And finally, sadly yet gratefully after spending close to 5.5 months, came the day to say goodbye to beautiful Portugal. Friday July 12, 2020.
We soaked up the last rays of magical light in Lisbon and the boys said goodbye to their beloved Benfica football stadium.
And then, with two bikes packed in two bike boxes, our belongings in our bike bags, backpacks and handbags, documentation for our self-isolation plan approved by the Canadian government, 5 separate flight tickets, antibacterial gels and tissues readily available, passports in hand and masks on: we are ready to go to Lisboa airport and start our three day journey home to Haida Gwaii.
A surreal experience at the Lisboa airport: hardly anyone is there and only a few departing flights that day to other parts in Europe. Odd to see three scheduled flights to Amsterdam among the 12 departing flights this day...
We were so blessed with a very helpful Portuguese attendant, who helped us with filling out forms and - the most miraculous and blessed gift of all - organizing for our luggage (including Bike boxes) to be checked all the way to Vancouver. She said we would not be allowed to fly to Amsterdam, or the next day to Frankfurt, if we could not prove that we would continue to fly on to Canada. She said our luggage tags were the best proof we could have and she worked hard to get us 4 luggage tags for each piece of luggage.
The first flight to Amsterdam was much more filled than we had expected. We thought we would not be sharing our row with anyone else. But Sol and I were placed next to a Portuguese, who upon seeing Sol's Benfica Hoody proudly showed his Benfica shirt he was wearing. Masks on, I guess the airlines don't adhere to the same rules as trains do (where no one could be next to anyone else in the same row).
The flight was uneventful and even arrived early. Check! First flight done, 4 more to go. But first an overnight in Amsterdam. We expected a serious control at Schiphol airport, but aside from a flight attendant asking our plans at the arrival gate of the plane, we could walk out of Schiphol airport without any further stops. Not even to pick up our luggage, as that would be safely stored at the airport, awaiting our next flights.
Despite the lack of people at the Dutch airport, there are still rows and rows of bicycles parked! Oh that filled our hearts to see! Yet, to be real honest there was also a twinge of sadness as we didn't get to enjoy the pleasure of riding our bikes in Holland. But we decided to focus on the gifts, and one of them was the pleasure of briefly seeing my Aunt, who is a bus driver and her schedule happened to include Schiphol Plaza on the day of our arrival. We got to see her for exactly 4.5 minutes, safely distanced two meters away. Oh dear, it filled our hearts full to overflowing to see her smiling face!! Bittersweet to say goodbye and know she would be driving right by our hotel the whole evening long!
Anyways.... we had a good sleep and were well rested for the next epic day. Three flights ahead of us. First an hour to Frankfurt, then 9 hours on to Toronto and another 5 hours on to Vancouver. Pfff.... Miraculously everything went smoothly, flights continued to arrive early, security checks were a breeze, and no stress energy of masses of travellers to deal with... While the airplane to Frankfurt was again to our surprise quite packed, the flight to Canada was spacious. Air Canada provided travelbags with antibacterial gel and water upon entering the plane. Masks continued to be on everywhere.
And then came the hour we arrived at Vancouver Airport. And yet another miracle happened: our luggage, including two bike boxes arrived at the same time as we did!!
And after another restful night, we were ready for the last part of the journey. The part that perhaps had the most hours of research and organization, as there are no Air Canada or Pacific Air flights to Haida Gwaii. Taking a flight to Terrace and then taking the ferry would not have been acceptable as a return plan by the Canadian Government, as it would have meant stops at restaurants, public transit and 7 hours on the ferry. So finally we decided we needed to charter a plane to avoid to have to self isolate for two weeks in Vancouver and then another two weeks upon arrival in Haida Gwaii. We simply did not have the luxury of time anymore. Tracy is expected to start work July 1st.
