Volcanos

The Beach
The Beach

This has been a volcano vacation.  Volcanic cones sit at either end of El Médano, Montaña Roja on the west, Montaña Pelada to the east.  I’ve climbed both, not long or strenuous hikes, but fascinating.

Roja was formed by a coastal eruption and is connected to the island by a causeway of volcanic debris and sand and what I assume is frozen lava, bands of pocked rock that reach across the beach into the water, holding pools of sea water in the crevices.  According to legend, one band, Peña Maria, is the remains of a woman whose lover was lost at sea returning to Tenerife after sailing to America to make his fortune.  Waiting on the beach for Juan’s return, Maria forgot to go home, lost her voice “and from her throat came only an anguished howl, analogous to the bellow of the waves.  The fishers gave her food out of pity and each time sadder and thinner. . . she ended up disappearing, like Juan, without trace of her body or the rags of her dress.” She was dragged into the sea to join the remains of her lover, and an enchanted goblin turned her into a rock — the Peña Maria. Quite a dramatic story for a placard on the boardwalk of a beach.

On Wednesday I was running on the trails by Roja and thinking it would be nice to run in to David, who was out walking, so we could climb the mountain together.  As I started on the trail back to our apartment, there was David.  We climbed to the 171 metre peak (I’ve been trying to think metric while I’m here and it’s not easy), a scramble in a few spots but mostly an easy hike along a red path, scattered with black and red rocks.  The magnetite in the soil, a naturally occurring iron oxide, gives the mountain and the surrounding landscape its color.  From the top the range of Teide, the large volcano to the north, dominates the horizon, with many smaller peaks — all volcano cones I assume — rising across the landscape.

On Friday we climbed Montaña Pelada, much smaller and pale by comparison, tan basalt sculpted into curved cuts on the ocean side by wind and waves.  Pelada was created by the process of hydrovolcanism (the interaction of magma from a volcano with a body of water), which created a caldera almost a kilometre in diameter.  (I know, I’m getting pretty technical here, but I’ve been surrounded by volcanos for a week and understanding how they got here has taken over my Google activity.  I admit I don’t understand all of what I’ve read about how Tenerife was formed, but at least I know more than I did.)

David and I scrambled to the peak of Pelada, following a crevice in the rock, and found a wide path across the shoulder of the ridge.  I was expecting a big hole at the top, but when David pointed out the wide scoop of land to the east I realized how big a kilometre is and of course, there it was, an expanse of the desert landscape in a depressed ring.  Both mountains have fossil dunes and as we climbed Pelada I found an embedded black rock studded with shells.

Yesterday we tried to drive to the base of the Teide cable car in the national park, but after sitting in stalled traffic near Vilaflor, 4,000 feet up from where we’d started, sharing the very winding road with many bicyclists and a long train of cars, we learned the road in Teide national park was closed ahead due to snow.  We turned around to head back to El Médano, disappointed but still admiring the view and puzzling over the people we’d seen parking their cars and walking uphill, carrying sleds and boogie boards to use as sleds. Did they really think they could walk, some of them in sneakers, the thousands and thousands of feet before they got to the snow line?

Back on Google when we returned to the apartment, I found a page that announced the closure of the road to the base of Teide, with a one way route created by cars ascending on the TF38 and descending on the TF21 (which we’d been on).  Free buses were running between Vilaflor and the base all day.  All those people we’d seen walking up hill, and the crowd we glimpsed further into town, were taking buses.  That made sense.

Today is our last day here and the winds are forecast to be below 20 mph all day — calm for Tenerife.  It’s sure to be sunny, as almost every day here is, and I’ll be soaking it up.

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An Atlantic Playground

Teide
Teide

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, and from what I’ve seen in a day and a half, it’s a perfect playground.  We’re staying on the beach in El Médano, and when I say on the beach, I mean it.  The balcony of the AirBnB apartment we’re renting is directly above the boardwalk that runs along the beach and as I sit here typing in the pre-dawn light the white lines of small waves breaking on the sand roll towards me and lose their edges on the dark sand as the next line moves in.

El Médano is on the southeast corner of the island, with a 12,000 foot volcano behind it, to the north.  Teide is the highest peak in Spain (while 300 km off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands are politically part of Spain), the tallest land mass in the Atlantic Ocean, and the third tallest volcano on earth, after two in Hawaii, when measured from the ocean floor. Capped with snow, it makes an impressive sight from the shore, sea level to 12,000 feet in one view.

Known as the island of eternal spring, the trade winds moderate the climate on Tenerife — in the 60’s in the winter, the 70’s in summer, though it’s been in the low 70’s since we got here, with a hot sun and cooling wind.  While the water isn’t warm — mid-60’s — it’s certainly swimmable, and there are plenty of people in the water, including David and me yesterday. And likely again today.

