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Letters from the Atlantic Letters from the Atlantic by Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

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​Mummy’s Teeth

Mummy’s Teeth

The recent decision of the Canary Islands’ Government to impose a tax on sugar-based food and drinks purchased in the Canary Islands is a response to serious concerns about the very high obesity levels on the islands, which is the third highest region in the world. Some have claimed that Canarian obesity levels may be linked to genetic factors and not over consumption of sugary foods and drinks. Recent research evidence adds another interesting dimension to this discussion.

Aboriginal Berber people called Guanches were the first settlers of the Canary Islands, migrating to these islands around 1000 BC. Following the Spanish conquest of these islands, those Guanches that survived starvation during a period that many historians now perceive as genocide were quickly absorbed by their Spanish conquerors. As many visitors to these islands will become aware once they leave the beaches and tourist centres, elements of the rich Guanche culture still survive. Canarian traditions and customs, such as the whistled language of Silbo, practiced on the island of La Gomera, is one example of this rich and varied heritage. Many secrets of the Guanche past remain hidden and we can only speculate about the life and times of this ancient people. However, one recent discovery tells us much more about their culture, burial practice, health, physique and dental health.

In 2016, one Guanche mummy and three Egyptian mummies were removed from Spain’s National Archaeological Museum in Madrid and taken for a detailed scan that would hopefully yield much more information than previously known. Although the mummified body of the Guanche showed many similarities with its Egyptian counterparts, the main difference was that the Egyptians removed the brains and internal organs, whilst the Guanches left the organs of their dead intact at the time of mummification.

Remembering that these bodies were preserved more that 2000 years ago, the results are fascinating. Two of the Egyptian mummies were found to be women, one of whom was pregnant. A third mummy was a male who was a doctor to the Pharaoh and priest in the 27th Century BC. It was the mummified body of the Guanche from Santa Cruz, Tenerife that will be of most interest to many Canarians. This Guanche mummy, who lived between the 11th and 13th Century B.C. and was discovered in a cave in the Herques Valley in Tenerife in 1763, revealed that mummies from the Canary Islands had better dental health than their Egyptian counterparts.

Many high-resolution anatomical images reconstructed the bodies in 3D, revealing necklaces, bracelets, a diadem, sandals and 16 amulets. As well as bones, researchers found fragments of ligaments, tendons, muscles and the heart in the Egyptian mummies, even though they had their internal organs removed, since they believed that was where the essence of being and feelings resided.

The study of the Guanche mummy revealed that mummies from the Canary Islands had far better teeth than their Egyptian counterparts, whose dental health was very poor. This research is further proof that the Guanches lived on a low-sugar diet. It was much later when the Canary Islands became the site of the first Spanish-owned sugar plantations in the 15th Century that the islands became dependent upon a sugar-based economy. Maybe that is when sugar-based health and obesity problems began…

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

​What Are the British Well Known For?

What Are the British Well Known For?

The British used to be well known across the world for Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket. We like to be known for our infamous ‘stiff upper lips’, sense of fair play, tolerance and justice. Many, mostly older people, still like to revel in the days of Empire and the ‘enlightenment’ that it brought to the world, whilst conveniently forgetting the evils of slavery, repression and imposition of alien values upon people across the world. No doubt, we all have an image of what Britain and its people stand for, although younger members of society are developing rapidly different views, which is very welcome in a fast moving, modern world.

In the years that I have been living as an expat in Spain and the Canary Islands, I have come to a view, which many will regard as unreasonable and non-liberal, that British citizens should first pass an intelligence test and secondly a test in basic good manners before they are granted a British passport. Many expats like myself, and the majority of British holidaymakers, are appalled by the attitudes and behaviour of a small minority of British holidaymakers.

Over the years, we have become familiar with the chancers who claim to have had valuable items ‘stolen’ on holiday and attempt to claim the proceeds from their insurance company. It doesn't take a genius to work out that a family heading for one of the cheapest holidays in Benidorm is unlikely to own a top-quality Rolex watch, the latest iPhone, diamond bracelet and expensive camera for each member of the family. Fortunately, the Spanish police are now much more rigorous in investigating such claims, and offenders are likely to be arrested and prosecuted for fraud. In addition, insurance companies are now much wiser to such scams, sharing databases of claims and identifying potential fraud. Despite this, we still regularly hear of such claims, although most are refused and the perpetrators prosecuted for fraud.

