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.
Days on Tenerife don’t always end up the way you expect
I went out to search for evidence of bleakness, sadness and possibly anger, a proof of man’s arrogance and his disconnection from the earth. I expected to be overwhelmed by the anger, but instead I arrive home overwhelmed by beauty and a sense of renewal.
Where was I? What happened? Was this a Road to Damascus moment? (now there’s a phrase to conjure with right now!) Maybe. Maybe not. There it is, you see – Perhaps. Perhaps not. Maybe Yin? Maybe Yang? Goodness knows I don’t know enough about Eastern philosophy to be sure, but I think that’s what I experienced. I hesitate to use the word Zen, because I’m not sure I totally understand it, and it could be that in saying that I do understand?
Here’s the backstory: A couple of weeks ago my friend, Cristina and I were driving up into the mountains to see the snow – an occurance sufficiently rare, despite what you see on postcards from Tenerife, to prompt folk to take their kids out of school for the day to go to see it – we drove through familiar territory, through the village of Vilaflor and up towards the National Park and the caldera, chatting about this and that, taking in a surroundings which were beautiful, but to which we were accustomed. There are seasons when this journey is remarkable for its loveliness, when flowers are in full bloom, or the seascape, with its glimpses of mysterious, other islands is almost hypnotic, but this was an ordinary day – early spring, before the blooms, the seascape a little dulled by haze, little flora on the roadsides.
We’d been driving through the shade of pines for several minutes, when we rounded a curve and almost paused. The vista in front of us was like a kick in the stomach. We slowed. We pointed. We said very little, because there were no words. The once-familiar panorama to our left, where the mountains glided down to the sea, was like a war zone.
It’s been seven months since wildfires swept across this countryside, and I hadn’t realized that I’d been away that long. This was my first view of the devastation, these black, skeletal posts marching across the contours of the hillsides had been elegant pine trees. As the mountain mists writhed their way between the branches they had left moisture, which the trees fed to the soil below in one of those perfect cycles of nature which leave us awed.
To say that we were shocked would be putting very mildly.
It wasn’t as if I haven’t seen endless pictures on the internet, or film on tv, of what happened, but being up close is something else. Last Tuesday I went back to try to understand:
This time there is no shock. I am prepared. But when I pull over the car it’s a few minutes before I can get out. It feels the same way I feel in a holy place, as if I am intruding. And, of course, this is what happens when thoughtless men intrude on Nature, when they forget that they are a part of the equation which makes up our world, and selfishly blunder their own way, regardless. It is rumored that this enormous destruction was the result of one good old boy having a wee bonfire to burn garden rubbish. Having a bonfire to burn garden rubbish at a time when there had been no rain in the area for two years; when, on every walk, words like ‘arid,’ ‘barren’ or ‘parched’ hung on our lips in unspoken anticipation of a sight like this one; and when the trees were virtually the only remaining greenery on the landscape. It is also rumored that the village in which he lives has closed ranks and that no prosecutions have been made. I can’t repeat more than rumors. I can’t find information other than rumors. Silence speaks volumes about mankind.
I stop in several places. It is, for want of a better word, heartbreaking, and I am very aware that despite the enormity of what I am seeing, this extends far beyond this area. The tinder-dry ground couldn’t have been more vulnerable. The fire spread, well, like wildfire. If you’d seen the scenes unfolding daily on our tv screens here you would have understood the origin of that phrase.
I wonder if the guy responsible ever comes to look at what he did?
I drive. I stop. I take photographs. I am a witness to destruction. I wanted to come after the fires, but it seemed like rubbernecking, somehow encouraging the idea that this was a spectacle, an entertainment. I am, after all, not a professional journalist. I am saddened. I stand for long moments and think of how it used to be, wonder how long it will take to recover, wonder how the guy who started it all can live with himself. I’m not in a forgiving frame of mind.
The Canary Pine is more forgiving, however. It is resilient and strong. Its bark burns, but at its core it remains alive. In time that surviving core will push out new growth through scorched skin, from its latent battalions of buds, which have been held back for just such an eventuality. Throughout Canarian pine forests you can see blackened trunks from previous fires sporting fresh, new life, but it will take time.
Strange to say, I don’t feel the anger I thought I would feel this day, and it isn’t just the knowledge of the pines’ rebirth which has cheered me, but the, literally, breathtaking sights which I’ve seen on my way to this point. I didn’t do biology in school, so my utterly uninformed opinion is this – we had two years of drought, when there wasn’t sufficient rainfall to provoke much growth in springtime, this must have meant that seeds expelled from flora in the meantime lay, dormant on the earth, until, this year, watered and warmed adequately, the whole island appears to be heaving with an abundance of wildflowers which is making everyone proclaim that they’ve never seen anything like it. Friends who walk more than I, friends whose knowledge of different plants is far vaster than mine, friends who have lived here all their lives are saying the same thing: there never has been a spring like this one.
