Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

My sister got it spot on when she saw the photo of me decked out in a wet suit with a bright yellow tank strapped to my back.

“I bet you had the theme tune to Thunderball going around you head,” she insightfully remarked.

Ever since I watched Connery despatch villain after villain under the crystal Bahamian waters I’ve yearned to slip into a bit of tight rubber and enter a world that seemed alien, breathtakingly beautiful and dangerously exciting.
But despite numerous trips to Bond-esque locations, it’s been one of the things on my bucket list that has remained unchecked…until a couple of weeks ago.

We were at the Sands Beach Resort in Costa Teguise, Lanzarote when the charming staff there mentioned that they worked with an excellent diving school, the tropically named Calipso Diving, and that I should give it a go.

It’s not that I’m scared of the water; I prefer the sense of freedom and elation that comes with tackling challenging seas to the mundane security of pools any day. But a few years ago I watched two male friends chicken out as they took their first plunge into the shallow waters lapping Phi Phi Island (incidentally their wives didn’t) and it planted a seed. So I guess I’ve subconsciously avoided it since.

The funny thing is that when you do things for the first time you realise nobody has ever told you about the little things like the preparation.

First up was what to wear. Those wet suits look too tight for baggy swimming shorts; surely bulge hugging Speedos were de rigueur, but I didn’t possess any. Might sound daft but I took along a pair of tighter fitting underpants just in case I couldn’t tuck the boxer swimwear into the suit (I’m not sure going commando would have been appreciated).
Gareth, my confidently cool, diving instructor allayed my fears on that one with a reassuring ‘yeah, perfect’ when I posed the question about the swim shorts – bless him he didn’t even smirk at my naivety.

Then there was the serious preparation; a 20 minute training video followed by further classroom tuition from Gareth. My head was buzzing with information by the time we went to get ‘suited up’ but I felt well and truly prepped.

Suiting up also came as a surprise. Curtis, another of the Calipso team, had prepared my gear and those babies are tight. As Curtis helped zip me up I couldn’t help notice my stomach race ahead of the zip like a breaking wave. I vowed to exercise when we returned home and hoped the suit would act like a corset.

Then it was down to the beach at Playa del Jablillo for a shore entry and another discovery. The oxygen tank and a lead belt to keep me on the seabed added up to quite a weight and although I wanted to look like Bond as I made my way to the sea I suspected I looked more like Pingu.

Once in the sea the buzz reached red alert levels as we ran through a final couple of tests to check I’d absorbed the preparation and then it was off into the deep blue.

Being underwater doesn’t bother me, but breathing underwater was a whole new experience that took quite a bit of concentration initially. Breathing deeply using only my mouth didn’t feel natural and I wondered whether I’d be able to keep it up for forty minutes (no jokes please) as the instinct was to want to include my nose in the process. The other thing was that every time Gareth showed me something particularly interesting I wanted to acknowledge with a grunt or a smile and that was a ‘no no’ as it only interfered with the breathing process.

After about five minutes underwater I eased into it and the breathing started to feel rather good, especially the noise – it was pure Thunderball – and I began to absorb the incredible world I’d entered. Shoals of silver, bright yellow and deep purple fish swam alongside accepting me without question into their world; a small cuttlefish whose markings rippled along its back eyed me as curiously as I eyed it and a starfish clung to my fingers. I was well and truly in Finding Nemo land.

Then Gareth indicated a section of sand that looked no different from any other; he gently wafted his hand and the sand parted revealing a large fish. He made a fin sign on his head…shark. This one was an angel shark, not dangerous unless provoked but, as it flicked its tail and eyeballed me before deciding to head off in another direction, it was one of those über wow moments and boy did I feel like 007 then.

The forty minutes was up in no time and as we emerged from the beach, the Pingu waddle was well and truly replaced with a self satisfied swagger.

I can’t describe the sheer sense of wonder at being under the sea. I felt humbled and privileged at viewing a tiny section of a wondrous world I’ve watched in awe hundreds of times on TV and in the cinema.

To paraphrase the line at the end of a certain series of movies – I will return.


At Least the Storm Left the Debris in Quite Neat Little Piles

It’s a scary prospect when the weather alert gets bumped up to red, the worst. It’s a bit like reaching DEFCON 1.

