Flamingos of Las Salinas

The earth’s Prime Meridian transits the salt flats of Calpe, where Flying Fish lays at rest after a passage from Ibiza. In a sense, this line of longitude is where time begins and ends each day. Time modifies and reorders the natural world: adaptation or extinction. These random thoughts occupy my mind as I share space on the salt flats with one of the world’s most iconic bird species. The greater flamingo has adapted and survived thousands of years of extraordinary change along Spain’s Costa Blanca.

The salt flats of Las Salinas were first utilized during the great Roman era of the 2nd century AD. Now, a busy marina and a European holiday center surround the edges of these ancient alluvial deposits. The greater flamingo continues to thrive here despite the high-rise apartments, Jet Skis, and música electrónica that have changed the shadow and sound of its environment. These flamingos are wild birds. Their wings are not clipped. They are not fenced in or fed. That they choose to return to Las Salinas, in the middle of this urban setting, is a testament to how nature adapts.

The salt flats and the city of Calpe are at the base of the massive rock Peñón de Ifach, a 1,000-foot massif of limestone rising from the Mediterranean Sea. Ifach is an important homing beacon for birds. Some 173 species, both nesting and migrating, have been recorded here, including black-winged stilts, avocets, the black wheatear, and the white wagtail. There is some ornithological tourism in Calpe, but most tourists come instead for a different variety of wagtail, and to get sunburned and drink sangria.

Tourists sharing Calpe with the birds date back at least two millennia. Across the sandbar delineating the salt flats and the edge of the sea, archeologists excavated the “Baños de la Reina.” Ancient Roman engineers designed a thermal complex including pools of different temperatures, a sophisticated heating system, and a piscinae for sunken gardens and the farming of live fish. But for whom this ultimate vacation villa was constructed is still unknown. Archeologists know that hidden tunnels allowed private access to the Baths of the Queen, but they do not know who the queen was. Whoever merited this elaborate architecture of marble and mosaics was most certainly “a person with a high purchasing power.”[1] Marcus Aurelius is famously quoted saying, “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Perhaps Marcus Aurelius kept a mistress at the salt flats of Calpe.

The history that has shaped the landscape of Las Salinas has also helped maintain its natural habit and biodiversity. Salt was a necessity for fish preservation, which Calpe used to market its catch. Eventually, salt from these lagoons supplied fishing industries in over 40 Spanish municipalities. At the end of the 18th century, Salt production declined when Las Salinas was thought to harbor yellow fever. In 1993, Spain declared Las Salinas a protected maritime-terrestrial zone.

While many species make up the Las Salinas habitat, the population of flamingos generates the most attention. The coloration of all flamingos comes from the carotenoid pigments in the organisms that live in their feeding grounds. The greater flamingo, one of four distinct species, is less flashy than some of its genetic relatives like the hot-pink American flamingo. That doesn’t prevent them from wanting to look good. Secretions of their uropygial “preening” gland contain carotenoids–red pigments. During the breeding season, greater flamingos preen to spread these uropygial secretions over their feathers, enhancing their color. Ornithologists have described this cosmetic use of uropygial secretions by greater flamingos as “applying make-up.”[2]

The greater flamingo is an enthusiastic eater. It feeds with its head down; its upper jaw is movable and not rigidly fixed to its skull.[3] Using its feet, the bird stirs up mud, then sucks the slurry through its bill to filter small shrimp, seeds, blue-green algae, microscopic organisms, and mollusks. It is a healthy diet. Wild greater flamingos have an average lifespan of 30 – 40 years. The oldest known greater flamingo, named Greater, (duh) lived in an Adelaide, Australia zoo for between 85-93 years.[4] The bird’s exact age is unknown; he was already a mature adult when he arrived in Adelaide in 1933. Greater was euthanized in January 2014 due to “complications of old age.”

It is zero hundred hours, at zero degrees longitude. A full moon has risen in direct alignment with Jupiter and Saturn. Flying Fish is secure nearby at her mooring. Somewhere in the ruins of a partially submerged palace, the legacy of an unknown queen waits to be discovered. And on the salt flats of Las Salinas, flamingos secrete pigment over their feathers. Some days I, too, feel the complications of aging, but I’m not ready to be euthanized yet. There is still so much to see and so much to know.

