Starting today I’m doing an occasional series of chats with people who choose to live, let’s say – not where they were born. They may be constant travelers, expats, snowbirds or maybe some combination, or even defy a label.
Living abroad, or traveling isn’t that unusual any longer. I’m interested in stories that are a bit different. If they are travelers: the reasons they chose an unconventional lifestyle, what they are learning from it, what they do along the way. If they are expats: people who have begun a business they would never have dreamed of doing back home, launched themselves into new careers, or into relationships with challenges, or who have faced unexpected problems in their new country.
My friend, Val, falls into the latter category. I’ve known her since 2005 when we worked together. She’d been inviting me to come watch the choir in which she sings perform for, oh, must be a couple of years, but our timing only coincided for the first time last year. I was so impressed with their performance. I knew that Val had had to overcome health problems since living on the island, and it struck me how, despite that, she has carved out her own niche here.
I’ve had this post almost done for a while. Since it’s my first “interview” – although I think I like the word chat better – I’ve been editing it and hesitating but earlier today I found out that yesterday Val celebrated 10 years of living on the Canary Island of Tenerife ….. so it seemed like the perfect date to publish!
How long have you lived in Tenerife?
We moved over here in February 2004, so it’s coming up to 10 years now.
How well did you know the island before you came?
Well, I first came over on holiday with my parents in 1978! We stayed at the Gran Tinerfe Hotel in Las Americas, which is still going strong. I had several holidays on the island in later years, but I wouldn’t say I got to know it really well as we mainly stayed in the tourist areas. Once we’d decided to move to the Canaries, we checked out Lanzarote & Gran Canaria before deciding on Tenerife, thinking there’d be more opportunities for work here.
Can you share your reasons for emigrating, if they’re not too personal (appreciate that they are for many people).
I’ve always wanted to “live abroad” ever since I was at school! On that first holiday here in 1978 I remember saying to a relative who was with us that one day I was going to come and live on Tenerife – not seriously thinking that it might come true! I always hated going back to England after holidays! Mainly due to the depressing weather, I think … one day, after I’d been made redundant for the 4th or 5th time (!), I visited my parents who were holidaying in Portugal, it was March, lovely & sunny, & I knew it was cold & rainy at home, & I thought “why should I have to go back to England?” The idea was born … & when I went back to England, I put the idea to my other half.
Did you sell up everything or did you bring anything like furnishings with you?
We brought a load of stuff with us!! As we lived in 2 separate houses in England, we did have to get rid of quite a lot too, but we still brought a container load … luckily we bought an unfurnished house with plenty of room to put it all in.
When we emigrated we bought a small flat to keep a presence in UK, or a bolt hole if things didn’t work out, did you do anything like that?
Nope! I did think about keeping on my house & renting it out, but then you hear such nightmare stories about tenants & I wouldn’t have wanted to live in the house again so I decided to take the plunge & totally sell up.
How did friends and family react when you said you were emigrating? Were they encouraging or discouraging?
Well, I think it came as a bit of a shock obviously! However, I wasn’t living near my family at the time – I was living & working in west London with my family all in Lancashire – so we didn’t get to see each other regularly in any case.
If you could go back and talk with yourself before you emigrated what advice would you give?
Well, just to think through absolutely everything beforehand & do lots of research. We did do some, but maybe we could have done more. Also, maybe a trial run would have been a good idea, perhaps rent out here for a couple of months to get a real feel for what it’s like to live here.
You bought a rural house in a small village, and renovated it. Was that the plan from the beginning, or did it emerge as you began to look around to see what properties were available?
When we came out to Tenerife to seriously look for properties/areas before we moved over, we stayed in a townhouse on a complex which made us sure that that was definitely what we didn’t want! I’ve always liked properties with character so I did really want a rural house that made me feel like I was really living in Tenerife, rather than a townhouse or apartment that could be anywhere. We didn’t want to do too much renovation as we’re not that DIY-minded, & the house was perfectly habitable as it was so we could just move in & do what we could as we could afford.
You completely restored the property, now let off a part of it to visitors looking for a quieter type of vacation, was that in the plan too?
We didn’t totally restore the house, there are still things about it that I’d change …! one plan when we came over was to do Bed & Breakfast but we switched the idea to Self Catering as it was an easier option!
