challenge

After my first 6 months living in London, I’ve realized that, in this city, anything is possible.

London Eye, London, UK

London has more than just fog, pollution and this occasional drizzling rain in the air – there is something magical that has provided me some new skills to make my way around the city.

  • Precognition. Try being on a rush in Oxford Circus at 5:30pm on a Friday, and you’ll be sucked in avalanches of people running in and out of shops, packed with bags and with (apparently) no direction. In some cases, I even became part of a human mass – you know, the rock concert sort of mass, the one that makes you move to the right even though you’re fighting to go left. I used to be that person, but now I’ve been me with the power of foreseeing the (very) short term future – which I mainly use to predict other people’s moves. I might be on a hurry, but you will hardly ever see me bumping into someone anymore!
  • Camouflage. I’m a chameleon. I’ve always had this ability of blending in my immediate environment (this might be a reason why I’ve never been actually mugged as a tourist!). But the boroughs of London expect so much more from you – each of them offer such diversity that, at the beginning, it was hard not to feel a stranger even in your own neighborhood. I like living in East London with artists and hipsters that (purposely) mess up hair and have this characteristic vintage flair. But also enjoy working in stylish Mayfair that boosts boutiques and pretty tea houses. I now manage to blend in both opposed worlds.
  • Frost Proof. Ever since I moved out of the Canary Islands 10 years ago, I’ve been moving up north of the globe – the Spanish Peninsula, Germany, Switzerland and now England. Although Switzerland was probably the coldest place I’ve lived in, it was something I learned to live with because after all, you’d either dress up in a ski suit or sit next to a warm fire. Here in London, however, life continues despite the cold wind, snow or freeze. And by life, I mean, every aspect of it. People will still go to the pubs and drink outside to keep the smokers company. They’ll continue to run to work and/or back home. And will, under no circumstance, ditch an afternoon of shopping. So do I!
  • Teleportation. Well, ok. I can’t literally disappear from the crowded morning tube and appear on a sunny beach in French Polynesia and then shortly reappear at work with a golden sun tan (wouldn’t that be just incredibly nice?). What I can do is to evade my mind from being in a sticky hot tube with far too many layers on me, to Mexico, Brazil or even the English Country side – all thanks to my iPod!

Have you developed any superpowers while living abroad?

Rainbow after the Rain, London

I watch the news every morning while I’m having breakfast. I read the Economist on my bus ride to work. Once at my desk, one of my screens will shows the latest happenings in the economic and financial markets. Let’s say – I’m exposed to lots of new information, all the time. I love reading articles on new scientific discoveries or successful business cases. However, in current times, I find it increasingly difficult to spot some positive news.

With the thought of an eventual break-up of the euro, constant talks about a double-dip recession, Greece’s possible default, fears of Italy following (and being too big to be bailed our by its neighbors), top french banks being downgraded, I find it hard to keep my attitude positive.

Now that the euro zone is in a death spiral*, how can anyone remain optimistic?

I took the picture from my office on one of those miserable days filled with hopeless news. It reminded me that, in the same way that after the rain there will be a glowing rainbow; things will eventually get better – dark, wet and cold days won’t last forever.

*Source: The Economist, 9th of November 2011.

How do you say Goodbye to a place that has been your home for two years. A place that has taught you many things – that has seen you rise professionally, has seen you mature and become independent. That has helped you to discover youself and develop new hobbies.

Well you can’t, really.

Instead, I’ll give it a see you soon, and will think of all the things that have made my life here beautiful.

Lausanne, Switzerland

Waking up with the sun shining on my bed. Walking to the office in the morning. In flip flops. Pain au chocolat and croissants from my favorite bakery. The owners of the little portuguese grocery shop, that greet me every morning. Fighting for fresh fruits every monday and thursday at work. My boss (a lot). The smell of mate in the morning. The view of the Alps from the kitchen window. Being able to complain about some moron (and even being encouraged to do so). Learning a new latin american expression every week. My work colleagues. Our common love for delicious food. Convincing them to ditch the gym and go and have a gourmet burguer at Holy Cow instead (it’s in the same direction anyways). Home-made Chilean empanadas. The so-called business walks. Engineering our way through the city to take as little hills as humanly possible possible. Having lunch in the park. Lazy afternoons.

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Beautiful buildings and their romantic balconies. My safe, clean and quiet neighborhood. The fresh cut grass in the park. The careful and respectful drivers. The good faith of swiss people. Finding clothes and shoes in my size, even at the end of sales. Globus – and it’s Gourmet Supermarket. Saturdays street market. The cheese. The lebanese take away, which often gifted me with an extra dish or glass of wine, for free. The good taste of tap water. Making use of my french (now that I was finally picking up on the language!).

