Islandmomma

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


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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.


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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!


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Los Abrigos: a Fishing Village Keeping up with the Times

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

Looking over the harbor at sunrise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Spring Moonrise

In common with thousands of people the world over (and most of them members of Flickr it seems) last night at sunset found me scanning the horizon for the “super moon”.  Having seen some spectacular moons here I was expecting something really stunning as I paced the shoreline, and poked about a bit in rock pools to pass the time.  A random, wet dog befriended me for a while, and I watched a couple of guys messing about in the ocean, one with a boogie board and the other with a surf board and a paddle.  It all seemed a bit chilly to me.  I thought of jogging a bit, like other folk on the beach, the moon seemed to be a bit on the late side.

When I spotted it I realized it had had to rise out of some cloud cover on the horizon, and it was already a pale, scarlet orb, hanging on the skyline.  It was pretty.  I’ve never seen the moon just that color before, and the setting was magical, over the steely ocean and the gentle waves running at the shore, but it wasn’t nearly as huge as I’d expected.  I’ve seen the moon here on occasion rise over a mountain as if it was bearing down on planet earth, and once I saw it immense and pure silver, casting a path almost to my doorstep.  So this one was, on my scale, not so impressive, but, then again, not so bad for not so impressive is it!

Not great photos I know.  No excuses, my stupidity.  But a nice memory anyway…..and the very best thing is that I only had to walk for two minutes to get to the beach :=)


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Postcards from the Island

I have a certain mental lethargy at the moment.  Recent days have been full, and dictated by events and necessities other than exploring or writing or photography.  My son, Austin, has been in hospital (successfully and he’s now recuperating at home), and boring stuff like dental appointments and car checks are driving my life, so for now here are just a few glimpses of the island I’ve had in recent weeks, things I want to know more about, places I want to revisit and some food for thought.


Las Teresitas. Probably the most photographed beach on the island, because of its beautiful, golden sand, imported many moons ago from Western Sahara. Something which is now forbidden, I understand. Often overlooked by the run-of-the-mill tourists who favor the more predictable weather of the south of the island. Las Teresitas lies about ten minutes from Santa Cruz, and was quite breezy on the day we passed by, killing time between appointments.

From the same vantage point, overlooking the coast on the other side from Las Teresitas, where you can see almost to the tip of the island.

Las Teresitas lies just a heartbeat outside of the village of San Andres, and this, so far as I can make out, is the local graveyard.  It’s quite a contrast with the one in Santiago del Teide which I photographed last month, which was colorful and pristine, but it looks as if it has a multitude of stories it might tell.  Many of the graves were unkempt, even tumbledown, and some were unmarked.  I’ve asked some questions about it, but not as many as if I were going to write something in detail about it, so it remains a bit of an unsolved mystery for me, although one fact which has emerged is that it was used by U2 on an album cover.  A quick search didn’t find it, but maybe someone who’s more of a U2 fan than I can tell me more?

I often remark on what a fascinating little city Santa Cruz is.  Of late the city part has seemed more “real” to me, being there for business or appointments I’ve felt something of that  city vibe one gets in London or Madrid, but having an hour to spare on day I strolled a bit in Parque García Sanabria in the heart of the mini-metropolis, and found that same sense of peace one finds in pretty city parks the world over.  This one is especially tranquil, and, of course, in this climate, always green and shady.

Finally, just to prove two things:   (1) That even a pretty city has its ugly side, and (2) that there is some drama and beauty even in that ugliness, I snapped this picture from the roof of a shopping mall the other day.  Over the top of the smelly Cepsa refinery on the very edge of the city, the sun, almost ready to bid  goodnight to the earth, breaks through the clouds a last time.


