Islandmomma

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


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An Evening Stroll: Photo Essay


One of the great things about being a dog owner (or is that being owned by a dog?) is the enforced exercise, though, honestly, do you need an excuse to walk along the shore here? I was brought up fairly close to the sea, and whenever I’ve been away from it I’ve missed it – a lot. Most days I thank the universe that I have this at the end of my street, makes up for a lot!

It had been a fine day for wind and kite surfers, but as dusk began to fall and the tide came in the waves were becoming gentler and this driftwood tossed up on the rock pools was caught in the sun's final rays.

It had been a fine day for wind and kite surfers, but as dusk began to fall and the tide came in the waves were becoming gentler and this driftwood tossed up on the rock pools was caught in the sun’s final rays.

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren't confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren’t confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

Turning the corner of the harbor wall to face west, there is a huge stone with a hefty iron cleet on top. Whether this was part of the original fishing village or a piece of art I can't honestly say.

Turning the corner of the harbor wall to face west, there is a huge stone with a hefty iron cleet on top. Whether this was part of the original fishing village or a piece of art I can’t honestly say.

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We Don’t Do Sunsets in El Médano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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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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Just Another Day in Paradise?

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

Yesterday, for instance, my day began like this:

And ended like this:

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

 

 


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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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On Sleeping in a Cave: or A Childhood Dream Comes True!

There is the scrapping sound of small rocks falling.  I lie still, and wait for another sound, holding my breath, then, Austin’s voice from the darkness;

“Was that you?”

“Nope, it wasn’t you either then?”

“No.”

“What was it then?”

“Just some stones falling. Rocks fall.”

The same sound again, as stone dislodges from the rock face, perhaps disturbed by a small animal.  I know already that we are sharing this cave with a mouse and two spiders, any of which might have dislodged small stones to make the noise we heard. I wrap my arms around my body to fend off the 1º below temperature, and relax again.  My nest in this cave is really quite comfortable, and apparently I drift off to sleep.

This day began sunny and bright in El Médano.  We drove up the twisting road from Granadilla de Abona, on Tenerife’s south east coast, through Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor de Chasna, and into the Teide National Park to the familiar sight of the bizarre and preternatural landscape that is the caldera at the Park’s center. Along the way, the atmosphere had changed from sunny to chill as we passed Granadilla, then to shifting mists as we drove through the pine forest above Vilaflor, to emerge into the sunshine again as we entered the crater.

The landscape had alternated from parched near the coast, where we have had little rain over the last year; to verdant in the forests, where the mists, captured by the trees, are fed to the earth below; and back again to arid as we neared the National Park. The flora had reflected the climate, the pines and eucalyptus on the roadsides lower down were wilting and dusty, and at the top were only dry skeletons of the broom, tajinaste and rosalillo that had flowered last summer, but in between almond blossom flourished, we saw trees were laden with lemons and oranges, and the first California poppies were hiding in sheltered spots.

We had donned light jackets quickly on arriving – although the sun was bright there was a wind chill factor bringing down the temperature. Austin had promised me this hike for my birthday, but we hadn’t been able to do it at the time, and I was looking forward to it tremendously, especially after the theft of my Blackberry (see previous post) which had upset me more than I liked to admit.  It had been a bleak kind of week up to Thursday, but it was all set to change beyond my expectations.

Austin hoisted his heavy pack onto his back.  He was carrying everything except for my sleeping bag, and other than that, I had only my extra clothes (though plenty of them), camera equipment and some odds and ends, like binoculars, in my own pack.  Still, it was heavier than I am used to carrying when hiking.

We set off along the trail known as Siete Cañadas which is a hikers’ favorite, being well- laid and easy. It begins by the Parador and emerges at the crossroads of El Portillo, on the other side of the crater, from where roads descend to La Orotava, or along the backbone of the island to La Laguna, either way a stunning drive. The air was so clear that the colors of the landscape seemed almost unbelievable, they were so bright and vibrant, and turning back to look at this mighty mountain, El Teide,  which dominates the vista on just about every inch of the island, I was already beginning to get a sense of the surreal.

