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Volunteering in the Canary Islands – Tenerife First Impressions

Volunteering in the Canary Islands – Tenerife First Impressions

In Solomon Islands, few people know where the Canary Islands is, let alone to point it out on a map. I, for one, have heard of, but never paid much attention to these islands collectively known as the Canary Islands just off the coast of Africa. To me, there is zero possibility I will ever set foot in the Canaries, even though, I had always wanted to visit Spain in general.

So when the Sending Organization told me I’m going to Tenerife, I had to do a lot of research. Intense research. I wanted to prepare myself for the trip. But, I must say, all that research did not prepare me at all.

It was a long journey. Two days on a plane flying thousands of miles across the ocean to Tenerife. I barely slept. Too nervous to sleep, I guess. My first time to fly out of the Pacific and to Europe in general, I knew I was heading to Spain, but that didn’t quite sink in until I boarded the plane for Tenerife and the flight attendant greeted me in full speed Español. I slept on the four hours and some minute flight from London to Tenerife; the final leg of the journey. I was super tired and thankful to be on the last flight.

Online, the place was beautiful. In reality, it was paradise. I flew in from London, and as we were hovering up in the sky, preparing to land, I noticed an island with lights glowing into the night in one corner of an island. I had thought that was Tenerife and breathed a sigh of relief because it looked small (I found out later it was another island). But the plane turned and what I saw was majestic. The lights glowed golden, streaming down the side of a mountain, or mountains, I should say, and the glow of the setting sun hugging the mountains. It was the most peaceful welcoming one could get. Almost instantly, the doubts flew out the window and there was certain calm, a sort of reverence for the place, sinking in. That moment will always be one of my favourite memories of Tenerife.

As I walked with the throng of passengers into the airport to collect our luggage, I noticed everything was in Espanol (and no translation), though the terminal wasn’t intimidating as the ones in Hong Kong and London. I was surprised though to see immigration was two men in a glass box. No questions were asked. But it did take awhile for them to find my name in the system (well, that was what I assumed from their actions), which made me nervous again. And there was the thought of finally meeting Santa and Yoli. I’m not good with meeting people. I find it extremely awkward. Like, should I shake hands or just say hello? If they kiss to greet, is it a kiss on the cheek or two kisses on both cheeks? The Sending Organization did mention that they greet each other and others (me) on both cheeks. So when I was making my way out, I was seriously worried about the ´kisses´. Santa (the project coordinator) and Yoli (my mentor) waited for me outside. They were screaming Hola and Santa was waving a little Solomon Islands Flag which was awesome! I, off course, gave a show of hands, even though Santa tried to hug me. But off course, we ended up hugging minus the kisses. When we made it to David´s place, where I was temporarily accommodated, I received the kiss on both cheeks as a welcome, after a handshake off course.

The next two days were spent walking around with my mentor in and around La Laguna and Santa Cruz. I observed that the people are generally friendly and helpful. On my first day to work, I travelled alone to Santa Cruz by the Tranvia. I had to get off at Cruz Del Senior. On the way, my phone died. I couldn’t text the project coordinator to come get me. I was panicking and thought omg, what will I do. I went into a cafeteria and though they didn’t understand Ingles (English), we used sign language to communicate and they charged my phone. I was really nervous. With every sign in Espanol and generally, rare to meet someone who speaks Ingles (English), it is scary to travel alone in a big city, where you just don’t know where you’re going. But so far, I’ve made it and been travelling alone on the Tranvia for the past four days to and from work. So congratulations to me.

And I love how everyone’s ready and willing to correct you and/or tell you the Spanish word for this and that. Makes learning Espanol fun! I did check out three children´s books (in Espanol) from the library. Kinda funny, how it’s been years since I’ve read children’s book and now I’m reading three in Espanol!

Breakfast or a snack is usually at 11am and lunch is at 3pm which is kinda weird for me, but it does work well with the schedule, I guess. There is no concept of evening, only morning or afternoon. Generally, they say we’ll meet in the afternoon and it can mean 8pm. To say hello and to say goodbye takes more than 15 minutes, can go up to an hour. People love the companionship of socializing in groups over food and beer. I observed that people here liked their food with beer, which is totally new to me, eating and drinking beer at the same time. If they’re drinking wine and food, then yeah that won’t be so surprising! Its all about the food and beer here. But beer and food, man, my first time, I had stomach cramps… No need for details HAHA. I tried Clarita, a Canarian beer. Its beer mixed with lemonade. It has a very strange taste; it wasn’t bad, just strange. I have never thought about mixing beer with lemonade or any other drinks in general. I have a new favourite coffee which is Canarian Coffee, I’ve been told, you can’t find it anywhere except in the Canary islands, not even mainland Spain! It’s called Barraquito and its sweet, not too sweet though, and creamy. I’ve had this coffee for the four consecutive days now! I am not going to comment on the food. Everything I’ve tried, me gusta (I like), so no bad experience with food so far.

My first volunteer experience was going with David to pull out a certain plant that has been growing wild in the area. This plant suffocates the other local plants which pose a danger to the plants endemic to the Canary Islands. After the rather tiring but fulfilling work, everyone went in a local bar and had beer and food. I didn’t understand the conversation around me, but I felt comfortable and at ease. I learnt a lot of Spanish phrases which is helpful, especially now that I’ve moved into a flat! I have a very good feeling about these five long months I’ll be here and I’m certainly looking forward to new experiences. My first week, I have gone through some rare, funny and nervous situations, but I have learnt a lot from the people, my mentors and the coordinator. I have experienced, done things and been to soooooo many places in a week! I can write so many things about this first week, but only one word will sum this first week experience: Comfortable!

Amor, Junita.

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About Junita

I am an islander with a passion for gender equality, youth and community development. I am a spontaneous adventurer! I would love to travel around the world one day, to learn about different cultures and way of life as opposed to mine, to broaden my perspective and how I percieve the world around me. I believe perseverance makes all things possible. Life is a boat ride. Sleep easy. Dream big. Think big. Start doing. Soldier on. At the end of the day, give me a book, I am lost in its universe.

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