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


Crossing the Caldera

Missing the full impact of the sunrise I described (or at least tried to) in my last post I would normally have sulked (at best), but on that day I was able to be delightfully zen about the missed opportunity. Why? Because I was on my way to crossing an item of my bucket list, and that was to walk the Siete Cañadas trail, a walk which takes you some 16 kilometers, across the breadth of the caldera in the Teide National Park, from the parador to El Portillo, the crossroads where the downward journey to the northern side of the island begins. Crossing the top of the island you might say.

Pilar taking a closer look a local wildlife.

I’ve been hearing for a long, long time about this walk, that it’s a  challenge on a hot day; that it’s a journey through time – from the volcanic eruptions of pre-history, through the legends of the Guanches (the aboriginal island inhabitants); through the remains of more recent pastoral and colonial history to present day status as a World Heritage Site; that it’s a dream for photographers, botanists, birdwatchers and geologists; and that the surreal landscapes of the area, at times majestic, at times ghostly, are even more dramatic  at these close quarters.

All of that was true, and more.

I’d walked a part of the trail twice in recent months, around an hour into the four-and-a-half of the whole each time  (once en route to my memorable night sleeping in a cave before we diverged as it joined another trail, and once as a short walk a couple of weeks back), so my imagination was already in overdrive when we set out on Saturday from the village of La Camella, just above Los Cristinos.

The early start was utterly worth it. We passed hardly any other cars on our ascent, let alone buses or motorbikes. That alone was dream-like, curving lazily around the bends, slowing down when we passed something interesting, and relaxing for the walk ahead. When we alighted at the parador, which nestles in the heart of the crater, there was the faintest chill in the air, just enough to don  a light windbreaker, but we had risen above the cloud cover and the crystal clear skies promised heat in the hours ahead.

Looking back at Guajara, the moon was still high in the morning sky.

The beginning of the walk, if you set off from the parador end,  is, arguably, the most impressive part,  with its truly weird and twisted rock formations, and this was the part I already knew. The photographer in me was glad I’d done it before, because at 8.45 the sun was only just rising over the mountainsides, leaving the tortured volcanic shapes in shade. The picture below is from a previous visit.

More and more, as I walk this island, I realize how  connected its history is to the landscape. It flows out of its peaks and woodlands, and it’s almost tangible.  This route, on which we were setting out, previously called camino chasnero, was at one time the quickest way of connecting  north to south. Last Saturday we probably didn’t meet more than a couple of dozen walkers in the five hours we rambled, but it may well have been much busier in the past than it is today, as farmers  from the north, with mules laden with chestnuts, pigs, and farm implements, traveled southward, and figs, potatoes and cochineal were hauled north, and this was the easy part, the plains of the caldera, there were mountainsides to climb first and then to descend after the crossing. The stories remind me of those of the “Wild West,” of the wagon trains which crossed North America around this same time in history.

Along the way traders would have met goatherds and their flocks; folk hoping that the mountain air would cure illnesses like asthma, bronchitis or tuberculosis, and in later years scientists and astronomers studying earth and sky. The central plain is littered with crumbling, one-or-two-room buildings, which are probably a mixture of goatherds’ shelters and the simple cottages used by the infirm. I knew from January’s bivvy how cold it can get at night, and these simple buildings seemed totally inadequate protection!

Abandoned shelter and an army skeletons marching down the mountainside, the remains of last year’s abundance of tajinaste rojo.

Even before the route was used by farm folk taming and colonizing the island,  evidence suggests that it was used by  the Guanches. The mountainsides which form the wall of the caldera, like so many places here, are pockmarked by caves of some dimension or other, and archaeologists have found  remains, including mummified bodies along the route, most famously in Cañada del Capricho. Mummies have been found in these surreal rocks in caves so high up that they could only be accessed by modern climbing methods. How they were placed there remains just one of the mysteries which died with the Guanches. Of course it’s hard to separate fact and fiction now.

