Monday, May 30, 2011

Working like a dog?

As my teacher summer inches closer and closer (only 20 more to go!), I am eagerly anticipating my 2 1/2 months of vacation.  Since I will be working during the summer months to earn some extra money, I will probably only have 1 full month of vacation time.  Boo hoo, I know.  The thing is, here, 1 month of vacation is oh-so-common.  Then, a friend sent me this article she had seen on and it's title 'Why is America the 'no-vacation nation?' caught my eye.  It is true, I have a ridiculous amount of holiday time, but that's just like any teacher.  But the catch is here in Spain, each employee normally gets about 36 days of work off a year. 

The CNN article notes that America is one of the only nations that doesn't mandate requiered vacation time.  Whereas, in some industrialized nations, up to 6 weeks is required and must be taken!  Seems like France, Brazil and Finland really know how to enjoy thier free time!  In Spain, with vacation time and public holidays combined, 36 days is the average holiday time each worker gets.  On top of that, while taking long weekends from time to time, most people I know who are blessed with 3 or 4 weeks of vacation take it all in one swoop!  For example, Joseba gets the entire month of August off, as do many people.  Travelling to Spain August I imagine would be somewhat of a surreal feeling - because most of the Spainards are gone - on vacations of thier own. 

In the States however, it seems we are workaholics.  When I worked in NYC, I was at the bottom of the totem pole so I only got 1 week of vacation a year, plus paid holidays (which are only about 10 days).  At the company I worked for you, you could basically  max out your vacation at 3 weeks.  Never more.  The people who I worked with who had earned such long holidays, rarely took them all at the same time though.  The article points out that Americans are afraid to take such a long vacation because they 1) don't want to look like they aren't dedicated to thier jobs and 2) don't want to come back to such a backpile of work.  Or if they do take a whole week (GASP), they are probably constantly checking thier work email or making phone calls from the beach. 

It's obvious that vacations give you time to relax and re-charge your batteries, which is great for when you go back to work, so why don't we take it all?  When I had about 2 months with NO work last year, I thought it was great...for the first few weeks.  But then, maybe because I am American, I get bored.  I feel like I am being unproductive and need to do something!  Maybe we are just wired that way.  But the thing is, paid vacation time is an excuse to relax - have the whole day to do nothing!

Either way, I have come to appreciate long weekends and month-long holidays.  I have learned to relax better and also that just because I have vacation time doesn't neccesarily mean I have to GO somewhere.  Living 2 blocks from the beach and a few steps from the mountain,  I can take advantage of any time off right here in San Sebastian!  So, here it is, almost June.  Have you used any of your paid vacation?  Have you used ANY of it?!  Do it!  You deserve it.  I will hold on to my 20 more days of full-time work, then one month of part-time work and will make sure to enjoy my days off to the fullest - as should you! 


Thursday, May 26, 2011

You might be bilingual and not even know it!

Do you find yourself at a loss for words lately?  Maybe not showing off your extremely diverse vernacular?  Well, it could be because you are attempting to speak one of the newest languages - Globish.  Created by Jean-Paul Nerriere in 1998, this 'language' is not really a official language, but instead a subset of the English language.  With only the 1,500 most common words, Globish is intened for better and more effective English communication between speakers of all languages.

According to the book Globish The World Over, only 12% of the world's citizens claim English as thier native tongue.  Seeing as English is the international language of the world (with 45 countries citing it as thier official language) and the most common for use in business, medicine, science, etc., Globish is meant to facilitate communication between people of different mother tongues.  Related to that, only 4% of English communication throughout the world takes place between two native English speakers, which leaves 96% of conversations to be had with a foreign language speaker.  With such a massive majority, it stands to reason to set some limits and standards for easy communication.  I mean, if they have to learn to communicate for work or school in a different language, the least that can be done is to make it accesible and speakable for all of them.

