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


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

Picos de Europa, Asturias

Picos de Europa, Asturias

Walking in Asturias last year I inevitably had several long conversations with my guide, Juanjo. A fountain of knowledge, Juanjo was one of those rare people who give the impression of being at peace with themselves.  At one point, I asked him if he had ever been to the Canary Islands, and he told me that he’d been to Tenerife to walk the mountains here. “You don’t want to go somewhere completly different?” I wondered. “You know, away from the mountains – for the change?”  But he, a true, modern mountain man, living in a tiny village, which gets cut off by the winter snows, has lived all his life surrounded by Los Picos de Europa. He replied that the mountains and mountain life were in his blood, whether it was cross country skiing or snow shoeing in those winter snows, or climbing the mountain pathways in summer. On vacation, too, he chooses to explore other mountain landscapes. I think it fair to say that I envied him the certainty of his words.

“I think I feel like that about the ocean,” I said, but I wasn’t 100% sure. I knew that I can pass hours simply watching waves, crashing onto rocks or lapping the sand; sometimes not even thinking about them, simply feeling the experience; sometimes marvelling at the fact that the moon affects tides, or how an earthquake on the other side of the ocean can drive a swell which engulfs a beach thousands of miles away. But I was falling in love with those breathtaking Asturian mountains too; the mountains of the English Lake District had been my second home for some years; and there were days, living here on the coast of Tenerife, when I looked up and knew that I needed to get up into those hillsides. That’s happening again now that I’m back, but there is a difference. I now I know how important it is for me to be mainly close to the ocean, really close. However breathtaking the view from 1400 ft above it, it’s like pressing your nose to the candy store window when you have no money. And knowing that it waits only five minute’s drive at the end of the most beautiful valley on the islands isn’t quite enough for me either.

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.

Playa Santa Catalina otherwise known as Playa de Hermigua in La Gomera

Playa Santa Catalina otherwise known as Playa de Hermigua in La Gomera

I’d begun to suspect it in La Gomera: the hours I spent working on the beach, and the total of those hours I wasn’t really working, but watching the colors of the water change as the waves rushed in, rose, offered a window into the depths, and then foamed onto the pebbles, gave me a clue. Of course, I’d happened upon my work place because there was a 3G connection, but I found that in other places too, and none captivated me as much as Playa Santa Catalina. Even with windows in the van closed, the wind rocking it and the rain pouring down it was still my favorite place to work. I only stopped when the sea began its bid to come too far ashore.

The stark, red and utterly beautiful inland scenery of Fuerteventura

The stark, red and utterly beautiful inland scenery of Fuerteventura

Just one of Fuerteventura's stunning beaches Cotillo

Just one of Fuerteventura’s stunning beaches Cotillo

Fuerteventura is all about the ocean, really. Despite the glowing red of its inland landscape, it was the beaches which awed me, and I began to admit that I felt different when I was close to the sea. Lanzarote and Graciosa confirmed it. La Palma clinched it. The island argueably has the most stunning scenery of all the islands, inclusing a dramatic coastline, with rockfaces plunging sheer down to cerulean waters, yet its steepness means that in so many places you hover 500 or a thousand feet or more above the ocean.

Sunrise over the ocean and shores of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote

Sunrise over the ocean and shores of Costa Teguise in Lanzarote

I fell in love with the white sands and turquoise waters of Graciosa, smallest of the inhabited Canary Islands

I fell in love with the white sands and turquoise waters of Graciosa, smallest of the inhabited Canary Islands

Stunning scenery in La Palma, dramatic cliffs and cobalt seas

Stunning scenery in La Palma, dramatic cliffs and cobalt seas

Over 40 years ago I visited Rome for the first time. My most vivid memory, even now, was Michaelangelo’s La Pietá in St. Peter’s. I thought it was the most beautiful manmade thing I’d ever seen, and to be able to reach out and touch it sent shivers down my spine. It was 30 years before I saw it again, after some madman damaged it, and it was, protectively, so far away from the hoards trying to glimpse it that you couldn’t properly see its purity. That’s how I feel about the sea. I need to be near to it, seeing it from above was like seeing La Pietá from a distance.

I know that it isn’t the same for everyone. Juanjo’s soul roams mountains. Being addicted to the ocean doesn’t mean that I don’t love to breathe the pure  mountain air, nor inhale the energy of cities. Everything is a balance I suppose. One reason I felt immediately at home in south Tenerife all those years ago is that deserts always fascinated me, hence perhaps a reluctance to follow up on my occasional urges to move north. I love it all, the damp forests, the parched badlands, the neon-lit cities, but most of all the dank seaweed smell on my morning walks, the magnetic blue, the knowing that there is so much hidden under those tireless waves. Perhaps I am not as committed to the ocean as Juanjo is to his mountains, though, but the next time I crave the green hillsides or the vibrancy of a city, I know that its ok to give in to it because the ocean will always draw me back.

This post is then, an ackowledgement of my passion, and a warning to expect much more writing about the oceans. Right now, they are in danger. Polluted and over-fished by men, they are desperate for help. Some say they are dying. I’ve touched on environmental topics on this blog before, but you can expect more in the future. It’s not going to be all gloom and doom, it will a celebration of the beauty of our oceans, their variety and their importance to us too. I don’t actually care more about the oceans environmentally than I do about the mountains or the deserts or the plains, but I don’t have time or space to embrace it all, and clearly my heart is more at home on the shoreline.

Montaña Roja and El Médano in Tenerife my most familiar shoreline

Montaña Roja and El Médano in Tenerife my most familiar shoreline

My island journey isn’t done, I am back to base for a number of reasons, but this is also a part of the trip. I am learning as I go.

If you are curious about the other things I’m learning, here they are to date, both practical, personal and philosophical;

Things I am learning from this journey 1: I am addicted to sunshine

Traveling with Trixy


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.


