Islandmomma

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


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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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Time to Move On Again

A brief post after too long an absence, due to returning to La Gomera, some family time, and back problems. Long story short, in reverse order, I have spent most of the past week more-or-less on bed rest as an old back problem re-emerged. Most days, to be honest, it was too painful to sit and type, or the meds were making me sleepy. Happily it seems to be well on the mend now, so I have a lot of making up to do!

The previous week my son, Guy and his gorgeous girlfriend, Rachael, were here, and it made me really happy to show them around La Gomera, as well as some old haunts in Tenerife. Social media more or less bit the dust, except for some personal photos, and it was nice to switch off and relax!

The journey from Fuerteventura to La Gomera proved much more interesting than the outward journey, which was mostly at night, and marked by fitful slumber on the Gran Canaria to Fuerteventura ferry. Had I not been enjoying the experience of being somewhere new then I would certainly have been grumpy!

Leaving Puerto del Rosario in Fuerteventura at 1 pm, and watching the island I had come to know drift past my window was a much better option. I was able to spot the lighthouse atop the cliffs at Entallada, the achipelago’s closest point to Africa, and the long, white sand beaches of Jandia.

Beach at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Beach at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Lighthouse at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

Lighthouse at Morro Jable on the Jandia peninsula

 

The lighthouse at Entallada, the closest point on the archipelago to Africa

The lighthouse at Entallada, the closest point on the archipelago to Africa

Because of the location of the ports on Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria this part of the trip takes 5 hours, but the Armas Ferry was comfy enough, and quiet (I’d figured that midday ferries wouldn’t be too crowded), so I set up my own space at a table for four with a plug alongside (not too many of these, note, if you’re planning this journey, but there are a few around if you scout enough. I’d missed them, until I noticed someone charging a phone, asked, and looked on the opposite side of the boat to find the equivalent there. The food was acceptable, and likewise the coffee, so much more fun than flying! The downside of a quiet ferry is that the people watching isn’t so interesting, but I did enjoy the guy who flopped near to my window and took a timple (small, guitar shaped Canarian string instrument) out of his backpack, and strummed for a while. Mostly, the passengers are truck drivers who ply between the islands delivering cargo from the major ports in Gran Canaria or Tenerife to the smaller islands. Many of them take a cabin and get some shuteye, even when traveling in the daytime, so that reduces the clamor too.

We were late arriving in Gran Canaria, where we changed ferries to complete the ride to Tenerife as dusk began to fall. Odd being back on familiar turf, knowing just which road to take and which traffic lights would change as I drove south to stay, briefly overnight with friends Colleen and Pablo, before an early start for the third ferry the next morning, and, finally, the also familiar 40 minutes from the ferry to Hermigua, and the whirl down the rabbit hole to this green and beautiful valley.

DSC_4763A

 

fuerteventura

Back to the lush forests and nestled again in this stunning valley, with guardian peaks all around, the hot, red soil of Fuerteventura is a world away. It’s hard to realize that Fuerteventura and La Gomera are in the same island chain. More about both islands very soon.


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The Best Meatballs Ever

I’m early, so I wander around the small shopping mall, because, you know, I’m English, and we don’t do early just as much as we don’t do late – well, not unless you’ve lived on island time for a few years at least.

The mall does not inspire. It is the familiar mix of tourist tat, but years of living in or close to tourist resorts have taught me that it’s as foolish to be snobbish about them as it is to confine oneself to their boundaries. And, to be honest, I’ve become a little blasé about traditional foods, and crave something “foreign.”

I’ve walked past the restaurant twice, and the aromas of oregano and garlic trail me as I make another circuit, until I can stand it no longer, and step over the threshold of Portobello a tad early.

I’m in Lanzarote for a week to work with Sands Beach Resort, and they have arranged for me to dine at Restaurant Portobello in Costa Teguise this night. I am to ask for Natty, short for Natividad, who is the owner.

The cosy restaurant is buzzing in a relaxed way, and I guess that the diminutive figure with the huge smile, talking animatedly with a group at one table is Natty. It is, and she turns her sparkling eyes and warm smile in my direction, and I know that I am in good hands.

