Islandmomma

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


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Things I Learned from My Islands Trip: No.3 My Need to be Near the Ocean!

 

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.

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Playing Hooky to Celebrate the Sunshine!

This isn’t the piece I intended to post today. You could say this is spontaneous. Spontaneous is what I did today. Spontaneous is probably the biggest difference between a blog and, say, a magazine article, at least if one’s own blog. Sponteous probably describes my current lifestyle….at least it should do.

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I should be better-organized, but a glimpse of sunshine and I felt like a kid on vacation! After sitting at my dining table, which doubles as my desk, for two hours, watching the day brighten outside my window, I couldn’t take it any longer. Afterall, hadn’t I spent hours when I was tied to boring jobs wishing I could be outdoors and longing for the freedom to improvise my life?

So I bundled Trixy into the van and set off, with no plan whatsoever. My direction was dictated only by the need to put gas in the car. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I needed to seize this glorious day.

The sun doesn’t warm the valley until late these winter mornings. It highlights the hillsides, teases through the gaps between the mountains, but doesn’t rise high enough to reach all the nooks until mid-morning. As we left the gas station it seemed that the last chill was evaporating, and the day began to glow.

This post is simply the story of me playing hooky. There is no deep meaning to it. It’s a photo essay of a crystal clear, blue/green day.

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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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Asturias Day One: An Utter Contrast: Getting off the Island

Perhaps the biggest downside of living on an island, any island, is the occasional (or frequent, depending on your personal circumstances) feeling of claustrophobia. However beguiling island life can be, there are times when you get a bit stir crazy. Much as I love it, I’d be in denial if I said it wasn’t so. I think it’s fair to say that all immigrants feel this way, and a fair few native sons too.

You may wonder how I could get tired of almost constant good weather, great wines, dramatic mountain scenery, and beach life? I love all of those things (and more – I’m not entirely stupid!) about Tenerife, but I was born curious, I guess. I fell in love with Tenerife a very long time ago, but I’m not rooted here, just anchored for now.

Cool mists, mountain meadows, delicious cider and waterfalls would provide a contrast, the change I crave, no? That’s exactly what I found in Asturias two weeks ago.

I’ve been wondering why I haven’t explored the north of Spain until now. I can only think that 40 years of living in England had numbed me  to the delights of  rolling, green hillsides, doe-eyed cattle and sloshing along in mud, all of which I rediscovered in Picos de Europa National Park.

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Of course that contrast with my local landscape, which already bears the parched aspect of summer, might have a lot to do with it, but it wasn’t just the landscapes, it was the people too, so relaxed and welcoming.

It’s very much a luxury to have your own, personal guide to show you around too. It made me realize how much we miss when we trot from place to place, looking but not fully understanding what we see. I knew little about Asturias, and I was asked pretty last-minute if I wanted to do the trip, so I didn’t have time to check very much out. Perhaps that was a good thing, because perhaps the awe wouldn’t have been the same if I’d seen the magnificent pictures on Naranjo de Bulnes or the Cares Gorge on the internet before I went.

After dinner the first night I was raring to go early-ish next morning. The drive from the airport to Gijon had definitely wound me up on the greenery. When you come from a desert environment, which the south of Tenerife is, green fields as far as the eye can see is like taking a long, cool drink when you’re seriously thirsty. It’s a balm for the eyes.

Gijon, our destination, is the largest city in Asturias, but I saw nothing of the city outside of the hotel, being whisked away to the mountains each day.  The main thing I noted was how quiet the roads were compared to Tenerife. Perhaps it was just where I was, but noticeably more tranquil.

This is my first reason to go back – to see Gijon, which has a long history, Roman Ruins and An International Bagpipe Museum – now that I just have to see!

My second reason is to see Oviedo, because Woody Allen said if he ever left Manhattan, Oviedo is where he would choose to live. Of course he gave it a shout out in “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” and it looked pretty cool.

