Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Canary Islands

Here’s a post from Jeff.  I know we are so far behind it’s ridiculous. We went to the Canary Islands in MARCH, but this has to go down in the official family history, it was a crazy adventure, so unbelievable and funny that Jeff decided he should write about it (we all know that’s rare).
Jeff here. 
This was one of the strangest trips I think I have ever been on. Let me explain. No, there is no time—let me sum up. (that was a Princess Bride reference for those of you scoring at home)IMG_9075So Saydi was having her usual yearly ‘I need to be somewhere warm’ freak-out. Typically this happens in April in Boston when there is still lots of snow on the ground, and we head south to Puerto Rico courtesy of some timeshare company looking to sell us something. Last time we did that, the nice man took us on a tour of some very nice timeshare condos, sat us down, and said ‘how much do you usually spend on vacations a year?’ once we explained that I worked for a nonprofit, Saydi was a social worker, and that we had three kids (at the time), he basically gave up and said ‘well, enjoy your stay!’
This time, Saydi bought a package deal which got us a chartered flight from Stansted to Fuerteventura Island in the Canaries, a fabulous ‘self-catering’ suite in a 3 stars (probably rounded up from 2.5) hotel, and a rental car!
IMG_9249All this for the bargain price of about GBP 115 per person. as you can see from the pictures, the beaches were absolutely fantastic, and we learned some really important lessons. To wit, in Spanish, the word for ‘nude beach’ is ‘playa’
That’s right, Sunday after Church (no less), we headed out for the best beach on the island which sported a great many man boobs that turned out to be owned by women. The kids were mostly oblivious, though the sharp-witted Hazel remarked at one point that ‘people here aren’t very modest’. Too true, honey.
IMG_9133fuertaventura1fuertaventura2IMG_9148These sand dunes nearby were fabulous. They were really soft, white sand, and some dunes were steep enough you could roll down them. I especially like these pictures of me with the big kids. It looks like we’ve come down to a new planet in search of some wayward droids from the Rebel Alliance or something. ‘Hey…has anyone seen a feisty R2 unit?’
IMG_9273Look, Mom…here’s where I barfed last night!
So Sunday night, Charlie started saying ‘my tummy hurts’, which usually just means he’s tired of walking, or doesn’t want whatever we are supposed to be eating for dinner. This time, he wasn’t joking. He barfed 4 times, starting around 7PM, and lasting until midnight or so. We had a heck of a time explaining to the front desk in our poor Spanish that we needed lots of disinfectant muy pronto.
About the time we were both back to sleep (maybe 4AM or so), we heard another kid barfing. Saydi was up first, I popped out of bed, and jogged across the little living room to see Saydi with Emmeline this time. I started feeling a little queasy, and said meekly ‘I’ll be in the bathroom…’ Then I woke up on the bathroom floor with my legs pointing one way, my arms another, and a serious thump on the back of my head. I remember slowly coming to, and thinking ‘wow, this is really going to suck for Saydi to have all the kids sick, and me fainting with whatever I’ve got’. My next thought, however, was more in character: ‘I guess if you have to pass out and be stricken helpless, this is a pretty good time’ (i.e., when there are lots of barfing kids to be dealt with).
After a few minutes of just resting on the nice, cool tile, I started calling to Saydi, who came in and thought I was shirking clean-up duties. I had to convince her that, in fact, I had been the beneficiary of a minor miracle. How else does someone who is 6’ 1” manage to get from standing to prone position down to the tile, missing a sink, toilet, and bidet in the process?
Oddly, we all woke up at 7AM the next day, Charlie, Emmeline, and myself, ate a hearty breakfast, and took off for another adventure. Not sure what to make of that, except that sometimes strange things happen.
We loaded up our spacious Citroen C4 and headed for the other side of the island seeking adventure, and perhaps a fully-clothed beach experience. What we found were some awesome dirt roads (perfectly suited to rental cars!), stunning views, and more nudists.

