Archive for February, 2011

Celebrating, walking and waiting

Posted in Cancer, Fitting out and maintenance, Fun, Malignant melanoma, Photographs, Skin cancer, Walking with tags , , , on February 27, 2011 by maidofmettle

It’s been quite a busy time…

On the first Thursday of Lent we had a late Shrove Tuesday party on Heymede (if anyone can guess why a boat might be called that Dave would be interested to know). Dave claimed to never have made pancakes before but is evidently a quick learner as well as keen – he’s now cooked about 30! – and the ones I had were extremely nice.

On Friday I went to the hospital for an examination – nothing calamitous, but I found I had to come back again the following week to see the plastic surgeon. This got me pretty worried as it sounded like it might delay everything by a week, since my next appointment was after their regular specialists’ meeting. Fortunately I was able to get confirmation that it they’d still talk about it last Tuesday rather than next, and the operation will normally be scheduled within a fortnight of then.

Saturday morning was quite productive – I washed a couple of sails and some more ropes. This makes them a lot easier to handle by getting the salt out of them – some of the mooring ropes had developed very strong ideas about how they wanted to coil.

Drying the sails

With that done I started work on the boat electrics switch panel, though I got quite distracted from my original intentions by the fact that a lot of the labels were coming unstuck from different wires – definitely best rectified before it’s too late, in the switch panel and behind the cabin sides and ceiling. It definitely helps to have refitted the boat ourselves – otherwise I think this kind of sight behind the panelling would definitely inspire panic!

That evening we went to the carnival – or one evening of it – it’s a huge event here, with festivities spread out over 3-4 weeks. This one was the final of the band competition, with groups from different villages and organisations putting on 30 minute shows. None of us were that keen on the first one, though they certainly had the crowd going, but the second band were excellent – several short songs, all fast and catchy, and what looked like a pretty good stage show from what we could see standing at the back.

The staff were giving out free bubble blowers – chaos ensues. Dave looks concerned..


Los Chacho Tu – possibly to be the first band in the main parade?

It’s a huge event – the main stage in the pictures is in Santa Catalina park which is something like 20 minutes walk from the marina, but there are going to be a couple of parades through the city, and there are lots of associated events at clubs, bars, the yacht club.

I got up again at 3am to see the end of a spectacular fireworks display – the golden finale was probably even better than the New Year’s Eve ones. Later in the morning I headed to the bus station to go up to Artenara, where I’d finished my previous walk. It’s a seemingly strange quirk of the bus timetables that there’s only an evening bus back to Las Palmas from there on a Sunday, and this time I wanted to do a longish circular walk visiting a flat plain I’d seen the previous time – the Vega de Acusa.

The village of Artenara is on the right, and the elevated plain Vega de Acusa in the far left

The journey there was quite entertaining – the bus drivers are usually a bit crazy, but that’s probably just a matter of meeting their timetable on the windy mountain roads. It had clearly ceased to be a challenge for this one, so he parked up for a few minutes at the Pinos de Galdar viewpoint and the church in Juncalillo to let everyone have a look around.

The view to Las Palmas from the Mirador de Los Pinos de Galdar again – this time a slightly clearer day

I seem to post a lot of long-distance views, so here are some closer-up shots to prove that I do look at things nearer to hand (and foot) as well, though my continued survival in such a hilly place should probably count for something there.

Down and further down, but at least it’ll be cooler when coming back up later on

Still descending, but at least it’s not quite as steep


As you can see it’s looking very much like spring has come here. It might be remote but a lot of areas were surprisingly noisy – almost reminiscent of the background hum of the M25 on Reigate Hill. The cause was rather different though.

On the subject of wildife, this fella seemed very confident that he was inconspicuous like this, but was extremely shy about unfurling his beautiful red butterfly wings long enough to get a picture.

Actually, looking up can seem almost as important to safety round here as looking down at the ground. Having passed one big rock the other day that had clearly hit the road and bounced a couple of times before denting the crash barrier I didn’t like the look of this one.

