14 September 2014

Canary Islands - Tenerife

Our next stop on our Canary Island holiday is Tenerife. Wow - how different to Lanzerote. Our first impression was of banana fields - more and more as we drove from the Airport (South). The roads are twisty and the views rather spectacular as some parts of the coastline are so rugged.  The name of Tenerife means "White Mountain" which refers to Pico del Tiede, Spain's tallest peak. This volcano stands proudly at 3718 m and can be seen for miles. This peak divides the island into two climate zones, with the North being very lush and green and the south being hot and arid. Our pilot was a friendly chap who pointed out that the weather would be great as " We are in the Canary Islands"   His statement is certainly true as the weather has been amazing!

The National Park del Teide was formed in 1954 and has seen thousands of visitors since as it remains one of the largest parks in Spain. There are many view points along the roads - do stop at most as all have something of interest in the various rock formations, the views, or the general volcanic landscape. The roads are not in as good shape as those of Lanzerote, but still pretty good!  We arrived at the cable station only to find it closed due to high winds of 95km per hour at the top of the mountain. Very disappointing as the journey to this point takes quite awhile but Mother Nature always gets her say and maybe today was one of those days...!

After a very mediocre lunch stop at Paradores Cafe (Avoid unless desperate!)  we continued down the mountain. The slopes are covered in pine forests with that divine smell of pine needles in the summer sun. The cloud cover down below was incredible - a blanket of white foam covering everything below the tree line. This made for marvellous views even though we could not see what was below! We eventually entered into the mist and gradually descended below to see the coastline again.The roads are  very twisted and have the most amazing views of the coastline below - another day's exploring to look forward to.

Whether you love the crowds or not, a visit and walk along the very long boulevard running from Los Cristianos through Playa de las Americanas to Costa Adeje is a must. Stop at one of the very many restaurants/shops, swim at any beach that takes your fancy, listen to some music long the way or be brave and take some surfing lessons! There are also parachute rides being towed by boats if that takes your fancy. This place is seriously built up and busy yet excellent for some exercise! We passed a Mime Man - dressed all in white as the Statue of Liberty, however, he had either made enough money or had just given up, because when we returned he had exposed his hairy legs, was sitting down in the shade! Can't say I blame him in 28 degree heat!!! 

Whilst I certainly no longer have a perfect figure, some people really should not expose themselves in public!!! But anything goes here and nobody bats an eyelid, so just enjoy the gorgeous weather and the ambience of this very busy island. 
We also passed a cop car where the policeman was radioing for assistance because of a guy asleep on a bench!! The guy was obviously sleeping off a heavy night and was quite distressed to find a cop staring at him. If this warrants police action, the island must indeed be very safe. Although having said that, we were approached by a Spaniard in the National Park wanting a lift as he was "a runner who had fallen and hurt his knee". Explaining all this by actions while leaning into my window, did not make me feel too safe but he did eventually give up. A story to rob us or a genuine accident? Why would you be running in the National Park MILES from anywhere??? It felt off so just beware.

Going north to Santa Cruz is quite boring on the highway. Varying between 2 or 3 lanes, the highway is not very scenic and is busy in both directions. To break the boredom, we chose to branch off at El Medano but this was not too exciting either. Fairly cute but it just did  not grab us. So the next stop was Poros de Abona, which is a small local village and very relaxed. 

Our swim was stunning and we really enjoyed the cool sea. Unfortunately, the tiny cafe was full so we could not sample some local fare. From there we headed off to Santa Cruz. Most visitors stop here to do some shopping in the Calle Castillo which is a pedestrian area but closed during siesta time! As it does not get that hot here in Canaries, it is just a way of life for the Spanish! To be fair, many places are open all day, every day. 

The harbour in Santa Cruz is huge and stretches for most of the seaside of the town. It looks very busy and had 3 huge rigs in when we passed, one being a Transocean rig. I could not see the others except that they dominate the front, being so huge! Going out of town, the first village is San Andres where the road also starts to go into the Anaga Mountains. If you want to tell your friends that you have stood on the sands of the Sahara desert, then a visit to Playa de las Teresitas is a MUST!!! This beach stretches for 2 km covered in imported sand and it is also lined with many palm trees! The parking area is huge and it was nearly full, despite being a Monday so week-ends must be bedlam, with people trying to find a spot on their favourite beach. 

We took a drive down a short section of the mountain which ends at the village of Igueste de San Andres. The drive twists and turns and some sections have huge wire netting holding the sides of the mountain in place! Rock falls must also be a problem here but perhaps not as bad as Chapman's Peak Drive in Cape Town where the road often has to be closed in winter due to rock falls. The village is perched above a ravine and the villagers grow mangoes, avocados and the ever-present banana's. 