The friendly and generous people of Cascadia Air decided to help us out in these unique circumstances and offered us a deal that was still manageable within our travel budget. Our two bike boxes were even able to fit, and so after a 50 minute ride to Pitt Meadows airport, we were ready for the last leg. The plane needed to stop in Port Hardy to fuel up, and Lief and Sol made good use of the break, gobbling down their lunch and kicking the soccer ball around! And onward we went until we saw the islands, our islands, islands of the people, Haida Gwaii, home!!!
Ah, the smell of home, the clear, clean, fresh air, the sounds of wind, waves, eagles, ravens, crows welcomed us. As well as our truck loaded with groceries by some amazing caretakers, waiting quietly for us in front of the closed airport. We still had a bit of travel to do to finally get home and before self-isolation on Robertson Island commenced: driving to Aliford Bay ferry landing to head over to Skidegate landing, and a couple canoe trips to bring our bikes, luggage and ourselves home.
We were also welcomed by lush greens, an abundance of flowering kale and daisies in the garden and wild roses growing along the shore. We were also welcomed by fresh greens, more groceries and care packages full of chocolates and other goodies from friends and neighbours.
Upon arrival home there was a flurry of activities to reconnect with our house and land. Sol instantly moved furniture around in his bedroom and declared he wanted to paint his room the very next day! Paint was ordered and delivered to Spruce Point and the very next day he transformed his room to a midnight blue; the changes in his room reflecting the changes he's gone through during the trip. We have all been busy in our own ways to reconnect and are grateful for this quarantine time, giving us time and space to do so without distractions.
We have been very well cared for by our friends and neighbours during this self-isolation time, we are so grateful to all of you!! We only have two more days to go, woohoo! See you on the other side!
A eulogy for my first road bike, this Rocky Mtn Solo. Bought in 2010 from David Beggs when he operated Cycle Therapy in his garage on his property, he kitted me out on my first curly barred bike, skinny tires and bibbed cycling shorts. I remember feeling silly as he did one of his first bike fittings, with lasers and goniometers. And then the feeling of speed. Of cycling 40kph on the flats in a peloton. I was hooked.
The versatility of this bike is obvious. Technically a cyclecross bike, it handled gravel and mud, bike panniers and heavy loads. It has been my main means of commuting year round on Haida Gwaii. A true friend. And it is showing its wear. The bottom bracket creaks with every turn of the pedals. The frame is corroding. The front derailleur is seized. The rear derailleur was damaged in a crash a few days ago and can only access gears 4-10. The left shifter is falling apart. The brakes need an overhaul. Time to say goodbye.
So, the bike was not worth the hassle of getting it home. I removed the pedals, said my goodbyes. Cleaned the frame and wheels up. It was left with a note taped to the top tube:
Livre para uma boa casa. Precisa de pedais.
Free to a good home. Needs pedals.
Farewell old friend. And thanks to David Beggs for getting me into road biking in the first place. Moving on to a new gravel bike: Cannondale Topstone. Feels disloyal to be already mentioning the new bike. But hey, I'm on the rebound and looking to recover!
We can't leave Portugal without a dedicated post and celebration of Pastel de Nata, Portugal's national pastry, which we found in each and every place we went, even the smallest town cafe.
We were spoiled in Sintra, tasting the 'Cup of Kindness' in January at the sweet little cafe Nata Pura, owned by Artur Baptista - the Portuguese Jags - and his daughter serving delicious coffees and their unique Nata creations. Sol was especially thrilled to find Huckleberries in one version. Lief preferred the caramel version and I must say their dark chocolate version is out of this world!
To bite into a well-made and fresh Pastel de Nata is a sensory feast, as the crispy, flaky, buttery pastry on the outside makes way for the creamy, golden rich, sweet custard on the inside. To complete the feast for the tastebuds add a sprinkle of cinnamon! Together with an espresso this is more than a 'Cup of Kindness', I would call it more a merging of 'Divine Cups of Goodness'.
The history of these delicacies goes back to divine devotion indeed, as in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820 the monks at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Hieronymites Monastery) in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem (Saint Mary of Bethlehem) in Lisbon started creating these pastries as a way to use the many leftover egg yolks and to bring in some revenue. When the monastery closed, they sold the recipe to the sugar refinery, whose owners in 1837 opened the 'Fabrica de Pasteis de Belem'. The descendants own the business to this day and we it was our main destination on our last day of biking through Lisbon, which happened to be 'Portugal Day' (see following blogpost).