It actually looked worse from the bend below it, but you’ll have to take my word for it as I didn’t hang around there

The Vega de Acusa itself is a rather strange place – it looks almost like a small English farming landscape plonked down in a land of huge ridges and lush valleys.

From a distance

and close up

There are several cave villages built into the sides of the plateau. It sounds like it was it’s own little world at one time, separate on most sides by the topography, with a rich farming community on top and lots of grain storage chambers and dwellings in the sides. Some caves apparently have old paintings in them, ranging from fertility symbols to starry skies, and quite a lot are actually still inhabited.

They must have been hard work to build, but they’re very practical here – apparently the rock keeps them at a steady 18-20 degrees throughout the year. Some kind of verandah is quite common – obviously much easier to construct, and lets you enjoy the warmth of the day.

View from inside an abandoned cave – a nice cool spot on a hot day.

Since the last bus was due quite late on I had plenty of time to relax on the way back up to Artenara, and even fiddle around with the self-timer on the camera, with mixed results.

Normally I just delete terrible photos, but this one really made me laugh. Not only does my posture look very weird (I think I must be leaning backwards slightly), but Roque Nublo is growing right out of the top of my head. How many tries would it take to deliberately achieve that? Oh, and the top right corner is obscured….

Oh dear – can anyone spot anything else wrong with it?

A bit better

Another benefit of the late return was still being on the western side of the island as the sun went down over Tenerife

Sunset from the bus – Mt. Teide in the far distance on the right

Among other things on Monday, I rowed round to visit another boat. Carolyn invited me to go to a walk with her and a group of Swedish friends on Tuesday, from Cruz de Tejeda to Artenara (yep, been there a lot lately). People with excellent memories will note that I had already walked that path once, but why not do it again? Especially in good company, and on another nice day.

Carolyn at Artenara

We passed some mountain bikers on the way. Any Reigate and Leith Hill regulars reading will be disappointed to note that they’d been driven to the top of the hill – but then again I don’t think any of us would want to go up it, especially not in all the protective clothing and padding they were wearing to try and make it down again safely!

Walking the path was much more relaxing though – it’s fairly hard work, but certainly not so much you can’t chat and enjoy the view. I discovered some new things this time as well, like the short-cut to the cave chapel at Artenara I’d had to go the long way round to visit before.

The group winding down towards the chapel

It was built (hewn?) in the 18th century, though the altar, pulpit and other furnishings (all also carved from the rock) are much more recent. The figure of the Virgin of the Little Cave was an anonymous donation (the sign outside speculates that she might have American origins), but the locals seem to have taken her very much to their hearts, and hold a big fiesta in her honour every year – especially the cyclists (she’s their patron saint).

Inside La Cuevita

Since I’ve been to Artenara so much lately I thought I should probably post a picture of the town centre before changing the subject. Actually, I just couldn’t resist the caption.

Sayonara Artenara (for at least a few days)

On Thursday it was time to go back to the hospital again – handily my appointment was later than the previous one, and this time I knew roughly how long the journey would take, so I could leave at a much more sensible time in the morning, and not sit around in the hospital for as long. I got to speak to the plastic surgeon who’ll do the operation, and ask lots of questions about recovery time etc, but still don’t have the one answer I really want, which is when the operation will actually take place.

The probable date at the moment is the 9th of March, which is right at the end of the time period I was hoping for (a fortnight from last Tuesday). But that’s not definite yet, and I may not get confirmation until the day before, though they’ll try and tell me as soon as they can, and I’ve seen on the form that the ‘high priority’ box is ticked. From the sound of it getting the anaesthetist is probably the trickiest bit – presumably they work with various surgeons throughout the day.

