Islandmomma

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


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Summertime El Médano

It’s 1976. It’s been a heatwave year. Remarkable in my almost 30 years on this planet. I only remember one other summer, dimly, from my childhood, when it was this hot. It’s the year I learn to water ski. It’s the year I see my first shooting star. It’s a year etched clearly in my memory, because it’s also the year my mom dies. She is only 49 years old. She was my best friend as well as my mom, and the lazy summer which follows her May death is a time for recuperation. All summer I’m not thinking about anything in particular , just drifting. It’s September, early September, and I’m sitting on the end of a jetty on Lake Windermere, (where every, balmy weekend has been spent), with a guy, not a special someone or anything, just a guy who is in the extended group who hang out this summer. It’s dusk, and a light mist is beginning to eke its way across the water.

“Ugh. I hate the end of summer,” he says. He’s tall and blond, something in the surfer-dude mold. He should have been living on a beach. He loves driving his elegant, vintage boat around the Lake. He’s oblivious to the fanasties he stirs in female imaginations.

“Really,” I reply. “I kind of think of Autumn as a new beginning. I don’t mind it, so long as it’s not too wet!”

It was the first time I’d considered mourning the end of summer, but then, there had never been a summer quite like that one, and I guess that’s why the memory of that moment, that conversation sticks in my mind (even though the guy’s name escapes me).

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that seasons don’t exist here. Afterall, this is called “The Land of Eternal Spring,” and there is something in that.  Summer is hotter though. The Canary Islands are in the northern hemisphere, even though they are subtropical. School is out. There are still many folk who take their entire vacation time in August. There are offices which still close early, and it’s difficult to get paperwork done.

When dusk falls, life pretty much moves outdoors. The island is  on almost the same latitude as Orlando, give or take a couple of tenths of a degree, but where summer nights in Florida are hot and humid, summer nights in the Canary Islands are mild and cooled by the breeze – at least outdoors. There is nothing like sitting outside, feeling the breath of evening on your sun-warmed skin, ice clinking in the drink you’re nursing, even feeling a slight shiver as night draws on.

Last night's mojitos set me to musing

Last night’s mojitos set me to musing

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World Environment Day in Tenerife

Island living means you’re never far away from the ocean, especially on an island of something less than 800 sq miles. From the peak of Spain’s highest mountain you see the Atlantic and some of the other islands of the Canarian archipelago. It’s a constant presence. I’ve lived in a couple of places where the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep, and for me there is nothing like it.

This is why when I think about World Environment day I think first about the ocean, which is not to under-rate the devastation we are causing on land or air, it’s just my personal passion.

Where I’m living,  El Médano, is very lucky to have a crew of lifeguards who take their responsibilities much further than scanning the beach for human problems. I’m biased because my son, Austin, was once one of them, and many of the guys still there are his friends, but it isn’t hard to see that they make caring for the environment a part of their work……even to the point where they think nothing of gathering up rubbish from the beach, and making pleas to the public to be more aware of and responsible for our communal environment.

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Austin has worked on boats in the waters around Tenerife, too, and in both jobs quite frequently found or saw found injured turtles. Turtles are the wanderers of the oceans, traveling miles and miles, but always returning to the shore on which they hatched when it’s time to lay their own eggs. The turtles found in Canarian seas come mainly from the shores of Central or North America, or from the Cape Verde islands, south of the Canarian Archipelago. Because they travel so far it’s hard to say for sure where they become entangled in the nets from the big commercial fishing fleets, ingest plastic bags or become entrapped in those plastic rings which hold your six-pack together.

If they are lucky they are found by our lifeguards or by local fishing boats or pleasure boats, and most are taken to La Tahonilla in La Laguna to recuperate. Many do. Some don’t. When it comes to mammals plying these same waters, dolphins or whales, most that are injured don’t make it.

One of the guys from La Tahonilla rescue center takes a turtle down to the beach

One of the guys from La Tahonilla rescue center takes a turtle down to the beach

La Tahonilla had an open day this week to celebrate World Environment Day, so we could go and see for ourselves the great work they do. Funded largely by the EU (who says the EU is a waste of space?!) the center cares not only for turtles, of course, but also for any wild animals which have been injured, which is to say, not domestic or farm animals, and not exotic animals, which one would normally find in a zoo. The main occupants on Monday were turtles and birds.

