Islandmomma

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


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Of Press Headlines, Possessions and Perspective

Things happened over the past few weeks which have made me muse on, what shall I say, the meaning of life or something deep-sounding like that?

The first was a particularly grisly murder about twenty minutes drive from here in Los Cristianos, a town in which I used to work, in fact, it took place in the adjacent building to where I worked.  A woman was stabbed and beheaded by a madman.  It goes without saying that one’s first thought is to express deep sympathy for her family.  Untimely death of a loved one is bad enough to endure without it being so horrific, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it will take for them to recover from the news.

The victim was around my age, and for a day afterwards my Facebook profile and my phone’s  message inbox were receiving  messages asking me to check in as the news spread around the world.  I think it shook up most everyone in the area because it was so random and unpredictable.  It’s like, no matter how carefully you drive, the accident you can’t avoid is the idiot who steams up behind you whilst text messaging and slams on his brakes too late.  There’s not a lot you can do.  I could happen to anyone. As it happened, I went to see off a friend at the airport that morning, and then drove into Los Cristianos  to go to my accountant’s office, which is in that adjacent building.  Had I not gone to the airport I would have been there at the time the murder happened and not a half hour later, (seeing the crowds and lack of parking I decided to leave my business until Monday, and turned for home) which made me realize that we, simply, never know when something might happen.

Holding that thought tight, because it confirms the knowledge that we should live each day, each moment, as if it might be our last.  Me, I procrastinate too much, far too much, but what if there is no tomorrow to do the things I put off?

The second news story has been this bizarre prediction about the “Rapture.” I didn’t for even one second believe that the world would come to an end May 21st, but you have to admit that this year has been a very newsworthy one so far, and most of it not good stuff, sad to say.  Earthquakes from Japan to Turkey to Spain; tsunami; riots in Tunisia and Egypt, countries with a healthy tourist trade up until then – I’m talking here about things which might happen to those of us living “ordinary” lives, not reporting from hotspots; floods and tornadoes in the US of unprecedented magnitude.  The list is already heavy and we aren’t even half way through 2011 yet, and these are events in which any of us or our friends or families might have easily been caught up in.

For those of us with wanderlust the most difficult thing to weigh is being thousands of miles away from people we love when something bad happens, whether it’s to us or our loved ones.  What was your first reaction on 9/11 once you’d taken in the breadth of what happened?  Mine was to contact my son who wasn’t home (the other one was) and other people close to me.  It wasn’t that I thought that they were likely to have been there in New York (though some had been just a week before), it was a need to let them know I cared and make sure they were ok – you know, just in case, because you don’t know what might happen tomorrow.

I was in the Florida Keys in the summer of 1996, driving back from Key West to Key Largo with the boys.  We’d had enough of driving and thought it might be fun to stop, buy some handheld line and hooks, and fish and picnic for a while, so we pulled into the parking of a small tackle shop.  The owner was really kind and helpful and we got to chatting.  Hurricane Bertha was approaching, and it was the main topic of conversation wherever you went.  I asked him how worried he was, and he told me that some years before he and his family lived in South Carolina, and had lost everything when  Hugo had hit.  It taught him a lesson.  They learned about what was really important in their lives.  They relocated, but still on the hurricane path, and now they kept a chest, which contained all the things they considered really valuable in their lives, and if Bertha continued on the track she was then on, threatening the Keys, they would simply load that chest into their truck and head to a shelter.

I talked about my own “moment of truth” before, here.  It was as we were on the cusp of emigrating, and everything we were bringing with us was en route, stored at the moment in a warehouse on Preston docks.  The weather had been filthy all summer, a justification (as if we needed one!) for our impending move.  Sleep was eluding me as I fretted about those possessions no longer under our control.  That was when things came into focus, and I began to understand the value of things.  Everything I really cared about, basically, my children, was under the same roof, sleeping peacefully and happily, and anything else was just “stuff.”

Makes you think, doesn’t it – about what’s really important in our lives? There’s an awful lot of talk about minimalism these days, about living with 100 things or ten things or whatever, ridding yourself of possessions, living for the moment, but to be truthful, I find a lot of it irritating.  I did “downsize” (and continue to do so from time to time) when my nest emptied.  Now it’s about what I feel comfortable with.  If someone has worked and saved to buy the car of their dreams, then why should they be made to doubt the legitimacy of their enjoyment? If I want to splurge on a designer handbag (assuming I had the money, of course!) then why should I feel guilty?  If we stop buying then manufacturing jobs are lost, whether it’s in a state-of-the-art car factory in Germany or a housewife stringing beads in her home in South Africa. As it happens I’d choose a ticket to just about anywhere over a designer whatever, but that’s not my point. Almost anything we do, or don’t do, has an effect on someone else these days.  Travellers keep airlines, hostels, hotels, train lines etc in business, people who are into fashion ensure employment in countries thousands of miles away – OK, yes I know working conditions in some of those countries are deplorable, but that’s for another day, today is about keeping stuff in perspective.

The problem is not with the possessions themselves, it’s with our attitude to them. After that stormy night prior to emigrating I had a much better sense of priorities, and that insight has been invaluable in the years in between.  So many things are just not worth angsting over, but people almost always are, their real happiness, welfare, education, freedom, respect.  It’s been a revelation and puzzlement to me that people I’ve met in recent years who have, literally, nothing are the ones with the broadest smiles.  It has to be all about attitude, the glass half full syndrome.  When we have a truckload of possessions those possessions can become a barrier between us and the world, or between us and happiness.  If we are worrying about losing them or damaging them all the time, then we don’t have the pleasure of enjoying them.  Everything passes.  We should enjoy our possessions if we have worked hard for them, but we should never lose sight of what is truly important.  We should keep them in perspective, and enjoy them today so long as we aren’t hurting anyone in doing so, because, well, you never know what tomorrow may bring.