###


References:

[1] “The Baths of the Queen, a Roman Palace,” The World (2012)

2] “Greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus use uropygial secretions as make-up,” . Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, J.A., Rendón, J Garrido-Fernández, A Garrido, M, Rendón-Martos, and A Pérez-Gálvez. (2011).

[3] Flamingo, Wikipedia

[4] “Flamingos at Adelaide Zoo,”  Vaughan Wilson; at Conservation Ark / Zoos South Australia 2008

Ornithologists have described the cosmetic use of secretions on the feathers of greater flamingos as “applying make-up.” Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which Flying Fish carries me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

Posidonia

The lush carpet of a Posidonia prairie in Spain’s Balearic Islands. Photograph: Jeffrey Cardenas

The Spanish Posidonia Police came calling on Flying Fish today. I was happy to see them.

Posidonia is a seagrass species that is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea. Like the turtlegrass of the subtropic Americas and the Caribbean, Posidonia forms large underwater meadows vital to the ecosystem. The aquatic grass has a high carbon absorption capacity. It is said to soak up 15 times more carbon dioxide every year than a similar-sized piece of the Amazon rainforest.1 In 2006, a vast colony of Posidonia was discovered south of Ibiza and is estimated at around 100,000 years old. It may be one of the largest and oldest clonal colonies on Earth.2

Posidonia grows best in clean waters, and its presence is a marker for lack of pollution. It is found only in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is in decline. The UNESCO world heritage site around the Balearic Islands includes about 140,000 acres of Posidonia, which has global significance because of the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. The meadows are being threatened by rising temperatures, slowing its growth, as well as damage from anchors.3 The Posidonia meadows of Ibiza are fiercely protected. Drop an anchor on Posidonia, and you are breaking the law.

This is why it astonished me when I watched the superyacht Chuck Taylor drop its anchor in a bed of Posidonia at an anchorage on Mallorca that we were sharing. (I don’t know that it was the shoe guy Chuck Taylor; who would name a boat after themselves?) Nonetheless, I wish the Posidonia Police had been in the bay that day. When Chuck Taylor departed, an entire square yard of the living colony was impaled on the tines of its anchor. 

Granted, anchoring in the Balearic Islands in July and August–especially during this post-lockdown year–is a challenge. Nowhere in the world have I seen so many boats, and so many inconsiderate boat operators, as I have here during the past two months. Because anchorage space is limited, boats battle for every square foot of sea bottom available without Posidonia. Many boats anchor regardless of the protected areas. Bays are so tightly packed that adequate anchor scope for holding is frequently compromised. Two nights ago, at 03:00, katabatic winds ripped through my anchorage at Benirràs, Ibiza, and tore the fleet apart. One sailboat dragging an anchor collided with two other sailboats, pulling their anchors from the bottom and sending them adrift. A boat ended up against a ragged rock wall. Two large powerboats also dragged and collided in the wind. In the darkness, shouts and curses in foreign languages echoed across the anchorage. Flying Fish somehow escaped the carnage, but the Posidonia meadow at Benirràs was most certainly plowed into oblivion by the dragging anchors.

The Posidonia Police encounter a repeat offender in the Illa Sa Conillera marine park who insisted that it was his “right” to drop an anchor anywhere he wanted. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

The Posidonia meadows are carefully identified on every chart. This morning over coffee, in the lovely anchorage of the Illa Sa Conillera marine park, I was startled by a heated argument coming from two boats. The Posidonia Police had arrived and warned a visiting sailboat owner (for the second time) that he anchored on the protected grass. His anchor was crushing the habitat of plants, fish, and juvenile crustaceans. The sailboat captain maintained it was his “right” to anchor where he wanted. The park ranger explained otherwise. The argument increased in volume and acrimony, and continued for 30 minutes. Then the guilty sailor pointed at me. I was anchored nearby.

The Posidonia Police motored up to Flying Fish with an underwater viewing scope. I passed the inspection; my anchor was embedded in a pocket of sand, where I had carefully placed it when I arrived.

“May I take your photograph,” I asked?

“¿Por qué?” was the reply.

“Because,” I said, “I think what you are doing is important.”

