Islandmomma

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


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Hot Winds & Sahara Sand

I knew that something had changed since our morning walk, when I stepped over the threshold yesterday evening, even before my other senses kicked in, there was a warmth on my skin that I’d missed for months now. As I descended the half dozen steps from the front door the lack of wind was startling. El Médano is famous for its wind; it’s the wind and kite surfers’ town, for goodness sake. Then I glanced over to where Montaña Roja should have been, and it wasn’t there, or at least not that I could see.

Years ago there was an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which the folk of a normal, middle-class American suburb wake to a thick fog. The citizens driving off into it on their way to work in the city all return, because the fog is so deep and impenetrable that they are afraid. It turns out that the entire suburb had been whisked off to another planet by aliens, and the fog is to discourage them from venturing outside their zone. That program always, always comes to mind when we have a calima this dense.

Calima is what this is, not fog, nor mist, but dust; so thick in the air that you can taste it. It’s known as polvo en suspensión (suspended dust) here. I should have known when I woke with painful sinuses. They are my personal barometer, but when we walked along the beachfront I didn’t notice it that much. It did cross my mind the day before, when I heard the weather forecast – high winds on the eastern islands, those closest to Africa. Yet all day I was working away indoors and didn’t notice the wind drop, nor the light become translucent.

Winds from Africa bring sand and dust from the Sahara, and when the winds abate it hangs in the air ominously. There is often a mild scattering hanging around, veiling the farther mountains so that their features merge and become indistinct, but it’s a couple of years now since I remember a calima this heavy, and in 25 years I could count on my hands the number I’ve seen. The worst lasted a couple of weeks, but often they disappear miraculously after a few days, sometimes overnight even. They are most common around this time of year.

The horizon was lost in the haze, but this paddle surfer was taking advantage of the unusually calm waters to practice his sport. Doesn’t he look like a phantom emerging from the water!

It’s especially bad news this year because the last thing this parched and arid south east coast landscape needs is dust. The flora everywhere is already skeletal and dirty-looking.  It’s been about a year since it rained, and whilst that might sound wonderful to those of you further north, or even here in the holiday resorts, it’s sad to see the hillsides looking so barren and forlorn. Usually at this time of year they are dressed in their springtime best for a while until the sun god takes his toll again. In Gran Canaria reservoirs are said to be 26% down on their normal capacity. Hopefully, our underground reservoirs in Tenerife can take the strain. Even when the sun is bright on the coast,   the swirling mountain mists and trickle their water into the porous, volcanic earth which seeps into the caverns below.

Compare the photos below. The first one of each scene was taken yesterday evening, and the following one is a shot taken from a similar position  at around the same time on a normal day.

This morning there is breeze in El Médano, and although the sun is ghostly behind the dust, it’s not so dense as it was last evening.  The tv is advising those of us with allergies to stay indoors as much as possible over the weekend, so by Monday we should be back to normal.


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Autumn Arrives

Autumn arrived on the back of a stiff Atlantic breeze the other day.  I had a visit from Katrina of TourAbsurd, and after a few days exploring the island we had awarded ourselves a lazy day, breakfast with friends and a snooze on a beach; but it wasn’t to be – at least not for as long as we hoped!  After consistent sunshine and a good forecast for the entire week, Thursday dawned cloudy and humid, but that’s not unusual, days often begin badly and end well, or vice versa, and sitting by the sea scoffing croissants and café con leche the lack of sun wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

By the time we were ready to move, the clouds still hovered, so I opted for the Las Vistas beach in Los Cristianos for practical reasons, and we even took sunbeds and organized ourselves in hopes that the sun would peep out from the grey.  Katina had a swim, and it was pleasant to be outdoors and sleepy, possibly even more so than if the sun had been fierce.

I was dozing when Autumn sneaked up, and woke me, swirling around the sunbeds on a warm but forceful zephyr, spraying sand in our eyes and sending the sunbed guy scurrying to close the parasols.

