Friday, September 5, 2014

A Naturalist Walk in Mallorca :From Virgin Beaches to Pine Marten Poop

I had to come to Mallorca to see pine marten poop! Apparently, although carnivorous, in the summer they have to eat fruit and produce a "seedy excrementa" said Josep and Noella.

There are not many vacations where you can walk around behind a biologist and get a good lesson in island scatology, but this is one!  We were very lucky in that after a little Christmas shopping in downtown Palma de Mallorca, famous for such things as olive oil, ham, and Mallorca pearls, we were picked up at our hotel by Noella and Josep for a naturalist tour of a less trafficked area of Mallorca. These two very spirited young folks with a passion for conservation met in college in Barcelona, even though they grew up in Mallorca. After graduation, they returned home and founded Wildlife Mallorca: a company that takes you OUT of the city and into the mountains, beaches and wetlands by foot, bike or kayak.
Biologist/adventure guides. They were awesome. If you come to Mallorca, please call them!
They took us through the countryside on a private van tour to get to the beach and forest area. We got a good look at many agricultural products in Mallorca such as artichokes, fava beans, sugar cane, corn, tomatoes,'s a gardener's paradise.
Watch out Nederlands. These folks have windmills galore.
One thing that I either didn't know or didn't remember is that there are MANY windmills in Mallorca. They were part of life’s necessity, used by farmers to grind grain and pump water. Today their presence is so inherent to the islands heritage, that in 2004, the Mallorcan government developed a project dedicated to their restoration and preservation. There are still many of them in need of the upper section, but we saw literally a hundred of the base structures on our way out to the woods/beach.Tiles of FornalutxOf the three thousand windmills on the island, some dating back to the seventeenth century, six hundred of these are what we would class as “classic” windmills and are the most widespread. They are recognized by their wooden vanes, peaked “cap”, and were used for grinding grain.

It was really wonderful to pass by so many of these very old structures that in some ways define the history of Mallorca. Noella, one of the biologists, told us there were more windmills in Mallorca per capita than anywhere else in the world. And I believe her. It all reminded me of Don Quixote and his "quests." 

Our drive took us from Palma to the north central shore of the island near Can Picafort to a wildlife and nature refuge. That refuge started on a working farm, so on the way out to see all the plants and animals, we were treated to about the only real animal sightings we had on the trip, other than the fish and snails we saw on the beach. They were establishing a welcome center there, but it was not open or at least in the words of the guides, "No very good."
Peacocks strutting the farm
The path through the woods.
Typical scrubby Mediterranean terrain. Lots of sagebrush, rosemary and other native species.
Our first view of the beach through the trees.

Future ham (sorry to say. They were really cute.)      

Our guides then led us through a pine forest where they talked to us at length and knowledgeably about many different plants, some of which looked like weeds to me, but which were edible.
The guides tried to tell us about all the animals and plants and tried to show us tortoises. The turtles however, were playing hide and seek and WON the game. We never found them. Apparently, based on scatological evidence and lots of burrowing, the place is also awash in rabbits. Finally, we arrived at the beach area.

There was a necropolis at the beach. Apparently this dates back to Roman times, and about 130 tombs were in place. It was pretty fascinating. The best part though, is despite the impressive number of dead people, there were only TWO other live people on the beach! And they are up there walking on people's graves in their swimwear! (Oh, well. I guess not everyone was raised by my mama!)

Here you see our "private beach" literally. Paul lost his Mediterranean beach virginity at a virgin beach. No condos, no people...just the beautiful blue waters (and a guide or two.) It was really rocky on the bottom,which I remembered from my childhood in Greece. I also remembered you could walk out for quite a distance and the water depth would vary pretty wildly but rarely got over your head, so that you might be into your neck at one place and then further out the water would end up at your knees.  It was really fun to be there with Paul for his first Mediterranean swim. The guide was nice enough to take me out snorkelling in deeper waters where I enjoyed the fish and the different bottom features such as algae, sand, rocks, etc.

 We were fortunate to be there at sunset and get to watch all the colors developing over this natural bay area.
It was a short walk via a different path back to the car and the farm area, back through the farmland and eventually by van to the hotel. This was SO WORTH IT to get out of the city and see the less developed woodsy and beach areas of Mallorca. We were so fortunate to get the train trip through the mountains, the day in the city and finally, this wonderful trip out to a deserted (for the most part) beach with two guides who really appreciated their island and knew so much about its flora and fauna. We would definitely go with them again if and when we return to Mallorca and explore other regions such as the wetlands.
 I was once told ladybugs were luck and we saw this one on the way. So thanks ladybug (and the little ant in the right lower corner of the flower), for making this walk and swim very special.

