Islandmomma

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


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What this Agnostic learned from Corpus Christi in South Tenerife

My senses are completely overpowered by the mix of perfumes as I step outside the church in Arona. Incense is familiar. In the cooling evening air of Tenerife’s foothills it mixes with woody rosemary and the sharp, musky scent of wild fennel. It’s a potent combination and it attacks my eyes and nose. The altar boy was a tad over-enthusiastic in swinging the thurible.

The advantage of coming to Arona, the pretty village at the heart of the island’s third largest municipality, this Sunday evening to witness the Corpus Christi procession, as opposed to going to the more famous towns, like Orotava or La Laguna, is that it’s small and local and it feels more friendly and less spectacular….. personal opinion – big religious occasions are too much theater ….. speaking as both a lapsed Catholic and a lapsed Protestant. It’s the type of Catholic festival which makes me twitchy in its reverence of ritual and dogma, as opposed to anything which Jesus Christ actually instructed his followers to do. Perhaps that’s a reflection of my childhood. I used to think about things like that a lot once. I don’t any longer. So it’s as easy to stand back and observe a Christian celebration as a cultural event now, as it is to observe something much more foreign to my personal experience.

 

Flower carpet Arona

Corpus Christi’s origins are dubious to say the least. First off, you have to believe in transubstantiation. I found that a stretch even when I was receiving instruction to become a Catholic in my late teens, but I thought the belief might come with time, so I went along with it. It didn’t. Second, even if you do believe in it, would Christ have been ok with the construction of all these elaborate and costly “homes” made for “him” (and that is not an opening for Catholic vs Protestant debate!)? Lastly, even if  you can get over the first two points you have to admit that the whole notion of visions and mystics is questionable, no? A 12th century nun, Juliana of Liège claimed to have had visions for twenty years……without telling anybody!…..visions of Jesus telling her that he needed another feast day- to celebrate his body. Or could it have been that the Church needed another gimmick to bind an ignorant congregation closer?

floral carpet corpus christi

Ah, so you see, I come to this festival skeptical – but admiring of the art work involved. The custom of creating beautiful carpets from flowers, sand, salt and plants seems to have thrived in the Canary Islands like nowhere else. There are various claims that it actually began here in Tenerife, but often those claims also say “in the Middle Ages,” and since the island wasn’t conquered until 1496 (and the other islands not that long before) that can’t be true. The festival was first celebrated in 1246 – in Belgium – so perhaps that’s where the confusion arises. There are famous versions in Sitges on the mainland, throughout South and Central America (although not always for Corpus Christi, but other religious dates) and even, I just found out, in Arundel in England, but the Canarian ones are often refered to as the originals.

floral carpet corpus chrisit arona

corpus christi Arona Tenerife

Whatever the global truth, the tradition in Tenerife did begin in La Orotava, but many municipalities also decorate the streets around their parish church, notably La Laguna, the island’s original capital city, and, in the South,  Arona and Adeje . They use flowers and petals bought from commercial growers, flowers and plants culled from the local countryside, and colored salts and sand. Conservation laws protect rock and sand in most places, but more of that tomorrow.

Narrow streets and floral carpets Arona

So, Sunday night, I wander Arona’s  hilly streets admiring the creativity and passion which has gone into making these works of art, and there is no doubt that’s what they are. I arrive around 6pm when the work is all finished and the air scented only with the wild fennel which had been used as background in many of the displays, and so I am able to stroll peacefully.  My favorite, below, is remarkable  in the way it catches the light and shadow on the faces of Mary and Jesus, just as any artist using oils or watercolors would have done.

sand carpet arona corpus christi

After taking dozens of snaps on the quiet streets, I meet up with my friend, Pilar, and as luck would have it, she kn0ws the artists who have made this gorgeous display, and so we are able to congratulate them in person. Stupidly I don’t write down their names, but this is the team of four it took to produce this, and, yes, those cotton-candy clouds in the background are reflecting a stunning sunset this night.

Team who made floral carpet arona corpus christi

We talk about the planning of it, and they show me photos of the creation at different stages. I’m surprised that it had been only a few weeks in the planning and not months, but the thing which intrigues me most is how they feel about the ephemerality of their work. After all, it’s back-breaking, bending over a pavement for an entire day, sculpting salt and sand, and by sunset it’s destroyed, as the procession of Corpus Christi passes over it. It is, it occurred to me,  the same thing Buddhists do in creating mandalas. All four of them have broad smiles when they tell me that, well, that’s the tradition, and they accept it. The enjoyment is in the creation and its longevity isn’t important.

Arona casco alfombra corpus christi

It’s a curious thing, isn’t it? I understood that about mandalas, but never really thought about these carpets in the same way. The other difference would be that a mandala is deliberate and educational, whereas this, so far as I know, isn’t intentionally instructional. The lesson is the same though – life is transient, nothing lasts forever. We have to learn to let go, to move on, to understand impermanence. It’s a hard one, especially because most artists (whether of brush, camera, pen or whatever) are hoping to create something lasting.

church arona corpus chrisit

We stroll back around to the church after chatting, and meet up briefly with my friend Val, who is singing in a choir which will acknowledge the return of the body to the church after the procession. Arona’s church square is a charming place even on a workday. The town hall sits at right angles to the church, and this night both are decorated befitting the celebration. Small children run around, narrowly missing spoiling the main carpets, as their parents chat in groups, waiting for the beginning of the procession.  Little girls in first communion dresses  emerge shyly from the church, and the town band shuffles into place, and we move over to the door to watch, and then follow its slow amble along the streets. You’ll find it odd, after all I just said, that I hesitate to take photos. No-one else is doing at that point, and whilst I don’t share the beliefs of the villagers, I do respect their right to follow whatever they believe, and extend that respect to not intruding.

Arona Town Hall

Old Buildings church by church sq Arona

And so we watch as the priest stops to pray at particular spots, as the altar boy chokes us all in his enthusiasm, as neighbors shower petals from upstairs windows, and as dozens of feet shuffle over the stunning blue and white carpet I’d admired so much.