We had only been walking for about twenty minutes or so, when Austin veered off the path and motioned me to follow. Two minutes later we were inside the heart of the rock formation you can see below, which had been making my imagination work overtime as we approached it. Even after living close to this landscape for so long, its eccentricities never fail to amaze me.  These rocks look far more like something from a science fiction movie than anything which belongs on this earth.

Inside the formation was even more like being in another world.  We perched on rocks and ate lunch, the spiralling, volcanic pikes rising around us like guardians, protecting us from the fierce sunlight.  We could only wonder at the forces which had created these shapes, as Nature threw them up from her soul millions of years ago, crenated, twisted, their layers reflecting the origins of the planet.

Collecting all our rubbish, we set out once more. For me this was destination unknown, a birthday surprise, but it turned out to be surprise upon surprise. As we blinked again in the sunlight Austin gestured upwards with his hiking pole:

“That’s where we’re going,” he grinned.

I swear I caught my breath. Behind the rocks rose Alto de Guajara, at 8,917 ft (2,718 meters) one of the highest peaks in the National Park. I’ve seen it described as the third highest, but a marker along the route seemed to indicate otherwise, it might be fourth or even fifth, still, it was high and craggy and, well, er, very high, no matter its credentials in comparison to the surrounding mountains.

More interesting than the height is the legend.  Guajara was a Guanche princess, daughter of  Beneharo, ruler of one of the kingdoms into which the island was divided, and wife of  Tinguaro, the brother (or possibly half-brother) of Benecomo, the ruler of another kingdom. The Guanches were the original inhabitants of Tenerife, a stone-age culture when the Spanish Conquistadors finally took the island for the crown of Spain after fierce fighting.  The Guanches fought hard and long, andTenerife was the last island of the Canarian archipelago to fall. One of the heroes of the battles was Tinguaro, who was slain, after ferocious fighting, at the battle of Aguere (the present-day La Laguna) in 1495. Heartbroken, Guajara withdrew inland, and finally, in her despair, threw herself from the peak of the mountain which now bears her name. That she met her end in that way can never be confirmed, but the story is in keeping with others relating to the time following the Conquest. Were we, perhaps, about to meet the ghost of a Guanche princess?

We turned off the Siete Cañadas trail and began to hike upwards on what is designated as Hiking Route 15. It took us higher and higher along a narrow pathway marked by stones through scrubland dominated by broom.  When we met a few walkers returning along the same path we had to stand to one side to allow them to pass. I began to slow down, constant climbing always takes its toll on me, and, as always, I vowed to get fitter before the next hike. Austin’s fitness level is amazing. He takes part in triathlons and trail running, and he forged way ahead at times, despite carrying most of our overnight gear.

Eventually, we reached a crossing of pathways, affording us a stunning view of mists creeping up a valley. Hemmed on each side by rock face and crags, the mists would advance, fingering their way along the mountainside, and then just as quickly withdraw as if stung by some unseen presence.  We knew that below the mist and cloud lay the south east coast, Granadilla and El Médano.  We stopped to put on warmer clothes. It wouldn’t be long until dusk, and already it was getting cooler. It was then that I cursed not bringing an extra camera battery.  I’ve never needed to carry one for the amount of photos I expected to take on this trip, and I’d tried to keep baggage to a minimum, but the cold air was already having an effect, and I stopped snapping, aware that I would regret not having enough battery for the surprises which were promised ahead.

“We’re almost there,”Austinsaid cheerfully, and we moved on and upwards at a fairly leisurely pace.  It wasn’t long before he darted off into the broom, and I assumed that he was answering a call of nature, and plodded on, but, from waist-high in bush, he called me over to follow him. We scrambled over rocks under an over-hang which formed a shallow cave, and onto a natural platform of rock.  There two enormous rocks almost formed another, smaller cave, and the shelter had been extended by previous visitors with rocks, branches and dead grasses to roof it in and shield it from the biting winds which sweep across the hillside.  It was a scene straight out of my childhood dreams.  People had also strewn dried grasses on the stone to make a natural sleeping place.  It was so perfect I wanted to cry (as you will see in the video which will be in the next post!).