I adore Italian food, and although Natty hails from Andalucia, she makes sure that the food coming out of her kitchen is prepared with the same love and passion that traditional Italian mommas put into their cooking, this much I have been told, so I ask what she recommends. She doesn’t hesitate. The meatballs are especially good tonight, so I order them, and the paté to start because it makes a point on the menu of stating that it’s homemade.

Good choices, the paté is tasty but smooth. It slides down like liquid. Then come the meatballs. When I see the steaming dish I wonder if the paté with all the toast was a good idea. The smells evoke memories of Italy, the herbs, the sunshine, the love of good food. La dolche vita. I halve a sphere, and pop it in my mouth. Zing. Every taste bud throbs in happiness. I spear the other half to make sure. Yep. I am in for a treat here. I consider figuring out what the ingredients are, but decide to simply let my senses take over and enjoy the moment. I eat slowly and savor every single mouthful. This is the secret of Italian cuisine, I think, to take something unpretentious and make it ambrosial.

meatballs

Hoemade pate at Portobello

Hoemade pate at Portobello

As I eat, I watch as Natty glides from table to table, greeting people, advising, describing dishes; and the staff, one of whom is Natty’s son,  who work together with that efficient familiarity which makes you think they’re telepathic. Afterwards I learn that the couple in the table in front of me have been every night for a week; another family have visited the restaurant several times, even though they sport the bracelets of an all-inclusive resort; and another group are locals who come regularly. I’m not surprised. I’d very much like to work my way through the menu.

What made Natty and her husband, who came to Lanzarote 36 years ago, (her children were born on the island) open an Italian restaurant? Their story, is one that resonates with a lot of us. 23 years ago, stressed and dissatisfied with the pace of life in the business world, they looked for an alternative, something about which they could be passionate, and saw the opportunity in offering something other than traditional Canarian fayre in the fledgling resort of Costa Teguise. committment to quality in both food and service rapidly gained them a good reputation, which only grew as the resort expanded and more restaurants opened. To stay the course that way speaks volumes in the restaurant industry, where fads and fashions come and go, or businesses become complacent. I asked how they were surviving Spain’s horrific recession, “La Crisis” as it is known (as if there has never been another). They managed by judicious pruning, but since 2012, they’ve seen much improvement, and have even taken on extra staff.

It’s a family affair, and it’s my belief that shows  in the restaurant business. Walking into Portobello is something like walking into your favorite auntie’s house, where you are as welcome as the flowers in springtime, and spoiled – just the right amount.

Additional Notes:

1. Portobello doesn’t really (yet!) have a social media presence, so you just have to take my word for it! If you’re in Lanzarote you can find them at Commercial Center Las Cucharas in Costa Teguise. If you want to ring for a reservation it’s 928590241.

2. I am really, really sorry that my photos turned out badly apart from this one from my phone :( – hah! Need to go back to take more!

3. I was invited by Portobello to sample their menu, but you don’t honestly think I would rave about it like this if I didn’t mean it, do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Life’s a Beach: The Very Best of Fuerteventura

I apologize for the title. I know it’s unoriginal, but my weeks here have simply confirmed those snapshots in my head from visits in the 90s, which were of the breathtaking beaches of this island. However much I love the other islands, nowhere on the archipelago has beaches to compare with those of Fuerteventura. They are the very best thing about the island.

Sure, there are plenty of the black sand beaches, or pebble strewn coves typical of the archipelago, and many are really lovely; but there are also seemingly unending shorelines of white or golden sand, lapped by a turquoise ocean straight out of glossy travel magazine.

Footsteps on the Sand La Pared Fuerteventura

As you move around,  you constantly come across signs denoting that the area through which you’re traveling is a protected space. Whilst ugly cement covers sections of island, there seem to be huge areas where development can’t happen. Given the usual rumors of corruption which abound, it’s to be hoped that this lasts. The day I drove over to Cofete, for instance, I was getting pretty fed up of the bumpy dirt track by the end, but the moment I saw that stretch of unspoiled beach meandering before me, all the discomfort melted away.  This area is all protected, and the realization that no-one can ruin that view is quite dizzying. The day was hazy, so my photos weren’t good, but I hope it gives you an idea.

