Sun, Sea and Self-care

Dilemma: You’ve got several holidays from work to use up by the end of the month but no one else can take the time off. What do you do?

My options were to sit watching the inevitably miserable Scottish weather through my flat windows like a Rom Com scene after the protagonist lovers have had a tiff; or to go on holiday alone.

Go abroad alone? I’d never done such a thing, and neither have most of my friends. I know a lot of people do it, but in my small world, it was a rather alien concept.

After multiple traumatic occurrences involving my family over the past few months, I’ve felt as if my normal self has absconded into the distance, leaving a more fragile, fragmented version roaming aimlessly in her wake. I felt it was time to catch her up and start gluing my pieces back together. Thus, it felt wrong to hold myself back from a much-needed stint in the sun all because I’d be alone.

So I did it. I went to Gran Canaria solo. Six nights in Las Palmas por mi cuenta. Just me, myself and my overactive mind. It sounds like the start of an interesting adventure (more like a disaster waiting to happen!), doesn’t it?

Excited but undoubtedly anxious, I waited in the hallway of my building until my phone vibrated in my hand with the alert of the taxi’s arrival. It was literally sub-zero in Glasgow on that early Sunday morning at the beginning of March – there was no way I was going to wait outside.

“On your own?” my taxi driver exclaimed, clearly shocked. “Oh, I couldn’t do that!”

I felt a pang of nerves, a niggle of stupidity and a little glimmer of pride. Was I making a huge mistake? If this grown man, ages with my own parents, wouldn’t do this solo trip, was I, a twenty-something lone female, daft to be doing so? Or did this make me brave and strong to be venturing out on my own? Plenty of other people did it, and to much further, more exotic places for much longer periods of time, so surely it wasn’t as big of a deal as he and many others had made it sound?

Other than the ridiculously long queue at security in Glasgow Airport and being patted down (honestly, I must look like a drug smuggler or some weirdo who’d traffic exotic reptile eggs in their socks because they ALWAYS pick me to frisk) as my hand luggage sailed along the conveyor belt, the journey was thankfully rather uneventful.

My nerves began to ease as we touched down with a bump at Las Palmas airport. The bright, warm sun caressed my face as I stepped out of the aircraft; a foreign sensation that’s universally known to confirm you’re officially on holiday. The other passengers and I powered through the airport, locator forms and passports at the ready, and then the race to find a good spot near the luggage carrousel commenced.

A couple of hours later, I was queueing in a sophisticated reception area at my hotel, The Bull Astoria, ready to check in. As I was travelling solo and as my room was advertised to only sleep one person, I was pretty much expecting it to be like Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive; or for it to be where they stored the mops and buckets with a camp-bed crammed into the back corner. To my surprise, the room was lovely – spacious with twin beds pushed together, and with a TV too. At long last, I dumped my belongings, changed and ventured out to discover what the local area had to offer.

After a short period of sunbathing (rather unsuccessfully thanks to the aggressive breeze and the creepy old git in speedos who was blatantly leering at me and other women nearby every single time I turned around – so flagrantly that he didn’t even bother to look away whenever I glared right at him), I took a quick stroll along the very windy Las Canteras Beach late in the afternoon. I noticed a few odd-looking blue blobs stranded on the sand and a couple mashed into the rocks, so I snapped a couple of photos to research when I got back to my hotel. After some in-depth Googling, the blue blobs were most likely to be Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish, which can be very dangerous due to the neurotoxins in their excessively long tendrils. Oddly enough, I suddenly lost all desire to swim in the sea.

I eventually gave up wrestling my hair away from my face and rubbing sand out of my eyes and headed to the supermarket, Super Dino, to pick up some holiday essentials – Lays crisps and cans of Fanta Lemon, obviously.

