Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


The Real Adeje Knocks Socks off the Coast

Most tourists and many ex-pats think they’ve visited Adeje when they visit the island.  Sure, the coastal resorts of Costa Adeje are a vast improvement on the way Playa de las Americas used to be, but Adeje “proper” is light-years away in style and atmosphere. If you think of Adeje as a county and Adeje village/town as the county seat, then you will get the idea.

The municipality of Adeje, which, together with neighboring Guia de Isora formed the Guanche kingdom or Mencey, of Adeje prior to the Spanish conquest, is a thriving and prosperous community. That’s because the area has the most hours of sunshine on the island, that for which most tourists still come. This coast is crammed with names familiar to the tourist trade, Playa de las Americas, Torviscas, La Caleta, Costa Fañabe, Costa Adeje, Playa Paraiso and Callao Salvaje, maybe others I’ve forgotten. However, the county town, sitting around 250m above sea level overlooks them, and it’s still a lively, but laid back, local community.

Neighbor on the other side, Arona, has moved much of its paperwork and offices down to the coast, but main post office, town hall and cultural center of Adeje are all still sited in the heart of town. This week I needed to make a trip to the town hall, and had the luck to choose a blissfully clear and sunny day. I like to get paperwork and such stuff out of the way as early in the day as I can to avoid the queues and delays which build up as the morning grinds on (laid back, remember!), so I arrived a little early and wandered around for a while. I’d been meaning to come and take a look at the new town square, which was much publicized when it was dedicated not so long ago. With the town hall on one side and the parish church on the other it teeters on the very edge of the Barranco del Infierno, and is a fabulous vantage point to view the valley and surrounding hills, which at the moment, after the winter rains, look as if they are covered in green velvet.

As you can see in the picture above, it is a stunning juxtaposition of natural beauty, history and modern architecture, not something you see very often elsewhere, and yet, for all the concrete construction and spoiling of the coastline, it’s not that uncommon on this island.

Clock atop the Town Hall

Sitting on the steps of the plaza I fell into a conversation with an old guy who was watching his two small and elderly dogs frisking about.  “That one’s 70, the same age as me,” he boasted.  I resisted the temptation to scream or to reveal my age.  I noted the walking stick laid next to him, and also the fact he was quite heftily over-weight.  “People in Adeje don’t like dogs,” he commented.  I agreed, having stayed there for a few months some years back.  I told him that El Médano was a much friendlier place for dogs.  “Used to work there,” he said, “On the banana plantation.”  This sounded interesting.  I’ve seen workers being bused in to work there, and I figured that the conditions were quite hard under the plastic sheeting used to protect the plants from the high winds, and I was thinking of sitting down next to him.  I knew if I did my morning was probably shot at, and it would be hard to get away.  Then he said, “All Communists there, you know.”  No, I hadn’t realized that.  “Oh you need to be careful.  I’ve worked there, and they’re all Communists.”  OK, I figured it was probably time to go see if the motor taxation department was open yet, so I wished him a nice day and strolled off, wishing maybe I’d had that conversation a few years back when possibly his mind was a bit more agile.

My business done, I wound my way through the one-way system out of town and passed this canon which stands in front of the old Casa Fuerte, or fortified residence. Adeje was a prosperous area almost from the beginning of Spanish rule. Sugar cane, which was a major crop on the islands for a long time was grown there and shipped to Europe from the port of La Caleta, where I watched the ceremonial bathing of livestock on festival of San Sebastian last month. tI would be a bit grand to call Casa Fuerte a fort, but the historical marker provides a sketch of the original layout of the building you see behind the canon. It included the lookout tower, residence and servants quarters, a small chapel, grain storage and an archive room, and it reminds me for all the world of something from one of those old movies about colonial Mexico….and, I suppose, with reason. There are parallels and comparisons to be made between colonization in the archipelago and that in South America. . The building was more or less destroyed by fire over a hundred years ago (does it seem ripe for renovation and exploitation to you, or is it just me?), but happily those archives were rescued and turned over to the local authority.

This morning is pretty much what an average day can be like here.  The motor tax thing was pretty straightforward for once; I had a glimpse of history and of Mother Nature’s allure; I admired modern architecture and I had a quirky conversation – and in the midst of all that I forgot to get myself a coffee on the pretty main street, which is a very tempting place to sit under the trees on a warm morning.


The Prettiest Village in South Tenerife

My dad has been staying with me since Christmas Eve.  He’s 87 and extremely spry and together for his age, but he can’t get around as he used to. When we first emigrated, and he came to visit, he would happily roam all around the southern coast when I was busy, but these days a half hour’s walk is the most he can manage.  Last year I hadn’t quite latched on to that, he’s always been so sprightly, but this year I realized that I had to think of places to go where a short walk, a coffee and maybe another short walk would make a decent “outing”.

