Islandmomma

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


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Good Riddance to 2014 and the Lessons Learned

2014: not my favorite year, although I think it may have looked otherwise here. I was happy to hide under the duvet, bedsocked and pyjama’d in my dad’s rather chilly bungalow New Year’s Eve, and wake up to a shiny new year. Not that, hey presto, everything will change, but, you know, it kind of gives you a lift, knowing that it’s a new beginning. I am quite into new beginnings, which is very likely why I move around so much, even when sometimes I stay in the same town. Still, 2014 was instructive, if nothing else. I learned a lot, and one of the keystones of my life is that we should never stop learning!

Lesson One: Back Up Regularly!

This year, for instance, there will be no “postcards from 2014″ post, which is how I’ve marked the end of each blogging year, since, I think, 2008. The reason for this being that my hard drive thoughtlessly died and I just hadn’t backed up that many photos……and yes, it very likely was the Chardonnay what killed it.  I do, at least, back up, but clearly not nearly as much as I should. Huge, huge lesson, especially in regard to photos. Worst is the loss of the personal photos, those moments which will never come around again with family & friends.

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Lesson Two: Carpe Diem!

My favorite Latin words, often used too casually, like, “Yeah, Carpe Diem!” reciting them without relishing the full meaning. Not a new lesson, more of a reaffirmation. This year I lost my lovely Auntie Dot, who has been an inspiration, my flag-waver, and my second mother forever. She was 91, and, in all honesty, she was ready. I have a lovely last memory of her birthday in 2013; she frail and tired, lying on the couch, but kicking her leg in the air in celebration of a friend arriving to wish her happy birthday. She even repeated it for me to video. I hope that isn’t lost too. It was on my broken phone but I think it’s backed up on Google.

2014 was a year punctuated by death, as well as Auntie Dot; a friend, though not close, who had shown me much generosity, and whom I admired both professionally & personally; another whose moral compass and intelligence had been very important in my sons’ lives; someone else I’d never even met, but whose death affected dear friends very much. And then the news that another friend is terminally ill. None of them should have died this young.

And, you know, there isn’t one of those people who wouldn’t tell me to make the most of every moment left. Of course, how you do that is up to you. Some of us choose to write, swim, run, take photos; others to cook, read, watch movies, hike; or others to climb mountains, travel, paint; and others play football, sing, dance, dive, fly. The thing is not waste it, to do what fills us with joy. The more joy in the world, the better.

IslandMomma

Lesson Three: I am not a Nomad

I’ve never been sure about this. When I’m in one place for too long (and that isn’t very long) my feet itch,I find it hard to concentrate on the present, because I am dreaming about somewhere else. When I am traveling I don’t worry too much about possessions left behind, so long as I feel that I’ve left them securely. I miss Trixy, but happily, last year she traveled with me most of the time. Friends and family are spread throughout the world, so in a sense it doesn’t matter where I am. Plus traveling brings new friendships.

That said, the same thing happened this time as the previous two occasions I sallied off without a specific return date, or even plans to return fulltime, around the 8 month point I began to miss my “stuff” ……. I downsized completely this time, keeping absolutely only clothes, technical stuff and things with sentimental value. Perhaps that’s the key, perhaps getting rid of nomadic tendencies is better done whilst young, because I have, of course, a ton of stuff which means a lot because I’m a mom…….. Yes, I do have a box full of pictures my “kids” did when they were in kindergarten.

Acknowledging that I am not a fulltime nomad by instinct does not diminish my love of travel. I think some part of me thought that it did, so it’s a relief to accept that! Yes, I do not want to be weighed down by possessions, but, in fact most of that is in the mind. I got rid of non-essential material things, and yet, what I was left with was of enormous sentimental value, far more important to me.  I have a better perspective on that, because now I regret selling all those cds – thinking I had them all copied to my computer, and I miss my favorite set of coffee mugs, and those nice wine glasses, and especially that comfy throw in this chilly weather. It’s much more about the perception than the things themselves, and my perspective has changed…….’bout time too, of course. I should have known this long ago!

I am ok with this. In fact, it came as a relief. A part of me has, for a long time, felt held back because I’ve not been in a position to wander at will. The truth is that I can – I simply need somewhere as a base, somewhere to where I can return for a month or a year, or whatever period I need, without spending half of that time unpacking! I still have to find the place, but I know I need to find it.

