It’s cold outside. It’s snowing and the sky looks like it’s been painted grey. Heavy coats filled with people move about the city streets where even the light feels cold. You’re feeling a little down, like you need a boost of energy, of excitement, like you need a change… on the way to the train station you walk past the travel agency.
It’s always been there but you’ve never really noticed it before.
But today is different. Something bright and shiny catches your eye: a snow covered volcano surrounded by palm trees and people dressed in bright colors smiling at the sun. You’ve made up your mind. You march right in and the next thing you know, you’ve booked your Tenerife getaway.
Tenerife is an island, but it’s also much more. It’s like a small continent surrounded by a family of six more islands which are deservedly known as “las Islas Afortunadas”.
You discover on the internet that Tenerife is not just all about sunny beaches, that it contains the history of a mysterious people: the Guanches, a culture that may not have left grandiose monuments but left a way of life and traditions which continued to survive despite Spanish colonization and assimilation.
You find out that you must visit the town of Candelaria, on the east coast of the island, to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria (the Patron Saint of the Canary Islands) and to feel miniscule under the watchful gaze of the Menceyes (Guanche kings) carved in stone all around the plaza, effigies that remind us that this was a proud, distinguished people. The legacy of the Guanches lives on in the names of children and towns and in expressions used on the islands.
Tenerife is, and has been for centuries, a bridge to Latin America. The way people from Tenerife talk is like a magical mix of accents from Cadiz, Havana, Malaga and Caracas. Spanish flows here with a musicality that is truly special, which may be why in the last few years, Tenerife has begun to rise above its stereo type as being little more than a beach destination –language tourism is a growing industry here, where the chance to learn Spanish in Tenerife is just one more attraction to add to an ever growing list.
This new focus wouldn’t be possible without one fundamental element: the Canary Islanders themselves, people known for their friendliness and welcoming attitude, people with whom it’s impossible not to start a conversation.
On the way back from Candelaria, escaping from the highway that connects the north and south sides of the island like an enormous backbone, you decide to hop on a smaller road that slowly but surely climbs up the majestic Teide Mountain, or Padre Teide as many islanders call it. The scenery you view through your windshield, as if you were watching a magical movie backdrop, quickly transforms from beach scenery to woodland landscapes with relaxing spots perfect for resting, not so much from the drive, which isn’t really very long, but from the flood of exciting sensations you’re experiencing.
You round a curve and come across a little road-side restaurant that needs no flashy signage to attract your attention: your nose has already captured the succulent aromas of beef grilling over a wood fire and fresh bread. Chatting with the waiter, you’re surprised to discover that Tenerife produces many of its own wines. You order a glass (just a glass, you still have some driving to do) with a bowl of escaldón de gofio, likely the best living example of what could be referred to as culinary archeology.
The rocky landscape of Vilaflor awaits, curious terrain carved by erosion that makes you feel like you’re on another planet –in fact people refer to the other-worldly geography found here as a lunar landscape. You spend a few minutes exploring and then continue driving up the highway.
You round another bend in the road and suddenly, the towering Teide Mountain appears; the presence of this perfect cone is imposing, it’s almost as though it was another watchful Mencey king dominating the plains. You’ve entered the Llano de Ucanca area, a natural crater created by the sinking of an older volcanic cone that collapsed when the current Teide peak emerged from the depths of the earth, shoved upward by Guayota, the demon that dwells within the volcano according to Guanche mythology.
From Spain’s highest peak, you observe the world below. The views fill you with paradoxical sentiment, a confusing notion of self -importance and trivial vanity that makes you feel enormous and tiny at the same time. Nobody anywhere in Spain is higher than you are when you stand on this peak.
You journey down the north side of the mountain and pass through La Orotava, where you discover the wonderful 19th century architecture of this inland town that was once the capital of the valley that bears its name. This is likely the island’s leading wine growing area. You stroll down streets with hidden away renaissance palaces and baroque churches until you reach the town hall’s square.
Here you’re told that the town traditionally celebrates the feast of Corpus Christi by making carpets made of the sand that comes in a rainbow of different colors on Teide Mountain. Apparently these carpets are used to decorate the square and nearby streets and to honor the body of Christ displayed in the festival procession. You find it hard to believe until you’re shown photos of the event, at which point your jaw drops.
When you get home (it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying in a rented apartment, a hotel or a hostel, it still feels like home) you sit down to collect your excited emotions… a smile spreads across your face: you’ve already begun to feel like a part of the islands, and you like the feeling.
You take a shower, put on comfortable clothes and head out to wander along Puerto de la Cruz’s popular walkway. You seat yourself on a terrace in the Plaza del Charco and begin chatting in Spanish with someone you didn’t even know just moments earlier. After chatting a few minutes, you discover that you’ve both come here to take a Spanish course and that you’re from the same city! A distant place that now seems like a hazy dream.
Welcome to our Island which is now a little bit of yours too!