Updated On: March 29, 2006
Current Location: Lagos - View Route Distance Since Last Update: 779
Total Distance: 4,066
Current Weather: Sunny, 70's.
Local Fare: Super Bock Stout
Marine Life: Octopus, Cuttle Fish, Conga Eels, Marble Rays, Sea Slugs, Starfish
Recent Activities: Diving, Working on Truck

 
  Lisbon, Portugal - March 5-7, 2006
Our first day in Lisbon was relaxing. After a long circuitous bus ride into town, we had an excellent lunch and then spent the balance of the day wandering through the streets of the Alfama and exploring Castelo de Sao Jorge. Before returning to our campsite we stopped into a small grocery store in Barrio Alto and picked up some Portuguese wine and cheese. Back at camp, Sharikay and Eric invited us over (to their truck/home) for a relaxing dinner in which we sampled some excellent wines and stuffed ourselves on Portuguese bread and cheese.

On Monday we spent most of the day getting caught up on house keeping items. Around 5pm we broke away from our chores and headed up to the nearby town of Sintra for a bit of late afternoon exploring. We arrived to find a mystical fairytale land with narrow winding roads ascending into lush green forest shrouded in thick misty fog. Almost immediately we fell in love with the little town in the clouds and were excited at the prospect of returning for a closer look.

On Tuesday morning, we woke up and broke camp. Our plan was to head south for Lagos, located on the Algarve coast. Before departing however we returned to Sintra to explore Convento Dos Capuchos. Described by Lonely Planet as “hobbit hole like” and “an Alice and Wonderland experience,” Convento Dos Capuchos is a small monastery hidden deep in a mystical forest. Just getting to the monastery is a magical experience. The building itself was established in the 16th century to house 8 monks and the monastery is characterized by tiny rooms and narrow hallways with cork lined ceilings. Bedrooms are so small that there are holes in the walls for their feet so that they would have enough room to sleep lying down. Ouside, the tiled roof and earthen walls are covered in green moss and the surrounding forest and dense fog creates an enchanted feel. Definitely a highlight of our trip so far.

Far from having seen our fill of Sintra, we decided it was best to press on. At around 6pm we departed for Lagos. The drive was uneventful and we arrived shortly before midnight. After a short search that turned up a closed campsite, we found a comfortable beach cottage and called it a night..

 
 
 
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 8, 2006
A beautiful sunny day at the beach. We awoke to bright sunshine beaming through the bedroom window of our little whitewashed beach cottage. The beautiful, WARM, weather energized us and we were eager to explore the turquoise waters, sandstone cliffs, grottos and caves that brought us to the Algarve coast. We contacted Elmar Vees at Blue Ocean Divers to inquire about arranging sea kayaks. He said no problem, he had 3 kayaks and could offer a guided trip the following day.

Perfect. With our kayaks reserved, we setoff to explore Lagos. First stop – Praia da Mos – a picturesque stretch of white sand beach with high cliffs forming a dramatic backdrop against the clear turquoise waters. We strolled the beach soaking up a bit of much needed sun before stopping at a beachfront restaurant for a leisurely lunch. Ahhh, The life. Relaxing. Warm. Beautiful. We sat along the beach sipping cold beer and generally lazing about until the sun finally slipped behind the cliffs casting a cool shadow on us. Fully revitalized we headed back to the truck to do a bit more exploring.

As merry as can be, we jumped into Betty, put the key in the ignition and turned the switch, which caused our ailing starter to let out the most horrible, blood curdling scream. Ugh!! Our starter, which had struggled along, since Tours, France was now in a desperate state. I turned the ignition again and an equally terrifying yell came waling out from under the hood. Again, I tried. Same result. It was as if I was torturing her. With each turn of the ignition it became more obvious.......... we were screwed. We’d parked in the worst possible spot with no chance of pushing our 3 ½ ton monster in either direction (oh, don’t get me wrong, I tried. I tried until I was red in the face and sweating bullets. I tried until I have what must be a hernia. My struggle didn’t move the truck any but it sure provided significant amusement to all those who now were standing around watching – not helping mind you but watching all the same). With no hope of push starting her, I did what any desperate person might do. I put the key in and tried one last time. The truck let out what seemed like an endless scream, but finally, after what seemed like an eternity, caught and the engine fired. Fewwww. What a relief. Knowing that it was probably the last time Betty would start we agreed not to park her anywhere that we couldn’t push start her.

