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


Life’s a Beach: The Very Best of Fuerteventura

I apologize for the title. I know it’s unoriginal, but my weeks here have simply confirmed those snapshots in my head from visits in the 90s, which were of the breathtaking beaches of this island. However much I love the other islands, nowhere on the archipelago has beaches to compare with those of Fuerteventura. They are the very best thing about the island.

Sure, there are plenty of the black sand beaches, or pebble strewn coves typical of the archipelago, and many are really lovely; but there are also seemingly unending shorelines of white or golden sand, lapped by a turquoise ocean straight out of glossy travel magazine.

Footsteps on the Sand La Pared Fuerteventura

As you move around,  you constantly come across signs denoting that the area through which you’re traveling is a protected space. Whilst ugly cement covers sections of island, there seem to be huge areas where development can’t happen. Given the usual rumors of corruption which abound, it’s to be hoped that this lasts. The day I drove over to Cofete, for instance, I was getting pretty fed up of the bumpy dirt track by the end, but the moment I saw that stretch of unspoiled beach meandering before me, all the discomfort melted away.  This area is all protected, and the realization that no-one can ruin that view is quite dizzying. The day was hazy, so my photos weren’t good, but I hope it gives you an idea.

Cofete is, I guess, as remote as it gets here. I was told to go eat fish there for a real island experience, but the highlight for me was that first, breathtaking glimpse of unspoiled shoreline. The fish was fine, but so it is everywhere on Fuerteventura.

Cofete Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Slightly less of an endurance test to get to is the lighthouse at Jandia, where an inevitably rocky and quite spectacular coast awaits you. Sadly, because how much would I have loved to sit with that view to enjoy a cold beer, the museum/cafe was closed, as I had been warned, so was the bar in the tiny hamlet of El Puertito.  In both cases I’d advise taking food with you, and definitely water!

Punta Jandia Fuerteventura Canary Islands


El Puertito, Punta Jandia

El Puertito, Punta Jandia

Since I’ve begun in the south it seems like the natural thing to do is journey north, so hitch a ride if you like on this photo essay!

When you come off of the dirt track which forks  further down (one fork leading to Cofete, the other to El Puertito), you’re practically in the resort town of Morro Jable. I didn’t dislike the resort as much as I did others, mainly because the beach is so stunningly spectacular in a totally different way to the extreme southern tip of the island. Here the rocks give way to achingly perfect vistas of smooth, pale sand fringed by water the color of an Arizona gemstone. They weren’t over-busy either. I went back on Good Friday to see how crowded they were, and the answer was not much more than on an average day. Beware the prices in the beach bars though! I had a delicious smoothie, but was in shock when I got the check for €5.80 ….. ironic since, sitting there, I’d been reading a blog post title something like, “How to eat in Asia for $5 PER DAY!”

Morro Jable Fuerteventura Canary Islands

Alongside the beach in the El Saladar section of coast is a unique, small wetlands area, which is, for the most part, nicely looked after. Not easy to maintain a protected area like that right by a popular beach!

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Walkway takes you over the small wetlands area to the beach at Morro Jable

Traveling east the coast becomes rocky again in some parts, but is no less stunning, perhaps even more so. For the moment there are sections where development as been halted owing to the recession. This is the Jandia region. once the province of Guanche king Ayoze, and as you travel north on the excellent, modern equivalent of a freeway you sometimes get the feeling that you are driving through massive sand dunes, as the gentle hills are covered with white sand and scrubby bushes; hanger right to get closer to the coast, and you are, and there is that azure ocean taunting you to, “Come, take a dip,” again. From the beach known as Risco el Paso you can watch windsurfers perform, or wannabes tumble, as you admire the vista up to the Costa Calma area. Costa Calma is a concrete tourist resort, with some amusing hotel architecture, more suited to bus stations or shopping malls.

Costa Jandia

Costa Jandia

Risco de Paso

Risco de Paso

Jandia ends at the point where the island looks as if it’s been squeezed out of shape, with the area hanging on by a thread, so if you make a left to La Pared it takes only about five or ten minutes to reach the beaches of the south-west. La Pared means “the wall” in Spanish and there is said to have been a dividing wall between the two ancient kingdoms around this point. It is also said to be the sunset capital of the island. There were disappointingly unspectacular every time I went, and I returned a dozen times in hope, but they came close.