We will miss these delicacies when we return home! We may need to attempt to create our own....
We spent nearly a week, taking care of business, and truly enjoying the marvellous city of Lisbon (or Lisboa, to the Portuguese). Most of the larger stores were still closed and there were more COVID restrictions, with ubiquitous hand santizers and masking. We were careful to keep our distance and mostly stick to biking. We found an apartment sandwiched between Benfica Stadium and a small city park, the Parque Bensaúde (closed, unfortunately).
Magic day on the bikes out to Sintra, Cabo da Roca, then back along the cost to Lisbon. Unfortunately, in the last 15km, we had a plague of flats, so had to train back to Lisbon. Sintra was bittersweet, having been our first home in Portugal in January. So nice to see it in late spring, lush and green, and nearly devoid of visitors - a plus for us. Businesses were grateful to see us.
Special shout out to the sublime Nata Pura in Sintra, who make a version of Pastel de Nata with caramel, chocolate and mixed berries. Kiki and the boys visited this place regularly in January, and they managed to survive the shutdown by remaining open for take out and by having such amazing natas! They remembered us too.
Our last time on the bikes was around Lisbon, which happened to be on Portugal Day (a national holiday commemorating the life of Luís de Camões, a poet and national literary icon). We arrived in Belém for pastel de natas only to see heavy security around the Monastery. The President and Prime Minister made a brief statement about the pandemic. It was a somber affair.
After this, it was pack, pack, pack. We made a decision about the bikes - to only bring Kiki and Lief's back. Sol's and mine were left in Portugal. Mine was left on the street, and Sol's was given to the son of the owners (who is 8y/o) of the apartment we rented. Maybe his enthusiasm and energy will inspire a young Portuguese to adventure and biking!
Aljezur; Zambujeira do Mar; Vila Nova de Milfontes.
From Sagres, we blitzed north through to three coastal villages. All brilliant white buildings with adobe roofs perched on hillsides overlooking a sandy beach. Big rolling waves crashing into most of these beaches. Surfing a big pastime.
Southern Portugal was ruled by the Moors for 500 years, so many names come from this time. There are Moorish castles in many of the cities. Any city beginning with "Al" was established (or at least named by the Moors). Amazingly, the wind was at our backs the entire time, making for some great riding. For the most part, we traveled on a level plateau. But every stream or river crossing to delta at the ocean meant a descent and yes, a hill. The boys are getting truly stronger, with less complaints, and less need for pushes from parents. The biking days follow a similar pattern:
1. Up for breakfast
2. Pack - Sol is always, always done first, then sits around bored while his fretting parents try not to forget anything and clean up the place
3. Hit the bikes
4. Coffee - I'm hesitant to use the word addiction, but well, it applies for each of us. We ALWAYS hit a cafe for an espresso prior to hitting the road
5. Ride! Morning snack is usually a pastry at one of the nearly ubiquitous cafes. Pastel de nata is the daily treat for Kiki, Lief and me. We forever will associate Portugal with this unique custard treat.
6. Late lunch, hoping to find something suited to our picky palate. Sol doesn't do dairy or meat or most fish. Kiki and I don't eat meat and the fish is super duper fishy, for the most part. Lief will eat most anything. God bless him. We usually have a complex negotiation in Portuguese and sign language to get an order in. Things like "omelet" and "batata frites" and "salada" help. We are.not starving.
7. More riding.
The original plan was to ride all the way up to Lisbon, but we had a deep fatigue set in and we wanted to stay put and prepare fully for the trip back. Many last minute details to look after. Emails to write, food delivery to arrange, notification of Haida Gwaii authorities of our trip back, ground transport to arrange, bikes to package, souvenirs to buy, Lisbon to explore, home schooling to continue, confirmation of all flight segments, isolation plan to create, last few bike rides to ride, last minute shopping, blogging, truck insurance to arrange. Fortunately, we were able to find a nice place near the Benfica soccer stadium (boys love that) for the week prior to our departure. All while avoiding COVID infection!! Next up, Lisbon...
