Islandmomma

Searching for Stories Around the Islands of the World and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Is There Spring on the Island of Eternal Spring?

It wasn’t the aboriginal Guanche, who lived on this archipelago before the Conquest, nor the Spanish Conquistadors, who named the island chain, but Juba ll of Mauritania, well,  at least according to Pliny it was. The word Canaria (Canary) coming from the Latin word for dog, canis, and having nothing at all to do with our feathered friends. Apparently, back in history, multitudes of wild dogs roamed the islands, or, another theory postulates, possibly it was seals, canis marinus, but whatever, the name stuck.

There is an abundance of myths surrounding the islands, which some claim are the Lost Garden of the Hesperides; and others claim to be the site of Atlantis. They were also known as The Fortunate Islands – an ancient Greek version of paradise, which was somewhere in Macronesia, they say. Take your pick, and remember that perhaps choosing one name does not preclude another.

Whichever name you like to use, there is no doubting that the Canary Islands are idealized, and that is, largely, because of their climate, which is, overall,  warm, rather than hot, and rarely extreme; even when snow falls on the mountains of  Tenerife (remember that El Teide is the highest peak in Spain) it never settles long. When you put the gentle climate together with the rich and porous, volcanic soil you have a veritable Garden of Eden (and, yes, that is another theory).

So, is there a Spring? Are there seasons at all? I’ve written about Autumn here before, about how different it is  from countries further north, and about how much I miss it, but I’ve hardly mentioned the other seasons apparently. Odd in one way, because Tenerife’s nickname is The Island of Eternal Spring. In a way, that confirms the idea that there is no change in season, and that’s not really true, and yet in another way it is!  If you’ve lived in countries where seasons are more clearly defined as the year rolls around, it takes a while to get used to the subtle seasonal changes.

Summer

Blue skies, blue ocean and fun on the beach. Summer on Tenerife - oh, wait a minute, this happens all year round!

Blue skies, blue ocean and fun on the beach. Summer on Tenerife – oh, wait a minute, this happens all year round!

Summer is a state of mind in the Canary Islands.  A change comes over the islands. Local television celebrates the onset of the season every bit as much as if it signaled the major  weather change which it does further north. Familiar faces disappear from local tv as long holidays are taken. Life moves outdoors whether beach or mountain barbecue, or simply sitting on a terrace or balcony, however humble, to catch the morning sun, or the evening breeze. It’s that evening breeze which keeps us sane, curtails the temperatures, so that when you step outside after 7 or 8 o’clock there is a pleasant balminess, a breeze which can  feel even cool on  sunburned skin.

Many offices grind to a near halt in late June, and school is out until early September. Flights are more expensive – which makes me feel trapped. In an emergency I would have to pay a small fortune to get to mainland Europe. A weekend visit to Santa Cruz is a delight as the city streets empty and residents flock to the coasts. The highest temperature I ever experienced here was in Santa Cruz, an unpleasant, but not unbearable, 43º. As in all cities, the heat bounces off the concrete, hence the weekend exodus. Many residents of the capital have holiday homes in the south, or elsewhere along the coasts, and it isn’t unusual for mom and the kids to decamp for the entire summer, to be joined by dad on the weekend. Yet, with low humidity and Atlantic breezes the heat isn’t nearly so exhausting as I’ve experienced elsewhere in Europe.

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My “Sunlit Mountain in the Sea”

From Bruce Chatwin’s  ‘In Patagonia’: “The tenant of the Estancia Paso Roballos was a Canary Islander from Tenerife. He sat in a pink-washed kitchen, where a black clock hammered out the hours……………….. …………….Homesick and dreaming of lost vigour, the old man named the flowers, the trees, the farming methods and dances of his sunlit mountain in the sea.”

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My – but Chatwin’s way with words was poetic and his early death a sad loss to the world; and my –  but that old man’s dreaming speaks volumes for the magic these islands weave. “My sunlit mountain in the sea” –  meandering the foothills of Tenerife’s west coast the other day it I couldn’t get it out of my head…..whatever parts of the book were, as some claim, a fiction, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the exile’s story is a true one.