And so we drove off. Next stop Praia da Ana. Another fantastic beach. More dramatic than the last, with large sandstone pinnacles jutting out of the turquoise waters and caves dotting the cliff-lined beach. Fantastic. We returned to our truck which was now parked on a hill. Jumped inside. Let off the brake and let it roll down the hill until we could pop the clutch and fire the engine. Happy to have the truck running we headed past the city center and marina to explore the coast east of town where the cliffs give way to flat sandy beaches. It was late afternoon and the warm afternoon light made for a beautiful drive along the water. Along the way, we spotted a group of caravans free camping just off the beach. One of the vehicles in particular caught our attention. It appeared to be a brightly colored truck or train of some sort parked among the other vehicles. Curious, we decided to have a closer look and headed up a dirt road towards the beach. When we arrived we found what looked a little like a hippie colony and parked among the caravans was the most bizarre looking “overland” vehicle we’ve seen yet – a bright blue farm tractor attached to a trailer that seemed to be a cross between a caboose and a mobile home. A boat was attached to top of the tractor and an old rusty bike was strapped to the back. The caboose was brightly colored with cartoon images of a smiling sun and other graffiti designs. Odd doesn’t begin to describe it. And as we pulled up a load of colorful looking folk with weathered clothes and long dreadlocks poured out the back accompanied by a couple of dogs. Fascinated, we got out to have a closer look and a short time later was greeted by the vehicle’s owner, Romeo, a friendly, sun tanned, German man with something akin to a dreadlock mullet, and a healthy belly. He greeted me with a jolly smile and good English. Turns out that Romeo broke up with his girlfriend 11 years ago, borrowed 2,000 DM to buy a tractor, found an old box car and set about converting it into an overland vehicle. Once it was ready he left his home in Hamburg, Germany and at the blistering pace of 6 km/hour set out to explore Europe. 11 years later he’s made it to Lagos. He said it takes him about 18 hours to drive 100 km. Inside he has a bed, small cooking area and a workshop where we carves wooden toys which he sells to make a living. With great pride he showed us his favorite toys – a small rocking horse and a family of elephants that nest together like a puzzle. Learning about his life and unique travel experiences was fascinating and before you knew it we’d been there over an hour and were late to dinner. After saying our goodbyes we jumped inside Betty and Romeo bid us farewell by pushing us down a hill so that we could run start the engine.

 
 
 
 
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 9, 2006
We woke up this morning and found the weather a bit more blustery than yesterday. The sky was a mix of clouds and sun and there was some light rain and it was a little windy. Not perfect but not terrible either. Around 10am we received a call from Elmar at Blue Ocean Divers. He pointed out the less than perfect conditions and asked if we were still interested in kayaking. Absolutely we replied. An hour later we arrived at Blue Ocean where we met Elmar, A laid back, friendly German who moved to Lagos 13 years ago and opened Blue Ocean Divers in 1996. After a short briefing we struggled into wetsuits and piled into his bright red Umm (an odd looking Portuguese 4x4) and headed for the beach. By the time we arrived at Praia da Ana the weather had improved and was pretty much perfect. The next couple of hours was spent paddling along the coast where Elmar guided us into huge caves, through sandstone arches, and into hidden grottos. After a fantastic trip we returned to our put in point on the beach. All too soon our trip along the coast was over.