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Love at First Sight for a Small Welsh Village

To say that Wales surprised me would be an understatement.  To say that my brief weekend in the North West Welsh village of Llanberis dispelled some misconceptions I’d harbored for a long time would be true.

My revelation was long overdue, but wasn’t immediately obvious as the train crossed the border from England to Wales.  The trains had all been running late.  I had two changes from Oxenholme to Bangor, one in Warrington and one in Chester, and although because each one was late, it meant that I made all the connections, there was still the angsting in between about the potential for missing one, so I was on the grumpy side.

The scenery was green and pleasant, dotted with trees and hedgerows turning yellow and gold, but it was familiar, like the landscape of the South Lake District.  Crows rose from the fields of stubble as the train passed, and bales of straw were neatly lined up in the fields, waiting for Winter.

I was lucky, though, that my seat was oceanside, because when we did reach the seashore, where the train seemed as if it was running right along the beach, the views were breathtaking.  Near Colwyn Bay the ocean spread,  glassy and translucent-silver,  until it collided with the horizon, where dark, thunder grey clouds threatened.  Against that backdrop the turbines of a small windfarm were framed, vivid white.  I was aching to leap out and snap away.  On the return journey the turbines were barely discernible in the mist, and I realized what great light I’d seen the first time.  I think it was at this point that the grumps were trumped by awe, and I began to fall a bit in love with Wales.

Shortly after this, I had to change trains, and since it was Friday, and the train I caught was heading for the ferry to Ireland at Holyhead it was standing room only.  Describing us as being squashed like sardines doesn’t come anywhere near conveying the crush, which for me wasn’t for too far, but my views were now very limited.  I could make out craggy bays, boats moored in a picturesque harbor and rocky, little peninsulars, as we travelled deeper West. Making the return journey I know I missed castles and churches and mysterious and mystical Welsh mists tumbling from hills into the valleys below, more like a set from Lord of the Rings than real life.

Bangor, where I met up with Guy, looked very close to Llanberis on the map, but it took us 45 minutes  to get there, on a bus which took us through story-book, stone villages, hillsides where the predictible sheep grazed and into the Snowden National Park.

Our hotel, the Legacy Royal Victoria, perched in a superb setting, on the edge of town.  It was less than five minutes on foot from where the bus deposited us, and turned out to be the kind of hotel I think of as “a good old-fashioned” one, all dark woodwork, red carpet, keys and not cards for the rooms, a slightly formal dining room, and a bar which resembled a country pub.  The staff were friendly and the food was good, and at 55 pounds for a single room it wasn’t too bad.  These older hotels actually do have single rooms.  That said, a short walk after dumping our bags proved that there was a plethora of small, interesting-looking B & Bs around, which on a different occasion might be fountains of local information as well as somewhere to lay one’s head.  On this occasion the hotel was perfect, as lots of runners were staying there, adding to the race atmosphere.

View from the hotel window as the mist descends over the hills.  I know you can see my reflection, but I wanted to remember this view!

First priority was to register at the race HQ before the crowds arrived later, and then some carb loading for Guy. Registration completed, we headed for the nearest café only to find that at 2.10 they had stopped serving hot food ten minutes before.  We tried a couple more establishments before finding somewhere to eat, and this is one of the problems of  being used to bars, cafés and restaurants which are open all day.  You need to adjust to the small-town way of doing things – not unlike Tenerife outside of the tourist resorts, in fact.  When we found Pete’s Eats, an “old-fashioned” style diner with chipper and colorful, plastic tablecloths, they were, of course, doing a roaring trade, being the only place open, and we were starving.  Bright decoration and good, basic food, it was all we needed, and we also noted a sign behind the bar offering rooms, including a bunk room at only 13 pounds per night, and wifi…..noted for the future….check out this link – you don’t get much more glowing reviews than that!

The rain had set in by the time we left, so we trudged back, heads down, and it wasn’t until the next morning that I took in the full beauty of the place.  The village itself, not so much, though it’s Fall, and the last weekend of the season, so probably not at its best, but it nestles in the most magnificent setting, guarded by sentinel and rugged peaks, which ease into mountain passes, and glide down to the shores of Llyn Padarn, a lake formed as the last Ice Age retreated North, and that sense of something pre-historic is what sets this scenery apart.  Somehow you feel the presence of history.

It was the Romans who began mining slate in Wales, but I can’t find any indication that the history of Llanberis goes back that far.  Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but as it’s now a well-established tourist destination I imagine they would be making the most of that were it true.  What is fact is that slate mining “made” the town.  In the 19th century production was in its heyday, and the hills all around testify to man’s rape, but even with the deep incisions man made into their flanks, he altered, but didn’t tame their wild beauty.

Our visit was purely for the Snowdonia Marathon, so both time and weather were against us so far as getting to know more about the area.  If you follow the Llanberis link above, you can can see just how much there is to do there.  I am guessing that high season it gets pretty crowded, and maybe slightly off season is the best time to visit.  I know a dozen places in the English Lake District I wouldn’t visit in full Summer, but which I adore at other times of year, and I’m sure it must be the same in Snowdonia.

The last census places the population at just under 2,000, and according to Wikipedia 81% of those speak Welsh, which I am sure in true, or maybe even an underestimate.  All around us folk young and old spoke the language amongst themselves, switching to English with ease when necessary.  It was so great to know that the language has not been allowed to die, which was feared some years ago, and I got that little thrill that I get when in a “foreign” country, even though it felt comfortably familiar at the same time.