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It’s January, and, effectively Springtime in these islands, sometimes called “The Islands of Eternal Spring” for their generally balmy climate.  It’s likely that we will have more rain before Summer comes, possibly snow on the high peaks, but all along the coast and on the lower hillsides spring blossoms and flowers are vibrant. I think the old Canary Islander in Patagonia would have loved it his year.  We had around two years of very low rainfall, none in many places in the south of the island, but this Fall brought enough to revive the landscape, coat the parched vistas with greenery at last, and imbue our walk from Chirche  to Arguayo, near Santiago del Teide, with a sense of the earth’s renewal, as well as present us with a feast for the eyes.

Colorful houses in Chirche at the beginning of our walk

Colorful houses in Chirche at the beginning of our walk

Tabaiba Dulce

Tabaiba Dulce

It always amazes me that folk actually live in Chirche, but according to figures I looked up around 224 people do. It perches on the heights above Guia de Isora,  its streets seem almost vertical, and require a confident sense of balance, but I totally understand the attraction, it has a serenity which is palpable, even when we returned mid-afternoon to collect the car we’d left at the beginning  of the walk it was utterly peaceful.

Margaritas overhang the old, cement water trough which carried water to the fields and villages

Margaritas overhang the old, cement water trough which carried water to the fields and villages

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Mountain Glory

Three months ago it seemed as if the whole island was in motion, heading up into the hills for a glimpse of snow, which was falling heavier and later than usual.  This week it seemed that everyone was talking about the profusion of wildflowers, the colors, the extraordinary numbers this year.  Pictures, like the one below, which I snapped close to the cemetery in Vilaflor on Thursday,  dominate the newspapers, and are on t.v. daily.  The rich colors of Tajinastes and California poppies contrast magnificently with the endless blue of the sky.

Tajinaste grow nowhere else on earth except in the Canary Islands, and some types are native only to specific islands.  They appear on so many postcards, videos and snapshots you probably remember seeing them before.  They’re symbolic of the islands.  I know you don’t want to know all the latin names and explanations, because you would be reading a wildflower blog if you did, and you can look them up elsewhere if you want!  Sufficient to say that when they burst into bloom at this time of year it’s a noteworthy day on the calendar. We enjoy them for a month or more, before the summer heat forces plant life on the peaks to wither or hide.   People will be rushing up there this weekend to see them in the same way they rushed up to see the snow 3 months back.

Maria, Cristina and I, aiming to avoid those weekend crowds headed up into the hills late Thursday afternoon, as soon as Maria had finished work.  Top down on Cristina’s baby we breezed the curves enjoying the flow of warm air and the freedom……..one of the things I miss about living on an island is the potential for road trips!

Note the magnificent white broom on the hillside just where we pulled over.

We hadn’t been driving for very long when we began to notice the colors on the hillsides we were cruising, it really was as if life was bursting out from every turn.  Tajinaste don’t grown below about 2,000 meters, so we were on the look out for our first one, and there was cheering as we spotted  it, although it was a smallish one in the garden of a hamlet we were passing. Still, before too long we were seeing more, and then clumps of them, and then a the stunning group we spotted by the cemetery, pictured above, and below.

We skirted Vilaflor and glided through the Corona Forestal as we climbed continuously, and leaving the forest behind we rounded a bend to see the islands of El Hierro, La Gomera and La Palma shimmering on the horizon. In certain conditions the other islands take on a sort of fantasy pose, seeming to hover over the ocean, with their mountain peaks emerging from cloud. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I know. Sadly my lens wasn’t up to capturing what my eye saw, but this is the best I could do. You can clearly see La Gomera, and El Hierro is the smudge of blue on the horizon to the left.  The lens wasn’t wide enough to include La Palma too.

It was whilst we were stopped to snap the islands that we realized how busy the road had become, particularly with wagons and heavy goods traffic.  We’d come across very little traffic until then, travelling late afternoon it was all going in the opposite direction.Then  we realized were coming from the set of the “Clash of the Titans” sequel, which is being filmed in the National Park as well as other points on the island. Have to say, even from what I’d read and heard about film making the sheer volume of this traffic amazed me!

