Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Things I Am Learning from This Journey: No.1 I Am Addicted to Sunshine!

As I left the island of  La Gomera in early March the sun, seen throught the salty windows of the Armas ferry blazed a welcome, and then scurried behind onimous clouds. That was as much as I’d seen of it in that week.

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

The lazy, sunny, autumn days when I first arrived had given way to mostly bleakness in a valley famed for its lushness – so what do you expect, the green needs water.

Hermigua is quite breathtakingly beautiful, and certainly thoughts of coming back to stay crossed my mind. Every time I fell down that rabbit hole I was enchanted anew, and yet there was always this sense of  “making the most of it.” Granted, La Gomera was only the beginning of what I intended to be an indefinite journey, so I knew I would move on, regardless of how much the island tried to ensnare me. Yet the feeling was deeper than that too. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I knew that I wouldn’t be back to stay - and here is where I admit that, although I see my travels as being infinite, I don’t see them as being unending. In the sense that one day I would like to find somewhere to make a small base from whence to travel as long as I am able. A retreat.

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

What I wasn’t sure about was just why, since I adored this valley, I didn’t see it in my long-term future. I pondered this as the dark shape of the island of  Tenerife came into focus on the horizon, outlined by that rising sun.

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6 Months On The Road: And Still Decluttering!

Decluttering is a bit like striping a plaster from a wound, I’ve learned. You can do it quickly, and get over the pain quickly, or you can peel it off slowly and prolong the agony. It’s a lesson I thought I’d learned – but apparently not!

My old van was just chock-a-block with “stuff” when I set out in early October, and deep down I knew that I likely wouldn’t need/want all of it. The day I left, it took me a while in the pre-dawn chill to finish loading my van, and it was a squeeze for Trix – who didn’t seem to mind so long as she could curl up! It turns out that about a half of what I packed in was “not needed on voyage,” which is why I haven’t written a post entitled something like “What I Packed for My New Adventure,” or some such.

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The danger in traveling long-term by car or van or camper i.e. on wheels, is that you think you have so much room, so you can easily fit in those “just in case” items. Truth is, however, that even if you do have the room, there’s a lot of inconvenience to carting lots of stuff around with you. A journey is almost certainly a metaphor for life in this sense. I remind myself of this as I search, for the umpteenth time, for my car papers. They are MIA, and wherever they turn up, it’s for sure I can’t find them right now because -

I Brought Too Much!

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Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On

“I want to see something new and for it to ‘wow’ me, take my breath away.  I’m ready for that something new.  I’m beyond ready.” Me: sometime last year.

My whole being ached with the need for new experiences, new sights and places.  I may have written them on my Facebook page or profile. I may have written them in an email to a friend, or I may have just typed them out and kept the file, which I found just now,  to remind me. I don’t remember, but I do remember that feeling. I’m guessing that lots of you will have felt it too.

This time last year my life was very pleasant. I was living in El Médano in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, a town that I liked a lot. I was teaching ESL. I had a pleasant social life. I ran on the beach in the morning. I was writing pretty much as much as I am writing now. For the first time in a long time both of my sons had landed jobs they really loved, and were looking forward to exciting things in the months ahead.

I was 66, and my life could have gone on that way forever. But, pleasant as it was, did a lifetime of same old, same old really appeal to me? Of course it didn’t! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been able to travel, if you were born with wanderlust, as so many of us are, then you can never settle down. You actually need to keep moving around, to challenge yourself, both mentally and physically.

I've loved El Médano. I couldn't have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

I’ve loved El Médano. I couldn’t have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

“To Dream the Impossible Dream” Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (or at least lyricist Joe Darion!)

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A Toast to 2013: Postcards to Myself

I don’t usually go in for rambling, retrospective, year-end posts, mainly because I think the Web groans under the weight of them at this time of year. What I do is this…….a photo roundup of personal memories of my year.

