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


Living a Quiet Island Life

My days have been very quiet of late, some gentle meanderings around the island: a visit to a couple of pretty parks in El Sauzal on the north coast.


Atlantic winds and heavy rain on the south coast always mean snow in the mountains. A drive through the caldera and down again through spring meadows of wildflowers in La Laguna, and a stop for cake on a lazy, seaside promenade in Punta Larga on the way home.



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Snapshots from the Week

Just a few snaps from last week:

When the tide goes out, you’ll always find someone poking about in the rock pools left behind. Sometimes an octopus hides in between rocks, waiting for the next tide to move back out to sea, and the small fish who didn’t get washed back into the ocean make bait for local fishermen. Nice half hour whiled away eating passion fruit ice cream with mango sorbet and watching this guy in El Médano the other day.

From the south of the island our view of El Teide, highest mountain in Spain, is from a distance, surrounded by foothills, as in this picture from last year after the first snows, which was taken close to where I live now.

But, as you drive north, taking the motorway route, instead of crossing the mountain, you come to a point on the autopista del norte where the mountain rears to your left, almost as if it’s in 3D, so different does it look from the views so familiar from the south.  Of course, tempting though it is, you can’t stop in the middle of the motorway to snap, but the other day, stopping in El Sauzal, I snapped this from the church plaza.  You can see how it dominates the skyline above Puerto de la Cruz, and can imagine how fierce it must have been for the original, aboriginal inhabitants, the Guanches.  There was still significant volcanic activity on the island at the time it was conquered at the end of the 15th century.

And this is the pretty church square of the church of St Peter the Apostle in El Sauzal.  We didn’t go inside, because it was Sunday, and mass was in progress.  The church with its 18th century tower,  and its square are quite typical of the island.

When I first realized that there was a village called El Sauzal on Tenerife, my Steinbeck-loving heart skipped a beat, and I envisaged a little fishing village peopled by outrageous but loveable characters, so I was disappointed when I finally went there (expectations are the parents of all disappointments!).  That was silly of me, of course, similar though the climate is to parts of California, this is an island off the coast of Africa!  El Sauzal, the place where the willows grow, in Tenerife was about agriculture rather than fishing, and these days is more about being a pretty, suburban area with some very elegant properties around.  There is also a very attractive mirador, which has a highly recommended ice cream parlor (no, I am not obsessed with ice cream parlors, since you ask……..well, maybe, just a little!), which was closed on Sunday morning, a fact for which my hips are eternally grateful.  The mirador itself, however, was open for us to enjoy its stunning views.

La Casa del Vino, which has been run by the island government since 1992 is well-maintained and interesting. I’d highly recommend a visit if you still have any doubts about the quality of Canarian wines. The displays in the little museum, however, are a bit faded and refer to pestas – so I think they are in need of an update, especially since wine making is thriving again here.

This is the huge, well-restored wine-press, which takes pride of place in the courtyard, along with barrels and other implements historically used in wine making.

The links between Tenerife and England are strong, despite Nelson’s attempt to snatch the island for the British crown, which has, from time to time, puzzled me.  Why aren’t we resented more?  (and I won’t even go into what today’s Brits have wrought upon the island!)  It hit me, going around this museum – it’s the wine!  I knew that historically England had been a huge importer of Canarian wines (as well as other produce – hence Canary Wharf in London), and I knew that Shakespeare had given the nectar several plugs in his works, but in the museum I learned that Shelley, Keats and Marlowe, amongst other great English names, were also aficionados, and the panel pointing out the connection between the wines and literature was composed only of English figures, so we must have historically been as important to the island economy as our tourism is today!  And maybe we can lay some of the fault for our high alcoholic consumption on the island’s doorstep, in which case the nightly behaviour in the Veronicas has a certain irony.


A Post Mostly About Food – Again!

I don’t know about you, but I am kind of addicted to new beginnings, new ideas, anything new and novel, in fact, hence the penchant for travel, of course, but I also get really excited about discovering a “new” author, a new flavor, a new singer or type of music.  Probably, it’s a sign of immaturity.  I labored for years under the impression it was a bad thing, and that I should work hard, accumulate “stuff”, buy the best I could afford of whatever (cars, houses, clothes etc), kind of take root and grow.  I stifled my natural curiosity and buried it under the novelty of acquisition of material possessions (still novelties, you see).

This is why, following my “discovery” of a local supplier of the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted during the week, I reached heights of ecstasy yesterday when I sampled chestnut honey, because I adore chestnuts, so this marvel combined two flavors which turn me on.  It was like coming home!

Me, there somewhere, buying my chestnut honey!  But more important – just look at the setting!

I’d gone up to El Sauzal, after pulling information belatedly off the internet about a Feria de la Miel at the Casa de la Miel.  I hadn’t seen the information until Saturday afternoon, and Saturday was the main day, with instruction and displays of beekeeping and honey production.  El Sauzal is a good hour’s drive in weekend traffic, so I’d no chance of getting there until Sunday.  I should explain that when I make a new discovery I kind of get obsessed for a while, finding out all about it, until I reach some saturation point or other.  Now, of course, I’ve been eating honey all my life.  It isn’t something new, but I’ve never given too much thought as to how it is collected or produced until the other day.

