Walking in Asturias last year I inevitably had several long conversations with my guide, Juanjo. A fountain of knowledge, Juanjo was one of those rare people who give the impression of being at peace with themselves. At one point, I asked him if he had ever been to the Canary Islands, and he told me that he’d been to Tenerife to walk the mountains here. “You don’t want to go somewhere completly different?” I wondered. “You know, away from the mountains – for the change?” But he, a true, modern mountain man, living in a tiny village, which gets cut off by the winter snows, has lived all his life surrounded by Los Picos de Europa. He replied that the mountains and mountain life were in his blood, whether it was cross country skiing or snow shoeing in those winter snows, or climbing the mountain pathways in summer. On vacation, too, he chooses to explore other mountain landscapes. I think it fair to say that I envied him the certainty of his words.
“I think I feel like that about the ocean,” I said, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I knew that I can pass hours simply watching waves, crashing onto rocks or lapping the sand; sometimes not even thinking about them, simply feeling the experience; sometimes marvelling at the fact that the moon affects tides, or how an earthquake on the other side of the ocean can drive a swell which engulfs a beach thousands of miles away. But I was falling in love with those breathtaking Asturian mountains too; the mountains of the English Lake District had been my second home for some years; and there were days, living here on the coast of Tenerife, when I looked up and knew that I needed to get up into those hillsides. That’s happening again now that I’m back, but there is a difference. I now I know how important it is for me to be mainly close to the ocean, really close. However breathtaking the view from 1400 ft above it, it’s like pressing your nose to the candy store window when you have no money. And knowing that it waits only five minute’s drive at the end of the most beautiful valley on the islands isn’t quite enough for me either.
I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.
I’d begun to suspect it in La Gomera: the hours I spent working on the beach, and the total of those hours I wasn’t really working, but watching the colors of the water change as the waves rushed in, rose, offered a window into the depths, and then foamed onto the pebbles, gave me a clue. Of course, I’d happened upon my work place because there was a 3G connection, but I found that in other places too, and none captivated me as much as Playa Santa Catalina. Even with windows in the van closed, the wind rocking it and the rain pouring down it was still my favorite place to work. I only stopped when the sea began its bid to come too far ashore.
Fuerteventura is all about the ocean, really. Despite the glowing red of its inland landscape, it was the beaches which awed me, and I began to admit that I felt different when I was close to the sea. Lanzarote and Graciosa confirmed it. La Palma clinched it. The island argueably has the most stunning scenery of all the islands, inclusing a dramatic coastline, with rockfaces plunging sheer down to cerulean waters, yet its steepness means that in so many places you hover 500 or a thousand feet or more above the ocean.
Over 40 years ago I visited Rome for the first time. My most vivid memory, even now, was Michaelangelo’s La Pietá in St. Peter’s. I thought it was the most beautiful manmade thing I’d ever seen, and to be able to reach out and touch it sent shivers down my spine. It was 30 years before I saw it again, after some madman damaged it, and it was, protectively, so far away from the hoards trying to glimpse it that you couldn’t properly see its purity. That’s how I feel about the sea. I need to be near to it, seeing it from above was like seeing La Pietá from a distance.
I know that it isn’t the same for everyone. Juanjo’s soul roams mountains. Being addicted to the ocean doesn’t mean that I don’t love to breathe the pure mountain air, nor inhale the energy of cities. Everything is a balance I suppose. One reason I felt immediately at home in south Tenerife all those years ago is that deserts always fascinated me, hence perhaps a reluctance to follow up on my occasional urges to move north. I love it all, the damp forests, the parched badlands, the neon-lit cities, but most of all the dank seaweed smell on my morning walks, the magnetic blue, the knowing that there is so much hidden under those tireless waves. Perhaps I am not as committed to the ocean as Juanjo is to his mountains, though, but the next time I crave the green hillsides or the vibrancy of a city, I know that its ok to give in to it because the ocean will always draw me back.
This post is then, an ackowledgement of my passion, and a warning to expect much more writing about the oceans. Right now, they are in danger. Polluted and over-fished by men, they are desperate for help. Some say they are dying. I’ve touched on environmental topics on this blog before, but you can expect more in the future. It’s not going to be all gloom and doom, it will a celebration of the beauty of our oceans, their variety and their importance to us too. I don’t actually care more about the oceans environmentally than I do about the mountains or the deserts or the plains, but I don’t have time or space to embrace it all, and clearly my heart is more at home on the shoreline.
My island journey isn’t done, I am back to base for a number of reasons, but this is also a part of the trip. I am learning as I go.
If you are curious about the other things I’m learning, here they are to date, both practical, personal and philosophical;