Islandmomma

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


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Exploring the Surprising History of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“Rule, Britannia,

Britannia rule the waves.

Britons never, never, never

Shall be slaves!”

The stirring words echo tunelessly around the walls of Tenerife’s Military Museum, and I glance around in embarrassment. I can’t help but wonder if someone is going to come thundering out of an office to whisk me away as an enemy collaborator or some such. (The chorus is pretty tame … check out the full lyrics for the arrogance of the time!)

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The captured British flag from the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797

Our group has had a brief tour of the museum as a final stop in the inaugural Living Tenerife Tours excursion around island capital, Santa Cruz, and I have been cajoled into my rendering by our host Jorge Ballesteros, creator of this excellent outing.

Jorge is a fascinating and gracious guide. Insights into those points where Tenerife’s history intersects with that of Great Britain flow like Canarian wine. These links have long-fascinated him, and now, retired from full-time work, he is realizing his dream of creating this excursion, aimed directly at this common history.

But I am already “ahead of myself.” Let’s begin at the beginning. We met with Jorge in the city’s remodelled Plaza de España. Early morning here is my favorite time of day. If I were you, I would arrive early, grab a coffee, watch city life begin to unfold, as the waters of the pool reflect the skyline. If you arrive by car there is ample parking in the car park under the plaza.

Living Tfe Tours luxury travel

When our transport arrived, it was a good indication of how the day was to go. A sleek, Mercedes mini bus drew up, and we clambered happily into the air conditioned comfort, as the day began to warm up. I am a great fan of city walking tours, but to combine the best of both worlds, some walking with retreats into this kind of luxury, complete with a fridge and coffee, was perfect.

The car purred through busy city streets to our first destination. Recent visits to Santa Cruz have revived my curiosity about the period of history this tour covers, so I had been delighted to accept this invitation from Living Tenerife Tours. The city boasts some beautiful, colonial-era architecture, and I’ve been wondering about the people who built and lived in these grand houses, and the gap between what was clearly enormous wealth and the agricultural life, whose history is more familiar to me. I was about to learn the history of one such house, built by an “expat,” one Henry Wolfson.

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Wolfson arrived in Tenerife in 1886 on a stopover on his way to South Africa, where, at the age of 29, he was intending to make his fortune. The stopover proved to be his destiny. He stayed, and he made an enormous fortune, investing in the cultivation of tomatoes and potatoes, purchasing land in the south of Tenerife, and establishing The Tenerife Gas & Coke Company. He was a shining example of the type of entrepreneur today associated with tech, and he built a magnificent house on a hillside overlooking the city capital. The impressive building, now almost hidden, unless you are quite close, resembles a castle, with turrets, and an ornate façade. Over time, the house became a hotel, and popular stopover spot for world travellers and visiting merchants. Now it is a private school, and as such we were able to visit the exterior, where Jorge, an old-boy, pointed out features, including the expansive view over the modern city, and regaled us with other interesting facts about the original owner.

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Jorge kept up the flow of information and pointed out other points of interest as our car glided to our next stop, the pretty Church of St George in the “Plaza de los Patos.” Originally built in the late 19th century as an Anglican church, it was sold to the Catholic Church a little less than 100 years later, as numbers of Anglican faithful declined. Jorge’s description of its history and that of its surroundings was comprehensive, but I am not going to tell you more ….. you will need to take the tour to discover all of that.

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After a brief stop at Calatrava’s magnificent Auditorium on the seafront, we arrived at the Military Museum and my pitiful rendition of Rule Britannia …. bleeding-heart liberal that I am, yet those words still send a little shiver down my spine. They take me back to a childhood steeped in the sort of chauvinistic version of history that the British education system taught in the 1950s. Horatio Nelson has been a hero of mine from that time, so some years back when I learned that there was an important connection between the Admiral and my chosen home, the island of Tenerife, there was that little thrill again. Sadly for my English teachers the Battle of Santa Cruz was the only defeat in his glorious career. The museum has an extensive exhibit about the battle, including captured, British flags and a model with audio describing how the battle unfolded. We concentrated on this aspect of the museum’s collection, because this was the theme of our jaunt, but I noted that there are plenty of other interesting exhibits. This was the only museum on the island I hadn’t visited before, and I will be returning to explore it fully.