But, just because you have the English language mastered, doesn't immediatley qualify you as an expert Globish speaker.  With only 1,500 words, you need to learn to communicate as effectivley as possible with minimal words.  Think of texting or the old telegraph messages.  In these, you pay either by the message or back in the olden days, by the word.  You are much more selective with how you say what needs to be said.  Globish is basically that - saying what you need to say in the most basic form.  And if you are speaking to a foreign speaker, it's not a form of 'speaking down' to them, but instead, making yourself a better communicator by making your message understandable. 

I see myself doing this with my students especially when I limit my vocabulary.  For example, maybe at home if I wanted to describe something, I would choose words like massive, huge, gigantic, colossal or humongous, but here I would probably just say VERY big.  As they get older, I try to incorporate more vocabulary little by little of course.  I also see a slow disappearance of 'phrasal verbs' in my every-day speaking.  For non-English teachers, that just means a verb that contains more than one word (call back, get into, break out of, let off, etc)  For example, here, I would never say abide by the rules.  I would say follow the rules because its easier.  Other examples of 'phrasal verbs' that can normally be said easier for learners with a one-word verb are:  call off = cancel, get in = enter, let down = disappoint, or make up = invent.  Imagine trying to learn a language and having to understand the difference between John stood Mary up and John stood up for Mary.  Catch the drift?  English is quite difficult, but Globish simplifies it.

Not only does Globish cut down (reduce is probably how I would say it here) on words, but also, it is a very active language.  Whereas we might say The streets were cleaned this morning, Globish would change this sentence to The workmen cleaned the streets this morning thereby eliminating all passive grammar and perhaps some confusion.  With some other tweeks, regular English becomes, I guess you could say decaffinated. 

While I see the advantages of Globish, I still of course want to hold onto my American English and all my silly sayings, that will NEVER enter the Globish dictionary.  Bull in a china hutch, green with envy, slower than molasses in January (that one is straight from Grammy), and things like this are what make my English MINE.  For an English student to master these, means they have basically have to have a native speaker level.  Until they master English they will probably not be able to see the difference between 'white as a sheet' and 'white as snow'.  Since I work with children, I am very lucky that I have Joseba to speak with.  His English is very good and between episodes of American TV shows (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men), movies and speaking with me, he is quite good with these things that make up our English American.  But guaranteed if you have talked to me on the phone in the past 3 years, you have noticed a change in my English.  Don't worry, I might be fluent in Globish, but  I am working hard to keep my English amazing as well haha!

Kisses (pecks, smooches, smack - see, I still got it!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

In full bloom

Last weekend, Joseba and I got green thumbs and headed to the 9th annual Plant Fair, held a few minutes from his home.  With over 40 plant and flower vendors, the event was massive, and had over 7,000 visitors!  Us being a happy two of them, we spent about 3 hours wandering between the booths deciding just which flowers to buy.  Since we live in apartments, we obviously steered clear of fruit and veggies bushes or plants, although I would die to have a strawberry bush or an apple tree.  Instead we ended up buying a little collection of cacti.  Seeing as we just got back from Tenerife, where the cactus life was quite abundant, we bought 4 small cacti to remind us of the magical trip.  Also, I will have a hard time killing them - even though I like plants, I'm not the best plant keep-aliver.  We also bought a Japanese maple type tree that Grammy once had in her garden.  With deep red leaves that get more and more intense with sunlight, the small tree will never grow to be massive, so we can happily maintain it on the balcony.  Tickled pink (or maybe I should say fuscia or violet) with our purchase decisions, we took the opportunity to enjoy the fair more.
Not only was it a flower/plant fair, but the location is the botanical garden section of the natural park, Pagoeta.  Called Iturraran, the botanical gardens are open year round and are home to many gorgeous blooms.  Being spring, we were even more lucky to see so many lively plants bursting open.  With vivid yellow irises, small peonies popping up and hot magenta roses to die for, the gardens were in full bloom.  Among some of the flowers I grew up seeing in Grammy's garden, I did manage to see some I had never heard of before.  One is called the King Protea or Honeypot, and is from South Africa (check out the photo to the left).  It is shaped like a cup which kind of looks like an artichoke with pinkish spikes jumping out of the center.  Another that really caught my attention was a tree called the Goldenchain Tree (photo on the right).  I guess named so because when it is in bloom it looks like there really are chains of gold dangling from its branches.  Think weeping willow but with eye-catching yellow blooms.