The birds are, mostly, either victims of their own over-eagerness to swoop down on prey (i.e. mostly hawks and owls who, quite literally crash-land), or more to the point of this post, victims of the poisons and pesticides used around the countryside. The good news is that the number of cases of poisoned or injured birds is falling, as less poisons and pesticides are now used……which is also good news for those of us to like to buy from our local farmers’ markets.

We were able to look around the tanks where turtles paddled around, and the ample cages where the birds were housed, and see the kitchen and other (don’t be squeamish think hunting birds who have to relearn to fend for themselves) food is prepared and reared. The animals are nursed back to health and then released back into the wild as near to the place where they were found as possible. There are some who can never be released, like the turtle who had lost a flipper.

Having been so shocked over the last few weeks by the extent of the damage from last year’s wildfires I asked how much more of a burden the tragedy had placed on the Center. The good news was that the majority of animals seemed to know their escape routes, and had found ways around the blaze, but the bad news was that the Center hadn’t had many patients as a result because the ones who didn’t escape were burned to death. Basically, there were few injuries. The ones who didn’t get away had no chance.

Locals turn out for the release of the injured turtles

A few days before I’d been lucky enough to witness a much happier event when two turtles which had been found by our local lifeguards were released back into the sea from the beach here in El Médano. Even the mayor turned out to watch and celebrate the event. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed one of these events, but it was every bit as emotional as it was the first time. As they are carried to the shore, the turtles clearly sense the proximity of the ocean, their heads perk up and they wiggle their flippers in seeming eagerness to get back into their true environment.

The mayor, the councillor for environment and the two lifeguards who rescued the turtles

The mayor, the councillor for environment and the two lifeguards who rescued the turtles

Before they were brought out there was a brief, informative talk, which I was a bit too far away to hear, well, I was knee-deep in the ocean, waiting! The net in which one of the victims had been found trapped was on display. Apparently it came from some huge “factory” fishing vessel. Local fishermen are strictly controlled and use very different nets. The nets have to be checked and displayed when they return, as proof that they haven’t been jettisoned at sea, and the size of the netting is strictly controlled too. Sadly, it’s much harder to police the huge fleets which swoop around these shores which come from far afield (and we all know how much the fishermen of certain countries treat our planet). They manage to stay just inside international waters, which makes it almost impossible to trace wrong-doing. You can see a picture of the turtle when it was found on the Lifeguards Facebook Page.

Gino, one of the rescuers glances at the net in which the turtle was trapped, as he returns it to the ocean.

Gino, one of the rescuers glances at the net in which the turtle was trapped, as he returns it to the ocean.

These ocean wanderers may be far away now, en route to the Caribbean or West African waters. They were lucky to be found by our lifeguards, who deserve a huge round of applause, as do (to give it its full title) Centro de Receuperación de Fauna Silvestre La Tahonilla. Tenerife is lucky to have both these caring teams of guys around.

Freed turtle


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Every Day Should be Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day. To my mind every day should be, respecting our environment and leaving it in tact for future generations isn’t something to do today, forget about tomorrow, and do a bit more next week. It’s a way of life. That said, of course, I’m being both picky and prickly there. We need a day to raise awareness, because so many folk, still, don’t get it. So here’s my rant.

I live by the ocean. I’ve lived by the ocean most of my life, both in England and on this island of Tenerife, so perhaps that’s why the state of our seas preoccupy me more than other things. We all have our “pet” interests and causes.

I write a lot about this island and about the town in which I’m living, because I love both of them to death. Things that I don’t often write about:

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Dog crap and discarded booze litter the sidewalksof El Médano. Much of this you won’t see in an amble around the town because we have a great bunch of guys who clean up after those citizens and visitors who seem incapable of doing it for themselves, and by the time most folk are out of bed, it’s been cleared up, but they can’t do it all, despite they’re at it, basically, all day. I see it because I’m out dog walking early. Whilst I would LOVE to be able to walk Trix on the beach and throw her toys for her, as we once did, I totally understand the current ban of dogs on the beaches. If it’s the only way to ensure they’re kept clean and safe, then so be it.