The playground part?  Yesterday morning I went for a run, starting out along the boardwalk, headed towards Montaña Roja, a small volcanic mountain at the end of the beach.  As I got around the stores and cafés along the waterfront, I could see runners on the rise of land that leads out to the mountain.  When I got up on the rise, I found a network of hard packed paths, leading through the scrubby landscape that looks part New Mexico, part moonscape.  With its volcanic origins and the arid climate on this part of the island (the north is much cloudier and wetter, due to the weather created by Teide) there are patches of frozen lava, cut banks of rock and sand, and patches of low shrubs.  Perfect running territory — ocean vistas, the red slopes of Roja and the snow-capped ridge of Teide to the north.  And the trails are also perfect for hiking, with mountain biking trails intersecting the network.

The wind picked up, as it does most days, and by mid-morning the water off the beach was filled with wind and kite surfers, the colorful sails and kites dotting the water and flagging across the sky all day.  El Médano is the site of World Cup windsurfing events and it’s easy to see why.  At one point I counted over 80 wind and kitesurfers on the water, bright sails scooting over the wind capped waves like colorful water bugs.  And it isn’t only the surfers who have fun — further down the beach, where the surfers fix their gear and enter the water, people sit behind whatever wind break they can find on the beach and watch the kitesurfers fly, flipping and turning on their boards.  Knowing there are a lot of people playing in this small bay, the beach is clearly divided for swimming and windsurfing, with the swimming area marked off by buoys 200 yards off shore, an ample area for the fast and serious swimmers I’ve seen following the buoy line back and forth.

The beach and cafés filled up by mid-morning with Europeans, but no other people from the U.S from what I could hear of languages and accents.  Of the 12 million tourists who visit the Canaries every year, only 12,00o are from the U.S.  This is where Europeans come to play in the winter, with their topless beach tolerance and laid back ability to stop and enjoy a beer on a sunny afternoon.

I’m still thinking about our time in India, and what it means to be a tourist in a country so challenged by poverty and visible inequality of means.  This world of sun and sand and appreciation for play is a welcome change from the intensity of travel in India, so for now I’m going to take a cue from the Europeans around me and enjoy these moments.  Being aware of the privilege and good fortune that brought me to such a wonderful playground helps me savor it even more.  As does the advice from my mother.

Before we left on this trip I was talking to my mother about my ambivalence about going away — her recent illness and the troubles of some friends making me want to stay close by — and she told me we needed this trip.  “Go!  You and David spend so much time taking care of other people.  It’s time to take care of yourselves.”

So, we are.

Hazy Wonder

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My friend Anne had told me southern India was quite different from the north, more relaxed, less crowded and intimidating. She and Peter were there in 1984 so I wondered if that was still true. It is.

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Delhi I could tell the difference. Actually, I could tell from the people getting on the plane in Chochin – a man kept pushing his luggage cart up against my feet, then knocked me rushing past when I stopped for a moment as soon as the queue opened up inside the airport. There was a lot of impatient pushing as we boarded. When we landed in Delhi no one waited for the seat belt sign to go off. People hopped up from their seats and jockeyed for position in the row.

Walking out to our car to the hotel, men stared at me. Anne had told me that too – that she’d been stared at in northern India. But she was young and attractive, I thought, it wouldn’t happen to me. But it didn’t seem to matter that I’m 30+ years older than she was then. Wherever I looked, a man was looking back.

Everything we saw in Tamil Nadu and Kerala – busy streets, shops and carts and stands and signs and plastered posters lining every road, chaotic traffic, people living in marginal shelter – we saw in Delhi and Agra times 100. With many many more cows – cows wandering down the street, cows feeding from a heap of garbage on the side of the road, cows on the median of a divided four lane speedway.

What does it mean, to drive through a slum in Delhi, in an air-conditioned car with a hotel driver, on your way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and to find men looking directly at you through the car window as you’re stopped in traffic? To watch an old man struggle to pedal his cargo bike with a load of boxes 5 times bigger than him and the bike? To have to stop looking at the young girl (maybe six?) who is knocking on the car window to sell flowers to the cars stopped at a light because she won’t stop knocking as long as you look?

Okay, stop removing myself from the reality of my privilege and incredible luck in the world’s birth lottery in terms of material resources. What does it mean for me?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know I’ll be thinking about it. A lot.

We went north because I wanted to see more of India than only the south and Doug wanted to see the Taj Mahal. David had been there 40 years before and was enchanted.

