Tuesday, 23 March 2021

On An Island in the Stream.

Covid-19 really did not play ball with our trip planning. We went from CV_Level 5 to CV-Level 4 at the end of April but still, no travel was allowed, not even across provincial borders. End May we moved to CV-3 which allowed us to place our home back on the market but early in June, son Craig and baby Kate both contracted CV-19 (they both recovered within a week but Craig’s sense of smell and taste took about three more weeks to return) and, as we were babysitting Kate the day before they went for their tests, we had to go into self-isolation for two weeks whereafter the house was open again for viewing - for a week. Then someone in the estate agents’ offices was infected and their offices had to close for two weeks…

Back to the house. Amazingly, on the 4th of August, we received a very good cash offer from a lovely couple and suddenly we were homeless! Our previous home was more than twice the size of the one just sold and, when we moved from there seven years ago, we never got around to unpacking ‘properly’ and a lot of ‘stuff’ was stored in the new garage until it was bursting, and so the next three months were a grind of sorting, donating, selling, and throwing away parts of our lives. Quite traumatic!

During all this pandemonium, Lynn’s brother Ian had found a ‘house’ for ‘us’ in the tiny village of Salão, some 8 kilometers from their village of Cedros and about 15 kilometers from the capital of Faial, Horta. Unfortunately, because the farmer who owned the property had undertaken some illegal construction, the deal fell through. Until sometime in early October when he called Ian to say that he had sorted out the issues with the authorities and the property could now be sold – the next day Ian signed the papers and then Lynn and I were 50% owners of a ‘delightful country estate’ and a fixer-upper of note!

'Our' property

Sea facing facade

Pigsty and chicken coup. And 'Dunny'.

Facade of the south-east facing facade. Sea in distance left of pic.

Kitchen/dining room

Sitting room

Looking from the proposed sitting room towards kitchen - front door on the right

Sitting room to proposed bedroom

Ian, being the perpetual working machine that he is, immediately hired two part-time builders, and the three of them set about gutting the place and rebuilding from the cellar (loja) upwards. We think we will be very happy there – if we can manage to obtain a residence permit.

Ian preparing the floor beams

We bade our lovely home farewell on 29 October, after our lives had been packed into a container which we had bought, and moved into a tiny ‘granny cottage’ on someone’s property, just down the road from where we had been living – a BIG adjustment. The livable area is larger than we have on Elle but the view never changes and we have seventeen steps to go up or down when we leave or return ‘home’. 

But we had decided that we would make a serious attempt to get to the Azores before Christmas and booked flights to depart South Africa on 11 December. Ha – wishful thinking!

Having assembled a wad of some fifty pages (each) of Application forms and supporting documentation, we dashed off to the to the visa agent to get our visas on track. However, our Police Clearances which we had applied for in March, had expired in October but we were led to believe that, despite this, they would still be deemed to be valid by the Portuguese authorities under their CV-19 relief rules. Not so – this relief only applies to documents issued by the Portuguese authorities. So back to our appointed ‘official documentation’ processing agents (One Stop Docs – excellent service!) to start the whole process again. On 30 November, after a very stressful time when, at some stage, we thought our replacement Police Clearances would never be issued, we were back at the visa agents’ offices and they cleared our application for forwarding to the Consulate General in Pretoria; as we were never going to make a 11 December departure date, we came home and re-booked for a Christmas Day departure.

A few days later, we noticed that the ‘tracking’ function on the VFS (the visa agent) website was still saying “Application dispatched on 30 November” so Lynn managed to contact the Consulate in Johannesburg and they said that we needed to show proof of having a Portuguese bank account (despite this requirement not showing up on any of their ‘D’ visa documents)…to cut a long story short, on 31 December (our flights had been rescheduled twice by SwissAir and we eventually booked one for 29 January) we received an SMS stating that our passports were ready for collection.

Taraaah! At last we can be on our way.


To cut another very long story short, after a couple more flight cancellations by SwissAir and Emirates, and after having taken three CV tests, including one on the morning we eventually departed, on January 30th, we finally managed to board a BA flight to Johannesburg and then a Qatar flight to Doha/Madrid/Lisbon – incidentally, we had open tickets with SwissAir and Emirates for the next two days in case Qatar canceled; these flights were both canceled the day we departed!

An eerily deserted Lisbon Departures Hall - 20 flights and hour
down to less than 20 flights a day.

Then an unanticipated two-day extension to our stay in Lisbon because we had to have another CV test done before leaving for the Azores (our last test, done in South Africa the morning of the 30th, would expire an hour before we arrived in Horta and it had to be valid on arrival, not only on departure, as I had thought), saw us finally board a plane to Terceira Island and then another to Horta, the capital of Faial Island.

