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


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.”


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.


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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Some Forgotten Photos from Early Summer


It’s three months already since El Día de las Tradiciones in Chirche, and I only just got around to sorting out the rest of my snaps.   Looking back at these costumes now all I can think is how could they stand to wear them in heat which we discovered afterwards was 46ºC??!!

The post is also a chance to give you a taste of the lovely and most famous Canarian folk music group Los Sabandeños.


The Friendliness of Chirche Lightyears from the Coastal Grumps

Chirche is a tiny village, about five or ten minutes directly vertical from Guia de Isora in the South of Tenerife.  I’ve only ever been here for this, particular festival, El Día de las Tradiciónes (The Day of Traditions), so I don’t know what it’s like on an average, working day.  I must rectify that soon, but I imagine it’s quiet.  It clings for dear life to the hillside, and these twisting, narrow streets were never made for motor cars.  The last time I came, my car overheated (OK, it’s not the most modern car in the world, but it is sturdy and reliable usually).

Happily, for Sunday’s fiesta the local town hall had provided transport so neither the overheating nor parking were problems.  A mini bus did the circuit from, what we would probably call the county seat, Guia de Isora, below up to the village, and we were there in time for the first trip before it got too hot.   A vast improvement on my last visit, what with the overheated car and no space to park it!

This year’s festival had to battle for attention not only with the World Cup Final, but also 46º heat ….. and it came out a winner, although it seemed to be a bit less well-attended than the last time I went.  This was the tenth year that the village had turned out to produce what is something like a living museum or even a theatrical production which one can walk through.  The entire village goes about its business as it would have done somewhere between 100 and 50 years ago.

Here candles are being made the old way, from beeswax.  The finished product on the right, and those in progress on the left of the picture.  The hot wax is spooned over the thread time and time again, each layer is cooled and then doused again, until the required thickness is reached.  Can you imagine the time it takes?  Can you imagine spending days and days doing this, just so that you can have light after sundown?

Although Guanche artifacts have been  found in Chirche, this festival portrays life as it was around a hundred to fifty years ago.  It really isn’t that long.  It was my grandparents, my parents time, and even my own infancy.  The scales in the recreation of the local “corner shop”, the flyspray cannister lying atop a wardrobe, some of the products on display in the shop reminded me of my own childhood, so even then, things were somewhat “globally available”.  Since I was brought up in a fairly countryfied area, and my crumbling home had once been a farmhouse, it was easy to identify with much of what I saw around me.  It felt as much like going back in time as witnessing the past of this island.

Life wasn’t that easy for my family when I was little, and yet we did buy our flour from the corner shop, we didn’t have to produce it ourselves.  The lady in the picture above is toasting seeds to make gofio, which was a huge part of the staple diet of Tenerife, and remains popular.  Cereals would have grown on the hillsides surrounding the village, and be brought home for toasting, but apparently sometimes the rhizomes of ferns were also used in the distant past.  The tradition probably was brought to the islands by the Guanches who, it is now widely thought,  came from North African Berber tribes, who also made a similar kind of meal.

This lady is carrying out the next step, grinding the toasted seeds by hand.  A heavy grindstone is pulled around and around, as you can see, until the  seeds become flourlike.  This is how it was done in this, small village.  In other areas huge grindstones were pulled by donkeys, horses and even camels.  Gofio can still be bought in the island’s supermarkets, and to be honest it’s an acquired taste.  Austin has learned to mix it with honey and almonds to make a delicious dessert, and it is used to thicken soups and stews, and to make a really healthy porridge-style breakfast – very high in fibre, people!

Walking around the village, despite the intense heat, was a treat.  Two things struck me hard.  The first was how the whole village seems to join in wholeheartedly.  Every age group takes part, from grannies (and how they manage daily life on a sheer hillside I will never understand!  Seems to me, given a diet of gofio and that kind of exercise each day, they must be incredibly healthy!) to babes in arms.

