Islandmomma

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


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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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On Sleeping in a Cave: or A Childhood Dream Comes True!

There is the scrapping sound of small rocks falling.  I lie still, and wait for another sound, holding my breath, then, Austin’s voice from the darkness;

“Was that you?”

“Nope, it wasn’t you either then?”

“No.”

“What was it then?”

“Just some stones falling. Rocks fall.”

The same sound again, as stone dislodges from the rock face, perhaps disturbed by a small animal.  I know already that we are sharing this cave with a mouse and two spiders, any of which might have dislodged small stones to make the noise we heard. I wrap my arms around my body to fend off the 1º below temperature, and relax again.  My nest in this cave is really quite comfortable, and apparently I drift off to sleep.

This day began sunny and bright in El Médano.  We drove up the twisting road from Granadilla de Abona, on Tenerife’s south east coast, through Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor de Chasna, and into the Teide National Park to the familiar sight of the bizarre and preternatural landscape that is the caldera at the Park’s center. Along the way, the atmosphere had changed from sunny to chill as we passed Granadilla, then to shifting mists as we drove through the pine forest above Vilaflor, to emerge into the sunshine again as we entered the crater.

The landscape had alternated from parched near the coast, where we have had little rain over the last year; to verdant in the forests, where the mists, captured by the trees, are fed to the earth below; and back again to arid as we neared the National Park. The flora had reflected the climate, the pines and eucalyptus on the roadsides lower down were wilting and dusty, and at the top were only dry skeletons of the broom, tajinaste and rosalillo that had flowered last summer, but in between almond blossom flourished, we saw trees were laden with lemons and oranges, and the first California poppies were hiding in sheltered spots.

We had donned light jackets quickly on arriving – although the sun was bright there was a wind chill factor bringing down the temperature. Austin had promised me this hike for my birthday, but we hadn’t been able to do it at the time, and I was looking forward to it tremendously, especially after the theft of my Blackberry (see previous post) which had upset me more than I liked to admit.  It had been a bleak kind of week up to Thursday, but it was all set to change beyond my expectations.

Austin hoisted his heavy pack onto his back.  He was carrying everything except for my sleeping bag, and other than that, I had only my extra clothes (though plenty of them), camera equipment and some odds and ends, like binoculars, in my own pack.  Still, it was heavier than I am used to carrying when hiking.

We set off along the trail known as Siete Cañadas which is a hikers’ favorite, being well- laid and easy. It begins by the Parador and emerges at the crossroads of El Portillo, on the other side of the crater, from where roads descend to La Orotava, or along the backbone of the island to La Laguna, either way a stunning drive. The air was so clear that the colors of the landscape seemed almost unbelievable, they were so bright and vibrant, and turning back to look at this mighty mountain, El Teide,  which dominates the vista on just about every inch of the island, I was already beginning to get a sense of the surreal.

We had only been walking for about twenty minutes or so, when Austin veered off the path and motioned me to follow. Two minutes later we were inside the heart of the rock formation you can see below, which had been making my imagination work overtime as we approached it. Even after living close to this landscape for so long, its eccentricities never fail to amaze me.  These rocks look far more like something from a science fiction movie than anything which belongs on this earth.

Inside the formation was even more like being in another world.  We perched on rocks and ate lunch, the spiralling, volcanic pikes rising around us like guardians, protecting us from the fierce sunlight.  We could only wonder at the forces which had created these shapes, as Nature threw them up from her soul millions of years ago, crenated, twisted, their layers reflecting the origins of the planet.

Collecting all our rubbish, we set out once more. For me this was destination unknown, a birthday surprise, but it turned out to be surprise upon surprise. As we blinked again in the sunlight Austin gestured upwards with his hiking pole:

“That’s where we’re going,” he grinned.

I swear I caught my breath. Behind the rocks rose Alto de Guajara, at 8,917 ft (2,718 meters) one of the highest peaks in the National Park. I’ve seen it described as the third highest, but a marker along the route seemed to indicate otherwise, it might be fourth or even fifth, still, it was high and craggy and, well, er, very high, no matter its credentials in comparison to the surrounding mountains.

More interesting than the height is the legend.  Guajara was a Guanche princess, daughter of  Beneharo, ruler of one of the kingdoms into which the island was divided, and wife of  Tinguaro, the brother (or possibly half-brother) of Benecomo, the ruler of another kingdom. The Guanches were the original inhabitants of Tenerife, a stone-age culture when the Spanish Conquistadors finally took the island for the crown of Spain after fierce fighting.  The Guanches fought hard and long, andTenerife was the last island of the Canarian archipelago to fall. One of the heroes of the battles was Tinguaro, who was slain, after ferocious fighting, at the battle of Aguere (the present-day La Laguna) in 1495. Heartbroken, Guajara withdrew inland, and finally, in her despair, threw herself from the peak of the mountain which now bears her name. That she met her end in that way can never be confirmed, but the story is in keeping with others relating to the time following the Conquest. Were we, perhaps, about to meet the ghost of a Guanche princess?