Thoroughly pleased with our experience, I asked Elmar if it was possible for Eric and I to go diving before we left the next day. He eagerly replied “Of course. At the moment condition are very, very good.” He then asked if we were all dive certified. The short answer was no. Sharikay had never been diving. Eric had been diving once before in an aquarium in Shanghai, China. Definitely the most unique dive experience if you can imagine him suiting up in full dive gear and jumping into a shark filled aquarium while Chinese school children stared and pointed at him just on the other side of the glass. Sheri and I began our dive certification in Tahiti several years ago but ran into problems when the Dive Master decided to feed us to the sharks (a story for another time) and we never finished our certification. We went on to explain that we were planning to get certified in South Africa so that we could dive later in our trip. No problem he said. I can offer you a one day PADI introduction to diving course or if you can stay longer you could do a 3 day scuba diver certification or 5 day open water certification. In addition, he offered us a place to work on our trucks and said he would introduce us to some mechanics that could help us sort out our split charger and suspension problems (nagging items that we were planning to take care of in Gibraltar prior to entering Africa). Hmm. Eric and I looked at each other and both had the same idea. If we could have the trucks worked on here, we could get certified at the same time and still be in Morocco by the middle of the following week.

With new ideas racing in our heads we told Elmar we’d think about it and get back to him with our decision and asked if he could recommend a good restaurant where we could talk it over. He recommended Restaurante Camilo, a small seafood restaurant located high atop a cliff overlooking the Atlantic.

So we left the dive center and made our way to the restaurant where we enjoyed fresh swordfish, sardines, and sangria. As we gorged on fresh seafood, we discussed whether or not to stay in Lagos to get dive certified. In the end, we all agreed that, while we were eager to get to Africa, Elmar seemed like an excellent instructor and if we could get the trucks worked on in Lagos then we could kill two birds with one stone. Our trucks would be ready, we’d be certified, and we’d still be in Africa only a couple of days behind schedule. Better yet, by getting certified in Portugal we’d be able to take advantage of additional dive opportunities in Cape Verde, Senegal and other sites along the west coast of Africa.

Perfect. With our decision made we shifted our attention to polishing off the rest of our dinner – the sardine heads on my plate. The waiter said the brains are his favorite part and showed us his technique for sucking out all the good stuff. So we proceeded to dismantle the 6 or so heads still on my plate and carefully divide them up among us. First we started with the eyes (the eyeballs followed by the corneas). One for Eric, one for Sheri, one for Sharikay, and one for me. Two for Eric, two for Sheri.... and so on. Then we moved on to the brains. If you haven’t had the occasion yet to suckle on fish heads, I must tell you, it may sound like a culinary delight, however temper your enthusiasm as extracting brains is a sloppy exercise best accompanied by a carefully selected 40 of malt liquor (culinary tip: it’s actually best to enjoy the 40 before partaking in the suckling). With proper technique, suckling on the back of the head yields a lot of brown gooey stuff however to my unrefined pallet I can’t be sure it was all brains. In any case, Sheri and Sharikay bowed out on this round (perhaps too full of eyeballs) which left more for Eric and me. Not that we really needed any more. I think sardines brains should be considered a delicacy best savored in small quantities. Alas, stuffed with fish stuff, we capped off a wonderful meal with desert and some more sangria before calling it a night.

 
 
 
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 10, 2006
Excited about getting dive certified we called Elmar to finalize our plans. He suggested we meet him in an hour so that he could take us to a local mechanic to sort out our trucks. Afterwards we’d meet back at his place to fill out the PADI forms so we’d be ready to start class on Monday. In the meantime he gave us a healthy dose of homework and invited us to join him on his new dive boat for a test run on Sunday.

With our plans in place we met up with Elmar and he took us to meet some mechanics at a local garage. At the garage we explained our problems with the suspension as well as the electrical system. After checking out the suspension they gave it a clean bill of health and said the springs were just rubbing a bit. Unable to solve our electrical woes they referred us to John Holloway, a marine electronics expert that has much experience with split charge battery systems. We called John and scheduled an appointment for early the following week. Later we met Elmar to fill out paperwork and get our PADI Course Books.

