Travel Notes Tenerife September 2006
One week 12 -18 September
• Puerto Cruz may be fairly tourist, but because so many of the people were Spanish (at least in the city centre) it feels different. It certainly is not like a resort where the British or Germans dominate.
• Food in the restaurants did not seem to be anything special (and was not cheap) but going to the supermarket was a real treat. Lovely fruit and vegetables, so I enjoyed have the small kitchen in my studio and cooked a lot. Beer is cheaper than in the UK or Majorca .. 2 Euros for a pint of the local (decent) beer, Dorada.
• Transport was the best aspect of this holiday. The intercity bus station is only 5 minutes walk from my studio and buses go to all parts of the island. The bus fleet is smart and clean, the station well marked. By buying a prepaid ticket (Bus Bono) fares are ½ the cash fare, so it is cheap to travel around.
• Cheap .. a charter flight for £150 and a studio for £12 a night means that this is one of the cheapest holidays I have had in years. Even Mexico is more expensive.
• Weather – this may be due to the time of the year, but the weather was extremely changeable with lots of clouds and it rained for short periods several times during the week. The temperature still stayed high, so as least it was not cold.
• While plants were profuse and beautiful, I found the Botanical Gardens a big disappointment – too small and cramped.
Tough charter flight! It has been years since I went on a charter flight ;India in 1999 was a killer and Mexico 2000 not much better but they were long haul. In spite of lots of travel, I was not really geared up for the rigors of a 4 hour flight to the Canary Islands.
I’m certain that the hassle is due in part to the increased security, long lines to check in (typical of charter flights) even longer lines to get through security. I enjoyed my pint (or was it three?) when I got to the airside pub. Kids, horrible screaming kids .. indeed, babies (shouldn’t that be against the law?). And Tattoos .. I consider all tattoos vulgar but these were hideous, poorly executed .. and those were on the women .. those on the men were unspeakable.
But I got there and found the transport from the airport very easy indeed. Public bus 341 to Santa Cruz for 5.70 Euros and a change of level in the very modern bus station for a non-stop bus to Puerto Cruz for 4.10 Euros.
Marina Apartments did not get the best reviews (mostly due to noise) but at £12 a night .. I was willing to give it a go. Pleasant surprise! Nice studio apartment (remember, I lived in Jenner House for years) ; this was about the same size. Balcony large (12 x 12 feet at least with great views : city plaza, the major volcanic mountain and little slice of the local beach. I cooked in most of the time .. heavenly fruit and vegetables there (meat not so good and I am not all that adept at cooking fish … perhaps that is a project for my next visit.)
Maybe I was just lucky in getting the studio that I did ; Marina Apartments is a large building that wraps around the main square (Plaza Charco), facing the square on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the one side and finally onto the pedestrian street (Calle San Juan). Perhaps a pedestrian side studio on a lower floor would not be so appealing, but for the price … Studio clean and well appointed .. I grew to like the place once I learned how to fend off the mosquitoes .. (more anon .. just to make certain you keep reading).
Noise was the biggest complaint in reviews of Marina Apartments but I think that these came from country bumpkins. Noise .. yes .. but the normal noise associated with a city centre .. perhaps they should have gone to the country..
Great location, bars, plaza, supermarket, liquor store, Internet shops .. even a church in case I had a major change of heart. Puerto Cruz is definitely a tourist area, but it has lots of space, many small parks and open spaces, a few old churches, exotic (if you come from Danville Illinois) plants and trees, mountains in the background and the Atlantic on the other side. Altogether a very nice little city.
Mosquitoes were an unexpected problem .. too hot there to keep the door closed and at night the mosquitoes came in (not in huge numbers, but why do they insist on buzzing in my ear before chewing on me?). I finally sorted this .. . when you open the door, pull the flimsy curtain over it, it lets air through but seems to keep out the mozzies. Alas, I am a slow learner and it was the 4th night before I figured this out (I was looking for a gun shop to kill the little buggers!). Perhaps irrational, but being close to Africa (Morocco is 120 km away) .. I was thinking of malaria. Please do not ask me to explain how I can be so relaxed about malaria where it is a real risk (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand) and worry in Tenerife. Dizzy or what?
The extinct (we hope ) volcano (Mount Teide) dominates the view and is a terrific backdrop for the city (in fact, most of the island). At 3,718 metres (2.3 miles … 12,198 feet) Mt Teide is the highest point in the whole of Spain. So from my balcony, I had a view of the volcano along with my breakfast of beautiful fruit (I gave up on their bananas.. peaches, melons and nectarines were much better).
Took the bus to Santa Cruz to visit the Museum of Nature and Man.