The Guanche princess Guajara is said to have thrown herself to her death from the mountain which now bears her name, as I mentioned back in January, but there are other versions of that story too, and somewhere the aboriginal beliefs and real history intertwined and soon became lost under the rule of the Conquistadors.  Guanche folklore, or as much as has been gleaned from the remnants of the past, told of the fire god, Guayota, who kidnapped the sun-god and hauled him down to the depths of hell through the portal which was the mountain top, El Teide.  Magec, the sun-god, was rescued by the god of gods, Achamán, who then trapped Guayota inside the mountain. Thought about logically, all of that makes prefect sense as an interpretation of volcanic activity by a Stone-age people. El Teide (or Echedye as it was called by the Guanche) was both feared and sacred.  When you walk Siete Cañadas he watches you, brooding, waiting. You can’t ignore or escape it. Its colors seem to change with the light or the angle from which you view it, its lava flows speaking of times even before the eruptions the Guanches remember.

Teide seen from the end of the walk.

Before man walked here, the earth’s violence scattered these plains  with rocks, boulders, pumice and finer sand, which were wrenched from its bowels and vomited over the landscape. Sometimes, in a field of small, black rocks you find an enormous, red boulder, which doesn’t fit with the other types of rock you see around. Was it flung from some more distant eruption? Which one? How far did it soar into the air before it landed just here?

This walk is far better than any theme park, back-to-the-future-type ride.

About half way we stopped to eat, seeking shade from the sun in one of those crumbling shelters, with Teide hovering above, all-seeing. Up to that point we had seen little fauna, but as we rustled our wrappers and bags, tiny eyes appeared at seemingly every crevice in the stonework, and a few, braver lizards came out to inspect us. Bird life apart, the zone’s fauna is mostly invertebrates, and I’m far from knowledgeable about them. Spiders’ webs decorated the space, strung between plants, but there was little sign of anything more to my ignorant eye.

El Teide from our “dining room” in an abandoned shelter.

Birds were another matter, thanks to Pilar, I have new knowledge of the birds of the high mountains. Kestrels, of course, are everywhere on the island. They swoop over autopistas; you look down them as they hover in valleys, their reddish feathers gorgeous in the sunlight, as you drive or walk upwards; and they soar above you at this height, perching on high rocks to survey their territory, as they did this day. I’ve seen the odd buzzard sometimes, and at the beginning of this walk we disturbed a couple of really brightly colored blue tits, as we approached our first tajinaste of the day. However, the treat of the day, and I got excited by Pilar’s enthusiasm, was when we heard what sounded like a gaggle of mini chickens, making a fair old din. It stopped us in our tracks, and Pilar, in stealth mode, neared the tangle of plant life from which it came. As she tiptoed closer another sound which I would never have identified as a bird. It was deep and sudden, and not at all animal-like, clearly a warning, which reminded me for all the world of some tone for a mobile phone. I stayed back for fear of disturbing them more than necessary, but it turned out to be a great grey shrike nest. We had already spotted one a couple of miles back. Eventually momma bird flitted off in search of sustenance, and I got a nice view as she scooted from branch to branch, her head with its Zorro-type mask cocked to listen for possible dangers. She was far too quick for my camera, though. I’m thinking that a serious birdwatcher might have a great old time there right now.

Lone tajinaste

From time to time as we walked there was a whisper of the scent of broom on the air, but whether it was that last year’s display of flora was so utterly magnificent that everything was worn-out and recuperating,  or whether two years of scant rainfall have taken their toll,  I have no idea, but nothing was as abundant. In fact, flowerings were sparse, the odd tajinaste (Tenerife’s emblematic plant) braved it here and there, fragments of the broom bushes were ventured into blossom, and here and there other species popped up. The skeletal ghosts of tajinaste still stood erect as reminders of last year’s opulence, and tangles of dead and dying broom were all around. At the southern end of the trail rosalillo were beginning to flower, but it was too soon to say if they will extend to the vast carpets we saw last year. At the northern end they were barely sprouting.

The “find” of the day, almost at the end of our trail, was a tajinaste picante, the  delicate, blue flowers looking vulnerable in the heat compared to the hot pinks of its sister the tajinaste rojo, and here was something new for me.

Tajinaste Picante. The only one we saw.