Cofete is, I guess, as remote as it gets here. I was told to go eat fish there for a real island experience, but the highlight for me was that first, breathtaking glimpse of unspoiled shoreline. The fish was fine, but so it is everywhere on Fuerteventura.

Cofete Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Slightly less of an endurance test to get to is the lighthouse at Jandia, where an inevitably rocky and quite spectacular coast awaits you. Sadly, because how much would I have loved to sit with that view to enjoy a cold beer, the museum/cafe was closed, as I had been warned, so was the bar in the tiny hamlet of El Puertito.  In both cases I’d advise taking food with you, and definitely water!

Punta Jandia Fuerteventura Canary Islands

 

El Puertito, Punta Jandia

El Puertito, Punta Jandia

Since I’ve begun in the south it seems like the natural thing to do is journey north, so hitch a ride if you like on this photo essay!

When you come off of the dirt track which forks  further down (one fork leading to Cofete, the other to El Puertito), you’re practically in the resort town of Morro Jable. I didn’t dislike the resort as much as I did others, mainly because the beach is so stunningly spectacular in a totally different way to the extreme southern tip of the island. Here the rocks give way to achingly perfect vistas of smooth, pale sand fringed by water the color of an Arizona gemstone. They weren’t over-busy either. I went back on Good Friday to see how crowded they were, and the answer was not much more than on an average day. Beware the prices in the beach bars though! I had a delicious smoothie, but was in shock when I got the check for €5.80 ….. ironic since, sitting there, I’d been reading a blog post title something like, “How to eat in Asia for $5 PER DAY!”

Morro Jable Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Alongside the beach in the El Saladar section of coast is a unique, small wetlands area, which is, for the most part, nicely looked after. Not easy to maintain a protected area like that right by a popular beach!

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Traveling east the coast becomes rocky again in some parts, but is no less stunning, perhaps even more so. For the moment there are sections where development as been halted owing to the recession. This is the Jandia region. once the province of Guanche king Ayoze, and as you travel north on the excellent, modern equivalent of a freeway you sometimes get the feeling that you are driving through massive sand dunes, as the gentle hills are covered with white sand and scrubby bushes; hanger right to get closer to the coast, and you are, and there is that azure ocean taunting you to, “Come, take a dip,” again. From the beach known as Risco el Paso you can watch windsurfers perform, or wannabes tumble, as you admire the vista up to the Costa Calma area. Costa Calma is a concrete tourist resort, with some amusing hotel architecture, more suited to bus stations or shopping malls.

Costa Jandia

Costa Jandia

Risco de Paso

Risco de Paso

Jandia ends at the point where the island looks as if it’s been squeezed out of shape, with the area hanging on by a thread, so if you make a left to La Pared it takes only about five or ten minutes to reach the beaches of the south-west. La Pared means “the wall” in Spanish and there is said to have been a dividing wall between the two ancient kingdoms around this point. It is also said to be the sunset capital of the island. There were disappointingly unspectacular every time I went, and I returned a dozen times in hope, but they came close.

La Pared

La Pared

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

Last surf of the day La Pared

Last surf of the day La Pared

The beaches are rocky, accessed by dirt track, tramped mainly by surfers, boards atop their heads as they walk to the better beaches, leaving the closer ones to the surf schools and novices, and the odd hiker.

Surfers La Pared

Surfers La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

sunset La Pared

sunset La Pared

Back to the road and traveling north again, the rest of the beaches along the east coast are pleasant, often very quiet, but not so dramatically gorgeous as either south or north of the island. In Las Lajitas, Giniginámar, Tarajalejo, Las Playitas and Gran Tarajal you will find nice beaches, some grey sand, some pebbles, some rocky, and often there will be few folk with whom you have to share (I imagine that once school is out for the summer, this won’t be so true, but this Easter they certainly were not horribly crowded). I took to going down to either of a couple of beaches just south of Tarajalejo to work in comfort and peace.

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

I’m going to put my virtual foot down now, and whiz as quickly as possible past Caleta del Fuste. If you want to check it out, feel free, but the little I saw confirmed that it’s the worst sort of Canarian tourist hell. Not for me, thank you.

