Islandmomma

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


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Mistakes and Successes with Accommodation on the Road

When your travels are dictated by budget but still have to cope with a medium-sized, elderly dog there are complications you don’t have otherwise. As I found out, finding accommodation, even for one night, with a dog isn’t as easy as you might think. I’d actually been pretty lucky up to that point.

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A year ago slow travel was my only option, because rental prices are far cheaper for long term than for vacation rental. 3 months is the accepted minimum stay to qualify as long term in the Canary Islands. I was hoping to be able to arrange accommodation in advance, but prepared to sleep in my van for a while if necessary, or even from choice if the going got financially tough. I hadn’t even left Tenerife when I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Even after I’d dwindled by stuff down, there was no way there would have been enough room for Trix and I plus everything else to sleep in there! Lesson learned, not ruling out future sleeping in van trips, but not on this one!

La Gomera: A private apartment

My alarm clock was the crowing of roosters and the bleating of lambs. At night, my lullaby was the croaking of hundreds of frogs in the barranco nearby. I wondered if I was in paradise.

Just a year ago I walked into my apartment in La Gomera, and couldn’t believe my luck. I’d seen it online, but it was even more idyllic than its photos, and situated in a historic church square to boot. It was the sort of place you dream about finding when you’re travelling! Finding it had been pure serendipity. Recommended by pupils, who’d been recommended by the brother of a previous pupil, who’d been recommended by my son’s friend, it had been one of those delightful coincidences we love to think of as twists of fate.

The lower half of a historic house, turned into a two bedroom studio – there was a double and a single bedroom, separated by curtains, rather than doors, and when I saw the bed that was to be mine for the next three months (or so I thought, that 3 months turned into 5 and then I added another month in spring), it almost took away my breath.

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The midday sun streamed in through the casement window as I put my bags down, and I noticed a huge plate of sponge cake, and a bowl of delicious nisperos on the kitchen table, a gift from my landlady, and within the hour her daughter had arrived with an overflowing bag of juicy, ripe mangoes…yes, I did pinch myself to make sure it was all real!

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At that time I was kind of on a roll. Fresh from simply wonderful times in France, England and Ireland, I didn’t even fall into my bad habit of thinking that the next event would burst my bubble. I just drifted along with it, and nothing spoiled it until the excessive rains in the New Year! That apartment being so great was a part of the feeling of euphoria that I rode for weeks on end. Apart from the gorgeous bedroom, the kitchen had everything I needed, I was able to store the ridiculous amount of stuff I’d packed in the spare room, (which I suppose is why I didn’t realized I’d packed way too much until later on the trip), the water pressure in the shower was great, and there was a dryer as well as a washing machine. To add icing to my cake the TV picked up lots of my favorite shows, and I could change the language to English.

Sitting outside the apartment just before we left La Gomera for the first time.

Sitting outside the apartment just before we left La Gomera for the first time.

An important factor was that it was perfect for Trixy, although it was a short, steep walk to get to the road; we both soon got used to that, and within a week we were taking it at a run. My alarm clock was the crowing of roosters and the bleating of goats. The croaking of hundreds of frogs lulled me to sleep. The ocean was a five-minute drive, capital and port San Sebastian was about 40 minutes away, even on one of those mysterious, mist-filled mornings. Good, and I mean GOOD eateries were 3 or 4 minutes away. The beauty of this apartment was the intense privacy too; excepting the odd tourist who assumed that the place was a part of the historic church surroundings (it was but not for the public!), and important local fiestas, I saw almost no-one, could disturb no-one, and my life was entirely my own. My only problem was lack of wifi. I’d bought a mobile modem, which worked a treat –just not in the apartment, where my telephone signal was also sketchy…..all those mountains of course. I learned that La Gomera is famous for its lack of mobile facilities! Still, sitting on the beach or in a picnic area, or in a local bar became a very acceptable way to work!

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Do you wonder that I extended my stay by three months? (OK there were other factors, but being entirely happy there was a huge part of it!).

Fuerteventura: Homestay

I’d scarcely unpacked when I was invited to a local bar for their regular Friday night get together, where animated conversation and jokes flowed with the local beer.