(Linda’s Note: If anyone would like details, Direct Message me to my Facebook Page, and I will put you in touch)
Was it easy to find work?
Back in 2004 it was definitely easier to find work than it is now. Being able to speak the language helps a lot & I didn’t actually speak much Spanish when I first came.
Any tips for expats looking to work in Tenerife?
Yes, do make an effort to learn the language! And be realistic about salary, you can’t expect to earn anything like you earn in England.
You live in a rural village, with a smattering of expats from different nations, how easy did you find it to make friends there?
Reasonably easy, I’d say. San Miguel is small enough that you come across most of the people here, & there are a few bars & restaurants where you can easily get to meet new friends.
What is the name of the choir in which you perform?
It’s called the Escuela de Música y Danza de Arona and we rehearse in the Cultural Centre in Los Cristianos.
How did you come to join?
I was previously in a choir here for about 18 months which was run by an English guy but unfortunately it folded. I kept in touch with one of the ladies and she told me that this current choir back in November 2008 were advertising for new members. Unfortunately it coincided with my illness so I wasn’t able to join immediately but did so as soon as I felt up to it. That was January 2010.
How many members?
We currently have about 15 members, all ladies, but we’d love to have more!
How often do you rehearse?
Every Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7.30 to 8.30 pm.
I noticed what seemed to be quite a mix of nationalities when I saw you perform, any idea how many different nationalities are represented.
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Let’s see. English, French, German, Italian, Colombian, Argentinian, Spanish, Canarian … I’d say at least 8!
I’ve seen you perform twice, and each time was quite different, from serious, religious music (is there a name for the type of music you sang in Arona? Just called choral music) to African traditional. How many different styles do you tackle?
Quite a few different styles actually – the African traditional was a first, I must admit! The choral (religious) music we normally sing around Easter or on religious occasions for fiestas or Corpus Christi – we once sang during a service in the church in Arona, we were right up in the “gods” as it were! We sing quite a lot of South American songs in Spanish too and earlier this year we sang some zarzuelas which are very theatrical pieces, a bit like opera. We mainly sing in Spanish but we’ve also sung in different languages – English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Latin (for the choral pieces). I like the variety.
I loved it when you sang with the traditional, Canarian timple orchestra, do you do many Canarian pieces?
We don’t do many Canarian pieces as such which is a shame. The timple orchestra, Pulso y Pua, who sometimes accompany us are wonderful, very talented youngsters, and I just love the sound of the timple itself.
You’re in a choir - do you have any other tips for people wanting to not live in Tenerife’s resort areas?
Well, the choir in fact is based in one of the main tourist areas, Los Cristianos! And while it’s being mentioned, let me just say that we’re always looking to have new members of any nationality so please come along to the Cultural Centre on Monday & Wednesday evenings! However, I think to get a feel for the “real” Tenerife, & therefore become more integrated, you need to live outside of the tourist areas & just join in with all the local activities, the fiestas etc., eat at the local restaurants … The tourist areas & the beaches are never very far away & it’s great to come back to the tranquillity of the countryside at the end of the day.
I know that you’ve been very ill whilst you’ve lived here, can you tell us anything about that, only if or as much as you want to?
Well, yes, I developed malignant melanoma in the summer of 2008. I was pretty ill, I had to have an operation where they removed my lymph glands as well as the tumour, followed by radiotherapy & chemotherapy. I have had great healthcare from the health service here &, touch wood, I’ve been clear of cancer for 4 and a half years now.
Was being ill your biggest challenge since you’ve been here? Did it, or anything else ever make you think of going back to England?
Yes, I’d definitely say that being ill was my biggest challenge. I’m glad that by that time I’d learned a reasonable amount of Spanish as I had a lot of medical appointments to attend & it would have cost me quite a lot of money if I’d had to pay for an interpreter every time. We did briefly consider going back to England to be closer to my family, in case I didn’t recover (you have to think about these things!) but in the end, & having done a “pros & cons” list we decided we weren’t ready to leave Tenerife!
We talked about the choir being therapy when you were recovering from your illness, can you explain?
I’ve always loved singing since I was young – I was in a choir in England from the age of 9 till I left school. Singing’s very therapeutic and relaxing and it gave me a couple of hours break from thinking about my illness, if you know what I mean.