The dense smog of Delhi followed us the 210 km to Agra. David had wanted to get to the Taj at sunrise, to watch the changing colors of the marble as the light rose in the sky. But there was no need to get there early. The day was smoggy and dim, and when we walked through the Mogul Gate that leads to the central square crowned with the Taj Mahal standing above a symmetrical set of reflecting pools, it was shrouded in haze. The reflecting pools were lined with scum or empty. None of the fountains were spraying and two of the minarets were wrapped in scaffolding with men scrubbing the marble. As we got up to the building we could see the inlay work was corroded in many places so the striking designs on the exterior of the great mausoleum were muted. There were gates and stanchions to direct crowd flow that weren’t there 40 years ago, and David remembers there being more light in the interior. It was very dark.

Still, the Taj Mahal is magnificent. The symmetrical design of every feature – the corner gates, the minarets and mosques on each side, the interlocking design of the stone walkways, the star patterns of brickwork outlining garden beds, the stars and V’s and floral inlay work on the Taj, the height and width and depth of the building all being exactly the same – is breath taking.

And the Taj itself, its grand dome rising even in to a smoggy sky, is truly a wonder, a wonder I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

In India

Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram
One of the Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram

After a week in India I’m still coming up blank when I try to describe the experience. I could write a typical travel blog – an afternoon touring Chennai where we saw the Kapaleeshwarar Temple to Shiva; another afternoon in Mahabalipuram to see the Shore Temple and Five Rathas built over 1,400 years ago; a flight to Cochin and tours of the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth, constructed in 1568, the Dutch Palace Museum from the same era, Fort Cochin, on the Arabian Sea where fishermen still use Chinese nets, tall structures that dip in and out of the water with long weighted poles; a searing hot day on a houseboat touring the cooling backwaters of Kerala, shallow lakes separated from the sea and made in to a maze of channels through man-made islands that form rice paddies, the lunch served onboard a banquet of southern India food – fried whole fish, chicken curry, rice, thoran, dahl, chapatis, papadum, yogurt, pickle and three more dishes I can’t name — afternoon tea  served with fried bread (so much better than the fried dough at the Deerfield Fair) and fried bananas.

Then there was the trip to Munnar, a mountain town of tea plantations which quilt the slopes with deep green tea planted in tight rows that circle around hills, cross valleys and climb steep ridges in varying patterns drawn by the narrow paths kept open for harvest.

But none of that describes what it’s like to be in India, it’s just what we’ve done.

I think the real problem in trying to write about traveling in India is that being here absorbs so much of my sensory processing capacity there’s nothing left to think, to abstract into language the immensity of the unceasing jumble of people and crazy driving and streets lined with ramshackle shops and trash and rubble, cows wandering along the roadsides, almost all the women in saris and the men in western clothes, fancy new high rise apartment buildings going up next to abandoned, half-built high rises with naked concrete corroding in the salty, tropical air.

That temple in Chennai?   It was covered with scaffolding because it’s being repainted and it’s in the middle of a slum, the approach to it from one side down a narrow alley with piles of trash and litter.  All this next to a fancy department store selling silk saris and suits for men.  When you enter the shop, any shop, any tourist attraction, you’re met with multiple men ready to sell, sell, sell, “please, ma’am, come in to my shop, do you want postcards, promise you’ll come back, see these carvings I did myself, buy this shirt, buy this bag, buy, buy, buy.”

Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai

Driving is a wild game of chicken, with cars, trucks, buses, auto rickshaws and motorcycles passing in any zone at any time, often needing to squeeze three vehicles in to two lanes because the passing car coming at you hasn’t made it back to its own lane, the whole dance incessantly announced with horns. And more often than not pedestrians are added in to the mix and they move out of the way even less than vehicles. I’ve never been in a country before where I didn’t think I could drive. Here having a driver is a necessity.

One way I’ve tried to capture some of the constant intensity is taking videos as we drive – shop, hut, poster plastered wall, women walking, men huddled around a tea stand, cart of oranges and cucumbers, empty building shell full of trash, fancy house, pile of concrete rubble, children in school uniforms, motorcycles parked in knots, a “cool bar” with bottles of soda hanging in front, empty open storefronts, shuttered storefronts covered with sheets of corrugated metal, and on and on and on. As we drove up in to the mountains there were some stretches of road with nothing on either side – because there were sheer cliffs, up on one side, down on the other.

Doug, David and Me with Sai Nudhee, Amazingly Skilled Driver and All Around Terrific Person
Doug, David and Me with Sai Nudhee, Amazingly Skilled Driver and All Around Terrific Person

Tonight we’re flying to Delhi and I’ll be able to see a bit of northern India because I’ve only been in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the two most southern states. India has 29 autonomous states with far more diversity than among the United States. While Hindi is the official language, it’s spoken by less than 50% of the people. Imagine if half of the states in our country spoke different languages.  We’re going to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal. I expect to be as overwhelmed as I’ve been all week.

