Farewell 2022 Sailing Season

After a couple of lovely nights in one of our favorite marinas (Preveza Marina), we headed to the swing bridge in Lefkada to while away the rest of our season in the southern parts of the Ionian.  Our first stop was Ormos Varko where we met some new American friends that Dan had been talking to in online sailing groups for close to a year.  We joined Steve and Emily on their boat for happy hour and had a great time getting to know them.  We spent several days anchored in the bay.  It’s  usually one of our favorite swimming spots, but unfortunately the outside temperatures had finally started to cool off making swimming not an overly appealing idea.

A few sleepless nights at anchor coming up!

Our next stop was Vlicho Bay, a favorite hidey hole for storms.  However, you might remember that we got hammered in this bay last year by strong winds and ended up losing our dinghy to a puncture wound.  We opted to anchor here for a few days in order to explore the town of Nidri (another one of my favorites) and pick up a new guest.  Dan’s friend and colleague from his civilian Navy days happened to be in Italy, so he flew over to Preveza to join us for some time on Zoe.  We decided to rent a car and go pick him up at the airport so we could take him to some of our favorite spots (the olive oil museum, the Lefkada winery, and the town of Vassiliki).  Before heading back to the boat, we stopped at our favorite spot (Tom’s Sea Side Restaurant) for lamb kleftiko on the beach at the water’s edge.  Yum!

My friend Mark – a coworker from 20 years ago!
Enjoying some of our favorite Lefkada spots
Visiting a local winery
Beachside reunion dinner

The next day, the 3 of us were under way to the island of Kastos.  Mark enjoyed a swim in the beautiful bay that we had all to ourselves.  Afterwards, we headed around the point to town and hoofed it up the hill to the windmill bar for some cocktails and a sunset view over the sea (and Zoe, of course).  Since we wanted to show Mark as much as we could in the short time he was visiting, we headed out the next day to an anchorage we had never been to called Mytikas.  Once we had Zoe securely anchored, we headed into town for a walk and some exploration.  We wandered through the streets of this quaint little village before eventually stopping at a seaside taverna for an ice cold beer.

Underway to Kastos
Dropping anchor in a bay we had to ourselves
Visiting the Kastos Windmill bar
Dinghy ride back to Zoe
Some local Mytikas sites
The Mytikas beachfront

We had been enjoying a run of really nice days, so wouldn’t you know, it was time for some nasty weather to come through.  We decided to try the ne in Lefkada to ride out the weather.  At first, the owner of the pontoons tried to shoe us away.  Then, for some reason, he had a change of heart.  He and his helpers escorted us to a spot and told us to tie up side to.  Nobody was tied like this, so we felt a little awkward (especially as boats came in looking for space, and we were piggishly taking up 40 feet/12 meters of dock).  We wanted to hang a huge sign that said that we were told to tie this way!  The guy had wanted us this way because in the last big storm that came through, his charter boats and the dock all dragged because of the windage on the sides of the catamarans.  This way, our bow and stern were in the direction of the wind.

Zoe tied up 90 degrees opposite to everyone else

We showed Mark around Lefkada and that evening headed into town for Dan’s birthday dinner.  While talking with the owner of the restaurant, she told us that the weather system coming through was forecasted to be really bad and included tornado warnings.  Tornado warnings?!?  You have got to be kidding me!  I am glad we are not at anchor, but now I don’t want to be on a boat period!  Not even a half hour later, everyone’s phone went off with that severe weather alert…..talk about scary.  Well, it did get very windy, and there were thunderstorms…..but no tornadoes (whew)!  The next day, we discovered that Steve and Emily were docked on a different pontoon down the way from us, so we invited them for happy hour on our boat.  We had an awesome night of stories and laughter (and way too much wine…but hey, we are safely docked so that’s ok).  Unfortunately, Mark would be leaving us soon, so we decided to stay on the pontoon since this was the closest point to the airport while staying south of the swing bridge.

Dan’s birthday dinner

We left Lefkada the day after Mark disembarked, and made our way to the island of Ithaca.  Our time was rapidly winding down, so this was as far south as we would go this year.  Unfortunately, another round of strong wind was headed our way, and we would not be protected in this particular bay.  As a matter of fact, both the islands of Ithaca and Cephalonia were going to get blasted by this system.  So, guess where we went?  Yep, back to Vlicho.  The wind came as predicted….gusting to 30 knots, but Zoe’s anchor held like a champ.  Needless to say, it was a sleepless night between the howling wind and making sure Zoe stayed put.  In the end, we spent 6 days here growing barnacles….but we had lots of fun.  We spent hours walking, went to a Greek night at a taverna with dancing and plate throwing, and found a new favorite place for lamb kleftiko.

Vlicho anchorage on Lefkas
Traditional Greek dance performance
Robyn armed with a plate to celebrate Greek style
Plates went flying!

We were now a week away from hauling Zoe out of the water.  We wanted to be somewhat close, so we headed back through the swing bridge and into the inland sea.  We anchored outside of a seaside village called Vonitsa.  We walked the town and then headed up the hill to the remains of a castle.  It had great views and was fun to explore.  At one point, we came upon a turtle on it’s back frantically paddling his legs in an attempt to flip over….not happening.  Dan graciously gave the guy a helping hand and put him right side up.  

Visiting the town of Vonitsa
Exploring the Venetian castle ruins
Castle view of Zoe anchored in the bay

We spent two nights in Vonitsa and decided it was time to move on.  We headed back north to a series of little islands (more like rock formations jutting out of the water).  There was no one anchored here.  This was not surprising since the depth was only 1.5 – 2 meters….we draw 1.3 meters, a little unsettling to say the least.  We got ourselves settled in and were treated to sea turtles and dolphins cruising by.  That evening, we decided to do a BBQ on the beach.  What a great way to end the season.  The swell came in during the wee hours of the morning sending us bouncing all around.  This made both of us a little nervous because we were anchored so shallow (we were worried that our rudders might ground out if the swell got any bigger).  We pulled up anchor and headed for Preveza Marina.  We spent 3 days here beginning the process of shutting Zoe down.  A week of rain was in the forecast, so it was important to get the sails down so they could be stored dry.

Visiting a deserted island
Dinghy to the beach for some fun
Grilling up some food for a senset BBQ dinner

Haul out day had arrived, and with it, pouring rain!  Every single year we’ve hauled out, we’ve been plagued with pouring rain.  This year was no different.  Luckily, it came without wind.  Last year, the wind was so fierce the marineros had to assist with their high powered dinghy to drag us off the dock.  So, Zoe is now on land, and we are hard at work getting everything stripped, cleaned and put away until we return next season.  We have come to the decision that we are ready to leave Greece behind and explore new horizons.  Our plan next season is to do a deep exploration of Italy, Sicily and Malta.  They say boats and plans are written in sand….haha, but that is our goal for next season.  Stay tuned next season for some new sights and adventures (finally)!  As always, we will be back in the off season to share some new land adventures.  Thanks for following along with us!

Robyn checking out the day’s specials in the Taverna kitchen
It always seems to rain on the day we haul out Zoe!
Robyn making end of season repairs
Stowaway kitty!
Zoe in her winter slumber

That’s a wrap for 2022!

145 nights in the water

1089 miles covered

37 nights at anchor

30 nights in a marina

47 days in the US in the middle of our season

Longest passage 171 miles

5 overnight passages

Arrivederci Italy!

As planned, we departed Licata and headed for Marina Ragusa.  We don’t typically spend a lot of time in marinas, but we were very curious about this marina.  We have seen a lot of debate on our sailing forums discussing whether the marina in Licata or the marina in Ragusa is better for living on the boat during the winter months.  Sicily is the warmest spot in winter in Europe.  We wanted to do our due diligence and visit them both to decide for ourselves (who knows, we might want to spend a winter out here).  They were both very nice marinas, but Ragusa was our favorite.  The marina sits on the edge of a very touristy beach town which meant we had miles of a lungomare (seafront boardwalk) that we could walk.  This was lined with lots of restaurants and bars along with beach chairs and umbrellas.  Definitely a beautiful and vibrant seaside town.  We decided to rent a car and head to the actual town of Ragusa to check it out.

Zoe tied up in Marina Ragusa.
Sand sculptures on the beach at Marina Ragusa

The town of Ragusa sits high up on a hill and is famous for it’s Baroque style of architecture (it is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Adorning the city is the Duomo di San Giorgio, a number of beautiful churches, and a large public park with a church, fountains and statues.  The city is flanked on either side by two deep valleys which offer amazing views.  I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

UNESCO town of Ragusa high in the hills
Strolling the beautiful park
War memorial in the park
Ragusa is surrounded by valleys. Very defendable location back in the day.
Shopping for unique Sicilian treats in town
View of the Baroque cathedral

After thoroughly exploring the town of Ragusa, we headed to our next stop, the town of Modica (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Unlike our last stop, Modica rests at the bottom of a deep gorge.  Just like Ragusa, Modica is known for it’s Baroque architecture as well.  One of the most beautiful examples of this was the Cathedral of St. George.  Modica is known for a 400 year old tradition of chocolate making, and the streets are lined with chocolate shops and tasting rooms.  There is even a chocolate museum.  Of course, we had to check out the museum!  In the museum, it explains all about the chocolate making process, but the really interesting part is all the artwork and sculptures are made of…..you guessed it, chocolate!  Since Sicily was once part of the Spanish kingdom, they were one of the first places in all of Europe to receive treasures brought back from South America (namely, Cacao).  Their chocolate recipe, methods and flavorings are based on the Aztecs method of chocolate making.  We wandered into one store and were overwhelmed by the number of flavors of chocolate you could buy.  They had flavors of various alcohols and liqueurs, various kinds of herbs and spices, fruits, and more!  It is a very different kind of chocolate in that it is mainly made with cocoa and sugar and mixed in a cold-working process.  They add no fats.  It contains only the cocoa butter that is naturally found in the cocoa beans.  By using this cold process, the sugar crystals are kept whole which does give it a rather grainy kind of texture.  So, Dan and I had a little bit of fun picking out a variety of flavors (did I mention there were 100’s to choose from).

Ornate church in Modica
Believe it or not you can eat this statue of chocolate
Marilyn Monroe in cacao!
Chocolate factory, Italian style
So. Many. To. Choose. From!!!
Strolling Modica with a pistachio cannoli.
Another fabulous church in the center of Modica

We left Modica for our final stop in the town of Scicli.  This was a lesser known town than the two we previously visited and also sits in a gorge.  The town is overlooked by a towering rock where the Church of San Matteo sits.  This town is also made up of Baroque style architecture.  Unfortunately, we had reached mid afternoon and the temperatures were soaring.  Plus after walking miles and miles, we were hot and tired.  We wandered around a little bit, and then headed off to a little restaurant built into the stone hill where we enjoyed an authentic Sicilian appetizer and a glass of Prosecco.  All in all, it was a very fun day!  I am in love with this part of Sicily.

Unesco town of Scicli – third stop soon the Baroque town tour
Every corner you turn it’s just beautiful
Late lunch in a cave in a hill
Back to the boat with chocolate booty

This was the end of our exploration of the south side of Sicily.  There really wasn’t much else to see (by sea, anyway) on the southern side.  It was time to start making our way back around toward mainland Italy.  Our next destination was the town of Syracusa.  Since it was a very long passage, we broke up the journey with an overnight anchorage along the way.  We also felt a very strong need to scrub the hulls of Zoe.  After sitting in the Licata Marina for 2 months, Zoe had grown a disgusting beard of algae, plant life and barnacles…..ewwww!  Not to mention all this growth was slowing down our speed through the water.  Let me tell you, scrubbing that crap off was hard and gross.  The crystal clear water became clouded with debris, but Zoe looked a lot better.