After the walk we called into the Visitors’ Center across the road from its ending, where I learned that the plant I thought was the tajinaste azul is actually tajinaste picante, and the blue variety grows only on the island of Fuerteventura. Looking at photos on the internet now I can see the difference, with the tajinaste azul being much bushier and denser, more akin to the familiar tajinaste rojo. I know a couple of years back I described plants I’d seen as tajinaste azul, so my apologies to anyone who may still be reading. I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it is to learn new stuff, though, especially when it’s about flora and fauna which occur nowhere else on the planet. It makes me realize what an amazing place I live in, how much there is to learn, and how lucky I am to be here when I can’t be in motion!

And as we near the end of the trail, we spy El Mar de Nubes (the sea of clouds) hovering over the northern coast. An utterly different scene from the parched plains we’ve just traversed.

Notes: The National Park (one of the earliest created in Spain in 1954) entered the 21st century with the added honor of being a World Heritage Site, having received the award in 2007. In the citation it is described as being “well managed and resourced,” and I couldn’t see anything to make me disagree with that. We came across only one piece of obvious litter, and, sadly, of the sort we didn’t want to pick up and remove with bare hands. Note to the ladies – we all have “calls of nature” when hiking, but please, please carry a bag to take the paper you use away with you!! This was a very easy walk, with no sharp gradients. Last Saturday there was a very welcome breeze, but in summer it must be very hot, it’s very important you take sufficient water, sun screen and protection for your head. There is no shade at midday at all. It’s described, variously as four or four and a half hours. We took five because we stopped to look at flora and fauna, to take snaps and to eat, so if you intend to walk both there and back it’s a long walk. If you do one way, as we did, you need to note the bus times to return you from the end of your walk to your car or back home. They are infrequent, but comfy and air-conditioned :=)

All my pictures were shot in automatic mode, because that’s what I do when I’m hiking with friends who are not as nuts about photography as I am. They’re snaps. If any turn out to be “photographs” there is a lot of luck involved!

When I was in the parador some weeks back I picked up a great book in their gift shop, “Flora and Fauna del Parque Nacional del Teide” by Juan Manuel Martínez Carmona and Francisco Torrents Rodríguez, which I used to check information. I don’t know if there is an English translation, but it’s a good, little resource with loads of information set out in easy-to-read style, and with lovely sketches, although the few photos, describing walks at the end, are less good. I hesitated about buying it, given the state of my bank account, but I’m really glad that I did. I can see it’s going to be much-used.


A Walk into Island History

Mist tumbles down the mountainside and swirls amongst the tops of the Canary pines, and droplets of pure water hang from each long and graceful needle. Spring flowers line our pathway, lotus campylocladus, jara rosa and more, tempting us to tramp further into the woods. From below, out of the brume and snaking between the tree trunks the haunting notes of a conch shell, that ancient sound which the natives used to warn of dangers.

This is not how the hundreds of vacationers setting up their sunbeds on the beaches maybe a thousand feet below at 9.30 on Saturday morning see the island, but for me it’s much more real and alive than almost anything which happens in a resort. The conch shell, or bucio, was being blown by the representative of the island government who was along on a guided walk yesterday. We were also accompanied by a group from Santiago del Teide, who were walking with lanzas, the long poles which the original island inhabitants, Guanches, used to propel themselves across the rocky terrain. You had to wonder if we’d stepped into a time machine, and back to the Tenerife of five hundred years ago.

But let me begin at the beginning – Pilar had sent me a message the previous day to tell me that in the nearby village of Arico there was an organized hike, titled La Ruta de la Brea, and it sounded perfect for this totally unfit body – only around 3 km which was also a good distance to try out my new walking boots bought in the post-Christmas sales. A quick check on the internet translated the world “brea,” a new one on me, as tar or pitch. I was puzzled and intrigued.

I’d woken rested, but aware that I hadn’t had enough sleep. Happy, when I recalled great sushi and good conversation the night before, topped off by what I like to call “the best ice cream in the world,” but knowing I needed another hour in bed. A cold shower, toast and peanut butter (for energy) and a couple of strong coffees later I was heading out of the door with my daypack and hiking poles.

