Islandmomma

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


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Top of My Bucket List

It’s early morning; the water is a mirror, the air is fresh; but underwater it’s murky, nothing but churned up sediment. The only thing in my line of vision is my son’s heels. I want to keep my head down, not keep checking how far we are from the boat, so I follow those. I am vaguely aware, from time to time, of the other people in the water, but never more than a glimpse of a flipper.

More murkiness. It goes on. Part of me wants to give up (I realize later that everyone except us had called it a day), but a much bigger part wants to go on ….. and on. I sense that we are heading back to the boat, and I know that this isn’t our private trip, but we go slow.

Then, without warning, something brushes against my leg, and glancing down I meet the enquiring gaze of a young manatee. I stifle the urge to cry out, and I freeze, spread eagled on the surface. We have been instructed not to make noise, not to startle these docile creatures, and although if approached we might touch them, instinct says not to. He swims under my belly, as if enjoying the contact, and over to my son. He seems to nuzzled up to him, and then retreats to the shadow below which is his mother. Fleetingly, charmingly, I have just lived out a dream.

Picture Guy took of a manatee futher down the river

Picture Guy took of a manatee further down the river

My dearest wish for this road trip to Central and South Florida I’m on is to see manatees close up, in their own environment, possibly to swim with them. And that just happened in a magical kind of way…..they came to us. They seemed to want the contact.

Clambering aboard the boat, I want to cry. The others  had watched the magic; had, actually, been able to spot the mother and baby before we did, and had been trying to signal us. I am overwhelmed. When we stop a little way further down the river, where another manatee has been spotted by another boat, I can’t go in the water. I don’t want to spoil the magic of that very personal encounter by sharing it with 15 or 16 other people. Some of whom are careless of our very strict instructions not to touch, disturb or follow the manatees. I need to breathe … slowly, listen to the birds, watch the mangroves and the ripples on the water.

This is my happy face! It isn't every day you get to cross something off your bucket list.

This is my happy face! It isn’t every day you get to cross something off your bucket list.

This is the best we could do! We were so taken by surprise and in the moment, and of course with poor visibility. There is a short video, which I can't upload, but truly it isn't a whole lot better. Most of the memories are lodged in my brain - and soul!

This is the best we could do! We were so taken by surprise and in the moment, and of course with poor visibility. There is a short video, which I can’t upload, but truly it isn’t a whole lot better. Most of the memories are lodged in my brain – and soul!

We are in Crystal River on Florida’s Gulf Coast, probably the most famous manatee spotting site in the state, and the only place where you are legally able to swim with them, or drift, as the advice says,  under these controlled conditions. The river is fed by 30 natural springs, which feed warm water into the system, which is what brings manatees here in winter. It’s May, so not prime sighting season.

Crystal River sign

cystal river

These are gentle, almost surreal creatures, and seem to be their own worst enemies. Although, we are told, there are times when they can move with some speed, for the most part they seem simply suspended in the water, or slowly moving with stately grace, nosing up to breathe every five minutes or so, making them sitting ducks for boat propellers despite both Federal and State protection. From time to time there are attempts by speed merchant Sunday boaters to have them taken off the Endangered Species Act, so they become a political pawn too.

I fell in love with one 23 years ago in the Living Seas in Disney’s Epcot Resort. I’d never even heard of them, and I realize now that I wasn’t unusual. This hulk with an improbable  figure was hanging around a tank nibbling lettuce, think a kind of benign Jabba the Hutt, with soulful eyes and a whiskery snout instead of the grotesque face, and a swish of a tail – think mermaids. In fact, rumor has it that the mermaid legends rose from those tails, mistaken by sailors from the First World as being some enchanted human, condemned to life in the ocean, whose purpose was to lure others to their death on rocky coastlines.

Since, especially in the winter months, they hug the coastlines, seeking the warmth of estuaries, it’s easy to see how ignorant men could have made that mistake. These are West Indian manatees and their patch is centered around the Florida shoreline, although they range further away during summer along both the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic coast. They are found in Central America and even parts of South America too, but less frequently, and have cousins in the West African manatees around Senegal and Gambia, the Amazon manatees and the dugongs of Asia.

Perhaps it was the languid, laid back posture, but I was hooked at first sight. So before we went to the coast to see them “in the wild” we stopped in the Living Seas for nostalgia’s sake. There are two manatees there now, with shocking. boat propeller injuries, one is missing most of its tail. Obviously, not candidates to return to the wild, so here they float, educating us about their kind, proof of how careless of the natural world man can be.