Note: putting the dog poo in a bag and leaving it on a wall, or “hiding” it under a stone is NOT disposing of it in a responsible way! To the folk who left the ballons and cloth in the picnic area, well perhaps this was genuine ignorance and you didn’t realize how much harm plastic can do when it’s ingested by wildlife?

Oh and to the stupid person who did this:

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Er – this was an attempt by the local authority to explain to folk WHY they need to keep their dogs on a lead (not to endanger nesting and migratory birds) and you defacing it so that no-one read it? NOT HELPING! Oh and if you’re going to write for the public to read LEARN TO SPELL!

And  ignorance isn’t confined to the general public. The plastic container washed up on the beach came from rubbish dumped in the ocean by passing boats. Almost impossible to say where, when or how, because the quantity of garbage this day on the beach was heart-breaking. The plastic sheeting which is caught on the prickly shrub almost certainly came from the local plantations, which use an incredible amount of plastic in farming  here. Both these sectors need to be controlled, but to be honest I haven’t a clue how it could be done. The problem is so vast. That plastic sheeting is particularly awful. It blows out to sea, and is mistaken as food by fish, turtles and birds, but once eaten remains in their stomach so that they feel full and eventually die from starvation because they don’t feel hungry……unlike greedy humans they only eat when they need food. The net is from a large, commercial trawler, lost or dumped at sea. A turtle was found, entangled in it, and would probably have died had it not been rescued – more of that very soon.

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You can see what’s going on in these last photos, can’t you. Discarded ice cream tubs and plastic cups being investigated by gulls on the early morning beach in Las Galletas a few weeks back. Not just dangerous to wildlife, but, er, pretty unsightly for the folk who come down to the beach the next morning.

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The thing about ALL of this is that it’s so easy to remedy. When you go to the beach take a bag and keep all your rubbish to dispose of at the end of the day.

Clean up after your dog and put it in a bin…..if you’re so “delicate” you can’t do that, and walk a few yards to a container, then YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE A DOG!

The drinking in the street problem, I know, has ramifications beyond the dumping of rubbish (including the contents of several stomaches often) on our streets. Perhaps stricter laws are needed to control this. Certainly it’s a problem largely confined to the younger elements of the population (we oldies prefer to get drunk in comfort and not in the street!), so it seems that education is also needed.

I don’t mean to single out El Médano or Tenerife in particular. I know that this is a worldwide problem. This happens to be the abuse of the natural world which I see on a day to day basis, so it seems appropriate to write it today. It seems to me it isn’t just the environment we harm but that it’s also an insult to our fellow citizens, who have every right to expect to live in a decently clean society. We all too often criticize less fortunate countries for not understanding these things, but fail to do the simple things ourselves.

In truth, El Médano does very well in this regard. We have recycling facilities on almost every street corner, right by the rubbish dumpsters, so there is no excuse not to recycle. Our street cleaners do an amazing job. Our lifeguards look out not only for humans with problems, but also for the environment we share – they are especially a shining example to the rest of the community….we really need to take notice and emulate them. More soon on that too.

In the meantime – yes, EVERY day should be ENVIRONMENT DAY!


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Does Tourism Help to Keep Traditions Alive?

Does tourism help to keep traditions alive? It certainly seems that way, or it might just be my perception. For sure, years ago, when I first lived in the Canary Islands, there wasn’t as much information about festivals, foods, historical events or traditional culture as there is now. It seems these days that every Canarian has a traditional costume in their wardrobe to bring out for romerias and fiestas – in many places you see as many bystanders in ethnic dress as in modern garb.

In the tourist hubs of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos there are weekly displays of folk music and dancing, something which never used to happen, so intent were they at one time on creating the perfect, plastic and cement, “global” holiday experience. Tourists gawk and think they’ve seen something of the “real” Tenerife – and they have,  but only a tiny part – but if this funds and inspires an interest in things historical and traditional then all well and good. It’s a trend I’ve noticed in other parts of the world too, not only here. Visiting my former neck of the woods in England, I’ve noticed places we once took for granted being promoted as “tourist attractions.”