OK I get the symbolism of this, its brief life has reached its climax and is over,  but why do the brats of the village have to follow on, kicking at designs, scratching up branches and flowers and larking about? Why is no-one stopping them? I glance at the group who’d made my favorite design. They are laughing at the boys’ antics. Me, I want to cry. Their efforts seem worth so much more. Then as the sweet notes of the choir filter down from the church square I think I understand.

flower carpet arona corpus christi

All  that creativity, and passion, and talent isn’t ephemeral at all. All of that can be encompassed in one word – love. In making their masterpiece they launched all of that out into the universe, they didn’t hoard it selfishly, and now a little of that lives in me too, and in everyone who saw and admired their work, and perhaps even in folk who weren’t even there. We can’t see or touch these things, but we can express them in our lives and work. This is why we should do whatever we do with passion, and do the best we can do in everything,  and be the best we can be.

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A Dramatic Sunset: My Reward for Procrastination

I’d been glued to the keyboard all day yesterday, all the while gnawing at the back of my mind were chores I needed to do in Los Cristianos. Now this is only a 15 or 20 minute drive, so it’s no big deal, is it?  especially when you consider the distances some of you drive daily without thought, those of you who live on continents, rather than on islands, of course. Island living definitely alters your perspective sometimes. Procrastination can become a way of life.

Finally, I dragged myself out in time for the business day re-opening. Although in the resort areas loads of businesses and many shops now stay open throughout the day, there are probably just as many which resolutely close their doors either at 1pm or at 2pm so workers can lunch and siesta the afternoon away, before returning at 4 or at 5. In Los Cristianos mostly they close at 2, so I aimed to be there for 5.

The advantage is that the parking is much better in the afternoons. Deliveries seem to be concentrated into the morning hours, and generally if you think about making an appointment with your lawyer or accountant or any other professional you think “before lunch”.

The other advantage is that you get everything done much more quickly because there are fewer folk around, not only are less locals doing businesses, but in Winter at least, the tourists are ambling back to their hotels and apartments to clean up for dinner. Yesterday, in fact, there were a few visitors mooching about the shopping area, because we have winter right now. That is, it’s the few weeks of the year we get at some time between December and March, when temperatures drop a bit, so not exactly beach weather then, we even had a few drops of rain over the last couple of days.

Fred, my faithful, old car, not being in the best of health these days, I was aiming to be home before it was too dark, but as I drove out of town the skyline caught my eye. Brooding, purple clouds were hovering over the horizon, and the sun, not far from its setting, was playing hide and seek with them. I pulled over, and sat and watched for a while, and the allure proved too much. It’s clouds which make those dramatic sunset pictures, and who knew what these fleecy beauties might do.

Playa El Callao’s 400 m or so of bedraggled sands mark the terminus of Los Cristianos, most of it is pebbles with a few parched-looking junipers surviving here and there.  Although it is within the resort it certainly isn’t a tourist beach, and its scraggy-ness isn’t unappealing. It’s close to where I lived in 2009.  It’s tranquil, last night only the slapping of the waves on rock from the wake as the ferries came and went could be heard, other than a couple of dog-walkers calling or whistling their pets.

I trudged down to the scrubby beach, on the approach dodging the dog poo, plastic bags and other fast food detritus, wondering whether the photos I knew would make this forlorn beach look like paradise were fair.  There are so many times I scratch my head over things which seem to me obvious: why isn’t this beach “adopted” and prettified? There is a smart hotel right next to it, The Arona Gran – what do its residents think about this beach? If there is some reason (and right now if you asked the town hall will tell you there’s no money, obviously) it isn’t being developed, at least why isn’t it kept clean? There were quite a few folk around, walking down to the beach or headland to watch the sunset.  I’m very much in favor of “wild” beaches myself, but how can the filth be allowed?

Fact is, the Canary Islands in general have benefited enormously from the Arab Spring, from rioting in Greece and other problems which have made people think twice about holidaying in other places (not that the queues at the employment offices get any shorter), and whilst enterprising and imaginative promotion is done in some quarters, in others it leads to complacency.

So I have to say that whilst these photos represent Nature’s passion and splendor, and it’s very true that sights like this are the norm here, what lay behind me was mankind’s disgusting mess.


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Roque del Conde: Tenerife’s Answer to Table Mountain

It seems as if all I’ve written about of late has been walking and mountains and landscapes. That’s because it’s mostly how I’ve spent my leisure time the past few weeks – taking advantage of Austin’s presence until he moves to UK. The other day we took a hike that’s long been on my bucket list.

From almost everywhere in Los Cristianos or Playa de las Americas, you can spy a flat-topped mountain standing like a sentinel over the coast, frequently, its peak shrouded in low cloud, it exudes an air of mystery.

Roque del Conde seen from the entrance to Los Cristianos

This is Roque del Conde, towering over Barranco del Rey (King’s Canyon) where we went rappelling at the end of last year. Formerly it was known as Roque Ichasagua in memory of the Guanche ruler who, rather than face possible slavery, or worse, at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors, threw himself from its heights. Are you beginning to see a pattern to these legends, perhaps? Before that the Guanches knew it as Ahío o Hío.

The mountain lies in the municipality of Adeje, one of the oldest parts of the island, along with Teno and Anaga. It’s because Tenerife was formed gradually by volcanic eruptions millions of years apart that there is so much discussion still about its “age.” It’s something impossible to quantify in terms of the island we know today, and it’s one factor in the enormous variety of landscape to be found in something less than 800 square miles, but whatever type of landscape you are admiring, be it “lunar” or lush forest, I can guarantee one word they have in common – dramatic, and this day was to be no exception to that rule, despite the cloud, the views were breathtaking.

Although the mountain itself is in the municipality of Adeje, the walk begins in neighboring Arona. We set off from the hamlet of Vento, just as we had when we went rappelling. Passing the ramshackle outhouses and accompanied by the same tinkling of goats’ bells and barking of dogs, we stepped over the modern water pipe which lies alongside the old stone troughs which used to bring water down to irrigate these dry lands, and descended into Barranco del Rey.

