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Letters Blog Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

A Little More than Amnesia

I guess most people have heard of Indonesia and maybe Polynesia, but what about Macaronesia and, indeed, Micronesia? How about visiting Macaronesia one day? No, this is not a new name for France invented by the current ambitious President Macron, but a cluster of four archipelagos in the North Atlantic Ocean, just off the continents of Africa and Europe, which are formed by raised and exposed peaks of the ocean floor that peer out above the ocean’s surface.

The Canary Islands are part of Macaronesia, which also includes Cape Verde, Madeira and the Azores. Interestingly, the islands belong to three different countries: Spain, Portugal and Cape Verde, which are all part of the continent of Africa. The Azores are an exception, since they are part of the European continent.

Although I vaguely remember the term ‘Macaronesia’ being used during geography lessons when I was a pupil, I have rarely heard the term used in recent years. It came to light once again this week after Cape Verde announced that it was aiming for a free trade zone with other Atlantic islands to allow for the free movement of people, as well as goods and services. Despite the term ‘free trade area’ now being seen as ‘dirty words’ in the UK during the current UK-EU Brexit negotiations, it is good to hear that the establishment of free trade areas by others is regarded as a very sensible way forward for nations to trade and work together in a coherent and civilised manner.

Cape Verde is a group of ten windswept islands off the coast of West Africa. It is a volcanic archipelago that was a Portuguese colony until 1975, and with which it still has close links. The islands have stronger economic growth that most of the sub-Saharan countries in Africa. The International Monetary Fund recorded Cape Verde’s growth in 2017 at 4 per cent, which is forecast to improve even further to around 7 per cent. The islands are hoping to enhance tourism and economic growth with such a deal and re-engaging with other islands in what is known as Macaronesia. Cape Verde is hoping to create a legal framework for its people and goods to travel freely for the benefit of all.

The Cape Verde islands, which have a population of around 500,000, and with a large expat population, have already passed legislation to remove visa requirements for Europeans and hope that the European Union will reciprocate. Laws have been changed to make it easier for foreign investors to invest, and recent legislation allows foreign exchange accounts to fund transfers without restrictions. Cape Verde’s currency is linked to the euro, which also facilities business activities. Cape Verde aspires to develop the islands as a hub for air travel, since it is ideally located between the Americas, Europe and Africa. It also sees itself as offering great potential as a digital hub for Africa.

Since I mentioned Micronesia at the beginning of this article, I should explain that this group of small islands is in the Pacific Ocean, but that is a story for another time. I think I am going to add Macaronesia to my postal address in future, after several incidents of my post being sent to the Cayman Islands, instead of the Canary Islands. It might help Correos to deliver my post rather more accurately in future.

© Barrie Mahoney 2018

This article is part of the book 'Letters from the Canary Islands and Spain' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

​Aliens Visit the Canary Islands Too!

Residents and our regular visitors will already know what makes the Canary Islands special. It seems that it is no longer a well-kept secret, and it could be that aliens are already checking the islands out too, as this account from the 1970s would seem to suggest.

Unidentified Flying Objects or UFOs have always made headline news, but could also be linked to military operations, and would need to be kept secret. However, 40 years ago in the Canary Islands, a UFO was witnessed by thousands of residents across three different islands; the first being on June 22, 1976. The incident was first reported at 21.27 by all the crew of the ship Atrevida, a Spanish Naval ship near the coast of Fuerteventura.

The crew of the Atrevida described a yellow and blue light that was moving from the island of Fuerteventura towards the ship; the light stopped and hovered in one position. During the following two minutes the yellow and blue light went out, which was followed by a rotating beam. The crew reported that a halo appeared with yellow and blue light that lasted for around 40 minutes, but the original ball of light was no longer visible.

The captain of the Atrevida described the light as dividing into two parts; a blue cloud from the centre appeared and then vanished, and the upper part began to spiral quickly in an irregular fashion before disappearing. He also reported that the circular halo was bright enough to light up the nearby areas of land on Fuerteventura and the water surrounding the ship, so that this UFO was thought to be very close to the ship. However, the radar tracking on the ship did not detect any evidence of this sighting.

On the same day, a doctor in Tenerife was travelling by taxi to visit a patient in Las Rosas. When he arrived at the patient’s home, he saw a hovering motionless sphere, which he thought was made of a crystalline material and transparent, and that the sphere was electric blue in colour. He also described seeing three control consoles on a metal platform inside the sphere. The doctor described seeing tall images of people wearing some type of head protection and red clothing inside the sphere.

