Islandmomma

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


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Tajao: Where time Stands Still: Photo Essay

I adored the hustle and bustle of London – it’s easy to say that when you don’t have to cram like a sardine into a moving metal tube and travel under the earth each day! – but it was nice to get back to relative tranquility too.

It had rained heavily whilst I was away, and the parched, tan hillsides are turning fresh and green already. It doesn’t take long. Small, green shoots spring up all over the place within a couple of days of heavy rain, leaving you wondering where on earth they came from.

I had to trundle down to Tajao a couple of days after I got back, to take some snaps, and couldn’t help but think that the difference between Tajao and London couldn’t be more marked. This little, coastal village is one of the sleepiest places I know. A couple of elderly ladies sat on a bench watching me park up, and a dusty cat stretched out in the shade of a low wall, but at 11-ish in the morning there was little else stirring.

I ambled down to the pretty, pebbly beach, and felt like stretching out myself in the warm sunshine. The rain had evidently stolen  summer’s sting from the heat and left pleasant warmth.

More elderly ladies watched me from one of the benches along the walkway, and nodded at my greeting, as I passed them and wandered off along the path behind the beach, and another cat languidly washed its paws. Back from the beach the pathway slices between rock formations, and dust rose with each footstep. I never fail to wonder at these sorts of mighty rocks, whose violent spawning from the earth created such stark beauty.

A teenage boy approached, slopping flipflops and the dust rose even more. He didn’t respond to my greeting. I realized that hidden behind the carved out hillside was a small RV site, and it seemed intrusive to wander further, so I turned around and headed back along the beach.

I headed for the harbor, where a good number of boats quivered on the slightest of swells, and folk were fishing from the end of the wavebreak, and from the rocks all around – fishing for lunch, probably literally.

Even the gulls here were pretty laid-back, content to sit on rocks or bob on the waves, not to wheel and surf the currents of air above. A turn around the small boat yard felt like déjà vue. In fact the entire morning had felt like déjà vue. I stared at the rusting pulpo cages piled in an untidy heap alongside the ramp, wondering why they appeared so familiar.

Still puzzling, I take a seat at one of the local eateries and order a plate of lapas, but resist the temptation to add wine to the order………..

………and it’s as I’m enjoying the freshness and that distinct taste of the ocean that it comes back to me – the wire cages, the boats pulled up on the beach are almost exactly as they were fourteen months ago, the last time I was here during daytime. It really is as if time has stood still. It’s an oddly jarring sensation after the buzz of the big city, and I’m not totally sure I’m comfortable with it. I know it’s some peoples’ idea of paradise, but not mine. I like change and evolution. The sameness disturbs me. Later, looking through my photos I realize that it probably was even like this decades ago.


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An Unexceptional Sunset

I suppose it was obvious of late that I have been a bit disenchanted with the flow of life here.  There are some reasons, which I will come to one day, but not today, because I had one of those random experiences which make me blot out the crap and remember my passion for the island.

I was doing normal chores, I’d done a bit of shopping and went to pay my rent.  The real estate office is in Plaza Roja, close to where I live, and of late I’ve gone back to carrying my camera everywhere with me again. I’d stopped doing that during the move, and the not-doing-it kind of stuck. When I came out of the office around 6-ish the sun was going down, and so I thought I’d stroll over to the harbor to see if it was going to be a spectacular sunset. It showed no signs of being out of the ordinary, although ordinary is pretty good here, but it was pleasant after the heat of the day, so I walked along the boardwalk and onto the shore opposite to Montaña Roja.

This shoreline is pure volcanic lava frozen in time, sharp and sinister rocks which creep darkly into the ocean, and where countless rock pools form at low tide.  I took a few snaps. It wasn’t ideal. Foreground too dark, sun too bright, it was too early. As I picked my way amongst the rocks, the haunting cry of a curlew, who circled round in his search for easy pickings, and a lone, wee plover bobbing amongst the dark rubble.

There were few clouds around, and the sunset didn’t look like amounting to much, so I trod my careful way back to the promenade and the corner of the harbor, and as I ducked under the small bridge there it was the photo which had been worth waiting for, and which made me smile to realize that this was just an average day.

After the sun dipped beneath the horizon the sky took on a rosy afterglow, not as sensational as it can be perhaps, but pretty, and the for-once calm waters in the harbor and across this small bay turned that unreal shade of metallic blue they achieve after sunset and before sunrise.

