Living the quiet life

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Where I stayed
Las Moreras

Flag of Spain  , Canary Islands,
Monday, July 9, 2012

 

This is the first blog since we left Hong Kong on the 2nd October last year (2011) so it feels strange to be typing again. I have been very lazy for the last 9 months and it would be a mammoth task to describe everything that has happened in that time so I will try to summarise briefly.(I can hear the disbelieving laughter)




As we had planned, we visited family and friends in the UK before settling here in Lanzarote for the winter. Originally we took out a rental for 6 months but after 2 weeks and some discussion (eg if we go “home” after 6 months we don't actually have anywhere to live?), we decided to extend the contract to 9 months.




We chose Lanzarote because it is the nearest place to the UK with a reasonable winter climate and it is close enough for people to come and visit. On the whole it has worked well, we had a pleasant, mild winter and lots of visitors. It was a pleasure to take visitors around the island and share our favourite places. I hope they all enjoyed their breaks here.




I particularly love the attractions designed by Cesar Manrique, (Monumento al Campesino, Jameos del Agua, Jardin de Cactus, etc and his own house which is now the Cesar Manrique Foundation), who has had an amazing impact upon the appearance of the island, and helped to prevent ugly, unplanned development.




His approach was to use natural materials and blend buildings into the landscape to make them as unobtrusive as possible whilst also emphasing the beauty and starkness of the landscape. The respect he had for the island inhabitants who had a hard struggle to exist in this desert landscape shows through everywhere but particularly in the Monumento al Campesino in the centre of the island. I think he shows how the island is created by the forces of wind and volcanic activity and because of its aridity, it will takes thousands of years to change (apart from tourist development!)




Many people find the scenery ugly and I have heard it described as one huge building site. This seems so short sighted as the scenery changes from the flat areas of barren black lava flow, through the wine growing area of La Geria, where plants are protected from the wind behind low horseshoe shaped walls of volcanic rock, to desert landscapes with volcanic calderas and ancient cliffs providing amazing views across to the island of La Graciosa in the north, not forgetting the superb beaches of Papagayo in the south. There are pretty villages and hermitas everywhere and even the capital, Arrecife, has interesting historical sites and a pleasant harbour and seafront.




We rented a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom modern “holiday” home in a small complex right on the cliff top by the sea front path. It is easy to walk into Playa Blanca (25 minutes walk) west, or across the hills to Papagayo beaches (20 minutes east), and we are only a few minutes from a supermarket and a more upmarket “delicatessen” type store. Rubicon Marina, where there are bars and restaurants, is a short walk away.




Life here is very gentle and the neighbours are friendly although recently there have been a number of changes as people move on, and the complex is almost empty. I am not sure how much of this is a result of the financial situation in Spain. Here, unemployment is very high and the local authorities are trying to make money anyway they can as their income from yachts mooring in the marinas, and tourists, has fallen. There is a sense of community, Spanish language lessons are provided by the town hall, and there are numerous sporting activities and cultural workshops for children.




These community events lead to one of my most interesting experiences. A neighbour (Maggie), had been taking me with her friends to the local library in the County town of Yaiza (only the size of a village) where the librarian, Maru was very welcoming and helpful but with little English. Through one of Maggie's friends who is Spanish, Maru invited us to “a meeting with coffee”. We weren't sure what the meeting was about but to be friendly we agreed to go. It was very pleasant and the purpose was to discuss books in order to identify which authors might be read by non Spanish speakers. As Maru was at one end of the table and Maggie's Spanish friend at the other, it did feel as though we were watching a tennis match as our heads constantly turned from one to the other. I managed to understand about one word in twenty and non of the real sense of the discussion. I was determined to persevere and improve my listening. At the finish Maru invited us to another meeting the next month.




We turned up to a meeting of 12 people including 2 local poets and the purpose of the meeting was to listen to their poetry readings. Surprisingly, I found the poetry easier to understand as I suppose the tone of voice and emphasis helped. Both poets are elderly men born on Lanzarote and able to communicate their love of the island. It was a superb morning, really enjoyable. Again, at the end they asked if we would come to the next meeting and suggested we bring a poem in our own language.




So a month later we arrived with our poems written out. I had chosen Wordsworth's “Daffodils” as it is reasonably easy to understand and one of the best known poems in England. I had also written a few sentences of introduction in Spanish. When we entered the meeting room we received a shock – the whole event was being recorded live for local radio. The presenter started the programme and then invited the first person (a Swedish lady with good Spanish) up to the microphone where he promptly started asking her questions and chatting in Spanish. Maggie and I looked at each other in total panic, we were unprepared for that! I quickly wrote on a sheet of paper in Spanish, “Please, no questions”. The presenter laughed and read it out to the listeners, but in fact everyone was very supportive and we managed to read out our contributions. As I awaited my turn I just remember sitting there thinking, how do I manage to get into these situations? The answer is simple, thinking I can understand Spanish. I might after another 4 or 5 years! At the end we were given signed copies of 2 books written by the poet which is a lovely momento.




The other great activity here has been “intercambio” which is when 2 or more people get together to converse in English and Spanish. Not only has it helped improve my Spanish, it is a lovely way to get to know people and tap into different aspects of life here. I am really grateful to Santi, Silvia and Marisa for their patience and encouragement, and just wish that I could thank them in fluent Spanish. Perhaps one day?




Staying here for 9 months was also a way of deciding if we could settle here permanently. I think, on balance, the answer is probably not. Although we have enjoyed it, the diurnal range of temperature in the winter is not good for Jim's arthritis, despite being very pleasant during the day. The wind is strong and in the winter not unpleasant as it is warm but it disturbed me much more in the summer when it is often too strong to be able to enjoy being outside. It carries sand and dust which has to be swept up frequently, and which can be so thick in the air that the sky appears orange or yellow.




Last week we had a Calima so bad that when I opened the door it was like walking into an old peasupper smog but the world was dark orange and perfectly still. It improved gradually over four days. However, if it is a choice between England and here, during the winter, for us Lanzarote wins by a mile. We did visit Gran Canaria and Fuertaventura as we were so close, but despite enjoying both islands we would not want to live on either of them, (we think).




Now we are becoming very restless. My feet are so itchy, I can hardly stay still. We have our tickets for the next trip starting on the 1st October, when we plan to fly from Heathrow to San Jose in Cost Rica. In early February we take the next flight from Santiago, Chile to New Zealand. Between those dates we hope to explore Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia but as usual our plans are flexible (or vague, depending upon your perspective).




In August we return to the UK to do some maintenance work in Beeston where Anna is living, visit family and friends, do the usual personal MOT things such as doctors/dentist etc and finally kit ourselves out to take off again. My personal challenge is to reduce our luggage even further than last time.




I will try and send this to people who I think might want to know what we are up to as a way of checking the blog system still works but there probably won't be another one until we are in Costa Rica. Have a good summer everyone and we will be in touch in October if we don't see you before then.




The photographs are just a selection to show the variety of scenery and some of the birds and flowers to be found on the island.

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