9am Saturday, then, found us meeting in the town square of Arico. It’s a pretty village by standards in the south of the island, with seemingly vertical, neat and winding streets, and glimpses of woodland and greenery above, which is where we were heading. The mayor himself, an amiable man with a pleasant turn of phrase, came out to see us off. We were around 30 people, and there was a very good-natured vibe in the air, the day promised well. This walk was organized by the local council in conjunction with the Cabildo, the island government. It’s part of a series to promote the history and traditions of the island, as well as the countryside and environment. This was my idea of bliss – I was outdoors, in beautiful scenery, learning about history and in great company.

As this was only to be 3km I decided not to encumber myself with the walking poles, and left them in my car boot. We car pooled from the square to the starting point, the recreational park at El Contador. If you check Arico on some maps of the island you’ll find that the roads seem to disappear on the western edge of the village. In a way they do – modern roads, that is. The road we drove was narrow and potholed, (and to be honest, I was glad I wasn’t the driver – my poor, old car would never have made it!). It meandered its way upwards with twists and turns every few meters, until it petered out into a dirt track close to El Contador, on the edge of the corona forestal, the garland of forests, which circle the mountains between the stark, volcanic landscape on the tops and the rocky coastal areas. Views at every turn were spectacular, as the island turned greener before our eyes, and gave us glimpses of rural life which has changed little over the years.

We’d already noticed a difference in the air when we alighted in Arico, but here the air was clearer and fresher still, full of the scent of pine and wild thyme. Even around the small car park the wild flowers of spring welcomed us, and for the umpteenth time in the 20+ years I’ve lived here I wondered at how easy it is to escape the concrete below and seem to arrive in a different world. At this point I have to tell you that my camera is poorly and these pictures were all taken with my phone, hence the fuzzy quality on a lot of them.

We set off at an easy pace, an amble along a track which took us past a small farmhouse and into the trees. 3 km of this – easy peasy, not a test for my new shoes really……ha! It wasn’t long before we began to climb, and realize that most of the 3km was practically perpendicular! Remember my decision not to encumber myself with hiking poles?

I’d had no time to check the walk out, but I now know that it’s classed as medium to hard, which I guess is about right – for someone who is fit! But I moan too much. It felt good to stretch myself and strengthen my resolve to be fitter, and the deep and soft bed of pine needles underfoot made the going not really that bad. I lagged at times, but not too much I think, all things considered. In parts it was like climbing stairs.

In some places the path petered out altogether, and we simply followed the experts, taking deep breaths of crystal air when we paused to listen to the guides explaining how in the past what are here called Californian pines had been used in replanting of deforested areas, but over time hadn’t stood up to the climate, and there is now a movement to replant as much as possible with native Canarian pine; or to point out features like the lichen still festooned along tree branches, a rare sight in late spring, when the weather is usually much drier.  They indicated the wee holes where woodpeckers had been at work, or the hollowed out trunks, some with cavities large enough for us to fit into, where trees had been tested for resin content. We were walking a trail used by the harvesters of that resin hundreds of years ago, a trail which took them, with their overburdened mules, from the steep hillsides over a thousand feet above sea level to the ports of the east coast below us.

This picture isn’t as sharp as I would have liked, but I think you can make out the lichen clinging to the branches, you can also make out the slope of the hillside, which is not that steep just here.

Brea it turned out is the Spanish word for the pitch, resin or tar which comes from the pine trees, and it quickly became big business for a hundred and fifty years after the Spanish conquest of the island in 1496, in a manner not dissimilar to the way rubber was going to drive colonisation and conquest in years to come in other parts of the globe. It was used to waterproof many things, but mostly importantly the ships of those European nations involved in exploring the globe, and fighting for the resources and novelties they found there. You know the names already, Spain, England, Portugal, France and Holland. By the time the Canary islands were discovered those countries had managed to get through a fair old bit of their forests, and were looking to find new sources for the product.

All of this I learned at our final stop, where we thankfully sank to the ground and snacked around the rim of an oven which had been used to burn the trees to melt down the resin. As it melted it passed through channels into another oven which we passed some minutes before, and from there to a drying area, before being loaded onto mules for the long journey down to the coast.