This time, instead of turning left deeper into the canyon we crossed it, and once we began the climb up from there it was uphill all the way, at first up well-maintained steps and paths, and then onto rougher but much-used trails. It was a bank holiday and, going late morning, we passed several walkers of different ages and nationalities returning from a morning ramble, including a mutual friend neither of us had seen for some years – Tenerife is like that. Move through the busy streets of a resort and you don’t meet a soul you know, but take a wild mountain trail and you bump into someone.

Austin perched on the crumbling wall assessing the possibilities for a photo.

Around a third of the way into the climb, we passed a long-abandoned house, most of the timbers and all the roof tiles missing, just a rectangular, stone structure remained, with a sad hole where a door had once been. The views from here were magnificent, over the southern coast, and back in the day they must have been even more so, with less buildings and more countryside to admire. I have no idea why I am so drawn to these tumble-down old shells of homes. There have a mystery and sadness about them I can’t quite put my finger on. I vaguely mused about how severe life must have been, and how hardy the inhabitants of this small farm, trying to coax a living out of this arid dust, but I was in for a surprise which provoked more serious thoughts. Passing the house we came upon a threshing circle, just like the ones I had seen in El Tanque on El Día de la Trilla last year. It was even in decent condition, given the state of the house, but what intrigued me was what animals had been used to turn grind the crops, surely oxen or horses couldn’t have been used way up here. I’m presuming that donkeys were used, but I don’t know that for a fact. It’s one of those mysteries I would like to chase up sometime.

What’s for sure is that much of the land, even at this altitude had been terraced, and so had been cultivated, and I remembered a conversation I had with an elderly taxi driver years ago. He told me that when he was a boy the land around Adeje had been rich farmland, overflowing with corn and other crops. At the time I thought that he was probably exaggerating, and my Spanish wasn’t up to asking too many questions back then either. I’d love to have that same conversation today!

Note how parched the landscape looks – it’s been almost twelve months now without rain in this area.

Almost at the top!

My photo op taken full advantage of, we continued upwards, along narrow paths which dwindled to almost nothing in places, stopping now and then to take our bearings and watch what appeared to be a boat on fire just outside Los Cristianos’s harbour. We came to the conclusion it was a drill, since nothing seemed to be dashing to its aid. On the smudgy, blue horizon the island of La Gomera hovered like a purple shadow, and we could make out El Hierro and La Palma, although the visibility wasn’t too good. Above, however, the peak of Roque del Conde was clear and beckoned.

We scrapped around proud cardon, the multi-pronged cactus which thrives just about everywhere here, and thick clumps of tabaiba, the super-hardy endemic plant found even in the harshest and most arid island landscape. It’s been a long time without rainfall in the south, and most every other sign of flora looked pinched and forlorn. We scuffled on loose stones and clambered over rocks, and then we were almost there, and striding along the open path to the mountain’s flat summit.

It’s quite something to eat your lunch sitting on top of the world. At around 3,280 feet Roque del Conde is a fair bit lower than Alto de Guajara where we’d breakfasted the previous week, and the views were quite different. From Guajara we’d overlooked more or less east on the oceanside, seeing the airport and Grandadilla de Abona below, and a wide sweep of the caldera to the other side. From Roque del Conde we had a 360º view which swept the foothills purple and grey or hidden in cloud, a motorbike gang whining its way up from Arona towards Vilaflor could be heard quite clearly. Turning we could just make out Montaña Roja lying in the sunny space between the low cloud and the shadowy valleys and volcanic cones between us. The plastic-covered banana plantations around Costa del Silencio blotted our view, and immediately below Arona strung out, and even at this height the barking dogs intruded on the silence. The resorts cluttered the south western side of the island, and for a while we played at picking out familiar places. I’m told that on a clear day you can see the cliffs of Los Gigantes, but this day wasn’t that clear. In fact, those familiar mists were beginning to filter down from the mountains, and inch their cold fingers across the flat peak, making us shiver and pack up to make our way down.

Tabaiba in the foreground clinging to the hillside and to life, as the mists roll in from above.

I’ve always considered going down easier than ascending, and I merrily set off thinking it was going to be an easy and quick descent – silly me! Whilst it there was no puffing and panting, there was a bit of slipping and sliding, and it was much slower than I expected. Even so I wanted to linger a while in Barranco del Rey when we reached it, knowing that this is such an ancient slice of the earth, knowing that the Guanches inhabited caves here, and just the sheer beauty and loneliness of the place kind of seeps into your skin.

To my surprise I found the final climb back to Vento much easier than I had done last time – I must be getting used to this walking lark – my only problem is how do I follow the experiences I’ve had so far this year!


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How My World Rocked : Rappelling and Rage against Ageism.

 The Prologue

Austin to me: “So, when are you going to coming rappelling, mom?”  as he dumps a very heavy bag by my door.

Me:  “Hmm. When I feel a bit fitter,”  all the while thinking, “And put that on the list – along with travelling around the world, writing a best seller and learning Wolof.”…….. That would be the list of things I really want to do, but never did or will.

A few weeks later – the same question, and a similar answer, “Weeeell, I don’t really feel ready to tackle something like that yet.” I’d lost five kilos, but wasn’t/am not satisfied.

We go on in this vein for a few weeks. Me ducking the question, scared, and thinking he will drop the subject but he’s very persistent. It’s not that I don’t dream of doing this – I do, with all my heart. I’m big on dreams and not acting on them you see.

Towards the end of last week – He  has a few days vacation left over after returning from England; I have my head full of moving house and other projects, and I hear myself replying to the question yet again:

“OK, next week, then.  It will give me a break from all this stuff I have on right now,” and all the while thinking – well, actually, er …… not thinking, really, because my head was full of all that stuff………..except that I knew I had a huge need to step out of my comfort zone.

I’d come back from my trip to Mainland Spain and England energized and enthusiastic, but ennui was fast setting in. We settle on Monday, even though I am expecting to have a late night on Tuesday at Las Tablas de San Andres, and I am still barely packed for the coming weekend’s move – well, isn’t life always like this, all or nothing?

