Archive for March, 2010

Picking wild freesias for the house this morning reminded me that it’s just a week since I was doing the same thing for Jo’s birthday party in Los Aceviños on La Gomera – which is where the freesia’s came from several years ago.
Like today, it was a beautiful spring morning and the sun was blazing down on the terrace as preparations got underway for the party.

Deliberating over summer pudding prep' the night before the party - notice the use of red wine to help with decision making

We’d already made the summer puddings the night before and they were sitting in the fridge with weights pressing down on them, ready to be turned out. We’d de-frosted the fish and prawns for the Caribbean curry; and the home made lemon ice cream was in the freezer for first freeze stage. We’d filled large platters with slivers of jamon Serrano and slices of smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade; we’d taken the brie out of the fridge to warm and we’d whipped up a big bowl of hummus. The neighbours were bringing homemade breads, goat’s cheese and salads.
Now it was time to get the garden and terrace ready.

A casual approach to party seating - notice the early 'guest' trying out the cushion.

Jo wanted the party to mainly congregate around her ‘new’ garden; the widest part of the terrace. So we carried the table and chairs out from the kitchen and placed them on the terrace, scattering cushions onto the flat stones and a small rug onto the ledge of the mountain for extra seating.
Then we cleared and swept the main terrace and Jo sprinkled glitter that she’d bought from the Chinese supermarket.
In what used to be the old ‘shed’, Jo had cleared the floor space and placed a fat log beneath the arbour where the jasmine and vine were just establishing themselves around the new fairy lights.

With everything ready, we cracked a beer and sat in the new garden, liberally applying factor 30 to our already-pink arms and faces and breathing in the amazing view over the valley.
At 4pm the first of the guests arrived and the cava corks began to pop. As we chatted, we felt a drop of rain and looked up to see bruma (low cloud) beginning to wisp its way across the valley. Ignoring the spits of rain in the firm belief that, if we didn’t acknowledge them they didn’t exist, we carried on chatting until we could no longer ignore the fact that it was in fact raining.

As more guests arrived, we grabbed the table and chairs and made a hasty retreat to the terrace just in time for the heavens to open. The valley entirely disappeared from view in dense bruma and the temperature slowly fell, sending factor 30-coated arms into fleeces.

There was nothing else for it; it was time to break out Steve’s home brewed cider – central heating for adults.
More guests arrived, laden with food goodies and the cava and wine flowed freely alongside the cider. As darkness fell and the smallest members of the party were whisked away to bed, the terrace fairy lights were switched on, Jack and I whipped up the Caribbean curry with rice; and the summer puddings were turned out and served with big dollops of lemon ice cream and whipped cream.

The summer pudding turned out pretty well.

By 11.30pm the clouds had cleared to be replaced by the twinkling lights of the valley and, suitable fuelled by Steve’s cider, the guests began to wend their way into the forest and the darkness, leaving just five of us to try our best to defeat the cider and polish off the summer pudding and ice cream.

No DJ spinning sounds of the seventies that we all thought were crap at the time; no streamers with big, glittery ‘50 Today’ signs on them and most of all; no anonymous room in a pub with egg butties and shop bought quiche. Just the mountains, the rain forest, friends and neighbours and good, home cooked food.

Happy Birthday, Jo!

If you’ve never been to La Gomera, take a look at this but take my advice – watch it with the volume off, voice-over man is just awful!

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There was clearly some sort of high security risk, low profile event going on at the Magma Congress Centre in Playa de Las Américas yesterday.
Jack and I were driving around Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Costa Adeje, visiting stockists and getting photographs for various projects we’re involved in and had noticed a pretty serious police presence around the place.
At one point, we could see on the other side of the road that a heavily armed police squad had set up a road block and were slowly threading vehicles through it. We made a mental note not to go that way.

The morning wore on into the afternoon and we had one more stop to make before heading off to Gran Sur to watch the English language movie.

We parked in a restricted zone outside the ferretería, next door to the Monte Christo restaurant and I stayed with the car; ready to move it at the first sign of a traffic cop, while Jack went into the restaurant to get some photos.
After 15 minutes or so, I saw a black police van stop at the pedestrian crossing right behind me to let some very attractive Lara Croft look-a-like cross the road. The police sat with grins on their faces as Lara’s tits and bum sashayed across the road and I thought no more of it.
Then the police van pulled level just ahead of me and stopped.

I froze for a moment until I saw the reverse lights go on; then I was out of the passenger door in a split second and heading towards the driver door to move the car. Just then, Jack emerged from the restaurant and I said “Err, just in time. I think we should move…like now!”

