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!

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