The main oven

Our guide was expert and very articulate, so much so that not once was he interrupted during his chat, which I am guessing must have lasted a good half hour or more. I was much too fascinated to look at my watch. He talked of pirates, of the watch towers I’d seen last year on the Ruta de los Castillos, and the event we English know as “The Spanish Armada” – so different to hear “the other side” mention a slice of history. He explained the extraction process, and threw in many other tidbits of history along the way.

The history of this product, of which I’d not heard a word previously, is an important part of the history of the islands, but further is a typical story of colonization. Most of the exploiters of the woodlands were Portuguese, with even less of a vested interest in the state of the countryside than the Spanish conquerors, although, apparently, even back then it was a known fact that deforestation caused soil erosion. They worked in teams, usually 6 to 8 men, and often were enslaved Guanches or poor men working for a pittance. The built their ovens, cut down the trees, extracted what they needed, and when the area was used up they simply moved on to another, leaving a barren hillside behind them. Some 28 of these ovens have so far been found in the Arico area, and these, of course, just the ones sufficiently in tact to be able to identify.

The second oven into which the melted resin drained

I was already feeling the spirits of past times around us, when we were passed chunks of the hard, black resin to take a look at, and one sniff took me right back to another period, my childhood.  I searched memory banks and I think it was the telegraph poles which carried our, then, novel phone lines down the road.  I can only think that in the hot summer months the unseasoned wood leaked resin which smelled just the same as this piece I was holding in my hand. I remember them being sticky with black stuff which fascinated me.

It seems that research is quite recent and still very much ongoing, and I was very surprised to learn that our speaker was a volunteer, so eloquently had he explained the story to us. Frankly, I could have listened as long again, especially as the questions afterwards were also informed and interesting, but we did have a time to arrive back at El Contador, and time to make a move came too soon.

The descent, of course, was easier and quicker, so long as you had good footwear. I stumbled at one point and Pilar found me a stout, fallen pine branch to use as a pole. A few minutes later a  kind stranger handed me another, from which he’d carefully removed all the smaller branches and twigs so that I had a fine support. I would have loved to keep it for a souvenir, but since I had to go back to the village in someone else’s car I thought better of it.

Not being so short of breath on the way down, there was lots of time to chat to fellow walkers as they paused to take a snap, or we paused to listen to birdsong, and then, back on the trail, fell in with different people. It’s a happy day when some of your personal worlds come together, and I had that kind of day yesterday, and it was the jolt I needed to kick me out the lethargy of recent weeks.

Mostly, it was just marvellous to be outdoors in the forest, a walk which was guided so no need to worry about directions, and enjoy the company of like-minded and friendly folk, and by that I mean not only my own friends, but everyone in the group with whom we interacted. I think I can honestly say that I’ve never walked with a better group of people. Mainly, this group were true Canarians with a deep of love for their countryside and history, and I have definitely never walked with a friendlier group. It seemed as if I’d met before every person with whom I had contact.

To bring the day to the perfect conclusion our driver pointed us in the direction of a local bar when we arrived back, where he said they did an excellent goat stew and a local ecological wine…….and he was right!


Of Wine and Noches de Sansofé

So, it turns out that wine tasting in El Médano is a totally different concept from wine tasting in Los Cristianos!

Apt because I’ve been singing the praises of my “home” town of late, that last night’s Fiesta del Vino here turned out to be as “alternative” as the resort itself!

When I saw the banner at the entrance to the town proclaiming the event, I jumped to the conclusion that an exhibition by a consortium of local wineries was travelling the island, and that this fiesta would be the same as the one in Los Cristianos a few weeks ago. Not so.

Firstly, it was only the Abona and Güimar denominaciónes, the “local” ones, from this windswept and desert-like landscape. Hah, hah my new-found knowledge told me that meant great,white wines. Secondly, the catering was done by local restaurants, which meant no slinging a side of beef on the barbie, but tasty tapas of various sorts. To be honest, most were predictible (shame coming from a restaurant of the quality of El Jable in San Isidro, for one, that they weren’t more inventive – as I found out last week local ingredients can be used in new, delicious ways!), but nice. Thirdly – it was crowded, it was very crowded – it really was elbow room only (and we arrived around 7.30, very early by local standards), and fourthly, there was music – a group of youngsters belting out salsa-ish pop.  Now someone is going to tell me they are a famous, local band, but I didn’t get their name, so I can’t say, sorry.  Very pleasant and party-mood-enhancing though, if a tad limiting on conversation.

