Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Tanausú and Acerina: A Story of Love & Betrayal from La Palma

From Roque de los Muchachos La Palma

Islands, as I’ve said before, are full of stories; some are simply myths, tales passed down from before written history, so that any truth has been lost in the telling. In some the kernel of truth still beats at the legend’s core, and this is one of those. It happened on a Canary Island called Benahoare, the most westerly and the most isolated of the islands; that which we know today as La Palma.

Although much of the history of the island was eradicated by the Spanish, we know that when an elder knew in his heart that his time had come, he had only to utter the word “vacaguare,” (I want to die), and he was aided by family to do so with dignity. He was taken to a cave, covered with goatskins, and surrounded by chosen possessions and a bowl of milk, was left to make his peace with his gods.

 

Model of Guanche burial cave in museum in Zarza La Palma

Model of Guanche burial cave in museum in Zarza La Palma

At the beginning of the 15th century the people of this island, trapped in a kind of Neolithic time warp, lived peaceably within the twelve kingdoms into which the island was divided. As in all good stories, there was a beautiful princess. Her name was Acerina. Some modern storytellers** speak of her black eyes in which men drowned, as if in a bottomless abyss. Others speak of her red lips, which burned like fire.

As you may guess, Acerina did not lack suitors. The ruler of Aceró the kingdom at the very heart of the island, and the Lord of Aridane, Mayantigo, were rivals for her hand, but Acerina had no doubts. Her heart belonged to Tanausú the young and handsome king of Aceró, whose lands circled the enigmatic mountainsides of what we now know as the Caldera de Taburiente, the jewel at the center of “La Isla Bonita.”

La Palma quotation

Some claim that their love was consummated at the foot of the great volcanic tower Idafe, a rocky steeple, which the Guanche considered sacred. It is also claimed that the very next day brought news of an invasion so fearsome that all the island trembled.

This was the Spanish Conquest.

In late 1492, before news of Columbus’s world-shaking discovery had had time to register in European minds, Alonso Fernández de Lugo landed on the beach at Tazacorte, on La Palma’s west coast, to seize the island in the name of the crown of Castille. As in so many instances on the islands, and in the Americas, the Conquistadors came armed with crosses and bibles as well as swords and cannon, and many of the gentle people of Benahoare were seduced by their lies and sugarcoated promises, or simply awed by the display of arms.

Aceró (which we know today, roughly, as Taburiente) and its king were in the minority in foreseeing the tragedy that would ensue. Amongst the citizens of Tanausú’s realm, resistance was strong, fuelled by passion for a landscape not only breathtaking in its beauty, but which was at the core of their beliefs and way of life. Its severe and steep topography, often hidden by swirling mists, was the match for the superior weaponry of the Spanish. They were unable to penetrate the caldera. Nevertheless, the Conquistadors had more formidable firepower, and the Guanche did not feel secure in their mountain hideaway. Tanausú sent the women and children to shelter in a cave in the high mountains, a decision that was to haunt him for what remained of his life.

Morning mists La Palma

That winter was devastating, and it is said that they all perished in the snow and freezing temperatures that were visited upon the island. Tanausú was heartbroken. His guilt was overwhelming. Acerina could not console him. When an emissary from Alonso de Lugo arrived, a cousin of Tanausú, who had converted to Christianity to ingratiate himself with the conquerors, and who now went by the name of Juan de la Palma, promising a truce and safe passage to discuss a peaceful solution, Tanausú agreed to attend.

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Juan de la Palma is to the island of La Palma what Benedict Arnold was to the US, or Judas Iscariot to Christianity – it was a trap. The noble king of Aceró was captured, not in battle, but by perfidy, and was taken away in chains, with the intention of presenting him, like a performing animal, at Court.

However, Isabel and Ferdinand were never to see this “noble savage.” Spain had taken his body, but could not trap his spirit. With a heart-rending cry of “Vacaguare,” Tanausú announced his intention to join his people already fallen. He refused all food, and died at sea before the ship could reach the mainland. His body was tossed overboard, just where is not known.

It is said that Acerina watching from her beloved mountainsides as the ship’s sails swelled with the winds which bless these islands, felt her husband’s pain, and her heart broke into a million pieces. In her anguish she turned to Tanausú’s former rival, Mayantigo, who still carried a flame for her, and, herself, uttered a grief-stricken “Vacaguare.” He, in his love of her, responded to her wish, accompanying her to a cave, and waiting until her death so that she didn’t die alone.

More legends, more about the Guanche, more about Benahoare, more about the stunning landscapes for which Tanausú fought another time. For today this is enough.

**  Wikipedia La Princesa Acerina

   Juan Reyes Chapter “Tanausú” in “Leylendas Canarias” Presumably Volume 1  because my others are numbered volume 11 etc. I’m sorry I can’t link to him, but this is such a common name that the listings in Google are too numerous to identify him! Both these references in Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

And so I come to El Médano; by the ocean; a half hour from the mountains; a half hour from theaters and concerts in Santa Cruz; twenty minutes from the cinema; reasonably multi-cultural; good choice of eateries (sushi, great pizza, crepes, Chinese, fish, original-enough snackeries, bakeries, terrific farmers’ market); decent wi-fi and availability in bars and cafés; laid back lifestyle; not overly expensive; fantastic climate; excellent sports facilities.

