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


Tajao: Where time Stands Still: Photo Essay

I adored the hustle and bustle of London – it’s easy to say that when you don’t have to cram like a sardine into a moving metal tube and travel under the earth each day! – but it was nice to get back to relative tranquility too.

It had rained heavily whilst I was away, and the parched, tan hillsides are turning fresh and green already. It doesn’t take long. Small, green shoots spring up all over the place within a couple of days of heavy rain, leaving you wondering where on earth they came from.

I had to trundle down to Tajao a couple of days after I got back, to take some snaps, and couldn’t help but think that the difference between Tajao and London couldn’t be more marked. This little, coastal village is one of the sleepiest places I know. A couple of elderly ladies sat on a bench watching me park up, and a dusty cat stretched out in the shade of a low wall, but at 11-ish in the morning there was little else stirring.

I ambled down to the pretty, pebbly beach, and felt like stretching out myself in the warm sunshine. The rain had evidently stolen  summer’s sting from the heat and left pleasant warmth.

More elderly ladies watched me from one of the benches along the walkway, and nodded at my greeting, as I passed them and wandered off along the path behind the beach, and another cat languidly washed its paws. Back from the beach the pathway slices between rock formations, and dust rose with each footstep. I never fail to wonder at these sorts of mighty rocks, whose violent spawning from the earth created such stark beauty.

A teenage boy approached, slopping flipflops and the dust rose even more. He didn’t respond to my greeting. I realized that hidden behind the carved out hillside was a small RV site, and it seemed intrusive to wander further, so I turned around and headed back along the beach.

I headed for the harbor, where a good number of boats quivered on the slightest of swells, and folk were fishing from the end of the wavebreak, and from the rocks all around – fishing for lunch, probably literally.

Even the gulls here were pretty laid-back, content to sit on rocks or bob on the waves, not to wheel and surf the currents of air above. A turn around the small boat yard felt like déjà vue. In fact the entire morning had felt like déjà vue. I stared at the rusting pulpo cages piled in an untidy heap alongside the ramp, wondering why they appeared so familiar.

Still puzzling, I take a seat at one of the local eateries and order a plate of lapas, but resist the temptation to add wine to the order………..

………and it’s as I’m enjoying the freshness and that distinct taste of the ocean that it comes back to me – the wire cages, the boats pulled up on the beach are almost exactly as they were fourteen months ago, the last time I was here during daytime. It really is as if time has stood still. It’s an oddly jarring sensation after the buzz of the big city, and I’m not totally sure I’m comfortable with it. I know it’s some peoples’ idea of paradise, but not mine. I like change and evolution. The sameness disturbs me. Later, looking through my photos I realize that it probably was even like this decades ago.



My Special Barcelona Places

It’s almost over, 2011, and I was looking back over the things I’d filed away to post “later” and never did get around to doing.  Considering that my only trip this year was a mere three or four weeks I can’t believe how much of it I missed posting about.  Probably because so much of it was very personal time, and I have, even now, a lingering sense of sadness about the trip.

That aside, Barcelona, was, as always, a very vibrant memory, and I deliberately didn’t write about my favorite places because I wanted to take my time and do them justice.  However, it is now time. I always like to at least try to begin the new year with as many ends as possible tidied up, so here are some more memories from one of my favorite cities:

Barcelona might be the richest city in the world architecturally, and many of the inspiring buildings are churches and cathedrals. When you say “Barcelona,” for many people the image which first springs to mind is Gaudi’s still-unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, others will register the word “Gothic” and think about the Cathedral and its surrounds, but the two images which first flash across my brain are these:

Santa Maria del Mar

The church of Santa Maria del Mar may not be as grand and flashy as La Sagrada Familia or the Gothic Cathedral, but it’s one of the few churches I know which make me feel the way I think I should feel in a church…..peaceful and happy.

The first time I came across it, knowing nothing about it, was by accident.  I had been in the city for a few days, and was recovering from the worst food poisoning of my life, so I was strolling very gently, sin rumbo (without direction – love that phrase in Spanish), when something drew me in.  From the outside it really didn’t look very impressive, but when I entered it was like crossing the threshold to another dimension. To eyes perhaps wearied by Gaudí’s opulence, and a heart jaded by Gothic religious overkill, the church was a haven of light and elegance.