Schools were closed, Tenerife’s emergency extreme weather plans were put into operation and people were advised to stay indoors- preferably in an underground bunker if you had one (actually I just made the bunker bit up).

During the afternoon reports came in of winds reaching up to 170 kmh battering La Palma. The storm was even given a name, Xynthia. And we all know it’s not a good sign when a storm is given a name. It means she’s a mean mother who really means business.

Discussions on various forums and even weather sites were divided. The pessimists (some might say realists) were predicting a bad one; the optimists were saying it was just going to miss us and the ostriches were singing ‘La La La’ and quoting weather forecasts which said that it was going to be sunny and calm so you could head to the beach and grab your usual sun lounger next to Elvis, Jim Morrison, Bruce Lee and newcomer Michael Jackson.

The good news as far as we were concerned was that the worst weather alerts were for altitude and the west, south and east coasts.  On the Spanish Met Office map the north remained a tranquil green (normal weather conditions).

So what actually happened?

One of Mother Nature's Little 'Presents'

We woke up on Saturday morning to read tweets and comments on the internet that reported the storm had missed us – wrong, wrong and double wrong.

What happened was that it missed all the coastal areas which had been under ‘orange alert’ and hit us with the force of a…well, a hurricane. In short, Xynthia got medieval on our arses.

Andy and I spent most of the night scared shitless as the wind howled like a banshee and herds of rhinoceroses stampeded across the roof. It was also stiflingly hot and as bright as day, so we could see the shadows of huge branches relocating to other parts of the garden through the bedroom window.

Needless to say sleep was out of the question as we spent most of the night wondering what part of Puerto de la Cruz the house would be in when we woke up in the morning (if we woke up). That’s the third serious storm we’ve experienced since we moved here and it sounded like the worst.

As it happened, damage was remarkably limited. The chimney had gone, but that goes if someone farts on the golf course next door, and there were quite a few deadwood branches scattered around the garden (good firewood).

By Saturday morning everything was tranquil again and the day remained as still as the grave. This morning the sun is shining, the sea is an incredible shade of blue and I’ve been sweating like a pig fixing the chimney in temperatures that must be in the upper 20s. That’s Tenerife for you.

The web has been full of people due to come on holiday, panicking after reading reports about what’s being called ‘the winter of storms’ in Tenerife and the Canary Islands. If you’re one of them, don’t worry. Here’s another little fact for you.

As well as having more inclement weather than normal, the winter on Tenerife has also been warmer than usual. Tenerife had its hottest January in nearly 70 years.

And anyway, the hoopoe sang this morning, so spring is definitely around the corner.

Yesterday we had quite persistent rain in Puerto de la Cruz. I mention this because it shows the contrary nature of the weather on Tenerife.

A lot of people out there will be aware that the island has been battered by a pretty serious storm this week. The irony is that whilst we read reports and watched TV footage of ravines being turned into raging torrents; houses being flooded; cars being swept away; roads strewn with debris and beaches in some of the southern resorts being partly washed away, in Puerto de la Cruz we had a few showers and there was hardly a breath of wind. On this occasion Mount Teide protected the northern coast from the worst of the weather – most of the rain was dumped on the south, west and east sides of the island.

Then the weather forecasters announced the storm had moved away yesterday… and it started to chuck it down here. It served me right. When someone I was due to meet on Wednesday in Puerto sent a text on Tuesday to say that they didn’t think they’d make the journey because of the atrocious weather, I smugly replied ‘but it’s lovely and sunny over this side’.

Those of us who know the island well and know its history understand that, although it is almost the most perfect climate all over the island, Tenerife does experience the occasional extreme of weather and has done throughout its documented history.

The world’s inclement weather doesn’t stop at Tenerife’s coastline and say ‘Oh that’s Tenerife – its perfect weather there don’t you know, we can’t spoil that’.

However, some people act as though that this is the case. Blizzards and below freezing temperatures have created a mini ice age over much of Europe this winter, but some think that the world’s weather has no impact on Tenerife’s. I’ve noticed people on some travel forums saying things like ‘rain – I thought Tenerife was supposed to have a perfect climate.’ As though they’d been lied to.