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The Sunsets on my Doorstep

El Médano, basically, faces east, so faced with a desire to photograph sunsets I zoom over to the west coast, yes?   Well, yes, I did that last week, and whilst I was more than happy with the purple/grey stormy skies I snapped I felt cheated of the sunset, but Mother Nature had a treat in store for me….and here is another lesson in always having your camera handy……I popped out the other early evening to get a couple of items from the supermarket, which is only around a couple of corners from me, and then decided to treat myself to an ice cream, so I ambled over to Plaza Roja to Gelateria Demaestri to torture myself over whether to have the chocolate brownie, the cinnamon or the coffee ice cream. Now, the biggest problem with Demaestri’s ice cream is that it has to be eaten at once.  It’s all natural stuff, and so it melts incredibly fast, meaning before I can make it home it’s dripping all over my fingers.  So I went to sit on the benches facing the harbor, and that’s when I realized that just maybe there was going to be a chance of a good sunset.

So I decided to chill out and wait.  This bench runs the length of the boardwalk which, in turns, runs the length of one side of the harbor, and at this pre-dinner or post-afternoon-activity hour the area all around it was buzzing with people engaged in all sorts of activities.  There were a couple of men fishing from the rocks between the boardwalk and the ocean, who were getting all sorts of angsty about a guy who was power-swimming too close to their lines.  Eventually he heard their yelling and veered off in another direction.  People passed with windsurf boards and skate boards, dogs and towels wet from their swimming.  Children clutched kites and wobbled on inline skates, and two or three couples huddled together further down the bench, waiting in anticipation of a romantic sunset.  More folk emerged from the ice cream parlor and sat to enjoy the confection and the view.  It grew a little chilly, as it does here, even in summertime when the sun begins to disappear, and I wasn’t prepared for it, this being unplanned, but it was worth the wait and the chill, as you can see.

El Médano is blessed with some great street art, which, unfortunately, is mostly uncredited, despite suggestions to the delightful lady in the Tourist Information Office, who is entirely in agreement, and has passed on requests to the Town Hall.  They remain however a mystery, which is a shame.  The one which is set against the sunset above is part of a set, and any interpretation would only be rumor, so I won’t go there until I can say anything with authority.  It is, however, a beautiful piece of polished rock, the layers and colors of which you can see better in subsequent photos.

The next evening storm clouds had gathered again, and as clouds are often a requirement of a really dramatic sunset, I popped down again at the same time to see if there was anything to see.  There was, as you can see below, and the photos say much more than I could ever put into words, so I’ll shut up now.


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Dramatic Skies on a Chill Early Evening

Someone I know posted a glorious picture of this morning’s sunrise in Tenerife, and I cursed my sloth in not getting up early enough.  I live right next to a beach which faces east, and I had a feeling last night that it was going to be good, but I allowed Morpheus to cajole me, and turned over when the alarm went off.

We had heavy rain again this afternoon.  No-one I speak to remembers so many days of consistently bad weather, or is it just nostalgia.  The period between Christmas and the end of January was gloriously sunny, in the south at least, and my photos taken in those weeks show unbroken, sapphire blue skies.  It’s true, though, that nights have seemed to be unusually cold, even when the days have been bright.  I certainly never before went out with the express purpose of buying fleecy pyjamas, which I did a few weeks back, and although my feet and body have been warm as toast as I sat just now watching a movie, my hands and nose are like ice, which is not normal for coastal living.  Could be, though, that I didn’t warm up from taking the photos below!

Having missed the sunrise I thought I’d idle down to Playa de las Americas and see if those clouds were going to be party to a spectacular sunset.  The rain had eased off, and I went to El Conquistador, where my sons used to surf.  Even if the sun let me down there might be waves.  Sun and waves were both a bit iffy, but the storm clouds were quite impressive, as you can see.  Truth be told, even though the winter has been a bit chilly, it does make a change from blue skies.  The sky was multiple shades of blue through grey through white and purple.  Maybe not so awesome as one of those scarlet sunsets, but pretty dramatic even so.

This channel has been cut through the sand and pebbles by excess rainwater, finding its way to the ocean, and the mountains, which are catching the very last glow of the sun are reflected.


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