Belfast Telegraph

I'm having a whale of a time as I hit 50

By Frances Burscough

Hola mis amigos y buenos dias from the Canary Islands where I am spending a well-earned week in the sun with a friend as a pre-birthday present to myself.

As much as I love Oor Wee Country, you just can't beat a bit of sun on your back once in a while. As last year's holiday was such an unmitigated disaster (my dad took sick and we spent the whole week going backwards and forwards to a Turkish hospital) from which we all returned home paler, more stressed and far less relaxed than when we left ... well, I've been needing a holiday ever since.

So after months of watching friends and neighbours come and go from various foreign climes without having had so much as a trip to Barry's in Portrush to call my own, I decided enough was enough, downed tools and consulted the cheapo deals on the internet.

And I'm really glad I did.

If you have limited resources like me (and don't mind being where all the action isn't ...) then an out-of-season holiday is definitely the answer. Because I planned it all online and chose from what was immediately available at very short notice, I managed to get flights, transfers and accommodation in a nice hotel for just (slightly over) one overdraft. The fact that I used a credit card, too, rather than actual money, meant that I didn't feel one single pang of worry or guilt in the process because the money was never there in the first place! Everyone wins!

So here I am, in the small unspoilt town of Las Caletillas on the north east coast of Tenerife, typing into my trusty laptop and enjoying a glass of sangria as the sun sinks into the ocean behind me.

In many ways it feels like a rite of passage as much as a holiday. Not only am I signing off the summer, but I'm also saying a very glad goodbye to my forties. Ten years ago this month – just days away from my 40th birthday – everything came crashing down and I began a difficult journey into uncharted territory as a forty-something single mum.

I'll never forget that bizarre mixed feeling of dread and hope I had on my 40th. If it was true what they say that life begins at 40, then I was certainly about to find out! So just to test the theory and to give myself something to look ahead to with excitement rather than back at with regret, I made a list of 50 things I wanted to do before I turned 50.

Among those things was to go whale-watching in the Atlantic Ocean from the deck of a beautiful boat.

And today, just three weeks before my personal deadline, I finally did just that. Oh my god, what an experience – and it wasn't even planned.

For the price of a day return to Dublin we set sail from the port of Los Cristianos in a magnificent wooden-hulled gulet out into the Atlantic straits between the islands where pods of pilot whales regularly congregate to feast on its bountiful squid.

Within minutes of leaving the coastal shallows a group of dolphins appeared, playfully leaping in the wake of the ship as though they were genuinely excited to have the attention. That in itself was an absolute joy to behold, but then the captain spotted the distinctive curved dorsal fins of whales on the horizon and before long we were just feet away from the sight I'd waited a whole lifetime to see. Fifteen massive pilot whales, an entire family including two babies, languidly basking in the sparkling azure waters against the spectacularly rugged volcanic vista of Mount Teide. I felt like I was part of that amazing BBC documentary The Blue Planet. All that was missing was David Attenborough waxing lyrical about the magnificent majesty and incredible grace of these triumphs of mammalian evolution.

So that's one off the list.

Now that leaves me three weeks to fit in the following:

Seeing Venice and Rome; bartering in the souks of Marrakesh; learning to ski; learning to ice skate; going twitching in a secluded hide with Chris Packham; having a love-child to Brad Pitt; becoming a volunteer with Assisi Animal Sanctuary; learning to deal like a seasoned poker pro; going paragliding over the Caribbean; observing the Milky Way through the Hubble Telescope; tasting every single rum from the West Indies; going on board the International Space Station; starring in a spaghetti western; smoking a Havana cigar that's been hand-rolled on the thighs of a Cuban virgin; a private box at Etihad Stadium for a Manchester Derby in which City thrash the Reds 4-1 (again); going on a husky ride across the Arctic Circle and watching the Aurora Borealis over Lapland.

Now ... where did I put that credit card?

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