 
 
     
 
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 11-12, 2006
Got up early and headed over to Blue Ocean Diver to finally change Betty’s dead starter. The weather was perfect and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions to crawl under the bonnet and get our fingers a little greasy. Two hours and only a minimal amount of swearing later, the starter was in place and she was running as good as new. Afterwards we spent the balance of the day sitting on the beach, soaking up the warm sunshine and reading our PADI books. A relaxing day in paradise.

The next morning we got up early and made our way down to the marine to join Elmar and a large group of his friends on his new dive boat. At 10:45am we set sail and headed out of the harbor. The weather was perfect (calm seas, bright sunshine, warm temperatures) and the views of the stunning Algarve coast were fantastic. The trip was a test run for the upcoming summer season and most of the people on the boat were suiting up in full dive gear. While hanging out on the boat was nice, I was a little jealous to watch everyone gearing up and jumping into the water when we reached the dive site. Soon enough, I guess. Training starts tomorrow. The remainder of the cruise was quite enjoyable and we arrived back at the dock at around 1pm.

Afterwards, we spent the balance of the day lazing at the beach reading to prepare for our upcoming dive classes.

 
 
   
 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 13-16, 2006
On Monday we began our open water diver certification course. I’d been looking forward to this day for 8 years since we left Tahiti. Sheri had been nervously dreading this day for 8 years since we left Tahiti (more from Sheri’s perspective later). We’re fortunate because it’s still the off season which means tons of personalized attention from Elmar. Our class only had one additional student – Ilja, a likeable, athletic, 30 year old girl from Holland who moved to Lagos a year ago. Unlike our experience in Tahiti, our course utilized a highly structured training methodology that was a combination of self study, classroom training, confined water skills training, open water dives, knowledge reviews, written and practical tests. Each day of training was preceded by self study of the PADI training manual which provided us with a textbook understanding of what we would be covering the following day. The day would then start with classroom training and videos which reinforced these concepts and discussed the upcoming dives. Next, we entered an Olympic-sized swimming pool for a confined water dive to receive hands on skills training. This training was later reinforced through a series of 4 open water dives in the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, to pass the course we had to pass a written exam and open water dive in which we were required to successfully perform the skills learned on previous dives.

Overall, the course went very smoothly and we received excellent training. Elmar was great. His relaxed, light hearted nature and unique sense of humor contributed significantly to our enjoyment and his conservative teaching style helped to allay Sheri’s lingering Tahiti-induced dive gitters. The weather was generally excellent and the warm sunny days made our out of water training very comfortable. The cold (14-15 degrees C) Atlantic waters proved to be an excellent training ground as we had to suit up in full wetsuits, jackets, gloves, booties, and hoods to stay warm and were challenged by variable conditions which included strong surges and poor visibility. The final exam was particularly challenging as we entered the water by doing a giant stride off a small cliff (very fun) into turbulent water with a continuous surge that pushed and pulled us back and forth like a washing machine as we were being evaluated on various skills. The exit proved equally challenging as the tide had risen and the waves were now pounding our rocky exit point. Sheri had it particularly difficult as she got caught in a strong set just as she was exiting which pummeled her against the rocks before throwing her back into the water. This happened several more times as Elmar attempted to extract her. Both came away with bloody hands – a result of he sharp barnacles covering the rocks. In the end, it was all good. Sheri overcame her fears and is now a competent new diver and everyone passed with flying colors. Having completed our certification, we stopped at a small cafe in Luz for a celebratory drink on the way back from the dive and agreed to get together for a more formal party the following night.