Jack got into the driver’s seat as three machine gun-armed officers stepped out of the back of the van and, muttering something about “el Punto” (which I naturally took to be Cindy – our Fiat Punto) surrounded the car. One positioned himself at the driver’s open window, one at my window and one behind us.
At this point, I was thinking how very differently the police in the south dealt with parking in no-parking zones. In Puerto they completely ignore you. Here, they appeared to be about to drag us out of the car and machine gun us in broad daylight.
Considering what was going through our minds, Jack and I remained remarkably calm as we put our seat belts on and Jack started the engine. Then the police van reversed very slowly to within a centimetre of our wing mirror and stopped, dead parallel.

With not a single word or a glance towards the police or each other, Jack inched the car forward until we were clear of the van, then he slowly pulled out and we drove away.
It was quite the coolest thing I’ve seen him do in a long time and very Jason Bourne.

Somewhat shaken by the whole incident, we drove to Gran Sur where, appropriately enough, we watched the Paul Greengrass directed, Matt Damon thriller; ‘The Green Zone’.

I have no idea what was going on down there yesterday and with the benefit of hindsight, we figured the police were going to use our car as part of their road block.
But I’ll tell you this…that’s the last time we’ll park in a restricted zone in Costa Adeje!

When you rent a car on Tenerife, you need to be aware of the dos and don’ts of parking.

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Jo's scented terrace in Los Aceviños, La Gomera

When the winter storms and cyclone Xynthia hit Tenerife, they took the tangled mass of hedge which borders the bottom of our garden, bent its back low and hung its flowering heads in shame, so low over the nectarine and peach trees that no light was penetrating to the buds.
When it gets to the point that even Mother Nature is giving me one almighty hint that my gardening input has fallen way below par, I have no choice but to take action.
So, three weeks ago, armed with a €10 tree cutter and two rusty, blunt saws; Jo, Jack and I set about trying to free up the nectarine tree. After four sweaty hours of grappling with entwined, overgrown branches beneath which we wouldn’t have been surprised to find Sleeping Beauty, we’d cleared about one fifth of the hedge and allowed the sun to fall on the nectarine buds.

Jo declared our saws useless; suggested we invest in some proper tree loppers and returned to her mountain home on La Gomera where tackling two months of overgrown rain forest would feel like gathering buds in May after the trials of our hedge.
Meanwhile…we bought some tree loppers.

A profusion of flowers as Spring reaches the mountains

Last weekend was Jo’s birthday party and we went over to La Gomera on Friday to help her organise and celebrate.
We arrived at her finca at 6pm in a hot and sticky calima. As we trailed down the forest path to her terrace, we were enveloped in rich, heady perfumes. The slopes bordering the path were awash with wild lemon thyme; the terrace was a blaze of sweet-smelling freesias and spicy jasmine interspersed with vibrant lavender and the elegant heads of white Calla lilies. From the front of the terrace, the garden spread down the barranco in a profusion of orange nasturtiums punctuated by pink geraniums, more freesias, the ruby flowering spikes of aloe vera and delicate faces of purple daisies.

At the end of the house where the terrace leads to the ‘new garden’ we walked through a haze of lemon blossom and freesias to the delicious vanilla scent of a Heliotrope in full flower. We sat on the terrace until late, inhaling the perfumes which intensified with the night.
On Saturday morning, enthralled by every new discovery of scent, colour and form I wandered Jo’s garden with a growing sense of shame and determination.

It's enough to inspire even the most reluctant of gardeners

We arrived back on Tenerife late on Sunday and by yesterday evening, I’d left the keyboard and headed, new tree loppers in hand, down to the hedge. An hour later, with barely any flesh left on my bones from the midges, I’d hardly made any impression at all.
But I’ll be back there tonight, and tomorrow night and at the weekend until I’ve cleared that hedge.

Then it’s time for the avocado tree to be tackled…

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And this is supposed to be fun...?

I can’t say my heart was really in it as we set off on Saturday afternoon to watch the Canarias Infinity Xtreme Race which was taking place in Puerto de la Cruz. I was feeling decidedly lazy and the prospect of having to walk for 20 minutes to and from the car because the event was being staged in the harbour car park, was doing nothing for me at all.
The irony of my lethargy was completely lost on me at the time.