Entering historic Siracusa harbor

The next day we pulled into the anchorage outside of Siracusa.  We had a crackin’ good sail almost the whole way down.  Unfortunately, it was blowing 25 knots in the anchorage when we pulled in.  This made anchoring extremely challenging.  It sets the anchor really fast, but trying to get the 5 meter bridle onto the chain and dropped before the anchor chain ripped our bowsprit off was not fun!  It required Dan to motor full throttle forward just to hold us in place.  With that done, we sat down and rode out the blow in very choppy water.  Not fun.  We made arrangements the next day to come into the marina.  It was suppose to be blowy again, and it’s a long dinghy ride to get to the town if you are out at anchor.  Given the waves and chop in the anchorage, there was no way we were going to dinghy to town.  We had friends from Canada meeting us here.  They had come sailing with us in Croatia last year, and they had picked up their new catamaran in April in France.  Our paths finally crossed here in Sicily.

The next morning, we pulled into the marina and were somewhat disappointed to see that they were going to park us on the outside of the pontoon.  At the time, there were 2 other boats here as well.  The marinero helped us secure the boat all the while assuring us that it was perfectly fine.  We ended up with 4 lines from the seabed to our bow (usually only two….that probably should have been alarm bell number 1).  We then had 2 stern lines and 2 mid ship spring lines.  If that sounds like a lot of lines, it is!  We must’ve looked a little uneasy because he kept assuring us that everything was good, and the wind would be gone by 7 p.m.  I’m sure you see where this is going.  The winds came up fast and furious as the waves crashed into and over the dock.  The anchorage would’ve been safer, but at this point we could not even get off of our boat to cast our lines and go.  We were stuck riding out the most wicked wind and seas while tied to a dock.  It was miserable, and we became the photo op for every boat safely tucked inside the marina.  Did I forget to mention the two boats that were on the dock had left a long time ago?  We were suppose to meet our friends for dinner at 8:30, but it was impossible to safely get off our boat because the wind did NOT die down at 7:00.  As a matter of fact, we were not able to safely get off our boat until 9:30!  So, we met up with our friends and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the beautiful town of Syracusa.  I think the marina felt sorry for us, so the next day they moved us to a very nice spot INSIDE the marina.  Here we spent 2 glorious days safely tied up and free to come and go off of Zoe.

This is not what the marina promised us!
White caps while next to a dock. Not a great feeling. But we made it through!

Syracusa is definitely one of my favorite spots on the eastern side of Sicily (Taormina being also a favorite).  Not far from the town itself is an amazing archaeological park of both Greek and Roman ruins.  It was about a 25 minute walk to the park where we explored miles of incredible sites.  I will let the pictures do the talking for this bit.

The ancient Greek theater of Siracusa
Theater is on the left….ancient skyboxes on the right?
Romans built there own theater for gladiator style performances
Marble quarry next door to the theater
Wandering the beautiful grounds of the Archaeological park

Thanks to some new American friends we made in Albania, we learned about a local street market in town.  We LOVED this market.  Not only was there an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, but we found fresh fish mongers, cheese makers, sausage makers, a variety of local products, and huge stands of herbs, seasonings,  olives, and sun-dried tomato spreads.  We loaded up on lots of goodies and returned again 2 days later to load up some more!  As most cities in Italy, Syracusa has a beautiful Duomo in the center of the city.  We loved wandering the cobbled streets of this beautiful city.  We also enjoyed a couple of nice dinners in town with our Canadian friends as well as a really fun night aboard their boat with snacks and wine…..lots and lots of amazing French wine.

Happy hour onboard our friends boat anchored nearby.
When they do after dinner aperitifs in Siracusa they do it right!
Wandering Siracusa duomo by night
Church in Siracusa Duomo
Artist painting Sicilian pottery

After returning from the street market Monday morning, it was time to get underway.  The weather was starting to take a turn for worse around mainland Italy and across the Adriatic (our route back to Greece).  We said farewell to our friends and began our overnight journey from Sicily to Crotone.  We were very much looking forward to seeing our Italian friends again and spending some time in Crotone.  Along the journey, I spotted several young sea turtles (I say young because they were not very big) and some dolphins on the hunt.  That always makes these long passages more fun.  After 28 hours of beating into the wind and waves, we decided to drop anchor for the night and get some rest.  We were still about 3 hours from Crotone, and we would’ve had to try and anchor in the dark.

Buying unique Sicilian spices at the street market
Dolphin sighting! And what a jump!
Sunset near Mount Etna as we head towards the Italian mainland
Dropping anchor at Capo Rizzuto on the mainland

That night, we reviewed several forecasts and discovered that the weather had worsened and wasn’t forecasted to change for a week.  Since that is as far out as they forecast, it could’ve continued for longer.  We were forced to make the painful decision that the next day was our best window of opportunity to get across the sea and back into Greece.  This meant no visit to Crotone or Otranto which were high on our list of “must see again!”  One minor problem…..we were required to turn in our Constituto upon leaving the country (this is a document that tracks where we have been in Italy).  Closest port authority to turn in said document….Crotone….3 hours out of our way.  We agonized over the idea of just leaving and not turning it   In, but the fear of being banned from coming back to Italy or receiving a hefty fine weighed heavily on our mind.  So much for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we got up at 5:00 a.m. to do the right thing.  We got to Crotone, anchored outside the harbor, and Dan went in to return our Constituto and pick up some Sardella and fresh fish.  We were back on our way at 10:00 a.m.  This leg of the journey would take us from Crotone, Italy to Preveza, Greece (a 30 hour passage)!  The seas were calm (yeah!) but that meant so were the winds (boo), so we had no sailing….all motoring….hello big diesel bill 🙁  Dan and I followed our typical pattern of 4.5 hours on and 4.5 hours off.  In my attempt to get better at not getting stuck with most of the night shifts, I managed to land myself the 11:00 to 3:30 a.m. shift.  Unfortunately, the moon rise was really late on this day, so my shift was in pitch black.  I hate pitch black!  I could not see the horizon….could not see where the sea ended and the sky began….ugh.  However, the stars were beautiful, and I did get to see a shooting star.  I also got to see the moon rise which was spectacular!  At 2/3 full and bright orange, I watched as it arose from the depths of the dark sea to cast a beautiful glow across the water to Zoe.  Ahhh, much happier now.  Well, sort of.  I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep or not enough water (or both), but I ended up with a wicked bout of vertigo which lasted for 2 days.  At one point, I thought one of the hulls must be taking on water because the boat was tipping to one side.  Turns out, it was not the boat….it was me.  Yikes.  I suffered through my watch and was very grateful when Dan relieved me.  Not to mention, the sweet man let me sleep a couple of hours past his shift in the hopes I would feel better.  I did not 🙁

Moonrise on Robyn’s watch
Sunrise is always the best part of an overnight watch!

At 5:30 p.m., we arrived in Preveza, Greece.  We are safely sitting at anchor and will head into the marina tomorrow to ride out some wicked weather due to start Saturday night and make for an all day, nasty Sunday.  It feels good to be home, but I do miss Italy a lot!

Safe passage from Italy to Greece. Time for Greek Ouzo!

Sailing Interruptus

It’s hard to believe we finally made it back! The trip back to the US was as painful as we expected, but luckily we gave ourselves plenty of days to get home. To briefly recap, we made the journey home back in mid July for my son’s wedding and to finally close on our new home. The wedding was held about 2 hours north of where we live (Phoenix) in a mountain town called Flagstaff. This is a great place for a July wedding in Arizona since it is about 20 degrees cooler (-11.1 degrees Celsius cooler) than where we live. The ceremony took place in the forest among the pine trees and was absolutely beautiful. It was a spectacular weekend of fun with family and friends. About 10 days later, we took possession of our new home. We ended up staying in Arizona a few weeks longer than we initially had planned in order to try and get somewhat moved into our home. In the end, we managed to get most of the way moved in, but there is still a lot more to do when we finally return for the winter (ugh).

Proud mom presenting her son for marriage
Beautiful ceremony in the pine forest of Northern Arizona
Now presenting the McCulloughs!
Move day at the new house we built. Had our grandson along!
A local kayak trip with some friends before heading back to Europe

August 27th arrived, and it was time to make our way back to Zoe.  The chaos of summer travel in a post pandemic era had not let up, and I was dreading making this trip yet again.  We ended up flying from Phoenix to Chicago (arriving at midnight) and spending the night before catching an early morning flight to London Heathrow.  We arrived in London around 11:00 pm and then had to take an hour long Uber ride to Gatwick Airport, where we spent another night.  Bright and early the next morning, we caught our flight to Catania, Sicily.  We made it out of the airport only to discover that we had missed the bus to Licata by 5 minutes.  To make matters worse, they had cancelled the next bus which meant we had to sit at the airport (on a concrete bench) for 2 hours before the next bus.  Since this now put us in rush hour, our 2 hour bus ride took closer to 2 hours and 45 minutes.  We left the US Saturday afternoon and did not arrive to Zoe until Monday evening.  Needless to say, I was not a very happy person when we finally made it back to Zoe.  Hopefully, the journey home at the end of October will be far less painful  🤞.

Well, now that you are all caught up, let’s resume our journey in Sicily.  Since we arrived in Licata with little time before our departure, we decided to spend some extra time here and do a little exploring (plus we had our spot in the marina paid until September 6th…..why let that go to waste?).  The marina here is quite nice.  There are a couple of restaurants onsite, a supermarket within walking distance, and the breakwater is constructed in a way that provides an excellent (and very popular) exercise route.  About halfway down the breakwater, you will encounter about 20 cats and a cat condominium (I kid you not!).  Okay, so I don’t really think the little trailer is strictly for the cats, but we aren’t entirely sure who the little trailer belongs to.  The cats are definitely inhabitants, but I’m pretty sure they are not the ones responsible for the empty beer bottles.  Since it sits perched over a fish farm below, we theorize that it’s more of a watch station for someone (I can only imagine the way it looks inside with all those cats running around 🤢).  If you walk in the opposite direction, you will find one of the tallest lighthouses in Europe and a beautiful monument to the fallen and missing Italian sailors at the port entrance.  Just beyond the port, there is a huge expanse of beautiful, sand beach and a large swimming area nestled inside a reef.  Unlike cat alley, this area was home to lots and lots of stray dogs.  One in particular decided to befriend us for our entire beach walk.  Ironically, when a couple of barking dogs charged towards us, our little buddy barked back, and they turned around a left us alone.  I guess he advised them that we were okay people…..haha.

One of the tallest lighthouses in Europe.
Cat sanctuary…there were so many!
Breakwater cats of Licata
A statue to safeguard the local fisherman

A few fun facts about Sicily in general…..it is the biggest and most highly populated island in the Mediterranean.  It is also one of the hilliest and most mountainous parts of Italy.  Interestingly, you will find a tremendous amount of Greek influence here in Sicily as they founded many of the coastal cities which still exist today.  As a result, there are some incredible, well preserved ruins of temples, theaters and monuments left behind from ancient times.  Okay, enough of the history lesson.  There is a method to my madness.  I tell you all of this as a precursor to our latest excursion off the boat.

A 45 minute drive outside of Licata brought us to the hilltop city of Agrigento, home to the Valley of the Temples.  We spent several hours wandering the vast archaeological site which is home to many well preserved Greek temples.  In an effort to not bore you with too much of a history lesson, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Valley of the Temples
The sights from antiquity were amazing
Exploring the ruins
Last remnants of an ancient Toga party

After thoroughly exploring the grounds in the blazing, hot sun, we headed off to our next excursion.  We drove through the town of Naro where a castle sits upon the highest point.  Here, we found breathtaking views of the valley below and the sea just beyond.  We did not spend a lot of time here since we had an appointment at a local winery for a tasting and lunch.  We arrived at Bonsignore Vineyard where we were greeted by the owner.  He and his wife had basically sold up everything to buy the vineyard and accompanying villa.  They had renovated the villa as their home and over time, have plans to create rooms for guests to spend time in the vineyards.  We began our adventure in their courtyard where we were treated to a tasting of 3 of their wines.  Each one was quite delicious (and award winning).  We were then able to choose a bottle to accompany our luncheon.  The lunch was also spectacular.  We experienced 4 or 5 different courses made of local, organic ingredients specific to the region.  After our extremely filling lunch, we wandered out to the vines where we learned a little about the grapes, their progression from vine to wine, and had a little taste straight off the vine.  Since we were the only 2 at the vineyard, it was really a unique and special experience.  In case you were wondering…..yes, of course we bought some bottles of wine to bring back to the boat (and they gave us a couple of bottles of their house made olive oil)! YUM!