I am glad I read my “required reading” from my friend Richard prior to my trip because the labels were almost all in Spanish. I had a good understating of the importance of volcanic action to the very development of the Canary Islands. The islands are said to have developed in greatly different eras but are related in some way to the same volcanic action which formed the Azores and Madeira. (The theory of Atlantis seems to be out of favour here). A very high quality museum and it makes me want to do more investigation about the Guanches (the indigenous people) and their pottery .. it seems very primitive compared to similar SE Asian work .. Do I have the wrong Century?
Mummification .. the Gaunche practiced mummification and this reinforces the idea that there were links with Egypt. Research needed on how widespread the practice of mummification is /was. (research by me .. I am sure some one has written about it)
The objects which intrigued me the most were primitive mills for grain .. two stones about the size of a Frizzbe .. the top one has a hole to place the grain .. and other hole in which a stick is inserted, so the top disc can be moved around (against the lower disc). Efficient.. and yet not clearly dated .. I need to do some research on these. One might come in handy when I have to go self sufficient (perhaps making my own rum should have higher priority).
The public market in Santa Cruz is called Our Lady of Africa (Mercado Nuestra Senora de Africa) after a nearby church. It is a fantastic place with great fruit and vegetables, flowers and lots of tat .. but a good balance and not miles of Chinese junk.
Back in Puerto Cruz I walked around the less touristy areas (very clean, attractive) and encountered a funeral (reminded me of the great funeral in Parrel, Mexico). This one was fascinating because most of the mourners had just come along in their ordinary casual dress (the men, that is … no that many women in evidence). The hearse was an ordinary van simply covered (every inch/centimeter of it) in flowers and just then my digital camera let me done .. out of batteries. The image is there in my befuddled head if anyone can think of a non evasive means of extracting it. This neighborhood was reassuring and made me realize this city is worth many visits .. there is life beyond the obvious tourist spots. (I really do not require the funeral fix).
Thursday Very menacing dark clouds over Puerto Cruz but Mt Teide stood out as a beacon - bathed in sunlight. I thought I might have a day of quite reading but by the time I returned from shopping, the sun was out, the sky blue and clouds had blown away.. Why didn’t I realize that being on the Atlantic meant such dramatic changes in climate were possible? I went to the Botanical Garden (up the hill by bus.. just a little too steep for me to climb). There are trees from everywhere in the tropics/semi tropics, lots of palms trees, ferns, bamboos and several exotic plants : bromeliads, heliobores. The whole place is criss crossed with small paths set out in geometric form .. very narrow and slightly claustrophobic. At the top of the gardens there is a pond with lilies with great view of Mt Teide. Quite a relaxing and special place.
The high light was a huge tree .. the sign says it is Ficus Macrophyluss (Lord Howe). I tried to get a photograph of it, but like so much of these gardens .. there was not enough space.
[ subsequent research reveals that it is a type of banyan .. ]
On Lord Howe Island (east of New Guinea) grows another large banyan, Ficus macrophylla var. columnaris. According to I.J. Condit (Ficus: The Exotic Species, 1969), single large tree may cover more than one acre. In 1874, Ferdinand von Mueller, director of the Melbourne Botanic Garden, described this species as "One of the most magnificent productions in the whole empire of plants...The pendulous air roots, when they touch the ground, gradually swell into columns of the same dimensions as the older ones which have already become converted into stems, so that it is not apparent which was the original trunk; ...and thus it is impossible to say whence the tree comes or whither it goes."
I walked back into Puerto Cruz .. many hotels, bars, restaurants, but with enough space between them and adequate garden areas to make it all pleasing. This is urban; everything is within walking distance and the ocean is always nearby and the mountains visible in the distance. It seems to be a place for Spanish tourists, in fact, I encountered few British (and no Americans) here. The main group of non-Spanish tourists are German .. there are German bakeries, bars, restaurants. In fact, the Spanish tourist factor on the island makes it attractive .. they are relaxed and easy people to get on with. One case was when I went to the post office .. three customers and 4 counters open but only after a few minutes did I realize that I had to take a ticket .. and the Spanish man in front of me ( same dilemma) gave them a good natured ribbing.. How Ridiculous (I think he said).. it all ended in smiles from both the Spanish man, the counter staff and me. I guess the system of tickets is in place for busy times but seemed totally bureaucratic with so few customers.
Tenerife is cheaper than Majorca .. a beer is 2 Euros a pint ; 1.80 per bottle .. in Majorca 3 Euros for a pint ; 2.30 a bottle. The priciest thing I saw in the markets was lettuce …iceberg lettuce was 3.80 per head .. then I realized that lettuce is an exotic here .. melons were dirt cheap and delicious .. change your starter was the message.