Set up on the oceanside edge of the main plaza the event was attracting the usual-for-El Médano, mixed crowd; people straight from the beach, still in pareos and flip flops; the local youth out for the night; people on their way home from work; surfer dudes; the weekend crowd down from the north of the island; some unnervingly cute dogs for some reason, and the odd foreign tourist. Talk about eclectic! Colleen remarked that it had the air of one of those cocktail parties where you don’t know anyone. Mind you, after a while you wouldn’t have been able to find anyone anyway!

The set up was the same, buy the glass and 5 tickets for €5, only you could exchange a ticket for a tapa as well as for wine. The rations, I must say, were more generous than they had been in Los Cristianos too, and we valiently shoved our way through the throng in attempts to track down a wine from the list we picked up at the entrance, but had to give up in some cases. It just wasn’t worth the bruised shins and pokes in the ribs. Los Cristianos had had the air of a wine “tasting” (not that there was any sniffing, swilling and spitting mind!), people seemed to be sampling, discussing and buying the wines. Here in El Médano, it was much more like a fiesta , and if there was anywhere to buy I didn’t spot it.

I sampled one red out of curiosity, and it was very bland. We asked a guy on one of the stalls about why white were more successful in the south and reds in the north, and, as you would imagine, it’s the weather and soil conditions which favor the types of grapes which thrive in the respective conditons. I didn’t sample the Testamento this time (which at €11 was €1 cheaper than before) mainly because it was just too darn crowded at their stand. My favorite of the evening was a sweetish, floral, fruity Vega Las Cañas. One of those wines I could have drunk all night, with or without food, and wouldn’t you know it, looks like it was the one stand where I didn’t pick up a brochure. Prize for the best brochure (partly because it is written not only in Spanish, but also English, French and German) was Bodega Viñaflor, where, by appointment, you can go to taste, so guess where I will be heading the next time I have visitors! The couple at the Viñaflor stand were also the most welcoming, charming and helpful. Just a pity it was so busy or we might have found out more about their wines!

In the end we took our final glass outside, and sat on the steps leading down to the beach, where we could breath the warm night air and watch the passing parade, and not for the first time this Summer, I wondered what I would have been doing at that moment  had I stayed in England all those years ago.  Since I lived in Los Abrigos (which is part of the same municipality as El Médano, Granadilla de Abona) 4 years ago, every Summer I’ve seen events labelled as “Noches de Sansofé”, but have never been able to discover just what that meant.  I’ve trawled the internet, and I’ve asked just about everyone I thought might know, and come up with a blank every time.  The other day I called into the tourist information office (dark glasses and headscraf of course, so no-one would spot me entering!) and the lovely lady who works there told me that it’s a Guanche word.  She didn’t know the meaning, but told me to google “palabras Guanche” to find it.  So I did.

Guanches, by the way, were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island before its conquest by Spain in 1494, and it seems agreed now that they were of Berber origin, reaching the island from the shores of North Africa at some point not documented.  Sansofé appears to mean “you are welcome”.  Welcome nights didn’t sound right, though I understood the context, and consulting the trusty online thesaurus I came up with “Mellow Nights” or “Harmonious Nights”.  I like Mellow Nights best, so that’s how I shall translate it for people next time someone asks.  It’s apt.  The wine, the music, the hum of conversation, and the mild breeze were very mellow-making.

It’s the same with all these Summer events, outdoor cinema, folklore concerts, fiestas de vino, pop or salsa concerts, it’s the real Spirit of Summer, and it leaves me in the same mug-wumping state as Carnaval.  One half of me deplores the early closing of the post office, the way Fridays dissolve into part of the weekend, the way lawyers and civil servants take the entire month of August off.  Surely, this is no way for a community who wants to be successful and attract more tourists/business to the island to behave?  The other half of me applauds that there is a community that places importance on leisure and relaxing, that doesn’t allow itself to stress out the way we do in countries like the UK or the US.

The town is really buzzing. Los Cristianos this summer has an air of waiting about it, waiting for the summer season to begin, waiting for the people who likely aren’t coming? It seems quiet and drab. On the other hand, people appear to be flocking to El Médano. I can’t remember ever seeing it so busy.

