Pampered in Tenerife

the harbour in Las Galletas

the harbour in Las Galletas

It’s sometimes nice to balance out a ski vacation with a sun vacation, and its always nice to sit on a beach in warm weather, so Tenerife became an obvious next stop. It was also so cheap and easy to coordinate Andorra and Tenerife from Barcelona, where we spent 3 nights between our trip visiting old friends and some Icelandic acquaintances. I’ve visited other Icelandic people abroad, but its extremely rare to run into a stranger speaking Icelandic anywhere in the world. However, last time I was in Barcelona, I ran into a very good friend from Reykjavik at an empty nightclub on a Tuesday night, totally by chance.

beach of the Americas

beach of the Americas

Tenerife is the only place where this is likely to happen. In high season, there are 3 direct flights a week between Tenerife and Iceland, and statistics say around 180,000 Icelanders (which is half the population) visit the Canary Islands each year. We would be strolling along the seaside and hear Icelandic, sitting in a restaurant at a table beside some Icelanders, and get haggled by West Africans selling cheap watches with phrases in Icelandic! For some reason this totally blew my mind.

whale and dolphin scouting on our catamaran booze cruise

whale and dolphin scouting on our catamaran booze cruise

We hit Tenerife on the hottest January in years, which was actually the perfect temperature around the clock. We had shirtless days, dry and warm, and long pants but flip-flop kinda nights, with clear skies and little wind. We got around by foot in our little area, Playa de la Americas, taxi or bus to tourist sights and the airport, and rented a car one day to drive around the whole island. We could always find chilled rose wine and delectable tapas, though we stayed in a hotel with our meals included. Unlimited cava was served with breakfast, and at dinner we got too full on steaks and ribs to worry about lunch.

It was a wonderful ski vacation decompression, and an even better pre-trip therapy for my upcoming Middle East backpacking trip. So after swapping out my ski clothes for my skimpy beach clothes, I’m now carrying a backpack full of big, black clothes that I’ll need to handle the gulf sun a little more modestly.

 

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Skiing in Andorra

fresh powder

fresh powder in Grandvalira

I used to snowboard a lot when I lived in Vancouver, and Whistler haunted me this New Years when I was there for one short day and unable to ski. Skiing in Europe is also great, especially the Alps in France or Switzerland, but Andorra was my pick this year, since it´s easy to get to (2.5 hrs from Barcelona airport by bus), its super cheap (especially compared to Ski resorts in France), and as of November 2015 these Pyrenees peaks cover the biggest skiable area in Southern Europe (210km). Andorra is also a new country for me, bringing the total up to 173.

skiing under clear skies

skiing under clear skies

I was traveling with my amazing chef friend Thrainn, who works hard and plays even harder, so the trip was a party from start to finish. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel and Spa Resort in Grau Roig, where we had ski in and ski out privileges and breakfast delivered to our room every morning. Our room looked out over the slopes, and housekeeping left us little fudge chocolates on our pillow every night. Unfortunately, we had to fight a small bout of food poisoning the first day, but after enough visits to the spa and rehydrating with mimosas, we were in tip top shape on a mountain freshly covered in powder.

our hotel, Grau Roig

our hotel in Grau Roig

It snowed when we slept, so we spent our days under a bright blue sky working on our goggle tans. We played with his GoPro and my waterproof iphone case to take ridiculous photos in the snow, and managed not to injure ourselves in any way. Each day was a journey up and down the valleys, to the nearby villages of El Tarter, Soldeu, Encamp, Canillo or Pas de la Casa, and once we nearly didn´t make it back when a lift got stuck full of riders. And not making it back was a problem, since we discovered on our arrival day that no buses travel to Grau Roig and we had to walk 2 km through the darkness along a highway to check in. Thank God we didn´t run into any bears or wolves 😉

 

Photo Highlight: Polar Swim

I always love going to Nautholsvik whenever I'm in Reykjavik, no matter what time of year or no matter how cold it gets. This time it was -10°c.

I always love going to Nautholsvik whenever I’m in Reykjavik, no matter what time of year or no matter how cold it gets. This time it was -10°c.

A little dip in January in the freezing North Atlantic seemed like a good idea, until it came time to get in the water after walking barefoot and half naked across an icy beach

A little dip in January in the freezing North Atlantic seemed like a good idea, until it came time to get in the water after walking barefoot and half naked across an icy beach

Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

I went to Grenada in 2006, and could literally see the Grenadines, but somehow didn’t make it until this year. I went with my Guyanese mother, who traveled on her Canadian passport, and kept introducing me as her daughter from Iceland, yet I was traveling on my Guyanese passport… so everyone was a little confused, even us. Mom spoke with a West Indian accent, I spoke with a Canadian accent, but we knew everything about the roties and curries and pepper sauces so at least we were warmly accepted.