It wasn’t just the stunning countryside which was a revelation for me, that sense of comfort was also a lovely surprise.  I had based my previous feelings on one, fleeting visit to North Wales more than 30 years ago.  With two friends I’d entered a country pub, in the middle of nowhere, to experience one of those moments you see in the old cowboy movies, where the bar falls silent when you walk in, and you feel as if all eyes are boring through you.  Maybe it was like that, maybe it was just my imagination at the time, but we felt as if we were intruding.  The barman was surly, food was provided grudgingly, and we left as soon as we finished our meal.  Silly, so silly, to let that color my impression of an entire region.  My experience this time was so opposite.  The people of Llanberis are amongst the most helpful, friendly and cheery I’ve ever met.  I can’t wait, I just can’t wait to go back and explore the area properly!


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Of Car Boot Sales, New Beginnings and Beginnings of Endings

You know it is, you have only just snuggled into Morpheus’ unwilling embrace than the #&**%¿  alarm is going off, and you know you set if early for a reason, even if you can’t remember right off what it was!

Serves me right for drinking cappuccino at 9pm last night.  What was I thinking?  I never drink coffee at night, but I couldn’t think of anything else to have with ice cream, and I was sitting in an ice cream parlor!  I’d tootled down to the town center with a friend, to watch a promised display of line dancing.  It turned out that they were touring various establishments and performing outside in the street.  A troupe of sensational-looking girls, dressed in cowboy hats, boots, very short denim shorts and white vests, what they lacked in expertise (and they did!) they made up for in good looks, good humor and a sense of fun.  We caught up with them in 3 places over the evening as we strolled and chatted, and they seemed to be enjoying it more as the evening progressed.  Finally, the police shut them down.  I can only assume that some misanthrope had complained about the noise.  They really weren’t that loud, and were only doing four or five numbers at each stop, and it wasn’t late, around 10.30……get a life, someone!

Still and all, I should have been in bed, because my car was all packed with accumulated rubbish to take to the car boot sale in Guaza early, if not bright, this morning…………  2am, and my alarm is set for 5,  and I am still wide awake – the coffee!  When sleep does come it’s the sort where I am carrying on conversations with people in my dreams, and can remember them verbatim when I finally haul myself out of bed.  Cold shower and more coffee, this time strong and black, and two flasksful to take with me.

There is, however, a lot to be said for dog walking at 6am on a balmy Autumn day.  We are going through one of those rare times without the normally constant wind which cools our shores, and there is a gentle lapping of waves, which I can barely discern out there, and my skin feels, unusually, neutral, not sticky, nor chill.  I  avoid the beach because, well, no street lights, and too many shadows in the shallow dunes,  so I hold up my arm to cut out some of the glare, and  the sky is inky and deep with stars.  Makes me think about doing this more often.

As I speed along the autopista afterwards, berating myself for leaving one of the flasks behind, I’m surprised, as I almost always am, at the quantity of traffic on the road.  Of course, with tourist resorts dotted all along this coast, there is a lot of shift work, so I shouldn’t be  surprised at all, you’re rarely alone whatever time of night.  I’ve travelled up and down this stretch of road at all sorts of wee small hours, and there is always traffic.

However, less traffic than daytime, so Guaza is around fifteen minutes away, and now I am feeling excited, this is the first step in the latest round of easing stuff out of my life to make space for more important things, like travel and doing the things I love, so it feels like a new beginning, which it is.  It’s also the beginning of the end of a road in life.  Maybe that had something to do with the inability to sleep too.

By now it’s 7 am, but still dark, and the site is already two thirds to three quarters full.  I fret that I should have set the alarm earlier, but I’m reluctant to sleep here in my car, as many people do, to get the better pitches.  If I can’t sleep in my own bed, how would I ever catch some shuteye here?

I have time to get everything, including Guy’s old desk, out of the car before the hoards descend.  At least, everything I want to be out of the car first thing – I’ve learned to keep some stuff back, for various reasons – I am irritated by ridiculous offers for things which are not tat, and for which I know I will get a decent price when the mature, ex-pat community show up later, and there are things, like cds which are just too easy to pilfer.  They come out once day has dawned.  Right now, as I set up, day is just a faint suggestion which outlines the hillside opposite with a trace of backlight.

It’s a while before I get to my coffee, these traders, who come early are persistant, and whilst some bargain to the manner born (which many are) others reject prices which I think are obviously a bit on the top side to allow for the bargaining, and – duh! – do you really think I have a computer in that bag, or a camera in that other one???  Why would I bring them to sell here, where I’d get the worst possible price, risk theft and at best get them jammed up with dust?? No, my friends, they are just bags.   By the time the sun makes an appearance, I’ve already sold quite a bit of stuff.  Good start to the day.  I’m not expecting a fortune.  This is the first round, the shedding of my first skin of possessions, and most of what I have to offer  isn’t that big a deal.  The next round will be more profitable, hopefully, as some of the bigger stuff will be on the list.

It’s light.  Time to breathe and look around.  As always, it’s like the UN here.  There are women from Western Sahara in light  garments,  which wind around the head and look like a cocoon,  and some, younger women in djellabas. There are Senegalese youngsters who dress like hip hop stars in pants and T-shirts which look three sizes too big, and older Africans in vibrantly-colorful, cotton, print suits which look loose and cool as the sun begins to dazzle, now that it has eased its way over the top of the hill.  There are hippies who are refugees from colder, northern climates, the women with baggy pants or flowing skirts, and the guys with dreads.  If I close my eyes I can hear Spanish, Wolof, English, Arbabic,  German and other languages which I can’t identify.  Soon, when the day is a bit warmer and they have breakfasted,  local families will come, scolding tiny tots for playing in the dust, or trying to maneuver buggies over the rough ground, and ex-pats from Britain and other European countries, on the lookout for bargains “for their gardens or garages”.

