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!

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


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Home for Now

The morning air is utterly neutral on my skin. Those Atlantic breezes do their thing overnight, and bring down temperatures, so we don’t suffer the way, say, Florida does (Orlando is on almost the same latitude as Tenerife).

Outside the main door of the apartment block the delivery guys are sitting on the low wall that surrounds the grassed, center part of the walkway, waiting for the supermarket to open its back doors for their deliveries. They chat quietly and smoke. Soda cans and plastic bottles have been tossed onto the grass overnight, and, mysteriously, yoghurt cartons and a handful of curtain rings.

This is a barrio, a ‘hood – even in a town so small there are divisions. It’s the sort of place where people hang out of their ground floor windows and chat with friends on the street. Sometimes I’ve passed one of these conversations on my way out to walk Trixy, and it’s still going on when we return.

Conversation is a serious business around here. Already in the couple of weeks I’ve lived here I’ve hurried to the window thinking a big argument was taking place outside, but it was only the delivery men flirting with the supermarket girls, or women hanging around outside the hairdressers a little way down to smoke their cigarettes.

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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

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“Another Fork Stuck in the Road” (apologies to Greenday)

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s maybe been the longest between posts ever, I’m not sure. Not for want of trying, though, but my internet situation here in La Palma has been nigh impossible. Hence some decisions are being made. A change of plan is in the works, and that, possibly, because even travel can become predictable. Or simply, to quote one of my favorite songs, “to everything there is a season.”

It’s perhaps coincidence or it maybe a “thing” with me, but the last time I roamed off, at around the 8-month mark I became as restless with the travel as I had with the previous lack of it. As at the beginning of July, it’s been just a tad over 10 months on this trip, but I began to feel restless towards the end of May.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Perhaps if La Palma appealed to me more things would be different, but we got off to a bad start, the island and I, and although I have discovered some beautiful places, interesting stories and eaten some good (if not great) meals, since my last post, I think the bad start colored my perceptions too much, and I can’t, somehow, get over it. That happened to me with Nice in France years ago. I had no desire to return until a friend decided to celebrate her #@+%£ birthday there, some 20+ years later, and I went and fell utterly in love with it, so I know that sometimes we’re simply in the right place at the wrong time.

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Gofio: A tale of Food and History for The Day of the Canaries

I firmly believe that no-one, ever, says, in anticipation of breaking the night’s fast, “Yum, yum. I can’t wait for my musesli this morning.” Although I am told I’m wrong in this.

Museli is something I tolerate, in the absence of a tastier, healthy alternative. However, having inherited a huge jarful, and finances being bleak a while back, I decided it was waste not, want not. Austin had also left a quarter packet of gofio, so I tossed that into the jar and gave it a good shake, also in the interests of waste not, want not. To my surprise, the gofio gave the dour museli that missing kick it needed, the je ne se quoi. I scoffed the lot, without a grimace, inside of a week.

What  is this miraculous stuff, that can transform something which tastes, essentially, like sawdust into a tasty treat? Gofio is best described as a type of flour, made from toasted grains and seeds. A simple bag of it may contain only wheat, or it may contain, these days, up to seven different components, such as barley, rye, chickpeas, maize or different local seeds.

But, more than foodstuff, it is, I’ve been discovering during my wanderings, a link between the islands of this chain, a constant, a comfort, a slice of island history. Local author, Marcos Brito wrote a book about it, “Sabers y Sabores: El Gofio” (Gofio: Wisdom and Flavor)* which reads like an ode to something loved, and which he describes as a tribute to “the men and women who live in harmony with nature.” Gofio is a tangible link to the past, and the story of the working man.

Its exact origin is lost in time, and we can only go as far back as when the conquering Spanish set foot on the islands in the 15th century. In Tenerife, the Conquistadors found  a people, the Guanche, living in caves, mummifying their dead, and living what is generally refered to as “a Stone Age existence.”  There are some variations from island to island. In Fuerteventura, where there were less caves, they created homes by digging holes into the ground and lining them with stone, creating a cave like dwelling. Guanche origins are still uncertain, but it is generally accepted now that they came from the north of Africa, that they were Berber, and possibly that there were different waves of emigration. There remain a lot of unanswered questions, but it has been fairly easy to work out their eating habits, and amongst the evidence of seafood, goat, fruits and even cacti, it is known that they ground seeds into a type of flour, using crude stone handmills.

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

Gofio handmill in the Gofio museum in Valle Guerra, Tenerife

The Guanches used all manner of wild seeds to make gofio. In Fuerteventura they say that the creeping red cosco (mesembryanthemum nodiflorum), which I never see without thinking of “War of the Worlds,” was used, but other versions say this plant was imported after the conquest. As usual here, consensus concerning history isn’t easy to find, but what does seem certain is that the ingredients now mostly commonly used, wheat, maize and barley were brought over by the Conquistadors, and the habit of toasting the grains continued. This was done to preserve the grain, and the custom spread from here to various South American countries with the various waves of Canarian emigration over the years, so that countries like Venezuela and Cuba also have traditional dishes made with toasted-grain flour.

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Graveyard Tourism

Turns out that I’m a taphophile. That’s my language discovery for today. I love it when I learn new words in my own language.

I was wondering if I was alone in my predilection for visiting graveyards. Apparently not. Of course, I knew I wasn’t, because you only have to go to, say, Grasmere, in the English Lake District any sunny day, and you have to queue to read the words on William Wordsworth’s tombstone. What I didn’t know was that there is a word for it, but according to Wikipedia, a taphophile is what I am. I checked in dictionaries and most don’t imply it’s a morbid fascination with dead stuff, although one did.

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

Grasmere Parish Church in the English Lake District where the Wordsworth family is buried

It’s a fondness for visiting graveyards. I don’t think that I was so much of a tombstone tourist (another appellation Wikipedia sites) before I lived in Spain, although I may have been odd, if not unique, in heading straight for Les Invalides to view Napoleon’s last resting place on my only visit to Paris as a young woman.

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Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On

“I want to see something new and for it to ‘wow’ me, take my breath away.  I’m ready for that something new.  I’m beyond ready.” Me: sometime last year.

My whole being ached with the need for new experiences, new sights and places.  I may have written them on my Facebook page or profile. I may have written them in an email to a friend, or I may have just typed them out and kept the file, which I found just now,  to remind me. I don’t remember, but I do remember that feeling. I’m guessing that lots of you will have felt it too.

This time last year my life was very pleasant. I was living in El Médano in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, a town that I liked a lot. I was teaching ESL. I had a pleasant social life. I ran on the beach in the morning. I was writing pretty much as much as I am writing now. For the first time in a long time both of my sons had landed jobs they really loved, and were looking forward to exciting things in the months ahead.

I was 66, and my life could have gone on that way forever. But, pleasant as it was, did a lifetime of same old, same old really appeal to me? Of course it didn’t! It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been able to travel, if you were born with wanderlust, as so many of us are, then you can never settle down. You actually need to keep moving around, to challenge yourself, both mentally and physically.

I've loved El Médano. I couldn't have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

I’ve loved El Médano. I couldn’t have lived anywhere better for the time I was there.

“To Dream the Impossible Dream” Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha (or at least lyricist Joe Darion!)

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