The doctor observed a semi-transparent central tube from the sphere releasing blue smoke, and then the sphere grew to the size of a 20 storey house, rose to a greater height, and made a whistling sound, but the crew and platform remained the same size. By this time, other people in the village had come out of their homes and also witnessed this strange sighting. The doctor described how the UFO then accelerated and moved away at a very fast speed, dissolving into a shape of a spindle that was blue and red underneath, which matched the description given by the captain of the Atrevida off the coast of Fuerteventura, some distance away. The doctor described the formation of a blue halo that had a brilliant light, which matched the comments made by the crew of the Atrevida.

Three days after these sightings, the Spanish Air Force authorised an official investigation into these strange events, and interviewed many of those who had witnessed the appearance of the large glowing light on June 22. This investigation attempted to categorise the witnesses in order to separate what they considered to be reliable witnesses from others described as possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, illiterate or mentally challenged and therefore considered to be unreliable. However, the investigator also interviewed aeronautical engineers, pilots and astronomers considered to be reliable.

All the evidence was collected that included photographs of the sphere, illustrations, drawings and accounts from witnesses. This investigation eventually reported that there were no military exercises operating on the date of the sightings of this sphere or other aerial traffic that could explain this unusual occurrence, and reported that witnesses had observed an unidentified aerial phenomenon on 22 June 1976.

Gran Canaria was also the destination for this UFO in November 1976, when it was sighted again personally by the Commanding General of Spain’s Air Force Canary Islands Air Zone whilst flying in a transport aircraft. Air force personnel at the air base and crew on board another naval ship docked at the air base harbour also reported seeing this UFO. Again, a large halo followed this UFO appearance at the air base on Gran Canaria, which was the same pattern as seen in June that year in Fuerteventura and Tenerife. This incident was also investigated by the Spanish Air Force and the report that was later published said that this was clearly a craft of unknown origin, and propelled by an unknown energy and was moving freely over the skies of the Canary Islands.

Over the years, these incidents seem to have been quietly forgotten, but there are still those who recount this story as vividly as the day that these incidents took place. Whether these incidents were linked to some kind of secret military exercise, or some kind of visit from another world, remains a mystery, but it might be worth carefully checking who is sitting next to you on the beach.

© Barrie Mahoney 2016

This article is part of the book 'Footprints in the Sand' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

It's Carnival Time Again!

Christmas, New Year and Three Kings Day are all over at last, as is Blue Monday (16 January), which is the most depressing day of the year, according to a happy band of media reporters. It is now time to shake away those winter blues, search out a fabulous costume and get ready for Carnival – Canaries style!

Carnival has been celebrated across the Canary Islands since 1556 just before the Christian period called Lent, forty days before Easter, and often around Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Lent previously meant that Christians gave up eating meat, so just before this forty-day period the Canary Islanders were determined to take the term ‘party’ or fiesta to a higher level, which normally involves locals dressing up in fabulous costumes, when often men become women and women become men, just for the fun of it, and of course to have your photo taken.

The dates of Easter change each year and so the date of Carnival across the Canary Islands also changes, so that although the capital cities of each of the Canary Islands have the biggest parades and open-air entertainment, many smaller towns also hold their own Carnival parades. These parades have large floats that carry many in amazing costumes who often throw sweets or even offer those watching small cups of Canarian rum. Before the big parades there are also competitions for the best Carnival Queen (ladies), Carnival Dame (older ladies), Carnival Junior Queen (young girls) and of course the best Drag Queen (guess)! There are also singing competitions called Murgas, when local people on each island sing songs that can often be very rude to those living on other islands. Carnival starts when a large sardine appears, and it ends when the sardine is taken out to sea, where it dies, and many spectators will be seen crying! It is an emotional and passionate event, often reflecting the partying frolics of the previous night!

Expat residents and tourists that visit during this Carnival period should make sure that they join in the party and learn more about local customs and traditions. There are many shops near tourist areas that sell good value Carnival costumes, so there is no reason why foreigners cannot join in the Canary Islanders’ celebrations. Most municipalities have colourful posters that advertise the local events of Carnival, but some places tend to think that Carnival only involves local people, and they will already know when and where to go, but it is a good idea to check with local Tourist Information Offices too. Take plenty of photos and selfies, because the rich cultural mix of Canary Islanders have strong connections with South America, Cuba and other Caribbean islands, which means that when Carnival comes to the Canary Islands it challenges the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and some think it is even better!