More serendipity resulted in my next accommodation. My landlady, and by now friend, had family in Fuerteventura who recommended a homestay to me, which sounded perfect, and the idyll continued, and so it turned out to be.

As I approached Las Playitas on the island’s southeast coast I was impressed by all the sporty folk, walking, running and cycling along the running/cycle track alongside the last, long curve into the village. It turned out that these people all stayed at the sports hotel on the opposite side of the bay where Las Playitas shelters, and the original village was a mishmash of low, white, old buildings, and a scattering of modern houses and apartments. My home stay was one of the latter.

It was my first time sharing a home with strangers, and the success of it makes me now realize how fraught with problems it might be. My hosts were a mother and daughter, intelligent, fun and active, as well as kind and helpful. I couldn’t have asked for better companions for the two-month stay I’d booked. I’d scarcely unpacked when I was invited to a local bar for their regular Friday night get together, where animated conversation and jokes flowed with the local beer. I was invited to a barbeque, and a cheese tasting (one of them had just returned from France); we laughed over a Japanese lunch in Puerto del Rosario, and I was taken to meet a local potter, whose home I would never have bee able to find on my own. They surpassed any standards for being perfect hosts, and made me very welcome.

Las Playitas

Las Playitas

My room had its own terrace, although I quickly realized that it was a mixed blessing in a place as windy as Fuerteventura. One theory as to the origin of the island’s name is that it comes from fuerte meaning strong, and viento meaning wind. A purple, gauze curtain fluttered across the full-length windows, letting in a radiant morning light, but shading from the full force of the sun as it moved across the bay. It proved to be a great place to work, using the house’s wifi too. I had my own beautifully tiled bathroom, and was offered use of everything in the kitchen, although I only ever used the fridge. I could have asked for nothing more.

That said, there were downsides. Firstly, visiting even close friends with your pet can be a problem. Trixy was petted and accepted, both by my hosts and their own, two dogs; she ate well, and didn’t seem at all fazed by the change in our living arrangements. I, however, was. The owners’ dogs slept in the garage, which was clean and dry. Trix had her own bed in a comfy corner, but coming from small apartments, where I could hear her breathing, her occasional snoring and those funny noises dogs make when they dream, I missed her more than expected. I’d known what the arrangements were beforehand, and it hadn’t worried me, so I was surprised at my reaction. I also worried whenever I heard the sound of the garden gate. Its latch frequently didn’t take, and people constantly left it open. The other two dogs would seize their chance to escape and would hightail it out of there, waddling off up the hillside or into the village in search of adventure. Trix was too old for that kind of adventure, but would wander into the street, and deaf as she is I was scared that a car might hit her. In La Gomera she had spent a lot of time with me as I explored, but I could also leave her behind if it was too hot, or if I was going to museums or restaurants where dogs weren’t allowed. In Fuerteventura she became my constant companion, limiting what I could do sometimes. Whilst I enjoyed having her with me so much, I know I missed out on things too.

Trixy aside, a homestay isn’t something I would choose to do again as long term accommodation, though I am definitely up for it as short term. Great as my hosts were, I had a certain sense of creeping around, not because of anything they said or did, but because their hours were different to mine. One of them worked shifts in fact, so I was never quite sure if she was sleeping or not. Then there are the manners concerned with sharing a kitchen. No one I’ve ever known who has shared a house has not had some degree of problem with this. Short term it really isn’t important, but long term, and it can become irritating.

Lanzarote: Resort Apartment

My invite from Sands Beach was so open and unstructured that I was able to plan my own schedule, and factor in work time too.

Halfway through my stay in Fuerteventura I was invited to stay at the Sands Beach Resort in Lanzarote’s Costa Teguise. It’s a chance I would have jumped at in any circumstances, but in the circumstance I was in, it also provided me with some breathing space and privacy for a while. I can’t praise Sands Beach enough. My luck was still holding, and I was riding that wave of euphoria that I jumped on back in September of last year yet again. One day I know, the odds are that I will be offered a blog trip and something will be wrong. So far I have had the amazing good fortune to have been offered only trips and meals I can genuinely praise without reservation. My invite from Sands Beach was so open and unstructured that I was able to plan my own schedule, and factor in work time too. Couldn’t have been better.

