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

Summertime El Médano


It’s 1976. It’s been a heatwave year. Remarkable in my almost 30 years on this planet. I only remember one other summer, dimly, from my childhood, when it was this hot. It’s the year I learn to water ski. It’s the year I see my first shooting star. It’s a year etched clearly in my memory, because it’s also the year my mom dies. She is only 49 years old. She was my best friend as well as my mom, and the lazy summer which follows her May death is a time for recuperation. All summer I’m not thinking about anything in particular , just drifting. It’s September, early September, and I’m sitting on the end of a jetty on Lake Windermere, (where every, balmy weekend has been spent), with a guy, not a special someone or anything, just a guy who is in the extended group who hang out this summer. It’s dusk, and a light mist is beginning to eke its way across the water.

“Ugh. I hate the end of summer,” he says. He’s tall and blond, something in the surfer-dude mold. He should have been living on a beach. He loves driving his elegant, vintage boat around the Lake. He’s oblivious to the fanasties he stirs in female imaginations.

“Really,” I reply. “I kind of think of Autumn as a new beginning. I don’t mind it, so long as it’s not too wet!”

It was the first time I’d considered mourning the end of summer, but then, there had never been a summer quite like that one, and I guess that’s why the memory of that moment, that conversation sticks in my mind (even though the guy’s name escapes me).

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

Many summer folk never see the beauty of this place.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that seasons don’t exist here. Afterall, this is called “The Land of Eternal Spring,” and there is something in that.  Summer is hotter though. The Canary Islands are in the northern hemisphere, even though they are subtropical. School is out. There are still many folk who take their entire vacation time in August. There are offices which still close early, and it’s difficult to get paperwork done.

When dusk falls, life pretty much moves outdoors. The island is  on almost the same latitude as Orlando, give or take a couple of tenths of a degree, but where summer nights in Florida are hot and humid, summer nights in the Canary Islands are mild and cooled by the breeze – at least outdoors. There is nothing like sitting outside, feeling the breath of evening on your sun-warmed skin, ice clinking in the drink you’re nursing, even feeling a slight shiver as night draws on.

Last night's mojitos set me to musing

Last night’s mojitos set me to musing

Summer mornings are lethargic for some, folk do what they have to do, sometimes with ill-grace, since these days more than half the world seems to be on the beach in El Médano, and they would like to be there too (heaven forbid one should mention to these folk that the unemployed soaking up the rays would, actually, like to be working).

Seniors take their morning stroll along the beach

Seniors take their morning stroll along the beach

I watch from the boardwalk. The morning beaches are taken over by different groups, some bused in from villages in the foothills. Pensioners form a conga line around a fitness instructor on the main beach, lifting first one knee as high as they can, and then the next. Tubby grannies abandon their clothes on the rocks and waddle down to the sea, where they bob around, gossiping, having fun. You know, good for both these groups, at least they are in the fresh air, and being active.

This senior group sported T shirts saying they were from San Miguel, an inland village about 15 mins away

This senior group sported T shirts saying they were from San Miguel, an inland village about 15 mins away

A tad later, young guys in uniform Ts set up nets, and coach the local kids in soccer or volley ball. In the main plaza guys are setting up for whatever the night’s event will be, pop music, food fair, folk concert. There is always something going on in summer. Some mornings there is a zumba class blaring away there.  People in general scurry around to get their chores done whilst there is still some cool. One of the great things about this climate is that the heat doesn’t set in that early, unless the wind is blowing directly from Africa, bringing dust and sand as well as sultriness. And all the while there is a constant morning parade:  windsurfers scanning the horizon for waves or carrying their gear down to the beach; cyclists with baskets full of shopping; some runners (though most are earlier still); valiant street cleaners who here fight an uphill, daily battle against wind as well as ignorance; dog walkers, seniors paddling in the shallows, delivery guys, and folk strolling to their favorite brunch place.