Terceira approaching - very windy!


Horta, Faial coming up - worse weather.

Home at last

The swimming pools about 1.5 kilometers from our house.

Looking north.

Ian at work. Ceilings in, bedroom partition up.

Our neighbours

After two more CV tests over the next ten days of self-imposed, semi-isolation, innumerable trips to the bank, Revenue Office, (Finanças), Home Affairs (SEF) and Health Services, we are now ensconced in the old part of our new home (while Ian beavers away to finish the new part), Income Tax numbers, Residence cards and National Health Insurance numbers safely to hand while we wait for our container of household goods to be shipped from Durban – it should be departing tomorrow.

Residence Cards

And that is the story of how we came to be ‘On An Island in the (Gulf) Stream’.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

To Cruise or not to Cruise, that is the answer.

Yesterday our flight was due to leave South Africa and today is the day we were to have landed in Paris en route to Auxonne and Elle for another season’s cruising, however…

We had booked our appointment to submit our long-stay visa applications for the 18th of March (after having had the first application rejected because our Isle of Man bank statements had not been stamped (new) and we did not have a letter from me to Lynn inviting her to accompany me on the boat (new)!) but on the 16th, Capago, the agents for France-Visas, called to say that the Consulate was no longer issuing visas “for the foreseeable future”.
Then Emirates canceled our tickets.

So where do we stand? Worst case scenario is that before mid-July, Emirates starts flying again, the French Consulate issues us with long-stay visas on condition that we can prove that (a) we have had CV-19, or (b) that we have been vaccinated against the virus. Well, so far, we have not contracted the virus (in any event, there are not enough test kits to go around to test for anti-bodies) and, with the possibility that a vaccine will only pass clinical trials in the next 9 to 18 months, it may well be that we will not get to Elle until 2022.

Best case is that, by the end of May, we can book another flight, are issued with long-stay visas until mid-November, and are allowed to enter France without a two week quarantine period. So here’s hoping!

In the interim however, West Coast pal, Dave-the-Cheesemaker, decided that some of his male buddies needed to demonstrate their cooking skills during lockdown and so, amidst signs of panic at having to give up her She-Cave, Lynn allowed me to move into 'her' kitchen to begin the challenge.

Each week, Dave nominates a culinary ‘hero’ – Week 1 was tomato, Week 2 was mushroom, and this week was cheese. These were my dishes:

Week 1 - A take on Tomate aux crevettes. Prawns and tomato and herb-infused rice substituted for the usual North Sea shrimp filling.

Not too shabby but the competition were awesome!

Week 2 – Mushroom pate with pickled mushroom garnish served with olive oil toasted homemade bread. Mains was a mushroom risotto.

Much better - 2nd out of six.

Week 3 – Cheese soufflé followed by a  three-cheese cream soup garnished with green peas, gruyère profiteroles, and sprinkled with finely chopped garlic chives and dusted with finely grated parmesan. The accompaniment was a crunchy, tangy cheese biscuit.

Officially, lockdown ends tomorrow when we go onto level 4 but rumours are flying that Durban will be maintained at Level 5 until further notice, so no change except that the wine cellar will have been emptied by the end of the weekend with no possibility in sight of replenishment.

Au revoir to all and bonne chance until we are booked and ready to go cruising again!

Strelitzia Natalia (Natal Crane flowers) from the garden.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Another South African summer has passed!

Arriving back at home was a bit of a shock. We had heard that the winter here had been dry but our garden was a bit of a dustbowl and the weather was warm to hot. So we started watering the plants and the lawn and, after a few days, the weather changed abruptly and it rained and blew for weeks – a bit like Doncaster in November

Our view to the sea.

Wet, wet, wet!

but at the same time our hearts went out to the Australians as we watched the massive fires raging across the southeastern part of the country.

Our arrival also coincided with the last few games of the Rugby World Cup and we watched as the Springboks bundled out the hero host country Japan in the quarter-finals, scraped through in the semi’s against Wales and then completely demolish England, who looked emotionally exhausted after their magnificent effort in seeing off the All Blacks, in the finals.

The South African team set some records: They are the only team to have lost a pool game and still won a Final, the only team to have never lost in a Final, and the only team never to have conceded a try in a Final – well done Bokke!

Our State Owned Enterprises really lowered the bar with Eskom, the electricity utility, going up to Stage 6 load shedding which saw us without electricity for seven daylight hours in one day.

Our national airline, South African Airways, was put under business rescue but the prognosis is not too shiny, and the Passenger Rail Authority was put under business administration for a minimum of twelve months. All the failures are probably attributable to political board appointees and senior management doing some massive trough-snouting – and not one of them has yet to be seen wearing an orange suit!