And this was my view on my first evening as the sun slide into the Atlantic

And this was my view on my first evening as the sun slide into the Atlantic

Of course, unlike the rest of my trip it was a short-term stay, but I genuinely want to go back for longer one day in the not too distant future. The combination of airy and light apartment, wonderful views out to the coast, and the warmth of the staff made it memorable. I also enjoyed having the eating choices available to me too, whether on site in the hotel, in the excellent nearby restaurants, or using the modern, well equipped kitchen, all of which I did. It was such a great place to come back to on the days I spent out and about exploring the island.

La Palma: Rural Apartment

That night I lay awake, wondering whether I could afford to blow the month’s rent I’d just paid, too weary to begin looking for alternatives that day, imagining forest fires and volcanic eruptions, lizards tumbling from the wooden ceiling or spiders attacking me if I slept.

Before going to La Palma, I stopped off for another month in La Gomera to enjoy some family time, and hopefully catch up with the photography that the bad winter had curtailed. The family time was wonderful, but the photography was not to be. My favorite auntie died in May, and I returned to England for a while for the funeral and to catch up with family there.

Eventually, I set off for La Isla Bonita in early June. My arrival was the disaster I wrote about. So, whether it was the bad beginning, my aunt’s death, or that the accommodation I’d booked was really as bad as I remember, that finally burst my bubble, I can’t say.

When I arrived in Las Tricias I had a vague feeling of discontent and weariness, which hit bottom when I opened the door to my reserved apartment. Again, I’d had recommendations, though perhaps this time they were a bit less tenuous, and I still wonder, had I still been floating, whether my reaction would have been the same.

Although the apartment was the lower section of the owner’s own house, it was completely private, even with its own kind of terrace and garden area – perfect for Trixy in fact. On closer inspection it was clear that this part of the house had comprised storage rooms, and a lean-to garden shed. The furnishings reminded me of the museums I’d seen in Ireland of impoverished fishermen’s or farm workers dwellings, where the bed was the main feature of the living room. It all looked as if it had been rescued from the village dump, and nature was quite freely invading what was supposed to be my space. I’d indicated 3 months when I’d been looking, but the owner, I think, sensed my dismay, and agreed to the trial month I suggested – or maybe she’d been there before!

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That night I lay awake, wondering whether I could afford to blow the month’s rent I’d just paid, too weary to begin looking for alternatives that day, imagining forest fires and volcanic eruptions, lizards tumbling from the wooden ceiling or spiders attacking me if I slept. I woke, after brief and fitful sleep, to realize that losing a month’s rent was too stupid for words, when I had a roof over my head, a garden for Trixy to root in, and a terrace which wasn’t at all unpleasant to sit once the sun had come around…it rises late over on the west coast of La Palma.

I found the nearest supermarket, bought cleaning materials and insect repellents and set about making it as decent as needed, scrubbing kitchen sink and bathroom, washing bed linen, and crockery, and finally sat to enjoy my first meal in the sunshine, as birds serenaded, and kittens eyed us suspiciously from all around.

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Needless to say, wifi, even a reasonable cell phone signal was impossible again, but my landlady proved to be kind, bringing me wine, and local cheese, and cake from time to time, as well as fresh eggs from the chickens she kept, which I heard but never did see. She was one of those people who seem to be “elsewhere” most of the time, for whatever reason I can only speculate, and I learned to avoid her unless I wanted to settle for a long chat, but she was kind, and I had the sense that she really didn’t know how awful the apartment was.

After a while, even the lizards who lived in the roof space seemed to stop resenting our presence, and life settled to a routine. A part of the routine was taking all my electronics with me when I left the house, since the doors didn’t lock properly, and at least if they were stolen from my car they would be covered by insurance! In fact, most of my possessions stayed in the car throughout my stay for that same reason. The car lived on the roadside at the top of a steep, steep driveway. I brought it down on the first day, and truly thought I would never get it out. Eventually I had to drive right over my landlady’s garden to use her drive on the other side of the house – clearly I wasn’t the first person to do that either!

