‘Twas The Night Before Christmas…

It’s Christmas here in the Canaries and our thoughts are naturally turning to home with more than a little nostalgia. We are missing the children’s school carol service and the Christmas jumper competition, carol singers, Christmas Eve drinks in the pub, going to see father and mother Christmas at Cotehele, our local National Trust property and of course getting together with the extended family and old friends. The children do miss their crazy much loved cousins who they have a fairly wild relationship with! Although we do not live near each other, they see them regularly throughout the year and especially at Christmas time.
Talk of snow, Christmas trees with twinkling lights and the rounds of mince pie and mulled wine evenings at friends houses in our small Cornish village is making us a little homesick.

Although, our scaled down Christmas this year is something of a relief too. Often at home Christmas adds an extra pressure – the cost, the expectations, the socialising. We enter January exhausted and usually sick from all those winter bugs we’ve shared and wondering how long it will be before were financially on an even keel again.
The girls know that this year Father Christmas will just be bringing some little surprises because of course landing in his sea sledge would be far to hazardous if it was overloaded! Despite this they are still super excited and persuaded William to buy a tiny, tiny Christmas tree which has been lashed securely inside the boat and they’ve spent a happy afternoon merrily making Pom pom’s in place of babuls. At the marina we have been staying in recently, there is a Christmas tree covered in beach balls and sun hats, a Father Christmas statue wearing sunglasses and a Christmas post box for the children to post their letters to Father Christmas. There is talk of Father Christmas arriving by dinghy to the marina a little closer to the big day…


The warm, temperate climate here doesn’t really lend itself to feeling very traditionally Christmassy. It’s quite easy to forget – or at least it would be without the children who have made a count down calendar just to make sure we don’t!

 

 

We are in full summer mode – shorts, t-shirts, sunblock and regular dips in the sea off the back of the boat, which is gently swinging at anchor, to cool off. 

The Whittington’s

The best Christmas present was running Into some very old friends who happen to be out here for a week of sun before Christmas – it was pure chance we were still here, we were meant to be long gone by now and had become a little despondent with our lack of progress, but spending the last week before Christmas largely in the company of the Whittington’s has cheered us all up no end…

We are now on route from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria, hopefully to make landfall tomorrow – the day before Christmas Eve. It will be refreshing to be somewhere new, we’re all ready for a change…

Postscript: We have arrived in Gran Canaria, it’s Christmas Eve and everyone is very exited to see what Father Christmas brings us tonight! Merry Christmas everyone!

 

Port of Call – Latent in Lanzarote

Nelson claimed that harbours rotted ships and men, what he meant was that a lack of activity was never good for a sailing vessel or her crew…

We’ve been in Lanzarote for nearly three weeks and there is no end in sight. We’ve hiked up volcanos and been up on the backs of camels – much to the children’s utter delight! We’ve snorkelled, dingy sailed, kayaked and rowed. Grace has caught a fish, gutted it, cooked it and ate it for her lunch. We’ve found a pool we can also use and a cheap Chinese bazar to spend pocket money in…we’ve even hired a car and driven round this bizarre moon/Mars like barren rocky, prickly place and decided it is meant to be uninhabitable – they even desalinate the water here because there simply is no fresh at all.

This is much longer than we usually stay in one place and it’s all due to auto helm problems on the boat. First we had to wait for a parcel with auto helm spares to arrive. Then we decided we no longer have much faith in our auto helm for the Atlantic crossing, so decided to invest in a wind steering vane too – this is taking an age to arrive from the UK thanks to the vagaries and hoops to jump through with international shipping.
The result is…we’re stuck.

The Canaries were meant to be a bit of a whistle stop tour, a staging post for pushing on across the Atlantic. We often move on after 4 or 5 days in a location, only really long enough to scratch the surface because there is a route and a schedule to our adventure which all hinges on being in the right place at the right time to pick up the annual trade winds to cross the Atlantic.

Often sailing down the French, Spanish and Portuguese coast I’ve wanted to linger for much longer and really immerse ourselves in the culture and traditions of the place. To stay a while even, and work and school the kids there for a time.
The Canaries does not make me feel like this. I am struggling to see past the cheap winter holiday destinations for European tourists on the all inclusive hotel deal. The nudist beaches, and Irish bars and what is with the topless thong clad strutting on poolside or beach – would they do that at home? It all masks the culture of what the Canaries must have been once – a strategic staging post for trade and cargo, beyond all recognition. I guess this is fine if you accept what it is now and you’re just coming here for some down time with guaranteed winter sun, but personally I like a little more history and culture to have been preserved in the countries that we are visiting.