But here is another side of India – the dinner we were served on the plane was vegetarian, as it has been on both our flights, so many Indians being vegetarian and restaurants all advertise “Veg and No-Veg.” The airplane food was excellent, two different curries and rice and raita. Every meal in India has been outstanding.  I can say one thing for certain. India is delicious.

Entrance to Temple in Munnar
Entrance to Temple in Munnar

Godhuli

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In Hindi, godhuli is when the cows come home, or more literally, when the cows raise dust heading home after a day of grazing: go means cow and dhuli means dust.  Villagers in India who had no other way to tell time would often use godhuli as a way to mark time.  “It was last week at godhuli when I saw him.”

India is overwhelming — people, food, trash, cows, temples, shops, crazy playing-chicken-like driving (seriously, how is there not an accident every two seconds?), fragrance, slums, dozens of fishermen on the beach pulling in boats and nets with long ropes, silky wind cooling the evenings, more temples, some over a thousand years old, mehendi (henna tatoos), raucously loud singing, karaoke, dancing, drumming at a banquet, five people ready to help you do anything at a resort, hawkers showing you the same set of postcards over and over and over no matter how many times you say no, heat, sun, and now, sleep.

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On the Water

 

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A sudden shift to port, then a slow thud back to starboard, followed by a gentle swaying. The hanging lamp over the table sways, the view out the long, narrow porthole windows floats up and down, back and forth, the railing of the dock on one side, the neighboring boat on the other.  Water is my ground.  For four days I’m living on a houseboat.

We had trouble finding Hermitage Moorings when we arrived in London on Sunday night, but we had a friendly taxi driver who was fine about driving up and down Wapping High Street, not wanting to let us out in the rain and wind without knowing we had close shelter.  We finally located the address and John, our AirBnB host, came to greet us at the top of the ramp leading to the docks.  As we walked down I looked up.  Glorious — the Tower Bridge and the Shred building lit white against the black sky, just down river.

At the boat, Paul stood in the doorway and helped us get our bags on board and pointed out the steep stairs to our apartment, dark and narrow and low enough even I had to stoop.  Then I opened the door and stepped in.  “Oh, this is fantastic,” I said and I heard both John and Paul laugh in appreciation.  They love their Maxime and it shows in every detail of design and decor.  Boat living is tight, so smart, tidy arrangements work well and they’ve worked wonders.  Our apartment is both ingeniously compact and beautifully appointed.

After three days living on a boat I don’t feel cramped or annoyed by the pumping in and out of water for the toilet and shower, the small refrigerator and tiny galley, the way I have to squeeze between David in a chair at the table to get to the small living room space.  I’m not here to cook or do a living room chill, I’m here to enjoy London.

Which I have.  David and I have walked over 17 miles in the last two days, and I’m doing my half marathon training runs on top of that.  We’ve walked along both sides of the Thames, up river past three historic pubs, down river to the Tate Modern twice (the Alexander Calder show is brilliant), through Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus, past Buckingham Palace and through St. Jame’s Park, hunting down the Grenadier pub, with its 400 year-old tin bar and reputation for being haunted by a soldier who was flogged to death there after being caught cheating at cards.  It wasn’t easy to find, but it was fun, the ceiling plastered with US dollar bills with sharpie markings, mostly declaring the origin of the bearer but one unfortunately proclaiming “Trump 2016.”  I certainly hope not.

No, I don’t feel cramped.  I feel soothed.

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Gratitude

From this. . . . .
From this. . . . .

If you include healing meditation in your daily meditation, which means calling to mind people who need healing of some kind and repeating phrases like, “May they be safe, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they be free from suffering,” you’re supposed to start by first calling for those things for yourself.  So I do that, and one of the things I ask for is gratitude.  “May I be grateful. . . . ”  So, today I’m grateful for:

  • the time, resources and opportunity for the next adventure David and I are embarking on today — London, India, the Canary Islands.  Over three weeks of new sights and experiences.
  • having a body strong enough to train for a half marathon, beating my race pace goal in a training run this week by more than 30 seconds (8:40 average over 4 miles), and running 9 miles today.  I’m currently icing my knees, but I did it.  I’m pumped!
  • the creative space I’ve created for myself, both physically in my study/studio, and in my head and heart, giving myself time to write and engage with other writers and make collages and cook and knit and plan another week this summer at a writing conference because I am going to finish my memoir.

There is so much more I could list, but this is what came to me this morning over the course of those 9 miles.

I am so lucky.

to this.  Stay tuned.
to this. Stay tuned.