Archive for October, 2007

“That’s where I want my fridges to go” says Jo, pointing to the metre and a half high mound of volcanic rock, old concrete, rubble and compacted earth that forms the floor of her new shed.
“So we need to level it out”. She hands me a pickaxe, a pair of goggles and some gloves and wanders off to get a shovel.
This is Los Aceviños, high up in the mountains on the neighbouring island of La Gomera. It’s Saturday and I’m helping Jo to clear the floor of her new shed.

When I say ‘shed’, it’s not the sort of neat, wooden-slatted structure with chintz curtains and a doll’s house front door that you see in garden centres or on 70’s UK sitcoms where the husband retreats with a bottle of sherry to escape his wife’s nagging. No, this is four uprights constructed of odd bits of old planks rudely nailed together and wedged up against the cliff face by more bits of wood stuck into crevices in the rock and shored by stones. There are no sides and the roof is an old, discoloured piece of corrugated plastic. In anybody else’s garden, this would be known as an eyesore; in Los Aceviños it’s Jo’s new shed.

I swing the pickaxe and bring it down on the rock face, dislodging big boulders, rubble and earth. Pretty soon I’ve got a system going; flat stones which could be used in a future path-laying project in a pile to my right; big rocks for removal in the wheelbarrow, rubble in the bucket on the left and soil (ish) in the bucket with the handles. Each time the barrow fills to the point beyond which I won’t be able to move it, I puff and grunt my way along the path and stop by the horse chestnut tree. Then, with as much precision as I can muster, I throw each rock down either side of the tree to land behind the compost box and return to start again.
Two backbreaking hours later and I appear to have made not a jot of difference. The fridges aren’t going to be moving anywhere in a hurry.

At 3 pm we down tools, crack a beer and watch the match. During the course of the afternoon as the tank re-heats we take it in turns to shower in the hot trickle of water in the bohemian bathroom where the wind whistles through the open eaves.

Sunset on Mount Teide from La Gomera From the end of the terrace we watch Mount Teide burnished crimson as the sun goes down and we pull our collars up around our necks in the cool mountain air. The hot winds of calima have finished now and the autumn is moving in as quickly as the clouds that fill the valley so that you can no longer see beyond the palm tree where the washing line is strung. Darkness begins to fall and the birds noisily settle down, bidding their ‘good-nights’ across the valley.
We open a bottle of cava and decide to watch a couple of episodes of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 7’ before cooking. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Tenerife laden with apples, pears, figs, hazelnuts and lemons which we picked this morning.
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.

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It may come as a bit of a surprise to the citizens of San Francisco, but for a few days last week, San Francisco moved its geographical location from America’s west coast to an island a couple of hundred kilometres off the coast of Africa.

I can’t understand why Tenerife isn’t considered a prime location by movie makers. There are ancient forests, mountain ranges, arid badlands, tropical beaches, quaint villages and a towering volcano surrounded by an enormous crater, all within the confines of one relatively small island.
The crater itself would be perfect for any number of sci-fi movies and is just crying out as a backdrop for velociraptors and T-Rex’s. Mind you ‘One Million Years B.C’ was made there, but that was nearly as long ago as the title of the movie.
I did literally almost stumble across a robot in the crater once. I’m still kicking myself for not taking a photo of it as later that day I read a report about it on the BBC news website and discovered it was destined for Mars (it just didn’t look that interesting – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

So, when I parked my car beside the harbour at Puerto de la Cruz and noticed the four-mast schooner in the bay, maybe I should have paid a bit more attention. Instead I thought, ‘Hmmm, that’s not normally there,’ and carried on my way, my mind barely registering, first a 19th century horse and carriage and then a group of people kitted out in what looked like outfits favoured by early American pioneers as I hurried to reach the bank before it shut.

As it turned out, a Russian film crew were in town filming scenes for a new movie called ‘The Passenger’, part of which was set in San Francisco at the end of the 19th century, with Puerto de la Cruz, playing the part of San Francisco.