In a minute I’m going to stop rambling on and just post the pictures of my drive. This is a moment in time which should be shared, no doubt about it. It can’t identify all the flowers you’ll see. I am awed by the profusion of terraces of wild fennel, and enchanted by friendly California Poppies swaying at the roadsides. Beyond those, the purple hazes, the delicate buds and other types of poppy I can’t name for you.
Turning, finally, away from the ruins of once-verdant hillsides, I come home by, for me, a route ‘less-traveled,’ to be put in mind again of the good stuff on our planet. I am driving now away from the direction the fire took, seeing unspoiled countryside, thick forests, elegant terraces (a reminder that man and nature often do work together) and curbsides littered with flowers of every hue under the sun.
I arrive home, not in the state of frustration and anger I anticipated, but serene and hopeful. Perhaps confident in the Earth’s promise of renewal. My faith in man is less, my faith in Nature is more, than when I left home on this very short journey. Is that Zen? Not understanding just why I feel this way? Is this the inevitable balance of yin and yang of which philosophers speak, allowing us to be skeptical and hopeful at the same time?
Added April 8th: This is a post I would have written anyway. I have, almost unwittingly, written a fair bit about the landscapes and nature in Tenerife, which is an island of amazing diversity and beauty, but at the back of my mind whilst writing this post was participating in the monthly Boomer Travel round up theme, which is Nature. I haven’t ready the other contributions yet, but am utterly certain that I’m going to love them. If you enjoyed this post, then you’ll definitely enjoy the others! Take a look at http://greenglobaltravel.com/2013/04/05/nature-travel-blog-roundup/
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.
Blue skies, blue ocean and fun on the beach. Summer on Tenerife – oh, wait a minute, this happens all year round!
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.
Somehow, a detailed description of a week in England just wouldn’t come, so here are some random thoughts.
Overall, once the airport idiots were history, people seemed much friendlier than I remember. OK Tube etiquette dictates no eye contact, but how can you resist commenting to the owner of a super-cute French bulldog about how much you like it? Response? Friendly- probably relieved I wasn’t moaning about having a dog on the Tube? I come from the North of England, where, tradition has it, folk are warmer, but not my experience on this trip.
Surprised how little coverage the General Election is getting. Weird, in fact. OK, yes, it was on the news, but very few posters in windows, billboards, discussion unless you mentioned it first. Is this because people are apathetic or sophisticated? The few posters in windows I saw …. 100% Lib-Dem. Should be interesting!
Spring is most definately sprung – obviously I lived in a seasonal desert in the North West, because I always thought Spring much overated, but in London and surrounds I could see it was luxuriant, vibrant and very pretty.
The London Marathon ROCKS!!! From the Expo to the (divine) Richard Branson news conference to the day itself it was an exhilarating, eye-opening, inspriring and awesome event…..and I was only a (partisan) spectator!
It is, according to Virgin, the biggest charity-venue-generating event in the world. Now, with that many people with good in their hearts how could it be bad? I didn’t realize until much, much later that I had lost my voice in cheering on the ones who looked on their last legs, the wheelchair participants, the ones who were joking and winding up the crowd. Guy’s presence was a matter of minutes for me, so it was the general atmosphere which had gotten me going!
And, afterwards, struggling down the Tube, waiting for a taxi, everyone seemed to be carrying the red bags which marked them as runners. OK – please don’t be cynical – yes, it’s great publicity for Virgin, and they freely admit it. So if they do well they will be able to sponser next year, if they don’t turn a profit ? What? Warm fuzzies knowing my son was greeted by strangers on the street with a thumbs up, asking his time, saying “Well done”. Marvellous feeling of community!
Food? Less expensive than expected. Likewise hotels and hostels with the exception of the NH Harrington Hall, which bumped up its price from the advertised 97 pounds a night to 150 pounds per night for the experience of resting my head on one of their pillows overnight (no time for breakfast!) , because it was Marathon weekend. Part of me thinks “They are trying to survive a crisis”, but the other part of me? Simply couldn’t really afford it. I know it’s central London, but it really wasn’t anything special. No way would I recommend it. I would recommend the good, old YMCA in Guildford, and also Ibis Hotels from whom I got good deals in both London and York (cheaper than the B & Bs I looked at – whilst B & Bs (especially somewhere like York) have a lot of charm, there is also a lot to be said for the convenience of low-cost hotels.
Trains? Great! Scored good deals on London to York and York to Manchester Airport. Clean. Pleasant and helpful staff. Sorry can’t remember which company ran each line. I understand that if you book last minute it is expensive, but you qualify for advance booking only two days before the date of travel. York to Manchester Airport was less than half of what I used to pay.
Manchester Airport? Hate the changes. This is my “home” airport, the one from which I have flown most often, so I kind of liked it the way it was – thanks Osama, I put the changes down to you, with the exception of the dive through duty free one has to make to get a cup of coffee, but that, I suppose, is the times.