Islandmomma

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


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

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

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

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

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

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

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

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

Clouds gather over the mountains of La Gomera. January & February this year, this happened almost every day.

Clouds gather over the mountains of La Gomera. January & February this year, this happened almost every day.

A week or so later, as I pulled on shorts, and stretched out on the terrace of my room in Fuerteventura, the simple truth dawned on me. I’m addicted to sunshine.

Traveling, we learn things about ourselves as well as about other people, cultures or places, and I have learned that I like the sun. I’ve learned that I don’t care if it’s cissy to admit that.

The quote is all Virginia Woolf, the photo is mine (the beach at Morro Jable in Fuerteventura) and the sunshine compliments of the Universe :)

The quote is all Virginia Woolf, the photo is mine (the beach at Morro Jable in Fuerteventura) and the sunshine compliments of the Universe :)

That is the (apparently eternal) tomboy in me, the not wanting to be cissy. Whilst I embrace most things feminine, my upbringing in the countryside of north west England, free to play in 3 acres of grass, instilled a desire to be tough too. I once fell off the tricylce I was racing, though the glass of my grandad’s greenhouse, and didn’t cry – still have a small scar on the back of my hand.  It was cowboy and indian country, not princesses and party dresses; though I do admit to believing that fairies lived in some places around the land. We played outdoors in rain, snow and whatever conditions prevailed. Hence, I suppose, I unthinkingly considered myself able to tough out all weathers.

Emigrating in the 80s to a sub-tropical climate was a delight, and I, finally, verbalized my belief as I watched locals shiver the moment the wind got up a little, or there were a few drops of rain. “You call this rain?! – This wouldn’t even be worth mentioning in England, and there our conversations are dominated by the weather!”  And don’t get me started on the Arctic gear brought out every time there is snow on Mt Teide – necessary at 1am, yes, but not at 1pm!

Fuerteventura & Sitting Bull quote

Sitting here by an open window today in Fuerteventura, I can finally admit to myself (and you) that though I still consider myself far from “nesh,” I much prefer to live with as much sunshine as I can get. Today the sun is, actually, playing hide and seek, but there is the overall feeling of light and warmth, and this is how I want to live. And why, much as I love the green valleys of La Gomera and elsewhere, and though I will often (hopefully) visit them, those times when the light fades early in winter as the sun slips over the mountain tops, and the days when the magical and hauntingly-beautiful mist curl around the hillsides happen just too often for me.

Ostensibly, my trip isn’t about finding a new home. Right now I’m more than happy not to have one, but I choose to be in the open and in the sunshine as much as I can possibly be. I like the uncumbered feel of not having to wear a sweater or jacket, of slipping into sandals instead of tying up shoes, of being able to decided (most days at least) whether to go to beach or country, and not having the weather dictate my movements. I like the light, the sense of openness, the way the day ekes out the joy of the sunlight until the last possible minute.

The beach at Morro Jable and some Thoreau wisdom on the subject

The beach at Morro Jable and some Thoreau wisdom on the subject

It’s not that every single day here has been sunny since my arrival, but they have far, far out-numbered the dull ones, and even on a dull day, because of the topography of Fuerteventura, the sense of openness remains, there are no high mountains to draw in the mists. The highest point is only around 2,650 ft, Mount Jandia, where the desert mounds of the southern tip of the island field the winds from every direction.

Looking back over photos of La Gomera I am surprised that the overall impression, when I see them displayed on my screen is blue, rather than green. Did I find the coast more photogenic than the forests? Was that a natural inclination I hadn’t realized? Or perhaps simply that I wasn’t in the forests a much as I’d hoped because of my bad knee?

There is a roundabout at the entry to the resort area of Morro Jable in the south of Fuerteventura which has attracted me since I first saw it over a month ago. The other day I stopped to photograph it, and find out more.

"Caminos" by Lisbet Fernández Ramos

“Caminos” by Lisbet Fernández Ramos

On an island which boasts some impressive sculptures in the open air, this one stands out for me, although it isn’t as immediately eye-catching as some of the others. It is entitled “Caminos,” and is the work of Cuban sculptoress Lisbet Fernández Ramos. Represented are two groups of children, all looking expectantly and happily skywards. The symbolism of looking to the sky, and the happiness on the faces of the kids was palpable. It spoke to me. Fernández herself, who used local kids as models (don’t you love the symbolism of that?) describes it this way: “It expresses the future, the beginning of a journey, that seeks the light, ever striving to reach the heights.” The translation is mine, so I hope I captured what she intended there.

Caminos by Lisbet Fernández

Caminos by Lisbet Fernández Ramos

Mostly, I like it because it kind of reflects how I feel, unencumbered and hopeful. And no-one I think can say it better than one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda:

Neruda's words over a sunset at La Pared

Neruda’s words over a sunset at La Pared

 

 

 


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Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

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In Praise of Getting Lost

 

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It’s actually a little silly to talk about getting lost, by car at least, on an island the size of Fuerteventura. I speak not so much of getting lost in the sense of not knowing where you are, but in the sense of no-one knowing where you are, and being somewhere you didn’t intend to be.