After the long, boring drive back to Puerto de Santiago on a very busy motorway, we welcomed the entertainer at El Marques for an after-dinner show. Many of the resorts in the Canary Islands focus on entertaining British folk the m who seem to be the "bread and butter" for these resorts and most seem to return year after year. Many to the same sunbeds at the pool.......! Anyway, the crowd was obviously repeat guests as they knew the singer, Toby Graham, and did the same crazy things that they most probably do every year. It was fun to watch them leap up when he started a certain song, grab their napkins and do a crazy dance, waving these napkins around gaily. Two ladies even grabbed our napkins off our table to use and then politely, with huge grins, deposited them back on our table afterwards.

When the song " Alice" was started, a group of 4 dashed outside and stood up against the window behind the singer. They then proceeded to sway and dance to the music, causing much hilarity amongst the audience. In Lanzerote, the restaurant was very casual with most in shorts but here the ladies were dressed up, wearing high heels. Having injured both my toes, I discarded my shoes and danced with bare feet in my shorts! A fun evening was had by all, unless you were not English, in which case, it would most probably all have looked ridiculous! But holidays are for getting into the mood at the moment, after all.

One road trip that cannot be missed in Tererife is the outing to Masca. What an incredible road - it winds up and up in a single track, basically with passing places every now and again. Just pray that you are heading the same way as the tourist buses! There are many view points and the views are absolutely stunning. Eventually one reaches this crazy village, perched at 600 m. There are numerous restaurants to choose from and also hiking trails into the ravine . On days of yesteryear, this place was only accessible by mule and was a favourite hangout for pirates!  The hillside is terraced for crops but we saw no livestock so heaven help the husband who forgets to buy the milk - it is a very arduous trek back to the nearest town! 

On the way down, the views are just as spectacular and the outlook towards the village of El Palmar shows the deep gauges that have been made in the mountain. Firstly used for farming, the owners eventually decided to make some money by selling the soil! In the beginning, this was done with a pick and shovel (1960's) but in latter years, machinery was used. Perhaps not such a blot on the landscape as it makes for interesting photography and a talking point when visiting this hamlet. There is much cultivation here, mainly vines.

Buenavista is the most western village, it has a golf course, a small fishing harbour that we could not find and tons of banana plantations. We carried on to Los Silos which is a lovely village and it features Canarain houses with well preserved wooden balconies. 

The square was beautifully decorated and the small, local cafe tempted us as the hunger pangs were ever-!. Small and truly local with a few tables on the pavement and only 2 tables inside, it was a good choice to view local life. The guys came in to play the machines, grab a very freshly squeezed orange juice or some wine. One chap ventured over to the juice maker and started loading his own oranges, only to be waved away by the owner! Our rolls were piping hot and filled with Canarian cheese and the delicious thin ham that is sold all over the Canary Islands. It was a pleasant stop even though we had no idea what the locals were talking about!
Garachico  is on the north coast and was all but wiped out during the eruption of Volcan Negro in 1706. Today it is a bustling town with a large swimming pool (entrance fee payable) as the coast is very rocky. Apparently, this town gets severely battered by Atlantic gales during winter and the huge waves are something to experience. There are some places for bathing via the stainless steel ladders but we opted to carry on towards Icod de los Vinos.

This town should be explored on foot to enjoy the narrow streets and many street cafes and restaurants. The main attraction here is the wine and cheese plus the Dragon Tree. We were really to late to purchase tickets into the park area (Euro 5 pp) so just wandered the streets which are most interesting.

We got rather horribly lost here as the streets are very narrow and, with everything in Tenerife, up hill and down dale. Eventually,  we mananged to find our way down to the main street and then turned for Puerto de Santiago. An hour for a journey of approx. 34 km through the twisty roads - shades of India, without the chaotic traffic and constant hooting!! 
The rain and mist followed us for awhile and then we were back to the brilliant sunshine of the Canary Islands again.
Roads are pretty good overall although some are quite bad and in need of maintenance. No potholes have been encountered so that is a blessing!!
Drivers are courteous and we have not encountered any problems. The entire island is so mountainous that everything is either up or down and some of the building hug the cliff face in a spectacular fashion. The builders must be pretty good here - building is not an easy feat on these mountainous slopes.

El Marques offered a parrot show one night. These guys were from Loro Parque which is a major attraction in Tenerife. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit so seeing these exotic birds do some amazing tricks was rather special. They appear in very good condition and the handlers seem in tune with them. Skateboarding, bicycle riding, ringing a bell the exact amount of times as instructed and putting shapes into their correct places were all handly with aplomb by these gorgeously noisy parrots!

Living close to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, gardens all over the world fascinate me so we headed off to visit the Jardin Botanico in Puerto de la Cruz. These gardens were established way back in 1788 and so remain one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. Although, fairly small  in size, the gardens are green and lush with many flowering species. We were also thrilled to discover quite a few South African species. The scent of the frangipangi always evokes memories of Mossel Bay, South Africa where I spent many sunny summer  holidays! 

