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.

iglesia san jorge santa cruz

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.

canon military museum santa cruz

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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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 New Base, a Trip and Ensuing Chaos!

………(see previous post) Beatriz turned the key and gut instinct kicked in almost immediately. The apartment was sunny at midday. I don’t do dark very well. It’s top floor (no noises from above – important when you are looking to stay somewhere for a while); there are places nearby for Trixy’s now frequent walks; it’s the right price; it’s a five-minute walk to the ocean; it has the required number of rooms, but no garage, which is a bit of a disappointment, but all else makes up for it. I can see the other downsides, although high enough it almost overlooks the swimming pool, and that will be full of kids all summer. Most apartment blocks in the south of Tenerife have pools, albeit not huge, but all in all the pros outweighed the cons, and I took it.

How many sunrises did Maria witness in her long sojourn on the shore?

A week later I was installed, and a couple of days after that I left for a road trip to Florida. Now I am back, trying hard (in spurts) not to wish I was back in the Florida Keys – colorful, lush, quirky, original.

However, the trip kind of put into perspective why I chose El Médano, despite the pull of La Gomera or even Ireland. It has that same kind of quirky, adventurous feel to it…..or at least, as close as I think I can get, given my need for eternal summer and which countries will actually allow me to spend more than a brief spell there. The town attracts sports enthusiasts, hippies, retirees, arty types in equal number, and whilst it also hangs on to its roots, I can get sushi or homemade gelato or the best pizza ever, as well as gofio and fresh fish and also a pretty darned good mojito. So here, I am – for the foreseeable future.

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren't confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

At sunset the colors of the island skies aren’t confined to the west. As if the spectacle is just too intense to contain in one place, the hues bleed along the horizon. This, looking almost east, through junipers which frame the walkway to the beach. The windsurfer just happened to speed past as I clicked!

Despite all my theories about setting up a base, it’s been slow work. There has been a lack of enthusiasm. Only a half of me wants to do this, and I need to focus more on the half of me which knows this is the right move for now. Fact is, everywhere and anywhere is a trade-off………perhaps that’s why those of us addicted to travel (however much or little we are able to indulge our cravings) keep on. Perhaps we are looking for the one place which isn’t a trade off, which has it all – our own version of that, because it isn’t the same for everyone. Meantime, if we concentrate on the negative, then that’s all the Universe will reward us with in return, negative vibes. Like everyone I need to seek out the positive.

So, here I go. Carpe Diem. The blog is resurrected. Stay tuned.


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Putting down roots

Grafitti El Médano

Beatriz is “my” estate agent. I’ve moved so often within this municipality, gone away, returned, left stuff with her to store, that she knows my tastes and habits better than I do. She knows that when I say “minimum one year” that may run into two or more, or less. What I haven’t said, because she probably wouldn’t believe me, is that I am looking for somewhere truthfully, long-term this time. She opens the door of the apartment. That first glance, absorbing the vibe, is important to me. I am an intuitive renter/purchaser.

If you’d asked the younger me what continents I would have visited by the time I was pushing 70 I would have unhesitatingly answered, “All of them.” I’ve only visited three – so far. Yet for years now, even when I’ve lived in the same place for months on end I haven’t felt settled, nor have I felt the need to feel settled. But something’s changed. After living with most of my stuff in storage or in boxes, for 3 years, I dream of leafing through my books (and not just the ones I keep handy for reference); of experimenting in the kitchen again; of lying down at night in a bed which is actually comfortable, and of enjoying the familiar.

Playa Chica El Médano

I came back to El Médano last July to get the cure for me and for Trixy. She, it turns out, will never really be cured, much of her problems are down, simply to old age. I am more thankful than you can imagine that we took the trip we did last year, shared the greenery of La Gomera, the beaches of Fuerteventura, the ferries rides and everything in between. Trix is without a doubt the best dog of my life, and I owe a placid and happy retirement to her.

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For my part, I am improving at long, long last, and no thanks to the medical treatment. I don’t recommend self diagnosis for anyone, but in the end, that’s what’s made the difference for me. A strategic call to a friend who is a doctor (and who has a great blog about health and travel by the way: www.travelthy.com), years of experience + knowledge acquired from my sports-fanatic sons, and Voilà! I seem, after over a year, to be on the mend. I’d been anticipating an operation, so El Médano made sense. I was still registered with the doctors here, and familiar is best when you’re feeling less than best. It turned out to be a fortuitious move because faced with an emergency last December, treatment was swift and efficient.

Something else. The one thing which made me feel homesick when I was away was remembering my early morning runs along the beaches here. Ironically, there haven’t yet been that any of those on account of the knee. Curiously, I have never, in 28 years, ever really felt homesick for England.

El Cabezo El Médano

Over the last few months in this temporary apartment (arriving here in July I was lucky to find anything at all), between doctor’s consultations, struggling with writer’s block, visits to the vet, not to mention septicemia and respiratory problems, I’ve tried to figure out which road to take next. I unreservedly adore the stimulation of change, but perhaps I need a bolt hole too. Perhaps if I have that, I can concentrate better on the more stimulating stuff! I get more serious and better organized when I am settled. On the road, or being perched for imminent flight, it is far too easy to play my default game – procrastination.

Finally, I have sorted out in my own head the difference between the buzz of travel and that need for a nomadic existence, the urge to keep on moving. I don’t have the latter, at least I only have it up to a certain point, after a few months (usually, it turns out about 8) I become weary. So packing, unpacking, storing, downsizing and then rebuying no longer make sense.

Final word: this has nothing to with “age,” NO WAY do I intend to sit around and vegetate as I see so many folk of my age doing. It’s simply a rethink. I have no idea how it is going to work yet, so it’s a new adventure.

Playa principal El Médano

Next decision is where. La Gomera’s pull has been very strong. I was very happy there last year, and I adored the forests and valleys, the greenness and the magic, but my needs and whims are diverse. England? There is a certain attraction, a happiness in the collective memory, the having no need to explain things at times. There is having entertainment and the telephone company in my native language, but, let’s be honest, I’ve become a wimp when it comes to weather! Other places fulfill different needs. If only there was somewhere which could cater for them all!

End of the day I decide it’s El Médano. Here I can indulge most whims with very little disruption. Forests? An hour away. City? 40 minutes away. Beaches? On my doorstep. Good food? On my doorstep. Friends? Within easy reach. Where my sons feel at home? Here. Airport for emergencies? 10 minutes. Roads to connect to the rest of the island? 5 minutes. Ferries to the other islands? 15 minutes or 40 minutes. Places to run and walk, a doggie beach down the road. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Then there is the instinct. I like El Médano instinctively, without burdening my brain with the logic of it. So, as Beatriz turns the key I wait for the instinct to kick in – or not. Stay tuned!

Ice cream El Médano