And there it was, like some cartoon character riding the elements and into our lives.  The season had changed on cue.

It had been only five days before that El Médano celebrated the end of its fiesta.  I’d sat on the wall of the boardwalk with friends devouring crêpes from the fair’s newest stall, and watching the amazing fireworks, and the next night nibbled kebabs and ice cream under balmy night skies, yet Thursday I could pinpoint the exact moment that Summer ceded to Fall. No frost, no gales, no dark mornings, the year simply shrugged off the intensity of the sun, and…….. turned.  Already the clouds have receded to their mountain hangouts, and the days are sunny again, but now we never know how a day will be.  There is the constant possibility of rain between now and, roughly, March; another few weeks and I will be shaking out the duvet and today already I bought veggies to make soup.  The differences in the year aren’t bold here, but Autumn has arrived for sure.

 

 


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Dramatic Skies on a Chill Early Evening

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

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

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

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



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Of Red Alerts and Forgotten Pasttimes

There was a lot of joking going on.  No-one remembered an actual red alert, but knew of plenty yellow or even orange ones which had turned out to be storms in teacups, so throughout Sunday, when warnings were mis-interpreted there was a lot of sarcasm going around – and this in a country which really doesn’t do sarcasm.

I kind of got it, but  I moved anything which might take flight from the roof terrace, unplugged most things electrical, made sure I knew how to grope for the torches in the dark, where the matches and candles were, and snuggled down around 10.30 with a good book.  Apart from a dull murmuring as breezes shifted the tightly closed window blinds there was nothing much to confirm the red storm alert the archipelago was under, but when we lost power around 11pm it was a sign.  We always lose power in a bad storm.  I cozied down under the duvet, but forgot to turn off the light, so when the power came back on after 20 minutes or so it roused me from that drift before sleep I was enjoying, and made sure I wouldn’t find my way back for a couple of hours – in all that time, no storm sounds.

This morning, opening the door to the roof terrace, aware that there were no hints of wind or rain, the smell of damp earth rose to greet me.  It’s a smell you dream of at the end of a long, dry summer.  It’s like no other in its connection to this planet.  The terrace was damp, clouds still hovered over all but the nearest hills, but nothing seemed threatening.  TV reported high winds on the peaks, trees and road signs down mainly in the north of the island, but no threat to life, or major structural damage.  I spoke with friends and family.  The mayor of Icod in the north spoke on tv of a complicated, hard and difficult night.  Cristina confirmed that the Fiesta de San Andres in Icod, when the new wines of the  year are presented, and which should have taken place Monday night (and where I should be right now!), was postponed.  TV confirmed that schools throughout the western islands were closed today.  Still, it seems as if it was happening somewhere else.  To a Sandgrown ‘un* this was normal autumn weather, wet and windy, the sort of weather which regularly brings down the Illuminations in Blackpool, and no reason to hide indoors as the island government was suggesting.

I was still on the phone when the windows began to shake under the battering of heavy rain, and the door onto the roof terrace clattered with a ghostly force.  When I looked out across the car park, which my apartment overlooks, I couldn’t even see the apartments on the other side, so dense and grey was the sheet of rain hurtling through.  Driven, as it was, by high wind it didn’t last long, and the morning settled down to a pattern of heavy showers, followed by periods when the sky lightened, and I was tempted to go out to peek at the ocean.  Whenever it crossed my mind to do so, down would come a thick curtain of rain again.

At some point, thunder began to echo from the hillsides, sometimes mixing with the distant roar of planes taking off from the airport, so you couldn’t tell which was which.  The planes had been taking off in “the wrong direction” for a couple of days – the first sign of bad weather.  Occasionally,  lightning flashed, hidden behind the thick clouds so that the whole sky lit with a curious yellowish glow for a few seconds.  As the day wore on, the thunder rumbled closer and the flashes were brighter, Mother Nature, it seemed, had given the order to advance on the coast.  Time to shut off the router again, before it was in danger of “frying”.  Trixy took refuge under the table.  Our sortie in the morning was brief.  She didn’t want to be out there any more than I did!