Although it was under construction during the same period as the city’s cathedral in the 14th century, and the style is Gothic, there is a simplicity to the interior which makes me feel as though, if  “God”  had to choose somewhere to live, this would be it. The lack of clutter, an open space without transepts, and columns which really seem to be reaching to heaven give it a graceful majesty, but the stained glass windows give it warmth. It’s accepted that this church is the church of the people, (whereas the much more showy Cathedral was for the nobility) and, of course, of the sailors and fishermen who made up so much of the population of that time.

Santa Maria del Mar is on the tourist beat (where inBarcelonaisn’t these days?) but it’s less crowded than perhaps better-known places.  My second favorite place is a haven for both tourists and locals, and it’s Port Vell.

Port Vell

Having stuffed ourselves on tapas yet again in wonderful bars which look so uninviting from the outside, but which open out into quirky or cosy or chic interiors, Maria and I thought we might take in an IMAX movie in Port Vell on the city’s stylish waterfront to finish the day. There were certain distractions, though, a street market and a quirky fountain to photograph! In the end we were too late for the movie, so we bought waffles from a kiosk and perched on a bench to scoff them.

Port Vell as it is today was created for the 1992 Olympics, held in Barcelona, but surely must have paid for itself in the tourism it’s attracted since. I adore IMAX movies, so it’s somewhere I always want to go just for that alone, but over the years I’ve eaten some great seafood there, visited the excellent aquarium, done some serious shopping and, on this occasion, had my breath taken away by a stunning sunset.

For a short visit we packed in a lot of on that trip, and there is yet one more place, but I’m saving that for another post… it may yet be 2012 before I am finished with all my notes and snaps from this year!


Los Abrigos: a Fishing Village Keeping up with the Times

Last week I wrote this short piece for’s Tenerife insiders’ blog. It got me thinking about the village of Los Abrigos, and how it has changed over the years I’ve lived in Tenerife, and musing about whether the changes were a good thing or not.  When we arrived in 1987 the village had already made itself a mecca for fresh fish dining, but in addition to excellent food, it was the lack of pretension with appealed to visitors. Has it kept that atmosphere?

Looking over the harbor at sunrise

When we were making the decision to immigrate  I only had one week here to form opinions.   Having checked out the school (my only worry),  the rest of my week was all bonus, it was exploring and discovering what was to be our new home, and I think my favorite “discovery” was Los Abrigos.

We set off down a narrow, bumpy road with more twists than a slinky. At one point it was cobbled, but mostly it was broken-up tarmac, as if it had been  abandoned and forgotten. I could see that it was leading seawards, because even this close to the ocean we were elevated (there is hardly any flat ground on Tenerife).  It took us over an arid, mostly sandstone scrubland with the words coto de caza scrawled ominously all over the place.  This was a warning to keep out of the area on Thursdays and Sundays in the hunting season, from August to December.  It was hard to imagine just what there was there for rabbits, or anything else, to feed on. This type of landscape was so totally alien to me back then.  I could only relate to scenarios from my favorite westerns.  It looked like bleak wasteland,  but the power of nature was palpable.  It celebrated the ability to survive.

Finally, and not without a touch of car sickness, although it was only about ten minutes of a journey, we arrived at a little junction, where the road flattened.  In another reference to westerns, the term “one horse town” came to mind! It was a dry and hot, early afternoon, and nothing stirred.  If tumbleweed had blown along the road I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.  This was Los Abrigos, or The Shelters, so-called because the bay on which the village grew up is protected from the almost constant breezes which are a feature of this coastline.  On the corner was the village shop, and next to it a fish restaurant, Tito’s, famed for being a cheaper version of what we were about to enjoy.  Cheaper because it didn’t have the view, and it goes without saying you have to pay a bit extra for a view.