The Canarias Infinity Xtreme Race is a 10 kilometre run, swim and assault course designed to test fitness exactly in the way it says on the can: “to the Xtreme”.
We arrived at the harbour just in time to see the front-runners plunge into the sea for the swim section. It was a gusty, sunny day with a slight coolness in the air which must have been a relief for the contestants after the high temperatures we’ve had all winter.
Although contestants were predominantly male, there were plenty of women participating too, and as if just surviving this event weren’t enough, some had chosen to do it Carnaval-style in wigs and tutus while others had carefully painted faces. At the point that we first witnessed them, they were still dry, clean and relatively fresh.

We watched as contestants poured into the water like Lemmings and swam to the top end of the harbour wall before climbing out and continuing their run through the car park.
It was while struggling to step up from the harbour wall and finally making it with a grunt and a twinge in the left knee (I blame over-tight drainpipe jeans) that I suddenly felt Xtremely un-fit and I’m pretty sure my neck had the decency to blush.

Mud, barbed wire and still smiling...these people aren't real!

We made our way to the assault course section where contestants were now on their bellies, crawling through mud beneath barbed wire before running up a muddy, slippery slope while being hosed in the face by a bombero. Then it was off to Playa Jardín.
We waited in the warm sun; listening to the music, counting the empty, crushed Red Bull tins that had been frantically consumed pre-race and keeping an eye on the stragglers until the front runners returned for the final, cruel obstacles between them and the finishing line.
The first half dozen or so men completed the course, their faces barely registering fatigue. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were completely covered in mud, you’d think they’d set off five minutes ago after spending the day in a hammock.
A loud cheer registered the arrival of the first female contestant and she too dealt with the final obstacles as if they were no more than a minor inconvenience.

Once the super heroes had finished, the human beings began to arrive and the pain of their endeavours was etched into the mud on their faces as they struggled to get up the side of the wooden pyramid before sliding back down. But the camaraderie brought a lump to the throat as contestants went back to help others, lending their shoulders as ladders to the tumultuous applause of spectators.

With a little help from my friends.

With the last of the stragglers finally home, if not dry, we made our way back, all across town and up hundreds of steps, to La Paz and the car.
I was exhausted by the time we got home.

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A very good friend of mine sent me this from the ‘Things to be Miserable About’ site:

Miserable Fact of the Day
A study found that most people report no increase in happiness after taking a vacation, and even those who do, return to their normal levels of unhappiness after only two weeks. [New York Times]

If you’ve just flown back from Tenerife’s palm-filled paradise, of course you’re going to be miserable when you get back to the cold weather, daily grindstone and concrete of home. But as the excellent Pamela pointed out, there are ways to prolong the benefits and defer the misery.

If all you do while you’re on vacation is lie around a pool or on the beach developing a nice, even tan, then let’s be honest, the holiday’s over the moment you set off for the airport.
After all, what are you going to tell people when you get back?
“Hi – how was the holiday?” they’ll ask.
“Great!” you’ll respond.
“Nice tan!” they’ll remark.
Conversation…and holiday over.

If, on the other hand, you get out and about exploring, discovering tucked away gems of places, charismatic restaurants that turned up the best tapas you’ve ever tasted and scenery that’s even had the kids going “WOW!” you’ll have a whole store of adventures and tales to tell. You can relish, embellish and re-tell experiences endlessly, re-igniting memories and bringing that holiday smile right back!

Leaving your comfort zone and experiencing something different can open the door to a whole new world of adventure. Why not try your hand at diving around the beautiful waters off Las Galletas, or try a tandem paraglide in Adeje or bike rafting down from Teide National Park? You never know, it might spark a latent talent or a passion that’ll have you embarking on a whole new way of life after you get back home!

If the office sends your stress-ometer off the chart, walk it right out of your system by taking to some of Tenerife’s amazing hiking trails. Walking is a great way to relax your mind and tone your muscles while experiencing parts of the island that most visitors never get to see. Your body will feel more refreshed, your mind will be more alert and you’ll be better equipped to keep the stress bar down when the in-tray rises.

Island Walks and Island Drives – for holidays that last longer than the tan!

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When the novelty of building snowmen, having snowball fights, sledging, skating and playing ‘spot the gritter’ have worn off, you might feel it’s time to remind your body what it feels like to walk out of the house with less than 20lbs of clothing on. And when that happens, there are few places ready to dish up the sunny goods quite so efficiently as Tenerife’s Los Gigantes.