We ended our day at another really nice restaurant, Misa which was a  Mallorcan farm to table treat. I am sure Senor Gourmand will make it sound even more delicious than the chef can!

I will part this blog writing with a poem about Mallorca by Carol Fourch (after all, it can't all be about SCAT!)

Dipping our bread in oil tins
we talked of morning peeling
open our rooms to a moment
of almonds, olives and wind
when we did not yet know what we were.
The days in Mallorca were alike:
footprints down goat-paths
from the beds we had left,
at night the stars locked to darkness.
At that time we were learning
to dance, take our clothes
in our fingers and open
ourselves to their hands.
The veranera was with us.
For a month the almond trees bloomed,
their droppings the delicate silks
we removed when each time a touch
took us closer to the window where
we whispered yes, there on the intricate
balconies of breath, overlooking
the rest of our lives.

Paul's Ponderings:        A great day out to end our sojourn in Mallorca!   The area reminded me of Florida with no swamps and an unspoiled coastline (mostly).   The Mediterranean was beautiful and pretty much unspoiled in that area.   We swam for about 45 minutes in what were cool blue waters, with Menorca vaguely visible in the distance.  There were old guard towers nearby from WWII and a smuggler's cave where contraband was hidden during the Franco regime in Spain.   We finished up a with a great dinner in Palma at Misa.....super good short ribs and fish with a local vegetable salsa on it -- another Marc Fosh restaurant, but a different vibe and approach than the one from earlier in the week.   This one is more "farmhouse" with respect to the food.   Overall, it's a small island with many beautiful features....wish we had perhaps one more day, but that's a reason for a return visit!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Train to the Plain and the Mountains: Soller and Puerto Soller

While we were on our Andorran hiking journey, a well-travelled British couple told us, "When you get to Mallorca, don't miss the train to Soller." What we found out in researching this excursion is that it's been in service since 1912 and has had uninterrupted service every day since then.
Palma Station Son Sardina station Son Reus halt Santa Maria halt Caubet halt Bunyola station Túnel Major Mirador des Pujol d’En Banya viewing point “Cinc-Ponts” viaduct Tunnel “Cinc-cents” Ca’n Tambor halt Sóller station

The railway is characterized, amongst other things, by the fact that it is narrow gauge, the track width being 914 mm (an English yard), which is infrequent nowadays; moreover its rolling stock is extremely varied and meticulously finished, and maintained using traditional methods. One source stated the trains were originally part of the streetcar system in San Francisco.

The Sóller railway also stands out for the special, attractive route it runs along, overcoming the natural barrier of the Sierra de Alfàbia mountain range which is 2.8 km wide and 496 metres high. To do so, in just seven kilometres, the railway rises up 199 metres with an inclination of 23 millimetres, runs through thirteen longitudinal tunnels ranging in length from 33 to 2,876 metres, crosses over several bridges, the “cinc-ponts” viaduct which has five arches with spans 8 metres high and a great many bends, some with radii below 190 metres.  You get a great understanding of the varied terrain of Mallorca...from seashore to mountain.
olive orchards abound

some of the mountainous terrain of Tramuntana

The city of Soller from above the plain

High peak with clouds

One of the viaducts.
I was particularly impressed  by the length of the tunnels through the mountains. That represents a lot of work and engineering! Once you arrive in Soller, you board a smaller tram to Port de Soller, a sleepy fishing village...filled with TOURISTS who wanna swim and hangout. Often their body parts are "hanging out" too! :)
Port de Soller: a natural bay and home to many yachts and sailboats

One of two lighthouses.

Orange cake from local oranges and diet Coke. What better?

The tram to Port de Soller.
The ride up the mountain was scenic. We passed orchard after orchard of olives, oranges, lemons, almonds, figs and grapes. It's really pastoral in the interior.
Seriously, I thought this cat was dead. A cat contortionist!