So the afternoon passed, the tv having gone down earlier there was no way of knowing how bad it was elsewhere.  This isn’t a place or a building I expected to get the worst of it by any means.  I’d lived for around 14 years on a street where heavy rain always brought floods, so since then nothing’s been that bad!  Around 6, as things seemed to be quieter I went up to the roof terrace again.   The rain had almost stopped, and the wind was no worse than usual for this area, and, remarkably, over in the western sky, there was strip of blue beneath the lumbering grey, and the setting sun was beginning to tint the clouds with purple.

Returning to the tv and the computer it seemed as if, whilst there has been bad damage, including a crane falling over, on Tenerife, and worse damage on the smaller and more westerly islands of  La Palma and El Hierro, there has been no loss of life, and electricity has been restored to most of the 23,000 people who have stumbled through the day without it.

By one of those weird co-incidences life throws up from time to time, Sunday was the 5th anniversary of Tropical Storm Delta glancing across the island, downing several electricity pylons, and causing chaos.  Hopefully, this new system of alerts worked this time, and prevented damage, and saved lives, even the skeptical were still listening to the news.

These island are truly blessed in their weather almost all of the time.  You will read statistics which tell you we get around 65 days of rain per year, but those stats are read from weather stations in the north, most of them around 2,000 ft above sea level, here on the southern coast we have far less than that, which, I guess, is why these storms seem extra exciting to me!  I can count on the fingers of one hand the electrical storms I’ve seen here.  I can remember watching from a highrise hotel in Florida as the lightning jumped from cloud to cloud, and I remember seeing a water tower on the Outer Banks light up like something from a science fiction movie.  These summer storms are so normal there, but here they are big news!

For me, a kind of old-fashioned day, when I didn’t want to begin ironing or cooking or writing or anything which involved electricity and which I might have to frustratingly abandon.  I actually sat and read for two, whole hours, a real luxury.  It’s a whole year since I had the time to do that.  It was a guilty pleasure I’d rediscovered when I broke my wrist last year.  I do read every day, and every spare minute I get, but often I’m too tired to revel in it the way I could today.  The other thing I did was to copy out, by hand, as in wielding a pen, a ton of recipes I’d tried and liked and collected, onto the cards from a recipe box Guy had given me, oh, a few years back already.  Just think, reading and writing……..and I remembered how to do both!  Give me a day like this tomorrow and I might even try my hand at a jigsaw!

* sandgrown ‘un is the name given to someone born in Blackpool,  on the north-west coast of England, although I understand people from Morecambe also claim the nickname.

Update:  As I clicked “publish” last night I heard the dull rumble of thunder again, and spent an hour or so at my window, watching lightning  light up the car park brighter than day, as flash rapidly followed flash.  Somewhere between midnight and one it eased off and I took myself to bed, only to be woken a couple of hours later by what sounded like an even fiercer round of pyrotecnics.  This time I hid under the covers and tried to sleep!

 


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And We Have Sunsets Too

I’ve notice sometimes with sunrises and sunsets, that whilst we’re focused on the scarlet ball on the horizon, sometimes amazing reflections happen elsewhere, like the grass the other week.  Thursday morning it was the mountains which were basking in the early glow.  I have no doubt I missed the best, and didn’t have a good enough lens to get a nice snap, but just to give you an idea of the environment.  Yep – know the “little boxes” spoil it…..that said, how about living there??? ………..did skip home with Pete Seeger ringing in my ears, though!

And just to prove that this isn’t paradise, these cute little birds (which I think are sanderlings, but I’m hopeless at identifying birds, so would be grateful for a proper id if anyone knows, please?) were breakfasting along the shoreline, and I crept slowly and silently as close as I could, when some great, clod-hopping iggit clumping along scattered them.  No thought for the birds, or for me who was clearly trying to photograph them…….see we have our share of numbskulls here too!