For us it was onward and upwards however.  A few more twists and turns and we were in Valle de Ucanca, which is where I’d taken the great shots in the snow February and March.  No snow this day, though.  The sun was strong and just high enough in the sky to give us plenty of light, but still lend shadow.  The snows had long seeped into the rock to the underground caverns where it is stored, and in their place were splashes of vivid color -  white  and bright yellow  broom,  cheerful margaritas and still some lingering wild lavender, but most stunning, the tajinaste, great clumps of them,  tumbling down the mountainsides, like the pointy red hats of dozens of garden gnomes.

They can grow up to 3 meters tall, and are heaven on earth for bees.  I’ve never seen one which wasn’t emitting a buzz as the bees collected their pollen.

The broom had been perfuming the air since we’d stopped to photography the islands, and around the caldera the scent was heavy in the late afternoon warmth.  I don’t remember fragrance hanging in the air, just like that, since being in Provence, in the heart of perfume country.

After scrambling around and taking snaps for a while we stopped at a mirador, or viewing point with the caldera spread before us, and El Teide rising in all his glory from its midst.  I imagine he looks down and is pretty pleased by what he sees at the moment.  We made time to pause and picnic for a short while, before heading back down.

The obligatory tourist shot – Cristina and Maria with the volcanic landscape in the background!

 We took the route I’d taken back in March, when that white wall of mist had seemed to follow us down the snowy road, but this time the malpais (badlands) were in their accustomed  stark and impressive state, the odd tree bravely hanging on to life here and there, and La Gomera and La Palma visible again over the tops of the forests before we descended through them.

It was interesting, after last week’s hike, to note the difference in the flora on this which was, more or less, the west side of the island, and the east where I was last Saturday.  Even in such a small space, life, as I always keep harping on about, is so very varied.  I’m hoping to get back up there before the flowers fade, but the chances are that the next time I make it summer will have seared the already austere landscape, and I’ll have to wait for next year to see this amazing scene again.  That’s why everyone will be scuttling up there this weekend – everyone except me that is.


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Spring – In The Air and In My Step

After the almond blossom the next sign of spring  is the wild lavender.  I remember seeing it for the first time in profusion a few years back.  There was a stretch of what can only be called desert, alongside the beach of Achile, where I used to walk Trixy most mornings.  After choosing alternative routes for a couple of days we returned to Achile to find it covered in the delicate, pale purple  flowers, and ever since I’ve thought of its arrival as the beginning of springtime.

I wasn’t looking for it in the desert landscape on Thursday, and it was a quiet delight of an interesting and surprising day to find it, the taller spikes moving gentley on the breeze.

9am isn’t particularly early to meet for a short hike, but I’d stayed up too late the night before, exploring and travelling vicariously thanks to the internet, so I wasn’t over-bright and breezy, when Cristina and I arrived at Adeje’s parish church of St Ursula, which appears to keep an eye on the town, sitting, as it does,  high at the top of the main thoroughfare.  It didn’t help that I’d only downed one, small cup of coffee, remembering that an hour or so’s hike over a barren landscape doesn’t afford bushes to hide behind when you have a call of nature.

The parish church of St. Ursula

It was the feast day of San Sebastian, patron saint of the municipality, and an hour and half’s walk over what was once the main route connecting the pueblo high on the hill to the shore below, had been arranged by the municipality, with a traditional fiesta at its conclusion.  You could call it a pilgrimage, or a keeping alive of history.  Crops were transported down to the shore by this route using oxen and carts.

We had a sharp and sunny start Thursday morning as we hung around the church steps, waiting for the guides to lead off.  The weather here in the south since Christmas has been so perfect it makes you want to hold your breath.  Clear mornings which have melded into hot middays, which then melted into chilly evenings and even chiller nights, true desert weather.  It was nice to note that I wasn’t the only foreigner, that others were interested in the traditions of their adopted home, or vacation home.