The mountain town of Naro
Castle at the top of the hill
Luigi explaining the organic wines made at the vineyard
A wonderful picnic lunch on the winery grounds
Exploring the vineyard- it’s close to harvest time
Luigi and his wife (the winemaker) made for a great day!

It was an amazing day.  We love our time on the sea, but the best part of being in this part of the world is exploring the past and immersing ourselves in the culture, people and places.  We plan to spend a few more weeks in Sicily before making our way back to Greece.  While we won’t have time to see all the places we had hoped to, we do plan on returning soon.  This year our focus will be exploring the southern and eastern portions of Sicily itself.  When we return, we will focus on the remaining coastline and the surrounding islands.  Before I leave you here in Licata, one more fun fact about this area….Licata was one of the first cities liberated during WWII by American and British forces in 1943…..how cool is that?  Anyway, we are thrilled to be back on Zoe and will be getting underway soon.  Our plan is to get set sail tomorrow morning and make our way 6 hours east to the town of Ragusa.  Standby for more adventures from the beautiful island of Sicily!

Sicily Here We Come!

Sadly, our time in Crotone had come to an end.  This place definitely holds a special place in our heart after spending time here, and I would have loved to stay longer, but it was time to get some miles on.  We had our weather window, so we bid farewell to Crotone at 12:30 in the afternoon for our 23 hour passage to Sicily.  I’m always scheming to try and minimize my time on shift in the dark, but somehow I always manage to screw myself.  This time was no different.  I managed to have the shift leading up to and well past sunset and then again several hours up until sunrise.  Dan gets one shift in darkness, and I seem to always end up with two.  Like I said, I do this to myself…..EVERY TIME!

The passage was pretty uneventful with very few cargo ships and fishing boats around to give me grief.  Once dawn approached, Dan decided to throw out a couple of fishing lines and try our luck.  About an hour out from our destination, he managed to snag a tuna and spent the next half hour bludgeoning it to death and bleeding it out.  We now had a beautiful 10 pound bluefin tuna…..yum!  Of course, the back of our boat now looked like a murder scene…..who knew tuna had so much blood!  We pulled into the anchorage of Naxos below the beautiful, hilltop town of Taormina and the smoking beauty of the volcano Mt. Etna.  Before long, another catamaran came in and dropped anchor near us, and much to our surprise, they were flying an American flag!  When the back of their boat became visible, we saw that they were registered in Dallas, Texas.  It’s not often we run into Americans on our journey, so of course we had to invite them over for drinks and stories that night.  This very young couple had taken a sabbatical from work, bought a boat, were logging some serious miles throughout Europe before sailing the boat back to America this winter.  We were seriously impressed!

Caught a tuna just outside of Taormina Sicily!
Sushi anyone?

We planned to spend two days at anchor before moving over to the mooring balls at the other end of the bay to pick up our guests and explore the sites.  I awoke the next morning at 5:00 a.m. to the boat pitching around wildly.  Apparently the Straits of Messina were blowing strong again which sent 3-4 foot rollers into the bay and directly into the side of our boat.  We rode it out for a few hours hoping it would die down, but it only got worse.  When things started crashing to the floor and toppling INSIDE the cabinets, we decided it was time to go.  Luckily, the mooring ball field was very sheltered from the swell and could take us earlier than we had originally planned.  As we made our way across the bay, I went to the front to get our lines ready.  Not my brightest move.  A roller came, and I felt the deck drop out from under my feet….oh this was not going to end well.  As it flew back up and crashed back under my feet, I tossed my body onto the deck top and held on.  I decided to finish the lines in calmer water.

Mt Etna billowing smoke makes for an atmospheric anchorage

Before long, our friend Tim and his son joined us on Zoe.  We had big plans the following day.  We would take the bus up to the beautiful city of Taormina and explore for a few hours before meeting our driver and guide who would be taking us to explore Mt. Etna.  We wandered the streets of Taormina taking in all the beautiful buildings before wandering up to an Ancient Greek Amphitheater.  Unfortunately, it was a blistering hot day, and we were all struggling with the oppressive heat.  Soon it was time to head  back down to the bus depot to meet our driver.  We all prayed he had a car with air conditioning.

The gang headed in for a day of exploring the charms of Sicily
Wandering the ancient cobblestone streets of Taormina
The Dallas roomies back together again (though missing one!!)
Quintessential Italia!
Exploring some Roman ruins
The ancient roman theatre of Taormina
Taormina at night from the mooring field

We met our driver and guide and headed out on our hour and a half drive up to Mt. Etna.  It truly is a magnificent volcano to see up close and personal.  We made several stops on our drive up where we explored the topography of the volcano, the resulting landscape changes from eruptions, and talked about the history of the volcano.  It is THE most studied volcano in the world because of it’s unique nature.  The summit area consists of 4 summit craters.  Another part of our excursion had us putting on hard hats for an exploration of an amazing lava tube.  We descended deep into the depths of this tube complete with dripping stalactites.  It was wonderfully cool down in the tube.  We were told if there was any seismic activity, access to the tubes would be forbidden due to the dangers.  After we learned about the tubes, we headed off to some hiking trails through the volcanic sands.  Here we had some amazing views of the surrounding area and some of the ancient craters.  The diversity of landscape on the mountain is incredible.  Some areas look like you are on the moon, and other areas are rich in birch trees and abundant greenery.  Sadly, we did not see any lava flows or cool stuff like that.

Our volcano guide meets up with the gang
All geared up for some subterranean exploration!
Down the lava cave we go!
Hiking near the summit. Views were amazing
Glorious day hiking Mt Etna’s lava fields!

The next day, it was time to get underway again.  Our next stop was the city of Siracusa (Syracuse).  We left early as this would be an 8 hour passage.  The best part….we FINALLY got to sail!  Well, at least 1/2 of the trip.  Once we lost the wind, our journey got very hot again, so the 3 guys decided to jump off the back of the boat into the deep sea (7000 feet/2133 meters deep)!  Luckily we threw out a line and float because the current was moving away from the boat at a pretty good clip.  I managed to make them squirm a little when I joked that I could just sail off and leave them there floating if they made me mad.  Yeah, it was a little mean….haha.  Once they were cooled off, we got moving again.  A few hours later, we spotted our first shark….EVER.  We have never, ever seen a shark in the Med.  I must admit, it was a little freaky (and I’m not sure the guys will jump into the deep sea again anytime soon).  We were then treated to dolphins a couple hours later.  There were several pods busy playing and before long they came to the boat to play in our bow spray.  This is one of our most favorite treats when we are out sailing.

Underway to Siracusa
Swim stop in over 7000 feet of water! It was a hot day!

We anchored in the big bay outside of Syracusa.  This was another amazing walled city filled with Ancient Greek history (yes, you read that right….Greek artifacts).  We visited the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, the Fonte Aretusa which is a fountain fed by a fresh water spring and home to the only natural Papyrus growing in Europe.  We visited the Fontana Diana which dates back to the 9th century.  We enjoyed strolling the cobblestone streets and winding through narrow pathways.  We found a quaint little restaurant down one of these narrow pathways and enjoyed a very nice dinner off the beaten path and out of the tourist areas.  Our original plan was to spend 2 days here, but we have been in a brutal heat wave and where we were anchored was not really swimable (harbor bay….yuck) so no way to keep cool.  We decided to leave the next day and head down to a bay where we could anchor and spend the day swimming.

A greek temple turned into a church
Fountain of Diana in Siracusa
Temple of Apollo
Arethusa Fountain
Piazza Duomo Siracusa

Once again, we were able to sail most of the 4 hour passage to our next stop….Isola di Capo Passero.  The swimming was awesome except for the jellyfish that kept cruising through.  The next morning we took the dinghy to an island between the two bays.  We pulled it up on the beach and walked the path up to the ruins of a castle.  We then motored over to the end of the island in search of the marble remains from a ship that sunk during Roman times.  Tim’s son jumped from the dinghy into the water to try and spot it, but it was really hard to find among the rocks and plant life on the sea floor.  Our plan was to leave that evening and make an overnight passage to our final destination in the town of Licata.  Since we had some potentially high winds with swell getting around the point, we decided to pull up anchor, get around the point, and find another nice bay to hang out in and swim until we ready to leave that evening.

Exploring the castle and monument at the southernmost cape of Sicily

Once we got past the point, we found a nice spot to anchor and swim.  The water was refreshing and crystal clear.  All seemed well until those lovely jellyfish made their appearance.  This time, the guys spotted one that was 18” (.46 meters) in diameter….YUCK!  Just before 7:00 p.m., we were underway for our overnight passage.  Man, we’ve done a lot of these in the short time we’ve been here!  As forecasted, the wind was a little blustery (on the nose) and the water was a little choppy.  This time, I took the 10-2 shift. This was one of my least favorite passages thanks to all the fishing boats that were out at midnight.  They are not on our AIS tracking system which makes it hard to see what direction they are going or how far away they are.  At one point, I had one coming straight at me!  I deviated my course 10 degrees, and he continued to come straight for me.  I ended up changing my course 30 degrees further, heading toward shore and was shocked at how close he passed beside me despite my change in course.  I was not a happy camper.  Before long, I noticed 2 more fishing boats heading in to port.  Once again, they were headed my way.  At that point, I fired up our second motor and zoomed out of their way.  I was finally clear of the bay and the busy ports deep inside.  By the time Dan came up for the 2-6 a.m. shift, I was pretty worn out from the stress of playing chicken with the fishing boats.  He told me later that his shift was very peaceful and quiet.  Of course it was!

Overnight passage coming up!

So, here we are in the marina at Licata.  Our guests disembarked here, and we have been busy getting the boat cleaned up and ready for a temporary shut down.  We were happy to be in the marina today as the winds kicked up to 30 knots with 40 knot gusts…..not fun!  This will likely be our last post for a bit as we are heading home on Sunday.  We will leave Zoe here in the water for the next 4-6 weeks and return home for my son’s wedding and the close on our house (finally)!  Super exciting events, but dreading the trek home in the middle of busy, summer travel time.  We will be back with more adventures sometime in August!

Beat some weather in and are now snugged up in a marina in Southern Sicily
Zoe’s temporary summer home
Our Sicilian wanderings so far….

Benvenuto in Italia (Welcome to Italy)!

After picking up our documents to officially check out of Albania, we were underway for Italy at 5:00 p.m.  Since we had never been to Otranto and were unsure of where to handle all the formalities of checking in, Dan decided to hire an agent to assist us with the paperwork. When we were last in Italy in 2018 (our first year onboard) we did it incorrectly and narrowly avoided a problem.  This time we wanted to do it right. Since Otranto is not a major port of entry, we were told we need to arrive very early because the officials were only there for a few hours in the morning (hence the 5:00 p.m departure the day before).  This was slated to be a 13 hour passage with no real wind to sail with.  As we got outside the bay, the seas were a bit bigger than forecasted (shocking, I know) and the winds were up, but straight on our nose.  This still meant no sailing, but it also meant slowing us down quite a bit.  I opted to take first shift since I prefer to ease myself into driving in the dark.  Unfortunately, by doing this, I inevitably end up doing double nighttime shifts and Dan only gets the middle (I think I may need to rethink my strategy).

Sunset on our passage across the Adriatic
Land ho!