Austin got busy right away, placing ground sheets over the dried grasses, and stowing our packs as we staked our claim to our resting place for the night. First, another treat in store, everything stowed, we donned yet more warm clothing, and walked on a bit further around the mountainside to catch the sunset. It was so much easier to walk without packs, and at one stage I actually ran to make sure I didn’t miss the scene.

As the sun dipped behind the mountain to our right, its last rays lingered on the hillside across the valley, and way around over the heart of the island it dappled the dark volcanic cones and sands. Cursing my lack of sense in not bringing a spare battery, I snapped what was, essentially, the reflection of the sunset, because we were facing south east, and the lavender hue was bleeding along the horizon above the mist and tinting the low cloud below us.

Returning to our cave (do you know how incredible it feels to say that?!), Austin produced vacuum-packed dinners, which he heated up with water boiled on a small burner.  My first taste of real camping food! Better than I expected, plentiful and hot, it was good and warming as the temperature inside the cave fell to minus 1ºC.  Followed by bananas and hot chocolate, I really wouldn’t have changed places with anyone in the swankiest restaurant in the world, as overhead the heavens began to shine with the achingly endless display of stars which the clear skies of the Canary Islands yield up at night. To make my night complete a bright shooting star crossed above us.

As we put on so many layers I now lost track, and zipped into our sleeping bags I felt like a child at Christmas, albeit a very chunky one! I’d dreamed of camping since I was a small child, and this kind of camping really was a dream come true, to be almost out in the open, to have only rock and dry grass between me and the night sky, and to experience not another sound in all the universe, just utter silence……. except for the soft rock fall, that is.

Not only all of this, but promise of something even more wonderful the next morning. Sleep didn’t come easily, but it seems at last that I did doze off, because, apparently I snored something rotten!  For the rest, well, that’s enough writing for today, but soon, very soon, and, what’s more, with video!

Please note that camping, as such, is strictly forbidden in the National Park. What we did is bivvying – not using tents, nor driving anything into earth or rock, but simply sleeping under natural cover, and of course, we took all our rubbish home with us.


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An Unexceptional Sunset

I suppose it was obvious of late that I have been a bit disenchanted with the flow of life here.  There are some reasons, which I will come to one day, but not today, because I had one of those random experiences which make me blot out the crap and remember my passion for the island.

I was doing normal chores, I’d done a bit of shopping and went to pay my rent.  The real estate office is in Plaza Roja, close to where I live, and of late I’ve gone back to carrying my camera everywhere with me again. I’d stopped doing that during the move, and the not-doing-it kind of stuck. When I came out of the office around 6-ish the sun was going down, and so I thought I’d stroll over to the harbor to see if it was going to be a spectacular sunset. It showed no signs of being out of the ordinary, although ordinary is pretty good here, but it was pleasant after the heat of the day, so I walked along the boardwalk and onto the shore opposite to Montaña Roja.

This shoreline is pure volcanic lava frozen in time, sharp and sinister rocks which creep darkly into the ocean, and where countless rock pools form at low tide.  I took a few snaps. It wasn’t ideal. Foreground too dark, sun too bright, it was too early. As I picked my way amongst the rocks, the haunting cry of a curlew, who circled round in his search for easy pickings, and a lone, wee plover bobbing amongst the dark rubble.

There were few clouds around, and the sunset didn’t look like amounting to much, so I trod my careful way back to the promenade and the corner of the harbor, and as I ducked under the small bridge there it was the photo which had been worth waiting for, and which made me smile to realize that this was just an average day.

After the sun dipped beneath the horizon the sky took on a rosy afterglow, not as sensational as it can be perhaps, but pretty, and the for-once calm waters in the harbor and across this small bay turned that unreal shade of metallic blue they achieve after sunset and before sunrise.

I sat for a while longer, because you never know what may happen next at this time of day.  The old boys who hang out by the boats next to the slipway decamped for warmer places, it was beginning to get chilly, and the gulls circled as if they were surveying the waters one last time before they went to rest, and somehow all the things which had been nagging at me faded, not away, but into the background for now at least.

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