Crêpe in Lausanne, Switzerland

My apartment. The view from my bed. From my balcony. Sunbathing on my deckchair. My sun addiced neighbor (whenever I’m tanning, he’s too!) The Alps. The Lake. Sunsets from Vidy. Sailboats. The way in which the afternoon sun teints the Alps pink. My friends. BBQs at the lake until late at night. Drinking outside a bar on the pavement. Always meeting people I know in my usual pub. Always having a friend who’s up for a drink. Or a festival. Or a late night dinner. Eating too much raclette (and drinking even more wine). Cocktails at St Pierre’s (specially their custom made Bloody Mary), while playing board games on a rainy afternoon. Strawberry Vodka shots at Punk. The incredibly good looking swiss-french boys (who usually to sit or walk next to an incredible stylish and beautiful swiss-french girl). Walking everywhere, without worrying about safety.

Being so close to nature. The swiss railway. The demi-tarif, that got me moving around Switzerland always for half the price! The 10 minutes ride away to the vineyards in Lavaux. The 45 min ride to the nearest ski station. The snow (who would have said so!). People’s love for adventure. The crazy swiss who snowboard and ski down Lausanne’s steepest slopes. The way in which the city’s efficiency is not at all affected by the weather conditions. The charming little villages. How beautiful and peaceful the the streets look when they’re covered in snow.


I’m leaving on Wednesday. Until then, I’m making my best to visit, once more, my favorite places in the city, at my favorite meals and, specially, meet the friends I’ve met along my stay. Next time, I’ll be writing from London.

View Over Masca, Tenerife

I’m not afraid of flying, nor do I feel nauseous when I look down from the top of a skyscraper. But as I walked along the narrow uneven paths to Finca Guergues in Tenerife, I suddenly lost my confidence in equilibrium and felt an irrational fear of slipping and falling down the gorge.

I closely watched each step I took and balanced my body against the unpredictable wind that waited for us around each corner. I tried not to look down into the gorge. But I did – I was curious. I wondered how deep the gorge may be. I guessed 800 meters – with too any sharp-pointed rocks. I would never survive that fall, I thought. And at that moment, for a minute, I paralyzed.

Narrow Paths, Teno Mountains (Tenerife)

I had been there before – my heart beat accelerates, my breathing quickens and overall I feel tense.

The only thought that dominated my mind was falling. I continued walking, but with every step I felt insecure – I doubted each movement I made. Part of my fear was because of the rushing wind that pushed me towards the gorge. But another part was caused by myself – I just didn’t trust in my own feet.

Does this make any sense?

No. Not really.

My fear of falling is irrational, as are so many other fears and phobias. It only hits me some times – when I particularly feel unstable on the ground (because of the wrong footwear or strong winds, for example) and am standing on a narrow path next to a cliff or, in this case, a deep gorge with sharp-pointed rocks. And even then, I still manage to keep on walking.

Walking Teno Mountains, Tenerife

I know what you’re thinking: If I have a problem with narrow paths and am afraid of falling down – Why oh why do I keep on going to these places? Well, it’s two things: the spectacular views (when I dare to look) and the proud feeling of having accomplished a several hours hike with an additional challenge.

Do you have a phobia? How do you deal with it?

PS: If you think you can handle the path and height in the pictures above, then you might want to try out the scariest path I’ve ever seen – El Camino del Rey (Check out the video here!).

Practical Information

Route: From Casas Araza to Finca Guergues (Tenerife, Spain) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: not much, approx. 120m
Elevation gain downhill: 120m
Length: 7 km
Duration: 2 hrs
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (depending on the weather and how comfortable you are with nights!)
Wikiloc: If you feel like hiking a bit more, you can extend the route a bit more like this guy did:Finca Guergues.

I’ve been an expat for one and a half years now, and had never before sat down to clear my thoughts and feelings on living in Switzerland. It’s not my first time abroad. However, it’s the first time that I left my country without knowing when I’d be going back. I didn’t care about not knowing one single soul in the whole country, nor did I care about my lack of french knowledge. I hardly blinked when it came to leave the comfortable familiarity behind and dive into the unknown. I was going to conquer the World (or at least, Switzerland).

The truth is – culture shock hit me deeper than I thought. It’s not only about learning how to copy with different social norms – i.e. learning where to park my bike and where not to (something I unfortunately learned the hard way). Culture shock continues long after becoming familiar with my new life.

Honeymoon

Lavaux, Switzerland

The Honeymoon phase is full of excitement and euphoria. You feel you can grab the World in your hands and do whatever you want. Every day is a new adventure – new faces, a different restaurant, a hidden shop, a cute small side street with boulangeries selling the best baguette you have ever tried. The public transport is reliable, the city is peaceful, clean and safe and people are kind and respectful.

You smile while you walk. Life is good. Actually, scratch that – life is amazing. You are so glad you chose to move and can’t imagine life any other way.

Frustration

Vevey, Switzerland

The shine starts to fade away. You realize that there are actually less than 5 bars where you can go to – either because of the crowds or because of the prices. It’s the fourth time you try asking for a glass of water with your coffee and you receive an arrogant look from the waiter. Maybe even a clueless arrogant look. You’re grammatical mistakes bothers them, and having to repeat the same word 10 times upsets you, too. You go to a hairdresser and come out with a messy cut (that doesn’t resemble a tiny bit what you initially had in mind) and realize that this trend disaster has left you completely broke.