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Park rangers inspect the placement of the anchor of Flying Fish at Illa Sa Conillera, Ibiza. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

References:

  1. Ibiza’s Monster Marine Plant, Ibiza Spotlight, 28 May 2006
  2. Oldest living thing on earth’ discovered, Jonathan Pearlman, The Telegraph. 7 February 2012
  3. Posidonia oceanica, Wikipedia

Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

Octopus’s Garden

An octopus has the highest brain-to-body mass ratio of all invertebrates and a camera-like eye that can distinguish the color and polarization of light. The eye follows me as I swim past. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

I’d like to be 
Under the sea 
In an octopus’ garden 
In the shade
…”

It seems you can’t swing a cat in the Mediterranean this summer without hitting a movie star. Meet my new neighbor, the Oscar-winning Octopus Teacher. Actually, I’m the new neighbor; the octopus lives here. And this isn’t really the Octopus Teacher (that famous cephalopod lived in South Africa). But here in the Mediterranean, during the summer, everybody is whoever they want to be. No questions asked.

I am who I want to be, and in the summer where I want to be is under the sea. My tropical island blood has finally acclimated to the ambient water temperature at latitude 40° north. In about six weeks, the Mediterranean Sea begins getting cold again. Today is my first dive of the year. “Dive” is an exaggeration. I float in the shallows with a mask and snorkel, and camera. It is otherworldly. There are shrimp and crabs and anemones. The variety of life that lives among the rocks and Poseidon grass in the Mediterranean is astounding. To see these shallows come to life it is only necessary to move slowly and pass over the sea bottom like the shadow of a cloud.

Life underwater is always a surprise. Today I am swimming along part of the Menorca shoreline supported by an antique seawall. Giant blocks were laid here in 1793 to build the Llatzeret, a sanatorium to quarantine patients during the Bubonic Plague. It seems ironic with a history of so much death above at Llatzeret that these rocks in the water below the fortress would support such a thriving community of sea life. It is here I meet my octopus friend.

I am enchanted. From the depth of her cave, she holds her ground by siphoning bursts of water at me and never breaking eye contact. (A note on gender reference: It takes more skill than I have to determine the sex of an octopus but, for personal reasons, I’ll reference this amazing creature as female.) She is confident and beautiful. Her body pulsates and changes color with emotion as we meet eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, it is clear that this is a creature that will not suffer fools gladly. In a Live Science article titled, “Animal Sex: How Octopuses Do It,” writer Joseph Castro says females are the dominant gender. If a male displeases her, she may show her disappointment by eating him alive. He writes, “Mating for males is a dangerous game due to the female’s penchant for cannibalism.”

I’m not here to mate. I’m just as curious as she is.

Friend or foe? With eyes blazing, the octopus leaves her lair to investigate a curious intruder in her territory. Photo: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Much of the circumnavigation of Flying Fish has been along the equator in warm water rich in sea life. The Mediterranean Sea has been less inviting. There were freezing temperatures (literally) in Turkey this past winter. In my boat cabin without heat, I would sleep under quilts and blankets, and a zipped-up down jacket to stay warm. For much of the year, swimming was out of the question. I remember dropping an essential ratchet wrench overboard at a mooring one February morning. The water was only three meters deep. I looked at that wrench under the boat every day for a month, but I could not bear the thought of diving into 57-degree water to retrieve it.

Now it is mid-July. I can swim again. The pleasure of the summer sun warms my skin. The water caresses me as I float with the tide. Below the surface of the water, a new world awaits.

“We would be so happy, you and me
No one there to tell us what to do
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden with you…”

–Octopus’s Garden / The Beatles 1969


Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

Casu Marzu

Eating the Rare Sardinian Delicacy of Maggot-Infested Cheese

Cheese aficionados pair maggot-infested casu marzu with traditional carasau bread and a good local red wine such as Cannonau. Lots of Cannonau. Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

In the spirit of, “I may never pass this way again,” I could not leave Sardinia without first having eaten casu marzu–the rare and illegal delicacy of maggot-infested cheese. What could go wrong?