Here’s some information which will tickle the girls: the queen bee flies high, really high so that only the strongest and fittest males can follow her to mate, and she mates with LOTS of them, because she has thousands of eggs, more than just one or two could fertilize!  Also, at the end of the season, when the flowers are dying and there is less pollen about, the males are kicked out of the hive to bum around until they die, and the whole cycle begins again the following springtime.  The downside is that ONLY the queen gets to mate, so……not much fun unless you’re royalty :=(

Since before records, back when we were in loin-cloth-clad nomads, wandering from place to place as food supply and weather dictated, we’ve been eating honey.  The harvesting of honey is actually shown in pre-historic rock paintings.  Oh, just had a thought, all that sweet stuff and no toothbrushes, I wonder if eating honey was the beginning of tooth decay too?!  Back then, of course, wild bee colonies were plundered, and consequences to the bees weren’t even thought about.  We simply moved on to new supplies.

Even when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and began to settle down and cultivate land, bee keeping was still a tale of annihilation and slaughter, because extracting the honey combs inevitably meant destroying the hive.  The evolution of movable combs was gradual, it seems, but nowadays in most countries these are what are used, so that the comb can be removed without loss of the hive, and the bees can move on to the next frame.

Ever wonder how the beekeepers, or apiarists, don’t get stung to death when removing the combs?  Well, we know they wear  those funny suits and veils which make them look like spacemen, but also the bees are subdued with smoke first.  This alerts them to danger and sends them into a feeding frenzy in preparation for having to abandon the hive, which, in turn calms them down – all that honey.  Clever, eh?

The other product for which we should thank bees, of course, is beeswax, which used to be a word heard on the telly every day once advertising was introduced, since it seemed to be in just about every type of furniture polish back when.  It was originally used for making candles though, which is why you hear so many references historically to monks being apiarists.  It was the wax rather than the honey they were after.  Earlier in the year, I’d visited a fiesta in Chirche, where the lady below was demonstrating the ancient way of making candles from beeswax.

Here the wax is drizzled down the string used as a wick, time and time again, until the candle is thick enough to use, and looks like the ones hanging in the other picture, a time-consuming (and, let’s be honest, boring) process!

Told you I get obsessed so to complete your list of useless facts to pull out at the next boring dinner party, I’ll just say that a sealed pot of honey was found in Tutankhamun’s tomb…..told you it was food of the gods!

Back to the chestnut variety then – it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.  The friend with whom I went had the exact opposite reaction to me, and hated it.  Of course, you have to like chestnuts first (OMG now I have my annual craving for marrons glacés – at least we can buy them here these days!), and if you do, you’ll find this honey richer, huskier and a tad less sweet than most, and can only be bought from the producer, Miel de Flores de Tenerife in La Victoria….Tel 922580905.

Lovingly preserved old wine press

La Casa de la Miel is somewhere I’d planned to visit when cloudy, winter days came around.  It is a part of La Casa del Vino in El Sauzal, a small wine museum and information center, based in an old and beautifully restored farmhouse, with the added attraction of breathtaking views over the northern coast of the island.  As well as learning about the old ways of making both wine and honey, you can sample the current offerings (so try to find a friend who doesn’t drink wine to drive, so you can taste!!!).

Samples from every island vineyard

A visit was most definitely a pleasant way to while away a cloudy afternoon.  The restaurant, with terrace taking advantage of that stunning view, has an excellent reputation, for serving traditional, high-quality local cuisine, but sadly we didn’t get to sample it yesterday.

By the time I took this, the clouds and haze were moving in, but if you look closely you can see the curve of the quite spectacular coastline

The other exciting discovery of the week was parma violet ice cream from my favorite, and unhappily too-local, ice cream parlor, Demaestri, just around the corner from my apartment in Plaza Roja.  It tastes just like the little parma violet sweets I used to love when I was little, and it’s subtle and light, and not the least bit guilt-inducing.  The only problem, as I’ve mentioned before is chosing between the best chocolate brownie ever, mango sorbet, passion fruit, fig and cinnamon or the more usual flavors, like English trifle, Ferrero Rocher or strawberry.  And, standing there in agonies of decision-making it occurred to be how great the cinnamon would go with pumpkin pie!  My god I can almost smell it!

In other culinary news, it was great to re-acquaint with Beaujolais Noveau the other night.  A French friend had acquired some, and it slid down most pleasantly along with local and English cheeses (I took Stilton and Wensleydale with Cranberries), and lively conversation.

The warmth of the friendship of that night stood me in good stead the following day, when I discovered that my departure must be delayed.  If I leave in the next 12 months I will lose money, which I can’t afford to do, so Plan B is forming in my brain, now that the disappointment is wearing off.  The very worst thing about leaving a place is the friends you leave behind, and the worst thing about a new place is the lack of friendships with depth.  Making new friends can be easy, but people who know how you feel and think have to be folk who’ve know you for a while.  I’m well aware that there are still a whole lot of places and things to discover about this island, not to mention other islands in the archipelago, so the journey continues, just not picking up the pace yet.