Places seem to be keen to show off their uniqueness, which is wonderful. It makes it easier for us when we travel, but we do need to look beyond the stuff laid on especially for tourists, that’s for sure. At Tenerife’s romerias and fiestas locals still outnumber tourists by a long chalk, and the further away you get from the main resorts the truer that is, and, yes, at risk of sounding corny, the more genuine it is…..because you can be sure that it’s all laid on for the local population and no nods in the direction of pleasing the sunburned hoards below. Even so, traditions like the mini pilgrimage from Adeje to its coast to mark the festival of San Sebastian have been revived fairly recently.

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Folk Group Los Alisios

Folk Group Los Alisios

Tomorrow is the day the islands celebrate the unique aspects of their culture – as opposed to that of mainland Spain – and all week activities have been going on to mark the day.  Here, in my “home” town of El Médano, Sunday was dubbed “El Día de las Tradiciones,” and I was happily surprised by the variety of the stuff organized, and the professional way it was produced and presented.

It all happened right across the road from me in Plaza Roja, so I only had to charge my camera battery and step out of the door. I found a small bank of stalls selling artisan fare, bread, honey and cheeses, and local wines. I indulged – of course!

Tomato and olive bread, mountain honey and coastal honey and one of my favorite, local wines (missing is the cheese and bacon bread, which I scoffed before thinking to take a photo!)

Tomato and olive bread, mountain honey and coastal honey and one of my favorite, local wines (missing is the cheese and bacon bread, which I scoffed before thinking to take a photo!)

Wine stand and cheese stall in Plaza Roja

Wine stand and cheese stall in Plaza Roja

For a couple of hours afterwards, whilst kiteboarders and windsurfers spun past in the background, representing modern island sports, we watched displays of Lucha Canaria – the Canaries’ version of wrestling, which I wrote about here; stick fighting – the star of which demo was an amazing guy of 90 years old; a different kind of stick fighting with the stout walking sticks goatherds used to use to navigate the hilly landscape, called garrotes (both of which I will write about in the future); and various young bucks demonstrating feats of strength by lifting and balancing rocks, old ploughs and yokes used to harness oxen, all accompanied by enthusiastic explanations of the history of the implements and a demonstration of how agricultural terraces were watered in the days before more sophisticated irrigation was installed.

Garrote

Garrote

Lucha Canaria

Lucha Canaria

Feat of strength and balance - this guy is balancing a double yoke on his chin!

Feat of strength and balance – this guy is balancing a double yoke on his chin!

Think rich, volcanic soil, but hard and compact, and then look at this old plough, and wonder at what life was like for the island farmers of old.

Think rich, volcanic soil, but hard and compact, and then look at this old plough, and wonder at what life was like for the island farmers of old.

No junket of this kind would be complete without a folk group. There isn’t always dance, but this time there was, a lovely group which goes by the name of Los Alisios, and I’ve never seen a group which enjoyed performing so much. Often music seems to be taken very seriously here, fair enough. I don’t know if it was the informality of the setting, perhaps the stiff breeze which was blowing up or that perhaps this group is simply made this way, whilst others are not, but it was a joy to watch. Confession: my soul is much more in tune with the tribal rhythms of Africa than most of the folk music descended from Europe, but this group filled me with the same kind of joy which African music does.

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The male musicians were resplendent in the elaborate sashes and intricately embroidered waistcoats we normally think of as “typically Canarian,” but the dancers were dressed in garb more appropriate to the peasant population from which the dances sprang, and from which the dances take their name – Baile de Magos (Dance of the Peasants)…..and before anyone jumps in here to tell me that mago isn’t the generally used word in Spanish for peasant – it’s used this way, to my knowledge only in the Canaries. Usually mago means magician in Spanish. I’m always knocked out to note how many young folk are members of these groups, seems like this tradition is in safe hands for future generations. Also well worthy of a mention is the grace and agility of the older members of the group…..dance to keep fit and young!

They saved the best for last on Sunday, though. Since I saw my first ox at a romeria years ago, I have been utterly in love with these wonderful creatures. I don’t know why we’re attracted to some animals more than others, but my heart also beats a tad faster when I see elephants or gorillas, so I guess I’m a sucker for big animals. I can only conclude that it’s that incongruous combination of strength and gentleness which stirs my soul (Isn’t that what makes some men so attractive, girls?!).

Definitely something going on between these two, don't you think?

