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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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.

Majanicho

Majanicho

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.

Ajuy

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.

 


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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?


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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.


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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??

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