Our passage across the Adriatic was pretty uneventful, and we arrived bright and early at 5:00 a.m. (managed to shave an hour off despite the slow start).  We dropped anchor in a beautiful, sandy bay and headed down for a nap.  Not long after falling into a deep sleep, the agent called to tell us he arranged a spot on the wall for us, and we needed to come right now.  So, up we popped to pull up the anchor and head into the quay.  We quickly tied up and Dan bugged out with the agent to get us formally checked in to Italy.  Ironically, all the officials were housed right behind us (probably could’ve saved some agent money there, but who knew?).  We were a short walk to the castle walls and cobblestoned streets.  Inside the walls were lots of lovely little shops and restaurants.  The next day, we rented a car and headed inland to the town of Lecce, known as a “foodie” city.  We entered one of the gates to this ancient walled city and set off to explore.  Lecce is known for it’s Baroque buildings and is over 2000 years old.  It is nicknamed the Florence of the South.

The charming medieval town of Otranto
Zoe tied up to the transit dock. Coast Guard, immigration and customs were right behind us
Aragonese castle. Famous as a staging ground for numerous crusades
We love strolling Italy! So picturesque.

Our first stop was Museo Faggiano.  This was a private house up until 2001 when during renovations, the owner discovered archaeological  remains dating back 2500 years ago.  He discovered cisterns, secret passageways, tombs, skeletal remains, a Knights Templar fresco, and many other treasures.  It took them 7 years to fully excavate the site which they turned into a museum open to the public in 2008.  The building dates back to pre-Roman times.  It is said to have been a Knights Templar house between 1000-1200, and then a Franciscan convent until 1600.  We spent a great deal of time exploring every nook and cranny of this fascinating piece of history.

Down into the secret tunnel of Knights Templar
“If God is with us who can be against us?” Inscription on found wall
Very narrow stairs into very small tunnels!
Secret room beneath the main house
Pottery shards and remnants from a time long past
We really enjoyed this unique museum.

From there, we headed to the ancient Roman Theater from the 2nd century(not discovered until 1929).  Although we were not able to explore the interior, we did get some great views from above.  After that, we were off to explore a number of spectacular churches.  Each one we walked into was more incredible than the previous one.  Here again, I will let the pictures tell the story.

Ancient Roman theatre
Robyn getting a custom apron. It says “Robyn cooks from the heart” in Italian
Strolling the streets of Lecce
One of Lecce’s fabulous churches
Architecture is amazing
Nice large glass of Moretti beer to cool off with!

After a couple of days, we were on our way once again.  Our next stop was Santa Maria di Leuca in order to position ourselves for our next big passage.  Here, we were at the very tip of the heel of Italy preparing to cross the Gulf of Taranto on a 13 hour passage to Crotone (located on the “ball” of the foot/boot).  The gulf can blow some pretty big winds with choppy seas, so once again, timing was very important.  We decided to make this passage during the day with a 5:00 a.m. departure.  This would get us into Crotone while the sun was still up (important to us when anchoring in a place we have never been).  As continues to be our misfortune, what little wind we had was square on the nose…..more motoring!  We also learned that this part of the world is quite warm right now, so making this passage during the day was a dumb idea.  We were sweltering!

Lighthouse at the tip of the “heel” in Santa Maria De Leuca
Our passage across the Gulf of Taranto to Crotone

We arrived in the town of Crotone and dropped anchor in a big, beautiful bay surrounded by beach clubs, restaurants and a lungomare (seaside boardwalk) that went on for miles.  Luckily the depths were shallow enough that we were anchored pretty far out from the chaos.  The next morning we motored 2 hours north (yep, still not sailing) to a bay in Strongoli.  Our mission here was to search for the Italian ship (the Nave Petrarca) that Dan’s grandfather had died on when it was torpedoed by the British during WWII.  We had an approximate location, so this was going to be an interesting endeavor.  We stopped and asked 3 men fishing off their boat if they knew where the wreck was, and they pointed us in a general direction.  After searching for over a 1/2 hour on Zoe, and Dan searching by swimming while I used Zoe to try and hover near the supposed spot, we had no luck.  Dan then jumped in the dinghy to search further from Zoe while I remained on board watching him.  Eventually, frustration took over, and he decided to zoom over to another boat where a man was fishing.  Before long, they both came over to the boat where I used Google translate to explain what we were looking for a why (I then proceeded to butcher the language trying to read it to him).  He understood and knew exactly where to take Dan.  Dan followed him in the dinghy while I made notes of the land features of where they were.

Vincenzo leading the way to the wreck of the Nave Petrarca

Dan came back to the boat so that we could move Zoe closer to area (we had been nowhere near the pieces of the wreck).  As we motored over there, he told me that the man had invited us to have lunch with him (the first boat of fisherman had returned and one of them translated the lunch invitation).  We dropped anchor in very shallow water and Dan swam the pieces of the wreck.  This was a very special moment for Dan as he had never met his grandfather and had only heard the story from his dad growing up.  It took a fair amount of research (all in Italian) and it was gratifying to actually find it.  Article on the Petrarca and it’s demise is here:  https://conlapelleappesaaunchiodo.blogspot.com/2014/07/petrarca.html?m=1  

A piece of the wreckage

After spending time with what was left of the wreck (the torpedo had blown the ammunition ship sky high leaving only small pieces of debris behind).  We hopped in the dinghy and headed to shore to meet our new friend.  He did not speak English, and we do not speak Italian so this was truly an adventure.  We got in his car and he brought us to his home where he and his wife made us an amazing home cooked multi-course lunch with local wine.  After a couple of hours, we told them we had to leave because the winds were coming up and we had a marina awaiting our arrival.  Back on board, we spent two hours bashing back to Crotone (imagine that….going in the opposite direction and the damn wind was on our nose yet again!).  We came into the marina and tied to the quay.  After welcoming us, the marinero handed us a bottle of local wine to enjoy.  Wow!  On top of that, each morning we were brought freshly made croissants from a local bakery.  Holy cow, I love this place (my waistline, not so much).

New friends in crotone – Vincenzo and Chiara!
A Calabrian speciality called sardella. This yumminess is spread on bread with olive oil,
Homemade pasta with local red wine. Perfectly al dente and Tutti Bene!
Robyn trying local snails made in the Calabrese style

The next day, our new friends from Strongoli drove down to the marina and picked us up.  They drove us back to their town and up to the old city of Strongoli high in the hills to the cemetery where a memorial had been constructed to honor the lives lost on the Petrarca.  Once again, we would have never been able to find this treasure on our own as it was hidden in a lower courtyard of the main area of the cemetery.  His grandfather’s name was not on the memorial, and we learned that the names were for the bodies that were found (18 out of 82 lives lost….very sad).  We were then taken to see the castle and panoramic views of the old town where our new friends once lived.  From there, we headed back down to Crotone for some lunch.  They took us to this little local gem where you had to ring a doorbell for admittance to this beautiful little fish restaurant.  There was no menu (or English) so our hosts expertly ordered a fancy fish feast for us with very tasty local wine.  Numerous small plates of different fish came out for us to try.  It was an absolutely amazing lunch.  We returned to the boat and made plans to meet for a pizza dinner the next night.  We were told that Crotone has the best pizza outside of Napoli, and our friends have a Sunday night pizza tradition.  Mind you, neither of us still speak the others language, so watching our interactions was I’m sure quite amusing to those around us.  Google translate became our best friend on both sides!

Memorial to the lives lost in WWII on the Petrarca in Strongoli
15 February 1943 tragedy struck the Muzich family. Lost my grandfather nearby.
Strongoli castle
Hilltop views of Storngoli
Views from the town were amazing
Lunch with our new friends at Brizo in Crotone
Prawns made “crudo” style
Sardella (yum!) in the background and sardines with pickled onions
Pasta with sea urchin. First time for everything!

Once again, our friends arrived Sunday night (this time bringing gifts of homemade sardella and a huge can of locally produced olive oil).  They drove us to a beautiful spot on the water and a poolside table.  They ordered a delicious “pizza by the meter” with several different flavor sections.  It was excellent!  After returning to the boat, we enjoyed a quick apperitivo onboard (it was getting close to midnight).  We said a sad farewell to our new friends with a promise to reconnect when we return to Italy in August where they will hopefully join us for some sailing.

Pizza by the meter in Crotone

Our next journey was to Sicily and the town of Taormina.  This would be another 24 hour, round the clock journey.  We headed out of our beloved little marina spot a little after 12 noon.  Care to take bets on whether or not we sailed?  Of course, we did not!  There was either no wind or it was directly on the nose. The wind gods have not been playing nice with us so far this year 🙁

Sunset on our way to Taormina, Sicily

It was a pretty uneventful, overnight passage.  However, about an hour out of our destination, Dan landed a 10 pound (4.5 kg )tuna.  Woo hoo, yummy eats for several days!  So, we have arrived in Sicily and will keep you posted on our next adventures as we make our way around this beautiful island.

Bluefin tuna! Sushi coming up!
Overview of our journey from Albania to Sicily

The Treasures of Southern Albania

The last time we were in Albania was 2019 and unfortunately did not spend any time in the southern part.  We came into the port of Saranda, dropped anchor, checked out of Albania, and left bright and early the next morning for Greece.  This time, we decided to spend some quality time in this beautiful town.  It is a short hop from Corfu town, Greece to Saranda in Albania (3 hours).  After running the gauntlet of formalities in Greece, we were underway by 11:30 a.m.  We arrived in Saranda several hours later where we were greeted by our favorite agent, and she quickly handled all our formalities for us…..man, I love Albania!  Not only that, she directed us to the one mooring ball in the bay, told us there was no charge, and we could stay as long as we wanted!  We quickly got the lay of the land along with a multitude of suggested sites to visit and places to go eat.  We arranged for a car the next morning and were super excited for a full day of new adventures!  

Our journey since launch in Preveza. Stops at Two Rock Bay (mainland), Notos (Corfu) and Corfu old town on the way to Sarande, Albania
Tied to a mooring ball in Sarande bay, Albania

That evening we headed off to an authentic Albanian restaurant with very high reviews.  The place was unique in that there was no menu.  The sign at the door stated that you needed to be willing to eat the house preparations of the day.  Why not?!?!  The restaurant was owned and run by a young man named Leo who prided himself on home grown, organic ingredients prepared fresh daily.  We were treated to 14 small plates that offered up amazing and unique flavors of both Albania and Greece.  We then had a baked cheese with marmalade and a spinach Burek….both also very tasty.  We were then given a choice between fish, chicken or pork.  Dan opted for the fish, and I decided to try the pork.  As expected, the dishes were delicious, and the house made wine was also very tasty.  We were then treated to a complimentary dessert unlike anything we have ever had before.  The owner spent a great deal of time talking with us and sharing his background and the building of his special restaurant.  It really was one of the best experiences we have had in a very long time.

Oda e babes – a small restaurant that has a fixed menu of 14 Albanian appetizers. Yum!
Leo, the owner and chef took a selfie with us. He was very friendly and proud of his culinary creations

We got an early start the next morning in order to see as many sights as possible while we had the rental car.  Our first stop was Butrint National Park.  This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country of Albania. The ruins are nestled into the forest with unusual pockets of water throughout the site.  Butrint was known for being one of the finest and most beautiful cities in the Roman Empire.  There is a picturesque lagoon and high mountains surrounding this park.  We spent two hours wandering this amazing piece of history.  As always, I will let the photographs tell the story.  Fortunately, we made sure to arrive early and often had many of the sites to ourselves.  By the time we left a few hours later, the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships had descended on this magical place.  We were very grateful to have had the peace and solitude to absorb the magnitude of Butrint.

