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Posts Tagged ‘Canary Islands’

Anyone visiting Tenerife over the next month is quite likely to find themselves witnessing events that are a little out of the ordinary as Carnaval 2011 hits the island like a tropical storm in costume.

Depending on which part of the island you’re based in, you’re quite likely to witness party goers dressed as smurfs, witches, angels and Marvel comic characters either fresh faced and bright eyed on their way to the street party, sleeping precariously on a harbour wall or still propping up a bar mid-morning with eyes as red as the sunrise.

You’ll also probably stumble over exhibitions, vintage car rallies, dancing competitions and even, as in the case of the unsuspecting holidaymakers in Puerto de la Cruz a few days ago, a mini carnival parade.

As visitors and locals strolled the cobbled streets of the town centre on an average Sunday morning, the peace was shattered by the persistent sounding on a tinny horn which heralded the arrival of the candidates for the town’s Carnaval Queen 2011 elections in vintage cars accompanied by a mini parade of dancers and musicians.

You don’t have to attend the main events to know that party time has arrived; unlike the mountain to Mohammed, Carnaval will come to you 🙂

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As a Canary Islands resident, using the local airline to island hop between Tenerife and its neighbours is an easy, convenient, time saving and economical way to travel.

With flights lasting 30 to 45 minutes, there’s barely time in between take off and landing for the flight attendants to make one swift traverse of the aisle, so by way of an in-flight service passengers are treated to a plastic cup of water and a Binter Canarias chocolate wafer biscuit. I don’t claim to be a biscuit aficionado, but these are something special.

A few weeks ago we had arranged a flying (literal and metaphorical) trip to La Palma with good friends Linda and Robert and we arrived at the Tenerife North Airport for the 6.30pm flight to be met with the knowledge that flights were being delayed and cancelled due to a storm which was in full flow across the Canary Islands.
The two flights before ours were cancelled but amazingly, we were called to gate, boarded and took off just a half hour behind schedule.

The airline operates with a fleet of ATR-72 airlines which can take off and land from short runways but which are not very good at smoothing out air pockets. That Wednesday night as we headed off over the Atlantic Ocean, the plane was buffeting and rocking us around like the crew of early Star Trek episodes on the bridge during a battle scene.
As the contents of my stomach began to feel as if they may make a break for freedom at any moment and the rain lashed the windows from the storm, an announcement came over the public address system that, due to turbulence, the in-flight service would not be available on our flight.

Twenty minutes later we could feel the aircraft descending and the buffeting increased significantly. I looked around at my fellow passengers. Some were chatting to their neighbours as if this was the most normal flight they had ever been on, others had their heads in their hands, and the lady directly across the aisle from me had her eyes closed, Rosary Beads threaded through her fingers and was silently mouthing a prayer.
I felt surprisingly calm and accepting of what was increasingly looking like my final few minutes of life and I smiled an apologetic smile at Linda for being inadvertently instrumental in her and Robert’s demise. No words passed between any of us.

Then we began to climb again and the pilot informed us that we were returning to Tenerife as conditions for landing on La Palma were too difficult.
It’s hard to say whether my disappointment was more for the fact that our planned break was being swallowed by the storm or that we now faced a further 30 minute flight back to Tenerife at the mercy of the gods.
And just to add insult to injury, I hadn’t even had my biscuit.

When the wheels finally touched down back at Tenerife we re-arranged our flight for the following morning in the hopes that the storm would have abated by then. It did not.
We started to board at 7.10 am the following morning while the rain bounced off the runway and when we finally took off, it was to a near repeat of the previous night’s flight. We rocked and buffeted our way across the Atlantic while the fasten seat belts sign remained resolutely illuminated and the Binter biscuit was nowhere to be seen.

Thirty minutes later we landed at La Palma airport where the rain had stopped and a clear sunrise was taxiing behind us on the runway. The relief at once more being on terra firma where the sun was shining was as palpable as a cream cake onto which the flight attendant placed a cherry, or should I say a chocolate biscuit, as we left the aircraft.
Fitting reward for still being alive I felt.

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We’ve been lucky enough through a mixture of work and pleasure to have visited two of our neighbouring islands in the past two weeks and the contrast in the landscapes and our  locations couldn’t have been more marked.