I understand that people coming on holiday have concerns about weather, especially the British who seem to suffer more than most when it comes to crap weather at home, but if Tenerife had unbroken sunshine for 365 days the whole place would be a desert. Some of it is. As it happens it doesn’t rain much – anywhere on the island – but it does rain, especially in November and February. Remember that when people referred to Tenerife as having a perfect climate, they weren’t originally meaning for lying on a beach for two weeks (although it is a hard place to beat for that as well), they were talking about living – and that includes the farmers.

The other curious thing I noticed on Tripadvisor was how some people reacted to being told about the storm and weather warnings. On two occasions detailed posts about what were happening were almost completely ignored, the next posters asking ‘so can anyone tell me what’s the weather like now?’

What this really meant was ‘I don’t want to hear this; I want someone to tell me that it’s going to be sunny.’

One person even went as far as to search weather forecasts until they found one which had clearly got it all wrong by forecasting that it was going to be sunny when ‘serious’ forecasts were warning ‘batten down the hatches’. The fact that it was wrong mattered less than the fact that it showed exactly what they wanted to see.

Like I said, I understand visitors’ concerns. When I’m going to a place where I’m hoping for wall to wall sunshine, I don’t want rain and storms, but sometimes I get them – the weather is the weather.

The wonderful thing about Tenerife is that bad weather rarely lasts very long. Within 48 hours of the weather warning being issued the sun was shining in the south again. That’s the reality of weather on Tenerife.

And this morning we woke in Puerto de la Cruz to clear blue skies and this magnificent vision.  Like they say, every rain filled cloud has a silver lining.

Things happen for a reason – sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.

Don't anyone go 'aaaw'. He's a cat, he belongs outside.

Take yesterday. We’d just had the most wonderful weekend with my sister and her boyfriend who were staying in Playa de la Arena. They’d come across to Puerto de la Cruz on Saturday and the weather had been glorious. Sunday was the same. In fact the weather only deteriorated when we headed through the crater towards the south coast where it was quite moody and overcast. Ironic to think we were leaving the sun and the heat in the north.

Andy and I returned to Puerto on Monday morning where it was still clear blues skies… and then the world ended.

The first signs were that the sky darkened.

“Hmmm, I think we’re in for a bit of rain,” Andy made what must be the understatement of the year so far.

An hour later and it was full blown monsoon and the thunderous skies were booming. The deluge was spectacular.

At that point Whiskas decided that our house was his favourite after all and appeared at the window like a drowned rat. It might seem harsh, but setting a precedent with that cat is a dangerous business, so he was refused entry to the ‘ark’. There are plenty of places where he can stay dry.

All afternoon we watched the rain come down in sheets unaware of the devastation it was causing outside.

At around seven Andy decided to make some soup and tabouleh for lunch for the next couple of days, but a couple of phone calls from the UK delayed her. Funnily enough, both started with ‘It’s horrible here, windy and raining…’ – Guess what?

So it was later than planned when we started preparing Mediterranean chickpea stew for dinner. It’s a one pot wonder and I’d barely added all the ingredients to the pan when the gas jet went off.

Now we operate a two canister system for this very reason. However, it ain’t much use when both bottles are empty. Andy had been telling me that we needed to replace the gas for days, so she was a bit tight lipped as we threw on our coats and headed out into the rainy night.

As we passed the golf course gate, Glen, who works at the course, was huddled in the darkness. He’d been waiting for his wife for two hours and had been having trouble getting through on the phone.

We offered to give him a lift, but he assured us that his wife was due any moment.

Apart from a few rivers of boulders on the main road to Puerto, there didn’t seem to be much of a problem. We collected the gas and headed back home. As we were returning through the banana road we noticed a sodden looking figure wrapped in refuse bags; it was Glen.

This was as close to the rain as I wanted to get - through the front window!

It turned out his wife couldn’t leave their house in Los Realejos, boulders were blocking the road and he was resigned to having to walk home in the shocking weather. Los Realejos is quite a few kilometres away on the opposite side of town. We could hardly let the poor man walk, so we told him to jump in and headed back into town, this time towards the motorway… and it was at that point we realised that the rains had cause much more havoc than we realised.