Today, there turns out to be less expat Brits than normal, which is a shame for me because I have quite a hoard of books I want to unload.  Percentage-wise I end up selling more Spanish books than English.  First time in my experience a couple of English dealers pass by, and buy the couple of items I have which might be considered “antiquey”.  I overhear them rejecting a couple of bronze figures I’ve brought half-heartedly, having no idea of their value, which puts my mind at rest.  In any event, one broke in transit, so I sell them quite happily later in the morning.  I discuss my grandmother’s Westminster Chimes clock with them.  Lately, I’ve been wondering about letting it go.  The boys aren’t interested, and although my memories of my grandmother are interesting, there isn’t a lot of fondness, for various reasons.  It’s a link with my childhood though, and that I do remember with much fondness.  I ask them to ring me in a couple of weeks when I have given it some thought.

Time to bring out the “reserved” stuff.  The cds always sell well.  Most are rock ‘n’ roll and Blues, which I’ve now copied onto the computer, and there is always a market for those, usually young, male, Spanish, lovers of what is here “alternative” music as local fellow-blogger, Jack Montgomery,  described it recently.  My timing is good.  The surplus crockery goes for the price I’d earmarked, the juicer for just a bit less, but it puzzles me that the Moroccan tea glasses stick for a while – I think they are gorgeous, but then I realize that probably only North Africans will buy them, so I bargain, and they go too.

The sun is almost overhead now, and it’s merciless, out comes my straw hat.  There is no shade here in this open space, other than that which you bring yourself.  My neighbor, a delightful Argentinian guy, struggles to keep his tiny baby cool but protected from the rays too. It’s remarkable how the mountain clouds descend to such a precise point and then stop, as if afraid to come down further, warned off by the ocean.  It’s a feature of the weather at this time of year.  Last night in El Médano Ann couldn’t believe how warm it was, where she lives at around 500ft above sea level, the evenings are already much cooler, as the cloud filters down the hillsides in the late afternoon.

People take to all manner of ways of protecting their heads from the sun.  There are a couple of guys wandering around in those silly umbrella-hats (which suddenly don’t look so silly), all ashy, northern-europe legs, baggy shorts and Hawaiian shirts – recently returned snowbirds.  The Senegalese women have it all taken care of in their traditional headwraps, and are protected with glamor.  European women?  Straw hats of every type – the floppy, Mariane Faithful, 1960s kind (whoa but that shows their age, and just thinking that shows mine!), the now-ubiquitos panamas (making note to find something more original! but I still think Graham Greene when I see them in the shops!), teens in cowboy hats (okay maybe that wasn’t such a terrific purchase on my part the other week!). Of course, there are those flowerpot-men creations favored by certain cultures, loads of baseball caps,  and a few using umbrellas as parasols – and I thought the poking out of eyes was only when it rained!  My favorite of the day goes to a very flamboyant African guy in a triangular, Chinese hat.  It looks stylish, and I’m thinking that lots of cooler air must circulate in the pointy bit.

Acquaintances pass by, and it’s nice to spend time chatting.  One is a teacher from the school the boys used to attend, so it’s nice to catch up with what’s happening there, and……talk about books!   One is just back from Barcelona, another was recently in Nepal and India, destinations I’ve been craving to see recently.  He gives me web sites to check out.  Something to occupy me when I get home, although it’s hard by now to imagine anything other than drinking gallons of water, a cool shower and sleep, lots of sleep!

Finally, 11th hour, the desk sells  – to my delight!  If there is one thing I did not want to have to reload and bring back that is it!  Now my pitch looks much more empty, mostly, I have books left, a few items of clothing, an expensive wetsuit ( which I never had high hopes of selling here) and really not much else.  It’s been a pretty good morning, really.  Some of the stuff I’ve sold belonged to the boys, so I’ve netted only around €50.00.  Still, it’s the beginning.   This is to be put aside for next year, and it’s going to be fun watching it grow….now for that shower!


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Never Take Where You Live For Granted

I learned some things on Sunday, and one of them was that I didn’t know Tenerife as well as I thought I did.  It is clearly over 18 years since I visited Punta Hidalgo, and I am still trying to come to terms with that realization!  Acknowledging the rapid passing of time, however, is better than the alternative – which would be that the last time I was there I had failed to notice this beautiful building – which is the lighthouse which guards that rocky bit of coast.

I find, however, that it was constructed in 1992, phew, so my powers of observation weren’t as bad as all that.  I did have a couple or more very adventurous young guys in tow at that time (my two boys plus a couple of of their friends), so I might just have been excused, but no, it was before 1992.

Looking at the pictures, isn’t this quite breathtaking?  I had a “thing” about lighthouses for a while.  It happened after a visit to the Outer Banks, a region famous for its lighthouses, and where there are so many legends surrounding them, and the sinking or the washing up on the shores of boats, from pirate ships to the battle ships of WW2, that I became totally infatuated.  Shortly after that Austin bought me a book of photos by Philip Plisson, for my money the best photographer of all things maritime, and my passion was confirmed, but it waned – as so many do!  Maria and I talked about touring the Canary Islands, just to photograph the lighthouses.  So – if you read this, Maria – I’ve made a start!

Never  have I seen one quite like this before, and  a quick glance at Google hasn’t come up with any architectural information, but I will continue to delve.  It’s elegant and almost ethereal, and I thought the light would be far too lousy for a decent photo, and yet, it seems to be that’s just the qualities the photos show, despite the excessive light.

