travels to Tenerife with Ed
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. Ancient legend, mentioned in Plato's Dialogues, states that the archipelago is all that remains of the mythical continent of Atlantis, brought down by an enormous cataclysm. Known by the Mediterranean races since the dawn of history by the name of the garden of the Hesperides, Elysian Fields and Island of Fortune, the Canary islands were only colonized during the late Middle Ages.
Due to dominant Mount Teide, grandmother of all volcanoes in this neck of the woods - its volcanic cone rises 3,718m above the entire archipelago - the weather is very different in the north of the island to that in the south. I reckon that any European weather that catches the north gets stopped abruptly by the mountain - which means it generally remains hot and sunny in the south while passing clouds may hunch around the mountain to the north. Tenerife is like two countries in this respect. For sun, sea, pub and club, go to the south; for green, scene, Spain and rain, go to the north. I spent two weeks there at the end of April, and those rain clouds that follow me around followed me across central Europe and hovered around to the north of the island for that period. The weather there, at the charming town of Puerto de la Cruz, was unusually dull, I am assured. Normally, I was told, you might only expect the odd day of rain - necessary to ensure that this essential green part of the island maintains its lush aspect - but in my case, there was cloud on most days, and only blue skies and sun for around two and a half days! Still, there you go - or rather, there I go! [See part 2 for the other side of the coin!]
The Guanches were the original inhabitants of the island, a peaceful race who lived in the many natural caves. The Martánez cliff on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz contains many fine examples that are readily seen from the shopping area. Cave dwelling gave them cool shelter and, they thought, relative safety. But that did not take into account the Spanish Armada which, in 1496, overcame the proud and bloody defences of the Guanches who would not be subjected to external control. The few natives who survived went to work on the plantations. The Guanches used some of their caves exclusively for burying their mummified dead.
As I have said before, I am not one for endless sun, so the choice was still good. If I wanted to join the sun-worshippers, clubbers and pubbers, I would have stayed at Los Christianos, Playa de las Americas - or even the somewhat more civilized Los Gigantes - where sun can almost be guaranteed. Instead, I visited them by local bus from my base at Puerto de la Cruz. So what of these places? The club and pub places have purpose-built beaches, purpose-built apartments, purpose-built hotels, and the purpose is to spend sunshine hours on the beach and nightlight hours - pre-crashing - in the clubs. I have heard tales about cockroaches in self-catering - several tales - and so, personally, would feel happier to be going to a good hotel in this area: but you 'pays your money and takes your choice'; however, if you get a choice cockroach or two as holiday companions, don't say I didn't warn you. Figure this one out for yourself. How often do you think self-catering apartments are cleaned, allowing for the fact that there may be many weeks when some of them are empty. Then how often are hotel rooms cleaned? Get the picture?
Los Christianos is all high rise, wide avenues, reasonable beaches; Playa de las Americas now seamlessly joins Los Christianos, although, at the waterfront, the hotels suddenly get more ambitious as a pseudo-American atmosphere begins its influence. Much further up the south-western coast, Los Gigantes offers a smaller version of all this, and just before you reach the latter are some smaller bays with what I consider more character, such as Puerto Santiago and Playa de la Arena. My guaranteed day of sunshine on the beach of the latter was most enjoyable, and it was so hot that I practically burned the soles of my feet scampering 10 metres to a litter bin across the grey sand.
Poor beaches on the island have practically black (volcanic) sand. Better ones have a greyish sand dredged from the nearby seabed, but this is nicer to be on than one might imagine looking at it - even if kids do look as though they have come down a chimney once they get a sand and water mix over their dear, noisy little bodies.
