When we stayed in Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife in December last year, I went on a coach tour to the north east of the island including the capital Santa Cruz. I booked it with the rep of our travel organisation, the actual tour operators are always local firms, it doesn’t make sense if I give you the name of the firm we went with as you can’t choose one, you have to take the one your travel organisation works with. I guess they’re all more or less alike and a tour’s success depends on the guide you get.
Our first stop was the auditorium in Santa Cruz (built from 2000 to 2003) at the southern end of the harbour area, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who‘s famous for combining architecture, engineering, and sculpture, (from the net) "…he has produced an astonishingly photogenic opera house. Above its main space — a 1,600-seat auditorium in the shape of a tilted cone — a wing-like canopy rises almost 200 feet before swooping back to earth. The building can look like a turtle, a crescent moon, an eyelid, a cresting wave, a helmet, a palm frond or an erotic Georgia O'Keeffe flower." (Calatrava is currently designing the future train station - World Trade Center Transportation Hub - at Ground Zero in New York City)
We admired the building only from the outside and got on the bus again that took us a bit further to the Plaza de España which unfortunately was a building site and the memorial for the dead of the Spanish Civil War covered by a scaffold. Before his rise to power, Francisco Franco was posted to Tenerife in March 1936 by a Republican government wary of his influence and political leanings, but from there he organized the political coup that would result in the Spanish Civil War. Flanking the Plaza is the building of the central government of the Canary Islands.
Why are the Canary Islands off the north west coast of Africa Spanish at all? Well, the Spaniards conquered them in 1495 defeating the native Guanches. The English would have loved to have the islands, too, they attacked Tenerife in 1797 under Horatio Nelson whose right arm was shot off as he tried to disembark at the shore; another attempted landing in the region of Puerto Santiago was fended off by the inhabitants of the Valley of Santiago, who hurled stones at the British from the heights of the cliffs of Los Gigantes - the Canary Islands remained Spanish.
We walked up to the Plaza de la Candelaria, we were told that the street going up on the left is the main shopping street, the guide would leave the group there after showing them the church Iglesias de San Francisco (about 100m to the right from the upper right corner of the square), I followed dutifully, after all, churches belong to the cultural heritage of a country, but after one glance inside I decided that it was just another Baroque church and that I had seen better ones in my long travelling life, so I left the group and headed off to the Museo de la Naturalezza y el Hombre (Museum of Nature and Man).
It‘s in the Fuente Morales street, back to the Plaza de la Candelaria, then first street to the left (standing with the back to the harbour), straight on passing another church and across a bridge. You have to hand over your passport or identity card if you want an audio guide. I liked the videos showing how a volcanic island comes into being and the photos of the Canarian landscapes but was a bit disappointed about what was on display in the archaeological department and how the objects were presented. I‘m not an archaeologist and no museum person, either, it‘s my right to complain but I don‘t have to suggest improvements.
So I was out of the museum sooner than I had anticipated and had some time to walk around a bit, on my way back to the Plaza de España I found the pretty street Bethoncourt lined by two rows of tall trees, a pedestrian precinct with a lot of cafés with tables outside and people enjoying the sun - on December 27th! I found the little I saw of Santa Cruz rather pleasant, our guide called the city with more than 220,000 inhabitants, the economic and industrial centre of the Canary Islands, "cosy and not at all aggressive", I‘d like to believe he‘s right, pity that none of the big cruise ships was lying in the harbour while we were there.
It’s not possible to get to the water in the city proper, in the south is an oil refinery, then comes the harbour for freighters and passenger ships, the ferry to Gran Canaria starts there (the silhouette of the island can be seen), swimmers and sun bathers go to the northern end of the bay, to the Teresita Beach in San Andres, the only one on Tenerife with yellow sand, all other beaches have dark grey sand, ground lava so-to-speak. About 30 years ago when Spain still possessed the colony Spanish-Sahara, many ship loads of sand were transported to Tenerife to make the beach (underneath there are stones), an artificial rock barrier protects it from the waves but, of course, wind and waves nibble at it and one day it will have disappeared.
From the beach it’s up twisting roads into the Anaga Mountains, they remind me of the centre of Sardinia, the craggy mountains, the bushes and cacti typical for the Mediterranean macchia. When we came to a fork we moved down again, our next destination was the village Taganana on the north coast, accessible only by one road or by boat. The inhabitants used to be either fishermen or workers on the sugar cane plantations which the Spaniards had introduced, now they live from day tourism or commute to Santa Cruz. Tourists go there to see the picturesque village ‘glued’ to the slope of the mountain and the wild coast with bizarre rock formations.
Before we got down to the beach we had lunch in the restaurant Xiamara right at the beginning of the village, it’s simple, cheap and good. For starters we had a mixed salad, a vegetable soup, boiled potatoes with a spicy garlic sauce, then as the main course either a fried filet of fish or rabbit in a sauce or a pork cutlet with French fries, wine and water as much as we liked, for dessert a small ice-cream and a banana and to round things off a cup of coffee with a shot of brandy for those who wanted it - and all that for 12 € (19 dollars), if one took scrambled eggs as the main course, the price was 6 €.
When we had reached the fork in the road again, we moved higher up, in contrast to Sardinia where vegetation ends at a certain height, the trees and bushes are enormous in the Anaga Mountains, try to imagine heather 3m high! We had reached the Mercedes Forest (after the village Las Mercedes nearby), we were in the so-called Laura Silva, the Laurel Forest, which once, many millions of years ago, covered the whole of the European continent. When the climate became colder it receded to the Canary islands - just like tourists do nowadays!
We were lucky not to find the Mercedes Forest moist which it often is due to the trade winds, then the upper part of the mountain range is covered in clouds and one can’t see anything. These clouds don’t bring rain, only moisture which settles on the needles of the pine trees, from there it drops down and seeps into the ground. Tenerife has no problems with water shortage despite the many tourists, at least not up to now.
Every now and then the trees and bushes receded and we could see the north coast and the east coast simultaneously. We stopped at the Pico des Ingles (Peak of the English[!]) which is 1000 m high (3281 ft) from where we saw the village Taganana where we’d just come from and also Santa Cruz and the auditorium where we had started our sightseeing tour.
I liked my day out and can only recommend such a coach tour should you ever visit Tenerife. It cost me 27,50 € (39,30 $), money well spent.