It happens to me a lot. It’s happened a lot especially over the last couple of weeks since I arrived in Fuertventura.

My first intention was to simply drive around, find the places I remember from years ago, orientate myself, and decide what I want to explore further – but I keep getting distracted!

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Fuerteventura: 9 Days In

First impression? Sunshine! If journeys are voyages of self-discovery as well as discovery of other cultures, then the thing I have learned about myself so far in the last six months is that I am a sunshine addict. Truly, I wasn’t aware of it. I guess that living with the stuff for 20+ years made me take it for granted – until it disappeared! Somewhere mid December it started to rain in La Gomera; Christmas in northern England was bleak and full of dire weather warnings; returning to La Gomera for two months I think I remember four days of sunshine (But I’ll be charitable and say 5 or 6); back to England at the beginning of March to one sunny day and more bleakness – so it was delightful to wake up on my first morning on Fuerteventura to sun streaming through my window. Though some clouds have passed over, the sun continues to smile. The clouds rarely take up residence because this island lies so low in the ocean. Ask a local when it last rained and they squint into the distance and begin their answer with “Hmmm. Let me think…” Clearly whenever it was, it wasn’t too memorable!

Las Playitas, my current home

Las Playitas, my current home

Second impression? Beaches! The brilliant, white beaches of Jandia and of Correlejo, golden sands elsewhere and some black sand beaches. Something else I didn’t appreciate myself is how much of a beach bum I am. When my kids were small we went to the beach almost every weekend; when they grew older and became surfers, they still needed transport, and so I would drop them off and retire to an approved (by them) distance to enjoy the beach in peace (though sometimes there were other moms similarly banished to giggle with). I distinctly remember years ago thinking, “I love beaches. I love ‘em all. I love the quiet ones, the surfy ones, the sporty ones, even the posh ones at times.” Still do…..and it’s been a while since I really took advantage of living near them. I couldn’t fail to notice that in La Gomera, surrounded by the intense greenery and lush mountainsides, so many of my pictures were, still, of beaches.

 

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Tasca Telémaco: A Story of Wanderings and Food

I’d spent a month wandering and eating royally when I arrived on La Gomera in mid October. I’d eaten moules in France, game pie and pulled pork in London, Cumberland sausage in the English Lake District, and fresh seafood, fish and lamb in Ireland, and capped it off by scoffing the season’s first spiced pumpkin latte in Dublin airport. Safe to say I was stuffed, and not at all fazed by the prospect of living for a few months on a small island where I expected plain, sturdy country food.

Certainly, my expectations have been met. In Hermigua there is no Chinese restaurant, no pizzeria and definitely no sushi. There are excellent, traditional foods, cheeses to-die-for, meat and chickpea stews, palm honey and almogrote (more about those soon), and all the traditional Spanish and Canarian tapas, plus, I recently discovered in this chilly winter, watercress soup,  but my first eating experience was not what I’d expected.

On my second day, I wandered down to the tasca owned by the family whose apartment I am renting, and ordered a tapa of mushrooms. I expected what is usual in the Canary Islands, a small dish, reeking of garlic, in which mushrooms float in a sea of oil. It’s a greasy dish (albeit olive oil, so not as bad as it sounds), which you have to be in the mood for. However, what I got was a generous plate of sliced mushrooms, fanned out, and definitely not resting in grease. They were fresh and garlicky with an aromatic touch of cilantro, and each mouthful was sheer delight. I realized with both alarm (I’d planned on “dieting” whilst here!), and satisfaction, that I wasn’t going to be on a diet of cheese and chickpeas in Hermigua.

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In fact, sitting there on the outside terrace, in Tasca Telémaco, sunlight filtering through the bamboo shade, listening to the faint sounds of cocks crowing and goats’ bells along the valley,  it seemed like such a natural extension of the good life I’d been living that I’m pretty sure that I slipped into the sort of trance enjoyed by the lotus eaters.

 

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First of New Series: Expat Interviews: Chatting with Travelers: Val

Starting today I’m doing an occasional series of chats with people who choose to live, let’s say – not where they were born. They may be constant travelers, expats, snowbirds or maybe some combination, or even defy a label.

Living abroad, or traveling isn’t that unusual any longer. I’m interested in stories that are a bit different. If they are travelers: the reasons they chose an unconventional lifestyle, what they are learning from it, what they do along the way.  If they are expats: people who have begun a business they would never have dreamed of doing back home, launched themselves into new careers, or into relationships with challenges, or who have faced unexpected problems in their new country.

My friend, Val, falls into the latter category. I’ve known her since 2005 when we worked together. She’d been inviting me to come watch the choir in which she sings perform for, oh, must be a couple of years, but our timing only coincided for the first time last year. I was so impressed with their performance. I knew that Val had had to overcome health problems since living on the island, and it struck me how, despite that, she has carved out her own niche here.