Lesson learned two, is that places are constantly growing and changing.  I talk about “knowing” Cologne in Germany, for instance,  which I did at one time, but, let me see that’s something like 40 years ago…..so how much that city must have changed!  I really shouldn’t claim to “know” Cologne.  I “knew” it back then.  So never take for granted that we know, well, anywhere.  On a scale of things Tenerife is a blip in the ocean, but even here I constantly find new delights and ideas.  The trouble with the 9 to 5 is that it leaves you with little enthusiasm for moving around on the weekend, that is once the shopping, banking, car cleaning and house cleaning is done, and sometimes we might know our favorite vacation destinations better than we know places just up the road!


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A Tourist’s Eye View of “My” Island

This week has been a quite uneventful one really, but, before I forget, here are the photos from last Sunday’s stroll around San Cristóbal de La Laguna, usually known, simply, as La Laguna.

Since first coming to live in the Canary Islands 23 years ago, I’ve always been given to understand that the original capital of the island, following the Spanish conquest, was Garachico in the true north, but these days I so often hear that La Laguna was the original capital I begin to doubt my original information – but then there is more misinformation about this tiny island than you could believe, and tonight I am enjoying a glass or two of excellent Malvasia, so I will leave the scholarly stuff for next time.  Whatever the truth might be,  La Laguna was the capital of the island for a time, and now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last Sunday, we hadn’t intended to visit the city, so this was much more a Sunday stroll than an inquisitive visit  –  but that is something which is most certainly on the cards for the near future.   We parked (Sunday parking is easy peasy, unlike during the week, when the Tranvia is a much better option), close to these beautiful, old buildings.  We assumed, judging from their state of disrepair, that they are on the edge of the Heritage Site, although they have clearly been colorfully decorated at one time.  Some of them looked beyond repair, which is a shame.  Modern buildings here are nicely and thoughtfully presented, but just don’t have the character, so let’s hope there is some money in some kitty, somewhere to restore these!

We turned out to be quite close to the Iglesia de la Concepción, whose local fame is second only to the cathedral a little further along.

Bad timing – they were just closing for lunch, but informed us that we would be able to ascend the bell tower at 3 o’clock.  Now, since seeing a friend’s photos of the view from up there, that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so there was nothing for it but to stroll some more until it was opening time.

One of the things which strikes you about the historical part of La Laguna is color.  The old buildings have been restored and exude a homely kind of beauty which I usually associate with the Caribbean, or Africa.  It’s odd, in a way, because gorgeous though it is, it doesn’t somehow, fit with the impression I have of this island.  Really, I will investigate, but I have the feeling this owes more to modern fashions than to genuine restoration.  I have, I hasten to add, ABSOLUTELY, no basis for saying that whatsoever, it’s a purely personal hunch, and a hunch, at that……I might be way off mark.

Whatever, it’s very pretty, and a very pleasant place to be.  I never fail to feel outstandingly good when I am in La Laguna.  We did call by the Tourist Information office on our meanderings, and this is the most gorgeous building, and is obviously lovingly restored:

We now know how to get more information – watch this space, coming soon – but overall there was a disappointing lack of orientation/propaganda for such a prestigious place.  When I called into my local Tourist Information Office in El Médano recently I was just overwhelmed with all the information there, not only about the local area, but about the island, and that was even before I spoke with the lady who runs it, who is a living, breathing ad for her community and island, really, someone should give her a job in the Cabildo!  She is charming, happy and helpful.

It might be because I didn’t know where to go (but, then, a tourist would know even less) that there didn’t seem to be a huge variety, or even much variety, of eateries to choose from on that main “drag” in the tourist office/cathedral/church triangle?  I would love for someone local to put me right there?  We ended up having a very nice sandwich in Oh La La, a local chain which really caters more for the working, lunchtime crowd than for tourists.  No problems with food or service, they were good – because I live here.  Had I been a tourist/traveller I think I would have been disappointed that I wasn’t eating something “Canarian”.  That said, we came across the most WONDERFUL ice cream place, where we positively inhaled passion fruit ice cream, which seemed to be the most perfectly apt thing to put down your throat on a hot day.  I lose words here.  It was sublime!  Yesterday,  a friend told me that I should have gone to a certain bakery in that area, and I have a feeling it might have been the same place…..yes, yes – I am slapping my own wrists for not getting the name – don’t worry – it was that good a return visit will not be so long away!

All stickied up from the ice cream we arrived back at the bell tower for our ascent, which proved to be physically way less than expected, and visually more rewarding -

AND – yes we WERE up there when the bells stuck – happily for us it was on the quarter-hour!

It was a most pleasant way to while away a Sunday afternoon, it filled the “whatever it is it was supposed to fill” , and left us with questions which, as we live here, we will be able to answer in the near future.

Now, as Shakespeare said, here’s the rub – suppose we didn’t live here, suppose we’d been tourists with a few hours to spend on the island from our cruise boat?  But suppose that if we had been tempted enough, we would come back and explore the island more? Spend more tourist dollars?

One of the things I enjoy most in life is trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes ….. so, here I am, that tourist…..well, to be honest, I figure I’ve been there, done that, there is no incentive to return.  It was nice and pretty, and I have a very nice impression of Tenerife,  but exactly why would I want to come back and spend a week or two or even a month here?  Hey – Mr. Melchior – I know the answer to that question …….. DO YOU??

So, what was last week like, apart from finally taking myself to the doctor’s to try to sort out the stiff neck that is? Errrrr……..it was kind of ordinary……for here.

With my dear friend, Maggie, staying up the coast with my goddaughter, her beau and her daughter, actually, seeing the amazing Palacio de Isora hotel, was, perhaps not so ordinary. Living here, you don’t really give much thought to hotels if you aren’t in the business, but I must say that it was exceptionally beautiful, the food though was good, but not to rave about, at least the meal I had there.  So, here is a completely different view of tourism.  whilst my much prefered journey would take me on a exploration of anywhere I was, I can quite understand the need for a worn-out, Western worker, with sufficient disposable income, to just chill and be calmed, to have the need to work out all those kinks life in the cubicle implants.  Strange as it may seem for someone of my mindset, I can understand the need to chill and forget the outside world……..and having observed the hotel from a certain distance ….well – it wouldn’t do that for me, pretty though it is.