While this blog didn't really provide you any extremly important knowledge, I had such a lovely Spring day and enjoyed all the flowers that I couldn't let the opportunity to share the photos with you all slip away.  Hope you enjoy!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

All-American Amanda

Living here, I have learned the things that spring to most people's minds when they hear I am American.  New York City, California, cowboys, famous movies, McDonald's, football, Barack, the Simpsons, etc.  Here, these things are All-American.  However, I have also stumbled upon some not-so-American things that people here take to be so.  From bikini waxes, to clothes to food, the Spanish have a little distorted view of all things American, or English, and I will gladly tell you about them, because it gives me a good chuckle.

La Americana...a shirt.  If someone where to ask you what is an American shirt, what would you imagine?  A shirt with stars & stripes that makes its way out of the closet on the 4th of July?  Maybe a t-shirt that says I love NY.  Well, if you say americana here, it just means a dress shirt.  Yea, that's it.  No frills or thrills, just a regular dress shirt that every person in every office buildng wears.  A long-sleeved button-up shirt.  Same goes for chaqueta americana (American jacket), which is just a suit jacket that you would of course normally wear with a camisa americana (American shirt).  So, do I wear my namesake clothes everyday you might wonder?  No, I sure don't, but if one day, I walk out into the street with an American shirt AND jacket, I hope someone puts two and two together and realize that I am a true American sporting a true American outfit!

El Inglés...known differently to us.  These two words you see together often, but not only in language schools or to say what language a film is going to be shown in, no no, these you see at the estetician or waxing place.  That is because, to wax el inglés  here, is to wax your bikini line!  Whereas we throw around the phrase a Brazilian bikini wax to mean a full wax, the Spanish go into an estetician and say they want an English wax and ta-da they come out bikini ready!

Salsa Olé about it!  To us, salsa is a Mexican food side dish that is oh-so delicious, but in Spanish, salsa just means sauce, which is pretty general.  So, salsa americana isn't a Rosarita's jar of salsa, but instead a sauce that goes with the American lobster.  That's right, we also have our own special lobster.  In the 1870's, a French chef had used up most of the ingredients in his restaurant kitchen, when some friends stopped by for dinner.  Not knowing what to make them, he minced the next-day's lobsters and braised them in some olive oil. Then he roasted the lobster and placed it atop some tomatoes, garlic and onions and to finish off the invented recipe, cooked it on high heat with some white wine before he served it to his hungry Frenchmen friends.  They loved it and from then on, the mixture gained fame as la salsa americana although besides the lobster it really has nothing to do with us whatsoever.  Eh, who cares, it's tasty!

El Beso Americano...not like French kissing.  When you think of an American kiss, the most obvious one that springs to mind is the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt shot of the sailor in liplock with a woman on V-J Day in Times Square.  While he was a German photographer, this man-embracing the woman, woman-arched back style of kiss is considered 'American' here.  But while I am American, every kiss I have isn't exactly like it.  I guess that comes with the American-Basque kissing style mix haha.

Besos and/or besos americanos...I just don't know what to give you!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Look on the bright side (Tenerife part 3)

After a few days on the island, we began the hike that had convinced us to pick this island out of all the Canary Islands - Mount Teide.  Tenerife was so named by the inhabitants of the nearby island La Palma.  In thier language, tiner meant mountain and ife was how they said white - so in the end, they called the island, White Mountain basically.  Why would you name an island with the Sahara wind blowing over it a White Island?  Because of this mountain!  Even at the end of April, as we were laying on the black sandy beaches (thanks again to this volcano), we could make out little bits of snow atop the peak!  It's an unreal feeling to be burning up on the beach and see snow in the distance.