As many will have read in recent weeks, the latest British scam, and I stress that so far it is only the British who are involved, is false claims for food poisoning against hotels in Spain and the Canary Islands, even though the holidaymakers have not been genuinely ill. There are ‘legal companies’ in the UK, who are now presumably at a loose end following the completion of banking PPI compensation claims, and are now encouraging holidaymakers to claim for food poisoning. Many claimants have received large sums of compensation from innocent Spanish hotels, because the hotels cannot afford the high costs of challenging such claims in the British courts, and have simply paid up without a challenge.

These ‘legal companies’ have been offering ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements to hundreds of British holidaymakers, costing Spanish hotels around 60 million euros, which is a situation that clearly cannot continue. Spanish hoteliers and the Spanish Government are now fighting back and all future claims will have to be heard in Spanish courts. Some hotels are now refusing to accept British guests, and those that are accepted are being carefully monitored, with the introduction of signed disclaimers, and in ‘all inclusive’ hotels, the quantity of food and drinks consumed during the supposed period of illness is being recorded. In addition, ringleaders will be identified and prosecuted.

It was good to read this week that two British people were arrested by the Guardia Civil in Mallorca for trying to persuade tourists to make fraudulent claims whilst staying in the resort of Alcudia. The couple were acting for a so-called legal company in the UK that is sending representatives to Spanish resorts to drum up more business, as they are clearly making massive profits. The main regions affected by these fraudulent claims are the Canary Islands, Costa Blanca, Benidorm, Mallorca and the Costa del Sol.

Probably, my suggestion for a test of intelligence and basic good manners before being granted a British passport should be regarded as ‘tongue in cheek’, but it is worrying that a small minority of our fellow citizens are behaving in a manner that eventually has a negative impact upon all. I suspect that if the question is currently asked about what the British are known for, it will no longer be Shakespeare, Princess Diana and cricket.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

​This Cruel Sea

This Cruel Sea

It is true that less tourists return home alive than have set off for their holiday in the Canary Islands. This disturbing fact is not one that the tourist industry will thank me for highlighting this week, but it is time that the stark facts are raised once again and that holidaymakers are alerted to the potential risks of a holiday in the Canary Islands, and other popular tourist destinations.

The Canary Islands are a wonderful place for a holiday, but it is best not to return home in a coffin. We have the best climate in the world; each of the seven inhabited islands are unique and offer a range of activities and experiences that will enrich the spirit of even the most hardened and cynical traveller. The problem for tourists is not the islands, but the Atlantic Ocean.

Ours is a cold and cruel sea. It is deceptive in its appeal, but it is no Mediterranean Sea. Many tourists forget this and quickly succumb to the delights of this turbulent water. Its many charms lull the unsuspecting tourist into a false sense of security with its frothy and inviting appeal to swimmers, surf boarders, wind surfers, but those with a true knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean will be only too well aware of its rapidly changing moods and boiling anger that erupts from time to time.

As I write this, statistics from Real Federación Española de Salvamento y Socorrismo are worrying. There have already been 35 drownings in the first half of 2017, which is more than the same period in 2016, which places the Canary Islands at the top of a very disturbing league table, with most of these casualties being tourists. Statistics published in 2015 indicate that one tourist drowns every six days in the Canary Islands, a record that is one of the worst in Spain.

The shock of very cold water, swimming after a heavy meal, after drinking alcohol or taking drugs are some of the reasons for these individual tragedies. Cardiac arrest in the sea is not unusual, since it is the result of the shock of cold water, even in temperatures of around 25 degrees. The water around these islands rarely exceeds 24 degrees, even in the hottest periods of the year; it is not just freezing water that is a danger to swimmers. Despite the temptations to cool off after a day in the sun, swimmers can get into difficulties in as short a time as five minutes.

Many tourists forget that high winds, rough seas and treacherous currents are the main reasons for many drownings that take place each year. A strong undertow and unpredictable rip currents are also a grave danger to swimmers. They are unseen and unpredictable, catch swimmers without warning and carry them a considerable distance out to sea. Rough seas around our beautiful coastline can also be a danger for unsuspecting walkers, which may occur even in what appears to be good and settled weather. It depends what mood the Atlantic is in, and freak waves have sometimes swept walkers out to sea.