El Médano sure ticks a lot of my boxes, but, and this is a huge but for me, my ideal place would have English as its first language. I love the English language. I love playing with words. I love to hear it spoken in all its many guises, whether it’s William Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin,  spoken by Patrick Stewart or Denzel Washington. The music of my soul is sung in the English language, Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll and even some Country. I miss the closeness of this. I miss sharing it.

And yet, as I sit here, street sounds drifting up, kids playing soccer on the street below, the clatter of someone stacking dishes coming from an open window somewhere above me, people laughing as they stroll home from the concert I know has taken place in the town square this evening, this feels strangely like home. Perhaps it is the familiarity – the fact that this is the 5th time I’ve gravitated back to this small town – that makes it feel this way. Perhaps it is that I simply accept that sufficient boxes are ticked at this moment, and that sooner or later the urge to get away will overcome me again. Perhaps if we stay too long in one place we see too much of the negative. Perhaps that’s why the urge to keep moving or seeking.

What I know for now is this. I need a base, somewhere which feels welcoming to return to, and for the rest, for now, there is the internet.

 


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“Another Fork Stuck in the Road” (apologies to Greenday)

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s maybe been the longest between posts ever, I’m not sure. Not for want of trying, though, but my internet situation here in La Palma has been nigh impossible. Hence some decisions are being made. A change of plan is in the works, and that, possibly, because even travel can become predictable. Or simply, to quote one of my favorite songs, “to everything there is a season.”

It’s perhaps coincidence or it maybe a “thing” with me, but the last time I roamed off, at around the 8-month mark I became as restless with the travel as I had with the previous lack of it. As at the beginning of July, it’s been just a tad over 10 months on this trip, but I began to feel restless towards the end of May.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Perhaps if La Palma appealed to me more things would be different, but we got off to a bad start, the island and I, and although I have discovered some beautiful places, interesting stories and eaten some good (if not great) meals, since my last post, I think the bad start colored my perceptions too much, and I can’t, somehow, get over it. That happened to me with Nice in France years ago. I had no desire to return until a friend decided to celebrate her #@+%£ birthday there, some 20+ years later, and I went and fell utterly in love with it, so I know that sometimes we’re simply in the right place at the wrong time.

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La Palma: One Week In

First impressions are important, apparently. So what was my first impression of La Palma? Not good. I suppose that the bubble had to burst sometime. I’ve been almost floating around on this cloud of wonderment and some degree of happiness since last September. Not bad going really I suppose.

The Build Up

France, Ireland, London, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa had all woven spells on me in different ways, and then there had been time in La Gomera with Guy and his girlfriend in May, time with wonderful friends, and times with both of my sons in those months. The journey had been going well until the not unexpected, but still incredibly sad death of my Auntie Dot (about whom I wrote a few years back). She was ready, and it was time, I know, but deaths often bring on musings about life. For that reason it may be that I didn’t anticipate my next destination with as much excitement as before……then, again, that could be a good thing. I’d been lucky. What had been the odds that all those places would have really lived up to my expectations?

Hermigua

As it happened, I’d been asked to show someone around La Gomera on the weekend before I left, so it had been like making the rounds to say goodbye to some extent. I arrived in San Sebastian early last Tuesday, to walk around and confirm to myself a decision I’d come to over the previous few days – much as I love La Gomera, I don’t want to make my base there.

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Eating Fuerteventura: The Good, The Bad and the Meh

My recent post, about gofio, made me think more seriously about food and whether I get a bit too obsessed by “eating local,” and how food is a part of our travel experience. I have several friends in the blogging community who focus on food, but it isn’t so important for me – or is it? I have to confess that I was disappointed with eating experiences in Fuertventura for instance, so did it color my perception of the island?

Luxurious Lapas

My first memory of eating there is one of the best, and it’s never a good thing to start off that way. During the very first days of my wanderings I spotted a road sign which showed I was close to Giniginamar. How could I not follow a sign to a place which sounded like something out of Mary Poppins!

Ten minutes from the main road I found a wee fishing village, quite unspoiled expect for some attempted modern buildings, and the inevitably abandoned ones, on the outskirts. And right there, on the pretty beach a bar with a half wrap-around terrace. whose menu indicated that there was a touch of the “foreign” admid its traditionally Canarian fare, I lucked out on my very first island foodie exploration. I settled back with a cold drink, and ordered lapas, one of my favorite local dishes, though by no means available in every fish restaurant.

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Lapas are limpets. Like whelks or squid, done right they are ambrosial, done wrong they have the consistency of old rubber. These were very much right, served, as per tradition, in the half shell, and amply coated with the very best mojo verde I’ve ever tasted, and just that right chewiness to make each bite bring out the flavor of the ocean. I even ordered bread to mop up the sauce, which is something I avoid, and for this reason …… it generally leaves no room for desert! This time was no exception, and I’d had my heart set on blueberry pancakes, which are no way something one generally finds in the Canary Islands. I resolved to return another day to try them, but somehow never did.