Take a ride
I mentioned that I used the local buses to travel on the island. If you previously read my piece on Malta you will know how I like to enjoy local colour by so doing; it must be said, however, that nowhere can equal Malta for colour when it comes to local buses: both metaphorically and physically speaking. The green buses on Tenerife have 'TITSA' emblazoned on their sides and those who do not have a complete grasp of Spanish might think that this, in itself, adds a certain amount of character, especially if you have to ask where to get the Titsas. (What it really stands for is: 'Transportes Interurbanaos de Tenerife, S.A.U.') Before you use this form of transport, I'd like to give you a few tips. Tip 1: ensure you get a bus timetable, for some routes can have significant gaps, and last buses, as I found late one Sunday evening in Los Christianos, can become rather in demand; the concept of queues here is not fully understood, so this is a bit of a culture shock for the English: who are experts at this gentlemanly art. When it comes to the last bus, it is not even women and children first: simply everyone for themselves. The enormous timetable sheet is very informative if you take the time to get to grips with it. Tip 2: buy a Bono ticket from a bus station for 50% discount. This enables you to pop the ticket into the machine on the bus and have your latest fare debited from the ticket, with the amount remaining printed on the rear of the card; very high-tech stuff! Tip 3: Be very aware that some services only run a few times a day - so 2-bus links to remote places are not a good idea.
The mountain that lies smack in the middle of the island makes travelling from A to B require you to also visit X, Y and Z, equally distributed around the island, so don't expect bus trips to be short. Look at a map and you might think that a trip from Puerto de la Cruz in the north would take you south-west and counter-clockwise to say Playa de las Americas, but how wrong you would be. No, instead it takes you initially north-east and clockwise, circumnavigates the barren south east of the island, and hence makes use of the motorway system. The mountainous south-western coast only has mountain roads, and this explains the general aversion to trips on that coast. A trip to La Laguna - not really to be recommended - was on one of those bendy-buses. I was impressed that this was to be driven by a lady driver, but somewhat concerned when she seemed to be unable to reverse it out of the parking bay at the bus station to begin with. What did this portend? An official climbed aboard, grim-faced, punched some buttons, muttered something to her, and left, allowing her to find reverse in the automatic gearbox - and we were off. Faith was restored in the driver when it soon became plain that she was quite fearless of other drivers - but not they of her. Faith receded again when we met an unoccupied van blocking a roundabout at Aeropuerto de los Rodeos (the northern airport) and the bendy-bus could not circumnavigate the sharp arc required to meet the small gap; by reversing a couple of metres, I really do believe that it would have been possible to reposition the bendy-bus to get through the gap, but after much button punching on the dashboard, calls on her radio, and leaning on her horn for minutes on end, the techniques for engaging reverse clearly not taken on board, the driver of the said van was eventually summoned to move his white obstacle and, after a suitable tirade, we were on our way again. Yes, our girl was definitely more proficient at driving forwards than backwards. Now this was an easy route, using the motorway.
When I took a trip to Los Gigantes another day, this was the other side of the invisible TITSA divide, and the route does actually take the mountain roads to the south-west of the island, across some of the higher reaches of Mount Teide. The young man who drove this bus was so pleasant and helpful, and such a careful driver, that I soon came to the conclusion that they picked only the very best drivers for this mountainous route. After an hour of climbing and hair-pin bends, we began over half-an-hour of declining hair-pin bends to Gigantes. Fortunately for me I missed the stop and ended up at what I think is probably the much quieter and nicer Playa de la Arena (the place where I burned my feet, you will recall). After a day of sun exposure, we got on the return bus, quite empty, to then pick up other sun-worshippers at Gigantes. They piled onto the bus endlessly. This bus, quite unlike the one that brought us, was only a half full of seats - plus a lot of standing space! Who would want to stand on a mountainous trip such as this, thought I, until the hordes piled on at Gigantes? No one wanted to, I'm quite sure, but many had to! Now, we're talking about a nearly 2 hour trip back to Puerto here, so this is a major consideration! Also,for some reason, this driver was not from the carefully-picked batch of safety experts. He jerked and swerved, and made the trip generally more memorable than the one coming. (Although the one coming was far more interesting, since the scenery is quite spectacular along this coastline, and much better when you can see out of both sides of the bus at once. Standing passengers are such a nuisance, don't you agree?
An organized bus trip - not a TITSA flip - was to Santa Cruz de Tenerife and then across the Mercedes Mountains in the north-east tip of the island, to a little fishing village called Taganana. This was an enjoyable day.