The Doing It

All that stuff manages to keep the nerves at bay until Sunday night, when, predictably, I can’t sleep.  I’m like a kid on the night before Christmas, and in the morning worry that I will be too tired to be able to throw myself over a hillside on a rope, which is how I see it.

No worries, the adrenaline kicks in on cue, and by the time we park up in Vento, Arona, I am ready, or at least as ready as I ever will be.

We turn out of the pueblo and we’re in hillbilly country, a tangle of corrugated roofs on tottering beams, where goats bleat and pigs snuffle in the dust, and indolent youths swing lazy legs as they sit on rocks watching them, and us. The skeletons of cars and vans, and other junk, litter yards.  We follow the route  as far as where most folk branch off right to walk up Roque del Conde, a very popular, though steep, walk up the distinctive hill which watches protectively over the resort coast.

We turn left instead, and quickly reach our first objective, a rocky ledge……that in layman’s terms because I don’t know if it was a small cliff or what.  We are in  Barranco del Rey, and what lies before us is beautiful, with dramatic walls of rock, and the only way to see more is to get down this ledge.  It’s good for me it comes so soon, because I don’t have time to get cold feet, instead I feel a sort of calm excitement, or is that an oxymoron?  Having confidence in my instructor/son is crucial.

Austin is very good at explaining things as he goes along, and my mind is more receptive if I understand why I am doing a thing, and how it works.  I’d like to say that I remember all the names he tells me for all the technical stuff, but I don’t, although I do understand perfectly how they work, and now it’s time to squeeze into the harness.  For a brief moment I think it’s too small and I get a “pass”, but no, it’s supposed to be really tight of course, and here I am all trussed up, helmeted and feeling distinctly unglamorous, but honestly, who’s going to see me?

Now I’m attached to the line which Austin has secured, and I’m shuffling as un-timidly as I can to the edge of the, well, the only word which comes to mind is precipice!  I don’t look directly down. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, and Austin doesn’t even mention it, so perhaps he noticed.  “Sit into the harness,” he says, and now my bum is hanging over the edge. Inelegant, but definitely exciting!

This reminds me of scuba diving in that having confidence in both your colleague/s and your equipment is key.  In the same way I knew my tank was full, and knew what to do if I lost my mask, now I know that all the bits and pieces attached to this rope from which I am suspended are fine, and I put my full weight onto it. And here I am walking backwards into thin air, or so it seems, Austin talking me through it all, “Legs a bit wider apart,” “Keep that right arm behind you.”

“Okay, hold it there,” I look up and there he is taking photos.  I try to smile. Actually it isn’t hard.  I am beginning to feel a bit euphoric, but it wouldn’t really do to whoop it up until my feet are on the ground I think.

“I think she’s got it. I think she’s got it,” keeps running through my head, then, without apparent warning the rope shifts, and I swing around, dangling for seconds, until I reconnect my feet to the face of the rock wall.  I didn’t have my legs far enough apart, and the weight wasn’t distributed quite right, but no harm is done, and I get praise for not panicking.  That’s where the understanding the equipment came in. I just did what I was supposed to do.

We continue down, and, frankly, it’s all over too soon!  I want to keep on going, but at least now it is time for a short “Whoot!”  I get a camera break too, because Austin has to go back up, and then come back down again to recover the ropes.  Looking back I am amazed.  It seems so much higher than it seemed to be whilst coming down.

It’s not a long walk to the next descent.  The way is stunning in its rawness.  I know people have been here before, but it doesn’t feel like it.  I feel as if ours might be the first footfalls in this gorge.  Enormous boulders litter the ground, spewed millennia ago from some volcano or toppled from above by wind or storms or erosion?  I don’t know nearly enough about this land it seems to me.

The next descent is not so steep, but crosses a ledge with stagnant water, the remnant of the last rains, months ago.  I manage to keep my feet out of it, and sway on down.  At the bottom there is a slight overhang, and I misjudge what to do, but no harm done.  I am on terra firma again, and crestfallen to realize that there is no more rappelling. Afterwards, I say that at this point I understand the expression “stoked”, because that’s how I feel.  Ecstatic. Thrilled.  However, more challenges and treats are in store.  I just don’t know it yet.

 

We walk some more,  marvelling at the colors in the rocks, the way the layers upon layers are so different from each other, the caves formed above us, just out of reach, the fact that so much vegetation can survive with so little water, and we come to an aqueduct.  How on earth they managed to construct this, spanning the gorge, I can’t fathom, but it’s a natural point at which to turn around.

As we clamber over slabs of rock and huge boulders I wonder what this is like when the rains come.  Is it a raging torrent just for a short span, or is it something more gentle?  We see so little rainfall in the south, and are so accustomed to the desert scenery that it’s hard to visualize.

We get back to the second descent, where we’d left the ropes in preparation for our return, and I stare up.  I was so excited about the getting down bit, that I hadn’t given a thought to how we would get back!

This is where I get a baptism in climbing techniques – only a baptism, mind you, but in the end it is a thrilling for me as the rappelling was.  I’m introduced to the jumar. It resembles a stapler with a handle.  You slide it up the rope as far as you can, and it grips like a vice and won’t slide back.  My first movement is a bit hesitant, but once I feel its strength I’m away, giddy with excitement again.

When we reach the top, Austin collects all his gear, taking care, as he always does, to make sure that the only thing we might leave behind is footprints in this pristine environment.  Sadly, even though not too many folk must come here, there is rubbish here and there they’ve left behind.

The next bit might just be my greatest triumph of the day, although I’m not sure.  We’re faced with a short but steep rock face, which Austin easily scales, pointing out hand and foot holds as he goes. I begin to follow, but there is a part which requires a stretch I just can’t see my legs making.  I retreat and look up.  It doesn’t occur to me that I’m stuck in a ravine, I’m just thinking how do I get out of this!  The answer is mind over matter, as it so often is in life!  With a rope secured to my harness I clamber up, maybe not withAustin’s grace, but without much hesitation or any mishap, Austin all the while telling me that I can do it, that I’m doing ok.  I’m stoked again. Mainly because I just didn’t think I could do anything like that.

The rest is a slightly uphill ramble back to the road and the car, where I sit on the wall, and simply let the feelings of triumph and happiness wash over me.  I’m too euphoric yet to feel tired!