So, I suspect the next few days, or week or so, or whatever, are likely to be a little frustrating. At least I’ll have plenty of time to translate the explanation and consent form for the operation…

I’ll probably call the insurance company again tomorrow and try and figure out if there are any options we haven’t thought of yet, but that’s probably going to be an uphill battle unless the date is definitely put back, rather than just remaining uncertain. I’ve considered going back to the UK, but that would very likely be slower – the system sounds similar in terms of timing but I’d be taking two steps backwards (GP then referral to specialist) by going from the Spanish system to the UK one.

I suspect I will be continuing to keep myself busy…
speaking of which, there are fireworks outside.

Of goats, disappointment and appointments

Posted in Cancer, Fun, Malignant melanoma, Music, Photographs, Skin cancer, Walking with tags , , on February 15, 2011 by maidofmettle

For anyone in need of reassurance, there are pictures at the end : )

It occurred to me that in my last entry I basically said I was more scared of goats on a narrow path than skin cancer. Well, goats definitely feel a more immediate threat than a condition which doesn’t affect how you physically feel. Probably even more significant differences are that you can see the path, even if it does have horned beasts on it, and the process of getting past them and into the clear is relatively quick. Yesterday felt like steps sideways more than forwards…

It only took the doctor at the clinic in the south of the island (arranged by the insurance company) a few minutes to conclude that while removing the skin from around the former mole should hopefully be fully effective, it would be prudent to investigate the nearest lymph node and make sure there are no problems there at the same time. Unfortunately, that’s a procedure that can’t be done there, so he directed me straight back to Las Palmas again, and to a different hospital. Further complication, but I was able to see an English-speaking doctor he’d spoken to earlier.

She was very helpful and clear about what they’d do, and keen to sort things out as soon as possible, but unfortunately neither of the two specialists in the field were around yesterday. I’ll need an examination by one of them, hopefully this week or early next, and the operation isn’t likely to happen this month.. Speaking to the insurance company again apparently I do actually have an appointment on Monday at the hospital I first went to, and they’d mentioned the possibility of operating that day, but I doubt they were planning on investigating the lymph node and it will probably be very hard to confirm. So that option might be quicker, but I don’t actually know what they’re planning on doing, which is not comforting. Then there’s the option of coming back to the UK – trying to find out how long it might take if I did that…..

It all boded very badly for the cockroach I spotted on getting back to the boat yesterday……

When there’s a plan I’m happy with things feel fine, otherwise it’s rather more difficult. I’ll hopefully hear back later today about an appointment at the hospital I went to yesterday.

EDIT – having written all that, I had another phone call from the doctor I was yesterday and now have an appointment for Friday morning for an examination. She says they’ll set a date for the operation next Tuesday, as soon as possible, and hopefully within a couple of weeks or so.

So, now it’s time for the section with more pictures, though the first one is a bit domestic.

Prevention is definitely better than barnacles

Caroline had a tough time cleaning the bottom of the dinghy before we left Faro when it had been in the water for a long time, so I’ve decided to haul it out and scrub it regularly to stop it getting that bad again. It didn’t take too long this way – just some slime and weed on it really, nothing like the barnacles it got when we left it too long.

It is very handy having it in the water here – often even for visiting boats 20m away on the next pontoon, as they all have individual security gates and I only have the key for mine. On Saturday afternoon it got a longer trip to the other side of the basin – a much shorter trip than walking round, and easier to ferry some barbecue food, a big bowl of Caroline’s Lebanese-style parsley and mint salad, a bottle of wine, a carton of fruit juice and some warm clothing for later. Paul and Hilary hosted a very fine barbecue, and I was glad of the jumper and windproof jacket for later as the music went on well into the night.

The boat next door had a party as well so there was plenty of mixing between the two as they came to listen to the music – or in one memorable case to sing a couple of amazing songs. The set list was impressively varied, ranging from Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Rehab to Cyfri’r Geifr (Counting the Goats – a Welsh folk song, performed a capella with immaculate timing, and no, there is no logic to my listing of songs) and the Sloop John B and Folsom Prison Blues to the Blackleg Miner (English folk song referring to strikebreakers, though I think it’s travelled to anywhere there’s been a miners’ strike), and the performances superb.


