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


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.

Almond Blossom El Hierro

I went to a talk about wine pairing (topical because it paired wines with almonds) and that was the subject of my murdered post. I learned nothing new about wine, but a lot about almonds. It was amusing but hardly life changing, but that was it, the year’s first bookmark passed.

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I guess we need our bookmarks to reassure us, that life goes on, that we are till rooted. That we are still here, even.

On this island, after the almond blossom comes Carnival. The main event in Santa Cruz, and the minor ones around the island in the following weeks. Personally, I prefer the smaller ones, they are much more fun that the extravaganza in the capital….as you can see in the faces of the folk below (one of whom is my hairdresser….pity her!) Watching the “big” carnival on tv you gotta wonder sometimes why they bother, so bored or serious the faces are.

Scenes From the Carnival in El Médano This Year

Carnival El Médano

Murgas Carnival El Médano

Carnaval El Médano

Murgas Carnaval El Médano

I have come to realize, now is a kind of dead zone on the island calendar. Of course it is! The foundations of so many festivals are religious, the churches, of course, have cleverly high-jacked pre-Christian ones to help convert. Thus – Carnival – the eating and drinking of anything vaguely hedonistic, packing six weeks of fun into a few days & nights,  before the rigors of Lent. It’s Lent right now, the season of abstinence, and so fun events are thin on the ground. There is no tradition of celebrating at this time of year.

Easter is almost here though, with all its solemnity, which will segue into sunshine and happiness for believers, but at least the fiestas will start up again! It’s possible that nowhere outside Vatican City does the Catholic Church still have such sway with a country’s cultural life.

Easter La Laguna

There are exceptions to the rule (Arona in the south of the island, for instance) but most fiestas and romerias are summer events. Throughout summer and into Fall, each town and village will dust down the statue of its patron/ness and parade it around the streets. Bunting will flutter. Kiosks selling beer and hotdogs will set up around town squares. In any village big enough, the traveling fair will set up. Older women will weep. Children will be bored. Young folk will get drunk. Fireworks will fill the night skies. If the village is on the coast, boats will be decked with bunting. The faithful and the local politicians will crowd on board tighter than sardines and risk their  lives, putting to sea, so that the likeness of the patron can bless the waters ….. as if an ornate piece of plaster can turn back years of overfishing. Inland, the hauntingly bland faces of the statues will survey the rich soils of the north or the barren deserts of the south. People will celebrate arriving again at this, particular, point in the year, will take comfort from the predictability and the familiarity. Tourists will go to some of these, in Los Cristianos or Puerto de la Cruz, and will, on the other hand, find them strange and exotic.

Fiesta decor church in Amparo

La Virgen de Guadalupe, La Gomera, Canary islands

Perhaps it’s because I’m a non-believer (of this version of religion), I find much of this alien, that I never feel totally at home, though everyone is always made thoroughly welcome, so mea culpa. When I go to other festivals, like the wonderful Mueca in Puerto de la Cruz, or El Día de la Trilla in El Tanque, or El Día de las Canarias anywhere in May, I feel much more comfortable and relaxed. Not that there isn’t plenty to do or admire outside of the religious aspect of most festivals – flowers, animals, costumes, music, food and wine.

As we turn back our clocks, as the chestnut trees in the north deliver their goodies, as we scurry from the beach at 4pm instead of 7, and begin to wonder if it might rain, the new wines arrive. Harvested in the heat of late summer, graded and fussed over in early Autumn, the wines are presented and hyped by the vineyards. Reviews are eagerly awaited, and young folk do crazy things to celebrate this increasingly important part of island economy. Once there was a time when Canarian wines were famous all over the world, and island wine makers are working hard these days to recover that fame. Needless to say, as a fan, I love this time of year, especially the traditions in Icod de los Vinos.


And so to Christmas, which is, by the standards with which I grew up, something of a non-event. Although now commercialized beyond recognition, it remains, basically a festival which resembles Thanksgiving more than Christmas in the rest of the western world. The family gathers on Christmas Eve but there is no exchanging of gifts, making the commercialization a bit of a mystery. Followed by getting drunk on New Year’s Eve and the kids fighting over presents on The Day of the 3 Kings……which means that all that commercialization was directed at kids….. and it’s Almond Blossom Time again.

Perhaps it’s the unaccustomed number of cloudy days, perhaps it’s the tales of corruption and back-handers, which are making me skeptical today. Perhaps tomorrow I will be eagerly researching the times for the Easter Parades (do NOT think Judy Garland!). Or perhaps it’s too long since I salved my itchy feet.