The boardwalk along El Médano's main beach

The boardwalk along El Médano’s main beach

As the day slides into hot, afternoon streets are abandoned, no kiddies on the playground opposite my block, anyone out on the street seems to be walking  purposefully, hurrying away from the hot concrete. The horizon is filled with multi-colored sails and kites, bright against that cobalt sea/sky background. The beach is now chock a block with families, kids screaming, moms shouting, dads strutting. Anyone not on the beach is taking a siesta. The apartment block in which I live is silent as the grave these summer afternoons. It’s a great time to go supermarket shopping (but not, say for clothes because the small shops take the siesta too). But the best way to while away the afternoon heat is perhaps in a shady bar, where the sea breeze keeps us cool, nibbling seafood and drinking cold beer.

But as the sun sinks, and the air becomes less heavy, people emerge in dribs and drabs, until at 7pm the playground here in Plaza Roja is teeming, and the other half of the square is taken up by an iniatiatve from the Town Hall, involving kids’ activities,  presumably aimed at keeping older kids occupied and not roaming the streets after dark (would that they would do this every night of the year!) . Queues are long outside my favorite gelateria, the streetside bars are filling up. Life will circulate around the streets, the boardwalks and the plazas for hours yet.

Playa Cabezo yesterday morning, waiting to greet the World Windsurf Tour

Playa Cabezo yesterday morning, waiting to greet the World Windsurf Tour

Last night was a tapas and wine fair in the main square. It was vastly over-attended, Traffic entering the town apparently collapsed for a while, The World Windsurf Tour was also rolling into town, and at 9pm when I stepped out of my door, the streets were buzzing. Not everything here is wonderful by any stretch.  The jostling at the stalls was unpleasant, and the prices were misleading. I remember in a past year taking our wine and sitting on the steps to the beach, enjoying the wine and the warm breeze;  but seemingly marketing has improved, or because it coincided with the Windsurf Tour, or there are simply more people around than there used to be, it was more like a can of sardines than a can of sardines. The good news was that it was pretty easy to find somewhere more peaceful to sit and enjoy a drink, since everyone seemed to be in the plaza……which of course begs the question, who actually makes money out of these affairs, because it certainly didn’t seem to be bringing business to the local eateries or bars, many seemed to be quieter than normal. As I turned my key around 1am the streets were far busier than they had been at 3 pm. In wintertime the streets are deserted at that hour, except for a few young bucks, even though by the standards of those of us brought up further north it’s quite mild.

It was good to see so many local people back in May turn out for the release of injured turtles back into the wild. This sea/mankind connection is strong.

It was good to see so many local people back in May turn out for the release of injured turtles back into the wild. This sea/mankind connection is strong.

This town, without a shadow of doubt, has had a unique vibe. Almost everyone remarks on this, adjectives like quirky, bohemian, hippy or laid-back are the ones you hear most. Last summer, when it promised to be the way it is now I decided I wouldn’t spend another summer here, yet here I am. You might say it’s a general malaise I feel, an eagerness to be moving on, but I don’t think so. It’s simply that the vibe changes in summer. This much remarked-on quirkiness which results in El Médano’s unique energy, is suffocated by the tourist vibe. These summer visitors don’t come to ride waves or bikes, they don’t come to admire the sunrise or the volcanic beauty, they come, it seems to me at least, to bake themselves on the beach,  and spread litter around the town. In winter there is a quite remarkable mix of nationalities and interests, and energies –  sporting energy, creative energy, an energy which connects man to sea and land, but in summer there is lethagy. Perhaps the Windsurf Tour will stir it up a bit. I’m sure I’ll miss a lot about El Médano,  but I’m kind of glad I won’t be spending next summer here.

I don’t do advertising on this blog, directly, nor indirectly, but if I find something I like, a product, a book, a movie, a restaurant I like to let the world know! So…..all photos on this post except the first one and the one of the turtle release were taken with my Sony Xperia. I’ve had it a few months now. Didn’t set out to buy it, but am very happy with it, especially the photos.


