It wasn’t the aboriginal Guanche, who lived on this archipelago before the Conquest, nor the Spanish Conquistadors, who named the island chain, but Juba ll of Mauritania, well, at least according to Pliny it was. The word Canaria (Canary) coming from the Latin word for dog, canis, and having nothing at all to do with our feathered friends. Apparently, back in history, multitudes of wild dogs roamed the islands, or, another theory postulates, possibly it was seals, canis marinus, but whatever, the name stuck.
There is an abundance of myths surrounding the islands, which some claim are the Lost Garden of the Hesperides; and others claim to be the site of Atlantis. They were also known as The Fortunate Islands – an ancient Greek version of paradise, which was somewhere in Macronesia, they say. Take your pick, and remember that perhaps choosing one name does not preclude another.
Whichever name you like to use, there is no doubting that the Canary Islands are idealized, and that is, largely, because of their climate, which is, overall, warm, rather than hot, and rarely extreme; even when snow falls on the mountains of Tenerife (remember that El Teide is the highest peak in Spain) it never settles long. When you put the gentle climate together with the rich and porous, volcanic soil you have a veritable Garden of Eden (and, yes, that is another theory).
So, is there a Spring? Are there seasons at all? I’ve written about Autumn here before, about how different it is from countries further north, and about how much I miss it, but I’ve hardly mentioned the other seasons apparently. Odd in one way, because Tenerife’s nickname is The Island of Eternal Spring. In a way, that confirms the idea that there is no change in season, and that’s not really true, and yet in another way it is! If you’ve lived in countries where seasons are more clearly defined as the year rolls around, it takes a while to get used to the subtle seasonal changes.
Summer is a state of mind in the Canary Islands. A change comes over the islands. Local television celebrates the onset of the season every bit as much as if it signaled the major weather change which it does further north. Familiar faces disappear from local tv as long holidays are taken. Life moves outdoors whether beach or mountain barbecue, or simply sitting on a terrace or balcony, however humble, to catch the morning sun, or the evening breeze. It’s that evening breeze which keeps us sane, curtails the temperatures, so that when you step outside after 7 or 8 o’clock there is a pleasant balminess, a breeze which can feel even cool on sunburned skin.
Many offices grind to a near halt in late June, and school is out until early September. Flights are more expensive – which makes me feel trapped. In an emergency I would have to pay a small fortune to get to mainland Europe. A weekend visit to Santa Cruz is a delight as the city streets empty and residents flock to the coasts. The highest temperature I ever experienced here was in Santa Cruz, an unpleasant, but not unbearable, 43º. As in all cities, the heat bounces off the concrete, hence the weekend exodus. Many residents of the capital have holiday homes in the south, or elsewhere along the coasts, and it isn’t unusual for mom and the kids to decamp for the entire summer, to be joined by dad on the weekend. Yet, with low humidity and Atlantic breezes the heat isn’t nearly so exhausting as I’ve experienced elsewhere in Europe.