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Contemplating the ocean, or the future? Las Galletas a few months back

Lesson Four: Don’t Take Your Health for Granted

I am largely responsible for the frustrations about my health. I had it good for too long, so when the knee began to hurt I assumed it would just go away with time. Of course, it didn’t. Coming back to El Médano was the right choice for this. Although the waits for X-rays and MRI scans and specialist appointments are as outrageous as they are everywhere in the world if you don’t have private health insurance, it has all been within easy reach, no ferry rides, it hasn’t taken all day for an appointment, and the service has been excellent. Now waiting for the next specialist appointment in February. My own doctor thinks keyhole surgery to repair ligaments and correct cartilage, based on the MRI. So I wait.

I also had another reason to be grateful to be just around the corner from my local medial center. At the beginning of December, having been feverish on and off for four days, and in quite a lot of pain from a sebaceous cyst on my back (the removal of which was a seemingly minor thing I was waiting for on a scale of things), I stumbled around there, and discovered that I had septicemia. The cyst had become infected, and I had to go to the ER urgently to have it removed. I hadn’t connected the fever to the cyst. I thought I was going to see my doctor about two, separate things. I’m still having the wound it left dressed on a regular basis.

I may have to give in here and say this is down to age, but I think the reason I delayed going for help was that my brain was saying, “OMG not AGAIN. You can’t have something else wrong. For god’s sake, woman, you’re British. Stiff upper lip. Suck it up, and all that.” Apparently, had I delayed longer, well, let’s say, I wouldn’t be sitting here now typing this post. So, well, my doctor may well be sick of the sight of me by this time next year!

Trixy loved the countryside and the cooler air

Trixy loved the countryside and the cooler air

Of course, it wasn’t only my health, but Trixy’s too. She is on heart meds for the duration now, had five tumors (all happily non-malignant) removed, and her back legs get visibly weaker. Again, the vet is around the corner, and they have all turned out to be just marvelous carers. So that’s been good too.

Of course, this post hasn’t encompassed all of the happy stuff I did last year, some of which I haven’t even written about yet! I made some great new friends; I wandered four islands I either didn’t know or knew very little; I came to appreciate Trixy even more a we traveled together; I ate some excellent food, discovered craft beers and artisan cheeses; I had some precious moments with both of my sons; and I was soooo lucky to be at the receiving end of their generosity, especially at Christmas. I don’t have words. They are the very best. I am grateful to great friends who loaned me their couches, and made memorable meals for me, and generally made my travels smoother.

The lessons I learned have paved the way for a whole new year. I am back to posting on a regular basis now, and more about the 2015 plans next time. Meanwhile, I wish everyone a really happy, successful and rewarding 2015.

 


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When Home Isn’t Quite the Right Word: The Seeds of my Wanderlust

The pilot warns us to buckle up because we are on final approach, and I glance out of the window. This view, this is why I bagged a window seat. Ascending from the ripples of the Atlantic, swathed around its midriff by a drift of white clouds is Tenerife. My island. My home. From its core rises El Teide, darkly against ocean and clouds, guarding its terrain, chiding me for my absence.

I have to wonder sometimes why I roam. This island fulfils so many of my needs, not all, but then, I’ve come to the conclusion that nowhere ever can; or at least that my chances of finding my personal Shangri-La are diminishing with time. Yet the need to roam is in my blood, because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel this way. Another month and my feet will itch again. I know it.

Wanderlust fulfilled in the 70s in the South of France

Wanderlust fulfilled in the 70s in the South of France

I’ve tried to trace my longing back. Is it something I acquired or something with which I was born? I’m inclined to think the latter. There was a time when I blamed television. We got our first television set in 1953 for two reasons. One: Blackpool Football Club was playing in the FA Cup Final and Two: Queen Elizabeth ll’s Coronation was in June. That June I was six and a half years old, and long after the fun of dressing up as a princess, pretending to ride in a golden carriage had worn off, another image was still imprinted on my brain, a picture of a huge, snow-covered mountain towering into the blue heavens, and I wanted to see it in real life. The Coronation coincided with the first summit of Everest, and my imagination was on fire.

Over the next few years television fuelled the fire, Cisco Kid galloping free across the US west, David Attenborough in search of dragons, Flipper apparently happily surfing the warm waters of Florida, the team from Sea Quest exploring the ocean, Armand and Michaela Dennis getting up close with the exotic animals of Africa. I acted out scenes and invented more amongst the long grasses of the half of my granddad’s market garden that he didn’t cultivate. I think I ran just a little bit wild.