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Sands Beach Resort Lanzarote: Canarian Hospitality at its Very Best!

“Yes,” I heard myself say. “I’d love to.” I’d just been invited to spend a week at Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote, and dear reader, you know how ambivalent I am about accepting anything which might imply that I have to write effusive prose about it afterwards, be it a hotel, a meal or a trip of some sort! Truth is I’m kind of stubborn and independent. I do make exceptions in the right circumstances, and if my curiosity gets the better of me. The right circumstances are that I feel no pressure to write anything, good or bad, and that it fits with my personal interests. Both these applied, plus I was only a hop, skip and a jump away in Fuerteventura the other week – hence my enthusiasm.

Entrance Sands Beach Resort Lanzarote

Sands  Beach Resort is located in Costa Teguise, on the north east coast of Lanzarote, and is thought to be the first Canary Island to be settled by “modern man.” It’s famous for its volcanoes and caves, and its carefully controlled architectural heritage.

Sands Beach lies on the Atlantic Ocean

Sands Beach Resort lies on the Atlantic Ocean

Morning stroll (hard to break the habit even when Trixy wasn't with me!) as the sun rose - bliss!

Morning stroll (hard to break the habit even when Trixy wasn’t with me!) as the sun rose – bliss!

I arrived mid-afternoon, after driving pretty much the length of Fuerteventura, taking the ferry from Corralejo to Playa Blanca and dropping off Trixy at kennels recommended by fellow blogger, Julie Cliff-Jones (check out her website if you want to know more about Lanzarote), and then driving almost the length of Lanzarote, so in other words, a bit hot and dusty.

Just walking into my apartment-for-the-week was refreshing in itself. High ceilings with pretty little stained-glass-effect-windows and skylights let in oodles of light without the heat, but for when heat might build up there were plenty of ceiling fans. I loathe air con, but love light, so sometimes that’s a problem, but it wasn’t going to be here – stylish kitchen, cool bedroom and a long bathtub – I sank onto the comfiest couch my bum has encountered in a while, and smiled.

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Gofio: A tale of Food and History for The Day of the Canaries

I firmly believe that no-one, ever, says, in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast, “Yum, yum. I can’t wait for my musesli this morning.” Although I am told I’m wrong in this.

Museli is something I tolerate, in the absence of a tastier, healthy alternative. However, having inherited a huge jarful, and finances being bleak a while back, I decided it was waste not, want not. Austin had also left a quarter packet of gofio, so I tossed that into the jar and gave it a good shake, also in the interests of waste not, want not. To my surprise, the gofio gave the dour museli that missing kick it needed, the je ne se quoi. I scoffed the lot, without a grimace, inside of a week.

What  is this miraculous stuff, that can transform something which tastes, essentially, like sawdust into a tasty treat? Gofio is best described as a type of flour, made from toasted grains and seeds. A simple bag of it may contain only wheat, or it may contain, these days, up to seven different components, such as barley, rye, chickpeas, maize or different local seeds.

But, more than foodstuff, it is, I’ve been discovering during my wanderings, a link between the islands of this chain, a constant, a comfort, a slice of island history. Local author, Marcos Brito wrote a book about it, “Sabers y Sabores: El Gofio” (Gofio: Wisdom and Flavor)* which reads like an ode to something loved, and which he describes as a tribute to “the men and women who live in harmony with nature.” Gofio is a tangible link to the past, and the story of the working man.

Its exact origin is lost in time, and we can only go as far back as when the conquering Spanish set foot on the islands in the 15th century. In Tenerife, the Conquistadors found  a people, the Guanche, living in caves, mummifying their dead, and living what is generally refered to as “a Stone Age existence.”  There are some variations from island to island. In Fuerteventura, where there were less caves, they created homes by digging holes into the ground and lining them with stone, creating a cave like dwelling. Guanche origins are still uncertain, but it is generally accepted now that they came from the north of Africa, that they were Berber, and possibly that there were different waves of emigration. There remain a lot of unanswered questions, but it has been fairly easy to work out their eating habits, and amongst the evidence of seafood, goat, fruits and even cacti, it is known that they ground seeds into a type of flour, using crude stone handmills.

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

The Guanches used all manner of wild seeds to make gofio. In Fuerteventura they say that the creeping red cosco (mesembryanthemum nodiflorum), which I never see without thinking of “War of the Worlds,” was used, but other versions say this plant was imported after the conquest. As usual here, consensus concerning history isn’t easy to find, but what does seem certain is that the ingredients now mostly commonly used, wheat, maize and barley were brought over by the Conquistadors, and the habit of toasting the grains continued. This was done to preserve the grain, and the custom spread from here to various South American countries with the various waves of Canarian emigration over the years, so that countries like Venezuela and Cuba also have traditional dishes made with toasted-grain flour.

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