We woke up at 5am and were out the door around 6am to start the hike in the dark.  With the winding road up the steep mountain, I would have loved to have seen all the flora and fauna in the daylight, but as we strapped our hiking lights on our heads and hit the ground walking, the excitment made it worth it.  With our lights angled towards our feet, like total professionals haha.  We were able to see the rocky path in front of
us until we made it far enough from the road and the sun started to peek out from the eastern clouds.  We see a lot of sunsets together, but not so many sunrises, so the fact that we were there, hiking up Spain's highest mountain, at the break of dawn was
incredibly romantic.  Our quick pace stalled quite a bit as we couldn't avoid sunrise kisses and tons of photos of the stunning oranges and deep reds reflecting off the clouds.  On top of everything, we were completely alone.  Not many people start the hike so early, so the silence was deafening and the view astounding - one of those magical moments where you inhale deeply to take in the whole scene, and if it's really good, you close your eyes and capture that split second in your heart forever.  For me, that's how this dawn felt - unforgettable in every way. 

As we all know though, sunrises only last a short time and then they are gone in a jiffy.  We admired the sunrise as it climbed above the clouds, but then it started beating down on us and we decided that we needed to get a move on if we wanted to make it to the summit
in our pre-reserved time range.  Being a National Park, Teide's peak, the last 20 minutes of the walk after you pass through a check-point station where you have to show your printed reservation and identification - but the catch is you only have a 2 hour window to enter that last part.  So, we lathered on the sun screen because this Equator sun is harsh and started some real hiking.  The landscape was quite barren with only a few green plants managing to pop up here and there.  Then strangely, huge boulders started to appear.  Called 'huevos de Teide', or Teide Eggs, they are massive rocks ejected from past volcanic eruptions and seem so out of place on the barren rolling hills.  As we trekked higher, the sandy colored pebbles transformed into dark and
jagged rocks.  After about a 45 minute walk along the wide path, we started what seemed like an un-ending ascent, in which each step was like walking on stairs, except that each 'stair' was a new rock.  So, not only was it a good workout for the bum, but great overall because we had to pay so much attention to stepping on sturdy rocks.  This extreme stair-stepping went on for what to me seemed like forever.  I mastered the art of only picking up my foot as high as I had to before setting it down again.  Some times little rocks tumbled behind me due to a misstep, so luckily Joseba was leading.  We took a little break for a banana munchfest to to quench our thirst, but I didn't dare sit down.  If you are walking up stairs for about an hour, the last thing you should do before you finish is sit down - no siree!  If I would have sat down, I might not be able to tell you about reaching the peak right now haha. 

After the 7 bazillion steps, the landscape changed a bit more - it became a patchwork of old lava rocks and snow.  The normally well-marked path was definitley more difficult to follow when the snow covered it, and sometimes we lost track and did some crazy rock-climbing stunts, but a nice man (who was fully equipped with ski clothes and professional walking poles) directed us back to the trail.  After a little sandwich we again got lost and started attempted to climb to the summit on an impossibly steep hill.  But really, it would have been impossible.  Luckily, that man saw us again, from the park station, and the park ranger shouted at us to head to the station and summit from there.  Then in the late part of our 3rd hour, we were quiet tired but made it to the park station.  The park ranger was very friendly and explained we were WAY off course.  Quite an adventure!  We handed him our printed pass to enter the designated path to the top when we saw the friendly man again.  He was so disappointed because he didn't know he needed to make a reservation before reaching the station, and after 3 hours of hiking, he
wasn't able to climb to the summit without the paper.  We bid him farewell and although we were worn down, we excitedly started the last leg of the trip.  The drive to the starting point dropped us off at about 6,500 feet above sea level.  The elevation change in the first hour was only about 1,600 feet ascent.  The stair-part about 3,000 feet, which put us at about 1,000 feet away from the 12,188 foot peak.  Those 1,000 feet though, were incredibily tough.  A massively steep staircase fashioned out of the mountains own rocks led us on a intense 20 minute last push, when again I perfected my foot-lifting or lack thereof technique.  When we finally made it, we had to catch our breath before we could actually take it all in.  And as we sucked in the fresh air, we were a bit thrown off by the odor.  Turns out, Teide, as it is still an active volcano, spews hot steamy sulphur.

