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We have spent the entire month since the last blog post in Sardegna, except for the last couple days, and a short trip by Birgit to Germany early in the month. A bit different from our normal cruising, where we’ve allowed ourselves to slip into thinking of Serafina as a means to get from one place to the other. In Sardegna, we were already where we wanted to be, and found ourselves happily in “vacation mode.” And what a pleasant place to do it!
You may have noticed that Sardinia (in English) is spelled Sardegna in Italian. It might prove useful, someday, to know that the “gn” in Italian is exactly equivalent to the “ñ” in Spanish. Anyway, enough language minutia. Sardegna is a wild, beautiful place. Very sparsely populated, it’s half the size of Sicily -which is pretty sparsely populated itself – with less than a third of Sicily’s population. Cagliari is the biggest city, with a population of around 154,000, Sassari follows with 127,000, and it drops off rapidly from there, down to tiny, isolated towns of a few hundred people – one of which has offered to give away houses in an effort to convince people to move there.
Sardegna is rocky, mountainous, and usually quite dry. Not a lot of agriculture, and even less industry. Many people leave the island to spend part of their working lives in areas with stronger economies, and as a result real estate is very cheap. The positive side of all this is that a modest life-style is the norm, at least away from the beaches, and people find a way to live in beautiful places, using local produce and meats, with time for their neighbors.
Most of our time was spent in and near the La Maddalena National Park. It’s up on the northeast corner of the island, just across the Bonifacio Strait from Corsica. It’s a windy area, with the extended effect of the Mistrals bringing winds of thirty knots or more on a weekly basis. But the many small bays provide secure places to anchor, the beaches are beautiful and clean, and the park is very well managed. You have to buy a permit to cruise in the area, and the funds go toward a robust park management. It’s reminiscent of Washington State’s San Juan Islands, but managed as a park.
The first bay we stayed in was home to a very active summer camp/sailing school and it was fun to watch the kids out in dinghies in some pretty stiff breezes. After the fourth time we got hit while sitting at anchor, we decided to move to a less entertaining bay.
We greatly also enjoyed the bays south of the Maddalena Park. Pure summer fun, swimming, cooking at anchor, reading and catching up on sleep. Only once did we row in to a shoreside restaurant for dinner. After that the summer season sticker-shock reminded us how much we enjoy our own cooking,
The two high points of the month were the small, one-car train we took into the interior from Arbatax – called the “Green Train” – and the 175-mile sail from Sardegna back to Sicily, where we arrived yesterday.
The train trip itself was a treat, a reminder of what train travel must have been like long ago – the windows opened, kids stuck out their arms to try to snatch leaves as branches whipped by, and no one shouted at them to stop! But what about the insurance if some kid breaks his arm??!! Apparently not a problem – and they’ll learn an important lesson…
From the final station, a very small town, we took off on our own to try the climb up to one of the “Nuraghe” – the prehistoric stone structures built some 2,000 years B.C.E. by people whose culture and identity vanished in the subsequent ebb and flow of history. It turned out to be about a seven-mile round hike, with a 500-foot gain in elevation, including some mistaken turns. But well worth it!
On the train trip we saw a lot of cork oaks. I had mistakenly thought that cork production was pretty much exclusive to Portugal and Spain, but Sardegna is a noted producer, my friend Pete pointed out. Interesting to note, in this time of intense and sometimes tragic wildfires, that the cork oak apparently evolved its thick blanket of bark to protect it from the heat of fire. We passed through several areas where everything over three feet tall was charred and dead – except for the cork oaks, which were also charred quite black, but green above and still growing well. No one “farms” cork oaks, and the bark is apparently harvested by free-lance specialists who wander the forests looking for bark at the right stage of development. A different sort of job, where the harvester will have to think, “Well, I’ll have to remember to come back to that tree in three years when it’s ready…”
The second high point of the month – our 37 hour trip across the Tyrrhenian Sea – featured a full eclipse of the moon, the longest in a century, and we got to watch it all – no city lights to interfere. Hard to photograph, though. But beyond the eclipse, the sea was the lovely, clean, and calm. Except for one little patch about a hundred meters in circumference, we, amazingly, saw no plastic trash, no empty water bottles, no signs of that foul plague of single-use plastics. A handful of ships came within view, but mostly we watched dolphins herd their catch, we saw four sea turtles, and the blue, blue sea. At one point it was 17,000 feet deep beneath us.
The blue is not a reflection of the sky, but is the color of water itself (which, of course, is the same reason the sky is blue). The more water, the more intense the color, illuminated by constantly moving beams of light focused by the concave and convex lenses of the waves on the surface.
Now we’re in Trapani, Sicily, preparing for our next crossing to Hammamet, Tunisia. After all the mega-yachts and fairly intense tourism around Maddalena, it’s a treat to be back in Sicily, where things are a little rougher, a little more real, and way cheaper. The boatyard next to our dock here provides a great insight into the difference.
(photos by Birgit and Syd)