Above is the old schoolroom, complete with blackboard and children who don’t seem to mind being dressed in costume!  I didn’t see one sulky face all morning – not even from the class’s naughty boy, whom you can spot kneeling in the corner.  I’m sorry about the quality of this photo.  The schoolroom was dark, I’m thinking probably even in the fifties there was no electricity, plus the old houses were designed to keep as cool as possible in summer, which usually meant having only small windows, and thick, thick walls, which kept out the summer swelter and kept in the warmth in winter.  Also, there were so many people vying for space to observe or snap, and I was too polite to hog the vantage point I had …….. another lesson learned – must be bolder!  There were children helping the maypole dancers, playing games in the street or helping with chores, just as they would have been doing a hundred years ago, and every one of them with a smile on their face.

It goes without saying that a hundred or even fifty years ago, there were no video games, no television, no fast food, so children had to make their own amusements.  Below is a selection of the types of homemade instruments which they used to make.

Maybe there is some special karma attached to living in this village, because I rarely remember a time when I’ve met so many friendly people.  People who would stop in the hot sun and wait whilst you fiddle with your camera so you can snap them.

People who are quite at ease being photographed showing off their pride in their traditions….not all instruments were homemade!

People who are willing to attire themselves in heavy, traditional clothing in a 46º heat (might even have got hotter after we left!), so that they can keep this link with their past, and show it off to others.

This lady was crocheting what looked as if it was going to be a small doily, and surrounding her are displayed other examples of lace and crotchet work – most looking newly made, and proving that old crafts are not nearly dead here!  The really nice thing is that it looks as if future generations are happy to go on keeping these traditions alive.  It’s something I’ve noticed often in the folk music and dance groups which I see regularly on tv – no way are these groups composed just of the old folk.  The folklore of Tenerife seems to be in good and safe hands for quite a while yet.

Now this is a tradition many people will be happy no longer is widely used.  This gentleman is preparing a goatskin for use in making gofio or cheese.  The ingredients for either were placed inside to be molded and strained.  Goat is still widely eaten here, and is a treat.  I’ve never had it badly cooked.  The use of the skins?  Well, there was nothing else, back when, and as with other meat products, there wasn’t much waste.  They were different times.

There were demonstrations of bread making in big, old ovens, agriculture as it was (and still, sometimes is) here, the making of roof tiles, which had been the village’s only industry outside of agriculture, and a host of other stuff, and highlight of the day, a mock wedding, but we ran out time and couldn’t stay to watch.  We had a glimpse of the wedding dress, laid out on the bridal bed in a restored house, but no time to see the bride, sadly.  As I mentioned before, we did pop into the pretty church for a few moments, and then we had to be on our way.

We just missed the mini bus, and took refuge from the sun in a nearby bar, which was built directly into the rock face, providing welcome coolness.  I have to mention it was the only kind of disappointment of the morning.  We paid around €15 each for a very average gazpacho, stone cold garlic bread, croquetas (one ration of chicken and one of tuna, which were indistinguishable), a couple of very cold, very welcome beers and best – a plate of papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), the island’s speciality, all of which came with indifference or a shy smile, depending on who served us.  It was a bad choice of venue, but nicely decorated, as you can see above, and reminiscent of the coastal resorts, where that kind of service is the norm.  It’s a great shame that tourists don’t get out more to meet the “real” people of Tenerife, these people who are so kind and happy and gracious.  I’ve never been to a fiesta of any kind where I wasn’t made to feel enormously welcome, and Chirche would be top of a list like that.  In some ways I don’t blame the kids who work as waiters or shop assistants down in resortland.  Firstly, they aren’t given the proper training in most cases, so they don’t know how to respond to people, and secondly, I couldn’t put up with the sort of attitudes and backchat they get from a lot of their customers.  Frequently, once you have made a contact, their demeanour does change.  Yes, I do realize that the onus is on the supplier of whatever service you are buying to provide that service with a smile, but scratch just a bit and you might find that the nice young waiter comes from Chirche, or somewhere similar.