These steps, carved into the rock, as Austin said, weren’t put there for hikers and climbers.  They were made years ago by folk who needed to access this area for work or food or water. Such was daily life once upon a time.

The Aftermath

 

I wake the next morning with a bubbly sense of well-being.  I am more aware of my body in which I have new-found confidence. I am more aware of the mental stretch it took too.  I am more aware of having stretched my comfort zone by a long way.  I have the feeling that life is just full of possibilities, and that I should be off looking for them. I feel as if there is no limit to what I can do if I have the confidence.

When I began this blog, or more precisely, around two years ago, when it became a more important part of my life I imagined that it would be half and half;  half travel/Tenerife stuff and half about defying age.  The latter is a topic dear to my heart, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I’ve written about it nearly as much as I thought I would, since I became so absorbed in various projects.

I’m a baby boomer.  All through my life my generation has set the pace, not just by the sheer volume of our numbers. We defied conventions in music, fashion and politics. Sure, we weren’t the first generation to do that, but we did a job of historic proportions.

In equally defiant mood, after all these years, and approaching my 65th birthday this month, I intend to use this blog to address this issue of ageism more than I have so far.  I am infuriated by the perception that life is over at 65, and I accuse my peers of fostering this idea just as much as younger folk, but right now, although my personal triumph was a little over a week ago (I survived the night of Las Tablas, and am still in the process of moving house – well, there is just too much else going on to waste time in putting all my books on the shelf!)  I still want to wallow in my joy, but……look out world, here I come! Oh, and I began the novel – thanks to Guy……..I am blessed with sons who believe in me!


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Carnaval : Is it Better Late or Never?

It’s Lent now.  Carnavals the world over are done and dusted.  Costumes are stored away, and the Lenten fasting has begun (Carnaval is supposed the time to be  using up  the fats and goodies before Lent).  Or has it?

Not in Los Cristianos it hasn’t.  The fun only began a few days back.  The travelling fair, of course, was way too busy up in Santa Cruz, at the Carnaval described by some as second only to Rio de Janeiro’s, to have been here for Shrove Tuesday, but last weekend it began to arrive, and the town was buzzing with preparations.

The truth is that many people, having exhausted themselves up in Santa Cruz over the weeks of the “real” carnaval, can’t be bothered with the local one.  I’ve been told frequently over the years that this Carnaval is just for the tourists and the children.  It certainly seems to be smaller than it used to be.  They changed the route some years back, so that the procession is now over with more quickly, and doesn’t weave through the heart of town, which detracts from it somehow.

I had to go to Los Cristianos a couple of times during the week (It’s a place I do my best to avoid these days. My favorite way to describe it is to say that it sold its soul. To compare how it was when I first arrived and how it is now is a whole other post), so it was a quick dash, because the parking is nigh impossible when the fair’s in town, and the car parks are prohibitively expensive for my financial situation. Even so, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

Fairgrounds, even when they are in the course of being erected, fascinate me. They are so full of color.  To be sure it’s the screams and laughter, and the smell of hotdogs and churros which complete the picture, but with a sky so clear and a mountain backdrop like this, the vibrancy is there even at this stage.

The fair takes over a large site on the edge of town, which one day will be built on, and where it will go after that heaven only knows.  You have to wonder if the day of the travelling fair is past, as towns expand, and these vacant lots and spaces are gobbled up by developments.  It takes days to get everything up and running.  You can see the difference between the first photo and the next, two, which were taken about 3 days apart, from the second floor of an apartment/commercial complex.  Given that the festivities go on into the wee, small hours for the best part of a week, I can’t begin to imagine how residents sleep at night.

Around the corner kiosks were arriving and lining up in the street, which is closed to traffic for the duration.

“Duck” shoots and candy floss, baked potatoes, bars and bingo will echo and waft their ways through the night as the celebrations gather momentum.  At the end of the street is a stage, where bands will salsa for the nightly verbenas, and folk can dance off the beer and wine.  This Carnaval isn’t so much about dressing up as the bigger ones in the north, but it will not lack merriment.  A few yards further on, outside the Cultural Center, is another stage, where the Queen of the Carnaval will be chosen. If you’re here on vacation, for sure, you won’t be disappointed. Despite it being in this tourist resort, it is still very much a local event, and not aimed directly at foreigners. It’s authentic.

As you can see from the picture on the left, there are other residential blocks cheek by jowl with what is really an outdoor disco. I imagine that the only way to deal with it if you live so close is to join in!

Me, I haven’t bother too much with Carnaval for a long time now. I wrote about why here. It is, basically, that after that experience nothing can top it. You have to know when something’s time is past because going back can be very disappointing. Still, that was as a participant, and standing on the sidelines as a spectator could never cut it, but in my “new incarnation” (**tongue in cheek there**, people) as a blogger maybe I will see things from a different perspective, and so inshall’ah I shall be standing on the sidelines tomorrow for the big parade…….and I can’t help wondering what photos from the top of this would look like!


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Shopping for a Sub-Tropical Xmas

Well, all the family shopping and the food shopping is done.  The base of the trifle is soaking nicely in sweet sherry,  the pumpkin and the sweet potato (recent additions to my Xmas menu since Guy lived in the US) are puréed and ready to mix, the breadcrumbs and the chestnuts are ready to make stuffing.  Tomorrow I will be elbow deep in all sorts of disgusting stuff which will, I hope, end up tasting ok the following day!

Is this the most patient dog in the world, or what?!

The church square in Los Cristianos two nights ago, with the nativity scene (belén) on the right.