La Pared

La Pared

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

La Pared catching the rays of the setting sun

Last surf of the day La Pared

Last surf of the day La Pared

The beaches are rocky, accessed by dirt track, tramped mainly by surfers, boards atop their heads as they walk to the better beaches, leaving the closer ones to the surf schools and novices, and the odd hiker.

Surfers La Pared

Surfers La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

Surfers going home La Pared

sunset La Pared

sunset La Pared

Back to the road and traveling north again, the rest of the beaches along the east coast are pleasant, often very quiet, but not so dramatically gorgeous as either south or north of the island. In Las Lajitas, Giniginámar, Tarajalejo, Las Playitas and Gran Tarajal you will find nice beaches, some grey sand, some pebbles, some rocky, and often there will be few folk with whom you have to share (I imagine that once school is out for the summer, this won’t be so true, but this Easter they certainly were not horribly crowded). I took to going down to either of a couple of beaches just south of Tarajalejo to work in comfort and peace.

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

Las Lajitas

I’m going to put my virtual foot down now, and whiz as quickly as possible past Caleta del Fuste. If you want to check it out, feel free, but the little I saw confirmed that it’s the worst sort of Canarian tourist hell. Not for me, thank you.

Past the airport, past the beaches around capital, Puerto del Rosario, which didn’t appeal either, though I do think it must be neat, if you are working there to be able to go to the beach in your (long) lunch break.

One last place which appealed to me, before getting to the awesome dunes of Corralejo was a wee village called Puerto de las Lajas. It was a bit forlorn I have to admit, clearly developers had begun to move in before the recession hit, and much seemed abandoned. When things pick up it may be nice or it may be ruined, who can tell?

Puerto de las Lajas

Puerto de las Lajas

And so to Corralejo. The first time you hit the dunes is really quite breathtaking. The road saunters through them. To your left they stretch to the low-lying purple hills on the horizon, and to your right you get tantalizing glimpses of the ocean. When you touch the sand here, it feels different, and it sparkles as you let it drift through your fingers. These are classic sand dunes. Think Lawrence of Arabia. Obviously, you can even get a camel ride – these guys crossed the road and headed towards the hills, presumably after a hard day’s work.

Camels going home over sanddunes Corralejo Fuerteventura

Lanzarote seen from sand dunes in Corralejo

On the other side of Corralejo I discovered a rocky beach with beautifully clear waters and hardly anyone around, save for a few surfers heading over the hill. There were clear views of neighboring island, Lanzarote – whence I head for a week tomorrow. Yay!

Corralejo Fuerteventura

From this northern tip you have to double back and head east to get to my very favorite place Cotillo. I visited Cotillo, twice,  early in my stay here & then stayed away, mainly because I liked it so much, and I’d contracted to stay two months in Las Playitas, so I didn’t want to be hankering to move on. I was right to do that. I returned yesterday, spent some time on the beach and had a quick shuftie around the town. I liked it. A lot. Especially the beaches.

beach Cotillo Fuertventura Canary Islands

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura

This is a real surfers’ paradise, surfers as opposed to wind surfers or kite boarders, and it has the relaxed vibe which goes with all of that. Sure there is a fair share of surf schools, but not to the excesses I saw in La Pared. I chatted with a couple of lifeguards, who told me that, yes, there were incidents with beginners, but that surf schools were very co-operative in working with them to try to eliminate these. Experts catch the bigger waves along the coast to north or south of this spot.

Surf schools beach cotillo fuerteventura

Beach Cotillo Fuerteventura Canary Islands

The second time I went to Cotillo I followed one of those dirt tracks, almost getting stuck in the sand a couple of times (I’m told after exceptionally high winds it becomes impassable for a while). It brought me to the lighthouse (more of lighthouses another time!), but my journey began with one of those impulsive turns off a main road, which brought me to the tiny, tiny hamlet of Majanicho. I must have hit it on an exceptionally quiet day because it literally made me draw a short, sharp breath, so picture perfect was it. Around a small bay, a few shacks sat on the beach, looking half-abandoned but only half; waiting for their owners to return; certainly once fishermen’s cottages, now probably summer vacation homes. That day there wasn’t a soul around, and yesterday even, Easter Saturday, very few. Loved the welcome sign.



