Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Escape to Alcaufar: Menorca

“They’re just as good if you inflate them enough,” my boyfriend Tom insisted, jamming his knee up and down, bringing our kayak closer to life with every thrust of the foot pump.

Enticed to Menorca by a wave of adverts hailing the island as a ‘paradise for paddlers’, Tom had rejected my suggestion to hire a ‘real’ kayak, (the sturdy, fibre-glass type) insisting we squash a week’s worth of clothes into one bag and bring our blow-up boat in place of a second suitcase.

Kayak inflated, we threw in the essentials for a full day at sea: wine, fishing rod and a picnic of fresh bread, local cheese and Menorcan sobrasada – chorizo-like sausage meat.

Setting-off from the waterside capital of Mahon, we drifted into the calm waters of the world’s second biggest natural harbour. The plan was to paddle for a couple of hours to the cove of Cala Alcaufar for lunch, then continue west along the island’s smooth southern shoreline to Son Bou – Menorca’s longest beach.

“This is easy,” boasted Tom, casting a line of glinting fish hooks into the water while I propelled us along with effortless paddling.

We cruised past an 18th century British Naval Hospital on King Island, giving the yachts that ply these busy waters a wide berth as they motored by. Above our heads, the smart villas of Menorca’s elite studded the cliff-tops and down at sea-level, oily feathered shags stood watch over teeming rock pools.

With the Mediterranean Sea in sight, a breeze agitated my hair, the water began to dance and the nose of our kayak bounced playfully in the chop. Avoiding the rocks where clusters of muscles waited like razors, we steered towards the harbour mouth until a strong pull sucked us out to sea.

Once in open water, someone switched on the wave-machine. Rollers, breakers, white horses and roaring surf came at us from every direction, tossing us about like a toy boat. Salt water splashed over the bow, surged over the stern and the horizon bounced around like the attitude indicator on a fighter plane. 
Seasickness soon arrived on the scene and Tom started retching over the side.

The killer blow came from a side-on wave that had us clutching at the paddle holders like petrified children while water inundated the boat.
 “The picnic!” Tom gasped, as our lunch abandoned ship.
 “My sandal!” I shrieked, seeing the left foot sail away like a tiny life-boat.

Then I saw it: an inlet of snaking sheltered water beckoned just ahead.

Paddling furiously towards our escape route, we missioned away from the Med until the swell and our sickness subsided. When it was calm enough to balance our paddles across our laps, we collapsed on our backs like wounded soldiers – two dead bodies lolling on a drifting waterbed.   

I was jolted awake ten minutes later when Tom dived overboard. Before I could panic, he burst to the surface holding two clenched fists above his head. “Which colour?” he asked, bobbing up and down as if on a running machine, and unfurled his palms to reveal two tiny sea urchins – one moss-green the other a deep lavender.

We had entered Eden.

A narrow channel, sheltered from the sea, rocky banks draped in greenery rose around us and emerald-tinged waters bathed our boat. We weaved along the watercourse, listening to the plop of leaping fish, their silver bodies twinkling in the sun like jewels.

We tied our kayak to a tree and scrambled ashore, heaving ourselves up on roots that dangled over the banks like ropes.

We’d completed a fraction of our intended voyage but, between us, deemed it too dangerous to continue by kayak.

Instead, we resumed our exploration on foot and clambered through the foliage to find a rugged pathway that broke away from the inlet: we had stumbled across the Cami de Cavalls – an ancient bridleway which circumnavigates the island. Once used by messengers to carry news of attack, the trail had recently been restored as a waymarked route, open to horses, bikes and hikers.

I walked barefoot, red dust collecting between my toes as I padded across the hot ground. Where the track traced through scrubland, the smell of wild olives and rosemary filled our nostrils and, as we entered shaded woodlands, I trod carefully where pine-needles carpeted the path.

An hour later, to our surprise, we arrived in Cala Alcaufar.

Toasting our successful escape-mission from the claws of the Med, we tucked into fresh sardines at a restaurant right on the beach. Children splashed and screeched in the shallows, ramblers and cyclists continued across the cliff-tops along the Cami de Cavalls and two kayakers casually paddled into shore before pulling their fibre-glass boats onto the beach.

“It’s easier in a ‘real’ kayak,” Tom mumbled, barely looking up from his lunch. 

Travel article by Brighton copywriter and Journalist, Lucy Grewcock

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