We’d had a close encounter one evening a few days earlier, leaving Captiva Island further down the coast on a “sunset cruise,” the captain had spotted a “footprint” on the surface of the water as we left the marina, but it hadn’t come up again for air in the time it took us to pass. I’d been surprised there by the speeds of some boats around us, but our crew had told us they weren’t exceeding speed limits, although there had been numerous signs around the marina warning that it was a “manatee zone.”

3 sisters spring sign

heron crystal river

Our trip this day doesn’t include any more manatee sightings, but does include a third stop, down the river inland, to Three Sisters Spring, the most famous of those which feed into the river. It’s another bit of magic, even though we see no more manatees. Swimming from the boat we enter through the neck of an inlet, which opens out into a watery glade. Taking my head out of the water, I see a circle of mangroves around the pool we’ve entered. They filter the sunshine, and reflections of the ripples on the water dance across their foliage. It could be a scene from “Avatar,” and the word enchanted crosses my mind. My world melds to a shimmer of pastel blues and greens.

Guy and me at 3 Sisters Spring

Guy and me at 3 Sisters Spring

Rachael and me approaching 3 Sisters Spring

Rachael and me approaching 3 Sisters Spring

Below, colorful fish weave among those famous mangrove roots. In the center of the pool, a fallen tree rises from a crater, and those shafts of sunlight filter down, sparkling on the white sand bottom. I feel as if I’m drifting through a beautiful dream. It utterly makes up for no more manatees this day.

Rachael 3 Sisters

Rachael 3 Sisters

Rachael 3 Sisters

Rachael 3 Sisters

As I stood at the top of the boat’s steps, clutching my wee Lumix camera I made an unusual decision for me. I slipped it back into my bag. It was a wise decision, as it turned out. I wouldn’t have used it. I wanted to savor any moments I got with a manatee, and I did! Sometimes it is best to leave the camera behind – that said, I am happy that my son, Guy, took his, so I have backups for my memories. This is the first time I’ve ever published a post entirely with pictures which are not mine…..and happy to do so – Thank you, Guy and Rachael!

Whispering a silent goodbye to the manatees

Whispering a silent goodbye to the manatees

We went on this excursion with Crystal Lodge Dive Center. I didn’t ask for any discounts, and didn’t even tell them I was going to write a blog post until the following day, when I went to confirm their website URL, so when I say I highly recommend them, you know I’ve not been coerced into saying this in any way! We were road tripping south and central Florida and stayed at the Best Western, in Crystal River, and they are based just behind the motel. Our guide, and grandson of the owner, Dakota, was very professional, ensuring that we fully understood the rules about swimming with manatees. – He also told me that the best time to eat lobster in the Keys is July/August (which I must remember) so if you ever read this, Dakota – have a great summer down there! 

dive boat

I’ve begun this road trip story almost at the end, because this was the highlight for me, this was at the very top of my bucket list, but there were other, wonderful moments, and more posts to come very soon. Sometimes you need to get off island for a while…..even if it’s to other islands – more next time :)


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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.

DSC_3721

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


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Blooming Easter in Guia de Isora

For years, like many non-natives, I drove straight through Guia de Isora. It’s main street is a part of the main highway from the west of Tenerife to the north, at least until, sometime in the mist of a long-promised future, the autopista circling the island is completed. Guia was just another mile marker along the way; nondescript, modern blocks of shops and apartments; the old folk sitting on the plastic chairs of roadside bars; glimpses of mountains above and ocean below. The town curves busily along the hillside, bland and unremarkable, en route to prettier destinations, Arguayo or Santiago del Teide and points north.

Over time, years, in fact, I got to know the town behind the concrete façade. It was slow, the grasping that this little community is not what it appears to be at a hurried glance. A visit to the high school revealed a vibrant, enquiring environment, far from the sleepy village school I’d imagined. A friend worked temporarily with the town hall on a special project, a documentary, which turned out to be a very professional testament to a facet of island history, capturing its essence whilst there were still folk alive to remember it. And then, of course, there is the MiradasDoc documentary film festival, an event which has been going on every Fall since 2006. Who would have thought – a full-blown international, intellectual festival, full of lively debates and workshops as well as the movies themselves in this quiet backwater? The place is a hotbed of creativity and communal artistic endeavor!

There is a splendid auditorium where the films are shown, and a shiny, modern town hall and civic buildings. Then there is the old heart of the village, which spirals out around the church square, an utter contrast. Doors, walls and windows cheerfully bright, and narrow roads so you can always walk on the shady side of the street.