The rest of the time with  my friends/family was barbecuing, a wee time on the beach (i.e.not enough on account of my neck!), and the compulsory stuffing o ourselves at Otelo in Adeje……one day, I will go there, (with ordinary people, not gluttons) and actually finish the pile of chicken they bring!!! This time we left one. One, I ask you, one piece of chicken.  Wouldn’t you have thought someone could have eaten it????? As we left the huge, silver moon rose on queue over the ragged peaks which shelter Barranco del Infierno………..of course it did – it was …… I didn’t have my camera!!

So, the week has been a mixture of sloth and pain.  I now, officially, award full marks to the medical center in El Médano.  I have to admit I’ve been procrastinating (well, that’s a game with me, anyway) about changing over from the Los Cristianos center.  That’s because I felt virtually invisible the last time I was registered there – which is, actually, probably a step up from the way I felt as a patient in Los Cristianos (stupid foreigner I suppose would cover the attitude – I except one, particular nurse from that remark, I doubt she’ll ever read this, but if you do, my friend, you will know who you are – and you are a blessing to mankind).   Anyhoo, procrastination being my demeanour of choice it was a no brainer.  Last week I had to, though, and wow but it went well – lovely receptionist lady and very efficient, appointment within 24 hours and a doctor I could feel confident about (is bonding too strong a word??)  OK I know I was a spoiled brat with private insurance for a long time, and all of this is only what people normally have to put up with.  Still, my experiences with the broken wrist last year were worthy of stories from Third World countries.  I think I didn’t comment on them at the time——very frustrating to type with one hand.

So – the week still has one more day to offer.  What will it be like?  I am smirking, but it might be the Malvasia …. wait and see!

Author’s Note:  this post was written whilst slightly inebriated, but the author has few doubts that she will stand by the contents on the morrow, even though they may be politically incorrect. She also reaffirms her right to consider these ramblings as personal opinions, and has no affiliation to anyone/thing other than her own conscience.


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10 Things To Do In Tenerife Which Don’t Cost a Fortune – No. 1

I was chatting to Guy on the phone a couple of nights ago, and we were both bemoaning that lack of funds cramps social life.  There is no spare cash around at the moment for restaurant meals, movies, theater, concerts etc, in other words the sort of stuff you do with pals as a part of a normal UK social life.  Guy doesn’t drink, so going to the pub is kind of boring for him, and anyway, not, necessarily that cheap.  The rain was beating on his window as we spoke, so even going for a run with a friend was out of the question just then.  If he’d been here he could have gone surfing, running, cycling, swimming, snorkeling, or just crashed on the sand to watch the parade of bikini-clad girls stroll by.

It made me realize how lucky I am to live here, where it is still possible to meet up with friends and do things together which don’t send your bank account spiraling into red, and I began to make a mental list, and then thought maybe it’s worth sharing.  According to my research we have 300 days of sunshine per year, but my own common sense tells me it’s more than that.  It’s a rare day on the South Coast of the island when there isn’t sunshine for at least a part of the day, and temperatures are such that you can go to the beach year round, though it might be cooler in the North in the Winter months.  So you can ring a pal tonight and make plans for tomorrow without much fear of  “weather not permitting.”

The one thing which possibly all these activities will require is transport, though, but not necessarily much for some of them, and if there is a group of friends, then that can be minimized of course.

No 1 – GO TO THE BEACH (Let’s get the obvious out of the way first!)

Living here, as opposed to coming on vacation, you may see things somewhat differently.  Tenerife has a huge variety of beaches, so surely there must be something for everyone!  There are the well-maintained, some of them European Blue Flag, tourist beaches.  High season they may well not be everyone’s cup of tea, they certainly aren’t mine, but low season, like now, they are fine.  There are no school-age kids screaming and throwing sand around, and especially on weekdays it can be just as relaxing as driving out to a more remote beach.  You can hire a sunbed or not to keep down the cost of the day.  Usually there are showers, bars nearby and life guards on duty.

On the opposite extreme you only need to drive for fifteen minutes or so if you live near the coast (and probably about 30 if you live well inland) and you can find a rocky beach which, on a low season weekday, you can have to yourselves.  Apart from being prettier and more private there are less rules and regulations, which means that you can light up the barbie, leave your wine and beers in a rock pool to keep cool, and even play your music loud I suppose – if you must, and there really is no-one to disturb….or you can just enjoy the peace and silence!  You might have to leave the car at the top and walk down, but it will be worth it, and you can pretend you’re on a desert island.  Just make sure you have plenty of water and suncream, because you won’t want to leave to go in search of either, and take a first-aid kit, because the Red Cross won’t be there.

In between you have dozens and dozens of beaches which haven’t been tarted up to tourist standards, but are more accessible, and have been made user-friendly and safer.    These are the ones used by local people at the weekends and on holidays, but to be honest even the small, rocky ones will be busy on an August holiday date.  Almost every small, coast village has one, and on a Sunday it seems as if the entire village is camped out there, but, again, weekdays they can be much more appealing.

Speaking of camping out, there is a tradition amongst some families here of camping out at the beach once the Summer heat makes sleeping indoors difficult.  Temperatures drop as the light fades, and even in Summer it can be chilly outside, but walls retain the day’s heat, and sleep can be elusive.   It’s mainly the youngsters who do it.  They take a tent down to  a quiet beach and set up shop until the heat subsides in early Fall, returning home daily to shower or collect whatever they need.  It’s kind of cheating camping, but sounds like fun, sitting around the fire until you really want to sleep, chewing the fat, enjoying the local wine, fishing for your supper and cooking it over the fire.    What marvellous memories for your old age!