Butrint, an ancient Roman settlement
Exploring the ruins
The grounds were very pretty
Mosaic from antiquity
Ruins of a temple
Roman theater
Original cup holder?
Oh hey!
We enjoyed wandering the grounds and exploring
Freed slaves would have their legal release inscribed for all to see on the walls.
A church was built at the settlement during later stages of the Roman settlement
Castle keep at the top of the hill
A Roman sculpture found on the grounds.
Fortress wall down to Lake Butrint
A gate in the fortress wall. Made small so that it’s easier to defend.
The grounds were filled with ruins

Our next stop was a site known as the Blue-Eye Spring.  After finding a parking spot (it was remarkably crowded), we set off on foot for about 3/4 of a mile up and down the winding road until we got to a path that followed a beautiful light blue river through lush, dense forest.  There is a platform built over the Blue-Eye to give you a better view.  This has become a very popular spot for people to jump into the icy blue hole.  The Blue-Eye is a spring which sends bubbly water up from more than 50 meters of depth (over 150 ft.).  We were told that they don’t know the actual depth because they have not been able to map it any deeper.  The water is crystal clear and icy cold (not that we went in it, but I trust what was written on the sign!).

The “Blue Eye” of Albania. A fresh water spring that flows so hard they can’t measure the depth
The blue eye – 18,400 liters a second of water!
The hike to and from was very scenic

From the Blue-Eye, we had a long and winding drive far up into the mountain region called Gjirokastra.  The drive was over an hour (and sometimes a little hairy with narrow roads and plunging cliffs devoid of guard rails), but the views were spectacular!  Not only that but some seriously wicked thunderstorms were brewing.  We parked our car and started up the roadway into this beautiful little town.  It reminded me of something you might encounter in the Swiss Alps.  The cobblestone streets were lined with all kinds of merchants, cafes and restaurants which we quickly passed by on our mission to get to the castle at the top of the mountain.  It was a long, steep, winding roadway to the very top where we were eventually greeted by the sweet, cold air in the castle entrance.  It always amazes me how hot it can be outside and how shockingly chilly it is within the castle walls.  The castle of Gjirokastra was built in the 4th century A.D., and was by far the most intact castle that we have seen.  It is also the biggest castle in Albania.  Gjirokastra is known as the “Stone City” since all the streets, homes and the bazaar are built of stone.

The town of Gjrokastra
Lovely cobblestoned streets to explore
The town was lined with restaurants and local artisan markets

When you enter the castle, you are greeted by a huge arsenal of weaponry ranging from prehistoric times up until WWII.  After leaving the weapons hall (considered the weapons museum), we wandered through the various rooms of the castle.  Much of it is kept in it’s natural state, as there was no lightening in many of the underground rooms (such as the prison cells).  We did our best to explore all of them but some became a little bit hazardous with only the light of our phone flashlight to illuminate our path.  By the time, we finished exploring the castle, the storm I mentioned earlier had made it’s way overhead.  The wind kicked up violently along with thunder and lightning.  Time to go.  We decided to take the more direct route down, a path through the forest with lots of stairs.  Needless to say, we hustled.  We also raced through the bazaar as rain and hail had begun to fall.  Since we were still pretty far from the car and hadn’t eaten yet today, we ducked into a small restaurant to enjoy some more Albanian food.  We enjoyed a very tasty lunch while the storm raged outside.  By the time we were finished, the storm had died off to a light rain, so we did a little shopping at the bazaar before heading to the car.  By the time we returned to Saranda, we had logged over 8 miles of walking and 22 flights of stairs.  We definitely felt our busy day and were pleasantly exhausted.  We returned the car and headed back to the boat for a relaxing evening.  

The castle’s artillery museum
Monument to soldiers from a bygone era
The castle keep, high on a hill overlooking the valley
Cold war story of an American fighter jet that was either shot down or ran out of fuel and landed in Albania. Story depends on the side who is telling it!
The US Air Force plane on display
Wandering the large castle grounds
Thunderstorm incoming!
Great meal while waiting for the storm to pass. Tave Kose (Lamb in Yogurt) with some appetizers. Tasty!

After taking the next day off, we decided to rent a car once again and head off in a different direction.  This time we made an hour drive down the coastline to a town called Porto Palermo.  Dan had been communicating through one of his Facebook groups with a couple from the U.S. anchored in the bay here, so we decided to meet up in person.  After a quick exploration of another awesome castle (Albania has no shortage of castles), we met our new friends for coffee and the chance to swap stories.  Meeting up with other cruisers is also an awesome way to find the best places to go and things to do (not to mention critical things such as where to anchor and safe places to leave your dinghy).  Soon it was time to head back towards Saranda.  This night, we had a reservation outside of town at a place called “The Mussel House.”  This was another highly reviewed restaurant on Lake Butrint where they raise and harvest their own mussels.  They are the biggest mussel distributor in Albania and are said to have the finest mussels around.  We had booked a private tour which took us out on a motorboat where we learned how the mussels are grown and harvested.  At one point, our guide pulled up a net of growing mussels and plucked a couple off which he then pried open with a knife.  We were handed the mussel and told to enjoy.  As soon as I had mine in hand, I felt a little squeamish.  I don’t eat raw oysters for a reason!  What am I going to do?  I can’t offend our hosts who are eagerly anticipating my thorough enjoyment of their highly touted mussels.  I popped it into my mouth where I was instantly greeted by the taste of salt water (yuck), then came the slimy texture.  Everything in my mouth and throat immediately shut down in protest.  I tried to bite into it, quickly realizing it was alive, and did they only thing I could….I swallowed it whole.  Needless to say, I did NOT enjoy the raw mussel and apologized profusely.  They of course laughed at my facial antics.  When we returned to the dock, our tour included freshly cooked mussels and wine.  Now, we are talking.  The mussels were fabulous!  Another great Albanian experience.

Porto Palermo castle
This was the home fortress for Ali Pasha (pictured on left) who was much feared when he ruled
Top of the castle overlooking the bay. Our new friend’s yacht is in the background on the right
Touring a mussel farm on Lake Butrint. They have a reputation for being the best tasting mussels in all of Albania. They call them the “Queen Mussels’
Our boat captain pulling up a mussel net to show us how they grow
He then pulled one off and shucked it for us
MMMM….raw and very fresh Albanian mussel straight from the lake
Robyn’s turn.. She ate it! A little reluctantly but no international incident!
After the tour, we had a huge bowl of the Mussels prepared in olive oil and wine. They were so good!

Saranda is a very busy beach town with a number of “pirate ships” that take tourists out.  They love to pass by our boat, very close, with their club music blasting.  This goes on very late into the night (or should I say, wee hours of the morning)at which time they are brightly lit up in an array of colors.  The clubs onshore also have their music blasting which is periodically punctuated by the minarets exotically chanting their call to prayer throughout the day and evening.  It’s a very exotic experience here in Saranda, with a cacophony of sights and sounds, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here (pretty obvious since we have been here a week!).  It is now Father’s Day, and we are killing time until our departure this evening for Italy.  We will leave Albania tonight around 5 p.m and arrive in Otronto, Italy tomorrow morning around 6 a.m.  Stay tuned for more fun as we make our way around the coast of Italy and Sicily.

This is what visiting by boat in a beach town looks like in Summer.

The 2022 Sailing Season Has Arrived

It’s hard to believe that it has been over 7 months since we left Zoe behind in Greece.  Despite being away for so long, those months did not go by quietly or uneventfully (would you have expected anything less?! Haha).  Here is a quick recap of our off season.  After spending a month and a half back in Phoenix, we headed to Maui for the months of December and January.  Although it was extremely hard being away from family for the holidays, it was a good plan since we no longer had a house to return to in Phoenix (we sold it last April to build new).  In February, we celebrated the marriage of my beautiful daughter Shawn to Mark.  In March, we celebrated our grandson’s 2nd birthday on a wonderful, full family camping trip (family on both sides of the family were there).  In the late hours of the last night, our kids burst into our tent to share the news that my son Ryan had proposed to Samantha (parents of our grandson).  It truly was an exciting and eventful weekend!  In April, Dan and I decided to do a 5 week trip to Australia (which had just opened up to tourists after 2 years of Covid lockdown).  You can read about that amazing adventure in a previous blog post.  When May arrived, we celebrated Dan’s son Jacob’s graduation from Northern Arizona University (woo hoo….all kids are through college)!  We also had the pleasure of celebrating my beautiful niece Carolyn’s graduation, and her wedding to Nathan.  This was a spectacular Romanian wedding, and like nothing we have ever experienced.  It also gave us the opportunity to see friends and family that we haven’t seen in many years.  And a final shout out to my son Richard (hired as a Delta pilot) and nephew Jason (hired as an Envoy/American pilot).  Eventful, right???

Shawn and Mark tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony in Phoenix. Yes that’s what February looks like here!
The new engaged happy couple!
Jacob graduated…last child through school!

On May 24th, we made it back to Zoe!  We were thrilled to be back but dreading the amount of work that lay ahead of us.  We weren’t scheduled to launch for a week, so we had plenty of time to get everything done but living on the hard is not a lot of fun (much more challenging than living in the water).  We have definitely become more proficient at getting the boat in order as it only took us a few days to get her put back together and livable.  One of our favorite tasks is a visit to this very large and colorful roadside farmer’s market.  Here we loaded up with tons of delicious, locally grown vegetables and homemade products.  We also made a trip to the hardware store for a few items including a fly swatter.  I asked the clerk, but he had no clue what I was talking about.  So, I put my fingers together, made a buzzing sound while fluttering my fingers and then took my other hand and went “WAP”!  He busted up laughing but now understood what I was looking for!  It’s always an adventure shopping in foreign places, and we always get a kick out trying to figure it all out and communicate effectively.

Launch day is finally here…

Unfortunately, despite having our boat for over 7 months, the yard did not do any of our service work until the day before and the day of launch.  Of course, everyone showed up at the same time and chaos ensued!  In the end, Zoe looked beautiful and went back into the water without a hitch.  We spent two nights side tied to the marina quay trying to get our insurance sorted out.  Apparently, Greece was now requiring a large liability policy in addition to our normal insurance, so Dan was sent scrambling trying to find coverage before we set sail (get caught without it and big fines are involved).  We did end up finding coverage out of the UK.  Unfortunately, they were closing for a 4 day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, so we were stuck for at least another week.

Zoe looking good in her element.

Our second night on the dock, we were startled awake at 4:00 a.m. by this loud thumping on the boat.  My immediate thought was that someone had climbed onto our boat.  Dan got up and looked around, but there was no one.  As we lay in bed, the sound got more intense.  Dan said, “it’s probably just a fish slapping the hull”.  In my head I said, “that’s gotta be a pretty big ass fish”!  The sound continued to get louder and more frenetic, so we both jumped up and went out on deck.  The sea was boiling with these 6 inch fish going absolutely crazy.  They were leaping out of the water and on to the dock where they were flopping around helplessly.  Dan jumped down off the boat and started flipping them back into the water.  It was the craziest thing we’ve ever seen.  We found out from the marinero the next morning that they were being hunted by some very large amberjack.  They basically herd them creating this disorganized chaos.  Apparently  some of the seagulls got in on the action, plucking fish off the dock.  What a crazy night!

Post launch celebration, taverna style
We moved to the anchorage next to the marina and had our first grill of the season

After a week on the hard, 2 nights on the marina wall, and one night on anchor in the bay next to the marina, we decided to just take our chances with the insurance.  Worst case, we had the emails showing that we would have the coverage just not the official paperwork until the Tuesday after the Queen’s Jubilee.  So, we set sail for one of our favorite bays to while away a few days.  We timed our arrival in Two Rock Bay for Friday knowing that charter boats (which usually swarm here) would need to be back to base, and the bay should be pretty wide open.  It was, and we landed a gorgeous spot near the cliffs in pristine sand.  We were quickly greeted by my little fish friends who love to hang out around the boat waiting for handouts.  We also had our first swim of the season.  It was a little chilly but well worth it.  

