The Balanguera ( Anthem of Majorca)

The mysterious Balanguera,

like a spider of subtle art,

empties, oh, empties her spinning wheel

and pulls off the thread of our lives.

Like a Parca she ponders well,

weaving the cloth for tomorrow.

The Balanguera spins, spins,

the Balanguera will spin.

Turning her glance to the past

she guards the shades of ancestry

and of the new spring

she knows where the seed is hidden.

She knows that the vine-stock climbs up higher

the deeper its roots can go.

From traditions and from hopes

she weaves the flag for the youth

as one who prepares a wedding veil

with hairs of gold and silver

of the childhood that grews up

of the old age who goes away.

Words by Joan Alcover i Maspons (Spanish Balearic writer, poet, essayist and politician)

Music by Amadeu Vives (Catalan composer)

 

As we rounded the headland they flew out in pairs, wheeling, zipping, a couple dancing in the sky, their talons locked in a choreography of pairing. Beautiful but devious little falcons, the Eleonora Falcons, nesting high in the sand coloured cliffs, breeding late in the season as they take advantage of tired little migratory birds to feed on. One of these tiny, brave but strong migrants, whirled round the boat and landed on the rigging, clinging tight. It clung on while we rounded the cliff and headed into a beautiful sheltered bay, tall scrub covered steep hill sides all around. It flipped off the stays and flew into the protection of the trees, a lucky escape. The falcons continued their hunt over the seas, their annoyed cries carrying over the waves. These small hobbys have a clever but macabre habit of catching live prey, removing their flight feathers then imprisoning them live in rocky crevices to feed on, or feed to their chicks, later if pickings are scant. Getting their name from Eleanor of Arborea, Queen and national heroine of Sardinia who was the first person to grant protection over nesting hawks and falcons, they seemed like characters from Game of Thrones to me.

We settled for the night, after a swim in this clear water cove, an amphitheatre surrounding by steep hillsides and all to ourselves. We had reached this area of the island successfully on the second attempt and had a brilliant sail up the north western coast of Majorca towards Pollensa but decided not to go in to Pollensa bay and stop instead at this secluded anchorage before heading over to Menorca. The coastline of Majorca was stunning, lined with steep cliffs, high inland mountains and stunning coastal geomorphology, a view not afforded to those on the land. It is a beautiful island so diverse and varied in landscape. Before leaving Porte Soller we had an interesting encounter with a chap hailing himself as the “second in command of the base” at the marina we were berthed in. He came over to our boat, appearing very flustered and quite perturbed. I was my usual cheery, charm offensive self and once he’d introduced himself I said I was pleased to meet him and could I help him?

Well it turned out he took great exception to the flag we were flying, the Catalan flag. I feigned ignorance saying I thought it was the flag for Majorca but he went purple and stated it was not and was for Catalan independence! Really?? He demanded we take it down and if it was still there in the morning he would call the police! Hmm, well we behaved ourselves and took it down, but it seems Spain is the only country that does not allow this flag to be flown, pity. If a Spanish poet and a Catalan composer can work together to produce an anthem for an island of great beauty, it is sad that this is not the case in the current political situation. Perhaps they should listen to their song .., “weaving the cloth for tomorrow”.

We set off for Menorca in the morning, excited to be visiting a new place. Since leaving Port Ellen on Islay every single place we had visited up until Palma, had been for the first time which felt pretty special. Revisiting Majorca had been lovely as we had now seen it from a different aspect and reminisced about the years spent holidaying there with John’s family. Our three boys had idyllic childhood trips, swimming in the pool in the dark with the underwater lights on and visits to their favourite restaurant for prawns in garlic oil and Argentina steaks, their interest in good food stimulated from an early age. Happy days.

Arriving at Calla San Tandria in Menorca was exciting, after a pleasant sail over, a beautiful anchorage with small houses dotted around the linear bay. The architecture is very different to Majorcan and seems a more low-key island. It is flatter then I expected and has a classy feel to it.  We stayed the night, enjoying the clear warm waters for a swim and watching the sunset along with folks who wandered out to the headland to observe this nightly spectacle. It is strange how we humans like to watch the sun go down, it almost seems mystical. We moved on the next day as we had checked the forecast and really needed to be heading over to Sardinia soon as there were gales expected and I certainly didn’t want to be dealing with that.

