13 July 2017 – Spoiled on Sardinia

Porto Liscia (ITA) – Isola di San Pietro (ITA)

“I am going to scream. If you don’t back off, I swear I will.” Mirjam puts on a dead-serious face. The guy across the counter and the other lunch-time customers in the bar don’t look like they’re to be messed with, so Floris decides to avoid a scene. He ceases his efforts to keep Mirjam from getting out her wallet and retreat, defeated. At the petrol station later that day, Ivar tries to beat her to the counter, but Mirjam opens her mouth in a threatening fashion, ready to scream. Our visitor is adamant on picking up the tap, once again. Little could we know that this would become somewhat of a pattern here in Sardinia.

Lost Underwater
Jelle and Mirjam kicked off a month of friends and family visiting us from the Netherlands. Jelle would only spend two nights, so he and Mirjam didn’t waste time. “Would like you like to go diving?” Of course we do! We not only enjoy it immensely, it is also good for us to practice. Our last proper dive was shortly before we left, so we are anxious to get back underwater.

The next morning we’re headed towards the Maddalena Islands. For once, we are passengers on someone else’s boat, the diving company’s. Before jumping in the water, we double check our “routine” with Mirjam and Jelle. We feel a bit rusty, but our experienced friends put us to ease. They assure us that they’ll look after us, as will the instructor. Minutes later, we all descend along the anchor chain. The deeper we go, the calmer we get. The silence of the surrounding water, the elegant movement of the fish below us and our rhythmic breathing have a soothing effect on us. So far so good.

Some ten minutes into the dive, Ivar loses sight of Floris. Wasn’t he right behind Ivar just a second ago? Ivar, looks around. Where is he hiding? Mirjam is the first to look up and spots Floris five metres above the group. It takes him a minute to get his buoyancy fully under control and make his way back down. Ivar later needs some help getting water out of his mask. Both of us still feel a bit clumsy underwater, but comfortable enough to appreciate the beauty of the La Maddelena National Park. Hundreds of colourful fish reveal themselves as we explore an underwater canyon and circle an underwater mountain. Rocks that are treacherous when sailing, now invite us for a closer look. Our two dives that day are awe-inspiring and serve as a useful refreshment course for us open-water diving beginners. What a treat!

Repairing Instead of Replacing
A few days before Mirjam and Jelle’s arrival, we went on an online shopping frenzy for computer parts. Floris’s computer had suddenly broken down. He feared the worst and thought he needed to buy a new one, but after extensive research he concluded that he could repair the laptop with a new hard drive. He is confident that he can replace the hard drive himself, after reading an online tutorial which summarised the skills needed as follows: If you can wipe your butt, you can replace a computer hard drive. Now that our friends are here with the new hard drive and necessary tools – including a screw driver that barely made its way through security – it’s time to put theory into practice.

Opening up a laptop feels very counterintuitive, but once Floris is over the fear of doing more harm than good, he replaces the hard drive in a heartbeat. When all the screws are back in place, he turns the laptop on and… it boots up! The hard part is done, now the tedious task of reinstalling the software and all the files starts. We’ll spare you the details, but it took two days to get everything running again. Fortunately, we could do all kinds of fun stuff while the laptop was doing its thing, such a swimming, hiking and finding a 3,000-year old olive tree in Sardinia’s hinterland.

Stimulating the Local Economy
Our weather apps forecast a strong easterly wind, which makes Porto Liscia exposed to wind and swell. Neighbouring Porto Pozzo offers better shelter, so we sail there with Jelle, while Mirjam drives their rental car to our new anchorage. She finds a deserted village, save for a pizzeria on the beach. Jelle’s eyes light up at the prospect of pizza the night before heading back to Amsterdam for work. It makes our farewell a bit easier to bear. The place proves to be a real gem, which we’ll come to frequent twice more the coming days. Mirjam keeps on insisting to treat us. And she can be so convincing…

Do You Accept Sardex?
Stimulating the local economy is also a theme of the sustainable solution we visit in Sardinia: Sardex. In the wake of the credit crunch in 2009, five guys from the small Sardinian town of Serramanna were puzzled. Why should businesses on Sardinia suffer from a lack of money caused by a crisis that started on Wall Street, they wondered? They founded Sardex, a commercial credit system for small and medium sized Sardinian businesses.