One of the reasons I love El Médano is  that people watching (numbskulls apart) is so much more fun than it is in the resorts.  Here people are, actually, doing something, and not just shuffling along the promenade, or letting it all hang out on a sunbed.  Even early there were quite a few runners and joggers around, as well as the usual variety of dog walkers, and I sat for several minutes watching a skin diver as he backed himself into the waves, and then disappeared, long fins waving in his wake.  Every morning I see a guy I call Tai Chi guy,  gracefully greeting the new day from the rocky outcrop overlooking the beach, and I pass cyclists, and several elderly couples who do their own version of power walking.

Out there, on the ocean, and only specks on the photos there was a tall ship to stir the imagination and dream about, and a small fishing skiff, hauling up cages to check if they’d caught any pulpo overnight, as well as one or two yachts.

Full of good humor (despite the clod-hopper) I scooted down to Los Cristianos to collect my mail before all the parking spaces within reasonable walking distance of the Post Office were taken.  At the back of my mind was a breakfast of croissant and coffee at the French Bakery to prolong my mellow mood, and, indeed, I sat and ordered as I gleefully tore open packages  (a jiffy bag of Kendal Mint Cake from my dad, and a book from a friend :=)).  Then the choking, acrid smell of cigarettes wafted across. Even outdoors it was revolting, so I changed my order to to go, and trotted across to the little park place where I used to eat my lunch when I worked in Los Cristianos.  There I was greeted by the yucky smell of dog poo, so I carried on back to my car.  It’s a tribute to the bakery, that even sulking, not-that-comfortable, and glowering in my car,  the croissant, which melted in my mouth all buttery and light, brightened my mood again.  Paradise lost.  Paradise regained – kind of.

I was out on the roof terrace again around 5 pm when it occurred to me that maybe the sunset might equal the sunrise, and how nice it would be to bookend my day that way, so I took myself down to Los Cristianos again, to where I remembered my great sunsets from last year, and settled down amongst the pebbles to wait.  In coastal areas we were on yellow alert (and on high ground on orange) as a huge weather system was closing in on us.  You can see the storm clouds hugging the horizon and spiralling over the harbor of Los Cristianos as dusk fell in the last picture.

It turned out to be not so bad.  Clearly some rain had fallen here overnight, and the wind rattled my blinds and woke me once, but nothing major, neither did the tv, nor reports from friends on other parts of the island, indicate anything much overnight.  Worse is predicted for Sunday, so we may see a white Christmas on the mountain peaks.  Living near the airport, even if you don’t listen to weather reports, you know when bad weather is on its way.  First, you get the clear views of Gran Canaria, like yesterday morning; then you notice the planes as they glide effortlessly in to land instead of roaring up and away on take off, that means the prevalent winds have changed;  if you have a dog like Trixy you notice her sniffing the air when you go out in the morning, sensing a change in the wind-bourne scents only she can smell.  Few people really mind the storms here in the south, so long as no major damage or fatalities occur, as they bring a respite from heat and dust.  A good downpour and the hillsides which are now desert scrub after a long summer’s heat, spring to green life, as dormant seeds and roots are nourished.  So, we wait to see what the weekend brings.


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Strange Weather

This was how it began.  I have no view from this apartment, but I took this from the roof terrace a few evenings back.  The clouds are beginning to pile up, and they reflect the setting sun – just a hint of what was to come, which is:

This was Las Vistas Beach when I passed this evening around 7.30.  Thunder-grey, storm clouds pass thickly over neighboring island, La Gomera, and yachts sit it out just outside the bay.  This time of year you see yachts in all the bays on this coast.  Most are waiting.  Soon the hurricane season will be over, and they will be heading out, across the Atlantic on their adventures…..