When I move on from Tenerife, and return for a visit, one thing I intend to do is to stay in the casa rural (rural hotel) here, in the middle of Chirche, and embrace the relaxed and happy lifestyle of its people.

One thing this day taught me.  I’ve always enjoyed snapping, and never really been too interested in video, but watching the maypole dancing for quite a while I would have loved to have videoed it.  Stupidly, because of my lack of interest I’ve never bothered to figure out how to work the video selection on my camera – job for this weekend!  Next year I won’t clash to the World Cup at least!

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I Had a Religious Experience

I had a busy day yesterday (about which more later), but even before I arrived home to turn on the telly to watch the World Cup Final (yes, I watched it alone :=(  remember, I am the owner of the world’s most neurotic dog) it had occured to me, whilst driving, that I had had an odd day in terms of spiritual experiences.

In the morning, Colleen and I went to take a look at the Día de las Tradicciones fiesta in Chirche. With an orange alert out for extreme temperatures, and having seen most of the demonstrations and exhibits, we ducked into the church, partly because it looked cool, and partly because I missed seeing it last time I went to this fiesta. Colleen disappeared for a few minutes,  so I entered alone, and sat for a while, silently, lost in the kind of thoughts someone brought up as a Christian, but who has abandoned the religion,  has in a church. I let the anger go, and absorbed the undeniable sense of peace, as I listened to an elderly granma explain to her grandaughter what the different statues represented. Of course, she wasn’t talking about them as representations so much as if they were the actual dieties and saints of which she spoke, and even with the strong feelings I have about the manipulation of their congregations which many churches practice, I admired her conviction. Of course, the church IS its people, and not its buildings or its management, Jesus taught that, but it is so often forgotten, especially in these days when the Catholic Church has to deal with the fact that so many of its priests have been living lives totally in contradiction to everything Jesus represented. I wish the hierachies of all churches would realize that they are there to serve and help their people, and not exploit them.  This was my first experience of the day, but not my last – that feeling of peace in the church which came from the simple faith of its people.

In the afternoon, we went to watch a traditional Indian  ceremony, about which I understood very little.  I did check it out online first, but there wasn’t very much opportunity to ask more on the day.  The festival is Ratha Yatra, and what I understand is this:  Once a year the deities Jagannath (which, if I understand correctly is another name for Krishna), Balarama and Subhadra are taken through the streets to greet the people. They are taken on richly decorated carts (which happen to be colored red and yellow – very apt on this day!) which are pulled by long, thick ropes.  As the cart (in our case the gods had to share) began to move, people began to sing and sway in that way many of us remember from following the Beatles’ flirtation with Eastern religion in the 60s.   What was really nice was the warmth and welcome of the Indian people, even though we were just spectating, it was easy to feel included in the event.  I followed the cart as it wound its way along one of the main tourist streets, the children on the cart throwing bags of sweets and nuts to  everyone watching, and was struck again by that same feeling of togetherness which had occured to me in the church earlier in the day.  It’s the unity of the people which is the foundation of any religion, in fact IS the religion.

Celebrations began as ways of bringing the people together to honor this unity.  Yesterday it went a step further with the inclusion of the local, Canarian community in this festival.

Being owner of the world’s most neurotic dog I had to leave before the cart had returned to base, but not before someone had passed up a Spanish flag to the people on the cart, which they proudly fixed in a prominent position near the front, which takes me to my next musing.

It was around a half hour drive home, and it was about 50 minutes before the World Cup Final was scheduled to begin.  The excitment in the air was palpable, everyone seemed to be dressed in red or yellow and red (apart from a few, brave tourists sporting orange!), and every other car was flying the flag.  I’ve never seen so many national flags anywhere outside of the US.  No matter who’d won, it was a reason for a national pride which is emotional and passionate.  There are regional jealousies and disputes which often seem to get out of proportion, but yesterday (and today, and many days to come) the sense of togetherness and unity was fantastic.  This is why soccer is sometimes refered to as a religion – it serves the same purpose it would seem.