Backtracking again the north-west coast after Cotillo is rocky, more dirt tracks, dramatic cliffs, and some attractive, pebbly beaches like Los Molinos or Ajuy.



Los Molinos

Los Molinos

But the place I can’t get out of my mind is Cotillo. Certainly, if I were looking to live on Fuerteventura, I would definitely want to be by the beach (hell, I want to be by the beach wherever I am!), much as those interior landscapes have captivated me, and Cotillo is the place.








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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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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.



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.


Of Big Swells and the End of Summer

It’s strangely quiet outside my window today.  A few kids are splashing about in the pool, but nowhere near the hooting and screaming of the past few weeks.  This morning in the silent supermarket there were still lettuce and tomatoes left on the shelves – granted a bit tired-looking, but for the last four to six weeks the shelves have been bare on a Monday morning after the weekend rush, (well, even on a Monday afternoon – it takes them a while to restock here).  It’s a sign the summer residents are gone or about to go, and life is on the cusp of change.

To an outsider it may seem as if everything is the same year round in El Médano, but if you live here the changes are obvious.  There will be parking again.  Once the annual fiesta is passed in another couple of weeks, the stage which occupies a corner of the main town square, will be dismantled and put into storage for another year.  Although there are always tourists, there will be fewer, and they will be mostly people here for a purpose. The spirit of El Médano, certainly for visitors and foreign residents, is very much sports-oriented. We come at the very least for the good dog-walking, and then, depending on your level of fitness, for windsurfing, kite surfing, running, cycling, swimming or power walking and more. Mix this with the folk from the old fishing community, throw in a few “hippies,” and you have the odd blend of people who rub together easily to give the town its quirky character.

In August, however, it turns into a family resort, as does just about any stretch of beach on the island with a few houses nearby.  When I strolled into the center with a friend to enjoy a glass of wine or two the other night, we were surprised to see the  climbing frames and equipment of the little playground in the square swarming with kids at midnight. Like so many indefatigable ants they were climbing, running and, of course, screaming to their hearts’ content. El Médano isn’t known for nightlife, more often than not, arriving home after dark, I’m surprised by how quiet it is, but not in August!

The other great precursor of the season in the south  that the landscape has turned to desert. Oh, the well-watered public areas of the resorts are lush and colorful as always, but the natural landscape is parched and thirsty, dying for some rain you might say.

From the approach to Montaña Roja it looks as if nothing could survive, vegetation is wilted if not skeletal.  It’s an easy walk up to the top, which is about 170 meters I think (from memory), and the views from up there are extensive along the coast, over the airport, and to the mountains beyond on a clear day.  Saturday, when I went with the photo group, it was clear-ish, and the views revealed a harsh landscape, seared by the summer sun, and apparently devoid of life, except some scrubland between the beach and the road.  Nothing much was growing other than the resilient tabaiba.

Wave beginning to build

From the times I lived near the beach in La Tejita I remember the big waves seeming to mark the end of the season too. From the hilltop on Saturday we watched for around an hour or so as the waves built and came crashing down onto the sands, the crests already being blown back out to sea by the strong winds, sometimes forming brief rainbows along the peaks of the wave.

La Tejita isn’t a surfer’s beach, although there are always waves as ocean meets the shore.  The waves break far too close  for surfing, but yesterday, when I went with Maria to take a closer look at the beach, there were a few bodyboarders out there catching a ride, and even a couple of hopeful surfers.  Not very long rides maybe, but definitely exciting. Waves rose, glittered like jeweled, turquoise glass, dragged sand from the shoreline and tossed it up in their foam, before creaming onto land.  They say that the waves come in sets of seven, every one bigger until they die away and you wait for the next set.