However, what the land lacks (for me) – and please do correct me if I’ve missed something here, the community afloat has more than made up for. Here in marina Rubicon on the south side of Lanzarote there is a strong and active floating winter village. Europeans of a certain age, lucky enough to be retired or semi-retired (generally), who either sail their boats down for the winter or leave their boats here year round and fly down typically for around four months of the year.
We clearly had no intention of staying more than a few days, but due to circumstances (auto helm….. yawn; and William getting some work) we’ve actually been here for a couple of weeks. And the winter village have been very kind, friendly and helpful – a true sailing community, who are like all sailing communities world wide, they will bend over backwards to help you if they possibly can. We’ve been invited out for drinks, the children have been given gifts, we’ve been given advice on anything and everything we could possibly need in the area, and William has been given a lift to the airport to fly to another island to teach some sailing. They even seem to find the children’s antics, messing about on the pontoon quite entertaining. We’ve been given some wonderful freshly caught fish and even a new lure with promises that we will catch our own tuna with this one…
A special thank you needs to go to our new friend Brian on Yacht ‘Caitlin of Argyll’ and also Anita and David on ‘Shoko’ who have been tremendously generous and helpful. These people too though seem to have places to be. Everyone seems to be packing up their boats and flying home for Christmas holiday. Pretty soon we might be the only ones left in the marina…

Despite all the Kindness, we are meant to be on a journey and right now we feel like dormant travellers, just waiting…and waiting to explore, travel and find adventure. In this latent state it is easy to become a bit despondent and question where we are and why we’re here. We are on a journey that has become unintentionally a bit stagnant and our travel itch needs scratching and soon…

Port of Call – La Graciosa, hiking volcanos with kids

La Graciosa – Spanish for graceful, is found off the North Eastern tip of Lanzarote. The El Rio and a 35 minute ferry ride separates the islands. It is volcanic, and is the Canary Islands small (just 27km2),sleepy and largely forgotten sister. These qualities make it a charming place to visit – ‘graceful’, it lives up to its name. Unlike its larger, louder and well known siblings, La Graciosa is chilled, quiet and relaxing. There are around 500 permanent residents and it is rumoured that many of these have never left – not even the short 2km distance to Lanzarote, making their livelihood from fishing and tourists.

Do not expect a sunset strip with tourist shops and happy hour in the small town of Caleta del Sebo…there are a few quiet bars, a bakery and a couple of small grocery stores (so small, we asked the children to wait outside), a glass bottom boat and a scuba dive school – the waters around La Graciosa are marine and fishing reserves.

Approaching the small town from the dingy, we got a distinct feeling of arriving somewhere off the beaten track – to the minds eye it looked reminiscent of old Arabia. The roads are sandy, dirt, tumbleweed tracks – the only vehicles are 4×4’s and there are very few of these. There are basic one story, whitewashed pensions to rent, a free campsite and a very small harbour with a couple of pontoons. Or, do as we did, come by yacht and drop anchor (make sure you have your permit for the marine reserve) in the ruggedly beautiful Playa Francesa with its white sandy beach and black volcano backdrop landscape.

There are several mountainous volcanic cones on the island, but the one we chose to hike up with the kids in tow was Montana Amarilla, one of the smaller at 172 meters high. We chose this one simply because it was the nearest to where we could make landfall in the dinghy and we didn’t think that the children aged 10, 7 and 4 needed to put in any extra miles before climbing their first volcano! Entering the sand dunes at the back of the beach, we wound our way in between dry, dusty, arid bushes, cacti and the elusive giant lizard.

There is no natural water source on this island and as we walked in the early morning warmth, we soon became covered in a gentle coating of volcanic dust, with a dryness that gets to the back of your throat. Leaving the dunes and starting up the volcano, the terrain changes dramatically under foot from sand to cooled black lava that resembles a ploughed field, only with huge, giant sods of hard volcanic stone instead of dirt. There is a worn path that zig zags its way to the top – this is a tourist destination after all – but where the many feet have travelled before us, the hard volcanic rock has be ground down to a jagged pebble like consistency, sometimes in large drifts, making it difficult to get a grip under foot for adults and children alike. At times it was comical, one step forward and a slide back on the drift of green minerals – walking sandals and pumps don’t really cut it here, hiking boots would have been preferable but sadly they were at home in Cornwall!

Quite honestly I was amazed when we summited the volcanic cone – everyone had walked with determination all the way up. Hot, sweaty and dusty we stood at the top for the obligatory photo and admired the view over the rest of La Graciosa and Lanzarote… Shortly followed by the demands for snacks and water!

Going down was more hazardous than going up. It was a bit like skiing through rubble as you stood on a drift of ground down rock and took off, down the mountain, with a child in tow, slaloming behind you and clutching your hand!

Happily all survived and the swim off the picture postcard sandy beach at the end felt all the better for our mornings Expedition. Everyone slept soundly that night!