IMG_9201This island was really strange in that it had Caribbean water and weather, but the landscape was pure Nevada. It was really beautiful in a clean, desert way, but not at all tropical. We came over this pass and the wind just hit us hard. There was a tiny viewpoint parking spot hewn out of the rock so we pulled off and enjoyed the view. If you look carefully in the photo below, you can see the gravel road cut into the mountains as it winds way off in the distance and finally drops down to the beach below.IMG_9190IMG_9192IMG_9193IMG_9215IMG_9225IMG_9232IMG_9235IMG_9237That night, I managed to sprain my MCL under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Saydi had booked me a separate flight out a day early do that I could be back in time for an important meeting in London, so I flew Ryanair. I have lots of respect for the business model (they are so cost conscious that they remove the seat back pockets and glue the safety cards to the seatbacks instead...nowhere to hide garbage, which speeds cleaning the planes!) But one downside in my condition was that the legroom was truly Hobbit-sized, which meant my knee was stuck in the same position the entire flight. By the time we landed, I couldn’t really bend the knee at all and had to limp my way off the plane and onto a bus back to London.
Meanwhile, Saydi and this kids hit another nude beach (with semi-nude camels), and little circles of rocks where the more modest nudists would apparently shelter from wind and prying eyes. When flooded, these made great little lagoons for Peter to sit in. IMG_2430Saydi here.  I just wanted to insert a little text with these pictures since Jeff didn’t come along on for these last few adventures.  This beach, called El Cotillo was remote.  We had to drive on a tiny, bumpy, kind of scary dirt road for an hour to get there, but once we did it was so worth it.  I couldn’t manage bringing all four kids and my big camera, so all I had to capture all that beauty was my little iPhone. Somehow I think it did a really good job.  The beach was full of these awesome little rock camps that someone had made where we could set up our stuff for the day and sit and relax.  The water was calm and clear.  There were tide pools and rocks to explore and climb around.  Peter sat in his little pool splashing, happy as could be.  He even took a nap in our little cove while I played with the big kids.  It was a heavenly day (aside from all the naked people).  IMG_2431IMG_2434The picture below is of our little cove. IMG_2446Collages5-001the top right picture in this little cluster (above) was my view while nursing Peter from our cove.  Pretty spectacular.  I’d live that day over and over again if I could (and if Jeff would have been with us).  Now back to Jeff.fuertaventura6-001fuertaventura7IMG_2459IMG_2469IMG_9254The hotel really was pretty ideal for us. Saydi managed to get us upgraded to an ocean view suite. It had two rooms separated by a little living room and kitchenette, which worked great for separating us from the big kids. The pool was nice for the kids, Charlie and Hazel re-enacted various scenes from The Sting (not sure which one is Paul Newman).IMG_9263IMG_9269
The kicker to this vacation was when I went to Stansted to pick up the family for their midnight arrival the next day on a typically misty, rainy London night.
Because it was a chartered flight, there was no tracking info, so I resolved to get there early and hang out in the arrivals pick-up lane so as not to miss them. This was also necessary because we had lost Saydi’s iPhone in our posh accommodations in Fuerteventura, so she couldn’t call me when she landed. I rolled up to Stansted and made a horrible realization…Britain apparently punishes people who are trying to pick up passengers from arriving flights. There is literally no where you can park at Stansted (or many other airports apparently) without paying for the privilege. No cell-phone lots, no pick-up lane, nothing. You have to pick one of 5 parking lots, each further from the terminal than the last, and your arriving passengers have to walk out to you. You pay even for the ‘15 minute super quick’ pickup parking lot. It sucks.
So I paid 2 Pounds to park for 3 minutes, run into the terminal, check the monitor, to find out that Saydi’s flight was delayed. So I decided to pull a fast one on the parking Nazis running Stansted, and went out into the English countryside in search of a nice spot to wait. I immediately found myself on one of those lone, dark, English backroads, and found a little pull-out where others clearly had done the same. As I eased off the road onto the dirt shoulder, it became apparent that 1) what looked like an uphill slope because of the vegetation was actually a downhill slope, and 2) what looked like solid dirt had transformed in the mist and rain into the kind of super-slick mud used for mud wrestling in the South. My left front wheel sank slowly off into oblivion.
I spent a harrowing 15 minutes trying to ‘rock-and-roll’ the van out, but it just sucked my left rear tire down into the morass. I got out after every try, walked around the car in my slippers, and hopped back in the car to try again. I finally gave up, called our 'emergency breakdown service’ company, who courteously informed me that I was not covered for snow, mud, and ice situations, and that I was over my limit for free breakdown assistance already (see multiple previous posts about our P.O.S car(s) and their foibles). By this time I was sure Saydi had landed with 4 really tired kids, it was 1AM, and I really didn’t see an alternative, so I paid the GBP 150 on my credit card, and they sent out a tow truck which would be with me ‘within the hour’ (oh joy!)
At this point, I knew I had to get back to the airport, so I started limping (on my sprained knee) in my slippers towards the airport in the rain. This was one of the low points in my English experience, I must admit. I was lucky enough to find someone like me, who was parked waiting for an arriving passenger who was about to pull out to go back to the airport. He gave me a ride, I got into the terminal, and asked everyone coming through the arrivals door if they had seen a poor woman with 4 kids. The first person I asked said ‘oh yes! they are right back there, very well behaved’. I was trying to reiterate my question, sure that she was thinking of a different family, when Saydi and the kids came out the door.
I had planned on putting them straight into a taxi for home (another GBP 75, but at this point, who’s counting?), but Saydi assured me that the kids were doing great, and told me to go back to the van, get it out, and come pick them up. So I limped back out to the round-about and waited for the tow-truck, which picked me up, winched out the van quite deftly, and had me sign a few papers saying that yes, I really was a moron, I really had driven my own car off the road on purpose.
In the end, we got back home and in bed around 3AM.
I think it was all worth it in the end….not sure if Jeff feels the same way!


  1. Jeff, I think you meant you "popped" out of bed, no?

    Great story. Glad to read about it and not live it. Likewise, Paris.
    Love, MOM

  2. I love your blog and the amazing pictures. I can't wait until morning when I can show my daughters the pictures of the moor. We love The Secret Garden as well. I can just see Dicken playing out there with his animals. The pictures make me think of Jane Eyre as well. And I have to say that Jeff is pretty funny! He had my husband cracking up. Thanks for your great blog!

  3. Jeff, nice to read something from you too. I've really gotten a kick out of your GB experiences.

  4. Wow, Jeff, you need to write more often. And I'm REALLY glad you captured all the crazy details of that trip. Wow. Wow. Wow. You guys are troopers.



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