My third reason is to see the coastline! The glimpses I saw of the beaches were quite breathtaking, utterly different from Tenerife (not that there is anything wrong with beaches here, just that I love variety!) , but the beaches fell to someone else, and my “beat” was the mountains.

Tunnel covered with vegetation

Nothing could have been a better starting point for me. This spring on the island had kindled a yearning for greenery that hadn’t surfaced in a while. I even found myself giggling about how the road tunnels through which we passed were covered with grass and even trees. It seemed almost surreal.

Driving through forest and alongside churning rivers was a bit like being on another planet. Listening to my guide, Juanjo, was a revelation. It was hard to keep up with his commentary (I get carsick when I take my eyes off the road!), but I think I remember the important points!

First to Covadonga, the one place I had had time to read up on, but even so I was utterly unprepared for what was to come. Covadonga was the inspiration for, and the kernel of the Picos de Europa National Park in 1918. In 1995 the Park was extended to its present size, encompassing mountains in Castille & Leon and Canatabria as well as Asturias. I wrote about its champion Pedro Pidal y Bernaldo de Quiros, Marques de Villaviciosa here for The Spain Scoop, so I won’t repeat it……..just let me say he sounds like my ideal man!

la basilica de covadonga

 

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Finding a New World Close to Home

“Face your fear!”   “Do one thing each day which scares you!”    “Take the road less traveled!”

Needing to get out of a rut, into which I’d inadvertently slipped the last, few, post-Christmas weeks, I take out each of my secret anxieties, and examine them, trying to find one within my budget (zero) and timeframe (a free half day); something which will challenge me even just a little, and get the juices flowing again. Is there one of my vast collection of hidden angsts which fits the bill?

I lie in bed, waiting for the alarm, and mull them over, camping solo in the mountains is out because I have work to finish by the end of the day, and anyway it requires gas, and my budget is zero. That’s the killer for almost every idea I drag out. I could just go down to the beach and swim, swim further out than my comfort zone, but the wind is rattling the shutters, which tells me that wouldn’t be facing a fear, it would plain foolish.

I close my eyes and take an imaginary flight over El Médano, since there is no money for gas meaning further afield not an option,  and as I hover at the end of the beach, where the windsurfers play, I spy it – what I’ve thought of as a “hidden valley.”

About to enter a "Lost World"

About to enter a “Lost World”

So many times, curving the coast road home I’ve glanced over to admire raw, volcanic forms. A few weeks back my son, Austin, came back from trail running there, waxing quite poetic about the scenery. I mentioned I’d always meant to go take a look at it, and he replied that there were folk down there, living in caves, and I shouldn’t go without him. We never made it before he went away, and I’d been wary since on account of what he said. Today I would face my fear of wild men jumping out from behind tabaiba bushes, and go see the splendors for myself. I remember that the light there will be best in the early morning, so I jump out of bed quite sharpish and get myself ready.

A quick walk with Trix (who is too old now for the walk ahead), a strong coffee, slip a canister of pepper spray into my pack – you know, just in case my fears are justified – and I sally forth.

I amble, drinking in the way the sun scintillates off the ruffled sea; the virgin-white waves crashing along the harbor wall; the contentment of the folk taking early coffee in the street-bars, and the kind of relaxed bustle of the folk setting up the market, fighting against the stiff breeze to put up their awnings and set out their goods.

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It takes me ten to fifteen minutes at that pace to reach that part of the beach which is claimed by the windsurfers and kite boarders. Unlike surfers, these guys aren’t such early risers, and it’s quiet. I hanger right under the bridge which carries the main coast road across the end of a barranco, and pause. The landscape before me is exactly as expected. “A mini Arizona,” had been Austin’s words (he’s been there, I haven’t). It’s that sort of arid, weird-shaped scenery which begs for Apaches to come cantering around the bend, whooping and in full war paint.