After escaping the crush we didn’t have the heart to push back for more tapas, and we headed down the road for some delicious sushi to finish off the night – not very Canarian, no, but quite in keeping with the genuinely diverse vibe in El Médano.


The Friendliness of Chirche Lightyears from the Coastal Grumps

Chirche is a tiny village, about five or ten minutes directly vertical from Guia de Isora in the South of Tenerife.  I’ve only ever been here for this, particular festival, El Día de las Tradiciónes (The Day of Traditions), so I don’t know what it’s like on an average, working day.  I must rectify that soon, but I imagine it’s quiet.  It clings for dear life to the hillside, and these twisting, narrow streets were never made for motor cars.  The last time I came, my car overheated (OK, it’s not the most modern car in the world, but it is sturdy and reliable usually).

Happily, for Sunday’s fiesta the local town hall had provided transport so neither the overheating nor parking were problems.  A mini bus did the circuit from, what we would probably call the county seat, Guia de Isora, below up to the village, and we were there in time for the first trip before it got too hot.   A vast improvement on my last visit, what with the overheated car and no space to park it!

This year’s festival had to battle for attention not only with the World Cup Final, but also 46º heat ….. and it came out a winner, although it seemed to be a bit less well-attended than the last time I went.  This was the tenth year that the village had turned out to produce what is something like a living museum or even a theatrical production which one can walk through.  The entire village goes about its business as it would have done somewhere between 100 and 50 years ago.

Here candles are being made the old way, from beeswax.  The finished product on the right, and those in progress on the left of the picture.  The hot wax is spooned over the thread time and time again, each layer is cooled and then doused again, until the required thickness is reached.  Can you imagine the time it takes?  Can you imagine spending days and days doing this, just so that you can have light after sundown?

Although Guanche artifacts have been  found in Chirche, this festival portrays life as it was around a hundred to fifty years ago.  It really isn’t that long.  It was my grandparents, my parents time, and even my own infancy.  The scales in the recreation of the local “corner shop”, the flyspray cannister lying atop a wardrobe, some of the products on display in the shop reminded me of my own childhood, so even then, things were somewhat “globally available”.  Since I was brought up in a fairly countryfied area, and my crumbling home had once been a farmhouse, it was easy to identify with much of what I saw around me.  It felt as much like going back in time as witnessing the past of this island.

Life wasn’t that easy for my family when I was little, and yet we did buy our flour from the corner shop, we didn’t have to produce it ourselves.  The lady in the picture above is toasting seeds to make gofio, which was a huge part of the staple diet of Tenerife, and remains popular.  Cereals would have grown on the hillsides surrounding the village, and be brought home for toasting, but apparently sometimes the rhizomes of ferns were also used in the distant past.  The tradition probably was brought to the islands by the Guanches who, it is now widely thought,  came from North African Berber tribes, who also made a similar kind of meal.

This lady is carrying out the next step, grinding the toasted seeds by hand.  A heavy grindstone is pulled around and around, as you can see, until the  seeds become flourlike.  This is how it was done in this, small village.  In other areas huge grindstones were pulled by donkeys, horses and even camels.  Gofio can still be bought in the island’s supermarkets, and to be honest it’s an acquired taste.  Austin has learned to mix it with honey and almonds to make a delicious dessert, and it is used to thicken soups and stews, and to make a really healthy porridge-style breakfast – very high in fibre, people!

Walking around the village, despite the intense heat, was a treat.  Two things struck me hard.  The first was how the whole village seems to join in wholeheartedly.  Every age group takes part, from grannies (and how they manage daily life on a sheer hillside I will never understand!  Seems to me, given a diet of gofio and that kind of exercise each day, they must be incredibly healthy!) to babes in arms.

