Archive for November, 2011

Memories of idyllic childhood holidays spent slowly driving along Cornish lanes the width of the car with skyscraper hedgerows laced with sweet scented honeysuckle. Dad’s expression in the driver’s mirror betrayed his hope that no other vehicle would be coming towards us while my brothers and me in the back seat excitedly hoped they would so we could scream conflicting directions to Dad as he reversed to the nearest passing point. Mum’s job was to read the cryptic directions from the leaflet she held in her hands; turn left at the Cornish pasty (which turned out to be the name of a cottage that was just crying out to be featured on clotted cream packaging) then take a right at the monkey puzzle…you get the picture.

When we moved to North Tenerife and began traversing forest roads and mountain villages, we wanted other visitors to the island to find this hidden, ‘real’ Tenerife too, and it was then that we had the idea of writing Real Tenerife Island Drives. We didn’t just want to give people directions, they could buy a map for that, we wanted them to enjoy the whole experience of exploring the island. So we designed routes that wove through off the beaten track parts of the island, including snippets of information we’d discovered along the way such as how a place got its name, if it had an unusual fiesta and its place in Tenerife’s short but colourful history. Then we added places to stop for a view or a leg stretch and nice little places to stop for lunch or a picnic along the route.

Never having had any experience of self publishing, we drove, wrote, photographed, designed and did the layout for Island Drives, sharing one desktop pc between us. It was a journey of triumphs and disappointments but it was a labour of love. When we finally despatched it to the printers and arranged its distribution, we had just 3 weeks in which to build and launch a website on which to sell it.

We sat in front of that steam-powered pc and began to build a website without any knowledge, training, prior experience and most importantly without WordPress. All our waking hours were spent grappling with page design and layout, trying to understand Meta data, diagrams, parent and child pages and basic HTML.

The word ‘divorce’ was uttered on many an occasion and we laughed and cried our way to finally hitting that ‘publish’ button. Neither before nor since have I felt such elation and such a sense of achievement. We were delirious with joy and promptly got drunk! Of course, what we didn’t realise at that time was that we launched our site into cyber obscurity…but that’s another story.

Over 2500 worldwide sales later, this month Real Tenerife Island Drives has taken another giant leap forward into the 21st century and has just been published on Kindle. It hasn’t been quite the same torturous experience that its original creation was, but nor has it been without its hair pulling, screaming out loud moments and the mere mention of the term ‘Table of Contents’ can still bring on a sweat.

But at last I can say: Real Tenerife Island Drives – now available on Kindle. YAY!

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“This is Playa Jardín which was designed by the world famous Lanzarote-born architect, César Manrique,” I proudly point out to Miles as we stroll along the seafront of Puerto de la Cruz beside its volcanic beach landscaped with palm trees and a vast cactus garden.
“Oh!” says Miles, a look of mild consternation on his face. “I don’t fancy putting my towel on there, it’ll get dirty!”
I’m speechless. Not only has it never occurred to me that the beautiful, black/silver sand is like dirt, but I’m taken aback that such a notion should pop into anyone’s head.

There is no doubt that first time visitors to a volcanic island experience a beach culture shock as they gaze upon the dark sand shores that are so alien to their stereotypical view of a tropical island. The deep, hypnotic, azure waters and wafting palm trees are present and correct but the talcum, soft shores of a Robinson Crusoe fantasy are missing, and in their place are taupe grey swathes bordering the shoreline, their obsidian particles glinting in the sun like stowaway fairy lights.

Of course, not all beaches on Tenerife have black sand. The majority of the island’s most popular resorts of the south coast have beautiful, man-made, golden beaches like the endless Las Vistas in Los Cristianos and the perfectly manicured Playa Del Duque in Costa Adeje. For the thousands of visitors who daily scour the internet for flights to Tenerife in order to replace the depressing grip of a Northern European winter with the warmth of the sun on their faces and the feel of sand between their toes, if they stick to the islands’ southern resorts, they may never experience the beach culture shock.

Beaches in the Canary Islands are an east west divide. The further east you go the more  concentrated the presence of pale pumice rocks which, coupled with the Islands’ proximity to West Africa which allows sand from the Sahara to be carried in the wind and deposited on the shores, creates natural pale sand. For that reason the eastern islands of Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote have natural golden shores. By contrast, travel west to the islands of El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera and you’ll find beaches formed from the darker basalt rocks.

Here on Tenerife, which lies in the centre of the archipelago, you’ll find natural golden beaches in the eastern resorts like El Médano where the near constant wind doesn’t just provide the perfect conditions for the wind surfers and kite boarders but also ensures an endless supply of Saharan grains.  But head instead to the north and west of the island and you’ll find the sultry, dark sand shores of picturesque coves like Playa de la Arena, Los Gigantes and Puerto de la Cruz.

From a sunbathing point of view, the beaches of Tenerife are as varied as the shores they coat. The sand in some of the man made golden beaches is quite coarse and sharp to walk on because it has to be heavier than your average sand pit contents in order to prevent it from being washed away. On the other hand, the black sand retains the heat more, making a walk to the sea for a spot of paddling a pain endurance test that morphs into an ungainly sprint accompanied by involuntary yelps. It’s also heavier and doesn’t stick to you in the same way as golden sand, easily brushing off once your skin is dry. Of course, what it doesn’t do is make your towel dirty, well, only if you get it very wet…


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I opened the fridge to see if anything edible had been left and I spotted the Jamon Serrano. Laying the paper thin strips onto a plate, I cut several slices from the Manchego block and added some pieces of the semi-curado goat’s cheese we’d bought in Teno Alto, so pungent it makes your tongue burn. I spooned some anchovy olives into a bowl, cut the bread we’d bought on the way back from the airport into thick chunks and poured two glasses of lightly chilled Rioja.

The sun was still full on the raised terrace at the front of the house with its Basil Fawlty sea view which you can just get if you crane your neck around the orchid tree and peer through the branches of the Canarian pine. But it was early evening and the burn factor was dissipating, so I laid the food on the glass tabletop and we raised our glasses to each other:
“Salud,” we said.

We didn’t speak again for a long time. We just slowly ate our Jamon and cheese, drank our wine and listened to the silence, broken only by the wild canaries and Tenerife blue tits as they chatted while stealing the nectar from the hibiscus flowers and scouring the chilli plant for insects. As sunset began I walked to the back terrace and watched as Mount Teide glowed in the dying embers of sun and a paraglider floated silently above the banana leaves, drifting towards the coast.

We’d arrived back from Marrakech via Gran Canaria late that afternoon, hungry and spent. It had been an incredible trip in which seven days in Morocco had drawn itself out to full stretch as we crammed experiences into every waking moment and most of the sleeping ones too; even my dreams were exhausting. We’d walked the medinas and souks of Marrakech and Essaouira and we’d hiked the High Atlas Mountains. We’d stayed in the most beautiful riad and splendid dar and we’d slept on a mattress on a concrete floor. We’d struggled to get past the default foreign language setting of Spanish in our brains and we’d endured stifling city heat and chilly mountain nights.

And now we were home. And like a dam bursting its banks, a tide of memory flooded my brain and I recalled with absolute clarity why it was that I first fell in love with where we live. And here I am, falling in love with it all over again.

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