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2013 was a delightful year for me – seeing both my sons enjoying their chosen paths and having some wonderful visits with them; catching up with dear friends, long overdue; memorable times with friends who were geographically closer ; a beginning to the  more nomadic existence I’ve been craving; an acceptable upswing in the amount of travel, compared to recent years….and a quality of travel which still takes my breath away when I think about it.  Key words for the year: spring flowers, cheese, France, Ireland, amazing food adventures, mountains, greenery, London, La Gomera, Asturias.

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Whiling Away the Last Days of Summer in France & Facing Autumn in England

My bedroom window in France

My bedroom window in France

My eyes opened to this my first morning in France……it was ……..idyllic, like waking to a dream.

After spending the previous night on the cold benches of Barcelona airport, I’d slept like a log, shuffling off a tiredness which resulted not only from the previous night, but from lack of sleep on the two nights before that, waking early and going to bed late to get all my stuff into storage, Trixy into kennels, and complete all those tasks which seem so urgent when you know you’re going away, and have now faded into the past.

That gorgeous window was in my bedroom in my friends’ house. Wendy and Tarik made me feel utterly at home. We ate. We talked. We wandered. We talked. We explored. We talked. This was the longest Wendy and I had been together since sometime in the 70s, and the joys of learning all about the backstories of what we knew had happened in each other’s lives was palpable.

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Deciding, Discarding and Dreaming

This new journey comes, finally, as a relief, something I’ve been planning for ten years, and yet at the same time it’s a novelty.  Not quite like anything I’ve done before. I suppose it’s like an extended road trip in some ways.

Ten years ago, when my nest emptied, I sold my house and wandered off, with very little planning…..and certainly not traveling light – I was lugging Guy’s snowboard, and I’d bought the world’s biggest suitcase. Guy had gone off to university in the US, and there were a thousand things to take over, as well as Christmas gifts – I went for New Year. I’d given away most of my furniture. Sold some stuff at car boot sales, the remains were stored in a garage, and Trixy was in kennels.

In April I was back, and at an impasse. For one thing I was excruciatingly aware of how the travels had eaten into the money from the house sale, and I was unaware of the possibilities of working online in any form, to fund my travels. My lifelong wanderlust had never died, though it had been partly sated by emigration, and the challenges and happiness of motherhood, but it was rising ferociously.  Then I got a job offer, out of the blue, so, in panic,  I did the conventional thing, and bought an apartment (in El Médano as it happens) and kind of settled down………because, you know, that was the sensible thing to do. I, actually, did travel around Europe and the US east coast that year, in bits and pieces. Somewhere I have a diary I kept – a real one, which tied with a bow, and in which I wrote in pen!  Though I’d enjoyed the year unreservedly, I wrote on December 31st, there was something missing. I decided that it had almost been too “nice.”

There is no doubt that if you're ready to settle down, and you don't mind the breeze El Médano is a hypnotic place to choose.

There is no doubt that if you’re ready to settle down, and you don’t mind the breeze El Médano is a hypnotic place to choose.

For two months after closing my diary and tying the ribbon, that thought plagued me. Pleasant as life was, I was restless, and haunted by the feeling that I was missing out on something important. I liked my apartment, my sons were settled, my work was easy, friendships un-demanding. Isn’t this a desirable state of being?

Life was comfortable, and as we know, comfort zones can be killers. I needed for things to wrong, or at least to have the potential to go wrong. Otherwise this pleasant but boring pattern might continue for the rest of my life…..that’s the reality of  on the cusp of 60……that’s what happens to people…….they stop …….. they atrophy.

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Moving On

I know it’s boring, dropping hints about what one is going to do in the future. It wasn’t my intention to tease,  but truth is I’ve been dithering over this for almost a year now, and finally realized that I should heed the words I often preach to others:

“There is no such thing as a wrong decision. The hardest, the very hardest part of the decision is making it, once that it done you just have to take a deep breath and live with whatever the consequences are. There are bad decisions and good decisions, yes, but not wrong or right ones, because even the consequences of bad decisions result in something or other in our lives which turn out to be lessons. We can gain from every experience if only we open our eyes.”