We turned off the Siete Cañadas trail and began to hike upwards on what is designated as Hiking Route 15. It took us higher and higher along a narrow pathway marked by stones through scrubland dominated by broom.  When we met a few walkers returning along the same path we had to stand to one side to allow them to pass. I began to slow down, constant climbing always takes its toll on me, and, as always, I vowed to get fitter before the next hike. Austin’s fitness level is amazing. He takes part in triathlons and trail running, and he forged way ahead at times, despite carrying most of our overnight gear.

Eventually, we reached a crossing of pathways, affording us a stunning view of mists creeping up a valley. Hemmed on each side by rock face and crags, the mists would advance, fingering their way along the mountainside, and then just as quickly withdraw as if stung by some unseen presence.  We knew that below the mist and cloud lay the south east coast, Granadilla and El Médano.  We stopped to put on warmer clothes. It wouldn’t be long until dusk, and already it was getting cooler. It was then that I cursed not bringing an extra camera battery.  I’ve never needed to carry one for the amount of photos I expected to take on this trip, and I’d tried to keep baggage to a minimum, but the cold air was already having an effect, and I stopped snapping, aware that I would regret not having enough battery for the surprises which were promised ahead.

“We’re almost there,”Austinsaid cheerfully, and we moved on and upwards at a fairly leisurely pace.  It wasn’t long before he darted off into the broom, and I assumed that he was answering a call of nature, and plodded on, but, from waist-high in bush, he called me over to follow him. We scrambled over rocks under an over-hang which formed a shallow cave, and onto a natural platform of rock.  There two enormous rocks almost formed another, smaller cave, and the shelter had been extended by previous visitors with rocks, branches and dead grasses to roof it in and shield it from the biting winds which sweep across the hillside.  It was a scene straight out of my childhood dreams.  People had also strewn dried grasses on the stone to make a natural sleeping place.  It was so perfect I wanted to cry (as you will see in the video which will be in the next post!).

Austin got busy right away, placing ground sheets over the dried grasses, and stowing our packs as we staked our claim to our resting place for the night. First, another treat in store, everything stowed, we donned yet more warm clothing, and walked on a bit further around the mountainside to catch the sunset. It was so much easier to walk without packs, and at one stage I actually ran to make sure I didn’t miss the scene.

As the sun dipped behind the mountain to our right, its last rays lingered on the hillside across the valley, and way around over the heart of the island it dappled the dark volcanic cones and sands. Cursing my lack of sense in not bringing a spare battery, I snapped what was, essentially, the reflection of the sunset, because we were facing south east, and the lavender hue was bleeding along the horizon above the mist and tinting the low cloud below us.

Returning to our cave (do you know how incredible it feels to say that?!), Austin produced vacuum-packed dinners, which he heated up with water boiled on a small burner.  My first taste of real camping food! Better than I expected, plentiful and hot, it was good and warming as the temperature inside the cave fell to minus 1ºC.  Followed by bananas and hot chocolate, I really wouldn’t have changed places with anyone in the swankiest restaurant in the world, as overhead the heavens began to shine with the achingly endless display of stars which the clear skies of the Canary Islands yield up at night. To make my night complete a bright shooting star crossed above us.

As we put on so many layers I now lost track, and zipped into our sleeping bags I felt like a child at Christmas, albeit a very chunky one! I’d dreamed of camping since I was a small child, and this kind of camping really was a dream come true, to be almost out in the open, to have only rock and dry grass between me and the night sky, and to experience not another sound in all the universe, just utter silence……. except for the soft rock fall, that is.

Not only all of this, but promise of something even more wonderful the next morning. Sleep didn’t come easily, but it seems at last that I did doze off, because, apparently I snored something rotten!  For the rest, well, that’s enough writing for today, but soon, very soon, and, what’s more, with video!

Please note that camping, as such, is strictly forbidden in the National Park. What we did is bivvying – not using tents, nor driving anything into earth or rock, but simply sleeping under natural cover, and of course, we took all our rubbish home with us.


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Visiting the Snowclad Volcano

My friend, Cristina, and I had been in a meeting for over an hour, and as we stepped out into the sunshine, we had an almost unobstructed view of the mountains from the office in Las Galletas, and the breathtaking sight of Mt Teide as he rose triumphantly over the island in his winter coat.  Down here on the coast we’d had high winds and heavy rain, but up there, at over 12,000 ft, the precipitation fell frozen and glistening white.  El Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, if I failed to mention that before.   We were seized by the impulse to drive straight up there to see it up close, but it took only a few minutes to realize that between us we had too many commitments and plans to change at such short notice, and knowing that the forecast was for more bad weather over the weekend we planned to go this week, when there would be even more snow.

