In a country renown for its crazy festivals, on an island known for its love of fiestas, Las Tablas de San Andres is surely one of the wackiest. Don’t let the name fool you – it might take place on St Andrew’s Day, but it’s not at all religious, unlike many of Tenerife’s celebrations, which are based loosely on Catholic philosophy………
That was how I began this post, back in December. The trouble with being “away” for so long is that you forget “how to do it,” write that is. Oh, not the tapping of keys or the putting together of words, but the train of thought, the remembrance of things said before, even the enthusiasm for a place or an event. I wrote a couple of paragraphs back in December, and then it occurred to me to check what I had written the last time, because I knew I’d written about this festival a few years back, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. When I looked, I realized that I had nothing new to say. I knew that I could say it better now (note to self: tidy up that post!), but the information, my feelings, my reactions were pretty much the same.
The beginning of my blogging hiatus perhaps began with this one in 2015. I was already out of love with the perennial round of fiestas which punctuates island life. My relationship with Tenerife, like a stale marriage, lacked sparkle and curiosity, and even love. Predictably, festivals come around, and I enjoy them, but they have all fudged together in my mind. They follow the traditional paths they have taken for decades, and I needed variety. I was finding it difficult to raise enough enthusiasm to go, let alone write about them, which is not to say that you shouldn’t go to them, especially if you are here on vacation. The island does fiestas superbly, they are colourful, friendly, fun and a tribute to island heritage.
When I first arrived on the island, and at various intervals after, I embraced all sorts of stuff, festivals, places, food, people, with enthusiasm. It was all a delightful learning curve. But now, having spent 3/7ths of my life here, I admit to being a tad jaded. I feed on the new and unknown. Then in 2016 something shifted in me. I’d kind of dabbled in walking on the islands, but there was a point in that year when a part time hobby became a passion. More of that later, because this post is not about walking.
For now, let me say that luckily for me walking had taught me that there are ways in which Tenerife is almost entirely unpredictable, and one is the weather, witness one day a couple of weeks back. My friend, Colleen, and I set out to do a short walk, so that she could, hopefully, get some shots of spring flowers in the Anaga Mountains. Anaga is the lushest part of this island, and without doubt my favourite. As we crossed the imaginary boundary between south and north, visibility reduced with each turn of the wheels. We’d checked weather forecasts, but with a myriad of micro-climates within roughly 785 square miles, it’s not surprising that the vista wasn’t quite as expected. Even before we reached the tree line, it was obvious that views were going to be dictated by the horizontal drizzle which had enveloped us. We repaired to the village of Las Mercedes for cake and coffee to work out Plan B, and consult Google.
Of the various possible destinations we checked almost all showed the symbol of the sun peeping out from behind a cloud or two. Thing is, that means one thing in the south of the island, and entirely another “over the border.” A cloud over El Médano’s sun means from time to time the sun will hide to allow time to leave the beach and have lunch; a cloud over the sun in The Teide National Park might mean, “You’ll be lucky if the sun shows up for a minute or two.” With our shared wisdom and that of Google, we decided to head for the island’s true north, roughly Buenavista del Norte /Garachico. Remember the aim of this trip is to get some snaps of spring flowers…. because I’m rambling again, just like my first days of blogging, but what the heck? This is my blog!
Once you leave behind the busy TF5 motorway, this route is the best coastal ride on Tenerife, from the lush slopes of the Orotava Valley on one side to the roiling Atlantic on the other. In places it reminds me of the fabulous coastal scenery of the French Riviera. Meter by meter the day brightened, and the always spectacular views of Mt Teide revealed a scattering of snow still on the peak. On a whim, we took the turn for Playa de San Marcos, and found folk lying on the beach. A different scene from Las Mercedes is hard to imagine, yet we had travelled less than a half hour.
This is the prettiest beach on the island, without question, and it held a small surprise. Tucked in between the disappointing concrete on the Promenade was a wee chapel, which might be the loveliest I’ve seen on the island. A plaque explaining its origin was too high for me to read properly, except for the date, which was 1926, which is not old by standards here, where the origins of many churches date back to just after the conquest, but definitely predating the surrounding buildings. As you know, I find conventional religion mostly off-putting, but this had such tranquility that I immediately felt that connection which one is supposed to feel in such places. It was too tempting not to stop for refreshment again in a bar on the Promenade and just drink in the view.
All this refreshing came at a price. We realized at this point that if we were going to take any photos this day, best bet was to head over the hills to Santiago del Teide, where we knew the island lived up to its nickname of “Island of Eternal Spring.” As we ascended and left behind the sunbathers, we were shrouded in mist again, but not so much that we couldn’t Oh and Ah over the scenes around Erjos, where the hillsides had turned to gold, with flowers at every turn. Still there was that creeping mist and low visibility, and our stomachs were beginning to rumble.
The weather in Santiago del Teide turned out to be an imitation of that weather forecast icon. It was warm enough to site outside the quirky kiosk alongside the barbecue area (quirky because there is a tree growing through the roof), and scoff tapas with a cool, local white wine, but we could see those mists creeping down the hillsides.
Knowingly, we drove into the mist, because we knew that in Valle de Arriba there is a certain field which becomes the quintessential spring meadow most years. Less than five minutes from eating al fresco, we were heads down into a heavy veil of chirimiri (the Spanish word for drizzle, isn’t it divine?) A quick dash, snap, snap, snap and we were back in the car, soaked and laughing, and working on Plan C.
In 2011 a timelapse called The Mountain, which I’ve referenced before, became a social media phenomenon. Photographed by Norwegian Terje Sorgjerd, mostly in the Teide National Park, it was breathtaking. I remembered a scene from the video. In April the forest floor on the descent from the Teide National Park to the village of Chio is a carpet of yellow, where endless clusters of sweet, golden lotus campylocladus cover the ground. I’d seen this once and had always meant to go back. So, this was my opportunity. Off we went again, stopping to admire the view over the Atlantic from Arguayo, and the blue tajinaste in full flower by the Mirador de Chirche.
This time ascent took us away from the mists, and the higher we climbed the sunnier it became …. however, little sign of the golden carpet. A few pretty bundles of flowers perched by the roadside, but not the infinity I remembered. We stopped for a while, and snapped La Gomera hovering on the horizon, and Mt Teide lording it over the landscape to the other side, and decided to take the long way home through the caldera, always a thrill, even after all these years. Firefighters and trucks dotted the route. The first wildfire of the year was being fought near the famous Paisaje Lunar. Other lives: lives which speak of generous bravery and tireless work on the one hand; and maybe others which speak of unfathomable evil or stupidity (so early in the year, and not long after rain, the consensus in the press was that it was the work of man, unintentional or not).
And so to home, after a day which had, literally, taken us around the island. It hadn’t turned out to be as we had anticipated or hoped, but it had been a day of unexpected experiences, and sights, a mini voyage of discovery in a landscape I thought familiar. We had also lived the boast the tourist office sometimes makes, about seeing four seasons in one day; from the Autumnal rain in Anaga to the fine, spring drizzle in Valle de Arriba; and from the glimpses of winter on the mountain peak to basking in sunshine in Playa San Marcos.
This is the draw of the island for me, the unpredictability, often driven by the micro climates, the unexpected and the possibility to turn to Plan B or C or even D. This is Why Tenerife? – for now.
(Note: Terje Sorgjerd apparently disappeared from social media at the end of 2013, and hasn’t published anything since. I surfed the Net a bit, but apparently this is something of an Internet mystery)