The Guanches, the original inhabitants, called this mountain Echeyde and to them it had the same significance as Mount Olympus did to the Greeks.  The legend goes that Guayota, their Devil, kidnapped thier God of Sun and Light, Magec and locked him in the volcano, which covered the Earth in darkness.  The Guanches prayed to thier supreme God, Achamán, for help, and so Achamán fought Guayota and Magec was freed.  Achamán plugged up the volcano Echeyde wtih Guayota, and that he is locked inside.  When the mountain would erupt, the Guanches would light fires to scare Guayota away, thinking the eruption was him trying to escape or fuming with anger.

As we stood atop and gazed out over the island, it made sense to me that this volcano would be such a powerful force in thier lives.  Massive and dangerous in the past (as it will be when it erupts again), the Guanches respected the moutain and so I too, tried to gain that respect for the volcano that had just given me an amazing 4-hour work out.  We sat on the large gray rocks and took a moment to take it all in.  Above the clouds with a light breeze blowing our faces, we again were alone for a few minutes and able to savor the taste of what we had just accomplished together.

With time on our reservation window running out, we headed back down the steep walk-way to the park station.  Along the way, we spotted a lot of the famed Tenerife Lizard, which sports a blue torso as it scurries in and out of the rocks.  Instead of descending another 4 hours, we decided to take the cable cars back down to our car.  What seemed like a great idea and time-saver, in the end we regretted.  Having had so much altitude change in one day (0ft above sea leavel - 6,500 drive up - about 5,000 feet hike and then the 1,000 final push - 6,000 feet drop with the cable car - then another 6,000 drop back to sea level) made for big headaches.  We headed to the south of the island to try and sleep it away in the sun but it was cloudy and just made our way back to the hotel where we vegged out the rest of the day - well-earned.

For our 3 remaining days we were only trapped inside with one day of rain.  The other two we escaped the northern clouds and headed to the southwestern part of the island where we found a little beach called Playa de las Arenas ( The Sands Beach).  One day, on the way down we stopped off at a little town called Garachico to poke around.  Once a lively port town, exporting fruit and local wine, the eruption of 1706 ruined it's gusto.  Now, it is making a comeback as a beautiful spot, with its rugged volanic rock coastline, its warm-colored buildings each flauting a gorgeous wooden balcony, and the cobble streets that wind from the airy plaza to the small shops that fill
the streets.  We also managed to visit a small little village nestled in the mountains named Masca.  With only 150 residents, this village defies gravity, as it sits on hills at 70º-75º steep! Spilling over every wall it seemed there was a gorgeous bright magenta flowering bush that completed the red poppies and blooming prickly pear's orange flowers.

With such a wealth of stunning flowers and strange cacti covering the island, to the rocky paths of Teide to the black sandy (and hot) beaches of the south, to the singing locals in Taganaga and the hand-carved balconies in Garachico, this little island offered us a very memorable stay.  So, while we didn't hit the jackpot on the weather, I kind of look back on the clouds as a blessing - as it made us visit so many hidden places that we wouldn't have thought to venture to.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Look at the bright side (Tenerife Part 2)

After the delicious Dutch breakfast, we began our excursion to the northern side of the island.  Since it wasn't really amazing weather anywhere, we had tossed the beach option and decided to see a bit more of the interior of the island maybe if the weather cleared up, take a nice nature walk.  Tenerife is known for it's beaches, but there is also a wealth of forest footpaths, coastal walks and desert paths to discover more.