As it happened, even though the weather had been a bit rough over the following days, we could see, as we set off from La Camella at a very chilly 8.30am, that there wasn’t as much snow as there had been exactly a week before.  In the meantime, roads had been closed and access restricted for hours and even days, to protect both people and the National Park over which Teide reigns, as fierce sleet and winds battered the peaks.   Our intention was to take a leisurely drive, stop for me to snap, go our separate ways for a while once we got down to La Laguna, and perhaps take in the movie which was showing in the Caja Canarias season of movies on the photojournalism theme, and so we snaked up the mountain roads in the cool early morning, under an impossibly blue sky.  Though we didn’t lose sight of the sapphire skies, the clouds were closing in behind us, and forming the famous Mar de Nubes (Sea of Clouds).  The effect is like that you have when flying, high above the clouds, so that you look down on a fleecy blanket of white, and can’t see the land below.

The roads were fairly quiet.  It was the day after a holiday, and maybe the forecast had been too iffy for tourists to bother.  They missed a treat if that was the case.  We found ourselves in the caldera in no time, and cruising through a landscape, which is for me, after 20-odd years of living here, both familiar and yet strange.  I do not exaggerate when I say that it never, ever fails to awe me.  These rocks, this pre-historic landscape, the sense of the power of nature, and the stark contrasts between the somber crags and  that indigo sky, all conspire to suspend the current reality and allow the imagination to run riot.  Let’s be honest here, Mother Nature is nothing if not a drama queen.

Magnificent and unspoiled though the landscape was, first impressions were of a distinct lack of snow.  Pockets could be seen in shady nooks, where the sun had little power in winter, but not what you’d call even a “covering”.  That said, since the area became not only a National Park, but a World Heritage Site in 2007, there are far more restrictions and regulations aimed at  limiting  damage to the natural and unavoidable rather than the disrespect of man, and it was very likely that, had we made it a week before, we would have found roads closed and access to the caldera cut off.  There were days, years ago, when, at the first sign of snow, we would rush on up with sleds or plastic bin liners, hot chocolate and ski gear, but earlier this week access from the north was one way, via the village of La Esperanza and down via the Orotava Valley, and if you climbed the way we did, from the south, then the road was blocked roughly half way across the vast volcanic crater, and you had to return the way you came, via Vilaflor or via Chio.   Those are the four main routes up and down the mountain.

As we were going north in any event, we continued, knowing, as any fan of adventure movies will tell you, that there was more chance of snow on the north-facing slopes, and we were not disappointed, as we drew closer and began to circle El Teide, and the car’s thermometer registered 5ºC,  we saw more and more, until, leaving El Portillo behind and beginning the at first gradual descent we discovered enough of the wet and white stuff, as Cristina said, to make snowballs.

I put a couple of these pictures on my Facebook page earlier, and received some nice compliments, but, honestly, with these colors, these contrasts, with the snow and the sky, and that majestic mountain – how can you go wrong?

So, I happily snapped away, and Cristina made snowballs and had an abortive attempt at a snow angel, but it was too hardpacked for that.  It was after this that she put down the roof on the car, we bundled up against the cold even more, and  began to mosey down , past the observatory, in the direction of La Laguna, reminding me of the days back when I was young and had my much-loved MG Midget, and had the top down in all but serious weather.

Cristina and her talking car

We had only been going for a few minutes, however, when I had to call another stop.  The extraordinary Mar de Nubes, which was now masking the northern coast from view, was on the move, stealthily slithering its way up the mountainside, creeping between tree and rock in a surreal and measured glide, and it had changed from the fluffy, white clouds of the southern slopes to grey and forboding, with different colored layers.

I’ve seen this before, it’s eerie and other-worldly, and I could sit and watch it for hours, but the real world, down below was calling, and we resumed our journey.

It was about halfway down that we caught up with the clouds, as they sneaked their way amongst the trunks of Canarian pines, blackened by forest fires, but with defiant new growth emerging on their tops.  I swear, Hollywood couldn’t have set a scene more perfectly, and up went the top of the car, as the icy haze surrounded us.

It was just after this that I began to wonder if perhaps it really all was a dream, as outside it fell to 4ºC, and an alarm went off as the car actually warned us of the fall in the temperature.  Cristina, I should add, was delighted that her car was communicating with her – this wasn’t a feature she’d actually ever expected to function on this sub-tropical island!

Following the curves from that point down was entering yet another world, where, leaving the forest behind, lush and green fields and yellow flowers bordered the road, until the clatter of motorway traffic could be heard, and we crossed into the outskirts of the city, and then back out into the country villages for lunch……..but that is another story, for another day.  This morning belonged to the mists and the mountains and the snow, the coast, the city, bright lights and shopping malls belong to a different world entirely…….or at least they seem to…….and that, as you know, is what I keep harping on about – the variety to be found in less than 800sq miles.