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Thinking back over changes in my life, the first enormous one was going to grammar school at 11. Granted it wasn’t entirely my decision, the state decided I go to grammar school, and I decided which one, but being thrust out of the comfort zone of my happy childhood into the big, wide world of a 1,000+ pupil school was daunting. After that life turned on my decisions; college, first job, subsequent jobs, relationship decisions, the decision to have first one child, then another, the decision to emigrate, to marry,  to divorce, to become a Red Cross volunteer, education undertaken, to stay in Tenerife. All of these decisions led me to where I now am. Then there were the smaller ones; house moves, pets (to have or not), weight loss, weight gain (definitely a subconscious decision!), mortgages, vacations, books read, music listened to, credit cards maxed out, movies watched (definitely some life influences there), people accepted or rejected,courses done, job decisions, and a million more: all strands in the lives we have lived, which make us what we are at the present moment.

La Gomera seen from the hillsides of west Tenerife

La Gomera seen from the hillsides of west Tenerife

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A Sense of Place ….Or Not

A Sense of Belonging. Travelers often don’t need that, preferring to be the observer, not getting too familiar or too comfortable.

Then again, perhaps we are simply looking for a place which makes us feel that way. Perhaps once we’ve scratched the surface of a place, and find it isn’t what we’d hoped or thought,  we move on, hoping to find it on some far-flung shore. Some travelers need to be in constant motion, skipping over places, perhaps returning, but like a bee at a flower to move on again. And again. I’m nothing like the traveler that some friends or acquiantences are, but I am, and almost always have been, constantly restless, and curious about what’s over the horizon.

The road winds

The road winds

This is to say that I don’t know where I belong.

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Bucking the Trend: Why I Don’t Fly Carry On Only

I don’t travel carry-on only. There I’ve said it! I’m bucking the trend, all the accumulated advice of the dozens, maybe hundreds of travel blogs I’ve read. I have my reasons.

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When I was growing up I spent wet, winter Sunday afternoons cuddled with my mom watching  old black and white movies on TV…… Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Bing Crosby et al – I mean can you imagine these folk traveling light? Even given the pure silk of those slinky evening gowns you still couldn’t stuff the entire travel wardrobe of one of those dames into a backpack – or want to!

So I had very definite ideas about my first travel experience, which was a school exchange visit to Germany in 1963.  I happily took my dad’s old, leather suitcase…..with my tennis racket strapped to the outside! The case alone must have been the equivalent of today’s luggage allowance! We were going by train and ferry, so our journey began in my home town, Blackpool, and thence to Preston to get the overnight train to London (a journey which I think takes around two and half hours now!)  It didn’t take me long to realize that perhaps travel wasn’t as glamorous as I’d imagined. We had to cross the station to get to another platform….which meant going over a bridge (still does)….and it was heavy!  Luckily for me, when we got to London, and had to get from Euston to Victoria by Tube, the age of chivalry was still alive. There was always a kind and helpful guy around who helped carry my case, and I had no fear of them running off with it…..my, those were the days!

After that I thought perhaps I should endeavor to be more practical, although I don’t think the concept of traveling carry on only had yet dawned. In my head at least travel was still glamorous, by now I was more into Audrey Hepburn,  and when I headed for Germany the second time, this time by air, I actually wore a hat. I mean, a genuine, Jackie K pillbox, which I thought was the biz.  I really should find some pix of these trips!  I also had a brand new Samsonite vanity case. The day of the square ones with all the dinky compartment for make up was just over, and this was the cool, new shape of the 60s. It likely held about as much as anyone traveling without luggage would carry these days!