When we wondered about how Christmas would be before emigrating we thought about the stories we’d heard from Australia about barbeques on the beach and Christmas morning swims, but in truth that doesn’t happen here much.  For one thing, although it’s a heck of a lot warmer than England, it’s still winter, and the weather can be unpredictable.  For another thing, because Spaniards celebrate on Christmas Eve, what the English know as Christmas Day is kind of just another bank holiday.  People go to the beach if the weather’s ok, but the beaches are not anything out of the ordinary, and are mainly for tourists or resident “furriners” in wintertime.  So we fell into the habit of celebrating Christmas more-or-less in the traditional English way, as so many ex-pats do, and that meant ordering turkey, which was almost unheard of here back then, specially from the butcher, instead of scooping it from the supermarket shelf, as I now do.  Almost everything else came over in someone or other’s suitcase………perish THAT thought now with weight restrictions, not to mention security! ……. can you believe up to 1997 we used to bring boxes of crackers even!  Luton 1997 was the first time they were taken off me!    It was kind of fun doing things that way, though, I must say.

So the food’s a doddle now, what with the big English supermarket in Las Chafiras, which was hotting up something awful by 10am this morning.  Phew, thank god that’s all done!    Christmas shopping this year was a bit blah.  At a glance, it can be pretty much the same as anywhere, shiny stores like El Corté Ingles in Santa Cruz, and shopping malls like the Carrefour and El Campo ones in the North are the places to go these days.  None of those existed when we arrived, and Xmas shopping used to begin on my annual summer trip to the UK,  just in case I couldn’t get back again before the big day.  In more recent years one of the delights of Christmas was strolling along Avendia Juan XXlll in Los Cristianos, which was full of interesting shops, the sort you normally only go in at Christmas or shopping for other presents.  The overhead lights twinkled and a warm and gentle breeze would ruffle your hair, and as you passed some of the stores scents of vanilla and cinnamon would waft by,  and you knew this was just the nicest place to be at this time of year.

Closer look at the belén in Los Cristianos’s church square

Sadly Avendia Juan XXlll has changed, the shops are become yet more dress shops or cafés, and the fun of knowing that you knew just where to find that extra stocking filler is gone.  Christmas lights adorn the lamp posts of most towns, but look as if they have been stuck up as a kind of after-thought. Maybe it’s because I come from Blackpool, where, as any English person knows, they KNOW how to do street lights, but seems to me it would be better to put them all in a few square meters of glory,  instead of dotting them about the place so that it all looks very half-hearted.  The only place which looks a bit magical is the church square in Los Cristianos, which, as you can see in one of the pictures above, despite the warmth does look like a winter wonderland.  Maybe it’s because it’s all done with tourism in mind –  because the north is clearly a different matter altogether. Take a look at this lovely picture and story from local writer Andy Montgomery.  That says to me that the effect has been created for the pleasure of local people, enjoying the atmosphere and the season.

In their favor, the local business community of Los Cristianos at least knew that they needed to drum up some trade, so they commissioned sand sculptors to create a belén in the corner of the main beach, which was opened officially by the mayor yesterday, and to which the finishing touches were being made when I snapped it Tuesday evening.  Undoubtedly, it’s a work of art, and a difficult creation given the weather we’ve had of late.

This nativity graces the main roundabout when you enter Los Cristianos

At home, with my overburdened tree and my tacky tinsel adorning pictures and bookshelves, it feel like Christmas, but out there – not so much.  It’s not because it never has.  It used to.  Maybe it’s this bl**dy awful recession, maybe it’s lack of imagination where needed, maybe it’s that greed has turned the warmth sour.  This is going to be the first Christmas since 2000 that both my sons have been here at the same time, so I have reason to be jolly, so I don’t think it’s me being bah humbug either.  Time to pull up the mental drawbridge for a while perhaps……but not before wishing anyone who happens across this post A VERY VERY HAPPY AND MERRY AND JOYFUL HOLIDAY SEASON!


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Not the Lunar Eclipse

I had the alarm all set.  It seemed quite reasonable – 6am.  Only a half hour earlier than my alarm usually summons me from slumber.  As my mind began to clear and register that the alarm was going off, it also registered how very dark it seemed, and for a moment scenes from last night’s movie, “Tron: Legacy”, swirled around my brain in tandem with visions of the moon and shadows and eclipses.  It was then that my inner sloth surfaced first, told me if I’ve seen one, I’ve seen them all, and my arm fumbled out, hit the alarm, and I turned over.  It was light and sunny when I woke eventually.  I missed the lunar eclipse.

Justifying my laziness during the day, I convinced myself that really it was all a fuss over nothing.  Morning tv camped out with the astronomers on Mt Teide, my Facebook homepage full of grainy pictures of the event, and Twitter, well, twittering about it.  So the earth’s shadow passed between the moon and the sun, this has WHAT impact on our lives?  Changes WHAT in the world’s plight?  It’s a phenomenon that happens now and then.  We aren’t pre-historic people believing it’s the end of the world or anything.  It’s not like a meteor shower that won’t be around again for another forty years.

The last time it happened saw me at the base of Mt Teide with friends and hot chocolate.  It was exactly 0º, and the atmosphere was something like a party, as dozens of people who’d driven up waited with bated breath, and a silence fell as what, indeed, seemed like a supernatural happening began.  The previous time saw me and Guy wrapped in our duvets lying on sunbeds on our terrace.  That was my first, so it was pretty exciting.

As today wore on I had pretty much convinced myself that sitting on my roof terrace at 6am, duvet and sunbed again, was an event worth missing.  That was until I was out Christmas shopping this evening.  I thought I’d snap the Christmas lights and the belen in Los Cristianos, but I got far more than I expected.  I left the church square and all the pretty lights, and turned to the shopping streets.  Halfway down Avendia de Suecia I turned to see how the street lights looked, and instead what drew my attention was the moon, huge and incandescent, its glow reflecting off wisps of cloud, and far outshining man’s paltry attempts at radiance.  The photos don’t do it justice by any stretch of the imagination.  It was majestic, a reminder of this world’s natural beauty, and now I SO wish I’d bothered to get up to watch the eclipse!


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Even a Quiet Week Has its Highlights

I’ve been pretty out of it for a few days now with a chronic tooth infection which has limited my diet, and given me more pain than I could have believed, so I’ve not caught up with a lot of what’s been happening, and I’ve missed quite a bit of fun (**stamping foot and pouting**), but yesterday, pepped up by antibiotics and painkillers I popped down to Las Galletas, a still fairly small fishing village roughly half way between Los Cristianos and El Médano.  The occasion was a Crafts Fair, and after the mega-fair in Pinolere in the Summer I was expecting to be disappointed, but quite to the contrary came away very happy.  It wasn’t billed as a Christmas Fair, but had that kind of feel about it, or maybe it was just the general mood as the festive season approaches.