Mirjam outraces even the local drivers and gets us to Serramanna in time for lunch. Ivar points at a sticker on the door of our restaurant: “Look, they accept Sardex”. So how can we get some of this local currency to pay for our lunch, we wonder? Time to find out at Sardex’s headquarters around the corner, where Lorenzo Pinna welcomes us on behalf of Sardex’s international relations department.

He explains how the founders started from a simple idea: give companies access to a local currency so they can fulfil their potential. “Imagine a photographer and a painter on Sardinia, who don’t have many clients due to a lack of euros. When they become members of Sardex, they can pay each other in Sardex instead. Now when the photographer asks the painter to work for him, he doesn’t need a positive balance of Sardex. When he pays the painter 100 Sardex, his account goes to -100, while the painter gets +100. Now the painter can spend this amount to buy peaches from a local farmer, for example, and the farmer may use his Sardex to hire the photographer. The main benefit is that you can do business within the local community, while not being dependent on the availability of euros”.

That sounds quite simple indeed, but also triggers many questions with us. Like who is in control of the amount of Sardex in the system? Lorenzo: “Sardex is a purely digital currency, there are no coins or bank notes. We set limits to how much negative or positive Sardex any account can have, depending on the size of the member company. The sum of all accounts always equals zero. Sardex is therefore just a means of exchange that stimulates transactions in the local economy.”

And how big can a currency region be, we ask? “Trust is an essential ingredient for success, and the island of Sardinia proved to be a tight enough community to successfully serve as one currency region. We have more than 4,000 member companies here. But is also works elsewhere. We have successfully expanded the system to other regions of Italy like Rome and Piedmont. And we’re working on extending the Sardex to private consumers with a new app”.

A simple, local idea with far-reaching implications. The obvious sustainability benefit is an increase in local services and production activity that requires less transport and stimulates employment on the island. But how does it work in combination with the euro? What are the implications of the lack of interest? Does a stable amount of money in the system mean that no economic growth is required, which is the main environmental problem that comes with the current monetary system? And how does Sardex fit within the current legal and tax framework? We’ll reflect on these issues in more detail in a separate item about sustainable economy.

Ruins and donkeys
All good things most come to an end, and so does Mirjam’s visit. We can hardly thank her (and Jelle) enough for the wonderful company and many treats. Her departure ushers in a week in which we are alone. Our next appointments are with friends in Alghero, so as soon as there is an easterly wind, we head west along the north coast. After a day’s sail we find an idyllic anchorage close to Stintino at sunset.

The town once famous for tuna fishing serves as our base to explore the island of Asinara. Until 30 years ago it was a high-security prison and before that a colony for people with contagious diseases. Today it’s a national park which we’re anxious to explore. After a one-hour kayak workout, we rent bikes and paddle along the island’s only paved road. We are soon huffing and puffing our way up the steep hills of the island. Meanwhile, the dry, barren landscape heats up as the sun climbs. White – albino – donkeys huddled together underneath trees or in abandoned building stare at us as if WE are the main attraction on this island rather than them. Half-way across the island we pause at a small beach, eat our lunch and explore the island’s underwater landscape with our goggles and snorkels.

Rested, we continue towards the far end of the island. Saddle pain, scorching heat and the prospect of the ever longer way back soon quench our ambitions of reaching the light house at the northern tip. With every hill on our return journey we feel our legs getting heavier. Relief only comes after we return the bikes, get ice cream and all but collapse on a bench in the shade. We savour the moment, banning all thoughts of our impending trip back by kajak, upwind.

Porto Conte, Anchoring Dream
When a light northerly wind arrives a few days later, we prepare the genaker and head for the southern tip of Asinara. We carefully navigate through an ancient passage between Asinara and a smaller island. It’s only 3m deep at one point, but we can rely on stone marks on the islands. If we keep them in-line, we should stay clear of dangers. Still, we let out a breath of relief when the depth gage indicates deeper water again. The shortcut saves us more than 20 nautical miles.

After the passage, the genaker pushes Lucipara south along the Sardinian west coast. It is steep and rugged with nowhere to shelter, so we’re glad the weather is quite calm today. Just before Alghero, we turn left into the bay of Porto Conte. This large bay, around 3nm wide and 1.5nm long, proves to be an anchoring dream. It is protected against winds and swell from all directions, has good holding on the various anchor locations and is free of charge. It is also stunningly beautiful with its crystal-clear water, sandy beaches and distant views of impressive rocks and green mountains. And at only 10km from Alghero it is an ideal location to reunite with local friends and host our next visitors.