Come Easter these historic thoroughfares blossom with a distinctive kind of art, dramatic pieces (because what is more dramatic than the Easter story, after all?) made from plants, flowers and natural materials, like wood and moss. According to the town hall it’s the only one of its kind in Spain, though there are other flower festivals, none revolve around the Easter story. It’s ambition and success seems typical of this surprising community.

easter guia de isora

And so, seeking, and finding, escape from the crowds on the beaches, at the passion play of Adeje or the sombre processions in La Laguna, I meandered my way up to Guia on Friday. Previously I’d been on Maundy Thursday, and I expected to meet more tourists this time, but it was as quiet as before, no problems in lingering around a favorite piece or taking snaps without folk photobombing, perhaps because they have extended the length of the exhibit from two days to four this year.

easter in guia de isora

semana santa guia de isora

Although the pieces are designed by prestigious names in this world of floral artistry, unknown to those of us outside the sphere, groups of volunteers and civic staff help in the creation, making it a real community effort. Like the mandala of Buddhism or the flower carpets of the Catholic Corpus Christi, this art is a lesson in life as well as a celebration of beauty and a sharing of ideas. Come Monday it is gone, leaving behind the lesson that nothing lasts long in this world.

This is what I discovered as I ambled around, dodging the hot sun, but cursing the shadows on Friday.

I begin with my two favorites:

The inscription reads: " It has not changed anything, currently people still (sell) themselves out for a few coins."

The inscription reads: ” It has not changed anything, currently people still (sell) themselves out for a few coins.”

I like this for the design, for the beauty and simplicity, and because, try as you might, you can always see yourself in those mirrors. This is a powerful message, which haunted me the rest of the day.

Jordi Abelló is a teacher  at the Catalan School of Floral Art.

Jordi Abelló is a teacher at the Catalan School of Floral Art.

The inscription reads:

“Pain is sometimes necessary to find inner peace in each one.

But if we see life with light and color, it is easier to find.

Inscription on this work by Carlos Curbelo of the Catalan School of Floral Art " Coins of betrayal that ended up scattered on the ground after Judas' betrayal."

Inscription on this work by Carlos Curbelo of the Catalan School of Floral Art ” Coins of betrayal that ended up scattered on the ground after Judas’ betrayal.”

I love the originality of this exhibit.  This was one of the first pieces I saw and it struck me as apt, in a time when Spain is reeling from corruption scandal after corruption scandal. From the king (that is the father of the current king) down, the country is examining its collective conscience.

"While others slept Judas left the group with intent on betray(ing) him for a few gold coins."

“While others slept Judas left the group with intent on betray(ing) him for a few gold coins.”

Third piece with more or less the same message – surely this can’t be a coincidence.

The mount of olives by carlos curbelo

This minimalist piece is by Carlos Curbelo, who is municipal designer and expert from the Catalan School of Floral Art, and was responsible for the larger part of the exhibition. The plaque describes it as inspired by the Mount of Olives, where Jesus went to pray before his arrest.

Another piece by Carlos Curbelo representing, "Flagellation: His first torture was received tied to a column where the scourge tore his skin."

Another piece by Carlos Curbelo representing, “Flagellation: His first torture was received tied to a column where the scourge tore his skin.”

The Resurecction "Why do you look among the dead (for) the living?" Carlo Curbelo

The Resurrection “Why do you look among the dead (for) the living?” Carlo Curbelo

This sombre and effective work is by Ángela Batitsta of Tacoronte in the north of Tenerife. The inscription reads: "The time of Christ death on the cross the sky turned dark there were thunder and lightning announcing that he left us and is no longer among the living, leaving a large gap and shame to those that loved him and bewildered to those that guarded him."

This sombre and effective work is by Ángela Batitsta of Tacaronte in the north of Tenerife. The inscription reads: “The time of Christ death on the cross the sky turned dark there were thunder and lightning announcing that he left us and is no longer among the living, leaving a large gap and shame to those that loved him and bewildered to those that guarded him.”

I had intended to correct the English (old habits die hard!), but typing out these inscriptions now, I find the mistakes kind of charming, so I’m leaving them alone.

"During the via crucis Veronica tended to Christ a veil to wipe away the sweat and blood. On the clothing redemptive factions were miraculously printed."  This work by Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“During the via crucis Veronica tended to Christ a veil to wipe away the sweat and blood. On the clothing redemptive factions were miraculously printed.” This work by Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

"In heaven the angels announced Jesus´victory over death."

“In heaven the angels announced Jesus´victory over death.”

This was the only one with which I had a problem. Were those really chicken wings?

IMG_0339

By Carlos Curbelo: " A crown of thorny branches surrounded his head, reflecting a mockery which became a glory."