You can see from the color of the rock how the mountain got its name.  Anyone wonder why this, despite the barrenness at the moment, is my favorite beach in the south of Tenerife??


Of Art By the People for the People: Rock Balancing

I don’t make any bones about the fact that I normally try to stay away from the tourist resorts.  They simply aren’t my cup of tea, for one thing, they have no history or sense of community…….or do they?

The other week I was persuaded to go to Playa Beril to snorkel.  I’m not very brave with waves and such, but I adore to have my face in the water (I’d actually prefer to have it under the water, but that’s not in my current budget!), and this beach is really as safe as it gets, with a surprising amount of sea life to see so close to where tourists stir up the bottom.  It’s still all pebbles, sandwiched between the psuedo-sophisticated Playa del Duque and Playa Enramada (probably yet to be “developed”), and just at the end of the beach there is an area which is all pebbles, and where what seems to be spontaneous “street” art has broken out.

The entire area is covered with these rock balances, which, so far as I can make out, is the correct way to describe them.  No-one I’ve spoken to knows how it began, and because it’s an area I don’t know that well, I can’t even tell you how or when or how long it has taken to grow to this stage, but it is now quite remarkable, giving a very mysterious kind of atmosphere to the beach, especially at sunset. I was quite captivated the first time I saw them in broad daylight, but since I was there to snorkel, it was one of the few times I didn’t have a camera with me – not even a phone!  For a couple of weeks now I’ve been itching to get back.  I actually wanted to go at sunrise, but the other day found me in the area just before sunset, so I thought I’d make the most of it.

I was tip toeing between all the works of art.  In some places there are so many it’s actually hard to walk around them.  I do want to go back at sunrise, and I also want to go back and try the infamous HDR, about which I’ve had so many snidey thoughts, but which I know would have taken these photos to a whole different level….

Of course, it also taught me that there is beauty to be found everywhere, and that people, perhaps as a reaction against the swathes of concrete covering the coast, have created their own art.  Even if it was started deliberately by the local authority, it certainly has been claimed by the people now.


Walking the Badlands of the Coast

The longer I live on this island, the more I understand our connection to the earth. It isn’t simply the connection of someone who lives off the land, like a farmer, it’s also a connection to the places where nothing of any apparent use can possibly grow, the badlands, or malpaís. There is something about touching rocks which were spewed out of volcanoes millions of years ago that gives you a sense of place, and of being a part of it all, and not only the land itself, but to the people, back in  history, who had to overcome the difficulties of these forsaken places.  Modern life seems to trivialize them, but if you stop and listen you can feel the ghosts.

There are several of these places called Malpaís on the island, the most spectacular being on the western slopes of Mount Teide. Stopping to photograph there last winter, with a tidal wave of white fog bearing down on us, gave me a spooky sense of desolation and loneliness, even though I knew there were folk only ten minutes away.  When the disgorged rocks are sinister, dark and jagged shapes it seems even more unsettling – as if it wasn’t that long ago that nature flung them from the bowels of the earth.

I walked one of these landscapes a few days ago.  The walk, a circular one, beginning in Puerto de Güimar and back, has been somewhat tamed by man.  Paths are unobtrusively but helpfully laid out, and maybe even follow paths taken hundreds of years ago by the Guanches.

Guanches were the island’s first inhabitants, who valiantly resisted the forces ofSpain, making Tenerife the last island of the archipelago to fall to the Conquistadors in 1496.  They were an interesting race, who mummified their dead and who used the cosmic spiral symbol, though no-one is absolutely sure what it represented to them, as once the Conquistadors were finished, there were few of them left to explain.

These inhabitants of the archipelago were curiously not seafarers, as if, having arrived in a place, often described as paradise, from the deserts of North Africa, they intentionally forgot how to leave.  This walk is coastal, and standing on black, hardened lava overlooking where it stopped in its tracks as it met the ocean, and watching the waves, even after all these years, still hurling themselves at the land, it’s easy to imagine a goatskin-clad youth standing in the same spot, staff in hand, wondering if anything lay beyond the blue.