I could go on and on (and on) about the intercity bus service. There is a timetable which covers most of the island, the buses themselves are a smart modern fleet .. (for the airport/ main routes the driver can open and close the storage bins for luggage from his seat, so you don’t have the groans that you get with Greyhound in America when the driver has to get outside and open the storage areas).
Colourful natives .. the locals are easy going ; how nice to be someplace where young people wear smart casual clothes, either the USA Ghetto styles have not reached here or have been rejected. Not nearly as much public kissing as you see on the mainland .. people greet each other with smiles but kisses seem to be reserved for very few people. Religion still appear to be strong .. I keep seeing these people out side my favourite bar (The Frigate, right at the harbour) crossing themselves and when I check it out, there is small shrine (from 1992 ; to the Virgin Mary and ships) mounted in the wall.
Tenerife poses the same question that I have about Majorca.. so many apartments are lifeless .. how much capital is tied up in this place by foreigners who only visit occasionally. Luckily, the city is small enough that it does not seem dead, but it must be an aggravation to the locals who cannot hope to purchase property if they work at an ordinary job.
Locals (including men) use an umbrella even when there is simply a mist .. how people in Newcastle would hoot at that. Up there, only females use umbrellas and only when it is really pouring with rain. Soft Canarians is what they would say in North Shields.
Hey .. this climate is on speed .. first a blowing gale and then .. dead calm. One minute clouds and fog, the next sunlight! I thought the English climate changeable, but this wins hands down.
Took the bus to Icod de los Vinos to see the Drago Tree .. one of the most unusual sights in the islands (and where else in the world would I find one). Its age is estimated from 300 to 1,000 years .. in any case, it looks very healthy so I guess it is good for another 300 or 1000 years. The tree has an unusual shape … bare truck and at the top ¼ branches and leaves which form a triangle. Apparently it has blood red sap which was very valuable as a dye centuries ago. Icod is a nice little town and only part of it seems touristy (near the Dragon Tree) .. There are two bus services to Icod (one Express, the other Local) and I took the local bus which goes through all the small villages which cling to the mountains along the coast. Several tunnels and many blind curves and other adventure points.
Rain while I was having breakfast but this soon cleared so I went off to La Laguna, the university town which is almost a suburb of Santa Cruz. A very attractive town with lots of fine old buildings, and there must be tight regulations on shop signs because what were once probably residential streets have shops and bars but with no projecting or bold signs. It gives you the feeling of having ‘discovered’ a bar or café. A picturesque market on the main square is in a lovely old building …... the flower sellers in the entrance put on a great display.
Work is going on to put in a tram service between Santa Cruz and La Laguna .. I wonder if this will change the character of the latter. I noticed that on this project and others there was no sign of EU funding .. every project in Majorca has the EU symbol plastered all over it. On my return to Gatwick, I learned (when I tried to go through the EU customs line and was stopped) that the Canary islands are part of Spain but a Freeport, not part of the EU. I wonder what the history of that decision is?
The Canary Islands are in the news in the UK because of ‘illegal immigrants’ from Africa but they were not to be seen during my visit. There were a few Africans selling trinkets (not nearly as many as in Nice or Barcelona) and I saw only one African working on a construction site. Most of the workers appear to be Spanish ; the cleaning ladies in my building were smart, elegant Spanish ladies.
Day off with quiet reading due to rain and limited bus services. On Monday (in spite of rain and ominous clouds) I took the bus to Garachico, a very old town which is ‘frozen’ in the 17th Century because volcanic activity and earthquakes ruined the port and restricted access. It has a beautiful square surrounded by impressive old buildings. Not much life there even now .. but it was a murky day.
I backtracked to Icod to catch a bus to Playa Americas. This hour and a half trip goes along the eastern slopes of Mt Teide, the huge extinct volcano which dominates the island. I just caught glimpses of it through the clouds and occasional rain. I would like to do the journey on a fine day but on this occasion the mist added to the sense of mystery and remoteness of this place. We went up and up .. probably to 2000 metres – 6,500 feet (Mt Teide is 3718 metres) from sea level, so it was an adventure. The valleys are fairly lush and there are several small thriving towns. It was a real shock when we descended on the southeast corner of the island into the vast beach complex – Los Cristianos ; Las Americas ; Costa Adeje) - this is ugly overdevelopment at its worst. I was happy to spend only a few minutes in Playa Americas bus station before catching a bus to Santa Cruz and then back to Puerto Cruz.
Easy journey back to airport – nonstop bus from Puerto Cruz – and after a long wait, an easy flight home. There was a little more space on this flight and I got two seats right at the rear of the plane and managed to stretch my legs a bit.