Ceverzeria Isla Verde in Tijarafe which quickly became my favorite place to eat in La Palma

Ceverzeria Isla Verde in Tijarafe which quickly became my favorite place to eat in La Palma

My impressions of La Palma have been so colored by that apartment, both in itself and its situation that I’ve written very little about my time there. I feel that my memories of what is an island of breathtaking landscapes are unfair, and intend to rectify that in the not too distant future, hopefully from a less disgruntled and biased viewpoint. Las Tricias is probably not the best place to stay to get to know La Palma. Even by standards on the world’s steepest island, where everywhere else is a drive and half away, it is remote. In early summer the long grasses that fill every roadside are crisp and yellow, and are cut back against the fire risk by gangs of men who seemed to be out from dawn to dusk. The nearest real supermarket is a 40 minute drive away in Tazacorte, although Spar shops abound, where I was frequently admonished to “have a nice day” – something which rarely happens in Tenerife. I eventually found some nice places to eat, where I could use my mobile modem, though there was nowhere with wifi.

To be honest, at the end of the month, I couldn’t wait to get away. The struggle to get online, the distances I needed to travel to get somewhere else, the repetition of covering the same routes day after day to get to those places just added to my angst over the depressing apartment. My knee was beginning to hurt again, and Trixy clearly had some aches and pains …. and so, we are where we are.

Only half way through our trip I at least know what to avoid on the remainder when we start out again. No more housestays, unless they are short; no more accepting that somewhere is dog-friendly because it says so online without ringing first to confirm; and, I think, no more booking long term without seeing it first. I’d been exceedingly lucky, I know. It could have been much worse. Next time, unless I have a clear and sure recommendation from someone who knows a property firsthand, I will book somewhere short term to give me time to look around. It will increase the costs, but at least I will be able to sleep the first night!

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Things I Learned from My Islands Trip: No.3 My Need to be Near the Ocean!

 

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.

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Tanausú and Acerina: A Story of Love & Betrayal from La Palma

From Roque de los Muchachos La Palma

Islands, as I’ve said before, are full of stories; some are simply myths, tales passed down from before written history, so that any truth has been lost in the telling. In some the kernel of truth still beats at the legend’s core, and this is one of those. It happened on a Canary Island called Benahoare, the most westerly and the most isolated of the islands; that which we know today as La Palma.

Although much of the history of the island was eradicated by the Spanish, we know that when an elder knew in his heart that his time had come, he had only to utter the word “vacaguare,” (I want to die), and he was aided by family to do so with dignity. He was taken to a cave, covered with goatskins, and surrounded by chosen possessions and a bowl of milk, was left to make his peace with his gods.

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“Another Fork Stuck in the Road” (apologies to Greenday)

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.

It’s maybe been the longest between posts ever, I’m not sure. Not for want of trying, though, but my internet situation here in La Palma has been nigh impossible. Hence some decisions are being made. A change of plan is in the works, and that, possibly, because even travel can become predictable. Or simply, to quote one of my favorite songs, “to everything there is a season.”

It’s perhaps coincidence or it maybe a “thing” with me, but the last time I roamed off, at around the 8-month mark I became as restless with the travel as I had with the previous lack of it. As at the beginning of July, it’s been just a tad over 10 months on this trip, but I began to feel restless towards the end of May.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Roque de los Muchachos undoubtedly the point in La Palma which really touched my soul.

Perhaps if La Palma appealed to me more things would be different, but we got off to a bad start, the island and I, and although I have discovered some beautiful places, interesting stories and eaten some good (if not great) meals, since my last post, I think the bad start colored my perceptions too much, and I can’t, somehow, get over it. That happened to me with Nice in France years ago. I had no desire to return until a friend decided to celebrate her #@+%£ birthday there, some 20+ years later, and I went and fell utterly in love with it, so I know that sometimes we’re simply in the right place at the wrong time.