Sheri Writes - Since trying a dive in Tahiti 8 years ago, I have been dreading getting dive certified. We had a horrible instructor who made my first dive experience a nightmare. Jim, on the other hand, has been itching to get certified since Tahiti so I knew that at some point, most likely in South Africa, we would be getting dive certified. Once we met Elmar in Lagos, I knew that Jim would want to get certified with him. I, on the other hand wanted to put it off as LONG as possible. As Jim mentioned, we all discussed getting certified with Elmar because he seemed to be the perfect instructor, and so I reluctantly agreed to go through with the certification in Lagos. Well, our instincts were correct and Elmar turned out to be fantastic and was someone I felt that I could really trust in the water. On our final certification dives, we had really tough conditions---cold and fairly turbulent water. Ever been in a washing machine? That’s what it felt like. Before going in the water, I was very nervous about completing all of the skills in these conditions, but, I pulled it off and before you knew it, we were all certified. As Jim mentioned, exiting the water actually proved to be the most challenging part of the day. I’m sure everyone who saw me trying to extract myself from what I would consider to be the spin cycle of the washing machine got a big laugh. I would pretty much compare myself to a drowned rat. Elmar told me to climb up on the rock and then to hold myself there for a little bit---mind you, I had to hold myself there while large wave after wave pummeled me. Elmar would keep saying “Sheri, this set is almost gone, keep holding on a little longer”. Well, I heard that a few times and started to wonder if I would ever be able to pry my fingers off the rocks. What felt like years passed and finally, there was a calm in the waves and Elmar helped lift me out of the water. Too bad that wasn’t on video! I felt a sense of relief after we completed the dives because I knew that I had overcome a fear that I’ve had for 8 years.

 
 
 
 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 17, 2006
Our dive certification was over and originally we planned to leave today for Gibraltar however John Holloway’s attempts to rewire our split charge system failed to resolve the problem and more work remained to be done before our trucks would be ready to enter Africa. In light of this, we decided to stay through the weekend to work on the problem.

In the meantime, it was time to celebrate our graduation. Eric, Sharikay, Sheri and I met Elmar, Ilja, and some of Elmar’s friends including Steve and Lis for dinner at Mullen’s, an Irish Pub in Lagos. Dinner was excellent and we enjoyed hanging out with Elmar and his friends (which multiplied as the night went on). As the number of people grew, so did the number of drinks and the next thing you know it’s 2am and half of us are sharing the most ridiculous Guinness hat (as it also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day) and we’re heading from bar to bar. We didn’t drag ourselves home until around 5:30am.

 
 
 
 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 18-20, 2006
With our truck still not ready we slipped into a bit of a holding pattern. John, the marine electronics specialist, was recommending an external regulator to boost alternator output which would double the usable amp hours in our Optima deep cycle batteries. I was skeptical that this would fix the root cause of our problem however, it made sense given the small size of our battery system (total capacity of 55 amp hours with only about 60% – i.e. 30 hours – of that being usable and of the 60% our current alternator was only capable of charging to about 15 amp hours. A long winded way of saying that our system was only capable of delivering around 7.5 hours of power with only our 2 amp frig running). So, after much debate Eric and I decided to install the external regulator. The regulators would have to ordered from Lisbon which would take a day or so and then they would have to be installed. In a nutshell, this meant we had plenty of time to hang out in Lagos – not a bad thing as we were really enjoying our stay and I was eager to continue diving.

With time on our hands Eric and I decided to continue our training by starting the PADI Advanced Diver Certification course (Sheri and Sharikay decided to hold off until they have more open water experience). The course involves additional self study, instructor training, and 5 specialized open water dives – one deep dive, one night dive, one wreck dive, one boat dive and one underwater navigation dive. Only problem was that the winds shifted and were now blowing from the south which meant conditions were no longer good for diving. So we waited. Waited for the truck parts to arrive. Waited for the seas to clear.

