Today’s Expat Story is from my friend Linda, who moved to the Canary Islands (which are off the Atlantic coast of Morocco, but a province of Spain) from England over 25 years ago. After you read it, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that maybe we should all consider heading to the islands for the next season of our lives! The photo below is of Linda’s current “office.” Let’s all go tomorrow, shall we?
Expat Story: Canary Islands
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I’m from England originally, but that feels like another lifetime now. In October I moved to the second smallest of the Canary Islands, La Gomera, on the westerly side of the archipelago, but before that I lived on “the big island” Tenerife for 26 years. I moved there with my ex when my kids were still very young, so they grew up in this wonderful climate. My ex was in real estate and there were lots of opportunities here then, selling to Brits with money to spare, so he was game. For my part, I’d always wanted to experience other cultures and live abroad, so I would have gone just about anywhere! We’ve been divorced for a lot of years now, but I decided to stay in Tenerife because it was home to my kids, and there seemed little point in uprooting them at that stage. Once my nest emptied I went on working to try to collect enough social security contributions to qualify for a pension here, but that didn’t work out, thanks to the Spanish system which doesn’t recognize a husband’s contributions as joint if the wife is a homemaker. I couldn’t get a work permit when we first arrived, though with the EU that’s all changed now, of course. Somewhere along the line we acquired a dog, who is quite elderly now, so it’s just me and her. I’d always planned to go off around the world when my nest emptied, but between the lack of pension and the dog that has only happened so far in dribs and drabs, not the long, gypsy-style journey I’d hoped for. That’s why I decided to travel around the islands, because I can bring my dog with me, and if I stay long enough in a place it counts as a long-term rental, and not an expensive holiday-let.
What has surprised you about living abroad? Or what is something that has been difficult that you did not anticipate?
In a personal sense nothing about the Canary Islands or Spain surprised me really. I felt very relaxed here from the start. I often (even after so long!) rail against the mañana syndrome. It definitely exists, though I certainly wouldn’t want to imply that every Canarian is that way, not by a long chalk, but the levels of anticipating customers’ needs, planning for a “worst case scenario,” or assuming responsibility are disappointing still. That said, I appreciate that once life becomes slicker, then the delightful, relaxed ambience might go with it. The thing that really did surprise and shock me, though, is the supercilious attitude of many British expats, which might not be so bad if they made an effort to integrate or understand, but most don’t.
What new tradition or habit do you want to take away from your present home? Why?
The siesta! My energy levels are high mornings and evenings, so taking a break in the afternoon fits in with my natural biorhythms perfectly!
If a friend came to visit you, what would you take them to see?
1. The Garajonay National Parque: a World Heritage site and one of the last, remaining laurisilva forests. Millions of years ago these forests covered the whole Mediterranean area, it’s living history, also very beautiful, moss-laden trees, dappled sunlight etc – and abounds with myths and legends.
2. On a boat trip to see whales and dolphins. A pod of pilot whales lives year round in the waters between Tenerife and La Gomera, and it’s rare not to spot a dolphin or two, or a whole pod of course, if you’re out on the water. The trips from Tenerife tend to be more for fun, “booze” cruises, but from La Gomera they’re less commercialised.
3. Assuming that my friend is already staying with me, in what I think is the most beautiful part of the island, I’d take them to Valle Gran Rey, where amazing hillsides of palm trees and man-made terraces guard the way down to the ocean, where there is a small, neat resort, the word old-fashioned comes to mind. The swimming is safe and great there, unlike some of the other rocky places with strong currents round the island. The island really is a series of what must once have been hidden valleys.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to live abroad one day?
I haven’t the slightest doubt, and to nick from Nike – just do it! If you’re even thinking about it, then you’ll love discovering all the things which make us different, but more importantly all the things which unite us. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily right for everyone, but if it is for you, get out there as young as you can, the world is HUGE and diverse!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Linda! You can follow Linda’s travels on her blog, Island Mama. I met Linda on my tour of Ireland, and she wrote a beautiful piece about our time there. A treasure!
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