Our first island hop of 2011 was to Lanzarote where we discovered a very different world from the one we had left here in Tenerife. Gone was the mountainous horizon with its dominant volcano and the tropical jungle of north Tenerife where everything grows as if it’s been swigging on Alice’s drink me bottle. Instead we found an island with a different beauty; a stark, flat terrain of volcanic earth where clusters of low rise white buildings were strung together along roads delineated by miniature palm trees in a dot to dot landscape of predominantly black and white.

Our home for two days was the delightful Sands Beach Resort in Costa Teguise where we had an apartment on the beach front of the resort’s salt water lagoon.
Bleached rafters, white walls, pine furnishings and bright, modern artwork dominated the apex-roofed apartment with its fully equipped kitchen, double bedroom, large, comfy living room and oodles of wardrobe and storage space.
In the mornings the sun rose directly in front of the apartment, so that breakfast on the patio would be a warm and golden one as we watched the rose coloured rays spread across the lagoon.
Despite being almost occupied to capacity, the overwhelming impression at Sands Beach and indeed at Costa Teguise was one of unhurried tranquillity.

Less than a week later we found ourselves flying in to La Palma on the 7.30 am Binter Airlines flight. It was our second attempt at making the hop to La Palma, storms the night before diverting our plane back to Tenerife when we must have been within sight of the La Palma runway – had we been able to see it through the pitch dark and driving rain.

As the aircraft banked towards the airport at Santa Cruz de La Palma, we could see the sheer cliffs and rocky coastline of the eastern flank of the island which make the Tenerife obsession with beach building all but impossible on La Palma. It’s a blessing in my opinion as it means that hopefully, La Palma will never appeal to the hordes of suntan seekers whom the developers are so keen to court.

From our aerial vantage point we could clearly see a landscape given over almost entirely to agriculture where, behind the compact cluster of the capital city, small hamlets nestled amongst the banana plantations and the neat rows of tropical fruits and almond blossom of the Isla Verde (green island).

We arrived in Santa Cruz de La Palma in time for breakfast and we ordered strong coffee, fresh juice and tostada with mermelada (jam and toast) in the Havana Cafe and watched as the city came to life.
In the narrow, cobbled streets lined with tall, Colonial buildings with their carved wooden  balconies, the morning sunlight was forbidden from entering as commerce got under way. I felt as though I’d taken a 30 minute flight and arrived in down town Havana.

Shop keepers were raising their blinds, opening their doors and sweeping their steps.
Stylishly vogue shop and office workers threaded their way past delivery vans to their favourite morning haunts for pre-work coffee and pastries. One street back, on the promenade, cafeterias raised umbrellas over their tables as the sun spilled onto the wide pavement and crept up the walls of the iconic casas de balconies the flowering cascades of their abundant window boxes.

Our accommodation was in Apartamentos La Fuente, right in the heart of the city. We’d stayed here before and had tried to request the beautiful rooms with their mudejar ceilings and window seats that overlooked the street. Alas those room were occupied and so we had an apartment in the rear of the building instead.
The room was perfectly adequate for our needs but it was in dire need of a little TLC. The curtains were cheap and shabby and didn’t match the décor or each other; the shower head was old and plastic, the bath was chipped and stained and the sheets, towels and quilts had all seen far better days in their youth.
But the shower was powerful, the water was piping hot, there was a fast WiFi connection in the apartment and we stepped straight out onto the main street to shops, cafes and restaurants.

Tenerife, Lanzarote and La Palma may share the same geographical location and language, but differences in climate and rainfall have created markedly different landscapes and each island has its own history, culture and identity.
For me, the joy of living on the Canary Islands is that there are seven different worlds on our doorstep.

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You might consider that, living in the Canaries, visiting the other islands would be a regular occurrence of everyday life. Sadly it isn’t so. Unlike the residents of La Gomera, El Hierro and to a lesser extent La Palma who have little choice but to travel to Tenerife, as International flights from their own islands are either scarce or non existent, living on Tenerife we’re pretty much self contained.