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La Palma: One Week In

First impressions are important, apparently. So what was my first impression of La Palma? Not good. I suppose that the bubble had to burst sometime. I’ve been almost floating around on this cloud of wonderment and some degree of happiness since last September. Not bad going really I suppose.

The Build Up

France, Ireland, London, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa had all woven spells on me in different ways, and then there had been time in La Gomera with Guy and his girlfriend in May, time with wonderful friends, and times with both of my sons in those months. The journey had been going well until the not unexpected, but still incredibly sad death of my Auntie Dot (about whom I wrote a few years back). She was ready, and it was time, I know, but deaths often bring on musings about life. For that reason it may be that I didn’t anticipate my next destination with as much excitement as before……then, again, that could be a good thing. I’d been lucky. What had been the odds that all those places would have really lived up to my expectations?

Hermigua

As it happened, I’d been asked to show someone around La Gomera on the weekend before I left, so it had been like making the rounds to say goodbye to some extent. I arrived in San Sebastian early last Tuesday, to walk around and confirm to myself a decision I’d come to over the previous few days – much as I love La Gomera, I don’t want to make my base there.

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Playing Hooky to Celebrate the Sunshine!

This isn’t the piece I intended to post today. You could say this is spontaneous. Spontaneous is what I did today. Spontaneous is probably the biggest difference between a blog and, say, a magazine article, at least if one’s own blog. Sponteous probably describes my current lifestyle….at least it should do.

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I should be better-organized, but a glimpse of sunshine and I felt like a kid on vacation! After sitting at my dining table, which doubles as my desk, for two hours, watching the day brighten outside my window, I couldn’t take it any longer. Afterall, hadn’t I spent hours when I was tied to boring jobs wishing I could be outdoors and longing for the freedom to improvise my life?

So I bundled Trixy into the van and set off, with no plan whatsoever. My direction was dictated only by the need to put gas in the car. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I needed to seize this glorious day.

The sun doesn’t warm the valley until late these winter mornings. It highlights the hillsides, teases through the gaps between the mountains, but doesn’t rise high enough to reach all the nooks until mid-morning. As we left the gas station it seemed that the last chill was evaporating, and the day began to glow.

This post is simply the story of me playing hooky. There is no deep meaning to it. It’s a photo essay of a crystal clear, blue/green day.

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Quite Simply the Most Breathtaking Island Sunset I’ve Ever Seen

After our experience last Saturday in Vilaflor, and seeing so many wonderful photos of the star-filled Tenerife skies on the internet,  Maria and I decided it was time to explore night-time photography.  I didn’t feel ready, but as always, one should take the plunge, go for it, just do it.  Procrastination gets us, precisely, nowhere, nothing, zilch, and it’s in the making of mistakes that we learn.

We assumed that it’s better to go on a moonless night (information which the internet has subsequently confirmed – I found this marvelous site recently, and now I simply hang on every word!), but thought it best to go when there is some moonlight to suss out the best places when it would be easier than with no light…….and we had NO idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nor what a learning curve it would be!

We set off around 8pm from the coast, and by my favorite route from the south, via Granadilla de Abona and Cruz de Tea, a quieter route, though it can be a bit scary when the mists shroud the road.  This night we were just ahead of the mists, snippets of cloud spied on us through the trees, but never impeded our travel. It’s so quiet, in fact, at this hour at least, that you can stop, as we did, without fear, on a curve to let a momma partridge herd her two babies across our path.

After that delightful moment we meandered up to Vilaflor, where we stopped to snap Mr Potato Man (and, in fact, Mrs Potato Woman too) which we hadn’t been able to stop for on Saturday night.  Nice emblems of that quirky festival.

We were also enchanted by the view down to the coast.  The route up which we’d just driven was now hidden by the Mar de Nubes (Sea of Clouds) a regular and impressive feature of the island landscape.  You have the same sensation of being above the clouds that you have whilst flying, but with mountains and islands emerging from the mass, and that uneasy feeling that the fog is following you as it slithers its way upwards.  Those terraces below are where we stood on Saturday night to open our minds to what was in store.  The horizon was just beginning to turn pink as the sun was sinking.  Although we were facing, more or less, east at this point, when you are up high you can see the colors of the sunset leaking all along the horizon.  It’s beautiful and slightly disorienting.