First coin in the fountain in 1967

First coin in the fountain in 1967

Third coin tossed to the gods of Trevi in 2004

Third coin tossed to the gods of Trevi in 2004

Not only TV but books egged me on Anne of Green Gables called me to Canada, the Swiss Family Robinson to live on a desert island in a tree house (still a dream that one!), Little Women hinted at life in the US (and left me with an undying curiosity about the American Civil War). At one point I decided to become a missionary, and have no doubt that had more to do with wanting to see Africa than any deep religious convictions; at another time, by contrast and inspired by our annual visit to Blackpool Tower Circus, I decided to run away and join a travelling show –the gypsy lifestyle had lots of appeal.

Dream come true carriage ride in Rome in 1967

Dream come true carriage ride in Rome in 1967

Into my teen years I watched TV and movies as much for the locations as for the plots or stars. In my mind I traveled to Paris and Rome with Audrey Hepburn, to the mountains of Austria with Julie Andrews, to Russia with Omar Sharif and to just about every state in the US. When my first chance to step onto foreign soil came I was ready.

Me and my several petticoats on the left

Me and my several petticoats on the left

That opportunity came by way of a school exchange to Solingen in the north of Germany. My parents must have scrimped and saved to let me go, and there was no money for a new suitcase, so I traveled with a heavy, old, brown leather one, which had been my dad’s. Strapped to the outside was my tennis racket. This girl was going to seize every opportunity that presented itself on this trip, and wasn’t going to miss a game of tennis because she didn’t have a racket! A little under an hour into the journey I realized my folly as I struggled over the bridge which connected platforms on Preston station, but happily this was back in the day when gentlemen still came to the rescue of a girl in distress, and it happened again as I plodded along the platform of a Tube station to change stations for the Dover train and the exotic. The time in Germany passed in a swirl of new tastes, scents, customs and sights. Travel was everything I dreamed it would be, despite turning green apparently (I have that on good authority and I certainly felt it!) on the Ostend ferry, and feeling gauche in my layered petticoats (all the rage in England, but not so much in Germany).

Solo to Germany at 18 and rocking the Jackie Kennedy look

Solo to Germany at 18 and rocking the Jackie Kennedy look

When it came to my first solo trip at 18 I was more than ready, I’d already lived it in my head over and over again. I was just on the cusp of when we used to “dress” to travel, so I bought a Jackie Kennedy hat and a neat suit, and thought I was the bee’s knees. I also missed my first opportunity to get bumped to first class because the flight was overbooked, and I was offered a flight to Cologne instead of Düsseldorf to where I was booked. What was I thinking???’

Emigrating came naturally to me. I read blogs about the pitfalls and the angsting and I don’t get it. It was simply long, long-term travel. Something I’ve learned about myself of late though it this. I am not a nomad. I can travel for months without feeling homesick, but there comes a point when I crave the familiar. I’m not sure that homesick is the right word, it’s a need for tranquillity and for people, rather than for place, but one has to store ones possession somewhere, and so I come back to the Canary Islands, and when I see the mountain rising from the seas it feels something like home.

The ultimate dream come true, riding the Orient Express which remains one of my best travel memories

The ultimate dream come true, riding the Orient Express which remains one of my best travel memories

Travel has changed one heck of a lot in the intervening years, even in the years since I became an “expat.” Now we dress for comfort, travel like sardines, at least on short haul and if we can’t afford better. I’ve stayed in five star hotels and grotty hostels. I’ve traveled light and I’ve traveled with the “kitchen sink.” I have yet to do a long boat trip, but I’ve done a couple in small Cessna. I’ve traveled with my family, with friends and solo. I’ve seen so much more of the world than my mom ever did, but already my sons have been to places I still yearn to see. Eating lunch in a sunny square in France the other day with a dear friend, one with whom I’d shared that first trip years ago, we mused about how we’d seen ourselves evolving back then. Would we have predicted how this moment in time would find us – both expats, and her journey having been even more exotic than mine? I realized then that the journey will never be done. There are so very many places still to see, experiences to share, tales to tell. I still haven’t seen Everest for a start.

The Orient Express took us to Venice. A never-to-be-forgotten trip.