There were flashing lights everywhere as police and firemen tried to make some sense out of the chaos. The motorway was gridlocked and the approach roads the same. Luckily we had opted for a back road to Los Realejos and although the roads were a mess we managed to avoid the queues. In the dreadful conditions it still took us an hour to get Glen within a couple of hundred yards of his house and then get back home via the centre of Puerto where traffic was quieter.

Amazingly we crossed the barranco (ravine) where later we saw on TV a rushing torrent of water washing away cars. Funnily a couple of years ago one of us commented ‘I wonder if there’s ever any water in there’ – now we know the answer. At the time we crossed it, about 20.45, we didn’t even notice that there was any water in it. I think all of the action had taken place by then.

We ended up finally sitting down to dinner at about 22.00 having done our good deed for the day.

Had Andy not decided to make soup and tabouleh before we cooked dinner (she doesn’t usually prepare lunches at that time), or our friends phone from the UK and had I not left replacing the gas until it was too late, we wouldn’t have ever left the house last night and Glen would probably have had to walk home in the awful weather. It was one of those little series of events which worked out well for him.

We were especially glad that they did – it was his birthday and having to brave monsoon conditions is no sort of birthday present for anyone.

It’s easy to view Tenerife in one dimensional terms, as little more than a purpose built tourist resort. That’s the way it’s presented both wittingly and unwittingly in a variety of mediums. However, all anyone needs to do to discover otherwise is to venture forth from their resorts. Just about every time I drive on Tenerife’s roads (the old ones, not the TF motorways) I see something which brings a smile to my face and reminds me how ‘different’ Tenerife actually is.

It isn’t just on Tenerife that you only discover the magic of the place by getting out and about, and it isn’t just Tenerife that has holidaymakers who rarely leave their resort.

The first time we went to Sri Lanka the civil war between the Tamils and the Sinhalese Army had flared up. On arrival at our hotel we were given a F.O. memo advising us not to leave the hotel’s grounds. One woman broke down in tears, she had no idea that the country was in the grip of a civil war.

Anyhow, we’d been following the situation for some time and had spoken to the Sri Lankan Embassy in London and knew that it was only certain areas which were badly affected and we weren’t in one of them. So, as soon as we recovered from jet lag, we walked out of the hotel and went on a voyage of discovery into a land where very little seemed familiar. One of the many things which really gave us a buzz was the sight of giant monitor lizards lumbering along in the ditches and pools at the side of the road, some as big as crocodiles. They were everywhere.

The reason I mention this is that later in our holiday we went on a coach excursion. At one point the coach stopped and a local man stood at the window holding up one of these ancient looking monitor lizards in his hands. Nearly everyone in that coach jumped up from their seats and ran out to take photos of the big lizard, for which the man charged a small fee.

It was a stupid thing for the visitors to do for a couple of reasons.

  1. It would encourage more men to catch monitors to earn ‘easy money’ from the tourists, not a particularly pleasant development for the lizards.
  2. If they’d only stepped outside of their hotels they would have seen dozens of the damn things where they should be, in the wild.

That’s only one little example, but I could apply the same sort of thing over and over again to everywhere we’ve visited in the world, Tenerife included.

The Sea of Clouds Hugs the Mountain Slopes

The Sea of Clouds Hugs the Mountain Slopes

On Saturday we sat on the edge of an abyssal ravine looking down on Costa Adeje. It was a spot of sobering contrasts. Above us loomed a cliff face 7 million years in the making and below us a resort which was younger than I am by some distance. Sitting on those gnarled rocks it felt as though I was looking into the future from the past. It was odd to experience such contrasting sides of the island in one vista.
Later, as we drove through the hills, we passed a gathering of hunters and their families holding a party in a small churchyard beside a statue of Hermano Pedro, the Canary Island’s one and only home grown Saint. As we left the pine forest above Vilaflor, a blindingly white sea of clouds hugged every nook and cranny in the undulating slopes; it was spectacular. Crossing the Teide Crater, the low evening sun made the landscape so sharp that I fancied it was clear enough to see a lizard scuttling on Mount Teide’s summit which was framed by an impossibly intense deep blue sky. Descending from Aguamansa we became caught in a traffic queue caused by a troop of caballeros (horse riders) who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Brokeback Mountain (not that I’m suggesting they were gay).