My plan was to meet a friend, take a turn around the fair, have a coffee, spend an hour or half hour with some other friends who were coming later, and home to an early night, assuming my tooth would demand it, but I ended up both arriving earlier than intended, and staying later….which obviously indicates that it was very enjoyable.

The first plus was the seascape which greeted me on the short promenade. Some clouds were still hanging around yesterday, after two weeks of stormy weather, but they were making their exit with a grace which put me in mind of Swan Lake, beginning as startling white wisps and banks, they shifted and drifted to leave the sky eventually for a classic sunset.

On to the fair, then. The richness of the island’s traditions and the quality of craftmanship are a testament to the originality and endurance of its people.  There were leather workers, and lace makers, crafted candles, carpentry, glassware, jewellery and weavers who made straw into hats and baskets, and barely an item which stank of commercialization of any sort.  This fair was “the real thing”, from the replicas of toys of yore to my new friends from the apiary in Aldea Blanca it was all genuinely crafted with skill and love.  I asked a man displaying those beautiful knives I mentioned seeing in Pinolere how long it took him to make just the small one, and the answer was two weeks, so carefully and painstakingly are they created.

It was probably a good thing that this Christmas finds me stoney, because I would otherwise have spent a fortune!  As it was, I settled for an amazing cinnamon scented candle for my Christmas table, plus some cinnamon crystals to store away with the decorations, so that they smell of Christmas when I take out the box in a year’s time; and I loaded up on cured goats’ cheeses and fennel honey, and a bottle of coffee liquor from the ladies below, which, it seems to be, will be the perfect way to top off the Christmas feast.

I was disappointed that there was only piped music when I arrived around 3 o’clock, which made me glad I stayed later, because the folk singing and dancing in the evening had a lovely community feel to it, especially for the last dance when the group pulled very willing people from the audience for the last waltz. Canarian folk music, like many forms of traditional music is probably an acquired taste, with solos by rich tenor voices, the same sort of sound you get from a Welsh Male Voice Choir in a way, but I never fail to be impressed by the enjoyment of the performers, their commitment to what they do, and the fact there are so many young people, both male and female who are happy to carry on these traditions.

Backpack clinking pleasantly as bottles of honey jostled with the coffee liquor, I made my way back to the car, full of local cheese and homemade bread, as the Christmas lights twinkled around and about,  with a little of the bonhomie rubbed off too.

Today, by contrast was a modern tradition, and one which, it has to be said, we wish there was no need for, and that would be the annual Carrera por la Vida, the annual walk from Playa de las Americas to Los Cristianos to raise awareness for breast cancer research.

It wasn’t a day for dwelling on the necessity for the walk, as much as to celebrate having had in our lives those we’ve loved and lost to cancer, and to hope that maybe just one person seeing the parade pass by might learn something which might save their or someone else’s life one day.

It’s a “glamorous” cause compared to some. Women worldwide have labored long and with much imagination to raise awareness, so that it’s hard to believe that there are still women (especially, but it can happen to men too) who don’t know about self-examination or the necessity for mammograms or the urgency of getting to the doctor if they find an abnormality, but it seems that there are. You could hear the comments as we passed by, some people just don’t want to know until it happens to them.

On this island it was also nice to see a thoroughly integrated affair, despite some stumbles from the English anchor, the spirit of co-operation was nice to see, and it would be nice to think that it might extend to other areas, and that more ex-pats might genuinely care for and become involved in the community in which they live.

The Triatlon Team from Adeje who swam the route in an hour and a half in a rough sea. Austin on the left (no apologies for motherly pride!)

Sorry about the quality of these photos, I’ve been having some camera problems over the weekend!

Last but by no means least, (yessss it’s food again!), let me tell you about cinnamon ice cream with dark chocolate sauce, which, you see, requires no chewing so I could indulge on Friday lunchtime. The ice cream rich and solid and so laden with cinnamon I christened it “Christmas on a spoon”, and the sauce so perfectly dark and yet sweet that it made me dream of Inca kings!   This is where my week turned on its heel and dismissed the pains and inconveniences,  the ice cream having been preceeded by a salad so fresh and with flavors so perfectly blended that we wondered if it even had dressing on it, and a sweet potato stuffed with cod and topped with grated cheese.  Such a way to break an unintended fast!  Anyone wanting to know where this was will need to submit requests in writing for my approval, because I SO do not want this place to be over-run! Just one clue, which will not surprise many, it ain’t in the south!


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Strange Weather

This was how it began.  I have no view from this apartment, but I took this from the roof terrace a few evenings back.  The clouds are beginning to pile up, and they reflect the setting sun – just a hint of what was to come, which is:

This was Las Vistas Beach when I passed this evening around 7.30.  Thunder-grey, storm clouds pass thickly over neighboring island, La Gomera, and yachts sit it out just outside the bay.  This time of year you see yachts in all the bays on this coast.  Most are waiting.  Soon the hurricane season will be over, and they will be heading out, across the Atlantic on their adventures…..

Usually, when we have heavy clouds and storm warnings the weather roars in from the Atlantic.  Here, in El Médano, where we are almost always buffetted by north east winds we are becalmed, and the sunniest, west coast takes the brunt of the elements.  At the moment, though, there is apparently a mysterious calm everywhere in the south.  I went into Los Cristianos tonight to eat, expecting wind and maybe rain, but I found the same conditions I’d left behind.  Like the yachts we wait.

Clearly it was nice enough earlier in the day for kids to play on the beach :=)


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Of Fiestas and Fireworks

In 23 years I’ve been to quite a few fiestas I guess.  I remember the first one distinctly.  It was in Los Abrigos, back when, to get there, you still had to bump and twist along a  road so narrow it reduced to one lane in places , and when the pathway by the harbor was potholed, and you could pull up and park right outside the restaurant at which you’d chosen to eat.  The locals had been savvy enough to create restaurants from the buildings along that harbor front by then.  I don’t know when the transition from quiet fishing village to “the” place for tourists to eat  fish began, but it was when the now-nearby golf monstrosities were only twinkles in the eyes of greedy developers.  In 1988 no lesser person than Kevin Keegan told me that  his first thought when he arrived in Tenerife was a platter of fresh fish and papas arrugadas in Los Abrigos.