And so we returned to the Plaza de España where Jorge fed us more fascinating, historical tidbits, and we posed for the now-obligatory photo op next to the newest piece of street art next to the pool. Here I have to confess that a sloppy wave of huge affection for my adopted island almost overcame me, but in true stiff upper-lip fashion I took a deep breath and posed for the photo.

I love Santa Cruz

Thanks to Canary PR for allowing me to use their photo, because, of course, I am not in the ones I took!

I loved this tour. History has always been a passion for me, and moving to the Canary Islands, and discovering the things which unite us, rather than things which divide us, has been a delight over the years. Living Tenerife Tours taught me new things, and confirmed my passion ….. and it was about to cater to another – the island’s food and wine.

Santa Cruz skyline

Santa Cruz skyline and harbor

Jorge steered us in the direction of the prestigious Real Casino de Tenerife, which occupies an appropriate position overlooking the Plaza de España on one side, and the Plaza de Candelaria on another. Built in the early 19th century, it isn’t actually a casino, but the type of gentlemen’s club where you might expect to find the likes of James Bond, except that it is very much now for both men and women. Entering, you are immediately struck by two imposing murals by Canarian artists Néstor Martin Fernández and José Aguiar, and I gather that other gems of local art are housed here. We were able to have a brief look around, including a spectacular view over the Plaza de España, where Jorge revealed a little-known fact about the pool below us (No, not going to tell you …. you need to take the tour!).

Plaza de Espana Santa Cruz

Plaza de España

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Detail from one of the beautiful murals at the entrance to the Real Casino de Tenerife

Afterwards we were ushered to the library where Jorge outlined his plans and hopes for his new venture, before having lunch in the exclusive restaurant.

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Jorge fills us in on all the details of his plans for this new venture

This was a great privilege, being open only to members and their guests, and it showcased the very best of modern and traditional Canarian cuisine, presented in beautiful style. We feasted on award-winning goat cheese from neighboring Fuerteventura, gofio mixed with honey and almonds, the famous black potatoes with a texture like satin, a fusion dish combining local tuna with seaweed in Japanese style, and, a special treat, cochinillo negro, a breed of pig which dates back to pre-Hispanic times on the islands, but which was in danger of dying out until a big effort was made to revive it in recent years. Other delights were too many to name, and all washed down with perfect Canarian wines. My love for Canarian wines is, I believe, well documented on my social media, so I will just say that I sampled both white and red and both lived up to my high expectations!

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First course – delicious tasters of Canarian Cuisine

Lunch Real Casino Tfe

Another thanks to Canary PR for the photo … I was much too busy enjoying the food and wine to take as many photos as I should have!

So – now for the full disclosure. As you will have gathered already, I was invited on this excellent excursion by Living Tenerife Tours but I promise you, hand on heart, that I was asked only to write my personal impressions – which you have here. I’ve always loved history, and since immigrating these links which bind UK and Tenerife have fascinated me. It’s partly the history of trade, and how it binds us …. hmmm, topical.

The tour I did was designed for six of us, although the bus would have seated more quite comfortably. Jorge’s idea is to tailor-make tours to fit clients, so a party of two, for instance, would have a smaller vehicle. Clients with specific dietary needs will be catered for. That will also be a part of the booking process. There are also tours to La Laguna, Puerto de la Cruz and Orotava planned, all with the same attention to details and respect for personal tastes. Take a look at the Website or Facebook Page for full details, or follow them on Instagram. I am very grateful to both Living Tenerife Tours and Canary PR for inviting me on this trip, which revealed much I didn’t already know about Anglo-Tinerfenian history, and which I will long remember.

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On Being Honest and Transparent

Well, you’re definitely by now sick to death of all the emails and messages you’ve been getting about the new EU rules which came into effect today. As someone said, “It’s been a good opportunity to clean out our inboxes.” I was joking about this with a pal, when I realized that I don’t have a clue as to whether ever so humble blogs like this are supposed to stand up and be counted too, so I guess that I should say something … just in case!