When we’d packed all the musical kit away we realised we still had half a tub of pina colada left, and made a return visit to the neighbouring boat to finish it off.
I probably got up earlier than most of the others on Sunday morning, as I was planning on getting a bus to San Mateo, and then Cruz de Tejeda, to walk from there to Artenara. It was especially tempting to go back to bed as it was very grey and cloudy in Las Palmas, but the forecast was fairly good so I decided to chance it.

Luckily it turned out very well – the cloud covering the north of the island was blocked by the high ground in the centre of the island, making my route quite clear and sunny if a bit windy. The views were incredible once again – this time looking south towards the central ridges and valleys, rather than north down to the coast.

View over the Barranco de Tejeda to Roque Nublo (the pointy rock on the horizon)
Roque Nublo is one of the most famous landmarks on Gran Canaria – at around 1800m not quite the highest point but possibly the most spectacular, and once a place of worship for the indigenous Guanche. It was probably once part of the rim of a giant volcanic crater, most of which has since collapsed.

It’s notable how green everything is – apparently much more so than usual due to the heavy rain a couple of weeks ago.

Moss

Now, onto the food section – first up we have a traditional meat pasty style creation – and very nice it was too. Anyone from Devon or Cornwall may be puzzled to hear that it was rather bereft of handholds, not being significantly crimped anywhere. Possibly farmer have marginally cleaner hands than miners?

Pastel de Carne

I must confess this was a speculative purchase, and I remain unaware of its ‘traditional’ status. I suspect it might be of common origins, but was definitely very nice.

Cake
Further on I passed the Knight’s Caves – not great to photograph due to the big grilles stopping people going in, but quite a sight – one in particular was huge. And they all had something like this for a view…

View towards Roque de Bentayga (rock outcrop mid-way back on the left), once a Guanche fortress
Nearer Artenara I went through a pine wood before crossing another ridge to the village.

View from the village of Artenara at the end of the walk

That’s that for now – no surfing lately. The forecast gives the waves four or five star ratings this week, but then that’s aimed at people who think that 8-9ft swell sounds like a good thing. About 3ft is nice for me..

Don’t panic, there are a LOT of photos towards the end!

Posted in Cancer, Fun, Malignant melanoma, Photographs, Skin cancer, Surfing, Unfortunate events, Walking with tags , , on February 10, 2011 by maidofmettle

But first, an explanation, if you’ll read it.  ‘Don’t panic’ is good advice here as well. You can probably skip the italicised bit if you’re in a hurry.

Now, it might be seeming like having ummed and ahed about whether I’d have enjoy myself more crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean or thoroughly exploring the Canaries and possibly a little of Morocco, that I’ve decided to take the compromise of just sitting around in Las Palmas, surfing, walking, socialising and racing cockroaches.

That’s a mostly accurate summary of events, but it does omit the primary reason for still being here rather than leaving shortly after the last blog, and indeed the delay in writing this one.

When I was on Fuerteventura I had a doctor look at a mole on my leg which I thought had changed a bit. He thought it was probably fine, but to be safe it would be best to remove and test it at some point when I stopped somewhere for a few weeks.

That was difficult to forecast at the time (seems funny now!), so he agreed to cut it off and give it to me, and I wandered down the road (limping slightly) to a clinic – 100 euros total for the doctor and the testing didn’t seem bad for peace of mind.

That’s not quite how it worked out though, at least not in the short term. The results were in Spanish but even I can translate ‘melanoma maligno’ as a type of skin cancer, and understand that it hadn’t burrowed very far, so would probably be fairly easily curable. Of course, in the long term it’s looking like even better value..

Cue lots of phone calls to my medical insurance company, and stress while they confirmed they’d cover it. Having access to their translators and medical staff for explanations and opinions was even more welcome than the financial cover after a few days of not knowing much more than what I wrote above.