Sparrows beach on Union Island

Sparrows beach on Union Island

They have their own version of Africa’s TIA, and they call it ‘island time.’ You’d think it just refers to when things are late, but its also an excuse for things that never happen. As the ignorant westerner expecting things to run as they should, you hear alot of ‘don’t worry,’ ‘don’t stress youself’ or ‘everytings gonna be arite man.’ I wouldnt say I was ever in a rush, and I kind of embraced the island time livin,’ but it was a bit weird when we went to a Wine and Tapas restaurant that didn’t have wine or tapas… but they had rum punch, so everyting really was arite.

the only difficult decision is picking which palm tree to lay under.

the only difficult decision is picking which palm tree to lay under.

We were there a week, and island hopped from Barbados to St. Vincent in a plane, then ferried to Bequia and Union Island in the Grenadines. My so-called ‘uncle’ (its a term of respect for family friends but we’re not related) that I stayed with in Carriacou ten years ago had 27 children, and I though he was special, but I met a few other productive fathers. One guy, who I met on a rum-shop pub crawl, had nearly 20 brothers and sisters, and said he recently walked in on his father 95 years of age having sex. His mother had her last child at the age of 65, which isn’t impossible but still hard to believe.

At the northernmost part of Barbados

At the northernmost part of Barbados

St. Vincent makes an 85% rum called Sunset which could also be sold as lighter fluid or gasoline, which I discovered when our car ran out of gas on our rum shop tour. I ate conch curry for the first time, lots of amazing, fresh, sea food, and Guyanese rum and Cuban cigars were sold in nearly every corner store. Beaches and more beaches were the focus of our days, and fans and air-con the focus of our nights. I’ve always thought to be too cold is worse than being too hot, but there were definitely moments when I dreamed about being back in Whistler or Reykjavik in some fresh, frosty air, but now that I’ve left, I know those were just temporary brain lapses. Take me back to the sun please, even my skin is protesting from the lack of humidity.

Home for the Holidays

There’s no place like home, especially for the holidays, and even more so when you’ve got two places to call home. It sure was festive to be in the Holy land in the days leading up to Christmas, but arriving in Reykjavik on December 23rd to a white winter wonderland and -10°c couldn´t have felt better. The days were super short but the nights were lit up with Christmas lights, northern lights and starry skies. I stuffed my belly with traditional Icelandic Christmas food – my favourites being delicious smoked and boiled lamb leg and home-baked flat bread (´laufabrauð´ or leaf bread – try it!). Some other delicacies I avoided, like rotten sting ray (stay away from ´skata´), but of course i stuffed my face with Icelandic hot dogs, appelsin og malt (a mix of non-alcoholic malt and orange soda) and regular flatbread that´s best for breakfast with sliced lamb.

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

I flew to Seattle on Boxing day, where me and my best friend Mike celebrated by finishing half a dozen bottles of assorted whiskies in 2 nights. Then it was up to Vancouver to have a sister day and celebrating my older sister not getting married on December 29th (yes, it was a momentous occasion, the guy is a creep and doesn´t deserve even the small toe of Kristjana´s left foot). Grandma and mom have turned into very similar grumpy old women, but I guess it happens to most mothers when their kids don´t stick around to keep them young and cool or in the loop.

a friends dog at his cabin

a friends dog at his cabin

But anyway, this isn´t a food blog and my mouths watering, but I´ll emphasize again how refreshing, clean, crisp and amazing it was to have a really cold, wintery christmas, making the inside of any home or shop (and outdoor hottubs and public swimming pools too) feel ultra cozy and the festive feeling of evening last almost the whole day. I celebrated with Dad and his neighbour, where we mostly just exchanged chocolates as gifts, but I was thrilled to find some Christmas cards addressed to me in the mail box and small gifts from friends come popping up when they made appearances.

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

New Year´s was a real highlight, a reunion of UBC classmates in even snowier, cozier, whiter Whistler where we house partied like we were still freshmen. We lit firecrackers inside and outside of my friends cabin and drank way too many bad shots of bad tequila and gentleman´s jack, which makes a gentleman out of noone. My hangover lasted 2 days, which is a sign you´re getting old, but 3 days later I´m on a plane to the Caribbean to heal all wounds and work on my tan. A week of temperatures below zero is about all I can handle anyway.