Islands are breeding grounds for myths and legends. Perhaps it’s the smallness, the lack of alternatives, which embellishes stories until the truth becomes lost in the mists of time, or in the case of Tenerife, perhaps in the sea of clouds which wreathes itself around the island’s heights. Whatever the reason, storytelling is alive and well and most definitely living on the archipelago.
My first story of El Médano was a true one, a curiosity. The next one is a myth, and, like all good myths, it varies slightly with the telling, which is the fascination with myths, isn’t it?……but I get ahead of myself.
It seems that around two hundred, or it might be three or even four hundred years ago, because the story would be appropriate to any of those eras, there lived in Granadilla de Abona, the municipality in the foothills to which El Médano was once port, a young girl called Maria, and her lover, Juan. Juan desperately wanted to marry Maria, but was poor and had nothing to offer her, so he hit on the idea of hopping on one of the trading vessels which stopped in Canarian ports in those years, and emigrating to the new world in search of his fortune.
This he did. Maria had eyes for no other, and swore she would wait for him until the day they could be together as man and wife. Long years passed. Juan prospered in the Americas and grew rich, and Maria waited.
One day, some say after two years, some say many more, Maria received a letter from Juan, telling her that at last he was wealthy enough to return to Tenerife and make her his wife. He was shortly to embark on a returning vessel which was bringing other émigrés back to their sunlit mountain in the sea.* Overjoyed, Maria spent her days on the sea-shore hoping to spy the ship’s sails on the horizon. Weeks passed, months passed, and finally years also passed without sight, without another word from or of her lover.
Speculation about what had happened to Juan and his companions was rife. It was mooted that a ship such as his, laden with treasures from the Americas was a prime target for pirates, and that it had been attacked and captured. Other tattle had it that a huge storm had dragged the boat down to Davy Jones’ Locker. It remained a mystery. Juan had, simply, disappeared.
Distraught, Maria stopped returning to the village at night, remaining on the beach, waiting and watching. She spoke with no-one, and rumors sprang up that sorrow had made her dumb, or that her voice and meshed with the roar of the waves, and she could only cry in anguish.
Then, one day the fisherman, accustomed to seeing her every day, saw that she was gone, but in the place where she used to wait, a small, rocky outcrop now reached from beach to ocean. They say that the ocean took pity on her and enfolded her in its embrace so that she could be reunited there with Juan, and that in her place it left these rocks in her memory.
Although myths always have different versions, most people tell the same story about Maria and her Juan, according to those with whom I’ve spoken or read. What seems to differ is just which rocky outcrop is the one which bears her name. There are two on the stretch of beach from Hotel Médano to the Montaña Roja Reserve, and it’s usually the one at the far end, near the mountain to which folk point.
*sunlit mountain in the sea ….. those lovely words are not mine, but Bruce Chatwin’s, from his book “In Patagonia,” when he meets there, in the barrenness, a Canary Islander who dreams of home.