The Orient Express took us to Venice. A never-to-be-forgotten trip 


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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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Traveling with Trixy: What I Learned from My Trip Part 2: Travels with a Dog

Trixy, my long-suffering and almost constant companion for most of this century….. let’s be honest, if not for Trixy I might be lounging on a Thai beach or puffing my way up to Machu Picchu right this minute…… might be. Click the link for Trix’s story.

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The most fundamental belief I hold is that everything is possible in some form or other, if you give it enough thought, want it enough, and are willing to make compromises, so when the foot itching became unbearable over a year ago, it became clear that the only way I could travel was with Trixy. Thus it was that she squeezed into my van at an unspeakably early hour on a dark morning last October, and nestled between bags and boxes, eager not to be left behind, wherever I was off to.

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Of Dream Homes and the Internet

Do you have a dream home? Oh, I don’t mean a house as such, though that would be a part of it, I mean a place. When you travel are you, even unconsciously,  looking for your dream home, that special place which ticks all the boxes in your heart and soul? Everywhere I’ve ever been I believe I’ve asked myself, “Could I live here?” The answer invariably is, “No,” but sometimes there’s a “Yes.” To date, however, the yeses have been too expensive, forbidden (no longterm visa) or too far away from aging family.

Generally for me it’s that middle thing, the not being allowed to live in my chosen spots. Deciding what to do a few days back, I made a list of what it would take to make my dream place. It is, of course, by the ocean, but with mountains within easy reach; it is multi-cultural, drawing color and passion from folk from many different backgrounds and nationalities;  there is good wi-fi; a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices available; it’s lively and has sports facilities; easy access to art is high on the list (bookshops, cinemas, theater, museums, concerts); it’s sophisticated (in the real sense of the word) in a laid back way. The climate is important, but if everything fell into place, and the seasons were as seasons ought to be (i.e. not 12 months of rain and cloud) then that might be less important. In fact, I guess, if enough boxes are ticked, then the ones which aren’t become less significant.Early morning El Médano

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Things I Am Learning from This Journey: No.1 I Am Addicted to Sunshine!

As I left the island of  La Gomera in early March the sun, seen throught the salty windows of the Armas ferry blazed a welcome, and then scurried behind onimous clouds. That was as much as I’d seen of it in that week.

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

March 3rd Ferry from La Gomera to Tenerife

The lazy, sunny, autumn days when I first arrived had given way to mostly bleakness in a valley famed for its lushness – so what do you expect, the green needs water.

Hermigua is quite breathtakingly beautiful, and certainly thoughts of coming back to stay crossed my mind. Every time I fell down that rabbit hole I was enchanted anew, and yet there was always this sense of  “making the most of it.” Granted, La Gomera was only the beginning of what I intended to be an indefinite journey, so I knew I would move on, regardless of how much the island tried to ensnare me. Yet the feeling was deeper than that too. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but I knew that I wouldn’t be back to stay – and here is where I admit that, although I see my travels as being infinite, I don’t see them as being unending. In the sense that one day I would like to find somewhere to make a small base from whence to travel as long as I am able. A retreat.

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

Lush valleys of La Gomera, but see how, mid afternoon, only one side of the valley is in winter sunshine?

What I wasn’t sure about was just why, since I adored this valley, I didn’t see it in my long-term future. I pondered this as the dark shape of the island of  Tenerife came into focus on the horizon, outlined by that rising sun.

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6 Months On The Road: And Still Decluttering!

Decluttering is a bit like striping a plaster from a wound, I’ve learned. You can do it quickly, and get over the pain quickly, or you can peel it off slowly and prolong the agony. It’s a lesson I thought I’d learned – but apparently not!

My old van was just chock-a-block with “stuff” when I set out in early October, and deep down I knew that I likely wouldn’t need/want all of it. The day I left, it took me a while in the pre-dawn chill to finish loading my van, and it was a squeeze for Trix – who didn’t seem to mind so long as she could curl up! It turns out that about a half of what I packed in was “not needed on voyage,” which is why I haven’t written a post entitled something like “What I Packed for My New Adventure,” or some such.

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The danger in traveling long-term by car or van or camper i.e. on wheels, is that you think you have so much room, so you can easily fit in those “just in case” items. Truth is, however, that even if you do have the room, there’s a lot of inconvenience to carting lots of stuff around with you. A journey is almost certainly a metaphor for life in this sense. I remind myself of this as I search, for the umpteenth time, for my car papers. They are MIA, and wherever they turn up, it’s for sure I can’t find them right now because –

I Brought Too Much!

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