Mount Teide, Sharp as a Pin in the early Evening Sunlight

They were all little things, little magical things which were unique to the real Tenerife and which would never be seen from the inside of a hotel complex.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the general perception that the sun always shines in the south of Tenerife whilst it’s always cloudy, cool and more than likely raining in the north of Tenerife is an urban myth put about by people who benefit by encouraging tourists to visit the south rather than the north.

As I live in the north, I’ve always known that it was at very least an exaggeration which is regularly fuelled by people who state a variation of the following.

“It’s always cloudy in the north of Tenerife.”

Then when you ask then how often they visit, they come out with something like ‘Oh, I was there for 10 minutes in 1981’.

Anyway, I’ve got very good reason to believe that the differences aren’t as great as everyone has been led to believe… and it’s this.

On Saturday, we left sunny Puerto de la Cruz with the testing objective of completing three walks in the south as research for our Real Tenerife Walking Guides.

When we got to our destination it was cloudy with some sunshine, but as the day went on the cloud became thicker, the temperature dropped to being slightly cool and there was even light rain. This was great for walking, but for taking photographs it was a disaster. There’s no real colour in parts of the arid southern hills, only variations of brown which the low cloud completely washed out. Photographing the landscape was like photographing a bucket of ditchwater.

A Rare Spell of Sunshine Just Before that Big Grey Carpet Descended

As a one off this means nada, but this was the fourth time I’d tried to get photographs in this particular area and each time it had been cloudy.

I remember specific instances exactly because we’re usually doing research for articles and good photographs are a must. A couple of years ago we wrote a series of ‘walking’ features for Living Tenerife Magazine and the one on the south was visually the weakest because the weather had been poor (cloudy) on every occasion we attempted to get some photographs. In fact the section about the Barranco del Infierno was nearly a non-starter as they almost closed the Barranco because of rain.

As we walked in a washed out landscape on Saturday I worked out that out of the last 10 big features we had written about the south of Tenerife which needed photos, I’d lucked out in photographic terms 9 times because the weather had let us down.

That’s quite a statistic

The thing is that I’d never dream of stating ‘the south of Tenerife is always cloudy’ because clearly I know that this simply isn’t the case; just as it isn’t the case with the north coast either. Generally speaking, sunshine is the normal state of affairs for both coasts with the south faring better overall. Sometimes you can just be unlucky with the weather – in my case, apparently 90% of the time when it comes to the south.

Incidentally, there are places on Tenerife which can be relied upon weather wise when I need to take photographs for web and magazine articles. Las Cañadas del Teide is pretty much a guarantee. Alcalá and the triad of Playa de la Arena; Puerto Santiago and Los Gigantes rarely let me down; the east coast is consistently bathed in sunshine and Santa Cruz almost always comes up with the sunny goods.

Where’s the best place to take photographs of Mount Teide at sunset? A friend who lives on La Gomera insists that the best spot for taking photos of Mount Teide isn’t on Tenerife at all, it’s on La Gomera. Even some of that island’s tourist blurb says the same thing. It’s interesting to note how often tourist brochure descriptions on La Gomera talk about the impressive views towards Spain’s highest mountain.

However, the Gomerans have a point. The nights have been beautifully clear of late, but when you live on Tenerife, especially on the north, you’re on the wrong side of the mountain for a spectacular sunset against its mighty slopes.

The Sky is Vivid, but the Mountain Dark

The Sky is Vivid, but the Mountain Dark

As the dusk sky puts on a light show no amount of lasers could match, Teide becomes mistily dim for us – a silhouette against an electric canvas.
The black peak of the mountain framed against the sky is impressive for sure, but not as much as would be if the sun’s last rays were illuminating it with golden hues.

Pretty, but not Stunning

Pretty, but not Stunning

In theory, the west of Tenerife should have a good view, but the views of the mountain just aren’t nearly as impressive from the south and west of Tenerife and the mighty mount is reduced to just another peak amongst many.

I’ve actually witnessed sunset on Teide from La Gomera and I have to concede that in this case they’re right.

Yup, La Gomera Wins!

Yup, La Gomera Wins!

The best views of Mount Teide at sunset are to be had from La Gomera – at the bottom of my friend’s garden to be exact.