Back to the serene Two Rock Bay as we work our way north
We anchored in 2 meters (a little over 6 feet) of water – the bottom looks like you can touch it!
The two rocks that give the bay it’s name

After several days in the bay, it was time to get moving again (and no, still no insurance paperwork yet).  We headed to another of our favorite bays, Petriti on the island of Corfu.  This turned out to be a very good decision since it wasn’t more than a few days before the mother of all storms blew through (at least from our personal experiences).  By the time the forecasts showed the magnitude, and the news stations actually gave the storm a name, it was too late for us to duck into a marina.  Greece does not have a lot of marinas to begin with, and one of our two options is a charter base making it impossible to get a spot on Fridays since the charter boats are due back.  This meant riding it out on the water and trusting our anchor (and my anchoring skills….which have come a long way, by the way!).   Not to toot my own horn, but I have become eagle-eyed at picking out the sand spots and highly adept at landing the anchor and setting it in a small sand spot surrounded by weed and/or rock (weed and rock are not your friend when anchoring).  Okay, I guess I tooted.  Never mind I’ve probably pissed off the sea gods now!  I take it back, I take it back!

Anchoring out means a never ending search for a place to park the dinghy. Even if the dock is rusty, decrepit and bird poop stained!

We had already prepped the boat earlier in the evening by letting out a lot more anchor chain and stowing everything that could blow away or come crashing down.   It wasn’t long before the wind started kicking up, so from 2:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m I stayed up in the salon keeping an eye on things.  We had already been through 33 knots of gusts the day before, and nothing was approaching that, so I headed down to bed.  At 9:00 a.m., I heard the wind kicking up yet again (another one of my superpowers 🤣)and told Dan that it was time to get up, the storm was here.  Within a half hour, the wind was howling, rain pouring, hail, and thunder and lightning simultaneously.  Every year, we get hit with a storm, and I foolishly think it’s the scariest storm I have ever been in on the boat.  Every year, I am proven wrong!  We managed to come through the storm completely unscathed (at least physically…..not so sure about mentally!).  The rest of the day was calm but rainy.  Just when we thought we were in for a nice, peaceful evening, the wind switched direction.  Before we knew it, the boat was bucking like a bronco from a large swell.  We watched the shoreline behind us soar up 4-5 feet and then disappear completely.  Luckily, we don’t get seasick, but it was violent enough to make us both incredibly dizzy.  Fortunately, it was over after a few hours.  Ahh, the joys of sailing.

Ominous warning!
The biblically named Storm Genesis. Forty knots of wind, hail, lightning and thunder!

Since our plan is to head over to Italy and then Sicily, we decided it was time to get moving north again (and no, we STILL don’t have our insurance sorted out!  Now, just to be clear, our umbrella policy in America covers the boat’s liability requirements but try explaining that to a Greek official).  The winds in the channel between Greece and Italy can get very interesting, so we have been carefully watching the forecasts to find our best window (this will require an overnight passage….my favorite….not).  We decided to spend a couple days anchored off the castle wall in Corfu town since this is where we will need to check out of the country and take care of formalities.  If you followed our blog last year, then you know that we are in the same spot as last year where we witnessed two deaths in the same day (one a drowning and one a suicide by jumping from the castle wall).  Needless to say, we still feel scarred from that experience and don’t find the same degree of joy in this spot anymore.  We also found this spot incredibly crowded this year (after we anchored, of course).  We had two boats that anchored way too close (one had to pull up chain to keep from hitting us when he swung around!)  Yeah, definitely time to go!  

Corfu Old Fortress
This anchorage is very atmospheric
Wandering the New Fortress in Corfu

We only spent 2 nights here which is unusual for us, but between playing bumper boats and the hordes of people in town (the cruise ships are back in full swing!), we were ready to go.  Our last night, we spent a fun evening with some new friends from the UK who happened to be on a boat like ours before checking out of Greece the following morning.  From there, we had a 3 hour sail (more like motor) to Sarande, Albania.  Stay tuned for some new adventures (finally!) from this beautiful country!

Heading north to Albania!

Sydney Here We Come!

We bid a sad farewell to our very cool Cassowary friend.  Okay, not really a friend since he’d happily gut you if you made him angry, but he was cool addition to our camping experience.  Etty Bay was a small but beautiful little camp spot, but there really wasn’t a lot to do close by (and swimming was not an option), so it was time to hit the road.

Once last cassowary encounter before heading out. The four inch razor sharp claws were crazy.

Our next stop was the beachside town of Townsville (clever name, I know) on the Coral Sea.  Since we were now rolling into Easter weekend, the campgrounds on the water were quite filled with large groups and families.  We managed to score a nice spot across the street from the beach with a really nice boardwalk for strolling.  Our plan was to take the ferry across the sea to Magnetic Island where we had a 4 x 4 rented (the last vehicle available on the whole island) to go explore the sights.

Headed out on a ferry ride for an island adventure
Most of Magnetic Island is preserved as park. It got it’s name because Captain Cook’s compass stopped working when sailing by. It never happened again.

After a quick 20 minute ferry ride, we headed out on foot to go get the car.  Before long, we were off and running before 9:00 a.m.  Our first point of interest was Geoffrey Bay which is home to numerous rock wallabies.  We had stopped and purchased a carrot in order to feed them an “approved” treat.  Since we were there early, there were hardly any people around, so we had the experience all to ourselves.  We saw momma’s with joeys in their pouch (and miscellaneous body parts hanging out at an given time) along with some youngsters.  The youngsters were the most brazen of the bunch (kind of like human teenagers).  They had no qualms about coming up and grabbing the carrot pieces out of our hands.  At one point, I pulled my hand back to draw one closer, and he grabbed my finger with his tiny little clawed fingers and pulled my hand back towards him.  They were so unbelievably cute!  Oh how I wish I could bring one home!

Wild rock wallabies that have gotten used to handouts
The younger ones were bolder
What fun!

As more and more cars flooded in, we took that as our cue to leave.  We were then headed to a hike that took you through the eucalyptus forest (with wild koalas) and up to a fort used during WWII.  As we drove through, both the parking lot and the overflow lot were packed full.  There was nowhere to park.  We decided to move along and come back for a try later.

We headed to one end of the island and a beach called Horseshoe Beach.  Despite having to swim within the netted areas to avoid box jellyfish stings, the beach was packed with visitors.  We wandered around a bit taking in the sights and trying to figure out our next move.  We had specifically rented a 4 x 4 to check out some amazing views in hard to reach places.  Unfortunately, the one road with all the best views had been closed because no one wanted to bother fixing the 3 foot deep potholes that riddled it.  Such a bummer.

From there, we decided to check out the fort hike one more time.  This time we lucked out and scored a spot as someone was leaving.  The downside is it was later in the day and quite toasty out.  The hike was only a couple of miles, but getting up to the sights of the fort was a lot of ascent on rocks and steps.  We were definitely a little worn out and sweaty by the time we got to the top, but the views were amazing.  From the very top, you could look out the gun slot for a full view of the Coral Sea and any approaching enemies.  Along the way, we were able to spot a few koalas up napping in the trees.

View from the shore artillery emplacement. Probably unchanged since WW2
Remnants of artillery installed to protect against a Japanese invasion that never materialized.
Artillery storage magazine
Wild Koalas surround the fort
Koala watching us from his nap spot
So adorable!
Koala fast asleep on his gumtree perch

We finished our exploration of the island by driving to the west end, down a 4 x 4 road to some very remote beaches.  Here, there were no lifeguards or nets.  We were told by the rental car agent NOT to swim here due to sharks.  Yep, no problem there!  Sorry, I will not be treating you to any up close and personal pictures of Great White Sharks….I know, disappointing.  We quickly discovered it didn’t take long to explore the charms of this island, and after about 5 hours, we headed back to the ferry and camp.

Beers on the beach to celebrate a fun day on the island
We went to seven of the eleven points on this sign this trip!

We still had Easter Sunday booked at this campground, but we were finding that it was too far to walk to any sort of restaurants or entertainment.  Other than walking the beach or sitting in the campground, that was about it.  We were booked for a beach spot about 4 1/2 hours away on Monday but started discussing pulling up camp a little early.  Dan made some phone calls and we lucked into a real campground (not a spot on the beach with no amenities or power) on Easter Sunday and Monday.  Since we have been winging this entire trip, we have been very fortunate!  Unfortunately, the campgrounds are very good about getting their money up front, so we did eat two nights in two different places by changing our plan, but it was sooooo worth it.

On Easter Sunday, we arrived in Cape Hillsborough and our spot right off the beach.  This was on our list because the wallabies and kangaroos come up on the beach before sunrise to eat.  They have also been known to wander the camp foraging.  Here, the tidal shifts are quite dramatic, and we were warned to make sure we were attentive to the tides on our beach hikes.  It was low tide when we arrived so we took a nice long stroll down the beach.  The campground was packed to the gills with large groups and families yet again.

Walking the tidal flats of the beach. All of this is covered by sea water at high tide. Hikers sometimes get stranded if they haven’t paid attention.
Kangaroo visitor to our campsite
Kangaroo and kookaburra bird that stopped by.

Monday morning, we were up by 5:30 a.m. and headed to the beach.  The wallabies and kangaroos were already there chowing down.  It was such a cool treat to watch them along with the sun coming up over the rock formations.  Since the holiday weekend was over, most of the campsite had emptied out so we jumped on the chance to move to a prime spot with no one around us.  The next morning, Dan decided to head to the beach once again to see the kangaroos.  I opted to stay in my less than cozy bed.  It worked out in my favor anyway since two kangaroos decided to hang out and graze near the edge of our camp spot!

Wild kangaroos and wallabies the come to feed on the beach at sunrise.
What was that sound?
Enjoying the sunrise views
This kangaroo came to play in the water at the beach
Had the good luck to take a picture of one with a rainbow!

The next day we had an extremely long drive to Hervey Bay (8 hours) which meant I had to do some of the driving too 🙁  Once we got settled in, we took a long walk on a very long pier and took in the sights.  We then headed to the only restaurant open (as you can imagine, that did not turn out well). We really didn’t see much to hold our interest here, so we left the following morning and headed to Noosa Heads. This was my nightmare in living color.  It was very clearly School Break.  The streets became parking lots and every sidewalk was wall to wall people.  We hopped out in the nature park (Dan made me….I just wanted to get as far away from the chaos as possible) and did another hillside boardwalk through the eucalyptus trees and overlooking the ocean.  We covered a few miles, enjoyed the sights, and then quickly made our way out of town.  In a quieter time of the year, this place looked like it could be a lot of fun.

Urangan pier at sunset. It’s over a half mile long (868 meters) and makes a great sunset stroll
Noosa heads national park
Beautiful beaches of Eastern Australia

After leaving Noosa Heads, we arrived in Alex Beach and our next campground.  It was a very pretty campground with a great boardwalk that went on for miles.  We took in some of the memorial sites from various wars that we found along the boardwalk.  Once again, we did not find a big draw here (we had begun to find that the remainder of our journey was highlighted by very popular beach towns which really wasn’t on our “A” list of things to do and see).  As I am sure you guessed, we headed out bright and early the very next morning.

Alex Beach campground
Views from the highway to Brisbane

The next leg of our journey would bring us to Brisbane and the chance to catch up with some very special friends.  We met up with a couple that we got to know in Greece (our boats are in the same boatyard) and spent a few hours catching up over lunch.  This was definitely a highlight on our journey since they had been locked down and away from their boat for the last two years.  It was really great getting to catch up.  Since we still had a two hour drive to our next campsite, we were forced to say goodbye sooner than we would have liked.  Between road construction and traffic, our two hour drive took us 3 hours!  We were now in Byron Bay.

At this point, we have come to the conclusion that we have hit all of our bucket list points of interest.  We were both feeling quite worn out, very homesick (me), and not looking forward to the upcoming week of rain in our little camper van.  We decided to make our way to Sydney as quickly as possible and head home several days earlier than originally planned.  Before we left Byron Bay, we decided to hike to the lighthouse on the point.  Now that was a rough one!  No one mentioned the relentless hills and stairs that went on for miles to get to the lighthouse!  Once our hike was complete, we hit the road once again.  