The road forked right to the seafront, and we drove haltingly along the street, taking in the vista, the sea and harbor falling away to our right, and our left bordered by slightly scruffy buildings, most of which were fish restaurants and bars.  Then, as now, one of the first things which struck you on arrival was the mouth-watering aroma of frying fish, which permeates everything in the midday heat. If you aren’t hungry when you arrive, you surely will be within a couple of minutes.  Most places had plastic tables and chairs which wobbled  on the roadside – there was no sidewalk.  We drove to the end, squeezed through the narrow opening between two buildings, and parked behind Perlas del Mar, the restaurant which occupies the most prominent position, at the end of the harbor, with marvellous views out to the Atlantic, and over the small harbor.

We were greeted with friendly smiles.  The estate agent who had taken us was well-known there, and was it any wonder?!  I can’t imagine anyone not being bowled over by the experience – great selling tool!  We  chose our own fish from the ‘fridge – that was a novelty. Then we settled in a corner table with those amazing views, for our first taste of mojo (an island sauce), boquerones (marinated anchovies) and calamari (lightly battered and fried), and salad, whilst we waited for our fish to be cooked.  If I’m totally honest, the salad was very unimaginative – lettuce, tomatoes and onions, with the oil and vinegar to be added to taste.  The salads haven’t changed much over the years, if you want a decent salad stick to the resort areas.  That afternoon the estate agent knew she had us hooked. We sat and washed down all that marvellous fresh food with cold beers, and the kids pottered safely around the seawall as we watched.  They’d spotted the seawater pool in the corner of the harbor – so that meant we would be coming back for sure, and we did, more times than I can count.

Over the years I’ve had some memorable meals there;  sunny Sunday lunches with big tables full of friends and family; a Sunday evening with friends when everything around us closed; we’d long since finished eating and were sipping our umpteenth coffee and brandy (ah, those were the days!), when the owner came out with the brandy bottle, still half full, and plonked it on our table.  He told us we were welcome to stay on his terrace as long as the bottle lasted, but he was going home to bed!

Another time, during that first year, we were sitting roadside when a small procession wound its way past, carrying a plaster saint.  It was a balmy September evening and the feast of San Blas, but we hadn’t known.  Back then it was very low-key, unless you lived in the village, but the fireworks which ensued after the blessing of the seas were the equal of The Magic Kingdom’s, and we had, unintentionally booked a front row seat.  These days the fiesta is renown throughout the south, and you have to fight for positions to view the spectacle, which is a change for the worse, I guess, except that the fireworks are ever more spectacular each year…..swings and roundabouts.

I’ve even been known, arriving back from time spent elsewhere, to go straight to Los Abrigos to eat before going home!

Nowdays when you arrive it’s by a smooth, new road which glides down from the motorway junction in Las Chafiras. As you enter the village on the left there is a smart plaza, and to your right you will spot a posh hotel, seemingly plonked in the middle of what is, essentially, still desert.  On the corner, where the village shop stood, is now a trendy boutique. Last year the church square was smartened up, and pedestrianized area was extended.  You haven’t been able to drive along the seafront, as we used to, for some years now.

These days there are a couple of upmarket restaurants amongst the traditional ones, and a couple of Italian restaurants, which seem to be surviving.  In the old days, nothing other than a fish restaurant lasted there for very long.  It’s what people go to Los Abrigos for.

I have a sentimental attachment to the place, because I lived there very happily for a while.  I was living there when I first began this blog, and perhaps one reason I didn’t do much with the blog in the early days is that I had the view below – and spent more time gazing at it than at whatever I was doing at the computer.  My desk with right next to the window!

When I lived there, sometimes I would be woken by noises and shouting echoing in the darkness, and unaccumstomed light illuminating my room,  and if I parted the curtains I could watch the boats coming in and being unloaded.  It was fascinating to hang about and observe them, doing what their families had done for years and years.  You could forget about the swish restaurants and the fancy tourists and imagine that life still went on as it always had.

This boat steamed in  excitedly, followed by a retinue of hungry gulls one early morning.

The sea must have been bountiful this day, because the harbor began to fill up with boats, and the harbor wall with vans collecting the catch.

