUR from each crew member. Then me, Voelker, Greg, Youcef and Flo headed to the grocery store. 50 liters of water. 60 cans of beer (lasted for less than half the trip). 6 bottles of rose (gone by Weds). 3 kilos of tomatoes...387 euros later, we were headed back to the boat to stock it and get ready to leave. Markus gave us all a very detailed safety lecture and showed us how everything on the boat worked. There was a spot for everything and all sorts of nifty things like all the sitting areas were actually the cabinets.

I am sure you want to know. How did one shower and use the toilet on the boat? Well there were 2 bathrooms (SMALL), one of which had a shower. To use it, you just basically sprayed the water around the entire bathroom. So no one used that one. There was another outdoor shower on the back of the boat. To use the toilet, you had to bring in water by pumping this handle 10 times. Then you would turn a switch and pump another 10 times to "flush." It worked fine, but I will just say that the crew took advantage of every minute we were in port to use the "land toilets."

Around 4pm, we set sail from Porto Colom. We sailed for about 3 hours and then anchored near a nice beach for a swim and to make dinner. We had a stove and oven on the boat, so it was fairly easy to cook (when we were anchored of course...while sailing, even making a bowl of cereal was difficult). I didn't do very much cooking (or cleaning, or anything), but everyone was very helpful. It seemed that everyone took turns with responsibilities, and there were never any arguments about who was supposed to do what. After a nice spagetti bolognese and waiting for the sun to set, we picked up again and started sailing through the night towards Ibiza. This was to be done in 2 hour shifts (Skipper let me sleep through mine, so I never had to do anything).

There were 4 cabins on the boat which were very small. As there were 3 couples, then 2 other girls who roomed together, Greg and I had the last room. What this meant for the trip was that at any time one of us had the room all to themself and the other one would be sleeping outside, which was really nice since the beds were so tiny. So the first night, I slept in the room. But it's not so easy to sleep on a boat when you are not used to the rocking motion. Or the fact that my room was under the captain chair so I heard everyone walking about that was sailing. Or the fact that the freaking MOTOR was right next to my head. I think I slept about 2 hours.

At 6:15, Markus rose the crew to watch the sunrise. I emerged from "down below" to a rosy-blue sky, with nothing else around. No boats, no land. Just our Gemini and the sea, and then after about 15 minutes, a bright red sun. Less than 24 hours since our sailing had started and already an incredible memory.

I have to say that the trip was a bit of a blur. Not because I was TOTALLY WASTED which I know is what you all are thinking (maybe, I was a little wasted at times). Just because...well, you wake up everyday to a clear blue sky and a clear blue sea, and you have some breakfast, and then you think, hmm, which sunscreen do I put on? Where should I sit on the boat for the next hour? Do I want to read a magazine or nap? And meanwhile we sail around to beach after gorgeous beach and then sometime in the afternoon we start to drink and then anchor at a another nice beach or cozy port and watch a sunset. And then repeat it for a week. No one ever knew what time or day it was, and no one really cared (ok, maybe Markus cared because he had to keep us on course and was checking the wind and crap like that). We had music but obviously no tv or anything like that. It was really difficult to be so relaxed and do NOTHING. But I got the hang of it after...I think about 1 day. Anyway, I will not go into so much detail about each place we went. You can see the pictures (there are a total of 1800 which were taken by the crew - I have condensed them). Everywhere was gorgeous and perfect. I will just go through some of the many highlights while taking you through the rest of my week.

After Sunday's sunrise, there was napping etc until we anchored at a nice beach for a swim. That evening after over 1 day of sailing, we checked into port (don't ask me the name - I think it was St Eularia or something like that). I had MAJOR land sickness. Everything was moving so much - especially when I used the nice port shower and leaned over to get my shampoo. Whoaaaa!! Also at dinner, I had to practically hold on to the table. I was so happy when we got back to the boat. Totally bizarre. Incidentally, I did not get seasick on the trip, but I did feel a bit sick at times. Anytime you were sailing and you went inside the cabin...everything was moving around SO much, and it was so hot...it was awful. So I was inside the boat for as little time as possible, less than 1 hour per day (and I was usually up at 9 and in bed around 1...or later...) Also there were these "seats" on the two front hulls of the catamaran that would kind of "surf" up and down on the waves. This was my favorite spot on the boat. You would think that you would get totally seasick, but maybe because you were moving even more with the water and all you could see was water, which basically just looked all the same...at least for me, it was perfect. At times we were in big waves, and it seemed like the cat was going to fly out of the water.