My next trip was to Rome…..and by this time I was earning my first wage and all of it was going on clothes!…..I was still into the Audrey Hepburn look (but not sufficiently to diet myself into it properly!). Looking back at photos now I think I perhaps took my entire wardrobe. It was during the severe restrictions on how much money you could take abroad (can you imagine that now??) I think the limit was 50 pounds per week. Whatever, it was certainly low, and we certainly weren’t going to be swanning around luxury places which demanded a glam wardrobe…..however, in my defence I point out that it was the 60s!

After that, my days of traveling solo were numbered, and since my partner was an aspiring businessman, packing always included a little cocktail dress or something “just in case” —— really, right up to 1992, which I think was our last trip together – to Disney! So, no, we didn’t travel light!

I’ve been solo now since 1996, and in all that time I’ve struggled to fit the modern image of the pared-down, international traveler, but being an expat and living on an island kind of got in the way of my ambitions. It’s always a flight to get off the island, and then an onward flight.  I usually go via UK so  that I can stop off to visit friends or family en route, and that means baggage full of mojo, wine, turrón or other goodies from The Canary Islands. It also often means blueberries, magazines, coffee, teas, and half of Marks and Sparks coming back. It used to mean, literally, a caseful of books too, but thanks to the wonderful Amazon.com those days are long passed.  Whilst my checked luggage isn’t huge, and still allows me to look snottily at the garish, over-stuffed, gigantic suitcases of  tourists as I leave the island, it still needs to be checked.

What with American alarm about imported foodstuffs you can’t even get away with a packet of Smarties in your backpack, so all the cheese, mojo, candy and pie I’ve smuggled into the US of course had to go in checked luggage. I have had the odd flying visit, and managed with carry on, and, yes, felt smug breezing past the weary tourists waiting at the carousels, but, meh, not that much.

The fact is that in recent travel around Europe, with everyone stuffing their worldly goods into the overheads, thus less luggage on the carousel,  the delays in collecting luggage are no longer what they were. Delays are now mainly caused by???? Yup, everyone trying to stuff their bags into the overhead….because they are always too big to go under the seat in front. And standing around looking lost or looking accusingly at the flight crew when there, literally, isn’t any room left. BTW flight crew hate this carry on only trend, like they don’t have enough to worry about in getting everyone boarded so that the flight doesn’t miss its slot. I can, actually, understand all the fuss in measuring your bag, much as we like to moan about it.

And, another thing, how do you travel light when you’re going to a cold or wet country? Packing for summer, or even spring, weather is a doddle, but if you’re going hiking in muddy fields, for instance (as two recent trips involved) how do you cope? Twice in the last year my boots have been way too dirty to travel back in, and had to go, well-wrapped, into my bag. Then there are the thick socks, waterproofs and spare sweaters, maybe even thermal undies! Plus, I mean, can you go hiking without a multi tool? If your trip also includes going out to dinner or a meeting, er, do you turn up in your muddy hiking pants? or what?

State of my now dry but still bearing the mud of Asturias boots, more than a week after returning!

State of my now dry but still bearing the mud of Asturias boots, more than a week after returning!

Hmm….no, not me, at least! Even a very short trip the other week had me stuffing the hiking gear into a gym bag, although I traveled out in my hiking boots simply because they were comfortable. The boots did get muddy, very muddy, so there was no chance I was wearing them home.

Love my Lowepro bag, but it doesn't cover my needs when I get to my destination.

Love my Lowepro bag, but it doesn’t cover my needs when I get to my destination.

The thing which puzzles me greatly is that over the last few years the necessity to carry more gear has increased, I mean gear which you can’t trust to checked luggage, like laptops, cameras, hard drives, lenses, and such. I don’t carry nearly as much as some folk, but that stuff, plus the necessities (wipes, book, phone, a little make-up, keys, pens, neck cushion on a longer flight,  and overnight kit “just in case”) and that’s my carry on allowance with most airlines.