Another black cat with no real agenda.

excuse me while I hug this chunk of sidewalk
We had to laugh at the cats of the village of Port of Soller. We walked up to the top of the village to admire the village and the ocean and all along the way we encountered black cats in  a veritable state of coma. These guys could NOT be coaxed into moving at all. Apparently, with all the heat and humidity, they had a lot more sense than we do!
The beach area and train from on high

beautiful mediterranean coastline. Lots of blue hues.
At the end of the journey at the train line, we were treated to two nice museums. One was Picasso and the other paintings of Miro, who adopted Mallorca as his home. These were absolutely free of charge and really nice.
Picasso sculpture

Random door in Port de Soller

Some guy in a hat
We returned home and really admired all the great scenic areas that this train trip afforded us. We celebrated with dinner at Bougaderia, recommended in the New York Times for their tapas. It was an excellent meal with great local wines.
Looking into the restaurant from the front door. They seem to like Iberian ham :)
Duck leg confit!
We certainly cannot complain about our meal or our wonderful day of train travel in Mallorca.

“I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.”
Anna Funder

Paul's Ponderings:  Today was consumed by the trip up to Soller, involving vintage trains.   It was great, because we got to see another part of the country.   Very warm weather here all day.   We wandered about Soller and the port and then took the train back to Palma, which was followed by a great dinner this evening.  Pretty much a perfect day in Mallorca!

You Gotta Hand It to Palma!

 “People don’t take trips – trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Airing the dirty laundry on the streets of Palma

Doors of Palma
The seafront cathedral at Palma de Mallorca

Tuesday morning we dragged ourselves to the Barcelona airport for the short duration flight to the beautiful island of Mallorca. I think Ringo Starr alluded to people carrying around large bags of cocaine, but we just had clothing! Also, in the air, I didn't see alot of coca plants, and although the island is well known as a European beach hangout, clothing optional, it appeared to me to be predominantly orchards: olives, lemons, oranges, figs....if it grows on a tree, they are into it!
Paul checks out the bed.
Our first stop was our very nice hotel, The HM Jaime III--we later found out he was a King who brought many improvements to Mallorca and also a successor to the Arab empire here and the king whose brother returned the island to Aragon.  He never slept in this bed. But the room was really great.
The separate sitting area of the room which can be conveniently closed off from the bedroom.

City view from the balcony.
After staying at Hotel Abac in Barcelona, the Taj Mahal would  be a letdown, but this place was super nice with clean cool rooms and a spa and about $150 a night. Pretty primo.
Local Mallorcan beer. We drank it during"orientation".
We had a nice tapas meal of shaved salmon and ham and this nice local beer while we talked about "WHAT TO DO NEXT." It's actually quite warm in Palma in September (and even in January, hence the flock of Germans!), so we decided to wander down toward the water and let the day unfold.
Narrow streets of the old city
We decided to get a view from the waterfront and visit the big cathedral.
The Cathedral of Perpetual Clothing Optional Beaches

Overview of the interior

Beautiful stained glass


Angels in the grotto

An unusual depiction of Jesus being pierced in the side...apparently once you get one arrow, it is hard to stop drawing them.

A gaudy grotto.
It's a huge building with alot of artwork. One thing they have is a grotto designed by Gaudi. It is literally "a piece of work." Paul said, "They said it was controversial." I think he must have been p.o.'d at the bishop or pope or somebody. Here it is--beauty is in the eye of the beholder:
A Gaudi grotto.
We then noticed the Palace of the kings is nearby. This was built by Arab rulers who were eventually ousted by the Jaimes I through III. Eventually the Aragon empire retook the island. Let's just say it's been remodeled a time or two! The rooms were gynormous and beautifully if sparsely decorated. King Juan Carlos still held functions here throughout his reign
As you can see, room beyond room beyond room...

The turkish baths

King's parlor

Paul fell in love with the angel on the corner of the building.
Go forth, Paul Parris and admire me!

A bit more perspective on the object of Paul's admiration.

Some other things Paul likes.

An interesting door in an alley on the way back to the hotel.

We enjoyed both the cathedral and the palace museum. We made our way back to the hotel and eventually to dinner at a restaurant named Simply Fosh. It was a  four course degustation menu. I should have gone with the three course, but the courses were slightly larger than I expected. But delicious. We had terrine with fish carpaccio, salt cod on lemongrass soup and spiced duck breast paired with local wines.

Overall, we really love the island of Mallorca and could even imagine living here. It never hurts to dream....although sometimes I think I am living in one every day.

Paul's Ponderings:   The first day of a lovely return visit to Palma.  We had a great time out and about in the center city which is fairly small with many lanes.   Reminiscent of Genoa to me....

The dinner at Simply Fosh was outstanding, in an enclosed open air courtyard with lamps and tables that you would normally see inside.   You can tell they don't see much rain here!   

Tomorrow we will take the train up to Soller and its port component as well.

Very warm here, but low humidity, as you might expect!