Setting off from the church at the head of the town, we wound our way through the quiet streets.  It has to be said that most of the (possibly) 40,000-ish inhabitants of the municipality were probably taking advantage of the local holiday to sleep in.  There weren’t many people around at least, as we snaked along, escorted efficiently by the local police who stopped what traffic there was to let us pass.  Even when we reached the bridge which struts the autopista we didn’t seem to be causing too many holdups.

From the autopista it’s just five minutes downhill to the first marker on the journey, and we streamed through the gateway, historical marker alongside, which heralded the beginning of the “real” walk. 19th century Adeje was a very important agricultural area, where fields of maze and sugar beet surrounded the village, and where  rich banana harvests were produced for Fyffes.  That company used to loan, on occasion, a bullock cart to transport the statue of Saint Sebastian to the beach of La Enramada below, but this day we were simple pilgrims on foot.

It was less than another five minutes from the gateway to the vantage point from which I took those great sunset pictures in December, and quite a few people stopped there to snack or drink water, or just to admire the vista, our route, tumbling down to the ocean, spread out before us.

It wasn’t a hard walk by any stretch of the imagination, there were several families with pushchairs, and some elderly people.  The ground is volcanic-rock solid, with just a few places where it’s worn away and you’re liable to slip on loose stones.  We crossed a small brook at one point, but skipping over a couple of stones and we were over.  On a walk like this, keeping up, more or less, with the group is half the fun and half the point of it, it’s a communal thing, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to admire that lavender or other flora as we went.

As we neared our destination we came to El Humilladero, the site where, according to legend, there has been a sighting of the Virgin Mary.  A simple shrine now marks the spot, and several of the older walkers paid their respects.  In reality is marked the end of the walk in one way, as people seemed to drift off on their own from that point.

Feeling ridiculously chipper at the thought of a cold soda we trudged the short distance to the road, and rounded a corner to find the church square already thronging with people. The elegant hermitage of San Sebastian was built in the early Sixties, but if you look to the bottom left of the picture, you can see the red-tiled roof of the tiny, original church.

After gulping down the soda and nibbling a red-hot empanada (a fried pasty or pie) we spent the next, few hours watching the festivities, but that I’m saving for another day.

We set off back in good spirits, which is just as well, because, remember I said it was not a difficult walk down?  Down, note – which means that the return was all uphill.  The day was hotter, a scortching mid-afternoon, the soles of my hiking boots were coming off and flapping as I walked, having met their final indignity in the ocean, and there were many more stops for water or excuses to take photos than on the downward journey, I can tell you!

This was when I remembered that I’d done scarcely any exercise since the neck problems began in June.  I practised my breathing the way I’d done in yoga, and dreamed of a cold beer back in the village at the end.  It was, though, enjoyable.  I love variety in any guise, and the last walk I’d done was along the flat banks of the river Wey in crisp October, with the Autumn leaves crunchy underfoot,  so clambering over volcanic rocks, sighing over pretty clumps of lavender and admiring distant, misty mountains was fine by me.

Everything was hunky dory until we left the open ground and hit the tarmac, where the soles of my boots flapped even harder, and the sun seemed even hotter.

A whistle from a passing truck driver bucked me up no end – hey, at my age that’s something (obviously he was too far away to spot the wrinkles and the multiple chins). In the end we made it though, feet aching and tongue hanging out, and me with no time for that beer I’d been anticipating.  I hurried home to find that my ESL students had to postpone because their car had broken down  en route, and I have to say I thought that maybe the gods (or maybe the saints) were on my side, as I tugged off mystill sodden boots and my salt encrusted jeans. After which I flopped on the sofa, feet on the back to allow the blood to recirculate.  Today I know it was the uphill which was the “killer”, but also a good thing, as my thighs ache something rotten. I didn’t do my power walk this morning, but I think yesterday awarded me a couple of days grace!

Just to give you a clue about the next post, I can tell you that these handsome gentlemen below overtook us on the path, and very charmingly posed for me.

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