Translation first: Casu marzu in Italian literally means, “putrid, rotten cheese.” The beauty of the Italian language is that it is direct; Italians say exactly what they mean. Casu marzu is not a “fragrant” cheese or a “bold” cheese. Casu marzu is a decomposing cheese. It is crawling with worms. And Italians will risk breaking the law just to get a taste of it.

The creation of a fine casu marzu begins normally enough as a classic sheep’s milk pecorino. Then the process gets a little weird. The cheese is left outside in the heat of summer with part of the rind removed. This attracts the cheese fly, Piophilidae, which can lay more than 500 eggs at one time. The larvae hatch and emerge as translucent white worms eating through the cheese. The process then goes from fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaking down the cheese fats. The cheese texture becomes soft and creates a weeping liquid called làgrimas–teardrops. By the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu marzu will contain thousands of maggots.

When I first asked about casu marzu, the local formaggiaio in Carloforte wagged his finger at me and then turned away. A street vendor was more forthcoming. “There is an open market on Wednesday,” he said. “Follow your nose.” At the open market, there were several cheese vendors. One said, in English, “Casu marzu? Of course. We have.” When he showed me the cheese, I asked where the worms were. “Ah,” he said, “the worms were here, but now they have gone away.” Casu marzu is considered by many Sardinians to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died.

Another cheese vendor, working out of the back of a truck, was cautiously watching our exchange. That’s the guy, I thought.

When I asked him for casu marzu he looked to his right, then looked to his left, and said, “Sei la polizia?” I laughed, “Do I look like the police?” He laughed and pulled out a white plastic construction bucket he had hidden under a table near his truck. When he took the towel off the top of the bucket it was filled with wheels of foul-smelling cheese crawling with worms. “I’ll buy a half-kilo,” I said, “but please hold the cheese in your hands so that I can make a photograph.” His face went serious. He shook his head no and then held out his arms with his wrists crossed like he was in handcuffs. “No photo,” he said. “Formaggio, si. Io, no.”

Casu marzu presents an interesting paradox for Italian cheese aficionados. It has been considered illegal by the Italian government since 1962, due to laws that prohibit the consumption of food infected by parasites. Those who sell casu marzu can face fines up to €50,000. European regulators in 2002 reinforced the law making the cheese illegal not only in Italy but also in all the common EU markets. Casu marzu is also illegal in the United States.

The cheese remains a revered delicacy. Despite official health concerns, Sardinians consider casu marzu safe. (Sardinia has the highest percentage of people living to 100 years or beyond. The proportion of centenarians in the population is twice the rate considered normal for the rest of the world.) Also, as a traditional product of Sardinia, it is locally protected, although it still remains available only on the black market. There is, however, a formal proposal pending before the EU to give casu marzu DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status like other cheeses and fine wines.

So what is it like to eat cheese infested with worms? You had better enjoy eating strong cheese, and cover your eyes. Casu marzu has the taste and texture of aged gorgonzola, but it moves. Writer Kara Goldfarb describes it best:

“When eating the cheese, one is meant to close their eyes. It’s not to avoid looking at the maggots as you eat them but to protect your eyes from them. When bothered, the maggots will jump up, sometimes going as high as six inches. Next tip, it is imperative for one to properly chew and kill the maggots before swallowing. Otherwise, they can live in the body and rip holes through the intestines… The next step is less of a safety precaution and more of a way to just enhance the culinary experience. It’s advised to enjoy the casu marzu with a moistened flatbread. It also pairs well with a glass of strong red wine. Potentially because the two go well together, possibly because of the added liquid courage.”

In the end, being able to taste casu marzu is a cultural experience that I consider a necessity of travel. I remember eating the fruit durian when I was sailing through Sumatra. It smelled like raw sewage but tasted like a rich custard. Years ago, in a no-name restaurant in the Chinese ghetto off Tiananmen Square, I asked for the house specialty and was served a bull’s penis. These are the things that make our journeys rewarding.

