Islandmomma

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


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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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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.

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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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