I drove through Santiago del Teide on my way to Icod just before Christmas, and I was struck, as always,  by how picturesque and elegant it looks, nestled amongst craggy hills and surrounded by what must be the greenest part of the south, and I added it to my list of places to visit with my dad.  Pretty and small enough that a short stroll would be enjoyable, but also interesting for me too.

That I chose yesterday, which was an achingly crystal clear day, as you can see from the blue skies in the pictures, was sheer luck.  When I drove through on the return from Icod the town had been shrouded in thick mist of the best Hound of the Baskervilles variety.  The way places are named here, Santiago del Teide is the name of the municipality which covers an area of just over 52 sq kilometres, ranging from 1015 meters above sea level, right down to the stunning cliffs of Los Gigantes on the coast, but when you say the name most folk think of the village at the heart of the municipality, which lies at a mere 936 m above the ocean,  and that was our destination.

My car is of the old and faithful variety, so I was quite happy to be stuck behind hire cars and tour buses for almost the entire time after we left the main highway, the TF1.  That makes it sound like a busy route, and it wasn’t at all.  I speak of one hire car and one bus, actually.  The traffic was light, which is the way I’ve always found it once through the bustling, little village of Guia de Isora. It’s a route which quietly unravels and gets greener and greener as you travel.  Let’s be honest, the south and south-east coasts have a lot going for them in many ways, but pretty isn’t a word which springs to mind.  Leave them behind and it’s a whole, new world, and I was delighted to be able to take my time and glance around me now and then at the clusters of cacti, the breathtaking view down to the ocean, or the almond trees which are just coming into blossom.

If you look closely you can see the first, fragile flowers

The sad thing was that the aforesaid bus was heading right for the same place we were, even down to where I’d planned to park, so I decided on sustenance first and exercise afterwards.  We parked close to the charming, 17th century church, and crossed the road to the recreation area, where we could sit and enjoy a coffee under the shade of eucalyptus trees, and wait for the “hoards” to leave.  This area is one of the ones I wrote about last year.  It lies alongside the main road, but truly the road isn’t so busy that it would spoil an afternoon there.  I’ve only done it once, but it was delightful, and a nice wee stoll along a dry stream bed for the dogs made it even nicer.  At the entrance there is a small bar, which I now kick myself for not snapping, because it isn’t often you see somewhere constructed to allow for the surrounding trees, which seem to emerge from its roof.  Maria who runs it cooks a mean hamburger too, as I remembered once we sat down and the aroma drifted out.  I was hooked, I had to have one,  and I actually almost managed to finish it.

By that time the bus had moved on, leaving the village peaceful in the balmy, afternoon sun, so we trotted over to the church.  I’d noted that the bus party had visited the church, but was surprised to find the doors still wide open.  It just doesn’t happen that much anymore, sadly.  It used to be that you could always pop into a church, but I digress.  It was open, and we stepped inside, to be almost overwhelmed by the color and the quantity of statues, icons and pictures which filled the walls.

It’s a small church, but every nook and cranny was filled.  It was more crowded than usual because the whole area around the altar was occupied by the belén (nativity scene), which included a couple of real, live ducks – in a tiny cage, suspended from the ceiling, poor things!   Given that twelth night was 48 hours passed you might have thought they would have had their freedom back!  Clearly things had been moved around to make room for the Christmas display.

Being with my dad meant I couldn’t have the good old nosey around I would normally have had. Walking he can handle, but stopping to admire or investigate is bad for his back, so it was a quick look around and onwards.  I’m not religious in the conventional sense, and if was I’m sure I would lean these days to a simpler style of worship and belief, in other words, I often find the ostentation of church displays uncomfortable, but walking into this little church was something like walking into a rainbow, and I couldn’t help but like it.

After leaving, we wandered the streets close to the church for a little while, where modern houses blended tastefully with the older, well-kept buildings, cocks crowed from what looked like overgrown lots, and bees buzzed lazily in the Spring sunshine.  A couple of old ladies, sitting on benches by the kiddies’ playground seemed to eye us with suspicion, but  responded with smiles to my “Buenos tardes.”  It’s almost always that way here.  The playground was empty, but as you can see, even this was cheerful and colorfully decorated, guaranteed to stimulate young imaginations, don’t you think?

By the time we reached the end of the playground my dad knew he’d had enough, so we turned back, me with mental notes of things I wanted to know (the Tourist Information Office was closed by the time I tried the handle around 3 o’clock…….and I wasn’t the only one, but somehow I didn’t mind there.  It was siesta time.  Middle of Santa Cruz is another story.  It’s a busy, little, capital city, and if it wants the cruise ships it will have to accommodate tourists on their timeframe.), and things I wanted to see in a different light, at a different time of day.  I did a little sortie down a side road, but it was clear that my dad was tuckered out, so I left it all for another day.

