Monday, 26 May 2014

How Big Is Your Mountain?

Every once in a while, we cross paths with someone who changes our outlook on life. The change can be subtle or monumental, and often the person responsible has no idea of their influence. For Alex and I, such an occurrence took place whilst visiting our new favourite Canary island, Fuerteventura.

Gran Tarajal marina is small, but well protected and full of friendly locals

Our arrival in Gran Tarajal went very smoothly. We entered the small marina and were directed to a berth by a security guard, whereby we were immediately surrounded by friendly locals ready to take our lines. As the light was beginning to fade, we secured Firebird and then took our documents to the office, before retiring to bed for some much needed rest. The following day, we were pleasantly surprised by the temperature, which felt a good deal warmer than Lanzarote. Perhaps it was the absence of the persistent wind that we had become so accustomed to in Arrecife. It made the task of cleaning Firebird far more enjoyable than usual, which resulted in her looking better than ever!

Firebird glistens after a good clean, in her Gran Tarajal berth

It's funny how warmth and sunshine can make life seem so much better. Alex and I felt revived by our new environment, and headed for a much deserved shower. The shower blocks at the marina are very clean and well appointed but, sadly, have no hot water. That being said, having a cubicle with a roof makes a huge difference to comfort levels and I can honestly say that this was the nicest cold shower I have experienced yet.
Alex is down with the kids, wearing his baseball cap backwards

We had just over a week in Gran Tarajal before needing to make our way to Tenerife, and during this time we really fell for the place. The town is not too large but has everything you might need, with many shops including a chandlery, a "Casa de Cultura" that has desks and free WiFi, a fruit and veg market on a Friday morning and a wide selection of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Aside from the practical elements, Gran Tarajal is fronted by a sheltered bay with gorgeous clear blue water and long sandy beach, which serves as a focal point as well as a playground for locals and tourists alike.

Stocking up at the local fruit and veg market

On days when the waves roll in, the promenade is filled with tanned teenage boys putting on wetsuits and heading for the water with their boards, whilst their female counterparts lap up the sun around them. On calmer days, the beach becomes the main attraction, transforming into a sandy playing field. From football and volleyball to gymnastics and tumbling, as well as the next generation of young architects building structures from sand before undermining their foundations with buckets of seawater. It is a joy to watch youths of all ages spending time outside, enjoying their surroundings and the company of their friends and family. On one occasion, we walked along the seafront and wondered why there was nobody in the water, given the surf looked rather good. We then noticed signs placed along the beach warning of "medusas" in the water. Now that is a Spanish word I won't forget, as what a wonderfully descriptive translation it is for jellyfish!

The bay attracts a couple of anchored yachts and surfers

Even the town itself is pretty, with colourful buildings and well maintained parks and squares. Benches strategically placed under luscious palm trees provide a perfect, shady place to watch the world go by. A unique feature of Gran Tarajal is the dozens of painted murals that can be spotted around the place. Many of them are nautically themed, and they are all very well drawn and interesting to look at. A particular favourite of Alex's is one depicting Rapido, who is a little fishing vessel that is berthed near us in the marina. Both Rapido and his portrait are sporting a shining red livery and appear to emanate a contented, warm glow.

Rapido, on the beach and in the harbour

Whilst in the marina, we got to know a Belgian gentleman called Bernard, who has a long history with boats and is incredibly interesting to spend time with. We spent a lot of time socialising aboard his boat, as well as inviting him over to dine with us on Firebird, and got to know him very well. We were intrigued to hear about his travels, which have taken him all over the world, as well as learning about the modern social and political issues that exist within his Flemish homeland. As with many of the sailors we meet, Bernard was of the opinion that most people in this day and age do not actually have time to enjoy their lives, so busy are they working to earn, to spend, to save, to repay; working hard to afford luxuries that they have less and less time to enjoy. Some of his thoughts and opinions came across as quite conspirational, but we found them very interesting and it gave us something to think about, that's for sure.

A Punch and Judy show entertains adults and children alike in the town square

However, it was a single concept about consumerism that struck a chord with us; one that was expressed so articulately and really made us question how our existence will impact the world we live in, at the most basic level. Bernard was talking about his friends and family who reside in Belgium, holding down very respectable jobs, with their company phones, company cars and healthy salaries. He spoke of the way so many people upgrade to a new car, new phone, new gadgets, long before the existing one really needs replacing. Of course, we are all guilty of it - companies promote us to do so at every opportunity, and the build quality of products these days can often encourage us to upgrade, as niggly problems emerge and signs of wear and tear appear. It's considered so normal, that I had never really thought much about it before now. That was until Bernard introduced us to the concept of our mountain.

Some more examples of the pretty murals that can be found around Gran Tarajal

He spoke of a relative, who has had so many new cars, phones, televisions, etc. and said that "the mountain he is leaving behind will be enormous!" The way he explained it made so much sense - I could picture the size of the pile that would be created by this man, if every time he bought something new, he placed the old object in his garden. Before I had chance to be judgemental, I began thinking about my own mountain. How would that look? I have never bought a car from new, but I must have owned some 15 or so cars in my relatively short driving history - did I really need to replace them? Certainly, only a handful went to the scrapyard - I can only hope that most of the materials from them were recycled and didn't make it to landfill. Mobile phones and computers; now I have certainly had a fair amount of them from new. Did I replace them before getting the most amount of use from them? Almost certainly. The more I think about it, the larger my mountain grows.

Another mural, depicting a camel as an island

Of course, I could do what is quite natural to do in this situation - blame someone else for my mountain. I would have had no need to buy a new phone if Nokia had not released a new model with a camera built into it, making my old one seem inadequate. But as I thought about it more, I realised that I already had a camera - why on earth did I need my phone to take pictures too? Aha, perhaps it was a good move actually, to combine multiple devices into a single super device - that will surely help my mountain! But, really, will it? Will there ever be an end to the production line of new phones, new features, new devices, that we all excitedly upgrade to ever year or two? We can recycle our old phones, of course, which helps reduce our mountain a little... but how many mobile phones does the world need? And this is just one area of our mountain - what happens when we start to add our cars, clothes, toys, packaging, food waste; the list goes on and on.

No packaging on these oddly shaped carrots!

When we begin to consider it in earnest, it really is quite sobering. And, so you see, with this image in mind, Alex and I are now constantly reminding ourselves of the size of our mountain. A few less paper towels here, a reusable shopping bag there - we have been discussing whether buying clothes from a charity shop would offset against the new clothes we have previously purchased, or could actually make our mountain smaller. Imagine if we could eventually reduce our mountain to nothing, through reusing items that would have otherwise gone to waste! We are thinking about whether our purchases can be recycled, whether they will bio-degrade or rust to nothing, or whether they will just sit in our mountain for hundreds of thousands of years... a broken, plastic legacy of a life well lived.

A view of the seafront, with a striking swordfish mural

And, so you see, just one simple conversation can have a profound affect on our lives, whether we realise it or not at the time. I have no grand aspirations to leave this world having achieved any greatness in terms of inventing the wheel, curing cancer, winning wars - I have inherited my dad's desire to simply leave the world a little bit better than when I found it. With that in mind, I go forward with this new outlook, really questioning everything I consume and whether it is a necessary, worthwhile purchase. Will it really make my life that much better, or can I do without it? Is it worth spending a little bit more to get something that lasts, rather than replacing poor quality goods at a rate of knots? There are many considerations, for sure, but no matter where in the world we are or what we are doing, there are always ways that we can reduce the size of our mountain.