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.


Getting there early always pays off in the case of these ferries even though it means hanging around for a while before boarding. It means you board first and can choose your seat. To the intriguing island of El Hierro, it’s two and a half hours from Los Cristianos in Tenerife, so it’s convenient to choose your seat, although the seating on all of these boats is comfy enough.

It’s the smallest of the seven main islands, a green paradise (in more ways than one, it is almost self-sufficient energy-wise – and example to the world). It’s nick-named La Isla Meridiana (The Meridian Island) a name it acquired long before Greenwich was chosen, but more of its history when I have explored it more. This is a flying visit with a purpose – Austin is taking part in the mountain marathon called Maratón Meridiano.

nighy ferry

There is only one ferry a day between Tenerife and El Hierro at the moment, so we have no option but to arrive in the dark, and rely on the GPS. It’s a small island, but some of the roads are a bit scary (as I learn a couple of days later)…. although, happily not the one we take to the Parador, which is about fifteen minutes from the port. We’re in nice time for a tasty dinner, but can’t see much of the surroundings on a night of low cloud.

Morning reveals a gorgeous location, nestled on a stunning bay, guarded by towering mountains, clearly this Parador is a place to which to return at a more leisurely pace than this weekend will be. It’s winter and the hillsides glow in their covering of velvety green; crevices power down to the narrow coastal strip; and along the shore a pebble beach stretches for longer than I expected on an island of just over 100 square miles.


By the end of the morning we have covered a goodly swathe of the island, from capital, Valverde, straggling the island’s hillsides, to La Restinga on the southern tip, the tiny village off whose shore a new volcano is rumbling. We have stopped to admire the stunning views from Charco Azul, and Austin has appraised the course he will run tomorrow – yep up those mountainsides and into the swirling mist….for real!

Hillside of El Hierro


Charco Azul El Hierro

We have investigated a part of the marathon route, parts which can be reached by road. The race crosses the road in several places on its way up and down the mountains of El Hierro. We have passed a stunning orchard of almond trees in full flower. We stop briefly, although we are late for lunch, but the grey skies don’t make for the wonderful photos this deserves!

almond blossom el hierro

almond orchard

We arrive in La Restinga and I get one of “those” feelings…… that this is somewhere which strikes a chord with me……almost right away, as I step out of the car. Aware that things are stirring underwater, just off the coast, makes it seem extra tranquil in the delightful, little harbor. Happily, the sun breaks through for a while, making the place even more magical than I already feel.

We meet up with Austin’s friend. Having friends in far-flung places is a wonderful thing. Because Austin is a sailor, and because we have lived “abroad” we both have friends scattered around the planet. One of the best things is that when you visit they know the best places to eat or hang out. Our lunch is beyond delicious. The table groans with dishes of fresh fish, salads and things I can’t even now remember. We have the freshest fish ever, and an escaldón make with fish stock that I can’t stop eating. Oh, I will SO be back here!

la restinga

Lunch over, we take a leisurely drive back to Tigaday in Frontera, where the race is due to begin and end tomorrow. Registration opens at 4pm. There is an almost tangible buzz in the air as we approach the square, where tents and awnings and flags mark the spot. Austin queues and I take snaps.

This race, founded in 2007, will take him over an accumulated ascent of 2,600. That is not going straight up to that height, but up and down mountains! Trail running and ultra marathons are very much in vogue in the Canary Islands, and when you look at the terrain in each, the volcanic landscapes, the forest trails and mountains it’s obvious why. This isn’t something many folk attempt, and it’s also obvious why that is, but over time I’ve got used to the terminology, the specifics of why certain foods are eaten, the necessity to rest, stretch and train. It’s all very technical, and utterly fascinating, especially in terms of how far the human form can be pushed, and that especially when you realize how sedentary we have become. Austin is doing the full 42k, but there is a 27k, 18k and 7k for beginners to the sport.



Austins number maraton meridiano

A slow drive back to the parador, a hearty dinner and an early night for that 6.30 start!

As we quietly exit the hotel in the early morning dark, Austin hands me a bag with my breakfast (the parador doesn’t begin breakfasts until 7.30). Talk about well-organized! We drive for miles before seeing another car, but in the half-light when we arrive in Tigaday it is bustling. The Red Cross are erecting medical aid tents, people are changing clothes (as does Austin) from the boots of cars, the faces of runners are alight with excitement, the faces of supporters are bleary from lack of sleep, much limbering up is going on, limbs are being stretched as the light becomes clearer. Surprisingly, (to me at least) the two bars which are open are fairly quiet, and I grab a coffee to wake me up.