Onwards and upwards; we cleared the forests, but stopped on the first bend.  By now the sunset had deepened and was casting a rosy glow across the clouds beneath us.  We couldn’t wait for a better vantage point, we thought, because sunsets and sunrises wait for no man.

The island of Gran Canaria can be glimpsed there, on the horizon.

The warm glow of having experienced Nature’s wonderful display in our hearts and minds, we set off again, only to find……..and this is where words fail me………that Earth’s kaleidoscope had shifted, changing those gentle shades of rose and lavender to jewel-bright reds, oranges and deep purples.  The was no prescribed stopping place, but once again, you can’t wait, we pulled over on the opposite side of the road at the first opportunity and pulled out our cameras.

I tried lighting the foreground with flash to see how they would look, because the foregrounds on the others weren’t actually as dark as they appear to be in the photos, neither, or course, were they are bright as they appear to be here.  Part of the amazing learning curve that this night was turning out to be.

As we  wandered around the ridge on which we had stopped a little the colors changed, the sky darkened and night fell, bit by bit, not with the same suddenness as on the coast.  Even so I find my photos puny in comparison with reality.  I’m not sure if it can ever be captured, though I’ve seen some very impressive attempts.  Certainly, I have much to learn, but I hope these photos give you some idea of the awe we felt, since both words and my photographic ability fail me utterly.

Concentrated as we were on the scene before us, the vibrant sunset colors, the sea of clouds hanging like a night-time blanket over the hillsides and spotting the lights twinkling on other islands, we didn’t quite realize just how dark it had become until we turned around, only to be met by another, equally breathtaking sight – the blue-velvet night display of a million, million stars, suspended in space.  I drew breath and cursed.  The little I knew about night photography told me that I needed a tripod, and I didn’t have one.  Maria did, clever girl.  I’d thought of this drive only as a rekkie, not as an opportunity like this, but the moon wasn’t up, and the sky was achingly clear, and it felt as if we were looking into the future.  I only had one good photo, which you see here, by dint of putting the camera upside down on the top of the car, so that it was stable, everything else I tried was a huge fail, but I include the only other one I’ve kept.  The line of light from center to left of the photo is a passing car – another lesson learned, although because this is such an awful photo I think it gives it interest.  After a while I gave up and just drank in the experience.  It isn’t my first time, seeing this, though it’s a sight I’d never seen until I came to live here, but it was somehow very special, maybe because of the chat we’d had on Saturday, knowing just a bit more about what it was I was seeing.  Slowly, as dark overtook the scene the Milky Way was clearer than I’ve ever seen it, making us feel small but at the same time connected to all this.  It would be a good thing if everyone could experience that, maybe it would give us a sense of our place in the universe.

The next day began to intrude on our thoughts after a while.  I had a ton of stuff to do, and Maria had to be at work at 8am, so we began our roll down the hill, and I remarked that the only thing to complete our experience would be the rising moon…….when we turned a corner, and………… there it was, bright as a billion, billion rubies, rising over the mountains and through the trees.  The first place we could stop was at the same place we’d stopped before, and within that few minutes the shades had changed from ruby to diamond, as she took her place in the night sky.  Before us, the clouds now partly receded, lay the lights of the village of Vilaflor (the highest in Spain, remember) and further lights we knew were coastal towns and villages, and the lights from those and others hidden under the clouds lit the scene from below, giving it a surreal glow.  More curses about the tripod  …….. I will never, ever be without one again, OK!

We thought we were done.  We thought Nature couldn’t possibly have more in store for us after all this, but after all the majesty of the going down of the sun,  the vastness of space, and the grandeur of the landscape around us, she had one, final message.  As we followed the country road home, as happens on country roads, a rabbit suddenly froze in our headlights, and we slowly stopped.  She hopped out of our path fairly quickly, only to reveal a tiny baby which had been hiding behind her. As he hopped off into the forest it was just a reminder that despite the mind-blowing scenes we’d seen these small and more common moments have their beauty too.