Some of these issues were brought home to me last weekend when I visited one of our popular, local beaches. It was a beautiful, yet stormy morning and the red warning flags were flying. Despite this, there were many swimmers in the sea, together with several surfboarders. I spotted two lifeguards urging swimmers to come to the shore for safety, which most obeyed. These swimmers were then directed to a safer part of the beach. However, several swimmers, including the surfboarders, continued to ignore the lifeguards.

It is this attitude of bravado and ignorance that is behind many swimming tragedies, and it is hard to legislate against foolishness. Sadly, it is also these attitudes that place the safety of lifeguards and other members of the emergency services at risk. Despite the best efforts of the islands’ government, the municipalities and the emergency services, swimming tragedies continue to occur far too frequently.

I have attached a short and very helpful video from the RNLI, which explains more about 'cold water shock' and gives advice about how to respond in a drowning situation. You can view the video from this link:

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

​More Trickery by the Insurance Company

More Trickery by the Insurance Company

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article about some of the insurance companies in Spain pressuring, and using what many would see as underhand methods, to coerce expats into renewing their buildings insurance policies, even though they have been cancelled. I have been surprised by the number of emails that I have received about this issue. A far larger group of expats have felt intimidated by insurance companies, both in Spain as well as other European countries, than I initially imagined.

In some cases, policyholders failed to understand, through both language and cultural factors, that most Spanish insurance companies require at least one month’s notice of intention to terminate an insurance policy. Despite doing this, I have heard from many expats who have written to cancel, telephoned, emailed and sent faxes, only to find that their bank account has been debited for the amount of the renewal premium, and that their instructions to cancel the policy have been ignored.

Peter in the Costa Blanca emailed me to say that as well as writing and faxing his insurance company one month before the policy was due to expire, the insurance company took the money from his bank account. Peter contacted the bank and received a refund, but the insurance company is still pestering him for a full one year of premiums, which he continues to refuse to pay. Peter makes the comment that “I’m sure it is only expats who are targeted in this way. From what I hear from Spanish friends, they would simply ignore it.”

It is not always this easy though, as Sarah and George from Tenerife will testify. This elderly couple have been plagued with endless telephone calls each morning and most evenings for the last two months. The calls are in “machine gun Spanish”, and the couple find it difficult to understand what is being said, other than the demand that they pay 420 euros for a policy that they no longer want. The couple are becoming so anxious about the calls that they are about to change their telephone number.

Another expat, Crystal, from Murcia, told me about her insurance company who demanded her bank details, despite preferring to pay cash at the local office. As well as later taking money from her bank account without prior notification, the company refused to cancel the policy even though Crystal had taken out a new policy with another company. The company’s response was that in the case of a claim, Crystal could choose which company to claim from! Crystal was the only expat that I have heard from who took the time and trouble to contact the Insurance Ombudsman who is supposed to help to resolve disputes between insurance companies and clients. Sadly, the Ombudsman didn't reply to Crystal’s complaint.

I was even more concerned to receive an email from Godfrey, another reader in the Costa Blanca, who told me that he was so afraid of the letters that he had received, he paid the company even though he didn't need the policy. “I have always tried to do the right thing in Spain. I do my best to obey the law and to fit in. I was worried that they might take me to court and, because of Brexit, I would lose my right to live in Spain”.

In the original article, I had intended to include a list of ‘Saints and Sinners’ on the ‘Expat Survival’ website, based on recommendations and complaints from expats. I had not realised that some of the companies that I thought would be on the ‘Saints’ list have actually treated expats very badly. Indeed, it seems that most Spanish insurance companies are behaving badly, and in these circumstances, it is very hard to produce a ‘Saints’ list with any confidence.

As the previous article explains, situations where companies remove money from your bank account are easy to rectify. Simply go to your bank and ask them to revoke the transaction. You have 45 days to do this and it is a simple procedure. The issue is more complicated when the insurance company claims not to have received your instructions to cancel. Although it is a question of their word against yours, lack of evidence in the form of a receipt from the post office, confirmation of fax etc. makes it highly likely that the insurance company will continue to harass their client through letters and phone calls until the unfortunate expat pays up. Many expats simply pay up because of fear. In most cases, my best advice is to ignore the phone calls and letters, and it will eventually go away.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: and or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.

© Barrie Mahoney

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