Waiting for the start

Waiting for the start

Finally, it’s time. What do you say to someone about to run a marathon? Good luck might mean bad luck, but break a leg hardly seems like the right thing either. I find a slot as close to the start as I can to grab a photo. The DJ is winding up competitors and spectators alike. Queen belts out “We will rock you.” Tension rises. The DJ is interviewing participants, and cheers go up as each reveals where they have come from, mostly the other islands, but someone from mainland Spain and one from Germany. He doesn’t get to Oz, so UK doesn’t get a mention this time. The countdown is beginning, and I raise my camera. The auto focus isn’t working, so I need to be very careful.

Motivating runners

I get a decent shot of the start

I get a decent shot of the start

I watch Oz disappear up the street, and then head to the van. Supporters have been supplied with a brief map, showing the points where the roads cross the course, so we can hope to get snaps at those places. The first is easy to find, and I crouch by the roadside, hoping that I’m not too late. I’m not, but it’s hard to get a decent shot with the auto focus not working!

Maraton Meridiano

We’d decided the second spot would probably be a bit of a bottleneck, so I drive on to the 3rd, the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de los Reyes. We’d reckied this spot the previous day, and I’d been enchanted by this small chapel, perched on a mountainside, just before the treeline. Austin had given me his estimated arrival times at each spot, so I knew I had time to take a look around the chapel, eat my breakfast (the peanut butter wraps – yum!), take some snaps, and find a good spot to wait. I did, crouched on the trail behind the chapel, overlooking the ocean.

Woodland by the ermita

Woodland by the ermita

woodland el hierro

Maraton Meridiano Ermita

After calling out support, I check with an official the way to the next check point, and set off. Climbing all the way I’m soon in thick mist on a dirt road, but the fact there are two or three cars behind me hopefully confirms that I’m going the right way, as does the Red Cross ambulance coming towards me. We climb, and climb some more. The mist thickens, drifts, lessens. The visibility is awful, and I decide to turn back, certain that if I manage to catch up with the runners there, I’ll be late back at the finish line, and I really want to get a picture at the finish line! I’ve never been able to do that before, there is always such a crush, or one isn’t allowed close, but because of the nature of this race I think I have a chance.

I’ve only been back fifteen minutes or so when I spot Austin’s green visor heading down the street, and raise my camera for the shot I’ve been waiting for. His time is 6 hours, 7 minutes and 32 seconds. I can’t begin to imagine running for that long, or even the 7 minutes 32 seconds part of it! The preparation, the training, the diet all make sense to me now! I am the proudest mom in the world!

Austin finishing marton meridiano

We spend the next day driving through mists; feasting on island offerings, watercress soup and knuckle of beef for a warming lunch; and chasing down the place which makes the island’s famous speciality quesadilla in Val Verde. The mists prevent us from seeing much, but I am, as so often in recent years, leaving a bit of my heart on El Hierro. This post isn’t so much about the island as about the race though, about being proud of my sons, which is ……….. the best feeling in the whole world.



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

When I stayed at Sands Beach Resort last year they put me in touch with Lanzarote Active Club, who offered me a choice of their eco tours; they cover a multitude, from wine tasting (no, I didn’t, sadly!) to bird watching. Frankly, I could have gone out with them every day, quite happily, and yes, they invited me, but I can shout out without the slightest hesitation that this company and the tours they offer Rock … note the capital R! In the end I went to La Graciosa with them and did a walk around Montana Corona too, but, truly, I have a new bucket list item, which is to spend a week or so on Lanzarote and try all of them!

I did the Montana Corona walk first. That was good, because it whetted my already eager appetite with its breathtaking views of Graciosa from high on Lanzarote’s mountainsides. It wasn’t a hard hike by any means, a couple of slithery places where the descent was over scree for a few minutes, nothing more difficult. It was a whole world of information, though, supplied, as our group of six tramped merrily along, by our guide Michele, an Italian who is passionate about the environment and more knowledgeable about Lanzarote than many folk born there. From collapsed volcanic cones to wildflowers, to goats perched precariously on ledges to the birds circling above, Michele had stories about all of them.

La Graciosa and Alegranza beyond

La Graciosa and Alegranza beyond

As we gazed down on Graciosa he pointed out a particular spot on the Lanzarote shoreline, just opposite. This, he told us was where the women from Graciosa would come ashore, bearing their menfolk’s catches of fish, and climb a considerably steep hillside to sell the fish, or exchange them for vegetables and other food. Graciosa is a barren, though beautiful, island, and little of use grew there. Bartering the bounty of the surrounding seas for other goods was the way of life for the village of fishermen in Caleta de Sebo, the only permanent settlement on the island right up to the 60s. Now there is a limited amount of tourism to supplement the coffers, but hopefully it is going to escape the excesses of the larger islands.