I sat for a while longer, because you never know what may happen next at this time of day.  The old boys who hang out by the boats next to the slipway decamped for warmer places, it was beginning to get chilly, and the gulls circled as if they were surveying the waters one last time before they went to rest, and somehow all the things which had been nagging at me faded, not away, but into the background for now at least.


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Los Abrigos: a Fishing Village Keeping up with the Times

Last week I wrote this short piece for sunshine.co.uk’s Tenerife insiders’ blog. It got me thinking about the village of Los Abrigos, and how it has changed over the years I’ve lived in Tenerife, and musing about whether the changes were a good thing or not.  When we arrived in 1987 the village had already made itself a mecca for fresh fish dining, but in addition to excellent food, it was the lack of pretension with appealed to visitors. Has it kept that atmosphere?

Looking over the harbor at sunrise

When we were making the decision to immigrate  I only had one week here to form opinions.   Having checked out the school (my only worry),  the rest of my week was all bonus, it was exploring and discovering what was to be our new home, and I think my favorite “discovery” was Los Abrigos.

We set off down a narrow, bumpy road with more twists than a slinky. At one point it was cobbled, but mostly it was broken-up tarmac, as if it had been  abandoned and forgotten. I could see that it was leading seawards, because even this close to the ocean we were elevated (there is hardly any flat ground on Tenerife).  It took us over an arid, mostly sandstone scrubland with the words coto de caza scrawled ominously all over the place.  This was a warning to keep out of the area on Thursdays and Sundays in the hunting season, from August to December.  It was hard to imagine just what there was there for rabbits, or anything else, to feed on. This type of landscape was so totally alien to me back then.  I could only relate to scenarios from my favorite westerns.  It looked like bleak wasteland,  but the power of nature was palpable.  It celebrated the ability to survive.

Finally, and not without a touch of car sickness, although it was only about ten minutes of a journey, we arrived at a little junction, where the road flattened.  In another reference to westerns, the term “one horse town” came to mind! It was a dry and hot, early afternoon, and nothing stirred.  If tumbleweed had blown along the road I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  This was Los Abrigos, or The Shelters, so-called because the bay on which the village grew up is protected from the almost constant breezes which are a feature of this coastline.  On the corner was the village shop, and next to it a fish restaurant, Tito’s, famed for being a cheaper version of what we were about to enjoy.  Cheaper because it didn’t have the view, and it goes without saying you have to pay a bit extra for a view.

The road forked right to the seafront, and we drove haltingly along the street, taking in the vista, the sea and harbor falling away to our right, and our left bordered by slightly scruffy buildings, most of which were fish restaurants and bars.  Then, as now, one of the first things which struck you on arrival was the mouth-watering aroma of frying fish, which permeates everything in the midday heat. If you aren’t hungry when you arrive, you surely will be within a couple of minutes.  Most places had plastic tables and chairs which wobbled  on the roadside – there was no sidewalk.  We drove to the end, squeezed through the narrow opening between two buildings, and parked behind Perlas del Mar, the restaurant which occupies the most prominent position, at the end of the harbor, with marvellous views out to the Atlantic, and over the small harbor.

We were greeted with friendly smiles.  The estate agent who had taken us was well-known there, and was it any wonder?!  I can’t imagine anyone not being bowled over by the experience – great selling tool!  We  chose our own fish from the ‘fridge – that was a novelty. Then we settled in a corner table with those amazing views, for our first taste of mojo (an island sauce), boquerones (marinated anchovies) and calamari (lightly battered and fried), and salad, whilst we waited for our fish to be cooked.  If I’m totally honest, the salad was very unimaginative – lettuce, tomatoes and onions, with the oil and vinegar to be added to taste.  The salads haven’t changed much over the years, if you want a decent salad stick to the resort areas.  That afternoon the estate agent knew she had us hooked. We sat and washed down all that marvellous fresh food with cold beers, and the kids pottered safely around the seawall as we watched.  They’d spotted the seawater pool in the corner of the harbor – so that meant we would be coming back for sure, and we did, more times than I can count.