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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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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I Love the Smell of Dawn….


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.


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.


Seizing the Supermoon

Another 24 hours and all our supermoon stories and exchanges will just be another footnote to 2012, moments seized, enjoyed, recorded and then committed to the archives in our minds. This, then, is what I will file away.

We meet at the appointed hour 19.30. The intention is to suss out the best spot and then retire to eat or drink until well before the due time of 21.15 to stake our claim. The early evening is balmy and calm,unusual for this stretch of coast. This is my home turf. It will not be the first time I’ve photographed the moon rising out of the ocean from the sand dunes at the end of my street, but it’s a first time in this spot for Maria and Colleen, and I think they like what they see. There are rocks and sand dunes and junipers, all perfect for framing photos. I think they like the gelato from my favorite ice cream parlor too! We sit by the little harbor and savor the pleasure. They are finger-licking good.

We rouse ourselves and saunter back along the beachside road, chatting companionably and not at all hurried. We step onto the beach, and it’s then I draw a sharp breath. In the lavender and rose  twilight sky the moon is already there, and well on its way to the heights.

One of the odd things about living in the Canary Islands is that we are in the same time zone as the UK, an hour behind the Spanish peninsula and most of Europe. The thing is that most information on tv and internet fails to mention this. We had failed to deduct the hour, the “una hora menos en Canarias,” as the ones which do bother to differentiate, say.

I fall to my knees on the nearest dune and fumble my camera out of its bag. The closer to the horizon the bigger the moon seems to be, we missed its hugeness,  but it is, nevertheless, quite breathtaking. The colors are gentle pastels. It isn’t yet dark. Its progress is slow, so we get lots of snaps anyway. Then Colleen suggests going a little up the coast to La Tejita, to see it rising over Montaña Roja, so we trot, quicker now, to her car, which is the nearest, and turn for a couple of last shots over the beachfront wall, as darkness descends and paints the world in other shades.

La Tejita is one of my favorite places on the island, but I know that without a tripod my pictures won’t amount to much, so I spend more time simply inhaling the scene than snapping. The ones I do get are noisy and dark. I have to max the ISO in the absence of a stable tripod, but the effects are a bit unusual.

There is a yacht anchored in the shelter of the mountain, and out at sea there is a string of fishing boats, twinkling like the proverbial diamonds on velvet.

I have no idea what produces that shaft of light, grease on the lens perhaps? But it looks effective. It’s enough. Sometimes in the snapping you don’t have time to take it all in, so perhaps my lack of tripod is no bad thing tonight.

Happy and fulfilled, we retire to what is one of my local bars to admire in comfort and sip mojitos.

The next night, yesterday, finds Maria and I a bit further down the beach, a part which is more rocky and a bit wilder, though it’s bounded by hotels and apartment blocks, you still feel closer to the ocean. This night, of course, we know the time, and we make our way down to the shore as darkness falls. Tonight there is a breeze as usual, and along the horizon a skein of deep purple cloud hovers, but doesn’t touch the ocean. There is a line of light, and we hope that we will see the moon rising before it disappears into the clouds. In the meantime, there are diverting images, as the sun sets way behind us, its crimson is reflected onto the thick, dark clouds, and that reflected light, in turn, is reflected onto the muddy sand, turning it lilac and moody.

The wet beach is a gift of reflections and images, even the ugly hotel on its edge looks pretty, as its lights flicker on and are echoed, and a girl appears soundlessly and seemingly out of nowhere, riding her bike along the shoreline.

It’s getting darker, and the waves are creeping up the beach, the breeze is getting stronger and shearwaters are calling out to each other, their spooky, unreal cry. We talk of famous photographers who spend hours in freezing waters or mountainsides, waiting for that one, perfect shot. We begin to think that we have missed it, that in the dark we haven’t noticed that the clouds have descended to the sea and obscured our moonrise. We are about to reach for our stuff and turn tail, when a mere sliver of intense scarlet emerges, again there is a deep intake of breath and a scurrying for lenses and equipment.

Without a tripod, in this darkness I have even less hope that I did last night. It is impossible. I shoot a couple of frames, and then turn the camera off and stand in meditation. It’s a brief but intense experience. The moon will soon be hidden by the cloud, but it glows from red now to orange, and it is a huge as one expected it to be. I’m posting a couple of pictures only to give you an idea of how it was. They can’t really, but you can see what distinct experiences the two nights were.

This morning, as I walk Trixy, there is a silver shadow in the sky, which is fading as the sun’s brilliance begins to dominate the day. I rush home for the camera and return within five minutes, only to find that I took out the battery last night to charge it, and failed to put in the spare. Ah, well, as a photography experience this supermoon hasn’t been too great, but as an appreciation of this universe, it’s been pretty impressive.



Just Another Day in Paradise?

Just kidding, people. There used to be a T-shirt back in the 90s with words to that effect, or a little cruder, to be honest, and whilst petty bureaucracy and inefficiency have been taking their toll of me to a huge extent of late, there are times when living here is, well, heavenly!

Yesterday, for instance, my day began like this:

And ended like this:

And for once the bit in between was entirely satisfactory :=) But no time to scribble about it now, I’m off to inhale a bit more of the wonders of Mother Nature, but I will fill in the gaps ….. soon.




Another Glorious Médano Sunrise

Worry not, I’m not nearly good, nor prolific enough a photographer to do a “today’s photo” thing, but I did think yesterday’s sunrise was worth sharing. I’ve seen more dramatic, but this was just so lovely and peaceful….possibly because of the lack of wind! And maybe I’m being a bit Pollyana because, honestly, much as there is to recommend both El Médano and Tenerife, it isn’t always just like this! Still, nice, eh?


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.


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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