Yes, those are maggots crawling out of the cheese… Photograph: © Jeffrey Cardenas

Sources:

“Maggot Cheese,” Gordon Ramsey, https://youtu.be/vZ_-JzM-YQg

Casu Marzu Cheese Is Dangerous, Illegal, And Filled With Maggots,” ATI, Kara Goldfarb

“Cazu Martzu,” Wikipedia

Most Rotten Cheese,” The World’s Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth, Mark Frauenfelder


Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker

Kidney Stones at Sea

Okay, I’m in Italy; a little drama is permitted… But, trying to pass kidney stones while sailing alone is no laughing matter. This fashionable model for the anti-spasmodic tonic Schoum Forte clearly shares my pain. Illustration credit: Soluzion Schoum Forte

There was that full horizontal knockdown from a rogue wave roaring out of the Southern Ocean. Also during these travels around the globe aboard Flying Fish: I cleaved open my scalp on a sharp edge of fiberglass, I broke a tooth, I nearly severed a toe. And, by the grace of God, I somehow avoided COVID-19 despite being in a crowded market in Langkawi during Chinese New Year in February 2020. Yet, no drama I have experienced compares with trying to pass a kidney stone alone on this boat.

I am on the island of San Pietro in Sardinia today. Carloforte is a lovely town, even through this lens of pulsating pain emanating from the area of my kidneys. There are no internists or urologists here, so I am self-diagnosing. I sought confirmation from a local pharmacist who winced at my Italian and then recommended an anti-spasmodic kidney detox tonic called Soluzione Schoum Forte. The tonic looks like a local Vermentino, but unfortunately, it doesn’t taste like one. First failed lesson: Understand the dosage: I thought, “due cucchiai da tavola, quattro-sei volte al giorno” meant, “take four to six spoonfuls twice a day.” Wrong. I got it backward. In the aftermath of that first triple dosage, I thought I would see that little girl with the spinning head from the Exorcist

It is estimated by the National Kidney Foundation that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. Hopefully it won’t happen on a boat in a distant port-of-call. Kidney stones form when certain chemicals become concentrated enough in the urine to form crystals. These crystals grow, and as they make their way through the urinary tract, it hurts.

“Is this what killed Popeye?”

Peta Owens-Liston, ARUP Laboratories Science Writer

There are a lot of myths about what causes and prevents kidney stones. They can be caused by various conditions, including diet, dehydration, medications, infections, and genetics. Foods rich in oxalate, such as spinach, can contribute to stone formation. One thing is sure, passing a kidney stone is memorable. “It woke me up in the middle of the night. It left me gasping and sobbing. Screaming. Someone was sticking a knife in me and slowly turning it,” medical correspondent Petra Owens-Liston writes.

Preventative measures include changes to your diet. I don’t drink enough water when I am on the boat, I use too much salt, I enjoy coffee and good wine. Those can all lead to dehydration and, ultimately, kidney stones. Remedies can include medically blasting the kidney with sonic waves to break up stones. As a last resort, kidney stones can be surgically removed. One friend suggested a more straightforward solution. Her brother had a kidney stone and he felt the pain move down his back as the stone proceeded through the urinary tract. “Jump up and down a lot,” she said. “Gravity is your friend.” My Plan B to help move things along is to try a massage therapist; my happy ending would be the exorcism of this demon that lives in my plumbing.

Those are not seashells. A collection of kidney stones from ARUP Laboratories

With all seriousness, I realize that passing a kidney stone is a “first world problem.” To those who are truly suffering from more severe events in their lives, I mean no affront. We tend to focus on our own little orbit, especially when we are alone. Still, it is helpful to remember that there are more serious issues outside of our personal bubble.


Sailing is not just about the wind and the sea; equally important are the places to which this boat takes me.

Please click Follow at the bottom of this page so that you don’t miss a new update, and please consider sharing this post with others who might enjoy following the voyage of Flying Fish. I welcome your comments. I will always respond to your comment when I have an Internet connection. And I will never share your personal information.

You can follow the daily progress of Flying Fish, boat speed (or lack thereof), and current weather as I sail into the Mediterranean by clicking this satellite uplink: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/FlyingfishClick the “Legends and Blogs” box on the right side of the tracking page for en route Passage Notes. 

To see where Flying Fish has sailed since leaving Key West in 2017, click here: https://cruisersat.net/track/Flying%20Fish.

Instagram: FlyingFishSail
Facebook: Jeffrey Cardenas

Text and Photography © Jeffrey Cardenas 2021

Let this be a time of grace and peace in our lives   –Fr. John Baker