Islandmomma

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


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The legend at the Heart of a Canarian Village: Vi la Flor de Chasna

Vilaflor is a village usually overlooked by tourists as their  buses hurtle past in search of the dramatic landscapes of the Teide National Park, and whilst I have no desire to rob the 2,000 or so inhabitants of the village of potential revenue, I breathe a sigh of relief as I type that. If the pueblo does cross the consciousness of the average visitor to Tenerife, it’s because it boasts the title of “Spain’s highest village.” That is disputed, and, hard to get into my skull, having stood on the slopes of the snow-clad Sierra Nevada. Even in chill mid-Winter the snow doesn’t come down this far.

poppies vilaflor

Today I am in search of spring, yet again. You must excuse my excessive enthusiasm. You see I’ve never been too much of a fan of the season, and certainly have never seen it throw such an extravagant display on this island as it has done this year.

Driving up to Vilaflor I take the snaps you saw in the previous post; appropriately canary-yellow wild fennel, delicate, mauve poppies, and sunny California poppies.

Flor is Spanish for flower, and it’s understandable that you would think the village  is named for the glorious displays we’re seeing. Not so, and the story of its rebirth, if not its founding, is sad, and romantic, and to put it in modern terms, it’s a story of culture clash.

flowers vilaflor

Tenerife was the last of the Canary Islands to fall to the Spanish conquistadors in 1496. The indigenous Guanche, described later by their conquerors as noble and brave, had fought fiercely, but in the end succumbed to the superior weaponry and equipment of their foes.

Although the dimensions of Tenerife couldn’t be more different from those of the Americas, the stories of what happened to the Guanche often have a ring of what happened to the natives of those continents. A people who lived in harmony with the earth, whose gods represented the universal order of things – the earth, sun, moon – were beaten, humiliated, enslaved, exhibited in the Spanish court and probably died of diseases brought by their captors. Some were converted to “Christianity” (ever the excuse for conquest and colonization), and absorbed into “civilized” society, leaving their inheritance to whither. Only in fairly recent times have historians begun to really try to piece together what information remains to form a more complete picture.

This then, is the background to our story, and into this scenario rides one Pedro Bracamonte, a captain in the conquering forces of Alonso Fernández de Lugo. Pedro is dispatched by his commander to explore the verdant hillsides around Chasna, a Guanche settlement. With the arrogance typical of tyrants, seeing a beautiful, young Guanche maiden, he holds her against her will for several days, before she is able to make her escape into the surrounding forest.

His arrogance, however, is his undoing. In those brief days he falls deeply in love with the girl. He pursues her desperately through territory which is her friend and his foe, with its deep valleys, caves and thickly wooded slopes, but he can find no trace. Within three months our conquering “hero” dies from a broken heart. With his last breath he indicates that at least he dies having seen the flower of Chasna – Vi la flor de Chasna.

purple poppies and california poppies vilaflor

wildflowers on steps vilaflor

As with many so-called “love stories” my first reaction is a long sigh, and then “serves him right” cuts in. As Guanche culture clashed with Castellano, so my modern perception of history clashes with this charming tale. Still, it’s a story, and stories make the world go around.

Today’s Vilaflor de Chasna truly is a contrast to “el cemento” on the tourist coast of Tenerife. It is sleepy (except for fiesta days!). It fairly twinkles with well-kept pride, its streets clean but not sterile. And despite the legend, its name seems apt, as flowers fill every nook, cranny and corner.  A lovely, 90-year-old lady I meet in the village square tells me that  the delightful juxtaposition of modern water feature with beds of wildflowers, the renovations of the carved-wood, Canarian balconies, and the general loveliness of the tiny town is all down to the mayor, who always has her vote “even though he’s a socialist”……..a true democrat! Perhaps it’s that sense of truly shared civic pride which is reflected in the atmosphere, and makes this place special. I certainly don’t know anywhere else quite like it on this island.

water feature vilaflor

wildflower beds square vilaflor

Carved wood Canarian balcony and tajinaste vilaflor

Today seems quite busy for a weekday. The little tourist information kiosk in the pretty and peaceful square has something of a queue – three groups of people, including me, and another dozen or so sip coffee outside the bar nearby. All dressed in walking gear, they are mainly German and Scandinavian, save for one middle-aged lady in a pretty red and white dress and a sun hat. I can’t help hoping that her husband is going to take a photo of her in one of the glorious fields of California poppies we passed, the colors would be so good.