Above is the old schoolroom, complete with blackboard and children who don’t seem to mind being dressed in costume!  I didn’t see one sulky face all morning – not even from the class’s naughty boy, whom you can spot kneeling in the corner.  I’m sorry about the quality of this photo.  The schoolroom was dark, I’m thinking probably even in the fifties there was no electricity, plus the old houses were designed to keep as cool as possible in summer, which usually meant having only small windows, and thick, thick walls, which kept out the summer swelter and kept in the warmth in winter.  Also, there were so many people vying for space to observe or snap, and I was too polite to hog the vantage point I had …….. another lesson learned – must be bolder!  There were children helping the maypole dancers, playing games in the street or helping with chores, just as they would have been doing a hundred years ago, and every one of them with a smile on their face.

It goes without saying that a hundred or even fifty years ago, there were no video games, no television, no fast food, so children had to make their own amusements.  Below is a selection of the types of homemade instruments which they used to make.

Maybe there is some special karma attached to living in this village, because I rarely remember a time when I’ve met so many friendly people.  People who would stop in the hot sun and wait whilst you fiddle with your camera so you can snap them.

People who are quite at ease being photographed showing off their pride in their traditions….not all instruments were homemade!

People who are willing to attire themselves in heavy, traditional clothing in a 46º heat (might even have got hotter after we left!), so that they can keep this link with their past, and show it off to others.

This lady was crocheting what looked as if it was going to be a small doily, and surrounding her are displayed other examples of lace and crotchet work – most looking newly made, and proving that old crafts are not nearly dead here!  The really nice thing is that it looks as if future generations are happy to go on keeping these traditions alive.  It’s something I’ve noticed often in the folk music and dance groups which I see regularly on tv – no way are these groups composed just of the old folk.  The folklore of Tenerife seems to be in good and safe hands for quite a while yet.

Now this is a tradition many people will be happy no longer is widely used.  This gentleman is preparing a goatskin for use in making gofio or cheese.  The ingredients for either were placed inside to be molded and strained.  Goat is still widely eaten here, and is a treat.  I’ve never had it badly cooked.  The use of the skins?  Well, there was nothing else, back when, and as with other meat products, there wasn’t much waste.  They were different times.

There were demonstrations of bread making in big, old ovens, agriculture as it was (and still, sometimes is) here, the making of roof tiles, which had been the village’s only industry outside of agriculture, and a host of other stuff, and highlight of the day, a mock wedding, but we ran out time and couldn’t stay to watch.  We had a glimpse of the wedding dress, laid out on the bridal bed in a restored house, but no time to see the bride, sadly.  As I mentioned before, we did pop into the pretty church for a few moments, and then we had to be on our way.

We just missed the mini bus, and took refuge from the sun in a nearby bar, which was built directly into the rock face, providing welcome coolness.  I have to mention it was the only kind of disappointment of the morning.  We paid around €15 each for a very average gazpacho, stone cold garlic bread, croquetas (one ration of chicken and one of tuna, which were indistinguishable), a couple of very cold, very welcome beers and best – a plate of papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), the island’s speciality, all of which came with indifference or a shy smile, depending on who served us.  It was a bad choice of venue, but nicely decorated, as you can see above, and reminiscent of the coastal resorts, where that kind of service is the norm.  It’s a great shame that tourists don’t get out more to meet the “real” people of Tenerife, these people who are so kind and happy and gracious.  I’ve never been to a fiesta of any kind where I wasn’t made to feel enormously welcome, and Chirche would be top of a list like that.  In some ways I don’t blame the kids who work as waiters or shop assistants down in resortland.  Firstly, they aren’t given the proper training in most cases, so they don’t know how to respond to people, and secondly, I couldn’t put up with the sort of attitudes and backchat they get from a lot of their customers.  Frequently, once you have made a contact, their demeanour does change.  Yes, I do realize that the onus is on the supplier of whatever service you are buying to provide that service with a smile, but scratch just a bit and you might find that the nice young waiter comes from Chirche, or somewhere similar.

When I move on from Tenerife, and return for a visit, one thing I intend to do is to stay in the casa rural (rural hotel) here, in the middle of Chirche, and embrace the relaxed and happy lifestyle of its people.

One thing this day taught me.  I’ve always enjoyed snapping, and never really been too interested in video, but watching the maypole dancing for quite a while I would have loved to have videoed it.  Stupidly, because of my lack of interest I’ve never bothered to figure out how to work the video selection on my camera – job for this weekend!  Next year I won’t clash to the World Cup at least!