I was delighted three years or so ago to find a Lowepro camera/laptop bag the sales. Up till then I’d been squidging my laptop into a normal daypack (to avoid looking as if I was carrying anything worth “pinching”), and whether everything was protected enough was a worry. I love the Lowepro bag. It’s black and inconspicuous and fulfills both those needs. However, it’s a trifle on the large side when I want to carry just the camera stuff on a day-to-day basis, which means taking another bag in my luggage for that. I’ve experimented with a small camera bag (camera protected – especially as it has a waterproof cover), cloth bags (weigh little and look inconspicuous but don’t protect your gear at all, and that old daypack – trouble with the latter was that it’s right now in London, at my son’s, because it was too much to stuff into my bag when I returned last time! If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear from you!

I suppose that if I was a 5’2″ skinny thing then my stuff would weigh less, but even dropping down the size I need to, I’m still 5’8″ and so everything I own weighs more than if I was 5’2.” Besides, a big case comes in useful from time to time. I distinctly remember sitting on my case on more than one occasion waiting for a reluctant  car or a check in to open. In fact I have learned to travel with less, much less than I used to (modern fabrics, and the trend to more casual dressing have helped), but I still need two bags! Perhaps I’m not now as extreme as I was but I still need to check baggage in, and I am determined to lose the guilt or embarrassment!


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Finding Yin and Yang on the Hillsides of Tenerife

I went out to search for evidence of  bleakness,  sadness and possibly anger, a proof of man’s arrogance and his disconnection from the earth. I expected to be overwhelmed by the anger, but instead I arrive home  overwhelmed by beauty and a sense of renewal.

Where was I? What happened? Was this a Road to Damascus moment? (now there’s a phrase to conjure with right now!) Maybe. Maybe not. There it is, you see – Perhaps. Perhaps not. Maybe Yin? Maybe Yang? Goodness knows I don’t know enough about Eastern philosophy to be sure, but I think that’s what I experienced. I hesitate to use the word Zen, because I’m not sure I totally understand it, and it could be that in saying that I do understand?

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Here’s the backstory: A couple of weeks ago my friend, Cristina and I were driving up into the mountains to see the snow – an occurance sufficiently rare, despite what you see on postcards from Tenerife, to prompt folk to take their kids out of school for the day to go to see it – we drove through familiar territory, through the village of Vilaflor and up towards the National Park and the caldera, chatting about this and that, taking in a surroundings which were beautiful, but to which we were accustomed. There are seasons when this journey is remarkable for its loveliness, when flowers are in full bloom, or the seascape, with its glimpses of mysterious, other islands is almost hypnotic, but this was an ordinary day – early spring, before the blooms, the seascape a little dulled by haze, little flora on the roadsides.

We’d been driving through the shade of pines for several minutes, when we rounded a curve and almost paused. The vista in front of us was like a kick in the stomach. We slowed. We pointed. We said very little, because there were no words. The once-familiar panorama to our left, where the mountains glided down to the sea, was like a war zone.

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It’s been seven months since wildfires swept across this countryside, and I hadn’t realized that I’d been away that long. This was my first view of the devastation, these black, skeletal posts marching across the contours of the hillsides had been elegant pine trees. As the mountain mists writhed their way between the branches they had left moisture, which the trees fed to the soil below in one of those perfect cycles of nature which leave us awed.

To say that we were shocked would be putting very mildly.

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It wasn’t as if I haven’t seen endless pictures on the internet, or film on tv, of what happened, but being up close is something else. Last Tuesday I went back to try to understand:

This time there is no shock. I am prepared. But when I pull over the car it’s a few minutes before I can get out. It feels the same way I feel in a holy place, as if I am intruding. And, of course, this is what happens when thoughtless men intrude on Nature, when they forget that they are a part of the equation which makes up our world, and selfishly blunder their own way, regardless. It is rumored that this enormous destruction was the result of one good old boy having a wee bonfire to burn garden rubbish. Having a bonfire to burn garden rubbish at a time when there had been no rain in the area for two years; when, on every walk, words like ‘arid,’ ‘barren’ or ‘parched’  hung on our lips in unspoken anticipation of a sight like this one;  and when the trees were virtually the only remaining greenery on the landscape. It is also rumored that the village in which he lives has closed ranks and that no prosecutions have been made. I can’t repeat more than rumors. I can’t find information other than rumors. Silence speaks volumes about mankind.