While we waited we found plenty of other things to occupy our time including driving to Luz for a traditional Sunday roast at the Pig’s Head – a local English Pub. The place was packed with Brits (as is the entire Algarve) and it felt like we’d been transported back to England with great pork, bread pudding and English Stout. Afterwards we headed down to the beach to watch the sunset and ran into John, Elmar’s business partner who lives in Luz. Like Elmar, John’s an easy going likeable Brit who’s lived in Lagos for many years. After chatting a while on the beach, John invited us back to his place, a wonderful little cottage high atop a hill overlooking the ocean, to continue our visit over a bottle of wine. We had a great time and 4 hours later, decided it was time to head back to our hotel.

 
 
     
 
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 21-22, 2006
Finally, the winds shifted and the seas improved. With a possibly limited window of opportunity, Elmar quickly called us down to the dive center to begin our Advanced Diver Training. Having already completed the coursework we immediately took to the water to begin training. The first day we got in two dives just west of Luz. The first was a wreck dive at Burgau and the second was a navigation dive. Both were a blast. On the wreck dive we had an opportunity to view some interesting marine life including several octopus. The navigation dive was interesting as the visibility was zero. You couldn’t see your buddy who was directly in front of you. Great training as we had to navigate using a compass between points. If you got it wrong there was no way you would find it by looking. All went well and we had a great day in the water. Afterwards we topped it off with coffee at a small cafe on the beach before returning to the cottage for some R&R.

The next day conditions had improved further and we headed up to Sagras, the most southern point in Europe, where we boarded a zodiac and headed out to sea for our deep dive, boat/ multilevel (computer) dive. Both dives were great. The first was to a depth of 24 meters (78’). On the second dive we descended to 18 meters where we entered a cave. It was incredible. Being 60’ down, inside a dark cave with the only light coming from your spotlights. The best part was exiting the cave where you could look up and see the beautiful turquoise glow of the sun beaming in from above. Not knowing if conditions would be as good the following day we decided go ahead and work in our night dive as well. So we headed back to the dive center. Replaced our tanks, grabbed a bite to eat and headed down to Luz just before sunset. By the time we suited up and entered the water it was pitch black and, similar to the cave, the only light came from our spots. It was incredible because we found so many fish that were asleep. When you approached them they just sat there motionless until you basically touched them and they woke up. Very cool.

Tired. We got back at about 9:30pm and Elmar, Eric and I joined Sheri and Sharikay for dinner at Casinha do Petisco. Afterwards we headed to Mullen’s for a couple of drinks before dragging ourselves – exhausted – home. A great day!

 
 
 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 23-24, 2006
With our Advanced Certification finished we shifted our attention back to our trucks. The regulators had arrived and so we joined John at Rapid Fit where we rented a lift for the afternoon to pull out and modify both trucks alternators. The whole thing took about 5 hours and so we decided to wait until the next day to finish the job. Dirty and tired Eric and I headed back to the cottage to clean up and meet Sheri and Sharikay for dinner at a pizza place in Lagos. Afterwards we headed to Eddie’s Bar to listen to some music before turning in.

The next day John met us around noon at Blue Ocean Divers and went about wiring in the external regulators. Meanwhile, Sheri and I decided to take advantage of the free time to put on the scuba gear and hit the pool in order to reinforce some of the PADI safety drills. Elmar joined us and gave a lesson on diving in a dry suit. An interesting experience as buoyancy control is very different than with a wetsuit and you can end up with your feet above your head if you don’t know what you are doing. A nice afternoon in the pool.

 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 25, 2006
Eric and I spent the morning changing the oil. Afterwards, Sheri and I took Betty on a road trip to Carrapateira to test out the new regulator. Located on the west coast, a little north of Sagras, Carrapateira is a small town best known for it’s huge waves which are said to be the best in Europe. From my view, the beaches we visited lived up to the hype. The surf was huge with one set rolling in right after another. From Praia da Bordeira we headed south along a dirt road that skirts the stunning ocean cliffs. Along the way we stopped at a particularly secluded site and drove strait out to a point where we pulled out our camp chairs and enjoyed some excellent Portuguese port while watching the sun set. Once it was dark we drove down to Sagras for dinner and then back to Lagos.

