At first, there was complete silence; a noiseless air that carried only distinct interruptions like a neighbour’s cough or a stranger’s heavy footsteps.
And then it broke from a suspicious silence into simple tranquillity as I started to notice the constant island sounds: the rhythmic roll of the sea against the pebbly shore, the papery rustle of palm leaves in the wind, the chit chat chirping of birds and the batting of wings as they take flight.
The things you never hear among the constant drone of city life in London.
Jorge and I spent the weekend of my 30th birthday at the end of December at Hotel Jardín Tecina on the small island of La Gomera.
His grandmother was born at home in a house that was still stands in the village of Playa Santiago where we stayed.
On a day that is usually cold and snowy for me, I was pleased to open the thick curtains to a tropical view, bright, early morning sunlight spilling into the room on my birthday.
Turning 30 hasn’t fazed me yet, but I couldn’t ask to be in a better place in my life right now.
The previous day, we caught the ferry, an hour’s journey from Los Cristianos in the south of Tenerife, one of the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, and where we spent the majority of the holiday.
On the deck, the wind whipped through my hair, the sun warming my face, one island disappearing and another soon coming into view.
The ride was pretty calm. There were even sailboats out there floating along.
The ferry docked in the capital of San Sebastian, but more on that in the next post.
We drove up into the centre of the island and back down again, roads curving continuously around the volcanic island’s peaks and ravines.
From San Sebastian to Playa Santiago is less than six miles or so if you could drive straight there, but the landscape of the island made it into a 40-minute journey.
It was a beautiful drive, though – serene, with few other cars in sight.
The whole island is home to only about 20,000 people.
Jorge told me stories of the way the landscape influenced the culture of the island, specially the way the people communicated.
The indigenous people used a whistling language called Silbo Gomero, which is a baffling idea to me, but apparently it works!
The whistling can be heard up to two miles away, and when Jorge’s grandmother was born, her father used it to register her birth and name with the government offices.
Like playing ‘telephone’ at school, the name they wrote down didn’t match the original that was whistled by the time the message arrived.
It’s not used anymore, but the children learn it in the local schools to keep it from becoming extinct.
Another interesting tidbit is that La Gomera was the last place that Christopher Columbus stopped to replenish supplies before crossing the ocean blue in 1492.
Because of this, sugarcane from La Gomera was the first to reach the New World.
Speaking of people associate with the island, La Gomera is home to German photographer Oliver Weber. He has a great series called “Social Life at the Beach” in which he’s documenting touristic life on the Canary Islands. It’s now a book.
My favourite type of photography to look at is portraits and Oliver has another wonderful series called “La Gente” – black and white images full of characters that would make amazing subjects for pencil drawings.
La Gomera is an island with a slow life mentality, hard-working fishing and farming communities and busy ports that shuffle people and goods from one place to another.
Outside in Playa Santiago, people sit under the sun watching life go by with companions, leaning on canes in friendly silence. In a tree outside of a restaurant, there are three swinging cages full of birds. A woman sips her coffee alone.
We spent the day relaxing by the water and exploring. We even stumbled on a banana plantation at the edge of the hotel.
One of my favourite things to do is to take my camera to a place I’ve never been so it was a perfect way to spend the day.
And, we ate.
We had some typical foods like freshly caught sardines, patatas arrugadas con mojo (wrinkly potatoes with salty skin with a Canarian sauce) and almogote which is ripened goat’s cheese mixed into an orange paste with peppers, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic.
And, as seaside visits demand, we consumed a lot of ice cream.
My 30th birthday ended with a delicious dinner in Restaurante Club Laurel where, with a background of sophisticated live music, we had champagne, a tasty local white wine and a tasting menu with many courses.
The table setting included four forks, three spoons and three knifes – the most I’ve ever used for one meal.
I had wonderful company, of course.