A quick, and highly unsuccessful but great fun fishing trip to the Transkei Wild Coast was undertaken with us learning a bit about barn-swallow behavior from close up…

James, the dedicated fisherman

Freshly caught.

Three Girls in a Boat.

The swallows arriving...

...and our tent the next morning.

Looking over the mouth.

The village of Mthakatye

December also saw us quietly celebrate forty years of married life – thanks Soulmate, for a wonderful journey!

Christmas was spent in the beautiful Natal Midlands as guests of the “in-laws”, Wayne and Ally Gifford, who had invited us to spend a couple of nights with them at the beautiful Gowrie Village Farm where we celebrated with their extended family – a great time indeed!

Luch being prepared.

Views over Gowrie Farm

The rain started to ease off after Christmas and almost normal sub-tropical conditions returned, bringing with it lots of humidity, swarms of mosquitoes, more Brexit, and the introduction of Megxit.

The New Year passed uneventfully other than Lynn and I agreeing to put our house on the market when we return from our 2020 cruise in October, and relocate to the Azores where Lynn’s brother and sister-in-law live on the island of Faial…if the falling ZAR makes it possible for us to do so.

And then it was a flurry of French Long Stay Tourist Visa preparations, a quick trip down to Veldrif on the Cape West Coast, via Hogsback, 

Hogsback - the pub at Away With the Fairies


Our campsite for the first night before
moving to a cottage the next night to avoid torrential rain.

A rare Natal Black Snake

A Hogsback resident and his stall.


From the Mediterranean micro-climate of Hogsback
into the semi-desert Karoo.

Dry, dry, dry.

Our not-so-smart 'Safari tent' at Amber Lagoon B&B

We popped in for a tasting but unfortunately, the owner had just died, their varietal gin was out of stock,
their Shiraz had not been produced for three years due to the drought, and we don't 'do' witblits.

and Ceres,

A quick stop off at the famous Boplaas port winery - no tasting this time!

Our campsite at Klondyke Cherry Farm, about 30 kilometers from Ceres.

Early morning view from our tent.

A visit to Saronsberg winery near Tulbagh.

Lesley tasting...

Full Circle, their flagship wine (although, to be honest,
we preferred the Seismic - the 2017 Shiraz was also excellent).

'TJ' wines - a household name but their top-of-the-range bubbles were not
very good at all!

Oakhurst Olives, also near Tulbagh. Great Calamatas!

to visit friends Dave & Carolyn Malan and to see first-hand how they make their ‘always-sold-out’ cheeses and yoghurt,

The process to make a Gruyere type cheese.

Dave checking the curd for the correct 'split'.

Another check.

Cutting the curd.

Another re-heat and mix of the curds and whey.

Whey drained (very good for plant growth) and the curds are being
measured into containers.

40 liters of milk produces about 5kgs of cheese. The curd has been wrapped in
muslin cloth and the excess whey is being pressed out in the homemade press.

After pressing and preparing to cut off the 'edge'.

Back into containers...

...brine being added...

...a light weight is applied to keep the cheeses submerged. They will be turned
after 12 hours and after another 12 hours the brine will be drained and
the cheeses placed in the refrigerator to mature at about 10C.

Cheese and yoghurt maturing.

Carolyn preparing another batch of yoghurt for the weekend market.
Dave slicing a delicious Gouda/Chedda creation
for sale at the market.

Cheeses for us to take home.
– a brilliant visit Dave and Caro and thank you soooo much for your great hospitality,

and then to take Gerd & Lesley, via SALT, the South African Large Telescope in Sutherland

South African Astronomical Observatory near Sutherland.

and the tiny hamlet of Loxton (about 150 kilometers south east of the Square Kilometer Array or Meerkat Telescope), to Mokala Game Reserve – not a Big Five Reserve, but one which we just love.

Our campsite

A rare copper Springbok with normal Springbok
Another Copper

A rare Black Springbok.

A rare White Springbok

Pretty fella.

Stunning horns on this Kudu

A Red Haartebees, once extinct in this area but re-introduced into the Park.

Karroo lamb chops - delish!

Finally, there was Covid-19, the coronavirus strain which is affecting the lives of so many; who would have thought that a flu-like outbreak in a Chinese city which most people had never heard of, would leave such a devastating footprint on the world. South Africa went into lockdown – no-one is allowed to leave their residences apart from going to shop for food (no alcohol or cigarettes) or medicines or to visit a doctor or if one is a worker in ‘essential services’. Initially it was announced that the lockdown would be from 27 March until 17 April but this has been extended to 30 April, a full five weeks. So here we sit and hope that the desperately poor do not start rioting…but of course social media produced some great examples of humour to make light of a very dark hole.