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Once past the heap of rubbish under the bridge, there  is, at first glance, no sign of humans. Of course, even without Austin’s warning I know this can’t be true. As I pad down the trail, other paths open up before me, they criss-cross the area; certainly worn by modern feet, and also used for hundreds of years, if not more. The main trail leads to a cave where the goat-herd/saint Hermano Pedro dwelt (more of him another time), so we know that the trails were in use in the 17th Century, and probably by the aboriginal Guanche before that. Again I get that little shiver I’ve had before walking this island, the palpable connections with the past are everywhere. Ghosts walk the pathways, but this surreal landscape was created millions of years before man ever set eyes on it; layer upon layer of history lies here. Continue reading


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We Don’t Do Sunsets in El Médano

I had to laugh this week when I read a “review” of a restaurant situated on the boardwalk in “my town”, El Médano. It claimed that it was the perfect place to enjoy a tipple whilst watching the sun go down over the horizon. Now, there are many fine and even wonderful views from the boardwalk, and even better ones from other parts of the coast, but to see a decent sunset there is nowhere you can sit in comfort and sip your wine at the same time, while someone whips up a tasty meal for you – unless you take a picnic to the beach perhaps – haven’t tried that, so I can’t say for sure.

The picture above is about as much as we see of a sunset in summer, over the mountains and far away, in other words the reflection of the glory on the clouds. Granted, in winter I’ve snapped some pretty nice sunsets, but not whilst sitting in a bar. Although, come to think of it, probably there’s a nice winter sunset from Manfred’s Bar, but I can’t think of anywhere else. Although sometimes what happens is that clouds  echo the sunset; catching the colors, turning them candy stripe pink and puffing them along the horizon like so many rosy cottonwool balls.

That pink sometimes shades into lavender and melts along the horizon right around the island, it’s a pretty sight,  but not the evening we took our walk, and granted, if I hadn’t stopped to snap so often we might not have been slopping around in tidal pools as we made our way back for tapas. When Guy was visiting, we decided to walk one evening,  before eating, to Bocinegro, that’s the smaller of the two volcanoes which mark the perimeter of the beach.

Bocinegro is an after thought, a punctuation mark at the foot of the iconic Montaña Roja. It’s an easy walk, almost a stroll – unless you forget about the time and have to clamber over wet rocks in the dark, as we did that night!

The sky was darkening over the foothills even as we circled the beach, the sun just tinting the underbelly of the cloud mass behind us.

The sun was sinking fast.  Coastal sunsets at this latitude don’t linger long. They are often dazzling, but over quite soon, and night descends fairly quickly.

Nevertheless we made it to the top of Bocinegro’s 118 feet in good time. It’s just about the right length of walk to work up an appetite, but not overdo it. Guy was in training and I had a wonky knee. Being so familiar with the area I didn’t worry too much about losing the light, but as we reached the beach I had to fumble for my torch (always useful to keep a torch with your camera bag I’ve learned!) The night had turned to pitch black, and the moon wasn’t up yet. We skidded on the loose stones as we neared the beach, and then picked our way between damp sand and rock pools, as tiny fish skittered to hide from the torchlight, but it was worth the slithering and sliding for the views of nighttime El Médano from a different angle to usual, as the lights flickered on along the bay.

I don’t need another reason to be thankful for living here ….. as you might have gathered from my previous post!……but this did give me another, I have to admit. Being such a lover of early mornings, I often find it hard to burn the candle at both ends, so I’m not that much of a night owl, but I’m thinking that from time to time I should break my habits, take a siesta and go out late with the camera again!

 


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“I’ve Looked at Clouds from Both Sides Now…………”

Life is a constant learning curve, no doubt about it. If you allow it to be of course.

Last Friday I was in the Teide National Park (and World Heritage Site), proudly showing visiting friends what is probably the most dramatic scenery of my island home. The sun shone, the sky was bluer than blue, and we strolled around comfortably without jackets or sweaters. Though I heard later that the coastal weather had been a bit less sunny, we had driven through the mists, which writhed through the forests as we drove up from La Laguna, and emerged into crystal clear air and warmth. Looking down, over those clouds, is akin to the view you get from an airplane, acres of cottonwool and an endless, azure horizon. But, up here, the difference is that from all that fluffy white, tree-lined mountain flanks, strangulated rock formations and volcanoes rise.

