London in November can be bleak: it’s dark, it’s wet, it’s cold and shops start putting up Christmas decorations even though Christmas is still a good 2 months away. You don’t have to live in London for that matter – most of Europe is cold, dark and wet, and all you want is to bury yourself under a warm blanket, a cup of steaming hot chocolate in hand.
For the past few years we’ve made sure to plan a winter getaway sometime between November and January. We’ve been to South Africa (coming up on the blog!), India, Iceland, the latter for a proper wintry experience rather than winter sun. Last year I was pregnant so we opted for Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, which turned out to be a perfect destination that offers a bit of everything: guaranteed November sunshine, the sea, mountains, good food and interesting art. So you won’t be surprised to hear that this year we headed to the Canaries again, looking for adventure and sunshine, but also a place that’s child-friendly.
You can’t go wrong with Tenerife. There are plenty of reasons why this largest of the Canary Islands is also the most visited. In fact it’s one of the most visited places in the world.
First of all, it is in the same latitude as the Sahara Dessert. However, the marine climate temperates the effects of the scorching sun. Summer temperatures oscillate between 24-28C and winters are around 18-24C, which is the reason why Tenerife is often described as the island of eternal spring.
Secondly, Tenerife offers a bit of everything to suit all tastes. The cooler and greener North boasts picturesque historical towns like La Laguna and La Orotava where you can sip coffee all afternoon long on sunny plazas.
The heart of the island is taken by magnificent volcanic mountains that make for a hiker’s paradise, including Teide, the highest summit in Spain.
The South is for the beach bums, with miles and miles of sandy beaches and sapphire waters, and for the active folks keen to try one of the adrenalin pumping sports like surfing, paragliding, jet skiing etc.
We may be sleep deprived parents of a hyperactive 7-month old, but we still have it in us…so we went paragliding.
Paragliding is one of those things many people put on their bucket list (‘Oh, I’d love to do THAT one day…’) and then never do. Well, when you are in Tenerife you will see so many paragliders that a nagging thought ‘I could do it too’ will not leave your head. So after a few days of looking up at the colourful spots in the sky we picked the phone and used my broken Spanish to arrange to fly the following day.
The next day we arrive at a slightly dubious looking car park that was indicated to us and we wait. And wait. And wait. Until finally I call to ask the instructor ‘donde esta’. He’s coming in ‘dos minutos’. 10 minutes later not one person, but two couples materialise and, to our great relief, they are French speaking Belgians plus a guy from Southern France. It’s always nice to be able to speak a familiar language when you’re doing something where miscommunication could potentially cost you your life, I think.
But right after comes the disappointment – we won’t be flying today, the wind is too strong. So we postpone for the next day and we spend the rest of the afternoon on the beach.
The following day the sky is a perfect blue and the wind seems to have subsided. We head to the same car park again and then drive up the mountain. It’s a hot day, but we’ve gained so much altitude that it’s actually quite chilly. All of a sudden this is starting to feel real. Go go, says the instructor, mindful of our allocated timeslot on the runway. I suddenly get cold feet and start making up excuses: the baby needs me, she is hungry… My husband won’t have any of this, and the instructor is urging me to put the harness on. So I let him and his wife put all kinds of belts, strings and buckles on me, as well as protective gloves and a helmet. I can’t help thinking how useless the helmet will be if we fall down from 1 km high…
The instructor tells me what to do. Apparently there is not much: when he tells you to run, you run. When he tells you to sit, you sit. And just before landing, he tells you to stand up and then run again. Pretty simple, huh?
Apparently we’re late and other people are already waiting. So the instructor adjusts the strings and gives me the command: run! I try to run, but can’t. The fabric wing behind me is heavy, and dragging me back. Luckily the instructor gives it a strong pull, and soon my feet are running in the void. We’re off, we’re flying!
It is surreal. I’m looking down to see my feet dangling over the mountain slope that’s getting further and further away. Soon we are gliding over trees and ravines, up into the cloudless sky. Up and up and up, 200m, 300m, 600m, 900m, 1200m. It’s intoxicating. I feel like Icarus reaching for the sky (but hopefully with a more positive outcome).
After a few minutes my nerves calm down and I can contemplate the stunning landscape, mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It is bliss. The sun rays are warming my face, a soft wind is ruffling my hair and there is no single sound to be heard, it’s total stillness. I fully concentrate on breathing. I see the island from a bird’s eye point of view. Resorts dotted with hotels, the motorway full of cars, greenhouses where bananas are grown, green golf fields, handkerchief-sized blue swimming pools next to posh villas. All this seems so tiny and inconsequential.
I wish the flight could last forever. But soon my guide starts to point out potential landing spots. One is very nearby, in case we don’t have enough altitude to cross the motorway. But we are high enough, so we are heading for the beach.
Do you like a bit of a spin?, asks the instructor and before I can give him an emphatic ‘no’ the ground becomes the sky and the sky the ground. We’re spinning, spinning, spinning, and I’m shouting, shouting, shouting. Once again I’m Icarus, about to hit the azure waters. But of course the guy has it in hand and soon enough we are smoothly gliding towards the beach.
There is just a narrow strip of black pebbles next to a cocktail bar and rows of parasols. There is a person under almost every parasol. Will we land on someone’s head?!
Stand up, says the instructor, and pulls the seat from under my bum. Once again my feet are dangling helplessly in the air.
The beach is getting closer and closer. Run! So I run, and in a split second we hit the ground. I feel my legs folding under me, but the instructor pulls me up, and I’m on my feet again. All around me people are clapping. We’ve landed.