February 6, 2014, by Guest blog

The challenge to find friends in La Palma

A challenge I encountered during my time abroad is the demographics of the island I am living on. The town has a population of 18,000, it is also the capital of the island. Santa Cruz is a nice place to live, don’t get me wrong but there is not a lot on offer when it comes to young people. As there is no university in La Palma, many young people decide to move to other islands to continue their studies where there are more opportunities to develop professionally (and better nightlife!).

This was a slight problem for me. As a university student I am used to having lots of different friendship groups through all of the societies I join. Being somewhat stuck on an island with no student community has been a big challenge. The few people I met who were my age all seemed to disappear to Tenerife at the end of September as there are more work opportunities there and La Palma can be boring (don’t worry, the Palmeros agree with me on the use of that adjective).

None of the teachers at my school had any young nephews or nieces for me to be friends with and I was afraid that if I joined one of the many Sunday rambling clubs my friends would be double my age and that we wouldn’t have much in common. But there are solutions and ways to get around many situations we find ourselves in.

One day I suddenly remembered about my old Couchsurfing account. I logged on and looked at the people in my area. Before I changed the filters there was a profile of a retired man who was a raw meat eater who lived in an ecological caravan somewhere…I didn’t send him a message! The two people who replied to my messages were one of the astrophysic students, Yeisson and another young Palmero, Martin.

Yeisson works in one of the telescopes on the island. He added me to a secret Facebook group where people organised events, meals, scuba diving and such. Through that I met a lot of great people although they were all older than me and had or were working on a PhD – making me sometimes feel like an outsider. This friendship group was also challenging as when they weren’t up the mountain at the telescopes for three days at a time they were sleeping or hibernating. They would go for a drink at 9pm, meaning people would arrive at 10pm and my bedtime on a school night was 11pm as I enjoy an eight hour sleep. I found it annoying too to be socialising in English with these people as I really wanted to speak as much Spanish as possible.

Martin on the other hand introduced me to a group of exercise mad guys who were just starting Crossfit sessions on the beach. After the first session I was hooked and the athletics group Aldake became good friends of mine. I have been training three times a week and competing in races at the weekends. A typical training session is a 20 minute warm up of abdominals and speed activation exercises, followed by a 9km run along the seaside avenue, past the military camp and to the infamous “steps” of Los Cancajos. There are 200 steps (yes, I’ve counted) and Dani always says these are the most important part of training as he makes us run up and down them several times.

I really enjoy physical challenges and the adrenaline rushes from races are amazing. My favourite race was the aquathlon, consisting of a 2.5km run, 1km swim in the sea (which was quite choppy on the day) and another 2.5km run. The sun was shining, people were cheering me on and when I hit the water it was just amazing to be in this competition and overtaking fully grown men! In the end, I won the women’s category and came home with a shiny golden trophy. It shows that even though I had a rough first two weeks trying to settle in and find young people, in the end it all paid off and you have to suffer a little if you want to reach your goals and golds! Having faith, patience and determination helped me to find my group of friends and now it will be incredibly hard to say goodbye to them all.

Posted in Cultural challenges