But you don’t have to stay overnight, just get a group together and go!  If restaurant meals are a bit too steep right now, you take your own.  If there are fishermen amongst your friends you might even be lucky enough to enjoy the freshest fish you’ve ever had – straight from rod to pan!  Would you get anything that good in a restaurant??  Even if preparing a feast seems like too much trouble, don’t even sandwiches and fruit taste better eaten outdoors?  A lovely memory I have from years ago was barbequing next to a local family on a quiet beach one weekend.  Their menfolk had been snorkeling and had come back with spikey sea urchins, and they were cracking them open to cream out the roe inside, and shared with us.  I doubt I’ll be doing that myself any time soon – I don’t think I could ever get the knack of opening them without doing myself some harm, but they were delicious, and it was an marvellous way of getting to know people and learn about a local delicacy that you don’t see on the menus of the local tapas bars!

This sharing is typical of life here.  You hardly ever cook outdoors in a public place without someone offering you a taste of whatever they have cooking away.  We learned to take some traditional English stuff with us too, so that we could exchange cultures a bit.

If you take a picnic then the only cost to a day in the sunshine is the cost of getting there, and for many of us, this doesn’t even include that, as we simply slip on our sandals and walk there.  And now, if you don’t live here, and are thinking of coming you’re thinking “Why hasn’t she listed these beaches?”, aren’t you?  Well, it occured to me that I might make it a project for this Summer to try as many as I can find and get to comfortably.  I think I will exclude weekends, when it’s busy, but I am thinking of adding a new tab to the blog  just for this…..or maybe I just need an excuse to get away from the computer and get down to the beach! So watch out for islandmomma’s beach guide, and more almost-free things to do in Tenerife!

Update: Links to subsequent posts on this theme:
Take a drive through the Teide National Park

Barbeque in the “Great Outdoors”

Mooch the Markets

Party like a local!

Follow local sports

Free Summer concerts

Try Shanks’s Pony!


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The Diversity that is Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Returning home when I’ve enjoyed a different location, even if it was only a short stay, unsettles me.  In England I miss the sunshine of Tenerife; when I’m here, I miss the all the yummy choices I can find in English supermarkets; in West New York I missed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Europe; in cities I miss the peace of the countryside, and in the countryside I miss the buzz of cities.  I suppose the only answer is to keep travelling……if only it was feasible!

Returning last week wasn’t nearly so bad as usual though, because the following day I shot straight up to Santa Cruz to meet some friends who had a brief stopover on their cruise.  The pleasure of meeting up and spending time with friends apart, it  refreshed my fondness for this delightful, little city, as I whizzed them around a small part of it, and so made me appreciate where I am.

Let me give you a virtual version of the whirlwind tour, which I hoped showed off the variety of the capital of the Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as well as the island:

If you land in Santa Cruz on a cruise, or if you drive up from the South your first stop will almost certainly be La Plaza de España.  It is, for many people, the heart of the city, although, not, I think if you live there.  It is framed on one side by the sea and the docks for the “nice” boats (the cruise ships, yachts, sometimes tall ships and the ferries), on another by the island government offices and the Post Office, and on the other two by cafés and pleasant, tree-lined avenues, at the moment with jacarand in glorious bloom, and beyond those the spectacular Anaga Mountains.  We walked up from the security post, which was a near to my friends’ ship as I was allowed, and emerged onto the Promenade just opposite the Plaza.

Almost two years ago a complete remodelling of the square was completed.  The central roundabout, on which stood the War Memorial, had become a complete traffic snarl-up, and the noise and fumes definitely detracted from the pleasure of sipping an expresso in one of the bars or cafés thereabouts…..remember this is a year-round good climate, and coffee sipping is almost always conducted outdoors.

Me a couple of days after the opening of the remodelling.

The area is now dominated by a shallow, modern, ornamental pool (I can’t bring myself to use the word “lake”), from which spurts every now and then (cannot fathom the times out) a huge water spout.  It looks quite effective, as you can see in the few photos I have ever managed to get of it functioning, but it has caused consternation amongst local cab drivers, whose cars get sprayed every time it is in action – given that there is almost always a constant breeze from the ocean!  Other than that, it has been controversial in general.  Being a modern design, does it compliment, detract or enhance the existing architecture?   Personally, I like it, and think it will improve with time.  On its “banks” are three very low-rise buildings, which resemble caves (this I presume to be intentional, since ancient cultures here were cave dwellers, so I assume it is a nod in the direction of history, as there are other aspects of the design which are similar acknowledgements of the island’s past).  They are covered by local plants, so that from some angles they don’t even look like buildings, and given time the plants will grow and spread, and look, generally, much nicer than they do right now.

It was interesting to note, though, that it was the pool rather than the 1930s Memorial to the Fallen which grabbed my friends’ attention.  The typical-of-its-era Art Deco-ish tower rises high above the Plaza, and dominates the Square.

Most tourists from Plaza de España will head straight up the adjoining Plaza de la Candelaria and to the pedestrianized walkway, where they will find plenty of bars and shops directed purely at them.  Many of the façades have been renovated in recent years, or are being renovated at the moment.  It’s pleasant, the shops reflect current fashions or offer the so-called duty free goods for which the Canaries are famous in Europe, but it isn’t really representative of Tenerife, unless as a symbol of the tourism on which we so much depend.