We set off in the car towards a small village called Taganaga, nestled in the Anaga mountains on the northeastern tip of the island.  Founded in 1501, it's sugar cultivation boosted population and although it is said to be in one of the most beautiful parts of the island, it has somehow escaped tours trapsing through.  The windy and steep hill to the bottom of the valley brought us to the town entrance and our small rental car felt like it might not be able to squeeze down the narrow cobblestone streets.  Upon entering, we saw a bunch of chirigoteros, and parked the car to get out.  A chirigota is a group of locals who just come together spontaneously and start playing music for the town.  Being Easter Sunday, the group had gathered in front of the main church, which was funded in 1515.  Although it is a small village, it seemed like everyone was there!  Not only singing or clapping along, but also drinking and dancing.  A very typical way to drink in Spain is from a leather bag, which you fill with wine (or anything I suppose) and squirt it into your mouth.  We were the only tourists and smiled along with the locals, which I guess they appreciated, because one friendly local offered us a squirt of wine!

Our guidebook recommended that if we were in this area, that we had to check out the gorgeous coves off the coast - Playa de Benijo and Playa de San Roque.  So, we headed toward a trail and set off on a walk to the most northeastern part of the island.  The day before we had seen dry arid land, with cacti spotting the red ground or rocky hills.  However, Tenerife has something like 18 different bioclimates, so the landscape that we saw as we started on the walk was completely different.  Bright green cactus trees sprouted from the ground, while vivid yellow flowers dotted
the rocky path.  From time to time, a sole red flower would squeeze its way into the cacti covered hills.  The strangest thing was that here these strong cacti were, sprawling as far as we could see, but at the same time, we were walking along the coast!  To me, a cactus goes in a desert, not the seaside!  The oxymoron made for a delightful walk and also let us discover plants I never had even imagined - one cactus grew a long thick stem out from a tough bush and the stem jutted out at a 90º angle, with its flower hanging horizontally over our heads; or a small little
flower that had what looked and felt like furry leaves; or the cactus that we saw in many stages of development that started green, then the backsides of its leaves changed to a magenta-ish red, then out popped a pink flower!  Crazy nature!

The walk wasn't just about vegetation though, we also stumbled upon two little housing areas, which probably used to be a Guanche community.  As you remember, the Guanches were the original inhabitants on this island before Spanish conquisition in the early 1400s.  With clothes made from goat skins and beaded baked-Earth jewelery, the Guanches are thought to have come from Africa when the Sahara dried up and became a desert (the languages have similar numeric systems).  With houses made of stone, that had no electricity and were atleast 1 hour walking to the main road, I was incredibly impressed that this people maintained this lifestyle.  While not Guanches ourselves, we did manage to eat lunch atop a huge rock while looking out over the sea of cacti and crashing waves, climb a cactus tree, and relieve ourselves next to beautiful plants - all very possible Guanche-like activities. 

But, when push came to shove, we are just normal people and when we got really hungry and almost out of water, we headed back to the car, ready to try a typical Canarian dish.  At the restaurant at the base of the trail, the windows were all open and the smells wofting from the run-down kitchen were delicious.  All I had heard about and read about were these papas arrugadas - which is the Spanish (Canary Island Spanish at that) way of saying wrinkled potatoes, so that's what we ordered.  Now, I was thinking crinkle-cut fries, but these are actually small potatoes boiled until the water disappears so that the skin turns wrinkly and then heavily salted.  Served with some sauces called mojo, they were tasty, but to me, it was kind of like eating a extremely overcooked baked potato.  To accompany our potatoes, we ordered some cuttle fish, which is similar to squid but a bit tougher, but filled the belly up just the same.