I stop in several places. It is, for want of a better word, heartbreaking, and I am very aware that despite the enormity of what I am seeing, this extends far beyond this area. The tinder-dry ground couldn’t have been more vulnerable. The fire spread, well, like wildfire. If you’d seen the scenes unfolding daily on our tv screens here you would have understood the origin of that phrase.

I wonder if the guy responsible ever comes to look at what he did?

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I drive. I stop. I take photographs. I am a witness to destruction. I wanted to come after the fires, but it seemed like rubbernecking, somehow encouraging the idea that this was a spectacle, an entertainment. I am, after all, not a professional journalist. I am saddened. I stand for long moments and think of how it used to be, wonder how long it will take to recover, wonder how the guy who started it all can live with himself. I’m not in a forgiving frame of mind.

The Canary Pine is more forgiving, however. It is resilient and strong. Its bark burns, but at its core it remains alive. In time that surviving core will push out new growth through scorched skin, from its latent battalions of buds, which have been held back for just such an eventuality. Throughout Canarian pine forests you can see blackened trunks from previous fires sporting fresh, new life, but it will take time.

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Strange to say, I don’t feel the anger I thought I would feel this day, and it isn’t just the knowledge of the pines’ rebirth which has cheered me, but the, literally, breathtaking sights which I’ve seen on my way to this point. I didn’t do biology in school, so my utterly uninformed opinion is this – we had two years of drought, when there wasn’t sufficient rainfall to provoke much growth in springtime, this must have meant that seeds expelled from flora in the meantime lay, dormant on the earth, until, this year, watered and warmed adequately, the whole island appears to be heaving with an abundance of wildflowers which is making everyone proclaim that they’ve never seen anything like it. Friends who walk more than I, friends whose knowledge of different plants is far vaster than mine, friends who have lived here all their lives are saying the same thing: there never has been a spring like this one.

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In a minute I’m going to stop rambling on and just post the pictures of my drive. This is a moment in time which should be shared, no doubt about it. It can’t identify all the flowers you’ll see. I am awed by the profusion of terraces of wild fennel, and enchanted by friendly California Poppies swaying at the roadsides. Beyond those, the purple hazes, the delicate buds and other types of poppy I can’t name for you.

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Turning, finally, away from the ruins of once-verdant hillsides, I come home by, for me, a route ‘less-traveled,’ to be put in mind again of the good stuff on our planet. I am driving now away from the direction the fire took, seeing unspoiled countryside, thick forests, elegant terraces (a reminder that man and nature often do work together) and curbsides littered with flowers of every hue under the sun.

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I arrive home, not in the state of frustration and anger I anticipated, but serene and hopeful. Perhaps confident in the Earth’s promise of renewal. My faith in man is less, my faith in Nature is more, than when I left home on this very short journey. Is that Zen? Not understanding just why I feel this way? Is this the inevitable balance of yin and yang of which philosophers speak, allowing us to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time?

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Added April 8th: This is a post I would have written anyway. I have, almost unwittingly, written a fair bit about the landscapes and nature in Tenerife, which is an island of amazing diversity and beauty, but at the back of my mind whilst writing this post was participating in the monthly Boomer Travel round up theme, which is Nature. I haven’t ready the other contributions yet, but am utterly certain that I’m going to love them. If you enjoyed this post, then you’ll definitely enjoy the others! Take a look at http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/04/05/nature-travel-blog-roundup/

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