Tajinaste close up

tajinaste church square vilaflor

 

california poppies

When Flor de Chasna fled her captors there were no California poppies in the Canary Islands. They arrived, intentionally or not, on the trade ships which crossed the Atlantic with treasures from North America, but, these flowers which seem to capture the very sunshine – I like to think she would have liked them.

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In Celebration of El Día de Canarias

Today I should have been out celebrating and enjoying myself, quaffing some local wine and no doubt stuffing myself with traditional foods, whilst listening to Canarian musicians and learning more about “my” island. However, I wasn’t, instead I am lying on my couch, amusing myself by writing this to distract myself from the constant urge to empty the contents my stomach. All is not perfect, you see, in paradise. I seem to have food poisoning.

In lieu of joining the celebrations I thought I might do one of those boring posts which really belongs in a tour operator’s webpage,  but which will relieve both my  boredom and my self pity by reminding me how much I enjoy being here.

Traditional Tenerife: You would be surprised at just how many folk possess and wear with pride their traditional dress. There is said to be a different variation for every municipality on the island.

El Día de Canarias

The first parliament of the autonomous region, Canary Islands, sat on May 30th 1983, after a long wait. The creation of autonomous regions had first been undertaken by the government of the Second Republic in 1931, but by the time the Civil War broke out in 1936 nothing had been implemented in the political bickerings which preceded the Civil War  – and of course everything then went on hold during the war and the consequent iron grip which Franco had on the country.

With his death in 1976 many of the reforms and projects which had been abandoned or iced began to resurface, and the new (and current) Constitution, drawn up in 1978, provided for the establishment of autonomous regions and some decentralization of government, and so the Autonomous Parliament of the Canary Islands was born.

May 30th was declared a fiesta (bank holiday) in celebration of its birth, and the day is marked throughout the islands with displays of traditional crafts, sports, costumes, foods and music.

Historical Tenerife:  The original capital of the island, La Laguna. An UNESCO World Heritage Site and seat of the province’s university, it is both charming restoration and vibrant hub of the island’s creativity.

Tenerife

Tenerife, for anyone who is new to my blog, is just one of the seven main islands which make up the Canarian archipelago. It’s been my home base now for over 20 years. It has an image in some European circles of being merely a mass-tourist destination, but it is so much more, and if you need proof then just check some previous posts.

Since I can’t give you a first-hand report on the festivities to which I didn’t go, I offer you, in honor of this day, a photo essay of this island of Tenerife, showing its different faces, its variety and perhaps an understanding of why it fascinates me so much.

Musical Tenerife: Two things come to mind when you combine the words Tenerife and music – folk music and the salsa of Carnaval, but there is so much more for lovers of all kinds of music. This photo was taken at the annual Santa Blues Blues Fest in June. July sees a prestigious jazz festival, autumn an opera season and year round classical music lovers can listen to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.

Coastal Tenerife: tanning addicts swarm to the resorts, but there are also plenty of quieter, more natural beaches to be found.

Gourmet Tenerife: In recent years the standards and aspirations of restaurants and hotels have simply soared. You can now find cuisine from almost anywhere in the world, and quality equal to big city eateries. This sushi at Restaurant 88 in La Caleta, Costa Adeje.

Mountainous Tenerife: The island’s mountains actually come in all shapes and sizes from lushly forested ones on the north east tip to the surreal volcanic landscapes of the Teide National Park, home to Spain’s highest mountain, El Teide.

Wine Lovers’ Tenerife: Canarian wines were famous as far back as the 17th century, and were famously (for we English-speakers) mentioned by Shakespeare on more than one occasion. Tenerife boasts no less than 5 regions. Oh, and I throw in here cheese too, because the goats’ cheeses are the perfect accompaniment!

Hiking Tenerife: Volcanic badlands, lush forest, coastal trails a walker’s heaven, in other words.