I have absolutely no idea whether any of you receive my posts by email. This blog is certainly not big enough now to run its own mailing list. Perhaps WordPress sends them out. I have no idea. I type out random thoughts and stick in some photos, and press go. I probably need to learn more about cyber-stuff. What I can promise you is that, if in future I do begin a mailing list (and everyone tells me I should), any info I have as a result will be only for the purpose of sending you information about the blog, and no way would it ever be shared with anyone else. I hate that when it happens to me, so why would I do it to anyone else?

To date, this blog has been a labor of love. It’s served as a business card, but it hasn’t made me a cent directly. That might change, who knows, but I will never promote any product which I don’t believe in. I’ve written gratis about products I’ve enjoyed and used, and I will continue to do that too.

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Dolphins Should Be Free

Much as I love the mountains, I choose to live by the ocean. I was born close to the coast of North West of England, and wherever I have lived in the Canary Islands, I’ve never been more than ten minutes away from the sea, much of the time I’ve been able to watch it from my window. So, I suppose you can say that I am drawn to it. At one time, I had a twenty minute walk to work right along a coastal pathway, where I often saw dolphins passing, framed against the light of the rising sun, as they rose and dove with the waves. It was a bleak-ish period of my life, and that sight would put everything bad about my day into perspective. Perhaps that’s one reason I feel so passionately about them. One thing you take away from sighting dolphins in the wild is the sense of freedom. They can travel up to 100 miles in a day. There is, quite simply, NO WAY that they belong in concrete tanks, being treated like slaves or toy poodles for human amusement.

I am incredibly lucky to have landed up close to a part of the ocean with an amazing biodiversity. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have spent many hours on this strip of the Atlantic, on whale watching trips, on yachts and private boats, even watching as dolphins played in the wake of the ferries on my trip around the islands four years back. For a period, I went out most weekends, almost always seeing dolphins.

Lying on my stomach on the prow of the boat, feeling as if I was swimming with them as they played alongside is as near to zen as I have ever been.

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Why Tenerife?

In a country renown for its crazy festivals, on an island known for its love of fiestas, Las Tablas de San Andres is surely one of the wackiest. Don’t let the name fool you – it might take place on St Andrew’s Day, but it’s not at all religious, unlike many of Tenerife’s celebrations, which are based loosely on Catholic philosophy………

That was how I began this post,  back in December. The trouble with being “away” for so long is that you forget “how to do it,” write that is. Oh, not the tapping of keys or the putting together of words, but the train of thought, the remembrance of things said before, even the enthusiasm for a place or an event. I wrote a couple of paragraphs back in December, and then it occurred to me to check what I had written the last time, because I knew I’d written about this festival a few years back, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. When I looked, I realized that I had nothing new to say. I knew that I could say it better now (note to self: tidy up that post!), but the information, my feelings, my reactions were pretty much the same.

The beginning of my blogging hiatus perhaps began with this one in 2015. I was already out of love with the perennial round of fiestas which punctuates island life. My relationship with Tenerife, like a stale marriage, lacked sparkle and curiosity, and even love. Predictably, festivals come around, and I enjoy them, but they have all fudged together in my mind. They follow the traditional paths they have taken for decades, and  I needed variety. I was finding it difficult to raise enough enthusiasm to go, let alone write about them, which is not to say that you shouldn’t go to them, especially if you are here on vacation. The island does fiestas superbly, they are colourful, friendly, fun and a tribute to island heritage.

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Days on Tenerife don’t always end up the way you expect

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In Defense of Hating to Shiver

My friend, Mike Sowden, wrote this marvellous piece in his blog, Fevered Mutterings, last week. A few years back I might have agreed, but, sitting here, blanket wrapped around my shoulders, sneakers and thick socks on my feet, reading it, I can’t help but take issue with him!

Dear Mike,

I’m sorry. I love your writing. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with anything you’ve written before. But … you see, I hate to shiver.

In 40 years of North-of-England weather, and 30 years of sub-tropical living, I have never felt as teeth-chatteringly chilly as I have over the last five weeks or so.

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Island Autumn

I probably wouldn’t be living where I am right now if I was as hooked on Autumn as I think I am. I could choose to live up in the mountains, where chestnuts grow, mists swirl, and the season looks more …… familiar. But I don’t. I live on the coast, not the warmest part, but warm enough to remind me each day that these islands are nicknamed “The Islands of Eternal Spring.”