Definitely something going on between these two, don’t you think?

A few years back now I went to El Día de la Trilla in El Tanque, which featured drag racing – that is a pair of yoked oxen dragging a sled of sacks representing whatever it was they dragged of old, (corn? potatoes?) around a dusty track, winner being the one who drags the heaviest weight. I think that was when I knew this love of mine was the real thing. On Sunday we had as much of a demonstration as conditions would allow on the street almost outside my window. Of course tarmac and a limited turning circle aren’t ideal conditions, but, hey, I actually got to pet one, and they were every, single bit as awesome as expected.

I'm in love....with the ox not the kid!

I’m in love….with the ox not the kid!

After being on our feet in the sun and breeze for a couple of hours, my friends and I elected to lunch in Veinte 04, as I say, ad nauseam on FaceBook, my new favorite eating place. In fact both the place and the meal I had deserve their own posts, so I’ll leave you in suspense – though if you follow me on FaceBook you may have a clue! We returned to Plaza Roja afterwards for the best gelato in Tenerife in Gelateria Demaestre (my opinion :)), but the event was packing up.

Crowded afternoon beach in El Médano last Sunday

Crowded afternoon beach in El Médano last Sunday

There will be more to follow during this week of insular pride. The Sunday audience was composed more of “outsiders” than locals I think. No-one other than participants in traditional dress, a fair sprinkling of other languages heard, plus accents from the mainland and South America. El Médano is very much a mix of traditional and modern, and its population quite cosmopolitan when you scratch the surface. When we wandered off to lunch, it was clear that not everyone was interested in tradition, the tide was high and the beach was overflowing, but whether events are staged for locals or for tourists, it’s good to see re-enactments of history and the stoking of the fires of tradition.


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I Love the Smell of Dawn….

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I love the smell of dawn on the Tenerife coast. The air bears scents you don’t smell during day nor during  night – a mixture of ozone, the scrub of the dunes, and a freshness, which melts under the warmth of the sun. The silence, as the first light seeps along the horizon, is vast and exquisite. It surrounds you as the landscape stands on tiptoe, waiting for the new day’ s first sounds, and you hope it be the cry of a bird, or the whispering of ocean to earth,  and not the ugly sounds of men.

It has to have been an awfully good drop of wine which has made me sleep in and not want to get down to the beach.

I am ridiculously happy with this photo, because it’s taken me 3 years to achieve it!  I knew that sooner or later the sun would be rising in line with this pathway down to Playa Cabezo. I’ve taken snaps here before, but never managed to get it quite so framed as this morning. I must have taken about a dozen, but this is also the only one where that wave is trickling in just that way.


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Living a Quiet Island Life

My days have been very quiet of late, some gentle meanderings around the island: a visit to a couple of pretty parks in El Sauzal on the north coast.

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Atlantic winds and heavy rain on the south coast always mean snow in the mountains. A drive through the caldera and down again through spring meadows of wildflowers in La Laguna, and a stop for cake on a lazy, seaside promenade in Punta Larga on the way home.

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After the Storm

IMG_20130305_070535Yesterday I left the house three times. Once I wore a waterproof  jacket, and the other times just heavy sweatshirts. Guess on which occasion it did not rain! C’est la vie!

So this morning I poked my head out of the window to sniff the air before I stepped out. The streets looked damp, but not wet, but there was still that smell of rain in the air (that exists, although perhaps if you live somewhere like England it’s possible to be so accustomed to it that you no longer notice), so I donned waterproof and beenie and we trotted forth.

An incandescent blue was beginning  at the end of my street as we turned left for Playa Cabezo, and in the couple of mintes it took to reach the Paseo Maritimo the clouds on the horizon had a distinct yellow edge, a happy sign that the storm was passed. We stolled slowly past the junipers which obscure the beach, Trixy doing that which a dog’s gotta do, and when we could see the horizon again it had adopted a much rosier hue. It was shaping up to be a glorious sunrise, and so we stood and watched, as the remnants of the dark storm clouds succombed to the sun’s greeting.

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DSC_0027There is a point at sunrise where the colors fade, between the peak of their intensity (above) and the actual appearance of the sun, which is a whole other vista, and so at that point we turned for home, because there were chores to do, before my first class at 10.