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

11 thoughts on “Summertime El Médano

  1. So… will this really be your last summer in El Médano? I’ll have to follow along and find out. You said so many things that made me reflect on different times in my own life — various people, various times, summer turning into autumn, my mom, special guys. Lovely, lovely post.

    • Definitely, Cathy! If at some point in the future I decide that I was wrong about seeking somewhere new, and that it is, in fact, the best place to be based, I would absolutely, definitely not be here July and August. It changes horribly. Whilst I admire what the town hall does in the events it creates for the summer, it’s just not for me! I have friends in Cape Cod who feel the same way about there. They adore it 10 months of the year, but hate summer. I guess there are plenty of places worldwide with the same kind of atmosphere!

  2. Perhaps if you lived a little way out of town, as we do, you might not feel so crowded out by sensory overload. For sure it does get very hectic for these couple of months. The garage where we store our windsurfing equipment goes from having just a couple of people to being like the Black Hole of Calcutta (a description that I never tire of explaining to the German, Polish, Russian windsurfing tourists in there with us).

    But … as you put it: “This town, without a shadow of doubt, has had a unique vibe.” On all our travels (Europe, Caribean, Australia etc) we have never found a place that we loved so much. I feel more at home in el Medano than I did in Shoreham ffs (and Shoreham has to be one of the nicest places in the whole of the UK, but it doesn’t quite have that “unique vibe”). This place makes you feel truly alive.

    • LoL Richard – good luck with explaining that! You’re quite right. I once did the reverse of what I am today doing, and rented an apartment for the summer in Sotovento, and it was idyllic. Still it’s nice to be near town and wander down there of an evening, which isn’t a weekend. Really it’s weekends which irritate me, and it’s largely been the amount of trash folk are leaving behind which is stressing me out, and the bad manners. In fact, during the week it’s nice that it’s more lively……at least this week is different…..sitting here listening to the announcements from the WWT.

      Funny you should choose that last sentence because someone wrote exactly that about travel recently. Everyone has their own approach to feeling that way I guess. Of course it would be a rum old world if not! The sad thing is many folk don’t seek that feeling, and just trudge through the daily routine without having ever felt it!

  3. just recently a friend e mailed with talk of the great weather reminding her of the summer of 1976. this led on to a group of us going through memories of 1976. sadly I had no idea your memories would include such a poignant one. For me it was my first transatlantic trip, George having spent many holidays there in his childhood. We went to Toronto and then flew to Chicago for a few days. That trip came at the end of a parched summer and I’m fairly sure that whilst we were there the Brixton carnival ended in riots. As for avoiding ‘trippers’, I made the mistake of going for an eye test the other day and realised all over again why I avoid town during summer and head for St Anne’s and Lytham. Actually felt ill after the eye test, drops in eyes etc and felt like screaming ‘beam me up Scottie’.

  4. Guess ’76 was a year to remember. How weather shapes so many of our memories!

    Heck, yes. I remember I used to avoid going into Blackpool during the summer months too.

  5. Have you decided where you want to move to? Hopefully somewhere as charming as El Medano.

    We lived in the busiest tourist spot in Paris for 20+ years (Montmartre near Place de Tertre). The first few summers were fun, but on the 4th year or so, we too, like most Parisians, escaped elsewhere during July and August. Other months were only slightly less busy than the summer months. We just left to live in another touristy part of the South of France. And the first August, we’ve escaped already. Such a crowd. Hopefully, the other months will be quieter there than in Paris outside the summer season.

  6. If Menton is anything like here, and I’m sure there are similarities (winter population of folk getting away from colder climates?) then it will be different in winter. Winter brings a different type of visitor, more money to spend but fewer of them, so it’s goo for the local economies!

    I’m going to one of the smaller islands for starter. Post to come soon as I get a minute!!

  7. Pingback: Too Much Lotus Eating in La Gomera; Time to Move On | Islandmomma

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