 
 
 
 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 26, 2006
With the ocean unsuitable for diving we took Betty for another road trip. This time we traveled east to Olhao to explore Parque Natural Ria Formosa – a coastal reserve just east of Faro. When we arrived the park headquarters was closed however, the park was still open and so we drove in and set off on foot to explore the coastal marsh. It was a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon and we didn’t make it back to the car until nightfall. On the way back we had two black cats cross our path. I’m not superstitious but I’m starting to think there might be something to it because 5 minutes later we arrived at our truck and found the park gates closed and padlocked. Big problem since our truck was inside the gate. We looked around and found no signs warning that the gates close at a certain time. Nevertheless, we were locked in. Ugh! Not excited about spending the night in the park we set out to find someone who could help. The park headquarters was closed. We found a marine research station with cars parked out front however nobody came to the door. Then, Sheri remembered that earlier that day she had seen a house just inside the entrance which possibly belonged to a park warden and with renewed hope we went back to have a look. Sure enough. There was a house and better yet, a light was on inside and we could see someone in the living room. Ah, what a relief. We’re saved! Eager to get out, we headed to the front and knocked on the door. When the warden answered the door I began explaining our situation and pointed at the truck and the locked gate. He frowned, threw his ands in the air and in Portuguese basically said “That’s too bad.” He then took us to the park headquarters and pointed to a small index card sized piece of paper taped to the door that clearly stated in 10 pt font that the park closed at “19:00” (my watch said it was 7:15pm and we’d been trying to get out for at least 30 minutes so something was amiss). He continued that he could not help us, kept throwing his hands in the air, insisted that he had no key (which we knew was a lie because he has a car in the park himself) and without further discussion went back into his house and closed the door. Well, that didn’t work out as we had expected. We then headed back to the marine lab and tried again to find someone. No luck.

So basically we were stuck inside the park and would have to spend the night. Inconvenient? Yes. A disaster? No. We were probably as prepared for the situation as one probably could be. We had 6 months worth of food in the truck. A tent. Shower. Clothes. Pretty much everything you could ask for. And so we started to plan out our night. We were scheduled to dive in the morning so we needed to call Elmar to let him know what was going on. We walked up to a nearby campground (as there was a pedestrian gate within the large padlocked gate) where we found a phone and gave him a call. Of course he found humor in the situation but we were able to adjust our plans for the morning dive. Next we set off for the restaurant to have dinner. And wouldn’t you know it. Just as we were walking up to the restaurant we saw a car drive into the park and towards the marine lab. A shift change perhaps? We didn’t know or care. We wasted no time in getting back to the car so that we could make it out of the gate before it closed again and the driver disappeared. We made it. I guess luck was on our side after all.

Relieved to be on the outside, we stopped at a Cervejaria Ria Formosa , aseafood restaurant just off of the water, and had a relaxing dinner before returning to the comforts of Lagos.


 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 27, 2006
The seas were still rough and Elmar cancelled our dive. Ugh! Moreover, Betty’s split charge system was still not holding a charge. Maddening since we’d now spent well over 600 euros to have it fixed. Frustrated, I suggested to Eric that we swap batteries to find out once and for all if the problem was our bad battery (John conducted a load test on it two weeks earlier and everything checked out fine). So we spent the morning swapping out batteries and charging up both systems. Well, all I’ll say is that I wish I’d thought to do this little test two months earlier as it became obvious by late afternoon that the our battery was clearly the cause and was now dead again – this time in Eric’s truck. The good news. Problem identified. The bad news. It took a hell of a lot of frustration and paying an expert 600 euros before we solved it on our own.