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Storm Passing

Late afternoon yesterday

Late afternoon yesterday

It’s looking like the worst may be over, although outside my window right now looks like an English August Bank Holiday on Blackpool Promenade (you need to know the north of England to get that reference, sorry!). The point being, however, that this is winter and this would be summer in England.

As the day dragged on yesterday, the streets were abnormally quiet, especially for a Sunday. Walking around town around lunch time, cafés and bars were already giving up and stacking their tables. Everywhere here relies on having seating outdoors, even if normally protected from the wind by blinds or awnings. But this wind was coming from the opposite direction, and foiled their attempts at protection. Two valient (or foolhardy), middle-aged couples meandered around the main plaza, the women dressed in white trousers and frilly blouses, the men in nicely-pressed shorts, you could see they were pretending they weren’t cold – tourists then – everyone else was clad in sweats or waistcoats, even though they sported shorts and thongs. There were only a couple of small boats still moored up within the harbor. There are never that many, but clearly most had been taken out of the water, being tethered is one of the worst places to be in a big surge, and sure enough one of the two was half-sunk this morning. The other, I think, had broken its mooring and was rescued during the night.

In that way that storms move, it was almost dark before 6 o’clock, and it seemed that the worst was approaching, but it lightened briefly before night fell, and with the night came the high point of the storm. In Plaza Roja outside my window the palm trees bent over and the rain was horizontal. It was a scene familiar from tv news coverage of hurricanes. I read online of hurricane-force winds being recorded up in Izaña by the Observatory, they were saying 199 km per hour, but this morning it says 149km – still pretty windy!

It passed quickly. In fact, I’ve never known a storm to pass over as quickly. Hurricane Delta in 2005 rattled my shutters for hours. But I wasn’t venturing out. I watched pictures of the rescued boat, floods right across the plaza from me (but hidden by buildings, so no direct view) on the internet and turned in for any early night, expecting to be woken by the winds again, but the only things which broke my sleep were text messages and the neighbors screaming at each other at midnight.

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Waiting for the Storm

Phases of a stormy sunrise

Phases of a stormy sunrise

The pictures were taken yesterday. This morning the sky met the ocean in endless grey, and Trixy and I were drenched on our morning walk.

You read that with a shrug of the shoulders perhaps? It’s a common occurence in some climates of course, but not so much in south Tenerife. The last time I remember dog walking in the rain was three years ago. I felt sorry for my neighbor scurrying out with her wee dogs in the half light, dressed only in leggings and sweater, holding another sweater over her head. Looks like she doesn’t have the right clothes for rainy days!

We are momentarily in that weird calm as one swathe of rain clouds have passed over us, and another is fast approaching. The next one is looking denser and is driven by high winds, gusts up to hurricane force are forecast, although that will probably be in the north.

Main beach El Médano mid-morning

Main beach El Médano mid-morning

By mid-morning the first phase past, El Médano’s beach looked almost normal …. except for the absence of people. This is how it normally looks early morning, folk walking and running and exercising, but by mid-morning the sunworshippers are normally out. The market was cancelled, not that many folk had turned up it seemed, the ones who obviously had come for that were wandering aimlessly around, as bars and cafés decided to chance it and set out their tables. These businesses rely so much on good weather, almost all have terraces, and many have nothing but terrace. They wouldn’t make a living from the number of covers indoors.

The two events I’d planned to go to this weekend are postponed until the storm is past, which leaves the usual dilema, what does one do here on a rainy day? Museums are open and free Sundays, but the drive to Santa Cruz and then the walk from the parking to a museum are not appealing. So, it’s looking like a possibly productive weekend.


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February Sunrise

I don't often post pictures just for the sake of it. I think of this blog as more about the writing than the photos, but this morning's sunrise was, quite simpley, too lovely not to share.

I don’t often post pictures just for the sake of it. I think of this blog as more about the writing than the photos, but this morning’s sunrise was, quite simply, too lovely not to share.

It hadn't looked too promising when I first got down to the Paseo Maritimo

It hadn’t looked too promising when I first got down to the Paseo Maritimo

...but as I waited it began to spread and glow. Glorious morning.

…but as I waited it began to spread and glow. Glorious morning……would be so nice if this day fulfills its promise.

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