Other things about the boat while I'm thinking about it...there was this awesome hammock type thing in the front where you could lay and get a suntan and underneath you, hear the waves and occassionally get a splash. It was SO nice, and I always fell asleep there. Come to think of it, that was maybe my favorite spot. Also, we didn't sail very much. We had the sails up for part of the 12 hour trip each way between Mallorca and Ibiza, but most of the time we were using the motors, because the wind was either blowing the wrong way or not fast enough. It was really nice and peaceful with the sails though. I drove the boat for an hour or so when the motors were on....it's hard. So most of the time we were also on autopilot.

Ok, back to the trip. On Monday morning, we had a nice brekky and left port to sail to a nice beach (like I said...you repeat). I think at this point we were in Formentera, but I'm not entirely sure. We anchored and made lunch, swam a bit and afterwards, a group took the dinghy to shore, where there was a nice Shark bar serving caiprainhas and pina coladas and that sort of thing. We hung out there for a bit, jumped back in the dinghy, at which point, the motor broke, and we had to paddle to the boat (as we approached the boat, it started working again - go figure). We left this spot, and sailed for a few hours to a completely natural beach. Nothing there except sand, palm trees, and of course...naked Europeans sunbathing! Come on, of course they are! Fortunately there weren't too many, because they let it ALL hang out. Really.

At this beach, there was a mud lake which Markus led us to. It was a huge lake that reeked of sulfur, and had a thick salt crust on top. Markus sold it by saying that afterwards, our skin would be baby soft. Then he promptly stripped and sat down in the mud, happy as a piglet in a pen. "Come on," he said, "It's really perfect!" Some people followed his lead while others of us maintained our bathing suits, but nevertheless proceeded to get completely covered. Afterwards, we strolled down to the sea, no doubt scaring all the small children we encountered on our way, and swam around in order to wash off the mud. It totally worked for my skin by the way!

We played around on the beach while the sun was setting and then headed back to the boat (me, Agnes and Greg swam back). For whatever reason, maybe it was the mud, it ended up that Monday night - day three, I would like to remind you - was the craziest night on the boat. Me, Anjali, Greg, Voelker, Markus and Agnes were up quite late drinking, chatting, generally acting stupid (see the photos). The night ended with everyone jumping in the water, then getting out, then Greg puking, then me sleeping outside on the boat which was really nice until I woke up the next morning with a massive headache and had slept next to all the booze bottles. Classy, I know. So how did I cure my hangover? I immediately jumped in the water, of course.

Because Monday night was pretty late for most of the crew, Tuesday was a fairly calm day. We left our nice beach spot around noon and sailed back to Ibiza (this was the time when I drove the boat...I think). We stayed that night at a port in San Antonio, which is I guess the big city in Ibiza. All the big clubs and everything are in the area. I agree that Ibiza does have a big party scene (and far too many annoyingbrit tourists, in my opinion), but I also saw a ton of families there and chill couples. And it's GORGEOUS. So don't rule it out.

Tuesday night we went to the famous Cafe del Mar to watch an amazing sunset over a beach packed with tourists. The sun was so red that it looked like it would blow up. We had some more drinks at the cafe and then tapas for dinner, but decided against going clubbing until the following night. Probably a wise choice, considering Wednesday we spent walking around the city.