It would be interesting to conduct a poll of ex-pats to find out just how many of them ever visit neighbouring islands. I wouldn’t mind betting that for the majority the answer would be “never”, which is a lengthy way of admitting that, in the seven plus years we’ve lived on Tenerife, we hadn’t once visited Lanzarote… until last week.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but I’m not sure that’s true.
Before last week, the first (and only) time we have been to Lanzarote was 20 years ago when we sought some winter sun and booked a last minute, cheap ‘pot luck’ type holiday where you didn’t know which resort or accommodation you were going to until you got there, and we got Puerto del Carmen.
To be fair to Lanzarote and Puerto Del Carmen, we had recently returned from our honeymoon in Sri Lanka and been completely blown away by the island. I suspect that no matter where we had gone next, disappointment was the only emotion we were going to feel and in that respect, Puerto del Carmen didn’t let us down. As the coach drove along the sea front passing row upon row of ‘all day British breakfast’ signs, amusement arcades and British pub names, we looked at each other in horror and  realised we had made a terrible mistake, this was our idea of holiday hell.

So it’s fair to say that when we had to go to Lanzarote on business for three days last week, it was with some trepidation that we boarded the Binter Airlines flight to Arrecife.

As we drove the short journey to Costa Teguise and Sands Beach Resort which was to be our home for the next three days, Lanzarote got a second chance to make a good first impression on us…and she rose to the occasion with style.
The first thing we were struck by was the marked contrast in the landscape between Tenerife and this eastern isle. As Jack put it: “I keep wondering where the rest of the horizon is.”
We are so used to seeing a backdrop of mountainous terrain towering above us that Lanzarote’s arid flatness was almost unnerving. On the other hand, from what we could see there were no high rise hotels; no industrial estates sprawling into the distance; no motorway or vast commercial centres and no traffic queues or gridlocked junctions.

The stark contrast of low rise white buildings against the black volcanic earth studded with cacti and irrigated rows of palm trees create a beauty that is unique to Lanzarote.
We arrived at Costa Teguise and drove through the resort to the far side of Las Cucharas Beach where the resort of Sands Beach lies in its own unique, lagoon side location.
We had a lovely, beach front apartment on the edge of the saltwater lagoon with its little golden beach beyond which a promenade led along the coast to the centre of Costa Teguise and to beautiful sandy coves and tranquil bays.

On our second day we visited the former capital of La Villa de Teguise and were thoroughly charmed by its narrow cobbled streets, picturesque plaza, pavement cafes and historic buildings. 20 years ago we hired a car and spent three days touring the island but neither of us could remember going to Teguise, or Costa Teguise for that matter.

This was a very different Lanzarote from the one we visited 20 years ago. Could it be that things have changed so much in that time? They certainly have in Tenerife so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Lanzarote too has shaken off some of the tacky image of the 1990s. Of course, only a return visit to Puerto Del Carmen will determine if that’s the case.

Or was it just that we were literally and figuratively seeing a different side to the island? Or were we simply looking through different eyes?

Whichever it is, I don’t think it will be another 20 years before we next return to Lanzarote.

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We’re not sweet eaters as such. That’s not to say we don’t like sugar ‘n’ spice and all things nice, it’s just that these days we might as well miss out the middle man and simply staple any slices of cake straight on to the waistline.

We do actually buy a bar of chocolate every second week and with an iron-willed discipline limit ourselves to two squares which are eaten with relish post lunch.

However, a few years ago friends, who throw caution to the wind in the sweetie eating stakes, introduced us to the pleasures of turrón and now this Christmas treat from Jijona is a regular addition to our cupboards over the festive season.

It’s probably this simple cake that sparks the first feelings of Christmas on Tenerife as a dizzying array of boxes and varieties take the place of the rather more healthy fruit selection in the local supermarket. And the selection is dizzying. I’ve watched Canarios, fingernails being chewed furiously, trying to decide for upwards of 30 minutes which flavour to opt for.

We’ve tried caramel flavour, coconut flavour, cherry flavour and cream. But we always return to the classic yema tostada made from almonds, honey and egg yolk.

Round about 3.30pm, when creativity and enthusiasm is flagging badly, a cup of coffee accompanied by a finger slice of yema tostada provides just enough of a boost to get us through another three to four hours work.

In that respect it’s not a treat at all, it’s an essential Christmas work tool…honest.

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Friday was our seventh anniversary of moving to Tenerife and it’s ironic that having spent so many years trying to make enough money just to continue living here, we didn’t have time to celebrate it until Saturday night because we’ve been so busy.