 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 28, 2006
We called Elmar, as we did everyday, to check in and see if it would be possible to dive. After several consecutive days of no go’s he said yes, conditions looked much better. Not great but good enough to dive. Excited to be diving again, Sheri, Sharikay, and I (Unfortunately, Eric’s ear was bothering him and he couldn’t join us) met Elmar and headed to Burgau. This was Sheri and Sharikay’s first dive since they were certified and they were eager to put their new skills to use. The weather was perfect and the seas were relatively calm which made swimming out to the wreck fairly painless. Once on top of the wreck, Elmar gave a final briefing and we began our descent. The water was much murkier than that last time I was here and it was fairly difficult to see the wreck. It was also quite rough and we found ourselves sloshing about as we circumnavigated the east side of the wreck. Not ideal. Only 27 minutes into the dive we met back at the buoy line and Elmar indicated that Sharikay was low on air and gave the signal for us to begin working our way back towards shore. A bit anticlimactic and nothing like our previous dive at Burgau but we were happy to be in the water.

Back on the beach we changed into warm clothes and headed up the street to the small seaside cafe that Eric, Elmar and I had visited the previous week. The weather was so perfect and the sky was the most crystal clear blue imaginable. Absolutely perfect. As we sat and ate lunch we couldn’t help but marvel at the beautiful little town with cute white houses cascading down to the sea and colorful fishing boats parked along the beach.


 
     
 

Lagos, Portugal - March 29, 2006
Up early, we had to meet Elmar at 10am sharp so that we could load up our gear and head for the marina to catch our dive boat. It was another perfect day. We arrived at the marina at 10:30 and loaded our tanks and gear onto Elmar’s sleek speed boat. I’d guess the boat can hold 12 or more divers however we had the entire boat to ourselves. You couldn’t ask for any better. With all of our gear loaded on board, we fired up the engines and raced out of he harbor and west along the Algarve coast. The scenery alone made the trip worthwhile and shortly we arrived at our dive sight – a terraced reef where we planned to dive to 18 meters (60’) and then work our way up the wall. From the surface the water looked so inviting. As we descended however, the clarity diminished and by the time we reached the bottom it was so dark you couldn’t see anything (we didn’t even know we had reached to bottom until we felt it under our feet). With conditions so poor, there was no point in continuing the dive and we immediately ascended. What a buzz kill.

Back on the surface, Elmar said he wasn’t optimistic however we’d pull up the anchor and head to another dive site to give it another go. This time, when we arrived, Elmar went in first to check out the conditions and the returned to let us know it was much better and worth a look. Having received the go ahead, we entered the water and, when everyone was ready, descended the anchor line one at a time. Again, the water seemed fairly clear closer to the surface however visibility diminished somewhat as we neared the bottom. Even still, conditions were much better and you could clearly see the reef. Unfortunately, we’d used up some of our air on the first dive and therefore our dive time was only 30 minutes before we ascended to the surface. All in all, a nice dive but nothing to write home about.

Back onboard, we warmed up in the sun and ate lunch in preparation for our next dive. An hour later, Elmar asked who was in for the second dive and both Sheri and Sharikay opted out citing the less than ideal conditions. I wasn’t very excited myself however I was eager to gain more experience and was so we changed tanks and jumped in for another dive. By the time we entered the water a moderate current had developed and I had to hold on to the bowline to keep from drifting off. When we reached the bottom we found similar conditions however the visibility seemed a little better and with full tanks Elmar was able to navigate due west along the reef. I couldn’t believe it. Once underway the conditions were so much better that it was hard to believe it was the same site. For the next 45 minutes we worked our way along the reef exploring dark overhangs and hover just above large purple sea fans, and several sea anemones. Along the way we swam through large schools of fish, while spotting octopus (3), scorpion fish, cuttle fish, and bright sea slugs. It was an excellent dive which came to an end all too soon.

Back on board Sheri and Sharikay were happy as could be just relaxing in the beautiful weather. We joined them after changing into warm clothes (I was freezing cold) and then headed for home.