By Linda Wainwright
Choosing a life on Tenerife
Sitting on the top deck of my English school bus in my teens, watching people scurry past, collars turned against the cold, I resolved not to stay in that small, drab town. So giving up pantyhose, bland food, and summers of endless rain some years later, to live on an island in an archipelago off the coast of Africa, nicknamed “The Island of Eternal Spring” was a no-brainer for me.
After a month of living in swimsuit and shorts it began to sink in that this was going to be normal from now on. Naturally, I had to dress occasionally, but mostly I’d changed lifestyle for a much more informal one, which included over 300 days of sunshine per year.
First let me tell you about my island in the sun, Tenerife. Around 200 miles from the coast of Morocco, but in the The Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain, it fell to the Castilian Conquistadors in 1496, just a heartbeat after Columbus first set foot in the Americas.
It’s home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites; lush, temperate forest; wild, volcanic landscapes; perfumed pine forests; a desert south coast where millions of Europeans spend their vacations, especially in winter (average winter temperature 68ºF). Its coastline is by turn stunning cliffs, beaches or striking volcanic badlands. Oh, and, its wines were enjoyed by George Washington and William Shakespeare.
Add to that a list of outdoor sports as long as your arm, surfing, climbing, paragliding, climbing, windsurfing, diving, hiking, trail running, golf, tennis, kite boarding, sailing, swimming just off the top of my head, and you get the idea – this could well be Paradise.
Why, you might wonder, would anyone, ever want to leave such a place? Having just seen off my elder son for the umpteenth time, I reflected on the downsides of life on a subtropical island.
This was, no doubts, a great place to bring up my kids. They practically lived outdoors, and that gave them a healthy attitude to life and sports, but it wasn’t so remote that they didn’t get a good education. Yet, I always knew that one day they’d up and leave. Much as they loved Tenerife, they would certainly want to test life and themselves in the greater world one day – and when those days came, I admit to being thankful.
I was thankful that they would experience living with cold for one thing! You know Gershwin’s “Summertime” “…And the living is easy?” That’s how I think of life here sometimes, that’s ok if you have a comparison to make, but it can be too easy too, if you know nothing else.
I was thankful that their talents, minds and commitment would be tested in a wider environment; no matter what career they chose. In a small place you can simply never be sure how good you are, or that what you’re doing is simply because there is no alternative.
Here we so often settle for something because there is no choice, whether it’s what we do or what we buy. I wanted them to feel the energy that comes from being up-to-date with the latest news or innovations. I know it’s fashionable in certain travel circles for writers to criticize the excess of choice we have in the west, and for sure we don’t appreciate it until we don’t have it. Whilst Tenerife certainly isn’t Third World, it is a small island, and there are limits to the practicalities of importation. We will never have the variety in our shops you find in Sainsbury’s or Target.
If travel is partly about communicating then island dwelling can almost be the opposite, it can lead to isolation, even with modern communications. There is a certain disconnect from the reality of the greater world because it seems irrelevant. I’ve found myself in the UK or the US totally confused by transport, supermarket checkouts, or just the correct way to queue for something.
True it’s that disconnection that many people are seeking when they come to live here, but if you don’t know what you’re disconnected from the result is simply ignorance, and that was my biggest fear for my kids. I didn’t want them to be one of those people ambling past the school bus collars turned up against the sun.
About the Author:
Linda Wainwright gave up one seaside resort, Blackpool in England, for a very different one on the sub-tropical island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands over 20 years ago, where she raised her two sons, and where her life evolved in ways she never expected. She likes to describe her current status as “re-inventing herself” for what in Spain is called “the Third Age.” This involves writing and blogging, and taking very mediocre photographs (but she is learning!) Later this year she embarks on a journey throughout the islands, with no clear idea of where or when it may end. This is her answer to those who think she should lie in the sun, drink gin and retire!
Photos courtesy of Linda Wainwright