Easternmost point of Australia at Byron Bay
Hiking to the lighthouse
Cape Byron lighthouse. Australia’s most powerful lighthouse and protecting the coast since 1901

We headed to the town of Port Macquarie for our last night of camping.  This was a very nice, quiet camp area with very few visitors.  The highlight of this visit was a visit to the koala hospital where orphaned and injured koalas are taken in to be rehabilitated before going back to the wild (if they can).  These are koalas that were injured in the big fires or hit by cars, etc. Some of the joeys (baby koalas) go to foster homes for more intensive care.  I so wanted to be a joey foster mom!

Koala that had been struck by a car and being tended to by volunteers at the Koala hospital
This koala was blind and is a permanent guest of the hospital

We were now on the last leg of our adventure (I bet you thought this post was never going to end)!  We spent most of this drive in relentless, pouring rain…..not fun!  After 4 hours, we finally arrived in the town of Clovelly.  We were very excited for this part of our journey as well because we would be meeting up with a distant cousin of Dan’s whose family was from the same island in Croatia as Dan’s dad.  We had never met him before, but he generously opened up his home to us and shuttled us around to some amazing areas.  We started across the river from the Sydney Opera House at sunset where we were treated to a fireworks show.  The next day we visited some of the very popular and famous surf beaches in the area.  Once again, our visit was far shorter than we would’ve liked, but it was time to get home.

Famous Sydney harbor with the opera house and harbor bridge at sunset
Reunion of Muzich’s from the Croatia island of Cres in Australia

We left at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday and arrived in Phoenix at 10:00 a.m. on……Tuesday!  Gotta love the international date line, now my days of the week are ALL screwed up!  All I can say is that it was a magical trip, but I am happy to be home once again (even if it is for only a month).  In the end, we drove over 4500 miles in a little less than 5 weeks.  For those of you in the U.S., that is the equivalent of driving from  Boston to Anchorage, Alaska!  

For now, we will say good-bye until the end of May when we return to our boat in Greece.  We hope you will join us on this year’s sailing adventures which will hopefully take us to Sicily and the surrounding islands.

Bound for the Australian Rainforests

After turning in our very comfy motorhome in Alice Springs, we hopped on two flights (Alice Springs to Brisbane, then Brisbane to Cairns) totaling about 5 hours in the air.  We were very excited for this next phase of our adventure down under.  I was treated to 2 nights in a motel when we arrived in Cairns.  Yes, I said treated.  After 16 days sleeping on a dinette turned bed, I was thrilled to sleep in a regular bed.  Since we arrived somewhat late on Saturday, and were scheduled to pick up our next camper van on Monday morning, we really only had 1 full day to explore Cairns (which we did in full)!

The beautiful city of Cairns in the northeast of Australia
The city has a lush tropical feel
Cairns by night. This tree had dozens of parrots roosted for the evening

We started our day early with a visit to Rusty’s Market which only takes place on Saturdays and Sundays.  Here there were a variety of food carts, craft stalls, and a huge assortment of farm fresh fruits and veggies (the whole reason we went).  We made it a mission to stock up on a variety of fruits we either couldn’t get at home or had never even heard of.  We had rambutans, passion fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteens, and custard apples.  Needless to say, we had to be taught how to eat several of these treats.  The custard apples were by far the ugliest fruit we had ever seen (and totally clueless as to how you would eat one), but they turned out to be one of our favorites.  It was quite a fun fruit adventure!  

All kinds of tropical delectables to try
Which one first? Hmm…

After taking our haul back to the hotel, we headed out on foot to the boardwalk down along the ocean.  Cairns is a beautiful little beachside town with great walking/biking paths and an awesome children’s water park that goes on and on.  Later that evening, we had an amazing dinner overlooking the ocean.  Our first real meal out….and a fancy one at that!  The next morning was going to be a big day.

Dinner views of the marina

We decided to try and pick up our camper van a little early, so we headed out on foot in the morning.  We didn’t even get a block before it started pouring rain….time to call an Uber.  We arrived at the rental place the same time as several other groups, and wouldn’t you know, we could not check out early.  On top of that, we couldn’t stay inside because there were too many people per the Covid rules.  So, several of us stood outside, under a small awning to shield us from the rain, for close to an hour.  Finally, it was our turn to check out our camper van.  This was not going to be easy after getting super comfy with our big RV.  We were back to living in a van 🙁  This time, for 3 weeks!!!  Ugh….just shoot me now.  As we were telling the woman at the rental place where we were headed, she asked if we planned to swim or snorkel.  We told her probably not.  She then replied, “Good. Don’t.”  We were headed to the home of Box Jellyfish, Great White Sharks, and Saltwater Crocodiles!  She basically told us that if no one was on the beach or in the water, then we should not be either.  Gulp! I just found even more ways to die in Australia!

Guess how many empty beaches we saw?  ALL OF THEM!!!

From Cairns, we headed north to the Daintree Rainforest.  To get here, you have to take your vehicle onto a river barge to get to the other side of the Daintree River (did I mention the river is infested with Saltwater Crocodiles?).  We weren’t entirely prepared for the heat and humidity that greeted us (shocking, I know).  It was also pouring rain, and we no longer had a rig equipped with air conditioning or space to hang out when the weather was bad.  This was not going to be fun!  Luckily, Dan found us a campground that had beautiful grassy grounds and a few covered campsites.  We opted for the covered spot so that we could at least sit outside despite the rain.  Unfortunately, the cover did nothing for the wicked heat and humidity (it actually made it worse).  We had originally planned to spend several days up in this area, but it was not looking like that was going to be a possibility given my lack of heat tolerance.

Ferry across the salt water croc infested Daintree river
We followed this road to it’s end in Cape Tribulation
Surreal drive through a tropical rainforest
Views of the Coral Sea
Campground number one for this part of the trip
We found a campground with rain protection which came in handy!

We left our site in the morning and headed out to do several different walks and skywalks through the rainforest.  On one skywalk in particular, we were in search of the famous Cassowary.  This is a giant, prehistoric bird that looks somewhat like an ostrich, except it is far more colorful.  It also has this odd, solid structure on the top of it’s head and a razor, sharp claw on it’s feet.  The Cassowary has been labeled the world’s most dangerous bird (go figure) and is capable of eviscerating you with those claws.  Unfortunately, we did not find any Cassowaries (but I did see way more spiders than I ever wanted to).  

Orb Weaver and it’s spider web. These things are huge.
Every where you look, there is a spider not far away
Wandering the Daintree rainforest
Climbing an observation tower to get a rainforest canopy view
Incredibly lush
There are cassowary birds in this forest but this is the only one we “found”

From there, we headed to Cape Tribulation, the furthest point north that you can drive following the coast.  We headed down to the water for a quick peek (also watching for crocodiles), then did another rainforest canopy walk.  As we made our way back to the van, Dan decided to take a short cut between two trees.  I almost followed, but then decided my good sense dictated I stay on the path to the correct walkway to the car (only another 20 feet or so).  When I got to  the car, Dan was dancing around frantically like his head was on fire.  He had managed to walk through THE BIGGEST spider web ever and was terrified that the spider had come with it.  Luckily the spider was still up in his web (and by far the biggest spider we have seen so far!  He was like the size of an adult hand)!  The web was nearly impossible to get off of Dan because it was so sticky and filled with yellow goo!  ACK!  So glad I didn’t follow him (insert big shiver here).

Tarzan made this look easy
Empty beach deep in saltwater crocodile territory
This spider and it’s huge web ensnared Dan much to both of our chagrin!

We headed back across the river barge down to a riverboat tour on the Daintree River.  Here we would be searching for the Saltwater Crocodile.  The Daintree River is a 120 kilometer river that is freshwater at low tide and salt water at high tide.  When the tide comes in from the ocean, the water level goes up by 2.5 meters (8.3 feet)!  It is very brackish which makes it the perfect hangout for the Saltwater Croc.  We motored around the river and came across 1 large male croc and a few babies, but that was about it.  It definitely wasn’t the most impressive crocodile tour we’ve done.

Daintree river salt water croc tour
Fifteen foot long salt water crocodile
Baby salt water croc

Next, we drove to the Kuranda Rainforest.  At this point, all of our campgrounds have been quite nice….until now.  This one was tucked deep into the rainforest (nice) but the facilities were not so great, and the permanent residents far outnumbered those of us camping.  After my cold shower in the dark (no, not my choice), this was a one and done.  We headed off bright and early for Kuranda Village.  This was a great little town with all kinds of cute little shops and touristy things.  We decided to do the Koala Gardens.  This was basically a glorified, miniature zoo.  However, we did get to see the koalas up close as well as a number of other animals.

Barron gorge near Kuranda
Our campsite in the Kuranda rainforest
Feeding some wallabies in the local nature park
It’s the kangaroos turn!
This one gave Robyn the cold shoulder
Koala bear!

At this point, we decided it was time to come down out of the rainforest and head to the Atherton Tablelands.  We found this awesome camp area that catered to “gray nomads”.  Yep, that is literally what they call themselves (not sure I care to be called that).  It was a beautiful spot and meticulously clean and well kept.  The camp kitchen had everything you could imagine and was a unique experience in and of itself.  

Fanciest camp kitchen of the trip so far

After leaving the camp early the next morning, we headed out in search of a platypus.  There were 3 specific areas where they were known to be found.  Unfortunately, it was raining again.  We walked the banks of the first river….no platypus.  We walked the banks for another river….no platypus.  We finally went to a pond area and paid to go in.  After standing in the pouring rain, we finally got to see this elusive little guy.  They are quite odd looking.  If you have never seen one, they are a mash up of a venomous, egg laying, duck billed, beaver tailed, otter footed mammal.

Searching for platypus in the river
If you say so!
Found one!

The Tablelands are also known for their abundance of mango plantations, banana plantations, creameries, tea plantations, coffee plantations, and wineries specializing in exotic fruit wines and liqueurs.  So, that adventure was next on our list for the day.  Since there weren’t enough hours in our day, we chose to visit a coffee roaster/chocolatier, 2 creameries for cheeses, and a tea plantation.  I know….you’re speechless that we skipped the wineries!  We propped up the Aussie economy by buying treasures from each and every place.

Tasting a variety of hand cut teas
Tea plants as far as they eye can see
Millaa Millaa waterfall

We made our way out of the Tablelands by early afternoon and drove down the coast to a place called Etty Bay.  We were extremely lucky to be able to score a camp spot at this tiny beach area on Thursday because they were completely booked up for the entire Easter weekend.  This spot was a very important score for Dan since he read that you were sure to see Cassowaries roaming the beach at dusk and dawn.  No sooner had we parked our van and opened the door, and a Cassowary wandered by our van.  Holy crap!!  He was right there!  He was obviously very use to people as he freely roamed all over the campground trying to steal food.  At one point, a large group of people were sitting under their awning, and he strolled right in.  That sent the entire group scattering and squealing (he may be comfortable with people, but he is still dangerous).  We were beyond excited to finally get to see one up close and personal.  I came really close to walking into him the next morning as I distractedly talked on the phone.  I looked up just in time to stop dead in my tracks.

Giant cassowary bird in the campground!
The prehistoric looking bird came right by our beachside camp!
They have razor sharp claws and a few Aussies get injured every year.
Rain soaked laughing Kookaburra bird. Neither of us were laughing at all of the rain we had!

Down on the beach, there was a big net out in the water.  We quickly learned that this was a jellyfish net, designed to offer a protected area for people to swim and play in the water.  This was a big no thanks!  There was a crocodile warning sign here too.  We spoke with the lifeguard who informed us that a croc had been caught in the net the day before.  She proceeded to tell us it was a small one….only 2 meters!  Ummmm, 2 meters is way bigger than I want to encounter!  We asked about walking on the beach and whether or not it was safe.  She basically told us it was okay to walk on the beach but stay away during dusk and dawn.  She said that was like feeding time at the zoo.  Ooookay, note to self…..STAY OFF THE BEACH!!

A salt water crocodile got entangled in the beach safety net the day before.
Warning signs at the beach. Umm yeah no need to go in the water for us!