After breakfast the next morning, I wandered down to the opposite end of Las Canteras beach which I hadn’t explored yet. After a brief browse round the large shopping centre, I hopped in a taxi to the old town in Las Palmas called Santa Ana. I sauntered through the beautiful old streets, taking in the traditional Canarian wooden balconies, and occasionally referring to Google maps to check my bearings. I strolled towards the famous Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Ana) and paid to go up to the tower for a breath-taking panoramic view of the surrounding areas. I skipped the unmoving queue for the lift which seemed to be M.I.A. and took on the spiralling stairs. Despite my legs’ protest, the endless winding stairs were worth it. As it happens, J-Lo (yes, J-Lo!) had been filming a movie, a thriller called ‘The Mother’, in Gran Canaria. It turns out the square outside the Cathedral was cordoned off for the purpose of the movie. If only she’d been there too! As unfortunate as it was that I didn’t meet an idol, it’s probably for the best that the legend herself wasn’t there so I at least left with my dignity somewhat intact. (I was still the nature nerd trying to follow the parakeets around to capture a good photo…no shame).

An issue when you are travelling alone is getting photos of nice places with you actually in them.

Travel Tip: The secret is to offer to take a photo of others who are together so they can all be in their picture, and this often prompts them to offer to return the favour. Although, it obviously only works when there are other people around to participate…

I continued strolling around past the orange trees planted along the streets, treated myself to a lemon sorbet as I watched the green parakeets soaring around, and enjoyed soaking up the good weather and the relaxed way of life. I reckon I could easily get used to life with a permanent summer and daily siestas.

My next adventure was the following day when I ventured further out from the city to a rural area called Bandama. I decided to hike around the edge of the Caldera de Bandama (a volcanic crater!) and walked up the highest peak – Pico de Bandama. Avoiding deciphering which buses to get (Google kept changing its mind), I jumped in a taxi to the bus station and got the bus to Bandama from there. My rookie mistake was disembarking too early after reasoning I should get off at the same place as the girl who boarded in front of me at the bus station because she also said ‘Bandama’… The realisation that it was the wrong stop tackled me when no other passengers vacated the bus, but I’d already stood up. Panicking, I felt I’d committed to it and was too embarrassed to return to my seat so off I got. On the bright side, the weather was nice and there only appeared to be one road ahead for me to follow. (The girl I followed off the bus took a narrow pathway winding downhill through some farmland so even my directionally-challenged self was sure I was not supposed to go that way).

As I meandered up the hill taking in the stunning views, some rogue chickens emerged from the bushes and began to cross the road to follow me. Showing absolutely no fear, one of them came right up beside me and posed for a photo shoot, displaying his vibrant colours. I imagine most people would find this odd, but the nature-lover in me was ecstatic for the random, close encounter. The drivers who happened to pass my chicken posse and I were also in for some intriguing sights as the chickens continued to saunter across the road – curious and unfazed by the vehicles – still keenly following me. Hats off to the all of the drivers for stopping and not turning them into roadkill – I hope they got a chuckle from the comical view of me giggling to myself as the chickens continued to follow me on the road to Bandama.

I was in my element as the sun came out for a chunk of the afternoon as I hiked around the volcanic crater, stopping frequently to take photos and to search in the undergrowth for the lizards creating the non-stop scuttling sounds as they scurried around.

Once I’d completed the circle of the crater, I strolled up the winding road to Pico de Bandama – the highest peak of that volcanic formation – for a surround view.

Upon my return, I stopped at the little café at the bottom for a nice cold Fanta Lemon (because let’s face it; it really is the ultimate holiday juice – everyone knows it tastes better abroad). I also had a fair wait for the next bus back to the bus station and wanted to use the toilet (we all know that hospitality places are very over-protective of their toilets if you’re not a paying customer!).

Back at the bus station, I again had no idea which bus I should be getting back towards my hotel, I found another taxi rank and clambered in. For the sake of a few Euros, it really did spare me some unnecessary stress and anxiety. For some reason, I found situations like that a little more intimidating on my own. I suppose the fear of getting lost in a foreign country, especially where their native tongue is different from yours, is quite an understandable concern, particularly as a lone female.