Usually, when we have heavy clouds and storm warnings the weather roars in from the Atlantic.  Here, in El Médano, where we are almost always buffetted by north east winds we are becalmed, and the sunniest, west coast takes the brunt of the elements.  At the moment, though, there is apparently a mysterious calm everywhere in the south.  I went into Los Cristianos tonight to eat, expecting wind and maybe rain, but I found the same conditions I’d left behind.  Like the yachts we wait.

Clearly it was nice enough earlier in the day for kids to play on the beach :=)


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Autumn Rains

Apt that this first day of the Fall brings us rain and thunder.  We were put on yellow alert last night, which doesn’t usually mean too much.  Being such a mountainous island amounts of rain and wind directions can vary a lot, even in a very short distance.  We really have our own micro-climate. Where we lived when the boys were growing up, on a hillside, in Chayofa, we could see out across the ocean in two directions.  Storms, when they come, come from the Atlantic, and we could see the dark clouds gathering, usually sweeping across the nearest island, La Gomera, and out across the sleeve of ocean between Tenerife and Gran Canaria, often missing the South of this island completely.

I snapped this from the azotea, or roof terrace, about an hour or so ago.  You can see how dense clouds build up over the mountains, and settle in the valleys. What was a couple of hours, varying from drizzle to hard rain here on the coast, will be lingering in those valleys well into tomorrow at least.

I was looking forward to the rain to wash down the azotea.  I swilled it last week,  but being conscious of not using too much water, only enough to dampen down the sand and dus,t which has built up over the Spring and Summer months.  The hillsides and valleys of the South having been crying out for rain for some weeks now.  There isn’t a dramatic difference in temperatures throughout the year here, we average around 20ºC in Winter daytime, and rarely top 35ºC in Summer (though that’s beginning to change a bit), but anyone who’d been in a coma for six months and woke last week would have known exactly what time of year it was.  Grasses and plants shrivelled, and the mountain sides bereft of almost everything besides the hardy pines (which don’t really grown until higher up anyway) and cacti.  In a way this is the bleak time, the end of Summer, not Winter as it is further North.  Now we’ve had some rain, some of those barren hillsides will begin to sprout greenery within days.  The earlier the rains come the quicker the greenery returns, because the atmosphere borders on tropical with the heat and the rain, only the nights,  stand in the way of rapid, tropical growth!  Even in Summer we have cool breezes, once the sun has set.  Right now indoors it’s still muggy, but if I walk to the open window (no wind so I can happily leave it open the rain is vertical) the coolness is refreshing and very welcome.

It’s odd not to be able to make plans for tomorrow with any certainty.  One of the benefits of such a consistent climate is knowing that when you plan to BBQ, go to the beach, hike or watch fireworks or anything outdoors, the chances of it being spoiled by the weather are slim!

The rains always bring problems to some part of the island.  With so little rainfall, and with so much falling in such a short time when it does, drains get overloaded, roads cracked by months of Summer sunshine crumble, and rockfalls make mountain roads dangerous.  In some ways, to those of us who lived years in wetter climes, it seems like “just a bit of rain”, but the affects can be more serious than in places accustomed to the “wet”.  When I lived in houses in my early years here, both flooded on the ground floors when the rains got serious.  After a couple of years it became normal to wake up in the middle of the night and pull on a swimsuit to go clear out a drain or move something in the garden so that the water could flow through.  It was usually quite warm, and the rain was the soak-you-to-the-skin variety, so there was no point in wearing protective clothing!

I’ve also lived in a couple of apartments where damp was a problem after the rain.  One was quite serious, with damp spores sprouting all over the place, which the landlord neglected to inspect for months – happily windows were usually open, because I hadn’t realized how dangerous to health that can be!

Here, last time it rained heavily in February we were all water-tight, although I did have fears about the water gathering on the azotea and creating a waterfall down the stairs, which kept me awake most of the night!  From the look of the satellite pictures and the lack of wind at the moment, looks like this will be hanging around for a while – much to the delight of certain people I know!

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