Tourist Tenerife: This is, believe it or not, the only Tenerife which some people know. I am a beach addict, but this is my least favorite face of the island, which is not to rubbish it. It’s just that sharing a beach on this scale is not my thing, but clearly it is for thousands, and the municipalities of the south, mainly Arona and Adeje cater for mass tourism, leveling rocky stony beaches, building hotels (the more recent ones of very high standard) and generally attempting to cater for every whim of the sunseekers. Tenerife does not have the prettiest beaches in the world, but they are some of the sunniest.

Agricultural Tenerife: OK the photo is just a bit of a stretch, and may have been more appropriate under the “traditional” heading, but it’s just that I love oxen. These days they are, so far as I can make out, brought out only for fiestas and other traditional events, but were an important part of the island’s history at one time. There are none of the huge farms of the US prairies or even the big farms I’ve seen in Scotland here, but thanks to co-operatives bananas, tomatoes and the famous Canarian potatoes are still exported, though not to the extent they were in history. Did you know that London’s Canary Wharf was named for the islands? So great was the volume of exports to England alone at that time.

Shop-till-you-drop Tenerife: Neither the Via Veneto nor the Champs Élysées, nevertheless shop shopaholics can have a ball in the swisher parts of the southern resorts and in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz, these days.

Sporty Tenerife: Surfing, windsurfing, hiking, cycling, paragliding, sport fishing, running, golf, kite surfing, climbing, trail running, triathlons, tennis…….that’s just off the top of my head, the sports which immediately come to mind.

Delicious Tenerife: Fine dining apart, Tenerife has a wealth of simple and traditional dining too, with fresh ingredients sourced locally from mineral-rich farmland, the variety of the ocean and locally raised goat and pork. Go inland to find small bars and restaurants, or to the kiosks at the fiestas.

Cultural Tenerife: Santiago Calatrava’s magnificent auditorium in Santa Cruz is symbolic of the wealth of island’s Cultural (with a capital C you note) events. An icon of modern architecture it is home to the symphony orchestra and scene of ballet, opera, jazz, world music, modern dance and many other events. In addition the capital has the historic Teatro Guimerá and La Laguna is home to Teatro Leal. Then there are museums, art exhibitions, photo exhibits and other events galore. Granted, you may need to speak some Spanish for some of these, but a little can take you a long way.

Romantic Tenerife: They tell me we have the best sunsets (and I would add sunrises) in the world. Since I haven’t been everywhere yet I can’t confirm that, but, well, they are pretty amazing.

Quirky Tenerife: I suppose everywhere has its quirky side, but I would put money on it I could snap a photo every day of something out-of-the-ordinary here!

Floral Tenerife: This was the hardest photo to decide, so in the end I chose two. Bouganvillea, hibiscus, geraniums, marigolds and heaps of other domesticated flora decorate the towns, villages and cities of the island, but only in the mountains will you find the tajinaste, indigenous to the island and found in the wild no where else on earth.

The almond trees, on the other hand, were brought by the Conquisadors, their flowering marks the beginning of a new season in January, and the nuts are the base of many artisan sweets.

Travelers’ Tenerife: Finally Tenerife as gateway to the archipelago, the launching point by ferry or by local airline to the other islands in the chain.


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Ghosts of Summer

Going – going – almost gone……summer that is.  Even in a climate like the Canary Islands Summer comes to an end.  Not so much those crisp and golden Autumn days which I miss so much, but parts of the island where the summer sun has been fiercest now lie arid and barren, waiting for the winter rains to wash away the dust and help germinate new life.  Right now these tajinaste skeletons bear pale witness to what once was.


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Mountain Glory

Three months ago it seemed as if the whole island was in motion, heading up into the hills for a glimpse of snow, which was falling heavier and later than usual.  This week it seemed that everyone was talking about the profusion of wildflowers, the colors, the extraordinary numbers this year.  Pictures, like the one below, which I snapped close to the cemetery in Vilaflor on Thursday,  dominate the newspapers, and are on t.v. daily.  The rich colors of Tajinastes and California poppies contrast magnificently with the endless blue of the sky.