Did I mention how hot it was on the trip? It was en fuego. I think it was +30C everyday, and I wore 50 sunscreen on the boat for the first part of the trip (totally got made fun of, but what I didn't get, my friends, is wrinkles. so there!). On the boat, you have the sea and the breeze to take off some of the heat. But in town...blazing. No wonder everything shuts for siesta, because I think it is seriously dangerous to be out and about in that. I was feeling pretty lousy when we got off the bus into town - absolutely exhausted and SO hot. I went to lunch with Carola while some of the others decided to hike up to the top of this cathedral. The lunch was pretty awful, and I was feeling progressively worse. Finally, I was really shaky and felt like puking, and had to excuse myself. I felt so awful, although the walking helped. I found an oasis - an airconditioned jewelry store. I hung out in there for about 15 minutes until my core temperature returned to normal, then got a popsicle and big water, and I was much better. Better enough to do some shopping for a few hours and then head back to the boat!

We didn't go out to dinner, but instead just snacked on some remaining boat food and got ready to go out. Around 1245 me, Anji, Greg and Agnes left for two nearby clubs. It ended up that we got into the Eden for free (cover is normally 40 EUR) which was awesome. We didn't really drink, partly due to the expense, but also because we were sailing back to Mallorca the next morning. Hangover + 12 hours sailing = really bad idea. Instead we danced our pants off. The music was so good and really fun. We went across the street to Es Paradis just to see it, which was terrible, at least that night, so we went back to the Eden and stayed there dancing until...5am! We were setting sail at 6am, so what to do for an hour, since sleeping was obviously pointless? We wandered into town and natutally went to KFC - popcorn chicken in Spain is soooooo not the same - and went back to the boat to wake up our skipper. We helped Markus to prepare the boat and took off. Some of us had some late/early morning beers while watching the sunrise over some cliffs. Then around 730am, I went to bed.

Thursday was a lot of napping due to the night before and the fact that there wasn't much to do for 12 hours. We dropped anchor around 6pm near another beach close to Palma. We made dinner on the boat and watched another beautiful sunset. That night was supposed to celebrate my birthday, but everyone was too tired. Around 1am, I watched the moon set into the sea and curled up in my sleeping back on the back deck of the boat.

"Wake up!" was the next thing I heard. Markus and Anjali had woken up to go lay in the nets at the front of the boat, and Markus came back to get me to see the sunrise. I sleepily wandered to the front of the boat and laid down in the smaller net. The sun had risen for about 15 minutes already and was glowing yellow right in front of the boat. It was beautiful. "We ordered it just for your birthday!" Markus said. I tried to keep my eyes open, and contemplated getting up to get my camera, but in the end, I was too tired to move. I closed my eyes and felt the warm sun on my face and thought how lucky I was to have a sunrise like this for my 28th birthday.

I woke up again around 9 when we were sailing to a beach back towards Porto Colom. It was very secluded and had the most fish of anywhere we had seen. The water was crystal clear, with amazing turquoise and azure colors everywhere we went, but it was really funny to see all the fish at this area. Youcef had the brilliant idea to start feeding them the bread from the boat. I was floating around on a raft and suddenly, fish were jumping everywhere. Next the whole bag went in, which brought literally, a huge school of fish that was just swimming around all of us. It was totally weird but also hilarious.

We sailed back to Porto Colom where Markus had to "park" the boat under the worst conditions of the week (wind blowing the wrong way) and not only that, but he had to essentially parallel park it. It was really amazing how much he knew and how well he handled the boat and the responsibility of being the skipper. We went to dinner in port that night for my birthday and drank sangria and ate yummy fish. The crew surprised me with a cake and singing Happy Birthday, which was really sweet. It was so funny to think that a week earlier, I didn't even know these people and now, we were celebrating my birthday together like old pals.

Saturday morning we woke up early and walked 30 minutes to the bus stop, with our bags, only to find out that...there was actually a stop RIGHT next to the port. Oops. The rest of the day was spent walking around in Palma and sightseeing, eating some really good gelato and tapas, and then going to a really cool bar at which I unfortunately kept falling asleep, despite the vodka limons the crew kept feeding me.

And then Sunday morning, we flew back to Geneva. And voila!! That was essentially, the Sailing Trip. Probably one of the best weeks I have had here, if not in my entire life.

So if you still have some free time on your hands, you can check out the pictures now to get a real feel for what it was like!