That evening we made our way to Puerto de la Cruz, on the northwestern side of the island, to our hotel apartment.  We always enjoy renting an apartment style hotel room when we go somewhere for a longer time, so we don't feel so much like we are living out of a suitcase and we can manage a refridgerated breakfast.  This place, Los Dragos, gave us a plain but big apartment, and we happily settled in and as soon as the lights went out we were fast asleep.

The next morning it was quite cloudy, so jumped in the car and headed to the south of the island, where sunshine is almost always guaranteed.  The tourist office guy had told us about a little beach called Playa de la Tejita, so we decided to go there.  Why you ask?  Because, it is a GASP nudist beach.  Neither of us had ever been to a nudist beach before and we figured that heck, we are on vacation, let's go crazy, so we went!  Nestled between a little rock formation and a large hill that juts out into the sea called La Montaña Rojo (The Red Mountain), the wind was much calmer and it was kind of secluded.  We arrived and stripped down to our birthday suits and put on some sunscreen, then some more and then a little more, just for good measure.  While there were a good amount of people, I never once felt embarrased or self-concious.  Everyone kept to themselves and it didn't feel dirty or strange at all.  Just everyone, accepting thier bodies, not criticizing others and just enjoying the mid-equator sun!  Add that to the list of crazy things I didn't think I'd ever do!  And sorry to disappoint...but no photos hahaha.

With the good majority of the day on the beach, we made it back to Puerto de la Cruz just as the clouds were clearing and headed down to the main part of town for dinner.  We set our eyes set on a big pasta dinner to fill up on carbs, because it was the night before our big hike on Mount Teide (Spain's highest peak).  With our eyes set on the top, we wanted to make sure we had a lot of energy for our 5am wake-up and partial darkness-hike to be on the mountain for the sunrise.  And boy was it worth it.  I will happily tell you about the sun's first morning rays in the next blog!

Mwaaaak!  (Remember, it's in Silbo)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Look at the bright side (Tenerife Part 1)

When you plan a vacation to an island that gets 300 days of sun a year, you would expect your end-of-April holiday to be filled with glowing rays right?  Well, that is what Joseba and I had planned for when we booked our trip to Tenerife, the biggest of the Canary Islands, at the end of January.  For our 'Spring Break' we figured we would relax on the beach, have sunny mountain walks and come home in May brown as berries.  Well, that's not exactly how it panned out, but in the end, the trip, albeit with a bit of crazy weather, was a great island vacation.

After a taxing trip to even arrive (6 hour bus ride to Madrid, 3 hours sleep on the tile airport floor, then a 3 hour flight), we happily got into our rental car but with a cloudy sky couldn't figure out what to do - it was 10am and there was no way we were going hiking since we had just arrived and we couldn't go to the beach.  With our two main plans out of question, we picked a city and decided we would drive there, wait the sun out and then just wander and get a feel for this 'possibly Atlantis' island.

So you get an idea of the size, think of Tenerife as a bit smaller than Rhode Island.  From the south airport, we drove about 20 minutes and were in a town called Candelaria.  Religiously famous, it is said that in 1390 the waves brought the image of the Virgin appeared to Candelaria (then named Chiminsay) and that the Mencey (or King in the ancient language) of Güímar took it to his cave where it stayed until the Spanish conquest.  Thereafter it was kept in the first Catholic temple on the island.  With many renovations, the original building is long gone, but the basilica that remains today is the prize of the town, her tower overlooking the sea.  With threats of rain above we began popping in and out of shops til the sky cleared a bit and we decided to leave the small town and head South to see if we couldn't see some blue sky.