Past the airport, past the beaches around capital, Puerto del Rosario, which didn’t appeal either, though I do think it must be neat, if you are working there to be able to go to the beach in your (long) lunch break.

One last place which appealed to me, before getting to the awesome dunes of Corralejo was a wee village called Puerto de las Lajas. It was a bit forlorn I have to admit, clearly developers had begun to move in before the recession hit, and much seemed abandoned. When things pick up it may be nice or it may be ruined, who can tell?

Puerto de las Lajas

Puerto de las Lajas

And so to Corralejo. The first time you hit the dunes is really quite breathtaking. The road saunters through them. To your left they stretch to the low-lying purple hills on the horizon, and to your right you get tantalizing glimpses of the ocean. When you touch the sand here, it feels different, and it sparkles as you let it drift through your fingers. These are classic sand dunes. Think Lawrence of Arabia. Obviously, you can even get a camel ride – these guys crossed the road and headed towards the hills, presumably after a hard day’s work.

Camels going home over sanddunes Corralejo Fuerteventura

Lanzarote seen from sand dunes in Corralejo

On the other side of Corralejo I discovered a rocky beach with beautifully clear waters and hardly anyone around, save for a few surfers heading over the hill. There were clear views of neighboring island, Lanzarote – whence I head for a week tomorrow. Yay!

Corralejo Fuerteventura

From this northern tip you have to double back and head east to get to my very favorite place Cotillo. I visited Cotillo, twice,  early in my stay here & then stayed away, mainly because I liked it so much, and I’d contracted to stay two months in Las Playitas, so I didn’t want to be hankering to move on. I was right to do that. I returned yesterday, spent some time on the beach and had a quick shuftie around the town. I liked it. A lot. Especially the beaches.

beach Cotillo Fuertventura Canary Islands

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura

This is a real surfers’ paradise, surfers as opposed to wind surfers or kite boarders, and it has the relaxed vibe which goes with all of that. Sure there is a fair share of surf schools, but not to the excesses I saw in La Pared. I chatted with a couple of lifeguards, who told me that, yes, there were incidents with beginners, but that surf schools were very co-operative in working with them to try to eliminate these. Experts catch the bigger waves along the coast to north or south of this spot.

Surf schools beach cotillo fuerteventura

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura Canary Islands

The second time I went to Cotillo I followed one of those dirt tracks, almost getting stuck in the sand a couple of times (I’m told after exceptionally high winds it becomes impassable for a while). It brought me to the lighthouse (more of lighthouses another time!), but my journey began with one of those impulsive turns off a main road, which brought me to the tiny, tiny hamlet of Majanicho. I must have hit it on an exceptionally quiet day because it literally made me draw a short, sharp breath, so picture perfect was it. Around a small bay, a few shacks sat on the beach, looking half-abandoned but only half; waiting for their owners to return; certainly once fishermen’s cottages, now probably summer vacation homes. That day there wasn’t a soul around, and yesterday even, Easter Saturday, very few. Loved the welcome sign.

Majanicho

Majanicho

Backtracking again the north-west coast after Cotillo is rocky, more dirt tracks, dramatic cliffs, and some attractive, pebbly beaches like Los Molinos or Ajuy.

Ajuy

Ajuy

Los Molinos

Los Molinos

But the place I can’t get out of my mind is Cotillo. Certainly, if I were looking to live on Fuerteventura, I would definitely want to be by the beach (hell, I want to be by the beach wherever I am!), much as those interior landscapes have captivated me, and Cotillo is the place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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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Fuerteventura Landscapes: A Photo Essay

“You’ll soon get bored with Fuerteventura,” people told me. “There isn’t the variety of landscape you get on other islands, especially when you’ve come from La Gomera.” Halfway though my stay on this amazing island, and I am utterly in love with its rolling, desert landscapes, and its breathtaking white sands. Not yet bored!

The plain around Antigua and Llanos de la Concepción seen from the Mirador at Morro Veloso

The plain around Antigua and Llanos de la Concepción seen from the Mirador at Morro Veloso

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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.

DSC_1755

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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