I didn’t even investigate the new rural hotel, where I’d had a coffee last year, and about which I’ve heard great reports, just read this one from local journalist Andy Montgomery, but I love to leave something for another time, wherever I go, unless I hate a place it’s great to have a reason to go back, and I really can’t think of another village in the south which is as simply pretty as Santiago del Teide.

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The Diversity that is Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Returning home when I’ve enjoyed a different location, even if it was only a short stay, unsettles me.  In England I miss the sunshine of Tenerife; when I’m here, I miss the all the yummy choices I can find in English supermarkets; in West New York I missed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Europe; in cities I miss the peace of the countryside, and in the countryside I miss the buzz of cities.  I suppose the only answer is to keep travelling……if only it was feasible!

Returning last week wasn’t nearly so bad as usual though, because the following day I shot straight up to Santa Cruz to meet some friends who had a brief stopover on their cruise.  The pleasure of meeting up and spending time with friends apart, it  refreshed my fondness for this delightful, little city, as I whizzed them around a small part of it, and so made me appreciate where I am.

Let me give you a virtual version of the whirlwind tour, which I hoped showed off the variety of the capital of the Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as well as the island:

If you land in Santa Cruz on a cruise, or if you drive up from the South your first stop will almost certainly be La Plaza de España.  It is, for many people, the heart of the city, although, not, I think if you live there.  It is framed on one side by the sea and the docks for the “nice” boats (the cruise ships, yachts, sometimes tall ships and the ferries), on another by the island government offices and the Post Office, and on the other two by cafés and pleasant, tree-lined avenues, at the moment with jacarand in glorious bloom, and beyond those the spectacular Anaga Mountains.  We walked up from the security post, which was a near to my friends’ ship as I was allowed, and emerged onto the Promenade just opposite the Plaza.

Almost two years ago a complete remodelling of the square was completed.  The central roundabout, on which stood the War Memorial, had become a complete traffic snarl-up, and the noise and fumes definitely detracted from the pleasure of sipping an expresso in one of the bars or cafés thereabouts…..remember this is a year-round good climate, and coffee sipping is almost always conducted outdoors.

Me a couple of days after the opening of the remodelling.

The area is now dominated by a shallow, modern, ornamental pool (I can’t bring myself to use the word “lake”), from which spurts every now and then (cannot fathom the times out) a huge water spout.  It looks quite effective, as you can see in the few photos I have ever managed to get of it functioning, but it has caused consternation amongst local cab drivers, whose cars get sprayed every time it is in action – given that there is almost always a constant breeze from the ocean!  Other than that, it has been controversial in general.  Being a modern design, does it compliment, detract or enhance the existing architecture?   Personally, I like it, and think it will improve with time.  On its “banks” are three very low-rise buildings, which resemble caves (this I presume to be intentional, since ancient cultures here were cave dwellers, so I assume it is a nod in the direction of history, as there are other aspects of the design which are similar acknowledgements of the island’s past).  They are covered by local plants, so that from some angles they don’t even look like buildings, and given time the plants will grow and spread, and look, generally, much nicer than they do right now.

It was interesting to note, though, that it was the pool rather than the 1930s Memorial to the Fallen which grabbed my friends’ attention.  The typical-of-its-era Art Deco-ish tower rises high above the Plaza, and dominates the Square.

Most tourists from Plaza de España will head straight up the adjoining Plaza de la Candelaria and to the pedestrianized walkway, where they will find plenty of bars and shops directed purely at them.  Many of the façades have been renovated in recent years, or are being renovated at the moment.  It’s pleasant, the shops reflect current fashions or offer the so-called duty free goods for which the Canaries are famous in Europe, but it isn’t really representative of Tenerife, unless as a symbol of the tourism on which we so much depend.

But my task was to show my friends glimpses of the city they probably wouldn’t otherwise have seen, so our little tour instead diverted to take a look at Teatro Guimerá  and the impressive sculpture which sits outside.  The theater opened in 1851, and inside is all red velvet and gold, as you would expect, reminiscent of theaters seen in old Western movies.  It is, in fact, the oldest theater in the islands, and to sit in the gods there is a seriously scary experience!  Outside, is, for my money, so representative of the blend of old and modern in this city,  this stunning sculpture by Igor Mitoraj.  Mitoraj’s work can also be found in Canary Wharf and in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by the way.  This one is entitled Per Adriane, and, no, I hadn’t a clue who he was until I looked him up!

In the photo course I am doing at the moment we just touched on HDR, and I can’t wait to go back and make an attempt at a better photo, but this will have to do for now!  See how the sky fades to white – but I’ve seen that on professional photos of this same scene, so maybe not so bad as I think!