Yesterday was a day of quite different hue, however. Fellow blogger RunawayBrit has been wintering in Tenerife, and we’d spoken a couple of weeks ago about making a photo trip one day. So inspired by the rainbow colors of my daytrip, I asked her if she wanted to do a similar one yesterday, but with the focus on taking photos and seeing parts of the island which she had not yet visited. Remarkable, ain’t it, how, on an island which boasts around 350 days of sunshine per year, and which is currently suffering drought conditions, I could pick a rainy, cloudy day for a photo excursion…but pick it I did.

It’s odd, but, living here for so long, I sometimes feel responsible if some aspect of the island or island life doesn’t live up to the picture I, or others, have painted, and so I found myself apologizing for the gloom which was obscuring views I knew to be quite amazing on a clear day, as we left the coast behind and meandered up the backbone of the island. Even so, there were photo ops. The clouds are never still, they shift constantly, crossing paths, hiding mountains only to reveal their grandeur for seconds before drawing a veil across the scene again,  and we stopped a lot, sometimes waiting patiently for the wind to speed the cloud cover on its way.

Friday, by the way, is always a good day for a trip to the National Park. It remains the busiest arrival/departure day,  so there are less visitors everywhere. A few coaches passed as we hovered around waiting for scenes to unfurl, and it was hard not to smile, noting how glum the faces peering from the steamed up windows were. I’m a big “lemonade” ** fan personally, and yesterday was just proof of the saying. Looking back at my pictures this morning, I can see elements and colors that the brightness had hidden the previous week.

It was my decision to make our way back via the Orotava Valley, thinking to hanger left to Garachico and over the hills to Santiago del Teide by way of return. I should have known better. Although we’d seen some drizzle and lots of cloud, the weather hadn’t seemed too threatening, but we weren’t too far down the mountainside when those clouds truly closed around us, visibility was severely reduced, and we joined a line of traffic inching its way coastwards behind one of those tour buses. We stopped off for warming soups, local cheese and papas arrugadas, but when we emerged the rain was almost as full on,  and had found its way into the car even, forming a puddle on the passenger side floor, so when we eventually found ourselves near the autopista the wiser decision was to go for Plan B and wend our way southwards, leaving the lush but damp north, and trusting that the south would live up to its dry reputation. With frightening predictability, within a kilometer of Santa Cruz, the rain began to ease, the visibility increased and by the time we joined the southern autopista, although the clouds  looked grim, the way ahead was dry.

And so it was that we detoured to Candelaria, the island’s spiritual home. I have stacks of photos of this town. It’s center, around the basilica, which is home to the statue of Tenerife’s patron, the Virgin of Candelaria, is small but photogenic. The main square is bordered on one side by the church, and on another by some impressive statues of the Guanche Menceys, who were the rulers of Tenerife’s nine kingdoms before the Conquest. They line the promenade, guarding the black sands of the beach.

I’ve never been especially happy with any of the photographs I’ve taken of these statues, even when not surrounded by other happy snappers, the sun always seemed to be in the wrong place to get the shot I wanted. Yesterday, however, with those moody storm clouds overhead I really liked the way they came out.

This morning, at least here on the south east coast, the sun is bright, the sky blue and the clouds white and fluffy. At dawn, however,  those somber and heavy clouds still dominated the horizon when I walked along the seashore, lending drama to the sunrise.

So – I can say that I am thankful for clouds; for the variety and drama, color and interest they bring to familiar scenes, and, in the words of the song, I think I can say:

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,

From up and down, and still, somehow,

It’s clouds illusions I recall.

I really don’t know clouds at all.”

And so, here’s to the next time there are clouds on my normally blue horizon :=)

** Just in case there is anyone who has never heard the saying: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade!

 

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