Cabo de Sebo La Graciosa

One sunny morning a couple of days after the Montaña Corona walk, I was picked up by owner of Lanzarote Active Club, Carmen Portella, who was going to make a dream come true for me. For Carmen her business and life is a dream come true, being outdoors, teaching people about the environment, and in particular spreading the word about the island life she is so passionate about. She is incredibly well-informed and experienced when it comes to the history, geography, environment of Lanzarote. I felt immediately at home with her, and absorbed by what she told me about her life and the island.

Arriving in the small, coastal village of Orzola we had just a few minutes to join the rest of the group, and embark on the ferry which plies between La Graciosa and Lanzarote. This journey, however, wasn’t to be simply going from one point to another. La Graciosa is a part of a mini island chain, the Chinijo Archipelago, along with islotes Montaña Clara, Roques del Este and del Oeste, and Alegranza an even smaller island which is a privately owned and uninhabited. The surrounding waters are a marine reserve, and, as I was to discover, home to a rich biodiversity.

Enjoying the sea breeze along the coast of Alegranza

Enjoying the sea breeze along the coast of Alegranza

After dropping off the owner of Alegranza, we cruised along its coast, at one point excitedly spotting osprey above its cliffs, and listening to Carmen’s expert information about the region’s bird life. We dropped anchor a few meters from the coast opposite an opening in the cliff side. The plan was to swim to the opening, which would reveal a secret, but one glance in the water warned us off. All around us purple jellyfish happily bobbed and jived.  Going into the water wasn’t an option, so in turns, because it held only six of us at a time, we puttered over in a zodiac. The opening was cave-like, and the rising tide pushed us through and into a tiny slice of paradise; a grotto with an open roof, through which the sun streamed. Volcanic walls glittered, and a small, pristine, black-sand beach tempted, but we had only time enough to gaze in wonder, take snaps and return, because the zodiac had to return for two more journeys. Getting out of the opening was less easy, a the tide pushed us back, but we made it in good time, those of us who made the first trip having created a bond in our awe of Nature.

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All aboard, we headed for La Graciosa, a short walk and lunch, marveling at the aerodynamic beauty of the Cory’s Shearwaters gliding around us. These waters are home to the world’s second largest colony of these graceful birds. Eagle-eyed Carmen spotted a whale at some distance and we headed out that way for a short time. Of course it’s forbidden to deliberately get too close to any of the whales and dolphins which inhabit the archipelago’s waters, and in any event we were on a schedule. Whale watching recently I’ve tended to stand back a bit, because much as I love to see these wonderful creatures, it’s not a novelty, and I love to watch the faces of folk who are having this experience for the first time. However, this was a bit different for me, and when I learned that it was a Bryde’s Whale and not the familiar pilot whales my excitement was every bit as stimulating as if it was the first time I’d been at sea.

Reluctantly, because everyone, bar none, was entranced, we turned again for La Graciosa. As we rounded the coast level with Playa Francesa we were given the option of kayaking or being ferried ashore to walk to Caleta del Sebo and lunch. I’ve never kayaked, and the memory of those jellyfish was just too much for me to want to risk a dip. I opted for the walk, which was pure delight along white sands fringed by turquoise sea. It was April, and one of those perfect days which demand that I always return to the Canary Islands, warm but not hot, with a clarity which can break your heart. I didn’t want the walk to end.

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If I was reluctant to arrive in Caleta del Sebo, my reservations dispersed into the sunshine when I saw the long table, laden with fish and seafood which was awaiting us, by the harbor. Then came one of those rare moments in life, when, all seated around the table we all jelled in our mutual wonderment of the day we’d had, and enjoyment of the food which was the perfect ending.