One word of warning for those visiting Santa Cruz in La Palma for Carnival! The locals also celebrate White Monday (the day before Shrove Tuesday), when locals only wear white clothes, and then after a certain signal, throw white talcum powder over everyone. Los Indianos celebrates Canary Islanders who were previously transported to Spanish colonies, and returned when they had become successful. So, there is a point to White Monday, but the talcum powder goes everywhere, and those with breathing problems should watch from a distance, as the powder storm spreads quickly and is not the healthiest substance to breathe in. Las Palmas in Gran Canaria also celebrates White Monday in the old streets of Triana and Vegueta, with special permission of the islanders of La Palma.

Carnivals in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife are often billed as “Second Only to Rio”, so if you really would like to take part in a huge, crazy, frivolous spectacle of colour and vitality, make sure you don’t miss it!

© Barrie Mahoney 2017

This article is part of the book 'Living in Spain and the Canary Islands' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here

​Throwing knives at Mother

No, rest assured, this is not another harrowing tale of domestic violence, but a skilful performance by Dorian Ledda and his family who have been performing in Gran Canaria’s Sioux City for the last 28 years or so...

These were the opening words of an article that I wrote for a magazine several years ago, following a visit to Sioux City, which could best be described as a Wild West experience on an island in the Atlantic. It is the stuff that generations of boys and girls read about in their comic books and watched countless films of baddies being dealt instant justice by goodies. Sadly, Sioux City is no more, as it closed its gates for the last time a few days ago, for financial reasons, after 42 years of faithful service to the cowboy loving public on holiday in our island paradise.

The Cañon del Aguila (Eagle Canyon) offered a barren landscape and gave the perfect opportunity to recreate a pioneer Old West town based in the 1850s, with real buildings that are unique in Europe with a complete construction, and not just simple film set frontages. Sioux City was just the stuff to feed the imagination, relive childhood memories, as well as being a great place for a day out.

The town was constructed and used as a film set in 1972, at a cost of two million dollars, for major Hollywood Wild West films, such as Clint Eastwood’s ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘A Few Dollars More’ and ‘Take a Long Hard Ride’. Gran Canaria’s desert-like landscape in the south of the island was just right for this kind of film in those days.

Once filmmaking was completed, the set became redundant and was opened to the public as a theme park with a difference. Until last week, visitors would wander expectantly through the gates of this Wild West town and be instantly transported into a world of cowboys and Indians, bar brawls and bank hold-ups.

It is in this Wild West town that I interviewed Dorian Ledda and his family – mother, Katy and brothers Davide and Daniele, an Italian family from Turin, who presented breathtaking performances of knife throwing, lassoes, whips and horse riding. Originally the Ledda family performed in Italian circuses, theatres and television before moving to Gran Canaria thirty years ago. Indeed, Dorian’s father was throwing knives at his mother when she was pregnant with Dorian, and so throwing knives at mother seemed the most natural thing in the world to do!

Dorian’s brother, Daniele, also featured in the Guinness World Book of Records for jumping with a lasso, as well as appearing in a feature for the BBC. Dorian and his two brothers performed at Sioux City and Katy had knives, axes and flaming torches thrown at her. Indeed, watching the poor lady endure this torment from her sons with such a contented smile on her face made for a very unusual Sunday morning’s entertainment!

Although the knife throwing act was performed several times a day for the last thirty years, fortunately without an accident, I couldn’t help thinking that it would not be a good idea to have a row with your sons or let them throw knives at you after a night of partying!

Sadly, this fictional universe and unique recreational activity for tourists visiting the island, created as a labour of love by several generations of craftsmen and entertainers over four decades, has now come to an end. Like so many who know Sioux City well, I hope that a way will be found to open it once again to an adoring public, who can once again watch magnificent horses, can-can dancers in beautiful frilly costumes, cowboys falling from buildings, as well as Indians throwing knives at mother.

© Barrie Mahoney 2013

This article is part of the book 'Escape to the Sun' by Barrie Mahoney.

You can find out more about the author and this book by clicking here: Escape to the Sun

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