It might seem strange that these sights didn’t stop me in my tracks. What can I say? This is a town where I’ve seen men dressed as weeping widows following a 20ft sardine, herds of goats being dragged kicking and screaming into the harbour water, drag queens in fancy dress and 6-inch high heels running a marathon and gorillas on motorbikes. A few people in Wild West costumes just didn’t seem that out of the ordinary.


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Invitations for the ball had been despatched and, although we didn’t actually receive one (office admin’ please note), our presence had been requested by Sean Coward, the Director of Living Tenerife magazine for which we’re regular contributors.
It was to be THE party of the year; a red carpet affair with 300 invited guests and double that once the doors of the Buda Bar were opened up to the public. There was going to be champagne, and wine and cocktails and fabulous dresses and music and dancing and oh! I couldn’t wait!

The reports of ‘severe weather’ heading our way first came to our notice about Wednesday. Heavy rain, they said, possibility of floods, and storms, from midnight Friday (well actually they said from 00.00 hours, which probably should have rung a warning bell in the first place as I don’t know in quite which timeless void the met office here work) until midnight Saturday. A deluge of rain, they said, 30 litres per square metre in an hour. I have absolutely no idea what 30 litres an hour looks like but I’m guessing it’s heavy. Avoid road journeys, they said, no camping or walking in areas prone to flooding.

I took in the washing, rang Sean to tell him we couldn’t risk the journey south and, feeling like a latter day Cinderella, sat at my keyboard and worked. And waited.
And waited.

Storm clouds over Mount TeideStorm clouds began to gather as the sun was going down and yet, the sky above Puerto de la Cruz remained obstinately clear, the bright blue of the afternoon giving way to bright stars in a cloudless heaven.
Still we waited.
8.30 pm. The guests would be arriving now, all looking their glamorous best, clutching their ‘welcome’ glass of champagne and looking forward to a night of unbridled fun. No storm.
9.30 pm. The party would be in full swing now, speeches being made, food being nibbled and wine flowing. No storm.
11 pm. They’ll be opening the doors of Buda Bar to the public now so that the regular Friday night groovers can join in the festivities and swell the ranks of people having a REALLY GOOD TIME. No storm.

Midnight came and went without sight nor sound of a carriage turning back into a pumpkin or a single drop of rain on the terrace. At 1.30 am, feeling like a 7 year old who’d just missed her best friend’s birthday party, I went to bed. No storm.

2.30 am. I’m awoken rudely by what seemed like 1000 watts of light across the retinas followed by the sound of the roof falling in. Leaping out of bed we unplugged every electric appliance we could find, given that our eyes were still closed at the time, and went back to bed. Another blinding flash followed by an end-of-the-world thunder clap. Then another. Splashes of rain the size of a child’s paddling pool fell onto the patio, just one, then two, then seven.
“Here we go”, we said. And waited.

I don’t remember what time I drifted back to sleep but I’m pretty certain there wasn’t another flash or another clap of thunder all night. In the morning the few random spots where the giant splashes had fallen looked like Freudian ink spots in the dust on the terrace.

In my book, there’s only one thing less reliable than a weather forecast, and that’s a bloody fairy godmother!

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The other day I was driving up to La Caldera, in the pine forest in the upper Orotava valley in a queue of painfully slow moving traffic. I’ve learnt over the last four years that when there’s a queue, just to chill out and enjoy the scenery and within a few minutes the reason will soon be revealed. It’s usually banana trucks, but in the past I’ve also had carts pulled by oxen, cycle races and even an ostrich in the back of a horse box slow my progress. In this case the culprit was something that looked like a cross between an ‘Easy Rider’ chopper and a lawnmower (with the power of the latter). These contraptions are quite common in the hills, usually pulling a small trailer full of corn or potatoes.the road to Masca

This one eventually pulled into a dirt track beside a small thatched hut and an old woman wearing a straw hat carefully climbed off, turned and gave her husband a gentle kiss on his weather beaten cheek. It was nothing spectacular, but this simple affectionate gesture moved me and made me smile. It’s little things like this that encapsulate the pleasure of driving on Tenerife’s roads.