Friends From Near And Far
The timing of our arrival near Alghero is excellent. Alghero-born Fabio, Floris’s flatmate in Venice, is spending the summer here with his family. First based in Kyrgyzstan and now in Tajikistan, it’s been difficult to see him and his family. When a red Fiat parks on shore close to our boat, we jump in the kayak to meet them. After hugs and kisses and meeting the kids, we squeeze into the car for a “light lunch” at Fabio’s parents place. Fabio’s mother brings out one delicious dish after another, many of them local specialties, all accompanied by wine made by Fabio’s father. What a treat, certainly no light one! The extravagance continues the next day when the family visits our boat and we’re invited to lunch on Mugoni beach at the other end of our bay.

Later that afternoon until late in the evening, we frantically work on our blogs and vlogs, before Bernice and Cully arrive the next morning. Bernice Notenboom just returned from another North Pole expedition to measure the state of the ice, and raise awareness for the urgent need for sustainable change because of climate disruption. We’re delighted that she and her partner Cully found a few days during their hectic European tour to stay with us.

As soon as they are on board, fascinating stories about polar expeditions and outdoor adventures on Belize follow each other, interrupted only by discussions about the dire state of the climate and the many sustainable solutions that we think exist. We also find time to be tourists in Alghero on what seems to be the first rainy day of the year, and to take Luci out for a bit of sailing when the weather improves the next day. In the evenings they generously treat us to local dishes at the nearby restaurant, which we can reach by dinghy.

Bernice and Cully are still with us when Ivar’s Hilversum running friends arrive. Anja, William, Maarten and Paul have found accommodation in Alghero and drive their rental car to the beach to meet with us. They initially attempted to combine a visit with a local running event, but those attempts failed, mostly because it is difficult for us to commit to a time and a place. The Sardinian program, with relaxing days at the beach and on Lucipara, proves to be a remarkably good alternative. Luckily the nearby “Neptune Caves” and its 600 steps provide a bit of exercise. On their last evening, they offer to treat us dinner. Well, we happen to know a good place nearby…

Family And The Sardinian Farmer
Our final visitors on Sardinia are Ivar’s parents. After they get over their mild culture and weather shock, they soon get used to life on Lucipara in Porto Conte, including the “jump-from-the-boat-to-swim-and-shower” ritual. It brings back memories from when they did this off their own boat when Ivar was still a little boy. Although climbing out of the water surely was easier back then.

With the absence of wind, we stay in the bay of Porto Conte and spend a few days together. With their rental car we visit Alghero, Bosa and the hinterland. We stock up our groceries, do laundry and enjoy wonderful lunches and dinners together. We also get a chance to visit our friend Enzo. He has been working hard to get a house annex farm running near Sassari and after hearing his stories we cannot wait to see the results. The place exceeds our wildest imagination; olive trees, nut trees, fruit trees, roses, a view of Sicily’s north coast all the way to Asinara… we cannot close our jaws. Inside the house, the finishing touches are laid on the spacious kitchen and modern bathrooms. The houses oozes cosiness and relaxation. The beauty of the estate and the house are only eclipsed by Enzo’s cooking. He and his sister Tiziana serve dish after dish of the best that their island has to offer, all with homemade twists, such as olive oil from last year’s harvesting efforts. Ivar’s parents and we each get a bottle to take home. Speechless and humbled at such generosity, we thank them and hug good-bye, leaving them with the dishes (Floris still feels awful about that).

The long arm of the Mistral
The next day a light north-westerly wind is forecast. It promises to increase in the next few days to a full-blown Mistral wind. This typical Mediterranean wind originates in the French Rhone valley and can stretch all the way to Sardinia and beyond. It’s exactly what we need to sail further south along the western coast. We say farewell to Ivar’s parents and are on our own again, making our own food again. In two daytrips we first sail to Tharros in the Golfo di Oristano and then to the Isola di San Pietro in the south west corner of Sardinia. The Mistral persists, so we decide to skip Cagliari and cross over to Sicily in one go. As we embark on this 200-nautical mile crossing, we slowly but surely see the Sardinian rocks disappear in the distance. We could not have imagined a more rewarding time on the island. A big Thank You to all of our visitors for your great company and generous treats and gifts. We feel honoured by the flexibility and the effort that you went through to come and see us. You really spoiled us!

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