For better or worse, we made a decision to ride out the pandemic in Portugal, a decision we don't regret. The trip back in the throws of early lockdown was daunting and would have had a panicked feel. We did an impressive amount of school in our sanctuary in Ponte da Barca and had a very special time as a family. We dealt with the mounting fear by focusing on what we could control - our time with each other. It became especially difficult (for Tracy especially), to ignore both the urging of his parents ("Trace, um, when are you guys coming home?!") and the Government of Canada. The boys did not want to return. Kiki was still hoping to make it to Holland, maybe her last chance to see her 94-year old grandmother. Keep in mind, we didn't know in March just how bad things would get. And we did have the luxury of more than 3 months prior to having to fly home.
The price of all this was that most of the flights have been canceled or changed, something we anticipated. From the end of March, there have been no commercial flights to Haida Gwaii, and Air Canada has suspended nearly all its flights.
Our original plan was to overland to Holland over the course of our time here, and fly home from Amsterdam. Every few weeks, we received notice of changes. With the pandemic deepening and borders closing, it became clear we would be staying in Portugal, and we would have to revise our way home. First were the canceling of Haida Gwaii flights. Second were Air Canada's changes (too many to list here). Bottom line is we fly from Lisbon to Amsterdam on June 12, overnight at the airport. On June 13, we fly to Frankfurt, then Toronto, then Vancouver, overnighting at the airport there. It is our last leg - to Haida Gwaii - that presents the most challenge. The ferry is still running, but this isn't a realistic option. In the end, we've found a private flight that will bring us home on June 14, where we begin our isolation. Haida Gwaii, as of writing, is COVID-19 free, and we do not want to be the index case that changes that, a lesson painfully learned recently in Campbellton, New Brunswick. Kudos to the CHN and local leaders at creating policy that has kept the population healthy through limitations on non-resident travel to Haida Gwaii.
Now time to enjoy our last time here and hope this fragile plan doesn't fall apart. We still have to manage our bikes. We still have to get back to Lisbon. And most importantly, we need to be vigilant to not become infected with COVID.
From Lagos, we found ourselves back on the bikes again, off to Sagres, a town in the farthest SW corner of the country. The Cabo de Sāo Vicente is the farthest SW point of the country and of continental Europe, so has significance for mariner history. Sagres, in fact, was the home of a famous early Portuguese explorer, Henry the Explorer. Prior to Henry, there was little exploration of the ocean. Mediterranean yes, Atlantic no. The Atlantic was felt to be full of monsters and storms, and ships and skills hadn't developed to permit any oceanic voyages. Beginning with the exploration of the African coast using the famed "caravel", he led more than a dozen expeditions to faraway places, "discovering" the Cape Verde and Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. He established a sailing school in Sagres, and Portugal became the major early power of the Age of Discovery, producing explorers such as Bartolomeu Dias (made it to the Cape of Good Hope) and Vasco de Gama (first to make it to India). One sees statues of Henry the Explorer all over Portugal.
Sagres has a surf beach feel with surf shops and a ton of cafes. Kiki is happy to find very nice coffee. We had a full day to explore the area, choosing to head to the stunning Cabo de Sāo Vicente - translated means Cape of Saint Vincent. It's a 7km ride along gorgeous cliffs interspersed with sandy beaches to get there. A lookout, museum and lighthouse sits on the Cape. An old monastery existed here prior to conversion to the museum.
On our way back to Sagres, we made a stop at Praia do Beliche, a sublime beach, nearly deserted, surrounded by cliffs and bizarre rock formations.
Next up is the trip up the west coast, the area called Costa Vicentina (again, named after the Saint). This is a coastal dune ecosystem with cliffs and beaches, with little surf towns and strong winds. We'll see how far we get. Our days are passing by, and we have Lisbon in our sites for June 8.