I’m sure the doctors here are very good, but communication is difficult since my Spanish isn’t great.  It can be quite funny at times, but you probably had to be there….

It’s all quite strange really, as I imagine it would be with any illness when you actually feel physically fine. Indeed, most of the offending cells have been chucked in a medical waste bin on Fuerteventura some time ago, and there’s very little likelihood that it’s spread anywhere else.

Mentally, it was distracting, though not really because of morbid thoughts but the more mundane waiting on phone calls and not knowing when it might be sorted out.

I thought the latter would be resolved once the insurance company confirmed they’d cover it, but while they did in principle their initial policy was to wait for a public appointment (which would be covered by the NHS reciprocal EH1C rather than them).

This was quite frustrating having paid for medical insurance – but then I think it is largely intended to cover emergency cases and repatriation. I think they were also more optimistic than me about when I’d get seen – if there was no difference in timescale I’d be very happy with public care, but my impression from the hospital was that it would take weeks. Happily they agreed to speak to the hospital and arrange quicker treatment if necessary, which proved to be the case.


So I’ve got a Valentine’s day date with a specialist on Monday, and will probably need a minor operation to remove a circle of skin around the former mole, making sure that there are no cancerous cells are left round the edge. And that should hopefully be that, with some regular check ups.

Now it doesn’t feel like I’m battling the insurance company I’m mentally very much fine – still enjoying myself here but glad that I’m not looking like being stuck indefinitely. Yes, I have been very much focused on the short term inconvenience of it all! Though I guess that might be less true if I hadn’t noticed the mole or had left going to a doctor longer.

So, public health announcement time – if you have any moles that seem suspicious based on this list ( http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Malignant-melanoma/Pages/Symptoms.aspx ), and especially if they’re changing, do go and get them checked out.

Well, that was a horrible wall of text… Better out than in though, as the specialist may say on Monday.  I did take some photos of the mole the day before first going to the doctor about it, but there didn’t seem much point in keeping them for monitoring changes once he’d cut it off. Not sure you’d have thanked me for those anyway.

The weather was pretty miserable for a week or so, most of which was spent faffing around with poor concentration failing to get inside jobs done. Not photogenic. I reckon there must be a word for presentation reflecting content..

But on Friday morning the sun came back out! – so Caroline, Sue and I played beach tennis. Since then I’ve been very busy, especially since I was initially thinking I might be having the next operation any day this week (yeah, that was hopeful), which would stop surfing and long walks etc for a while. So, normal blogging in technicolour will resume….NOW!

Beach tennis next to the marina

In the evening I had a drink with Axel, who we first met over a year ago in the Navy Service boatyard at the bottom of the Rhone, just west of Marseille. We’ve met up in Ibiza, Velez, Gibraltar and here, but were saying goodbye for a while again as he’s now part-way across the Atlantic, heading for St Maarten in the Caribbean (go Axel! http://www.brainforge.net/vespina ) .

Axel & I in the Sailors’ Bar

On Saturday I went for a short walk in and near the village of Teror. It’s a beautiful place, with gorgeous wooden balconies 10-a-peseta (and that’s a LOT).

The old main street in Teror

The Basilica de la Virgen del Pino, the patron saint of Gran Canaria

A vision of the Madonna of the Pines is said to have appeared to local shepherds in the 15th century, on top of a pine tree.

The valley above Teror

Near the Basilica there were stalls selling various local produce – chiefly bread, avocados and sweet things. Well, you all know what bread and avocados taste like……

Bizcochos lustrados – a light lemon sponge, nice but with a slightly strange taste.

The sunrise on Sunday was so impressive I rowed over to the outer wall of the marina for a better view.

The old name for the harbour is the Puerto de la Luz, or the Port of Light. Makes sense..