Santa Cruz is a pleasant, modern city, with many tree-lined walks to make walking in the sun a more enjoyable experience. The guide book I bought - The Golden Book of Tenerife - assures me that 'its sandy shores and streets witnessed the main historic events of Tenerife and the Canary Islands at large'; well, I am here to tell you that there are no 'sandy streets' to be found! No sir! This capital city also includes a large and important port that serves, amongst others, those cruising-eaters. Within the shopping area this is a typical city: lots of streets, shops, and a McDonald's. You truly could be anywhere!
Tucked discretely away to the south-east is the only beach with truly golden sand, at Playa de las Terisitas. This is near Santa Cruz de Tenerife, landscaped from imported Sahara sand, complete with shady palms to emulate a Caribbean beach. Why locate a sandy beach here, when all the tourists go to the south-west? Well, if you were an inhabitant of this island, wouldn't you prefer to hide the best beach away - near to the capital, where you live and work?
The approach to the fishing village of Taganana is via lots of hairpin bends for the coach to negotiate. We had a very careful driver, and a very long bus. We passed through some interesting mountain scenery featuring precarious rocks that aren't precarious, and cacti that aren't cacti (except that they look like cacti). The cheerful courier told us all this. On the way down to sea level the bus had to negotiate a hairpin bend that is just too sharp (a TITSA can manage it, but our bus was just a shade too long). Most of the passengers were Spanish or German so, when the driver announced something in Spanish, only the chosen ones knew what he wanted. Some of the passengers stood on one side of the bus - obviously to tilt it slightly as it was bottomed - and the driver was then able to reverse slightly and to make the bend. "Don't worry," laughed the courier, "we do this several times a week." It was all very reassuring as we looked down the precipice.
By the time we stopped for lunch it was raining really hard. There is this restaurant, perched on the edge of another precipice, where the courier assured us that lunch would be "a memorable but basic experience". She was right! A vast array of tables catered for the bus loads. For a reasonable sum we were given a lunch complete with wine, rounded off by coffee meant to be laced from a bottle of brandy - but people made the most of the wine and that bottle of brandy! In fact everyone was more than well laced by the time we departed and, needless to say, we didn't watch the scenery quite so closely on the return trip! (Fortunately I believe that the driver did!)
This eating place oozed character - or rather it dripped it: water through the roof tiles to be exact. Several people had to move in order to reach the bottom of their soup bowls. The owner went round collecting money in a kitchen sieve and waking each table up with a mighty blow from his large gavel - just when they though they weren't going to be asked to pay! (Any complaints about it raining inside the establishment were likely to be met by a threat from the gavel, a wide beam from the depths of the owner's volumous beard, and an umbrella to hold, with instructions to eat with one hand.) A German contingent on another table burst forth into a drinking song, staring at those of us who couldn't understand with wry grins; I wonder why? Yes, this meal was memorable - at least up until the brandy! The bus windows seemed a bit blurred after that.
We took a taxi from Puerto to La Orotava: they're very reasonable unless you have along journey. This place is set within the Orotava valley, a green haven nestling beneath the massive Teide mountain and its volcanic peak. We had been advised to ask to be dropped at the 'balconies', and this is sound advice, since you can then walk downhill to see the town, starting at the most picturesque part! The fine wooden balconies can be seen on everything from humble houses to the discrete palaces (such as the 17th century Casa de los Lercara). Don't miss going into the House of Balconies for fantastic balconies overlooking the internal courtyard.
I took this picture a little way down the hill from the main balcony area. It rather reminded me of the US; what do you think? It could be Palm Springs! Just below this scene is the important Church of the Concepción. Now we had this unfortunate habit of always getting near an important building during siesta time - when they always seemed to be locked up. We tried every door, on every side. So we never did see the works of art and other marvels inside this church - or even get inside the railings of the rather nice but intimate botanical gardens not so far away - also closed! Try to plan things better if you go there!
Camels and Dragons!