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

Me and Val at a wine tasting last year

I’ve had this post almost done for a while. Since it’s my first “interview” – although I think I like the word chat better – I’ve been editing it and hesitating but earlier today I found out that yesterday Val celebrated 10 years of living on the Canary Island of Tenerife ….. so it seemed like the perfect date to publish!

 

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Playa Santa Catalina: My New Office

I’ve been almost reluctant to write about La Gomera. My idea of slow travel is to gather information and get under the skin of a place, and even after 3 months here I wonder if I have done that.

In a sense I have, because I’ve been living a fairly ordinary life, working, strolling, shopping, getting to know folk, making bars my “locals”. In another sense, that works against me. Isn’t it just fitting into a predictable, day-to-day pattern, and isn’t that what I am anxious to avoid? I haven’t been doing nearly the amount of research I should have done, or at least that’s how I feel. Can sufficient research ever be done? Even after over 20 years in Tenerife I was still learning, and there is a ton of stuff I don’t know about my hometown back in England.

Of course this is how it should be. We should never stop learning. However, a cautionary word; master storyteller, Stephen King, remarks via one of his characters, that:

“ Al had taken away the scholar’s greatest weakness: calling hesitation research.”

Playa Santa Catalina from La Punta Mirador

When I arrived here in mid October it was to an idyllic scene, and I, floating on the euphoria of wonderful times in France, and London, and Ireland, embraced it, and continued to float.

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La Gomera’s Five Year Fiesta

La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Gomera, Canary islands

Legend has it that in the early years of the colonization of the Canary Islands, in the 16th century, a boat en route for the New World was passing by the coast of La Gomera, when the crew spotted dazzling lights emanating from a hillside close to the port of San Sebastian. Going ashore to investigate, they found the source of the lights came from a cave, and inside the cave they discovered an image of the Virgin Mary.

In awe, they took the statue aboard their boat, but found that they were unable to make any headway, that some strange, unseen force had them held captive. When they were overwhelmed by a huge flock of seagulls, one of which tried to seize the little statue, they decided that this was a sign that the Virgin wished to remain in her cave, and they returned her, and were able to continue the remaining miles to San Sebastian. The folk of that town, on hearing their story, made haste to the place, now known as La Puntallana, and in the Virgin’s honor decided to construct a sanctuary for her there – which is where you will find her today, that is, except for a period of about three months, every five years.

Statue of La Virgen de Guadalupe hermigua la gomera

The statue was declared Patroness of the island of La Gomera, and named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and every five years she leaves her chapel to visit the other churches of this small island. It is a fiesta of some note. In fact, I had delayed my arrival back in October because I thought that port and capital, San Sebastian would be crowded as she began her journey from her sanctuary.

The Canary Islands are steeped in traditions brought or created by the first conquerors who claimed the archipelago, island by island, in the names of Spain and Christianity. The colorful fiestas and romerias of the islands all center around blessings from or homage to saints or the Virgin Mary. Even the spectacular and Disney-esque Librea de Tegueste features a stroll around the square by the Virgin.

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La Gomera : Two Months In

Hermigua ValleyYesterday I fell down the rabbit hole. As I fell, I turned and twisted in slow motion, so that the world became unreal, and I wondered about White Rabbits and Mad Hatters at the end of my plunge. Of course, it was my over-active imagination, returning from the south of the island, leaving behind blue skies and sunshine, the final tunnel of the five which scythe through the mountains felt like the rabbit hole, but when I emerged it was to a changed world; it was to ghostly brume wandering the perpendicular landscape. Again I had the feeling that I’d arrived in an alternative universe.

Two months have gone by already. Whilst I am aware of the slower pace, the relaxed mindset, the tranquillity, it still seems impossible that I’ve been here for two months.

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Winter Weather in the Canary Islands

View from my window Wednesday

View from my window Wednesday

There have been few times over the years that I’ve lived in the Canary Islands that I’ve done what I did Tuesday night – rummage through my belongings to find the flannel, Winnie the Pooh nightshirt that I bought years ago in DisneyWorld, and on waking snuggle deeper under the duvet, enjoying its comfort. It’s really not that chilly. I guess it’s a deep-rooted memory of rain = cold. Growing up in northwest England will do that to you.

Storms are surprisingly rare here, given our location in the North Atlantic. The occasional hurricane bounces back east and clips us, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen thunder and lightening. This past couple of weeks was one of those times.

A major reason that I, like the hurricanes, bounce back here is that you can never take the islands for granted. They will always surprise you. Truth is that, most of the islands have their own mini climate, and monsoon-style rain in one place can be countered by bright sunshine over the other side of an island. Tourists were sunning themselves around hotel pools a few years back, unaware that in Santa Cruz, less than an hour away, folk were losing their lives in flash flooding.

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