The coastline of Menorca was also beautiful but in a different way, with beige cliffs, lots of caves and arches and little tourist development. We were heading for Cala Coves but had discussed visiting Cova d’en Xoroi where there is a bar and restaurant built  into a large cave that Maria had told us about and I was keen to visit. It was a bit disappointing when we got there to realise we could not get close enough to it, to safely anchor the boat and walk round as it would be half a mile away which is too risky to leave the boat unattended. My disappointment was soon forgotten when we anchored in the next bay as it was amazing. Cliffs all around and small caves carved into the sides which were intriguing. After a swim to cool off we dinghied ashore and walked round the bay on the little trail, finding an interpretation board which explained these caves were burial spaces and dated back to 2,000BC. There were numerous of these funerial caves all around the bay as well as bigger, open caves little fire pits inside from visitors camping out.  There was even a gentleman who had a dining table and chairs inside one of these with a little rock path down to his boat garage carved inside the rock! The trail was delightful making its way through groves of fig trees, giant cactii, large palm trees, trailing bougainvillea and tall bamboo. It was other worldly and we felt privileged to spend the night here. It was nice to see other boats in the bay, with local Menorcans, a family of three generations, making dinner and getting beds ready for the night on their rough but ready motor boat, fishing rods hanging over the edge with expectant boys gazing down at the line while little girls busied themselves choosing their sleeping spot and granny scrubbing the potatoes to cook for tea. What memories these children will have as they grow, of magical nights spent on their grandparents’ boat – and hopefully BBQ the fish they catch.

The next morning there were a couple more boats who had joined us, a classy shiny motor boat with a few naked guys swimming and lounging about, a large yacht with a French couple, naked and a few bohemian folks reclining on the rocks lying on brightly coloured mats, mostly naked! Well, while in Menorca!

The trip up the coast to Mahon was delightful and we took advantage of the seclusion of the boat to tan those parts not often reached by the suns rays! Think we’re becoming a bit bohemian as well!

I had a nice musing time as we sailed along and thought about the Eleonora falcons, it seemed apt that I’d seen them and was treated to their aerial display. My Mum’s given name is Elenore and I think it is an elegant name. Her mother was Lydia and her grandmother was Ellen, all derivatives of Helen. I was initially named Eilidh (meaning Helen in Gaelic) before my father was told by a Gaelic speaking friend that the name and meaning he really wanted  (Eilid with no “h” on the end = red deer hind ) so he had to go to the registrar and pay 5 bob to have the name changed! My colleague and friend’s second daughter is Eleanor and another friend’s  first daughter is Ella, all linked, all special. My musings.

Before we reached the town I showered the fancy shower mousse that Carole had brought over and felt more like a lady again! We fuelled up at the marina, took on fresh water that the nice Menorcan attendant didn’t charge us for while I walked up the hill to the shop to get fresh supplies. I was glad it was downhill on the return as the load was heavy including beer, wine, water and a week’s worth of fruit and veg! Off round the bay til we found the public quayside to tie up stern to and a really friendly marinera appeared to help us sort out the lines.

The captain enquired if it was ok to stay there while we went for lunch

“Of course! If you don’t need fuel or water, its free. I see you are self sufficient, amazing, it’s the way to be! You can sail alone and no need to use the system, this is great eh! F..k the system! You go and enjoy lunch, you are welcome here!” He proclaimed, all smiles and joie de vivre about him.

Ok, so we did.

I decided to dress up in my new clothes as it was a classy looking port with quay side restauraunts, bars and very bijou boutiques selling their wares. We decided to go to the first restaurant we came across, right across the road from the boat so we could keep an eye on it and it seemed nice. We had learned our lesson from walking miles to chose the perfect place and then getting too tired and hungry to enjoy it. It certainly was nice but expensive however we laughed as we went for a short walk along the quay to see numerous cafes with menu del dai for E10 each! Oh well.

As we chatted over lunch and used the free WIFI to double check the weather for the crossing to Sardinia, I suggested we just leave that afternoon as there was bad weather coming in and there seemed little point delaying as we would only anchor for the night round the bay here then set off in the early hours.

A good decision, so we settled the bill and hopped back on the boat. I took off the new clothes, removed the makeup and jewellery and tied up the hair ready for sailing. Ah well, short but sweet stay in this trendy bay. The trip over to Sardinia would take 36 hours and  involved an overnight passage, our first alone. I felt ready though, having built up a lot of knowledge and confidence over the last 6 weeks. My goodness has it only been 6 weeks since we left home? It seems like months. I called Mum, the lovely Elenore, to let her know we were out of comms for a couple of days and we let go the lines to head further east.

A new island, a new country, a new flag.

“..,From traditions and from hopes

she weaves the flag for the youth..,”

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