So, that brings us to the end our rainforest and tablelands excursion.  We have seen and experienced some amazing things in this incredible country.  We have 2 more weeks in our camper van to make our way along the east coast back to Sydney, so stayed tuned for more adventures in Australia.

Adventures in the Outback….Australia Part 2

Welcome back!  After 8 days with our tiny home, we pulled into Melbourne to drop off our little caravan and pick up our next “home.”  This was truly a luxury vehicle!  A class C RV motorhome that sleeps 6 (mind you, not overly comfortable if you are 6….but plenty spacious for 2).  Here is the crazy part….we signed up for a relocation deal which has some definite perks, as well as at least one big downside.  So what this boiled down to was we got this amazing “home” for 8 days, for the whopping sum of $1 dollar a day.  Yep, you read that right….$1 dollar per day to rent this baby!  But, let’s not forget the aforementioned downside 🙁  The downside was that we had to move the vehicle 1700 miles over 8 days….yikes!

Moving day! From small to much larger!

At this point, I have not driven here in Australia.  For those who know me well, you know how much I hate to drive in my own country where I have a firm grasp on what I am doing!  Since this leg of our journey required many long hours behind the wheel, we agreed that I would share in some of the driving….gulp.  Dan and I decided to log as many miles as we could up front, so that we could have some down days to enjoy this beautiful country.  Since it was somewhat late in the day by the time we did all the vehicle switching, we decided to drive 2 hours and grab a camp spot for the night.

Robyn’s turn at the wheel. “Look right and drive right” was our mantra!

The next day we got an early start from our spot in Nhill and drove 8 hours straight into the outback via the Barossa wine country.  I took the first shift which worked out well since we were one of the very few cars on the road.  After “backseat” driving Dan for the last week, I felt pretty skilled driving my big rig from the right seat on the left side of the road!  One of the freakiest things we’ve encountered on our drives are these rigs called Road Trains.  They are basically a semi with 3 attached cargo trailers.  They are scary to pass since they are so long, and when they blow by you, you feel like you are going to be blown off the road.  Needless to say, we tend to hug the shoulder when we see one approaching and hang on tight!  The terrain in the outback is quite spectacular with it’s wide array of colors and features.  We expected to encounter a lot of wildlife, but unfortunately everything we saw on this day was road kill 🙁  At this point, the only wombat and kangaroo I’d seen were deceased…..so heartbreaking.  After our long drive, we opted for a “wild” camping spot which was down a red dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.  Knowing all the deadly things that lurk in the outback waiting for me, I wasn’t overly keen to go exploring on foot or hang out outside.  I know….what a wimp!

Welcome to the Outback!
Wish you could tie off the wheel and set the cruise control.
Our first wilderness camp spot in the Outback. Kangaroo and snake tracks were everywhere but we didn’t see a Roo until with we left the next morning.
Can’t complain about the locale!
Sunset from our camp spot

We were up with the sun the following morning and on the road again.  Once again, I took first shift.  I kind of liked having the road all to myself.  Since we were out and about at sunrise, we were treated to some kangaroos and a number of emu.  The kangaroos were messing around in the roadway, so by the time we got close enough (very slowly), they had disappeared into the brush.  It was very cool to finally get to see some alive and well.  On this day, we planned to cover 5 hours to the town of Coober Pedy.  Along the way, we stopped at a salt lake (we’ve seen quite few of these here) and walked out onto if for some pictures.  They are really an unusual landform out here in the middle of nowhere.

“Lake” Hart – a salt lake used in movies like Mad Max
An Emu couple in front of the secretive Woomera missile test facility.

Before long, we were approaching the town of Coober Pedy.  Before you even arrive, you are surrounded by very odd piles of dirt that cover the landscape as far as the eye can see.  There are also a multitude of signs warning you of the dangers surrounding these big dirt hills.  We have now entered Coober Pedy which claims to be the Opal mining capital of the world and home to over 70 fields.  The name Coober Pedy means White Man in a Hole.  Seems rather appropriate!  In addition to all the mines, much of the town is built underground and tunneled into hillsides.  We took some time to go explore an old mine turned tourist attraction which housed many artifacts and recreated the life and times of a miner and his family.  We then hiked to the top of Big Winch 360 where we were treated to 360 degree views of the countryside.

Coober Pedy – started as “Kupa Piti”, which is aborigine for “White Man Holes”
There are thousands of mineshafts in the area- and they are not marked!
Felt a bit like Mos Eisley from Star wars to us.
Some old mining equipment rusting away
A former Opal mine turned tourist exhibit.
Exploring the mine shafts that miners looked for Opal treasure.
The area is scorching hot in summer so miners lived underground with their familes. Here Robyn is in a kid’s bedroom in use until the 1960s
The underground homes had multiple bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms.
Miners had to exit the mines via vertical shafts with footholds chopped in the sandstone
There are miles and miles of mine shafts under the ground. All dug to look for Opal.
Waffles and Opals. Why not?

The other draw to this small town is the landscapes which are certainly out of this world.  Many movies have used this unusual landscape for their shoots, including Mad Max, The Red Planet, and Ground Zero just to name a few.  A short drive out of town had us clanging down a washboard, red dirt road to some of the craziest landforms imaginable.  This was an Aboriginal heritage site known as the Breakaways which boasts unusual land formations and a wide range of colors that change with the light of the sun.  Along one part of the site is the world’s longest fence.  Here you will find part of a 5300km dog fence that was built to keep the Dingos out of the south where the cattle and sheep roam free (unfortunately, it didn’t stop a few cows from encounters with high speed trucks).  After thoroughly exploring the Breakaways, we followed the bone jarring dirt road back to the highway to continue our trek.  Our next stop was the town of Kulgera in the Northern Territory.  Here we spent another creepy night out in the bush (it was a beautiful site despite the thousand ways I conjured up to die painfully in Australia….haha!)  At one point, I even yelled at Dan who was busy wandering around in the brush at dusk.  Crazy man!

The desert landscape was used for many movies, for which some props were left behind.
Piles of rubble from the thousands of Opal mine shaft in the area
We took the motorhome down a long stretch of teeth rattling washboard dirt roads
Looking out over the “Breakaways’, a surreal landscape.
Longest fence in the world. Built to keep the dingoes (wild dogs) away from the sheep
After hours and hours of driving finally made it the Northern Territory border
Camping in the wilderness near Kulgera, Northern Territories.

Once again, we hit the road at sun up.  Our next destination was the famous world heritage site of Uluru.  As we drove there, we were treated to  hills and soil that ranged in color from grays, to deep purples, to fiery reds which changed as the sun moved in the sky.  We arrived at our campsite nestled in amongst some very nice hotels and one lowly gas station.  As you can imagine, filling up this big RV at that particular gas station was quite painful!  It was $2.90/liter or $9.00/gallon!  OUCH!!!

Ouch – over $9 US dollars a gallon to fill up!
The first rock feature on the road to Uluru – “Fool-uru” Fool’s Uluru. Just a mesa.
Camping near Uluru at the Yulara campground
First view of Uluru. Quite the beauty!

Our first full day in Uluru/Ayer’s Rock, we headed out to the monolith itself.  This is known as the world’s largest monolith and is sacred to the Aborigines.  We decided to do the almost 7 mile walk around the circumference of this giant rock.  The colors changed with the movement of the sun and clouds, and we were treated to a variety of unique features.  Luckily we had bought some head nets the day before because the flys were horrendous.  They hover around your head trying to get into your ears, nose, eyes, and mouth.  They are so relentless it nearly drives you insane.  There were numerous areas where photos were forbidden because the rocks tell the stories of the aboriginal people to be handed down in person to their future generations and not shared through photographs.  In addition, there are sections strictly for the men and others for the women.  We were not able to get up close to any of these areas.  Later that evening, we headed to a spot dedicated to watching the sunset over Ayer’s Rock.  Once again, we were treated to the changing colors of this giant monolith as the sun set over the horizon.

View on the drive to the trailhead
Part of the magic of Uluru is how it changes color throughout the day.
Mutijuju Walterhole nestled against the rock
The “Kitchen” where aborigine woman prepared meals
The rock changes form and look as you hike around it.
Aborigine rock art
The flies can be pesky so a net can help.
It was magical to hike around the base.
The walk around Uluru was surprisingly lush at times
Banksia flowers
Before and after sunset pictures
A great finish to a special day

The next morning, we were up super early in order to drive a 1/2 hour to a sunrise viewing spot to witness sunrise over Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) another rock formation.  Coincidentally, we could also see sunrise over Uluru as well.  Once the sun was up, we headed up close to Kata Tjuta to do a little bit of hiking.  We didn’t last very long as the wind was just howling (ironically named Valley of the Winds), and the terrain was a little bit treacherous.  Thanks to the wind, the flys were not near as bad.  After the our short exploration of Kata Tjuta, we decided to end our stay in the outback and head to Alice Springs since our time in the RV was coming to an end.

Sunrise over the Olgas – Kata Tjuta
Sunrise next to Uluru in the distance
Starting the “Valley of the Winds” hike

After 5 hours of driving, we found a lovely little campground outside Alice Springs.  A super friendly campground host guided us to our spot, and I jumped out to guide   Dan into the spot since there were many trees.  As I directed him as close to the tree as possible, making sure he didn’t hit the top on the low branches, I looked up and saw the biggest spider I’ve ever seen right above my head.  Needless to say, I squealed and did my “eww, creepy spider” dance out from under him only to find myself under and even bigger one!  The camp host and all our neighbors busted up laughing at the goofy American girl terrified of spiders.  The camp host repeatedly assured me that these Orb spiders were not dangerous.  Ummm…..don’t care!  Ewwww!  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more spiders in this campground than anywhere else on our journey so far.  Once settled and chores completed, we walked next door to this really fun brewery for some dinner and local beers.  It was a great way to end the day.

Made it! 3094 kms (1922 miles) from Melbourne.
Our last camp spot with this motorhome. Alice Springs and lots of spiders!
The Australian Giant Orb weaver spider – and source of Robyn’s Giant nightmares!
Our campground was next door to a nice craft brewery with local Barrmundi fish and chips.

We had now arrived at the end of this leg of our journey.  We needed to prep the RV for turn in and check into our hotel room for the night.  The following day we would be flying to Brisbane and then Cairns for the final 3 weeks of our journey.  We arrived at our hotel around 12:30 but were told we could not check in until 2:00, so we dropped our bags and headed out to turn in the RV.  We walked back to the hotel around 1:30 and asked once again.  Still no rooms were ready, so the girl handed us 2 free drink coupons for the bar onsite.  We headed over and grabbed a beer and burger.  Long story short, our room was not ready until nearly 4:30 and we were given 6 drink coupons to keep us occupied….lol.  Not a bad way to while away the afternoon!

Free beers (courtesy of hotel) and Australian Rules Football.

That night was opening night of Parrtjima Festival which is an annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival.  We hopped on a very crowded shuttle bus (standing room only and my most favorite thing in the world to do) and headed to the festival as darkness set in.  As we entered the outdoor venue, we were treated to some beautiful light displays throughout the desert.  The centerpiece of the festival was a light and sound show that took place on the McDowell Mountain Range displaying aboriginal art, music and story canvased on the mountain.  After exploring the festival, we stood in a long line to once again crowd on to an overstuffed shuttle bus home.  Tomorrow would be an early start and a long day of standby flying….2 flights totaling over 5 hours 🙁

Alice Springs desert park kangaroo
Wedge tailed eagle
Same eagle showing us how it breaks open hard Emu eggs with rocks
Australian Emu
Joining the hordes for a nighttime light show in Alice Springs
They did a great job translating Aboriginal legends into light
Very impressed!
Bamboo turned into a tunnel of light
The McDonnell mountain range ringing Alice Springs was lit up as well!
Met a local Aborigine woman and enjoyed leaning her culture first hand.

When we meet again, we will take you back to the sea and through the rainforests of Australia!