Later I took some footage for what will probably be the worst surfing video ever made – paddling and then springing upright on a board with a camera wedged half-out of the sleeve of your wetsuit is not easy, and nor is aiming the camera having achieved this! I think there might be around 10 seconds or so of end product, but you’ll have to wait while I learn how to use the video editing software to deliver it to you without a four minute prelude of paddling seen from the viewpoint of a wrist, with occasional breaking waves.

If only I’d paddled a bit more with my right hand before taking it you’d have a great view of the auditorium, and probably another breaking wave. Of course, if I’d tried it a couple of weeks ago you’d just be seeing water..

On Monday I had another surfing lesson, on a rather shorter board. I’m definitely a lot better than I was – the last time I’d used one like that I could barely stand up on it at all. It’s much more maneuverable which is cool once you are standing up but doesn’t help when you’re trying to achieve it! Alternating between that and the more forgiving board seems like a good way to balance improving and fun. I walked back along the beachfront for a change – normally I tend to do food shopping and then get the bus back.

The water in the foreground is sheltered by a reef offshore – waves for surfing can be found further along (and outside the reef if you’re good)

In the evening Mike and Caroline came round for dinner – we had a beef and lentil stew with garlic and parsley, and a lemon cheesecake. It was very nice to get to know them a bit more, and we may well end up sailing to many of the same places over the next few months.

On Tuesday I rode the buses up into the hills again to the Mirador de Pinos de Galdar, and walked the eight miles from there back to Teror. Once I’d torn myself away from the viewpoint that is – certainly one of the most incredible places I’ve been. The terrain is incredibly rugged, with huge ravines leading down to the coast, and dotted with volcanic peaks and craters. It’s easy to see why this area was the last stronghold of the indigenous Guanche people.

Well, I got me in it, but I think it’s lucky you can’t really see the horizon…

You can see most of the northern half of Gran Canaria, and the eastern coast of Tenerife. On a clearer day – it was sunny but hazy at low altitude, probably due to fine particles brought from Morocco by a couple of days of easterly wind – you could probably see Fuerteventura in the distance beyond Las Palmas.

View to the north-east – the crater of Los Pinos de Galdar in the foreground, and the city of Las Palmas stretching out along the peninsula in the far distance beyond the ridges

View to the west – pine trees, and Mount Teide on Tenerife just visible in the centre

It was quite a hike, with some spectacular ups and downs, especially the descent down a very slow-moving river of gravel at the start. The most unexpected obstacle was a pair of goats. They didn’t exactly seem unfriendly, but tended to place themselves so if you went one side they could kick you and if you went the other they could butt you into a six-foot deep ditch.

Still, I made it past. They look much cuter from the downhill side! Perhaps they were hoping for some of this (yep, from the same stall in Teror):

Bollos de naranja – or orange flavoured doughnuts. Predictably very good.

The route continued up and down through a couple of valleys, past an old watermill and the ‘door of the mountain’, where taxes were paid on goods being transported along the road. I could see why my book described it as ‘fairly strenous’, but the scenery was well worth it, plunging down into ravines and up and over ridges, and it felt like some achievement when Teror came in sight again, with the viewpoint at Pinos de Galdar a speck on the horizon. And I was hungry again..

Nearly back to Teror, the call of the wild succumbs to the call of the tapas

On my previous visit I’d been tempted but didn’t have much time before the next bus back down. On this occasion I was very glad to be able to sit down and sample some stewed goat and anchovies in vinegar before the return trip to Las Palmas. Both were delicious, and surprisingly cheap.

And yesterday I went surfing again – another trip to the Muellitos at the far end of the beach. Until I saw it written on a map I thought this was actually called the Mojito, and probably served up both shaken and stirred. There are usually fairly large waves there, breaking quite a way out from the beach and not as steep as further along. Standing up is certainly not a given, but when I do it’s a fantastic ride in now I can turn back and forth and speed up if I have to. When I don’t…. at least I don’t end up with as much sand in my wetsuit as I do if surfing closer in…..

Today I’m having a rest : )