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There was, however, one, other small surprise in store. As we relaxed over coffee, Carmen asked if we’d like to see the local church. Some of us followed her around the corner from the bar to a wide street which was in reality a dirt track, resembling those we see in westerns, flanked by low, white buildings, one of which was the tiny church. Inside maybe the simplest Catholic church I’ve ever been in, simple, wooden pews, an altar covered with a cloth of local embroidery, in the corner a font made from a turtle shell, behind which were crossed a pair of oars, the lectern a ship’s wheel. Very much a church of the people in this community of fishermen, and it was humbling to wonder how many families had prayed there waiting for news of their loved ones out at sea in bad weather. It wasn’t an easy life. It still isn’t.

altar of church in La Graciosa

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At only 27 square meters, with no water source (water has been supplied from Lanzarote since around 2000) it’s unlikely that La Graciosa will succumb to the worst excesses of tourism its bigger neighbors have suffered, and this is something certainly to be wished. The number of inhabitants is variously said to be between 500 to 700, perhaps the discrepancy is due to seasonal fluctuation. There is no hotel, but there are apartments to be rented, and a campsite. Cars are not allowed, excepting, I understand, a handful of 4 x 4s owned by locals. Only 4 x 4s would manage those roads in any event, but you can take your bike. The ferry service is excellent, but they advised me to avoid July and August when I return, when the island is about as full as it can get as folk from the other islands flock there for a slice of tranquility, although it did sound as if those months might not be so tranquil!

I have no doubt that I will return to La Graciosa; perhaps not in high season, nor in the depths of winter though! It was everything I imagined it would be with its almost empty and sparkling beaches, waters of color only usually seen in travel magazines, and delicious fish and seafood. For me it would be the perfect place to get away from it all, and just be.

My thanks to Lanzarote Active Club for two fabulous and unforgettable days, and to Sands Beach Resort who invited me to Lanzarote and provided first class accommodation as well as the intro to Lanzarote Active Club.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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!


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.


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!


Fuerteventura an Overview: Can it survive modern tourism?


Arriving in Fuertenventura’s capital, Puerto del Rosario, on the overnight ferry, my bones still felt the chill of a damp winter in La Gomera, or was it the cramp of fitful sleep? A bunk had seemed like a luxury at the time of booking, but the previous night, I saw cabin keys being doled out to the dozens of truck drivers, who clearly make this run regularly, and wished I’d splurged on one. Even so, I’d guessed sleep might have been elusive, making a bunk a waste of money.

fuerteventura landscape

Down below Trix was still snoring when I slid the van door open. By now a fearless ferry traveller, she lapped up her water, and minutes later we were rumbling over the echo-y ramps and off the boat.

Odd how the mind stores stuff without us realizing; it was over 20 years since I’d visited this Canary Island, but my sense of direction nudged me, rightly, south. I didn’t have a map at this stage – part of the adventure. When we got to a suitable spot on the edge of town, we stopped, stretched our legs. The sun was rising rapidly, and had reached that point when you feel its first warmth on your skin, when the day really takes off. Absolutely unfazed by the strangeness of heat after a long winter, Trix gobbled her breakfast. I marvelled, as I had before, at her trust in me. No indication of nervousness at being in a strange location.

That warmth was what had brought us here at this stage of our trip. My original plan had been to explore La Palma and El Hierro, before heading to the easterly islands for winter, assuming them to be warmer; but two months of damp and almost unceasing rain, and I had a need for sunshine. I am nothing if not adaptable – it said so on the letter of recommendation I had from my headmistress when left school, (though how she knew I never understood). Plan B it was then, Fuerteventura, miles of white sand beaches, and a reputation as the warmest, windiest of this island chain.

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“Believe You Can” is Marieke Vervoort’s Motto: Something We Should All Remember!

Traveling is good for you; it broadens the mind; it opens us to experiences, opinions, and ways of life we are unlikely to see if we don’t stir from our hometowns; it makes us more tolerant of different opinions, and raises our general knowledge and our empathy for others. Mark Twain famously said

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Passionate as I am about landscapes and seascapes, the best travel memories always come back to the people I meet. It might be the waiter who makes you laugh, the good old guys playing dominoes outside the bar you stop to joke with, or the kindness of strangers who go out of their way to put you back on the right road when you are lost. Sometimes people who are totally extraordinary cross your path, making your travel really inspiring.

In April in Lanzarote I met someone who is, simply, one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Meeting her was an experience not to be forgotten. Her name is Marieke Vervoort, which is likely a name you don’t know unless you are familiar with her world of Paralympic competition. This story is as full of positivity, determination, focus and inspiration as you will find anywhere.

Until she became ill at 14, Marieke lived the active life of a sporty, teenage girl. Without warning, in 1993 a, then, mysterious illness struck. It is rare, it is degenerative, it is progressive and incurable.  By the turn of the century she had lost the use of her legs, and the condition, which few in her home country, Belgium, suffer, had confined her to a wheelchair. To use the word “suffer” in the same breath as her name seems a bit insulting. She does, but she takes it in her stride, deals with each day as it comes.

Marieke Vervoort


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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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