It seemed too good to be true. Ahead of us was the unforgiving coastline of Atlantic Portugal with its steep cliffs and deep ocean canyons. Yet for the next six days, the forecast was one of mild-mannered seas and gently cooling evenings. The notorious Nortada, the wind from the north that had us double checking the diesel in our tanks in order to brutally bash our way to windward, seemed to have left on vacation. Like the angelic girl of your high school dreams, momentarily still available to join you on the dance floor, timing was critical. Fresh from our land pursuits, we hopped back onboard Sea Rose and exited Marina de Cascais, pointing our bow almost exactly north on the ship’s compass to the first safe harbor of Peniche. We didn’t want to show any disrespect to the weather gods for handing us this unexpected gift.
It didn’t take long before Cabo da Roca, that westernmost point of continental Europe that we had seen by car, to first come into view. My worries about the treacherous rock-strewn shoreline full of whipped up white water were all for naught. You could practically water ski on these benign ocean scapes.
Before Karen and I dove deep into the sailing life, we’d frequently jump in the car and take to the road. Our adventures took us to stunning vistas in California’s Sierra Nevada, the Pacific Northwest, and all throughout the Northeast of the U.S. As beautiful as these excursions were, I’d find myself yearning to eventually find a watery overlook – sea cliffs, a lake, even just a mountain stream. There is something mystifying and transformative about the water. The sound it makes over pebbles or beach stones has the power to settle the most anxious mind. Sitting at the ocean’s edge, the water serves as a portal to another world; floating across the sea, there is nothing separating you from experiencing an entirely different culture and geography – whether you go there or it comes to you. On a road trip, I love these context switches.
Similarly, as much as we cherish our adventures at sea, full-time life onboard can at times feel a bit monochromatic. So, every once in awhile, we park the boat and head inland. With the long, skinny geography of Portugal, it is hard to go too far away from the sea, but still there are a lot of fantastic sites to visit.
With the warm Atlantic waters lapping at its door step, no city quite captures the essence of southern Spain like Cadiz. Aromas waft up from sidewalk-busting cafes leading to hundred year old trees shading cozy neighborhood squares. Majestic coastal fortifications once built to ward off marauding intruders now wrap pedestrians in a warm embrace, perched as they are high above the din of the city. Residents and Spanish tourists alike walk as if guided by deeply embedded cultural cues, as they seek out the most direct path to a siesta sponsored beach afternoon, towel and umbrella in tow.
I recognized very little of a city my parents insisted we visit on a quick vacation to Spain many decades ago. With only a handful of years under my belt, I remembered the name Cadiz, but painfully little else. Such is the curse of family trips with young children. Paradoxically, we struggle to remember now, cursed as our brains are with little room to store a lifetime of memories.