Of all the seven Canary Islands Tenerife is the most varied in landscape and vegetation, the reason being the Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, 3.717 m (12.198 feet). It divides the island into the yellow-grey, arid south and the green, lush north of permanent spring. The trade winds are responsible for that, when they touch the northern side of the Teide, clouds form, the needles of the fir trees growing there ‘milk’ them so-to-speak, the humidity enters the ground, disappears through the porous rocks and gathers in huge caverns. The islanders search for them, open them, at the moment 1000 are in use, build canals with tubes up to 6 km long, and irrigate the fields. 70% of the water supply comes from the Teide, 30% from rain and snow and a few desalination plants.
After recovering from the shock of the climate change - we had left Germany in December covered with snow and 32° F and came to 80°F - we set out to visit the town of Puerto de la Cruz. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of tourists, you can still see enough natives going about their business or not, to get a feeling for the Canarian way of life.
During the Christmas holidays many families did the same as the tourists, i.e., walk around, enjoy the sun, go with their children to playgrounds; old men played cards in the small harbour - we had enough opportunities of watching them. Some are blond, descendents of the indigenous population, the majority are of Spanish origin, small, a bit stocky, lightly dark-skinned, a few faces prove that the North African coast isn’t so far away.
We found them friendly, a bit reserved, calm, quiet. They don’t gesticulate or shout, respect traffic signs, don’t blow the horn unnecessarily. They seem to love order and cleanliness, the public bathrooms are a pleasure to go to, if you want to find dog poop or cigarette butts you must look for them, you don’t step into them accidentally. All this is true not only for Puerto, but also for other inland towns in the north which don’t have tourism. The Canarians must have a hidden fire, though, the carnival in Santa Cruz, the capital of the island, is the second biggest worldwide, after the one in Rio de Janeiro!
Our first little excursion led us to La Bananera, a private nursery with a very small botanical garden, very nicely made and sort of cosy. You can order strelizia there, also called flamingo flowers, to be packed and sent to your hotel on the eve of your departure. If you cut the stems regularly and put one aspirin and a teaspoon of sugar into the water, they last for a month - or so they say. I haven’t tried it. Everywhere the red of the Christmas flowers glows, pointisettia, bushes which grow also wild everywhere along the roads, up to a height of 2m, a bit like elderberry in our part of the world.
Then there’s an info centre where you can learn everything about bananas, a video informs you about the growing of same, you watch it sipping banana liqueur (not bad if you ask me), a shop sells banana bread, chips, cakes, jam - you name it, they’ve got it! Bananas are Tenerife’s main agricultural export, but they’re exported only to mainland Spain. They’re sweet and very tasty, but too small for the EU. We don’t have bananas in Europe, but a norm as to their proper size and weight, crazy!
They also have 1400 different cacti among which is a species attracting a certain louse called cochenille. It’s gathered, dried, roasted, squashed for the red liquid it contains which is used to colour plastic, sweets and lipsticks!, hmm, yummy.
We had gone to Tenerife mainly to ‘let the dear God be a good man’ which is a German saying meaning: to rest and relax enjoying the warm climate in the middle of our winter. We passed the time strolling along the promenade and the beaches, sitting in the sun, people watching - a holiday occupation if there ever is one.
The beaches in the south (Los Christianos, Playa de las Americas) are yellow, covered with sand transported there from the Sahara. The beaches in the north, however, are dark and look dirty, but are not. The sand is lava really, in its final stage, ground by time into the finest grains.
The tourists swim in the Atlantic Ocean in winter, too, which has about 70°F then and lie on the grey beaches and sunbathe like mad, as if there were a competition for the largest melanoma or the earliest date for skin cancer. They seem to forget that they’re not in Southern Europe, the sun is much stronger on the Canary Islands which are 1100 km away from mainland Spain and 100 km west of Southern Morocco.
There are some more attractions in Puerto de la Cruz, the Botanical Garden and the Orchid Garden, for example, the latter in the possession of an English family for over 200 years, but we’ll leave the town now and go on a real excursion. We haven’t rented a car, because the driver has to watch the road and can’t look at the landscape and the coaches are frequent, cheap and take us directly to our destination. We’ve decided to see the Pyramids at Güìmar, a small town on the east coast.
(I’m using info from the net here) Archaeologists and authorities scoffed when a local newspaper published an article claiming to have discovered mysterious step-pyramids in Tenerife. Just more agricultural stone terraces, they said, such as are common throughout the Canaries, But Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian anthropologist, (who lived on Tenerife, btw) thought differently. He considered them to be extremely similar to the ones in Mesopotamia, Peru and Mexico. He believed them to be remains from pre-European voyagers who sailed the Atlantic in ancient times, and who may have possibly forged a link with the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.
The museum park contains six step pyramids, a museum in which visitors are explicitly invited to make up their own minds after looking at the exhibits - no theory is forced upon them - and an open tent under which lies a life-size replica of the reed ship RA II with which Heyerdahl tried to prove his theory, namely that prehistoric people were capable of crossing the ocean in simple boats. In a video show the pyramids of the different continents are shown, explained and compared.
We hadn’t been to the pyramids before and were very impressed. We’re no scientists, but to us Heyerdahl’s theory sounds convincing, we’re ready to believe him.
A very worthwhile excursion is the one to the crater of the Teide. The Canary Islands are volcanoes which have risen up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; geologists assume that the one forming Tenerife once rose to a height of 6.000 meters. One day the top half exploded and slid into the sea, out of the crater a new, smaller peak arose, the one we see today. At the rim of the crater there’s the most fantastic landscape I’ve ever seen: the ‘chimneys’ out of which the lava erupted have shaped into bizarre rocks, rare plants grow there, the whole atmosphere is other-worldly. It’s very cold up there, but if you don’t protect your skin, you’ll get a sunburn at once.
We didn’t have to bother, though, on the day we went the Teide didn’t want to be visited. When we started, it was raining (that was the only day, of course!), and thick clouds covered the mountain. Yet the guide was optimistic as it often happens that the sun shines above the clouds. Not so on our day out, a strong gale blew the rain horizontally and in the end we had to turn back because it started to snow. We got our money back and were not unhappy, all in all it was an interesting outing, lots of info as expected and an angry mountain, and all for nothing!