The reason I left this apparent bit of paradise in 2008 was an influx of what promised to be the neighbors from hell. It didn’t help my unease that they were British, and seemed to assume that I needed to be friends simply because I was too.  One night of listening to their drunken, shrieking  and swearing was enough for me.  I set out to find a new home the next day. As you guys know, I like to move around anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. Thinking back, it wasn’t the friendliest place to live anyway.  I was there for two and half years, and scarcely got to know anyone, even the owner of the restaurant below my apartment, where I used to eat quite a lot,  never admitted to knowing me.  The only people I ever made friends with were waiters and PRs, who constantly changed anyway.  I guessed that the older families must have resented the place filling up with foreigners.  I really can’t be sure, because no-one would ever talk about it very much, and given the behaviour of my new neighbours, who can blame them?

More of these types seemed to be moving into the area around that time, but I went back there to eat last week, and it was all quiet on the waterfront, so perhaps the excesses have been curbed by law and neighbours.  In any event the very best time to go is Sunday lunchtime.  In typical Spanish fashion lunch begins late by northern European standards, 2 or 3 o’clock, when whole families potter down, and sit and eat companionably, as meals should be taken, with lunch drifting into dinner time.  By ten-ish most restaurants are closing up, and people heading slowly home refreshed and ready for the new week.

My favorite for quality and choice for a traditional meal is Vista Mar in the center of the parade of restaurants, but Restaurante Los Abrigos and Perlas del Mar are very good too.  If you want upmarket fine dining with a menu worthy of any capital city, then Los Roques.  It’s expensive, but worth every cent.  I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that the two I considered worst during my time there have closed down, which is the thing about recessions – survival of the fittest.  One of my old favorites has made an attempt to go upmarket and failed miserably.  I know because I ate there last week, and the food was very mediocre, though the setting was great, shame they didn’t stick to what they used to do so well.  If you’re going to keep up with the times, you have to know how to do it properly.


The Sunsets on my Doorstep

El Médano, basically, faces east, so faced with a desire to photograph sunsets I zoom over to the west coast, yes?   Well, yes, I did that last week, and whilst I was more than happy with the purple/grey stormy skies I snapped I felt cheated of the sunset, but Mother Nature had a treat in store for me….and here is another lesson in always having your camera handy……I popped out the other early evening to get a couple of items from the supermarket, which is only around a couple of corners from me, and then decided to treat myself to an ice cream, so I ambled over to Plaza Roja to Gelateria Demaestri to torture myself over whether to have the chocolate brownie, the cinnamon or the coffee ice cream. Now, the biggest problem with Demaestri’s ice cream is that it has to be eaten at once.  It’s all natural stuff, and so it melts incredibly fast, meaning before I can make it home it’s dripping all over my fingers.  So I went to sit on the benches facing the harbor, and that’s when I realized that just maybe there was going to be a chance of a good sunset.

So I decided to chill out and wait.  This bench runs the length of the boardwalk which, in turns, runs the length of one side of the harbor, and at this pre-dinner or post-afternoon-activity hour the area all around it was buzzing with people engaged in all sorts of activities.  There were a couple of men fishing from the rocks between the boardwalk and the ocean, who were getting all sorts of angsty about a guy who was power-swimming too close to their lines.  Eventually he heard their yelling and veered off in another direction.  People passed with windsurf boards and skate boards, dogs and towels wet from their swimming.  Children clutched kites and wobbled on inline skates, and two or three couples huddled together further down the bench, waiting in anticipation of a romantic sunset.  More folk emerged from the ice cream parlor and sat to enjoy the confection and the view.  It grew a little chilly, as it does here, even in summertime when the sun begins to disappear, and I wasn’t prepared for it, this being unplanned, but it was worth the wait and the chill, as you can see.

El Médano is blessed with some great street art, which, unfortunately, is mostly uncredited, despite suggestions to the delightful lady in the Tourist Information Office, who is entirely in agreement, and has passed on requests to the Town Hall.  They remain however a mystery, which is a shame.  The one which is set against the sunset above is part of a set, and any interpretation would only be rumor, so I won’t go there until I can say anything with authority.  It is, however, a beautiful piece of polished rock, the layers and colors of which you can see better in subsequent photos.

The next evening storm clouds had gathered again, and as clouds are often a requirement of a really dramatic sunset, I popped down again at the same time to see if there was anything to see.  There was, as you can see below, and the photos say much more than I could ever put into words, so I’ll shut up now.


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.