But my task was to show my friends glimpses of the city they probably wouldn’t otherwise have seen, so our little tour instead diverted to take a look at Teatro Guimerá  and the impressive sculpture which sits outside.  The theater opened in 1851, and inside is all red velvet and gold, as you would expect, reminiscent of theaters seen in old Western movies.  It is, in fact, the oldest theater in the islands, and to sit in the gods there is a seriously scary experience!  Outside, is, for my money, so representative of the blend of old and modern in this city,  this stunning sculpture by Igor Mitoraj.  Mitoraj’s work can also be found in Canary Wharf and in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by the way.  This one is entitled Per Adriane, and, no, I hadn’t a clue who he was until I looked him up!

In the photo course I am doing at the moment we just touched on HDR, and I can’t wait to go back and make an attempt at a better photo, but this will have to do for now!  See how the sky fades to white – but I’ve seen that on professional photos of this same scene, so maybe not so bad as I think!

From the theater we crossed the Serrador Bridge over to the Mercardo de Nuestra Señora de Africa.  I never cease to take pleasure in this market which showcases fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and meats in the good, old-fashioned way.  A central courtyard provides a place to sit for a while if your  packages get too heavy…….note: the coffee is good, and the service top-class friendly with a grin, and there is a shady, little childrens’ playground too, which my friends’ little girl loved.   The present building dates back to 1943, when the city outgrew the old market, and a bigger one had to be built.  It has an interesting story of reinventing itself over the years.  Perhaps another time?

From the market we ambled back towards and under the Serrador Bridge to stroll down the delightful Calle Noria.  The first time I came across this street, by accident, some years back, it was in the final stages of restoration, and reminded me of pictures I’d seen of the colourful streets of old Habana.  Since then the restored premises have been taken by restaurants and bars, and a vibrant nightlife centers around the street.  It even has its own Facebook page, listing coming events http://www.facebook.com/#!/calledelanoria?ref=ts   I think I’ve eaten in all of the restaurants over the past few years, and they were all, without exception, absolutely first class, but if I had to chose one it would be “Bulan”.  If you get chance to eat there, do go inside too, to look at how the old interior has been decorated to make it an original venue with lots of ambience.  To get a good look, you need to go during the day, when it’s quieter, at night it fills up with trendy, young city folk.

At the end of the street sits la Iglesia de la Concepción, the city church of Santa Cruz.  It is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it isn’t, the island’s cathedral is in La Laguna. The church is now a little worse-for-wear after storms in February, when many archives, stored in the basement, which flooded, were lost.  At the moment the entrance is still blocked by sandbags, but local tv reports that many, willing volunteers are helping to restore and repair this building, which dates back to 1500, when construction began to replace the small chapel first built where the area fell to the Spanish Conquistadors.

For our next stop we needed to go by car, and in contrast to what I think of as the Spanish-colonial style architecture of the church and the old buildings we seen, there rose in front of us next, as we headed for the car park, the magnificent Auditorio de Tenerife.  The building seems to curve, like a huge wave from ocean to earth, and is a the purest white, sparkling in sunlight by day or dramatic lighting by night from the thousands of pieces of purest white mosaic which adorn it…..imagine Gaudi, but stunning, stunning white.

My snap does this magnificent structure no favors at all.  I snapped it quickly from the roof of the bus station a while back,  and one day I must get some decent photos.

Designed by world-renown architect Santiago Calatrava, it was inaugurated in 2003.  I know very, very little about architecture, but have come to now often recognize the flowing lines typical of this brilliant architect/designer, one of whose current projects is the new transportation hub in the new World Trade Center complex.  Do check out his website, which is awesome http://www.calatrava.com/main.htm .

This Opera House is well used, and truly is a community center for the island, if not the province.  As well as operas I’ve attended symphony concerts, jazz and blues concerts, and world music events, and friends have been to ballet, dance and musicals staged there.  It has also hosted some major conferences.  In addition to the acoustically perfect main auditorium, there is a small, intimate venue and a huge outdoor space, where you are cooled by the sea breeze on hot Summer nights, and feel as if you are a part of the performance you are watching.

This day there was no time to visit, only to admire from afar, cruise schedules being what they are, and given the need to at least dip a toe in the warmer shores of the North Atlantic, so we headed for the local beach at Las Teresitas, about ten or fifteen minutes drive towards the mountains.

This beach, amazingly, is not much frequented by foreign tourists. It is easily the prettiest beach in Tenerife, nestling under a stunning mountain backdrop, and boasting a glittery yellow/white sand which was imported from the Sarhara Desert in 1973,  before exporting sand from there was no longer feasible because it ceased to become a Spanish colony (oh, that’s a long, long story too).  It often features on postcards, but its surroundings are virtually undeveloped.  Rarely does a day pass without some local newspaper or other carrying a story about the scandal and corruption surrounding the proposed upgrade and improvement.

I always kind of bemoan the advancing tide of tourist-aimed “improvements”, but my brief visit on this day decided for me that this is a case where it’s needed.  The beach itself is delightful, one of the few on this breezy island where palms sway, and the only one with sand of this color to give it that tropical feel.  Amenities, however, are few and dingy.  I hadn’t been for a while, and imagined it had changed for the better, as beaches in the South have, but when we entered a dirty hut, which served as a bar, in search of ice cream our request was  answered by scruffy man in dirty clothes, who seemed a bit threatening,  with a brief “no”.  It took me right back to the “old days”…… obviously he had never heard of the “Tenerife Amable” (Friendly Tenerife) campaign which the government was promoting a couple of years back…….more thoughts on that another time.

Ice creamless, then, we headed back to the harbor and the floating mini-city of luxury, where, I realized ruefully, my friends would be able to get all the ice cream they desired, and served with a smile.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful, vibrant city of contrasts – contrasts of architecture, of peoples, and sadly, contrasts of attitude.  This was just a short tour.  I’ll take you on another some day if you like.

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