Blessed with some of the longest sunshine hours and fewest rainfall inches anywhere on the island, Los Gigantes is the resort with the most stunning location on Tenerife.
Backed by sheer 500 metre cliffs, the village climbs the hillside behind its sparkling marina from which trips leave daily to spot the bottle-nosed dolphins and pilot whales that inhabit the warm waters. When the sun finally bids adios it paints the horizon and the tip of Mount Teide in vivid streaks of violet and blood red before slipping silently behind the neighbouring island of La Gomera.

A 10 minute stroll out of the village is where you’ll find the elegant El Marques resort with its luxurious apartments, beautifully landscaped gardens and heated swimming pool, which is where the incredibly generous people at Wimpen Leisure are giving away a free week’s holiday to fans of Tenerife Magazine.

So, if you feel you can pull yourself away from short days, cold nights and nose-running temperatures to watch dolphins and whales play in the bay; and trade drinking cocoa with your feet on the radiator for sipping cocktails over spectacular sunsets…all you have to do is become a fan of Tenerife Magazine on Facebook and hope that your name comes out of the hat.
Err, that’s a sun hat, not a beanie.

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A couple of weeks ago The Times Online picked up on a survey by the online travel agent sunshine.co.uk which stated that Brits were shunning Spain because it no longer felt ‘foreign’ enough and last week I posed the question ‘How far do you have to travel before you feel ‘foreign’?

Oddly enough, barely had that question left my keyboard when I found myself on the end of a commission that required me to travel to the capital city of Las Palmas on the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, and I’m ashamed to say that this was my first visit there.
Sitting on the BinterCanarias inter-island plane as we skipped across the small gap that separates the islands, I tried to analyze why it was that, in over six years of living and working in the Canary Islands, I had become so familiar with the Western Isles and yet remained a virtual stranger to the eastern island of Gran Canaria.

Triana District, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

There has always been rivalry between the Eastern and the Western Canary Islands. Tenerife, once capital city to the entire archipelago, now heads up the four Western Isles while Las Palmas de Gran Canaria heads up the Eastern Isles of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuertaventura. The Cabildo (Island Government) may divide its time and its residence equally between the two cities but there, the sharing ends. In terms of their populations, the 62km between them might just as well be 6,000km and for the fans of their rival football teams, that still wouldn’t be far enough.
So it seems that on some sub-conscious level, I’ve been sucked into this inherent division, always looking to the west and never to the east. Until last week.

The journey was so short that it didn’t feel as if I’d left Tenerife at all and yet, when I landed in Las Palmas, I felt I’d arrived in a foreign city.
The first thing that struck me was the shabbiness of its airport which was in stark contrast to the style and elegance of Tenerife’s North Airport. Even as the bus pulled out of the airport, the landscape was barren and unwelcoming. As first impressions go, this wasn’t a good one.

The old quarter of Vegueta

But by the time we reached the city, my impressions had been turned around.
The first thing that struck me was the vibrant yet laid back atmosphere and its multi-cultural and predominantly younger, more Bohemian population than the more business-oriented Santa Cruz.
Next came the diversity of snack bars, restaurants and shops. To me, it seemed like there was a reverse ratio of traditional Canarian cuisine to International menus with its neighbouring capital. Here, I could see a proliferation of Japanese, Italian, French, Belgian, Venezuelan, Cuban restaurants and many, many more interspersed with a smattering of traditional restaurants.
The sounds were different too. Instead of every doorway emitting Latino sounds, Jazz, Blues, Classical, Rock and even Indie joined the Latino ranks.

In the old quarter of Vegueta I found a city older than its years with more beautiful architecture crammed into one small space than I’ve seen in much of Santa Cruz. A maze of narrow cobbled streets lined with tall, grand houses spiral out from the Santa Ana Cathedral concealing hidden gems of boutiques and jewellery shops and joining leafy plazas like dot to dots.

Playa de Las Canteras - one of Spain's top urban beaches

But it wasn’t until I reached the 9km golden stretch of Playa de Las Canteras that I got a real feel for this exciting city as there, shimmering in the heat haze was Las Palmas’ pulsating urban beach. Like a mini-Copacabana, the sand thronged with city dwellers and workers enjoying the warm winter sun while behind them, the endless promenade buzzed with café life.

It seems to me that Playa de Las Canteras is one of the main factors that make Las Palmas feel so very different from Santa Cruz. The presence of a beach within the city itself gives the place an entirely different ambience; a place which blends work, relaxation and tourism in a way that’s not possible in Santa Cruz.

And it makes this city neighbour of mine feel very foreign indeed – a feeling I intend to rectify, even if my fellow Tinerfeños cast me as a traitor!

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