 Our next trip was to the Anaga Mountains for some more hairpin bends and spectacular scenery. Tenerife is so mountainous that there are not many straight roads, except for the highway around the east coast. Drivers are courteous and we have not encountered any major problems, unlike Crete where driving is a nightmare, never to be forgotten! We started off from San, just outside of  Santa Cruz. The road winds up and up and some of the small hamlets are perched where one would never expect any sane person to live. The Spanish must be hardy folk to live so far (in winding road terms!) from the shops and civilization. Imagine forgetting the milk??? Divorce material by Western standards! The cliffs just west of the village of Taganana are a sight to behold and mostly inaccessible, except by boat. The currents here are strong and  the small village of Roque de las Bodegas attracts both surfers and tourists. The slipway looks rather treacherous and the waves are pounding the very rocky shore so these fishermen must be made of  iron or very foolish!
We decided to stop for a light lunch at one of the restaurants here. The salad was delicious, the roll hot and served  with the mojo sauce - divine!

Mojo sauce is served at most Canarian Restaurants and comes in red and green - the red has pepper and paprika and the green has parsley and coriander. Both are made with a healthy dose of garlic! These sauces vary in constituency - some quite thin and others more like a paste. But it is a must try.....!!
This area of the island is covered in very lush forests of juniper, laurel, ferns and herbs. The air is clear and the road out towards La Luguna is like being in a rain forest, it is so green and beautiful. This is a must drive for nature lovers. If you have more time you can venture onwards to Chamorga where a 2 km path will lead you to a lighthouse.

Tenerife is mountainous and no road is straight so it does take patience and extra time to get to most places so plan ahead and enjoy the wonderful views from high above the sea. The beaches are also begging to be explored - just be prepared for the black sand on them where the sand from the Sahara has NOT been imported!!! Sea temperatures are great and the weather here has been simply superb. Maybe it does get a little cooler during October - February but not by much.

We have only had 7 days on the island so there are many places that we would have loved to explore in more depth. For those loving the nightlife, Playa de Las Americas is the place to be but do venture further out as the island is a blend of banana fields, black beaches, many villages, crazy roads, great shopping in places like Santa Cruz, much natural beauty and , if you are lucky, a trip in the cable car on Del Teide! Wind permitting!
Farming on this island is very inventive, slopes that are only fit for goats, have vines, banana's, vegetables and mangoes. It seems like an idyllic life but living in some of these very outlying villages must be tough. One hopes that they all survive and continue to  thrive, despite the age of technology and modern living where materialistic wants outweigh an older style of life.

Sadly, we said goodbye to El Marques today and headed to Hotel Ucanca, in San Isidro. We chose this hotel many months ago for its proximity to the airport for our flight to Gran Canaria. BIG mistake. It is very noisy, being right opposite a huge roundabout. There is also a children's playground just below and the kids have perfected screams that would make them into monster movie stars. Either they are totally undisciplined or their parents just don't care!
For a quick lunch we popped into Riena Sofia , a local cafe in this very busy lower to middle class town. It was fun watching the locals come in for the specials, just a cup of coffee or a beer. Two policeman came in, guns strapped to their thighs - I was too scary to take a picture as I believe that the cops here don't stand for any nonsense!! They enjoyed a quick cup of coffee, checked their cell phones and the left again in their official car which was parked RIGHT at the door!!!
It turned out to be a very cloudy day today but we needed a last swim on Tenerife so headed off south. Although we are right opposite the road to El Medano and with Montana Rojo (the red mountain) in plain sight from our hotel balcony, we decided to head further south. We found a lovely white village with a black sand beach. The water was superb and really warm - just a pity that the cloud cover was so thick. I don't know the name of the village but it has a new development right next door with roads and lights already in place - no building as yet. After our long swim, we tucked into a tuna sandwich at Cafe Elmar and watched the locals come down to swim, the kids come hurtling down on their skateboards and the dog walkers striding out to give the mutts some exercise! A peaceful part of Spain with a laid-back lifestyle. As we got back to our noisy hotel, the sun came out.....and it is still shining. Just our luck????

Oh well, we can't always have 5 star surroundings, I suppose. Can somebody perhaps come an chase these kids away?? PLEASE???????
We left the hotel early after a really bad night - the fan was of no use and having the door open meant traffic noise. Oh well, cant always have everything run smoothly!
What does appear to run rather smoothly is Binter Canarias airlines. This airline does the short hops between islands and we were rather sad to say goodbye to the lovely doughnuts served on every flight. Delicious, sticky and served with water, this is about all the air hostess has time for during a 30 minute flight. They do also come around with sweets and a wet wipe for the sticky fingers although on our last flight with them, they ran out of time and we had to suffer the sticky doughnut fingers!!! Yum Yum!
Bye Bye to Tenerife - an island well worth exploring. 

© Judelle Drake

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