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Even sand dunes are parched in October, as early-morning swimmers paddle into the ocean.

Autumn here is often marked by a return to greenery, rather than the loss of it in a fiery display of gold and orange. Some time in Autumn the rains come, and days afterwards, as the sun warms the earth again, even the most barren-looking tracts of land turn grassy. Within days, tiny, green shoots flourish like triffids, and the landscape is much  ……..kinder than before.

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A Philosophical Journey and a Mission Statement

When I was very young, we lived with my grandparents, in an old farmhouse. Time and neglect had criss-crossed my bedroom ceiling with chips and cracks, and lumps where repairs had been attempted. Lying in bed, I pretended these imperfections were rivers, roads and mountains. My wanderlust was born tracing those imaginary highways.

Life’s a journey, and by the time, like me, you reach 70, its map probably resembles that bedroom ceiling. It’s a mess of meanderings, dead ends, summits achieved and strategic retreats. My 10-year-old self never imagined, nor wanted, a perfectly boring, straight road; but in my head my future was a highway with crossroads, which took me in a new direction from time to time. Nevertheless, I always moved forward, and seldom was lost. I also never arrived at my final destination.

On Third Age Attitudes

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A while back, I changed the subtitle of this blog from “Life on a Small Island & Beyond” to “Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age.” Third Age is the phrase used in Spain to describe those of us who have left the rat race because of age. (I thought very careful about how to phrase that.) It sounds a whole lot better than “seniors/senior citizens,” “retirees/pensioners,” and especially better than saying “folk of an advanced age,” or even “elderly,” doesn’t it? The Oxford Dictionary describes it thus: “The period in life of ACTIVE retirement, following middle age.” The emphasis is mine.

See, I have met far too many people for whom retirement has meant giving up on real life, and becoming an observer, and, especially, a critic, of what is going on in the world, without any longer participating. It might be enjoyable, but, honestly, all of these folk were …. boring. They had no first-hand tales to tell, their stories were of queues at the bank, gossip about neighbors, or that ever-popular topic, the weather. Some of these folk still inhabited the world of their past glories, stuck in a time warp of big hair, prawn cocktails, and Tom Collinses.

Many of my friends are of this age demographic, but they spend their time in finding new challenges and adventures. They write books, travel the world (and I don’t mean from the comfort of a cruise ship); they paint and draw, run successful blogs (as opposed to this one which is not), do volunteer work. They walk, climb, dance, cycle, study, windsurf, take yoga and Pilates and tai chi classes, and learn new skills. Some continue their work, because they are passionate about what they do. Most of us weren’t that lucky, or were too foolish to have found passion in our work, of course. Some of them make decent money from their Third Age ventures, others find the rare satisfaction of accomplishing something they have dreamed of for decades.

What my friends have in common is that they have never lost their curiosity. They ask themselves, “How will that next wave feel?” or “I wonder what’s over the next hill?” “How can I share this wonderful experience I just had?” or “How do people from this or that country view the world?” They want to know how to make their own bread, hats, furniture or pottery. They grow their own food or flowers, or simply ask themselves “What if…” Many folk find joy in helping raise their grandchildren, having the time for them they never had for their own children, when putting bread on the table was the main goal in life. It’s a different journey for each of us. What they do not do is park themselves up in the sidings, waiting for the train that carries the Grim Reaper to hurtle into theirs.

All of which is a long way round of saying that I am going to be focusing more on that aspect in this blog in future. It doesn’t come all at once, this discovery of Third Age freedom, like most things worth doing, it’s a learning curve, and bound by the same peaks and troughs as earlier stages of life. The trouble may be that it’s easier to give up, to sink back into the relative certainty of the lifestyle a pension affords most of us. It also takes more effort. It’s so much easier to snooze the alarm rather than get out for an early walk; down one more beer, intending to eat healthy from tomorrow on; or give up on that book and flick on the TV instead. I know because this is what I sometimes do. Not always, often these days I rise to the challenge, sometimes I don’t, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me …… there is less and less time to do the stuff I want to do!

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Of course, Western society and attitudes encourage us to vegetate as the clock ticks. We may be exhausted from a lifetime of making ends meet, cowed by new technology, or coaxed into spending our pensions on new anti-wrinkles creams, exercise machines which don’t require us to move from our chairs (and that is no reflection on those who really cannot move from their chairs), or a new car, which remains, a status symbol, rarely used, sitting in our driveway.