We took an organised trip - booked through our hotel - to have a camel ride on the slopes of the Teide. Not greatly publicized, you need to ask about this one. It was a great trip in all respects - not least because it involves travelling through the spectacular scenery to the west of Puerto de la Cruz to a little place called El Tanque. Now I could show you a picture of me and H strung upon either side of a camel like Tweedledum and Tweedledee - but why go for cheap laughs? Instead, I will show you a view from the seat of a camel: much more atmospheric! After an included coffee on arrival, we were robed in suitable style and then mounted our camels. Ours was just spitting something out that looked vaguely like sweet corn as we approached, and we were somewhat nervous of it. On reflection, however, once we had boarded and it had gotten shakily off its knees, were were pleased to be on it rather than in front of it! (The two ladies in the camel train in front of us were constantly telling us to keep our camel in order as it nibbled tenderly on their ear lobes. Some people always moan, don't they? Didn't they want friendly camels, for heaven's sake?) The train, of around a dozen camels, was led by a single leader along paths for about 40 minutes, our seats sometimes dangling over minor slopes, our eyes busy watching the plodding feet of our camel to check that it was now feeling rather better and was confident about its footing despite the random rocks that were strewn along the path. (I wonder, if one camel fell in a train, would the rest hold it up, or would the others flip over with it?) We survived, despite the camel behind us resting it head on our shoulders when it felt a little weary. It tried to snack on my shirt, but fortunately a net over its mouth made this somewhat less appetizing.
The ride was followed by an included lunch of paella, and unlabelled wine; as our friend on the same table put it, the wine was of mixed vintage: today's, yesterday's and the day before's; thank goodness it was not Friday!
On the return trip we saw the famous dragon tree, El Drago, reputed to be over 1,000 years old. Quite a fascinating sight and a real wonder of nature! The Guanches used to extract a reddish, blood-like sap from this tree that they used for healing purposes. (Unfortunately it did not help them much when their island was invaded and their own blood ran.) I bought some seeds, so I'll be working on my own tree, despite our English climate - under glass, of course! Check it out in a few hundred years - there might be a glass-house on top of it! Check it out in a few hundred years - it'll be famous by then for having a glass-house on the top! [More about this tree in Part 2.]
I was really quite pleased to be staying in Puerto, for in my opinion it is the most pleasant town on the island. (But then I am not a sun-worshipper; if I was, I would have gone for the sunny south-west, no arguments.) Pleasant to stroll around, a nice breeze most days, warm air, sun from time to time, interest, it offered all I could require. (Perhaps a little more sun would have been nice, but I do recognize that the clouds follow me around. It would be sunnier for you.) We were bombarded by maps of the town, and these proved to be a little confusing. Once again that little convention of putting north at the top of a map is not universally accepted and, although some of the maps did just this, others rotated it through 180º - just to confuse.
At the sea there is the Martiánez swimming pools and lake for the sun-worshippers that choose not to lie on one of the grey beaches, although the Playa Jardín beach with its adjoining gardens is very pleasant (top left or bottom right of your map!).
I liked Columbus Plaza near the centre of the town: a green area with a number of restaurants dotted around its edge. Somehow we kept gravitating back to one of these for it was so pleasant to sit outside at one of the tables beneath the red umbrellas and watch the world go by. It was here that I bought my 'Rolex' watch for 2,500 pts from a street trader. A bargain or what? (Fantastic sweets there, too.) It is hilly at Puerto, so if your hotel is out of town, make sure there is a good way to get in. Many hotels have a courtesy bus. Ours ran one nearly every hour, and the attractive Spanish girl that drove it was careful, courteous - to the degree of allowing everything and anything to go in front of her - and friendly; she seemed to know everyone and was constantly blipping her horn and waving.