From the theater we crossed the Serrador Bridge over to the Mercardo de Nuestra Señora de Africa.  I never cease to take pleasure in this market which showcases fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and meats in the good, old-fashioned way.  A central courtyard provides a place to sit for a while if your  packages get too heavy…….note: the coffee is good, and the service top-class friendly with a grin, and there is a shady, little childrens’ playground too, which my friends’ little girl loved.   The present building dates back to 1943, when the city outgrew the old market, and a bigger one had to be built.  It has an interesting story of reinventing itself over the years.  Perhaps another time?

From the market we ambled back towards and under the Serrador Bridge to stroll down the delightful Calle Noria.  The first time I came across this street, by accident, some years back, it was in the final stages of restoration, and reminded me of pictures I’d seen of the colourful streets of old Habana.  Since then the restored premises have been taken by restaurants and bars, and a vibrant nightlife centers around the street.  It even has its own Facebook page, listing coming events!/calledelanoria?ref=ts   I think I’ve eaten in all of the restaurants over the past few years, and they were all, without exception, absolutely first class, but if I had to chose one it would be “Bulan”.  If you get chance to eat there, do go inside too, to look at how the old interior has been decorated to make it an original venue with lots of ambience.  To get a good look, you need to go during the day, when it’s quieter, at night it fills up with trendy, young city folk.

At the end of the street sits la Iglesia de la Concepción, the city church of Santa Cruz.  It is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it isn’t, the island’s cathedral is in La Laguna. The church is now a little worse-for-wear after storms in February, when many archives, stored in the basement, which flooded, were lost.  At the moment the entrance is still blocked by sandbags, but local tv reports that many, willing volunteers are helping to restore and repair this building, which dates back to 1500, when construction began to replace the small chapel first built where the area fell to the Spanish Conquistadors.

For our next stop we needed to go by car, and in contrast to what I think of as the Spanish-colonial style architecture of the church and the old buildings we seen, there rose in front of us next, as we headed for the car park, the magnificent Auditorio de Tenerife.  The building seems to curve, like a huge wave from ocean to earth, and is a the purest white, sparkling in sunlight by day or dramatic lighting by night from the thousands of pieces of purest white mosaic which adorn it…..imagine Gaudi, but stunning, stunning white.

My snap does this magnificent structure no favors at all.  I snapped it quickly from the roof of the bus station a while back,  and one day I must get some decent photos.

Designed by world-renown architect Santiago Calatrava, it was inaugurated in 2003.  I know very, very little about architecture, but have come to now often recognize the flowing lines typical of this brilliant architect/designer, one of whose current projects is the new transportation hub in the new World Trade Center complex.  Do check out his website, which is awesome .

This Opera House is well used, and truly is a community center for the island, if not the province.  As well as operas I’ve attended symphony concerts, jazz and blues concerts, and world music events, and friends have been to ballet, dance and musicals staged there.  It has also hosted some major conferences.  In addition to the acoustically perfect main auditorium, there is a small, intimate venue and a huge outdoor space, where you are cooled by the sea breeze on hot Summer nights, and feel as if you are a part of the performance you are watching.

This day there was no time to visit, only to admire from afar, cruise schedules being what they are, and given the need to at least dip a toe in the warmer shores of the North Atlantic, so we headed for the local beach at Las Teresitas, about ten or fifteen minutes drive towards the mountains.

This beach, amazingly, is not much frequented by foreign tourists. It is easily the prettiest beach in Tenerife, nestling under a stunning mountain backdrop, and boasting a glittery yellow/white sand which was imported from the Sarhara Desert in 1973,  before exporting sand from there was no longer feasible because it ceased to become a Spanish colony (oh, that’s a long, long story too).  It often features on postcards, but its surroundings are virtually undeveloped.  Rarely does a day pass without some local newspaper or other carrying a story about the scandal and corruption surrounding the proposed upgrade and improvement.

I always kind of bemoan the advancing tide of tourist-aimed “improvements”, but my brief visit on this day decided for me that this is a case where it’s needed.  The beach itself is delightful, one of the few on this breezy island where palms sway, and the only one with sand of this color to give it that tropical feel.  Amenities, however, are few and dingy.  I hadn’t been for a while, and imagined it had changed for the better, as beaches in the South have, but when we entered a dirty hut, which served as a bar, in search of ice cream our request was  answered by scruffy man in dirty clothes, who seemed a bit threatening,  with a brief “no”.  It took me right back to the “old days”…… obviously he had never heard of the “Tenerife Amable” (Friendly Tenerife) campaign which the government was promoting a couple of years back…….more thoughts on that another time.

Ice creamless, then, we headed back to the harbor and the floating mini-city of luxury, where, I realized ruefully, my friends would be able to get all the ice cream they desired, and served with a smile.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful, vibrant city of contrasts – contrasts of architecture, of peoples, and sadly, contrasts of attitude.  This was just a short tour.  I’ll take you on another some day if you like.