During my holiday, an easy way to spot the tourists was to seek out the people in shorts and T-shirts – a lot of the locals stuck to jeans even in the twenty-two-degree heat; several were wearing jackets and one young woman even walked past me with a picnic-blanket-sized winter scarf on! I’ll admit though, at night, I mostly stuck to jeans and always wore a light cardigan or jumper because the coastal breeze made it feel quite chilly. One night, I deliberately got ready earlier in the hopes of catching the sunset from the promenade at Las Canteras beach. For obvious reasons, I was not disappointed.

For the remainder of the holiday, I had developed a mild cold and also felt I hadn’t spent much time just relaxing so I decided against anymore adventures out-with walking distance from my hotel. There was still plenty to explore, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking along the beaches and the promenade looking out to sea anyway.

First thing in the morning on my last day, I dragged myself up and power-walked to Playa de las Alcaravaneras Beach to watch the sunrise. It doesn’t do it justice to say it was beautiful or spectacular. I may have been tired, but I was incredibly grateful to witness such a breath-taking sight before I had to dive back into reality.

Finally, my time to leave the sunshine arrived. I braced myself for the stress of the journey home and began to mentally prepare for the return to normality, which I really wasn’t feeling ready for. I arrived back at Las Palmas airport via minibus to realise that there was no queue at either the check-in desk or security. I was impressed with how slick the process was – until I realised I then had almost two hours to kill before they even displayed the departure gate, and all of the seating areas were rather busy. After a brief jaunt through the duty-free shops, I found myself a quiet spot on the floor next to a pillar with a charging port. I gazed out at the beaming sunshine through the tinted floor-to-ceiling airport windows, longing to be back out by the sea, absorbing the rays. I missed it already. I missed the Fanta Lemon and the Lotus ice cream cones, and I already missed the liberty of having very little to worry about and no responsibilities.

However, once I was seated on the plane, I hit the next phase of the end-of-holiday emotions: I was fed up with the travelling fiasco and was ready to get home and to sleep in my own bed again. Plus, for all of us Brits, and especially us Scots, I was simultaneously dreading the temperature that would punch me as I stepped off the plane back in wintry Glasgow.

Again, another almost seamless flight (thanks to some exciting bouts of turbulence) with the added bonus of having the window seat and being able to embrace the Canary Islands’ and all their beautiful glory from a birds-eye view. It really puts into perspective how massive Mount Teide on Tenerife is!

All-in-all, my first solo abroad adventure was great, and I’d definitely do it again; but I do prefer having company. You can’t beat having someone to laugh with, or sharing a sunset or a nice meal with your friends or family. When these magical moments are shared with the ones you love, they just have that extra special sparkle, and I did feel that void.

My advice is: If you want to visit new places and no one can accompany you, you should absolutely go for it if you feel safe and comfortable enough to do so. You may have a different experience than if you had friends with you, but you won’t regret it if you’ve got your wits about you and if you make the most of your situation.

I stumbled upon a quote online about travelling, for which I believe the source is unknown, and it got me thinking:

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Only, this time, I think I was partially travelling to escape life. Reality has been very harsh over the past few months and now the dust has somewhat settled, I needed out. I needed a break from the worry, the sadness, the grief, and the true reality that life is different now. I am different now. I think the break helped in some ways; but I also reckon that unexpectedly testing positive for Covid-19 on the night of my return and therefore enduring a week of isolation confined to my bedroom also undid some of the relaxation. I definitely ended up with more solitude than I bargained for!

I did leap out of isolation with a new desire for a social life – a feeling which had deserted me for the majority of the past few months; and something that hadn’t been quite possible throughout that time either. It made seeing my friends and family that weekend that little bit more precious.

May the remainder of 2022 bring you all more adventure, safety and the ability to satisfy your wanderlust to make up for all which we were robbed of over the past two years.

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