We had arrived in July, and the fiesta there is in September, so we must have very much still been feeling our way around everywhere, when, as we dined right on the roadside, a little procession wound its way past, the men shouldering a religious statue.  It was a scene I’d seen in the South of France and in movies, so I understood what it was, though we were absolutely knocked out by the firework display which followed the mass and the blessing of the seas.  That was something quite remarkable to our northern European eyes.

Looking back, I’m surprised how low key the celebrations must have been for us to be taken by surprise by the procession.  Today’s Los Abrigos fiestas are much grander affairs, with a firework display which packs the Promenade, sardine-fashion,  with hundred of locals, residents and tourists, who have easy access from the smooth road constructed some years back, and which, effectively, put Los Abrigos “on the map” I guess.    The Sunday procession is still a fairly quiet affair,  but visitors to the nightly verbenas, or open-air dances, in the church square party till the wee small hours throughout the week to the latest pop music or salsa……as I found out when I lived there!  The village is far too small for anyone not to be affected by the noise!

Procession in Los Abrigos four years ago

For a while that was my impression of local fiestas – a few, die-hard religious people shouldering the statues and shouting “Viva whoever” as they paraded along the street, great firework displays (arriving in Disney World for the first time the only disappointment was the firework displays – not that they were inferior to Tenerife, just about the same), and lots of boozing and dancing.  Romerias, as distinct from fiestas, seemed much more traditional, interesting and photogenic.  Over the years I learned about different fiestas and romerías (and am not 100% sure what the difference is),  some of which I’ve now seen, some of which I’ve seen on tv and some of which I’ve only heard stories.  I know that each different celebration of each town or village has its own style, its own personality, and I know that, as the years pass, they evolve, they have changed in my time here.  I guess Los Abrigos, having been such a tiny place, well, didn’t really have much in the way of tradition.

Traditional Romería Arona 3 years ago

Fiestas in other places have become commercialized, most notably, of course, in Los Cristianos, where it was years before I understood the real traditions behind the wonderful firework display there. Ex-pats and tourists think is put on just for them, and  like to mumble and grumble about things “not starting on time” here.  Maybe that’s inevitable, Los Cristianos sold its soul years ago.

You have to pity El Médano in a way.  In some villages now decorations for fiesta are much more extravagant than here, but the almost constant wind can make “short work” of almost anything they put up!

At any rate, I was undecided about going to the El Médano fiesta this weekend, but a trot down to the market on Saturday morning, seeing the preparations in the town square, the portabars, festoons and lively atmosphere, which was already in the air,  prompted me, and later that evening I arrived just in time to see the statue of Our Lady (don’t ask me which one) being shouldered along the street by the square, being taken to her ringside seat for the fireworks.  The truth is that, although there were hundreds of folk there, most of them were there for the firework display. Whilst the procession was winding its way along the streets, most of them were at the fair, buying cotton candy and hotdogs, or throwing back a quick beer, although the rides on the street side did dim their lights and tone down their music as the parade passed.

What really prompted me to go was to take some snaps of the fireworks. For the hours I put into the course at the beginning of the year, and for the time I’ve had, I’ve really just totally neglected photography as a hobby.  It’s just been a way to record where I’ve been, and I could have done that just as well with my beloved, little Nikon Coolpix.  This was my first opportunity to photograph fireworks, and I was surprised to find a decent place on the beach, despite the crowds…..most people don’t want to get sand in their nightime shoes it seems.  I perched by a shower, and had a good position to be able to steady the camera, although I had to bum-shuffle across the wet sand a bit when some people came and stood right in front of us (hence they appear in at least one of the following photos!).

A buzz of expectation in the air

Looking at the moon, as the lights dimmed, you really have to wonder if we “need” fireworks

The procession passed behind me, with its morbid drumbeat and a few scattered “Vivas” (absolutely no wonder that William Booth decided that the devil shouldn’t be the only one to have some jolly music!).  The streetlights went out.  A kind of little gasp went through the crowd.  Then silence, followed seconds later by the first glorious, colorful, exuberant burst lighting up the sky.  The show was on.

No-one reading this needs to have a firework display described.  Most of us in the “Western” world are suckers for them, no matter how many we see, and the ones in Tenerife are superb, rivalling Disney, the Olympics and most any others you can think of.  Making the fireworks is one of the few non-tourist and non-agricultural industries here.

Remember these were a first attempt when you look at the pictures, please!

If you squint  you can see is two surfer dudes who’d paddled out for a real ringside seat.  You can see them in some other shots too, but best in this one.

What I hadn’t realized was how the colors of the starbursts and sparkles would bathe the ocean, turning it from red to purple to green according to the color of the display, and how they would reflect off the wet sand as the tide trickled back from the beach.  There is a constant internal struggle if you like to snap away.  It’s making the decision between immortalizing what you see, and simply turning off the camera and enjoying the spectacle.  I tried to do a bit of both.


As the last sparkle faded and the air hung heavy with smoke, which made the nostrils twitch, and which even lay  on the tongue, the streetlights flickered back on, and Mary was reshouldered to be locked away for another year.   It would be logical to think that little will be left when the current generation of old women has died off, but the traditions of the island are so tied to religion that I wonder about that.  The young seem more eager than ever to keep traditions alive, which seems like a good thing.

You certainly can’t beat the sense of fellowship and shared enjoyment which these events bestow on their respective communities, whether that could happen without the religious element I don’t know, but I really would like to think so.  What I do know is you can get the best hotdogs eveh (sorry NY!), the tastiest pinchos and the coldest beers to round off your night.

The band hadn’t even struck up when I left, but I was supposed to be up early the next morning…..not so early that I didn’t make time to swing by my favorite ice cream parlor for a quick fix to make the night really complete though!

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