Tajinaste grow nowhere else on earth except in the Canary Islands, and some types are native only to specific islands.  They appear on so many postcards, videos and snapshots you probably remember seeing them before.  They’re symbolic of the islands.  I know you don’t want to know all the latin names and explanations, because you would be reading a wildflower blog if you did, and you can look them up elsewhere if you want!  Sufficient to say that when they burst into bloom at this time of year it’s a noteworthy day on the calendar. We enjoy them for a month or more, before the summer heat forces plant life on the peaks to wither or hide.   People will be rushing up there this weekend to see them in the same way they rushed up to see the snow 3 months back.

Maria, Cristina and I, aiming to avoid those weekend crowds headed up into the hills late Thursday afternoon, as soon as Maria had finished work.  Top down on Cristina’s baby we breezed the curves enjoying the flow of warm air and the freedom……..one of the things I miss about living on an island is the potential for road trips!

Note the magnificent white broom on the hillside just where we pulled over.

We hadn’t been driving for very long when we began to notice the colors on the hillsides we were cruising, it really was as if life was bursting out from every turn.  Tajinaste don’t grown below about 2,000 meters, so we were on the look out for our first one, and there was cheering as we spotted  it, although it was a smallish one in the garden of a hamlet we were passing. Still, before too long we were seeing more, and then clumps of them, and then a the stunning group we spotted by the cemetery, pictured above, and below.

We skirted Vilaflor and glided through the Corona Forestal as we climbed continuously, and leaving the forest behind we rounded a bend to see the islands of El Hierro, La Gomera and La Palma shimmering on the horizon. In certain conditions the other islands take on a sort of fantasy pose, seeming to hover over the ocean, with their mountain peaks emerging from cloud. It’s one of the most beautiful sights I know. Sadly my lens wasn’t up to capturing what my eye saw, but this is the best I could do. You can clearly see La Gomera, and El Hierro is the smudge of blue on the horizon to the left.  The lens wasn’t wide enough to include La Palma too.

It was whilst we were stopped to snap the islands that we realized how busy the road had become, particularly with wagons and heavy goods traffic.  We’d come across very little traffic until then, travelling late afternoon it was all going in the opposite direction.Then  we realized were coming from the set of the “Clash of the Titans” sequel, which is being filmed in the National Park as well as other points on the island. Have to say, even from what I’d read and heard about film making the sheer volume of this traffic amazed me!

For us it was onward and upwards however.  A few more twists and turns and we were in Valle de Ucanca, which is where I’d taken the great shots in the snow February and March.  No snow this day, though.  The sun was strong and just high enough in the sky to give us plenty of light, but still lend shadow.  The snows had long seeped into the rock to the underground caverns where it is stored, and in their place were splashes of vivid color –  white  and bright yellow  broom,  cheerful margaritas and still some lingering wild lavender, but most stunning, the tajinaste, great clumps of them,  tumbling down the mountainsides, like the pointy red hats of dozens of garden gnomes.

They can grow up to 3 meters tall, and are heaven on earth for bees.  I’ve never seen one which wasn’t emitting a buzz as the bees collected their pollen.

The broom had been perfuming the air since we’d stopped to photography the islands, and around the caldera the scent was heavy in the late afternoon warmth.  I don’t remember fragrance hanging in the air, just like that, since being in Provence, in the heart of perfume country.

After scrambling around and taking snaps for a while we stopped at a mirador, or viewing point with the caldera spread before us, and El Teide rising in all his glory from its midst.  I imagine he looks down and is pretty pleased by what he sees at the moment.  We made time to pause and picnic for a short while, before heading back down.

The obligatory tourist shot – Cristina and Maria with the volcanic landscape in the background!

 We took the route I’d taken back in March, when that white wall of mist had seemed to follow us down the snowy road, but this time the malpais (badlands) were in their accustomed  stark and impressive state, the odd tree bravely hanging on to life here and there, and La Gomera and La Palma visible again over the tops of the forests before we descended through them.

It was interesting, after last week’s hike, to note the difference in the flora on this which was, more or less, the west side of the island, and the east where I was last Saturday.  Even in such a small space, life, as I always keep harping on about, is so very varied.  I’m hoping to get back up there before the flowers fade, but the chances are that the next time I make it summer will have seared the already austere landscape, and I’ll have to wait for next year to see this amazing scene again.  That’s why everyone will be scuttling up there this weekend – everyone except me that is.