Islandmomma

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


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Mistakes and Successes with Accommodation on the Road

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

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

La Gomera: A private apartment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuerteventura: Homestay

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

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

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

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

Las Playitas

Las Playitas

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

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

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

Lanzarote: Resort Apartment

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

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

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

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

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

La Palma: Rural Apartment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera

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

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My Best Fish Dinner Ever: Casa Tomas in Lanzarote

I’ve been doing it for years, and sometimes I don’t give it a thought, other times, I am a tad wary of eating alone. I was looking forward to eating at Casa Tomas in Las Caletas on Lanzarote’s Costa Teguise. It came highly recommended. It was the end of my week’s stay, and I was floating on a wave of bonhomie, that had engulfed me from the moment of arrival. What could go wrong?

Casa Tomas is located right on the main street that winds along the seafront of Las Caletas. Easy to find; easy to park; I trot jauntily down the street, to see a group of good old boys hanging around the door, blocking the entrance. I’d had mixed experiences with bars which still seem to be the male domain in these islands. I hesitate.

Casa Tomas Las Caletas LanzaroteOne of the guys thumps his friend playfully on the arm and says, “Hey let the lady pass!” and the entire group smile and wish me a good day. Passing into the restaurant is like surfing on a wave of goodwill.

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Home for Now

The morning air is utterly neutral on my skin. Those Atlantic breezes do their thing overnight, and bring down temperatures, so we don’t suffer the way, say, Florida does (Orlando is on almost the same latitude as Tenerife).

Outside the main door of the apartment block the delivery guys are sitting on the low wall that surrounds the grassed, center part of the walkway, waiting for the supermarket to open its back doors for their deliveries. They chat quietly and smoke. Soda cans and plastic bottles have been tossed onto the grass overnight, and, mysteriously, yoghurt cartons and a handful of curtain rings.

This is a barrio, a ‘hood – even in a town so small there are divisions. It’s the sort of place where people hang out of their ground floor windows and chat with friends on the street. Sometimes I’ve passed one of these conversations on my way out to walk Trixy, and it’s still going on when we return.

Conversation is a serious business around here. Already in the couple of weeks I’ve lived here I’ve hurried to the window thinking a big argument was taking place outside, but it was only the delivery men flirting with the supermarket girls, or women hanging around outside the hairdressers a little way down to smoke their cigarettes.

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

From Roque de los Muchachos La Palma

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

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

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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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Eating Fuerteventura: The Good, The Bad and the Meh

My recent post, about gofio, made me think more seriously about food and whether I get a bit too obsessed by “eating local,” and how food is a part of our travel experience. I have several friends in the blogging community who focus on food, but it isn’t so important for me – or is it? I have to confess that I was disappointed with eating experiences in Fuertventura for instance, so did it color my perception of the island?

Luxurious Lapas

My first memory of eating there is one of the best, and it’s never a good thing to start off that way. During the very first days of my wanderings I spotted a road sign which showed I was close to Giniginamar. How could I not follow a sign to a place which sounded like something out of Mary Poppins!

Ten minutes from the main road I found a wee fishing village, quite unspoiled expect for some attempted modern buildings, and the inevitably abandoned ones, on the outskirts. And right there, on the pretty beach a bar with a half wrap-around terrace. whose menu indicated that there was a touch of the “foreign” admid its traditionally Canarian fare, I lucked out on my very first island foodie exploration. I settled back with a cold drink, and ordered lapas, one of my favorite local dishes, though by no means available in every fish restaurant.

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Lapas are limpets. Like whelks or squid, done right they are ambrosial, done wrong they have the consistency of old rubber. These were very much right, served, as per tradition, in the half shell, and amply coated with the very best mojo verde I’ve ever tasted, and just that right chewiness to make each bite bring out the flavor of the ocean. I even ordered bread to mop up the sauce, which is something I avoid, and for this reason …… it generally leaves no room for desert! This time was no exception, and I’d had my heart set on blueberry pancakes, which are no way something one generally finds in the Canary Islands. I resolved to return another day to try them, but somehow never did.

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