Wherever you go on the island - and particularly in Puerto - you will never find yourself far away from a litter bin advertising Loro Parque - and believe me, this place is not rubbish! The standard of everything there is high. (With the exception of their leaflet that, although it included three languages for much of the text, assumed you knew the Spanish for the show names - which might just keep a few guessing about what they were due to see!) For dolphins and sea lions, penguins, aquariums, sharks piranhas, wildlife and the original parrots, you must visit this place. The various shows are so marvellous - particularly the sea-lion and dolphin shows. My picture shows one of the trainers being propelled out of the water by two dolphins; their fantastically high jumps, synchronized jumping, acrobatics with (not in) their trainers, and general good humour must be seen to be believed! The litter bin technique - Loro pay for the litter bins all over the island - clearly pulls in the public, and it can take a while just meandering from one show to the next, let alone the display areas. Allow a full day here! You can catch a free train from Puerto to its location just beyound Playa Jardín. The penguin display in a building that recreates a frozen domain for them, and around which you travel on a moving walkway with views above and below water, is something not to miss. Nor are the shark-filled aquariums. It was fascinating watching divers cleaning inside the aquariums; cleaning the piranha tank was not to be envied, however! Shudder at the thought! [More about Puerto revisited in Part 2.]
Bananera el Guache is another attraction worth visiting for a simplified lesson on how bananas are grown, and a pleasant but unimposing garden that displays almost every variety of fruit tree you can think of - including chewing-gum and peanut trees! You also have the chance of picking up a picture of yourself with a hand of bananas; more chance than of picking up a hand of bananas: as you'll soon appreciate if you try. Boy, are they heavy! Both here and at Loro Parque you can sample banana liquor - more yellow than the bananas. The wonders of these tropical fruits are well worth going to see, and you can even buy Bird of Paradise cut flowers here and they will deliver them to your hotel in a sturdy box on a suitable date for your departure. (See them growing to the left of the picture above.) And you can add some fruit into the box to take home! These cut flowers last for weeks if you treat them right; keep cutting their stalk a bit every few days when you change the water, and assist their renewed blooms to come out with a gentle pull to click them into place when they look ready and willing! There is a free bus that transports visitors from Puerto to Bananera that leaves from Avda. Venezuela (and takes you back). Give the man a tip!
The Botanical Gardens at Puerto are rather more imposing, and contain many fascinating trees and plants - over 120 species. The climatic conditions of Tenerife favour the coexistence of species with widely varying conditions. As I may just have mentioned, you get the sun and the rain in the north of the island. But for the price of a little rain - warm rain, let's face it - is well worth it for the lush tree and plant life that is all around you. The amazing skeleton-like tree shown here, to be found quite easily in its dominating position in the centre of the garden, comprises many trunks and hanging roots. (It's my theory that some of the hanging roots were earthed at angles to create this affect, but that's just my guess. Do you know different?)
You can take a trip up Mount Teide; the last part by cable car. Unfortunately we did not get around to this. What I did learn, however, is that there can be some terrific queues for the cable car so, if you want to take this ride, make sure your method of getting there allows for this. Many trips do not, since it would not be practical. You can get there from Puerto on the TITSA buses, and this will, at least, ensure that you can be as reasonably long up there as you like. The cone is often snow-capped - although this was not the case when we were there. Some people we met who had once been up there when it was wearing its white cap told me a tale to remember, however. It was so cold on their visit that the cable cars iced up part-way down. They were trapped with no warm clothing at the top for hours. Some poor chap who drew a short straw had to go down on the cable by some means to defreeze the car. (A bit of brimstone might have helped.)
I told you about my luck with the weather. Well how about this, to finish up with. At the very last hotel breakfast they changed their kind of bread roll. Now I had eaten countless bread rolls in that hotel quite fearlessly. The very last bread roll I was to eat there, and the very first of the new kind, managed to send a splinter of crust between my teeth that raised blood. A quick visit to my room with a toothpick did little to remedy extreme discomfort which, on return to England, and my dentist, proved to stem from a split tooth. So my final souvenir of Tenerife will be a crown. Even now, as I write, my jaw is a frozen mass - what a trooper - I am aware that this is merely the first instalment of dental treatment that will carry over the memory of Tenerife for many weeks to come! I'm normally just concerned about earning a crust - but in future, I'll be concerned about surviving a crust! What a way to crown an otherwise great vacation!