At this point, you start to get familiar with the disadvantages of living abroad. You feel alone and misunderstood, disillusioned, frustrated and angry. Why did you ever even think this move would be a good idea?

Understanding

Water Fountain, Lausanne (Switzerland)

After a while, things start to look brighter – you are adjusting to your new home country. Those things that used to annoy you, are now small and insignificant. You start to see the advantages of having an early start on Saturdays and venture into new activities you never thought you enjoy before. You have set a routine and feel comfortable with it.

You understand the cultural differences with your home country and are learning how to deal with them.

Biculturalism

Sunset in Lausanne (Switzerland)

Although I have adopted some local habits and am adjusting to the new culture, I still don’t feel that I belong here – I feel like a foreigner. I guess the main reason for this is my ridiculous lack of french skills. I truly need to work on that! I envy those that have become bicultural – they are aware of where they came from but have fully embraced swiss culture. They never feel out-of-place.

This phase that takes a lot of understanding and an open mind.

Note: At the point of writing this post, I was in living in Switzerland experiencing the third phase – Understanding. Five months later, I was transferred to London. I have fond memories of living in Switzerland and hope to move back again in the future. Maybe this means that I finally did reach biculturalism – despite my french!

A friend came to visit me in Tenerife and, to break the touristic routine, I planned to go on an easy hike – maybe 3 hours. After all, Tenerife has beautiful hidden paths with amazing views, and tiny villages that offer fresh fish for half the price as any bigger and more touristic town on the island. Following some basic research, we decided on hiking from Afur to Taganana – A hike that was signalized as being between 3 and 3 and a half hours – spot on with our dreamy idea of a walk in the green. Right.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

The hike trail starts by going down the Barranco de Tamadiste (a ravine). This was relatively easy. We even came across some fellow hikers who apparently did this every week. After approximately 3km descent, we arrived at a small beach – reaching our first waving point. As tempting as the water may seem on a hot day, I don’t recommend going for a swim. This part of Tenerife is known for having very strong currents.

The trail then continues to the right, on a strongly pronounced ascent until you reach 120m above the sea. The path goes along the edge of the coast, providing hikers with rewarding views of Anaga and Los Roques de Anaga. At some times, the trail was very narrow, and we had to literally grab ourselves to the rocks and not look down – the cliffs went straight down from around 140m height. Nothing suitable for anyone afraid of heights! This was also the reason for which I have rather few pictures of this trail (I was too busy not falling into the ocean!). But I did take one picture that may just sum up the whole trail along the coast side:

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After 7kms walking along the coast and small plantations and gardens, we finally arrived to upper part of Taganana. It was only another 20-30 minutes walk down to arrive at the beach, when a kind local woman came out of her home to greet us. We told her where we came from and our plans for the rest of the day which ended with an optimistic “… and then we get the bus back to Afur“. Turns out – There was no bus back to Afur, not even near Afur. “Well… then we’ll take a cab“, we hesitated. No cabs in Taganana either. Oh dear.

The local woman advised us that the quickest way back to Afur was walking back over the mountains. At this point, I wanted to cry (did I tell you it was way past lunch time?). If things weren’t bad enough already – it was also starting to get cold and suspiciously looking like it was going to start pouring down any minute.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

So… we walked back to Afur over the mountain. For another 2 hours. I was frustrated and desperately hungry, but as we reached the top of the mountain, I started to feel proud and excited about what we had achieved. The views paid back all the breathless, waterless and foodless moments along the way.

Hiking from Afur to Taganana in Tenerife (Spain)

After about 6 hours, we were back at the start – just in time to drive back home, get a shower and work ourselves through the entire menu of one of my favourite restaurants La Rosa di Bari.

Lessons learned during my first real hike experience?

  • You can’t always trust the estimated walking hours you find at the start of a trail (or on the internet). Unless you are an expert hiker, I would recommend to add up to one hour more.
  • Wear the right footwear. This does not include flip-flops and gym trainers. I didn’t wear hiking boots but simple gym trainers and thought this would be enough. However, the sole was too flat, which made it particularly slippery.
  • Take hiking sticks with you. You may think these sticks are unnecessary, but they really come handy when walking along steep paths.
  • Be prepared for anything. We just had 1 L of water with us, to be shared among 3. We managed to refill twice on the way, but it wasn’t enough (specially on the way back). We didn’t have food because we had planned to eat fish at the beach, and consequently spent 6 hours suspiciously eyeing wild life and ground mushrooms.
  • Prepare your return. It would have been wise to research the best way to go back from Taganana to Afur after walking the 4 hours.

Practical Information

Route: From Afur to Taganana (via Playa Tamadite) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 697m
Elevation gain downhill: 697m
Length: 12 km
Duration: 5.5 – 6.5 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate (steep ascent up to La Cumbrilla)
Wikiloc:From Afur to Taganana.