By Carlos Curbelo: ” A crown of thorny branches surrounded his head, reflecting a mockery which became a glory.”

Lovely translation there.

IMG_0324

This was the prettiest, though I know it's not about the pretty. Tribute to the brotherhoods of pentients who parade during Holy Week by Carlos Curbelo

This was the prettiest, though I know it’s not about the pretty. Tribute to the brotherhoods of penitents who parade during Holy Week by Carlos Curbelo

Hole by Carlos Curbeo  "A broken heart at the end of the cross harbours the hope of resurrection."

Hole by Carlos Curbeo
“A broken heart at the end of the cross harbours the hope of resurrection.”

Carlos Curbelo has a brilliant translator who conveys the meaning as well as the words.

Ecce Homo by local artist Hugo Pitti. "His clothes were distributed by lot (dicing), scourged and crowned with thorns, by giving a fishing rod as a joke because they said that he itself was said 'King of the Jews.'

Ecce Homo by local artist Hugo Pitti.
“His clothes were distributed by lot (dicing), scourged and crowned with thorns, by giving a fishing rod as a joke because they said that he itself was said ‘King of the Jews.’

"The repentant tears dried Christ's feet with her long, messy locks. With so much love Jesus forgive her sins and left her free from the 7 devils that tormented her to the astonishment of all present." Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

“The repentant tears dried Christ’s feet with her long, messy locks. With so much love Jesus forgive her sins and left her free from the 7 devils that tormented her to the astonishment of all present.” Cristina de Leon from Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The temple by Zona Verde, who, I believe are the gardening contractors to the municipality. " A temple of prayer became a market. Jesus ejected the merchants from the temple."

The temple by Zona Verde, who, I believe are the gardening contractors to the municipality. ” A temple of prayer became a market. Jesus ejected the merchants from the temple.”

Sitting now, writing this and editing the photos, it occurs to me that, although not Christian, I “get” the messages of Easter, and these works of art made me dwell on them far more than, well, other Easter manifestations I’ve attended in the past.


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Almond Blossom Time Is Over: A Slightly Cynical Look at Tenerife Island Festivals

This post began, a couple of weeks back, in a totally different form. Technology killed it. I clicked something I shouldn’t have, and three-quarters of what I’d written was lost in the ether of cyberspace. I had no heart to try to recall lost words. Its time was past.

All of which set me thinking about how we tell time by the revolving customs as well as the seasons.

 

almond blossom el hierro

As soon as the Kings have hiked on back to Fairyland, I begin to think about almond blossom.  The first ones were spotted this year very early in January, and I missed my usual jaunt over to Santiago del Teide to see them , so I was surprised and happy to spot on orchard in El Hierro, still groaning with blossoms.

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On Being a Marathon Mom: A Flying Visit to El Hierro

Really, don’t get excited, when I say “marathon mom,” that’s as in “soccer mom,” not as in a mom who runs marathons (at least not yet but more of that another time!). I’ve shivered on the streets of London, and got soaked in Snowdonia watching Guy run marathons. I’ve also fried watching both my sons run the Half Marathon in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Austin take part in triathlons here in Tenerife. Of course the soaking, and the chilling, and the frying mean nothing, because watching my sons achieve is the very best thing in my life :)

Thus, rising at 6am, being on the road by 6.30 and eating a peanut butter wrap on a misty hillside for breakfast is all a part of the scene. But hang on, this adventure begins before that…….

It’s a while since I was on one of these inter island ferries, eight months to be precise. A year ago, as I crisscrossed the archipelago,  rumbling into the black hole of one of these boats was as normal as taking a train is for many folk. Since last July I’ve been kind of grounded. It’s good to be on the move again.

IMG_3200

 

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The Canary Islands’ Best Kept Secret

There is a part of me, a BIG part, which doesn’t want to write this post. When something is termed a “best kept secret” it usually should stay that way, and that’s exactly how I feel about what I am going to write, but knowing full well that others have written about it, and knowing that it cannot stay a secret forever, here I go.

Apart from some precious family time, a huge highlight of 2014 for me was crossing something of my bucket list.

More than 20 years ago I put my eye to the telescope in the Mirador del Rio, the impressive viewing spot on a mountainside in Lanzarote, created by local architect and hero Cesar Manrique. The Mirador over looks the channel (“rio” or “river”) between that island and the smallest, inhabited Canary Island, La Graciosa. Graciosa captured my imagination immediately, as it lazed alongside its big sister in a turquoise sea. I’ve wanted to go there ever since.

La Graciosa from Lanzarote

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