Along the highway we stopped off at a few little towns to check out the beaches the man at the Tourist Office in the airport had recommended us - obviously hoping the next day would be sunnier and we could work on our tans.  Around 12pm in El Puerto de Güímar (or as they called it El Puertito - little port), we parked, and decided with blue sky and not such drastic wind, we could atleast try and enjoy some sunshine on our first vacation day.  We first stopped off in a little tasca - neighborhood bar/restaurant - for some food.  The friendly waitress with her permanent tan rushed through the Menu of the Day and although I speak Spanish, hers was almost impossible for me to understand.  Try to imagine having a fast conversation with a person from Alabama or Mississippi or something - all thier words kind of mush together into one phrases.  How are you doing? becomes Howy'alldoin?  Well, same effect on Tenerife.  My Spanish is quite crisp and I enunciate most everything as they do here in the North, and have even been complimented on my 'Basque' accent in Spanish.  The island life however has made these people's tongues lazy and it took a bit more concentration on my part to comprehend the laundry list of food she ran through.  Somehow we settled on a tuna salad and small calamaries.  The calamaries were delicious but the tuna salad surpised us a bit.  We had expected a green salad with tuna sprinkled atop, but what came out was cooked tuna with onions and peppers surrounded by sliced fried potatoes.  Delicious nonetheless, our full bellies were happy to rest of the black sand of the beaches while we snoozed a bit.

As you may remember from a previous blog, Tenerife is quite famous for it's active volcano, Mount Teide.  Later on I will tell you about how we hiked to the top peak, but until then, you can just think of the moutain as the reason I was laying on black sand - left over lava from previous eruptions.  While many people think of a beautiful island covered with white sandy beaches, the beaches of this island are the exact opposite.  Many are quite rocky and the majority are black as coal, making walking on the sand quite a challenge.  But, as we lay our towels down, the heat from the sand warmed our backs and made us forget about the whipping wind and allowed us to enjoy our first vacation day seaside.

Due to a foul up with our flight, we ended up deciding to come one day earlier than we had planned, and since our apartment we had rented didn't start until the following day, we found a nice little hostel to stay the first night in.  Named Casa Esmeralda, the house, owned by a Dutch couple, was nestled into the foot of the rocky mountains and the southside had an entire wall of windows with amazing views of the ocean.  Our room was all wood with its own balcony and absolutley gorgeous.  When we booked the hostel we saw the photos of that particular room and wrote an email to the hostel requesting that specific bedroom and voíla, we got it! 
The chatty host recommended us a nice little Chinese joint in the town 5 minutes away so we were off!  Named El Médano, the town had a lively main square full of tourists as far as you could see, or hear.  The Canary Islands are quite a popular vacation spot for many Europeans, and our menu was available in something like 10 languages!  Even Finnish!  With live music in the square and a huge selection of restaurants in cute little terracota-roofed buildings, we decided that if we were touristy type people, we would definitley select this town as a week-long vacation spot.  However, we are more outdoorsy and headed home quite early to get a good night's sleep for the first of our fresh-air activities the next day.

When we woke up we were shocked at the spread the Dutch couple had set up for us.  The hostel said 'breakfast included' but this buffet breakfast was grand!  Even more for the fact that we were the only two guests!  With fresh-squeezed orange juice awaiting us, yogurts, granola fresh fruit, hams, cheese and salami to put on crossiants, rolls or fresh bread and 5 varietes of jam to make your toast incredible and coffee we both ate like kings!  Eating the feast while gazing at the sea was unbeatable and we worried a bit that maybe we should have booked the entire trip there instead of the one we had booked, but alas we got around and headed out towards the north of the island where we would stay the rest of our 7 days...which I will tell you about soon to come!

The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the wild island of Tenerife, didn't actually communicate much through words when they lived on the land in the 1300s.  Instead, the spoke in a language called Silbo, which means 'whistle' in Spanish.  This whistling language was full of different sounding calls that could be heard over long distances, gaping ravines, vast valleys and high peaks (it's quite a mountainous and rugged terrain).  Even with Spanish conquest and almost extinction, the language lives on and is now a required subject for school children, keeping it alive.  So, instead of closing my blog with a normal kiss, I'd like you to try and read this aloud and though I am completely sure it is NOT Silbo, it will count for effort.