But celebrate it we did and several glasses after the cork left the cava, thoughts and conversation turned to reflecting on how the working environment here is so different from the one we knew in the UK.

Here, life has a way of simply getting under foot and you constantly have to try to find a way around it. Partly that’s due to the working from home factor; without a shiny, fully equipped office in which to sit, you’re vulnerable to all sorts of interruptions but also, it’s about rural living on a small island in the Atlantic.

Take Friday for example. Having been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the past three weeks to achieve a deadline, I was trying to upload the last couple of hours of work when a friend arrived with two dogs that we’ve agreed to look after for a mutual friend who’s currently recuperating from illness. We’re totally unprepared for dogs here at Casa Montgomery, but having a network of people on whom you can rely is an essential part of living in a rural community. So I abandoned the keyboard, popped the kettle on and greeted our canine house guests and their chauffeur.

 

The latest (temporary!) additions to the household

 

We sat on the tatty garden chairs around the old pine table on the terrace and as we chatted we watched the fat, shiny leaves of the banana plants on the next door plantation wafting in the gentle breeze as if operated by invisible punkah wallahs. Conversation ebbed and flowed between corruption in local politics and the likelihood of acquiring a 30 foot ladder on which to tackle the avocado tree in the garden which has grown to such proportions that it’s now a landmark feature on Google Earth.

Earlier in the day we’d had to visit the Correos (post office) to despatch the last of the week’s orders for Island Drives. We can’t just put a stamp on the guides and pop them into the post box because the Correos operate a weigh and frank system, and two of us have to go because road works have annihilated all the parking in the area and double or triple parking is the only option; so someone has to stay with the car to move it when necessary. On Friday there were 43 people ahead of Jack and a whole hour was donated to the Spanish postal system.

Sitting on the terrace and mentally fretting about my rapidly approaching deadline, I couldn’t help wondering if the folks who would read my Tenerife Expert and Tenerife Insider opinions would have any idea what life out here is really like. I guessed probably not.

 

The megalomaniacal avocado tree

 

It’s been an amazing seven years and a journey that has at times lifted us to new heights and at other times dropped us on our heads. Just 18 months ago we faced the harsh reality that we had just three solvent months left after which we’d have to put the house on the market and leave the island. Today we’re so busy with financially and creatively rewarding projects that we’re struggling to keep the plates spinning… and we’re loving every minute of it.
Last night we realised that it’s almost one year to the day since we sat on this terrace with our friends and colleagues on a red hot day and floated the idea of setting up an online lifestyle magazine. One year later Tenerife Magazine gets 11,500 visits a month, has almost 2,000 fans on Facebook and we’re making expansion plans.

Seven years on Tenerife and the only thing that has remained constant is the inconsistency of living here…and our love of its lifestyle.
We can never relax or become complacent and boredom is a foreign land for which we don’t own passports.
I wonder what the next 12 months hold.

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I realise this offer isn’t likely to be enough to get folks from the UK and the US hitting the Internet and browsing for cheap flights to Tenerife…but for full or part time residents of Tenerife and the Canary Islands, it’s a chance at a fabulous weekend break not to be missed.

The aristocratic Arona Gran Hotel in Los Cristianos is giving away a FREE weekend in this month’s Tenerife Magazine competition and all you have to do for a chance to win is to hit that little ‘like’ icon on the Tenerife Magazine Facebook page.

For anyone who enjoys excellent food, lying around some rather splendid swimming pools and chilling on a sun-soaked balcony with sunset views over to La Gomera, the Spring Arona Gran beckons.
From the moment you walk into its marble-pillared atrium lobby filled with tropical plants and trailing vines, shoulders ease and breathing deepens. But the wow factor doesn’t end at the amazing lobby; heading outside where you’ll find three beautiful freeform swimming pools surrounded by palm tree-studded sunbathing terraces just crying out for a prone body, a bottle of factor 25 and a good novel.

And just to make sure that everything is going to be in tip top condition for our lucky winner, I’m going to be spending this weekend checking out the Arona Gran Hotel and all it has to offer.
I would say “it’s dirty work but…blah…blah” but it clearly isn’t!

Watch Tenerife Magazine for my report and meanwhile…you have to be in it to win it 🙂

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