Over the years I’ve had some memorable meals there;  sunny Sunday lunches with big tables full of friends and family; a Sunday evening with friends when everything around us closed; we’d long since finished eating and were sipping our umpteenth coffee and brandy (ah, those were the days!), when the owner came out with the brandy bottle, still half full, and plonked it on our table.  He told us we were welcome to stay on his terrace as long as the bottle lasted, but he was going home to bed!

Another time, during that first year, we were sitting roadside when a small procession wound its way past, carrying a plaster saint.  It was a balmy September evening and the feast of San Blas, but we hadn’t known.  Back then it was very low-key, unless you lived in the village, but the fireworks which ensued after the blessing of the seas were the equal of The Magic Kingdom’s, and we had, unintentionally booked a front row seat.  These days the fiesta is renown throughout the south, and you have to fight for positions to view the spectacle, which is a change for the worse, I guess, except that the fireworks are ever more spectacular each year…..swings and roundabouts.

I’ve even been known, arriving back from time spent elsewhere, to go straight to Los Abrigos to eat before going home!

Nowdays when you arrive it’s by a smooth, new road which glides down from the motorway junction in Las Chafiras. As you enter the village on the left there is a smart plaza, and to your right you will spot a posh hotel, seemingly plonked in the middle of what is, essentially, still desert.  On the corner, where the village shop stood, is now a trendy boutique. Last year the church square was smartened up, and pedestrianized area was extended.  You haven’t been able to drive along the seafront, as we used to, for some years now.

These days there are a couple of upmarket restaurants amongst the traditional ones, and a couple of Italian restaurants, which seem to be surviving.  In the old days, nothing other than a fish restaurant lasted there for very long.  It’s what people go to Los Abrigos for.

I have a sentimental attachment to the place, because I lived there very happily for a while.  I was living there when I first began this blog, and perhaps one reason I didn’t do much with the blog in the early days is that I had the view below – and spent more time gazing at it than at whatever I was doing at the computer.  My desk with right next to the window!

When I lived there, sometimes I would be woken by noises and shouting echoing in the darkness, and unaccumstomed light illuminating my room,  and if I parted the curtains I could watch the boats coming in and being unloaded.  It was fascinating to hang about and observe them, doing what their families had done for years and years.  You could forget about the swish restaurants and the fancy tourists and imagine that life still went on as it always had.

This boat steamed in  excitedly, followed by a retinue of hungry gulls one early morning.

The sea must have been bountiful this day, because the harbor began to fill up with boats, and the harbor wall with vans collecting the catch.

The reason I left this apparent bit of paradise in 2008 was an influx of what promised to be the neighbors from hell. It didn’t help my unease that they were British, and seemed to assume that I needed to be friends simply because I was too.  One night of listening to their drunken, shrieking  and swearing was enough for me.  I set out to find a new home the next day. As you guys know, I like to move around anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. Thinking back, it wasn’t the friendliest place to live anyway.  I was there for two and half years, and scarcely got to know anyone, even the owner of the restaurant below my apartment, where I used to eat quite a lot,  never admitted to knowing me.  The only people I ever made friends with were waiters and PRs, who constantly changed anyway.  I guessed that the older families must have resented the place filling up with foreigners.  I really can’t be sure, because no-one would ever talk about it very much, and given the behaviour of my new neighbours, who can blame them?

More of these types seemed to be moving into the area around that time, but I went back there to eat last week, and it was all quiet on the waterfront, so perhaps the excesses have been curbed by law and neighbours.  In any event the very best time to go is Sunday lunchtime.  In typical Spanish fashion lunch begins late by northern European standards, 2 or 3 o’clock, when whole families potter down, and sit and eat companionably, as meals should be taken, with lunch drifting into dinner time.  By ten-ish most restaurants are closing up, and people heading slowly home refreshed and ready for the new week.

My favorite for quality and choice for a traditional meal is Vista Mar in the center of the parade of restaurants, but Restaurante Los Abrigos and Perlas del Mar are very good too.  If you want upmarket fine dining with a menu worthy of any capital city, then Los Roques.  It’s expensive, but worth every cent.  I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that the two I considered worst during my time there have closed down, which is the thing about recessions – survival of the fittest.  One of my old favorites has made an attempt to go upmarket and failed miserably.  I know because I ate there last week, and the food was very mediocre, though the setting was great, shame they didn’t stick to what they used to do so well.  If you’re going to keep up with the times, you have to know how to do it properly.

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