This landscape is its own storyteller, with pre-historic tales of hot lava which curved, and must have hissed and steamed as it met the cold Atlantic waters, and of small volcanic tubes forming, some of which, after the ages, have collapsed like this one, or formed caves and crevices on the shoreline, like the one you can glimpse under this natural “bridge”.

Modern Canarian history can be found amongst this rocky crust of the earth too.  This old water pump must have tapped into an underground stream at one time, though there were no signs that anyone had lived close enough to it to not make carrying water a hard chore each day, just as it still is in parts of Africa. However, I couldn’t get out of my mind an image of R2D2 lost in the desert and rusting away waiting for Luke to come find him!

These salinas, or salt pans, weren’t that easy to reach either.  On high tides, when the sea crashed further over onto the shore, water was left in these manmade pools, and as it dried salt was left behind, which was then collected, and had to be humped over to the village, or up to the main village in the foothills.

Close to the shoreline, we came across this very touching memorial, though the lettering was faded, and covered by that buoy, which I was reluctant to move so that I could read better.  It seemed, somehow, disrespectful. So we could only guess that a boat from Puerto de Güimar had possibly been lost, probably within living memory, as there were flowers around it, which had clearly been left quite recently.

Adding our own thoughts or prayers that the folk memorialized Descansan en Paz, or Rest in Peace, we moved on. Close by the beach was littered with debris, not the rubbish left behind by weekenders, but washed down the gullies and dry river beds during the torrential rains of winter, and out to sea, only to be returned to land by the incoming tides.  The driftwood you could even call picturesque, but the plastic bottles and tin cans so apparently essential to our modern life were ugly and out-of-place amongst the old rocks, likewise the shards of wood, once probably fencing, and the rags which had been fishing nets.  I was remembered reading that Chay Blyth once reported finding floating rubbish on even the most remote legs of his sailing adventures.

Desert, for sure, this terrain is, but not, by any means devoid of life, although the closer to the sea we got the less we found.  We shared our apples and some water with this guy and at least a dozen of his friends and family, as swifts circled overhead on their endless quest for food, and the star of the ant’s life photo I posted the other day was also working busily away with his mates. We also saw rabbit droppings too, but where in the world don’t you, though it was really hard to imagine what food they found around there.

This barren scenery was an utter contrast to what I’d intended to see on this day. Our goal had been a favorite walk in the Anaga Mountains in the far tip of the island, and I was anticipating it hugely, but when we left La Laguna at around 9am the fine chirimiri quickly turned into a heavy drizzle as we ascended.  I’m not at all averse to walking in rain (I am English after all), but when the swirling mists obscured what are amazing views there didn’t seem to be much point, so we re-thought and headed for the coast.  With images of the lush laurel forests I’d been expecting still in my brain, I think I appreciated the starkness of this scenery even more.  I was left wondered if there is anywhere else on earth where you can drive from a misty forest and only twenty minutes later be chucking waterproofs and sweaters out of your pack to begin a desert walk.

The walk should have taken around two hours, but with plenty of photo stops, and one other stop to nibble some delicious, Canarian goat’s cheese together with crispy apples…..and feed the local wildlife as a result, it took us three on a hot day, but it wasn’t that hard.  Steps have been cut into the steeper parts of the walk, to make it more accessible. The rugged terrain means you are far better with a thick-soled boot or shoe.  As one of us found out – you feel every, unyielding and sharp stone underfoot if you don’t!

And – at the end of the walk, you return to the village of Puerto de Güimar, where good food is abundant I am very happy to report.  This dish (photographed by Austin to give him full credit, because normally I only post my own photos!) was lapas, or limpets, which were divine, tasting of the ocean and garlic and olive oil, and a royal feast to crown the day, along with tuna in mojo, fried eel, a melt-in-the-mouth pulpo gallego (and that is saying something!) together with salad, and a plate of the very, very best papas arrugadas, the real, creamy papas negras and not the white potatoes so often used in tourist areas…….thank god I’d walked off enough calories not to feel any guilt!


Los Abrigos: a Fishing Village Keeping up with the Times

Last week I wrote this short piece for’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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