Then, of course, there is the attitude of others, family, friends, the press, who subscribe to the conventional view of age. Family worry for us. Friends are afraid of being jealous if we do something which breaks the mold. I am indebted to a former friend, who, when I idly expressed a desire to get a tattoo when I was in my late 50s, said, “OMG but what will people think?” You miss the point, m’dear! Attaining age is attaining the freedom to “Not give a damn.”

The press view of anyone over 60 is that they are about to die. Even now, when the phrase Baby Boomer appears in the media daily, manufacturers and advertisers haven’t woken up to the fact that this segment of the population has spending power beyond false teeth adhesive and joint pain pacifiers, not that either of those things are unnecessary.

I am beyond lucky in the support I get from my sons, who encourage me to hike, write, travel, and keep fit in mind and body. I owe them a huge debt. I’m not there yet, but I am definitely on my way! You see ….. you never should stop travelling!

One of my heroes is Katherine Switzer, who broke the gender bias of the Boston Marathon back in 1967, when women were forbidden to participate. Just last week, at 70, she ran and finished the New York Marathon, now she’s breaking the taboos of age as well as gender! The oldest woman to place, by-the-way, was 84 years old, and the oldest man, 80. Switzer placed third in her age group. Although she won the New York Marathon in 1974, she doesn’t always win, but what she has done, since 1967 is inspire women, and now Third Agers. It ain’t, of course, the winning, but the taking part, and most of us are too afraid of failure, of being laughed at, or just too lazy to even try, or perhaps simply lack the confidence.  Check this if you think that finishing last is for fools.

I use marathon running as a metaphor, achieving something amazing can be anything you want to do, because you think you’re too old…..ask my friends how they felt when they saw their book cover, stood on the Great Wall of China, sold a painting or a photograph, got positive feedback  on their blog, or rode a wave.

On Being Fit for the Challenge

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Part of facing up to a challenge is being fit enough to do it, even if the fancy that haunts you isn’t a physical one, you do need to be fit to keep your grey matter healthy too; not to mention that life is simply easier if you keep those aches and pains at bay, and exercise and diet help that.

I had thought of starting a brand new blog on this subject, but since I am, and always will be, a student of this stuff and not a master, then it would be wrong to preach or try to teach about it. That said, over my last, two, non-blogging years I’ve learned and read much more about nutrition and keeping fit than at any time in my life. Honestly? I’ve always been kind of “fit enough.” I always had just enough willpower to reign in my eating when I began to bulge, and to exercise when I really needed to. Actually, I always enjoyed exercise, but what I didn’t do was to prioritize it enough. Now, as I said before, there is a gnawing awareness of time running out.

I definitely do not subscribe to the theory that one should eat the cake and drink the wine ad infinitum, because tomorrow we die. Sure I will eat cake and definitely will drink wine, and I will enjoy every crumb and sip, but not so much that it means that I will die tomorrow, as the day after tomorrow, or the day after that, because, heck, who knows what delights tomorrow holds? Seeing the aurora borealis or Victoria Falls, being out on the ocean at night where there is no light pollution to see the millions of stars and planets, are worth far more than that extra slice of pie, or the third bottle of beer.

So I might just be rambling on about food and drink, and exercise now, because I am sooooo fed up of people saying “can’t” or “shouldn’t” or even “why.” In that period I covered in recent blog posts, I twice stuck to a pretty rigid diet, and faithfully followed an exercise regime, because it was obvious that if I wanted to enjoy life, I needed to do so. And, yes, twice I have gradually given up on both. (Neither of those a first over a lifetime btw) Both times I have retained some of the information, gone overboard on Instagram with “healthy food” photos, or probably been so overenthusiastic that it couldn’t last. Rallying cry of we, Third Agers, might be “It’s never too late!”

The challenges we face are really no different than those we have always faced, it just seems, from my personal observation, that the older people get, the more inclined they are to not take on the challenge, because in their arsenal of excuses they now have “I’m too old for this.” The impetus we have, which we lacked when young, is that  …. to be brutally frank ….. we may not be able to start tomorrow. We have to start today. Right here, and right now!