From the first time I rented a car on Tenerife, I was smitten by the diversity of the landscape. I can remember clearly driving from the west coast to the north and being almost able to see the line where the drier southern parts of the island met the more lush northern parts with Mount Teide dominating the skyline. It was breathtaking and I’ve never tired of it.

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Yesterday was our fourth anniversary of moving to Tenerife and last night, over a celebratory €2.20 bottle of Cava (we’re not afraid to push the boat out when the occasion calls for it), we got to thinking about what we’d achieved.Cava in the sun, bliss

Number 1: Speak Spanish.
Our one year’s worth of night school at the Cervantes Institute in Manchester before we moved here had given us a good grounding in the language. Unfortunately, ground level’s pretty much where we still are. We can confidently get by in most situations that are initiated by ourselves, but if the phone rings we head into the ever-descending hell of “no entiendo, puedes repetir” which literally translates as “I don’t understand, can you say it again” but metaphorically says “I’m stalling ‘cos I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about”.  And watching ‘Cuéntame Cómo Pasó’ on Thursday nights requires a dictionary at hand and an active imagination as to what’s actually happening on the screen. Last year we had the local priest down as having the hots for the beautiful daughter. As it turned out, we were right about that one.

Number 2: Earn a Living.
Well, if we change the word ‘earn’ to ‘scratch’ then we’re making good progress against that one.

Number 3: Learn to Salsa.
After innumerable Saturday nights crushed against the bar in Azucar, clutching a mojito and watching couples swirl and sashay in synchronised, sexual oscillation, we are DEFINITELY going to get lessons as soon as we can afford them (see number 2).

Number 4: Earn a living from writing.
(See number 2)

Number 5: Be happy.
Yeh! A big, fat tick goes into the number 5 column and the cork comes out of another bottle of Cava. After all, what’s the use of the other four if you can’t tick number 5?

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I used to be a vegetarian, (reading that statement back, it sounds as though I ought to add “but I’m better now” onto the end of it), so I know how tricky eating out in Spain can be when you don’t eat meat. My saving grace was that I ate fish.

I can hear vegetarians screaming at this point: “You’re not a veggie! Veggie’s don’t eat fish!” and I have no inclination to contradict them but what else could I call myself? My husband always told people we were piscitarians but I seriously doubt the existence of such a word and maintain that he only used it because it sounded as if it could just as easily be a statement on our drinking habits as our eating ones.

Anyway, many of our friends still are vegetarians and one in particular is also what could be termed as ‘fussy’ which is a massive understatement and equates to ‘you can never eat out’ if you live, as she does, on La Gomera.
This weekend she came to stay and I was eager to surprise her with a trip to El Maná in the Ranilla restaurant district of Puerto de la Cruz.

Restaurant district, Puerto de la CruzRanilla has always been the heart of the restaurant district in Puerto and just recently there’s been a spate of new openings which have added a touch of contemporary chic and nouveau cuisine to the traditional Canarian menus and décor of the fishing district. El Maná is a (mainly) vegetarian, organic restaurant whose owner is the chef and we’ve eaten there with veggie friends from Manchester and have all been blown away by the fabulous food.

So, confident in the knowledge that I could present Jo with a restaurant that would satisfy even her fussiness, we trotted along to El Maná on Saturday night. Jo took a long look at the menu before declaring “it’s too vegetarian for me.”
Stunned into silence, I led her back to Mil Sabores where she chose Mediterranean soup followed by mussels with garlic bread and declared it all delicious. Thus, the evening was saved and I can start work on a whole new chart against which to measure fussiness, Jo having blown the previous score of ‘10’ right out of the water.

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