Monday, May 2, 2011

Look at the bright side (Tenerife Part 1)

When you plan a vacation to an island that gets 300 days of sun a year, you would expect your end-of-April holiday to be filled with glowing rays right?  Well, that is what Joseba and I had planned for when we booked our trip to Tenerife, the biggest of the Canary Islands, at the end of January.  For our 'Spring Break' we figured we would relax on the beach, have sunny mountain walks and come home in May brown as berries.  Well, that's not exactly how it panned out, but in the end, the trip, albeit with a bit of crazy weather, was a great island vacation.

After a taxing trip to even arrive (6 hour bus ride to Madrid, 3 hours sleep on the tile airport floor, then a 3 hour flight), we happily got into our rental car but with a cloudy sky couldn't figure out what to do - it was 10am and there was no way we were going hiking since we had just arrived and we couldn't go to the beach.  With our two main plans out of question, we picked a city and decided we would drive there, wait the sun out and then just wander and get a feel for this 'possibly Atlantis' island.

So you get an idea of the size, think of Tenerife as a bit smaller than Rhode Island.  From the south airport, we drove about 20 minutes and were in a town called Candelaria.  Religiously famous, it is said that in 1390 the waves brought the image of the Virgin appeared to Candelaria (then named Chiminsay) and that the Mencey (or King in the ancient language) of Güímar took it to his cave where it stayed until the Spanish conquest.  Thereafter it was kept in the first Catholic temple on the island.  With many renovations, the original building is long gone, but the basilica that remains today is the prize of the town, her tower overlooking the sea.  With threats of rain above we began popping in and out of shops til the sky cleared a bit and we decided to leave the small town and head South to see if we couldn't see some blue sky.

Along the highway we stopped off at a few little towns to check out the beaches the man at the Tourist Office in the airport had recommended us - obviously hoping the next day would be sunnier and we could work on our tans.  Around 12pm in El Puerto de Güímar (or as they called it El Puertito - little port), we parked, and decided with blue sky and not such drastic wind, we could atleast try and enjoy some sunshine on our first vacation day.  We first stopped off in a little tasca - neighborhood bar/restaurant - for some food.  The friendly waitress with her permanent tan rushed through the Menu of the Day and although I speak Spanish, hers was almost impossible for me to understand.  Try to imagine having a fast conversation with a person from Alabama or Mississippi or something - all thier words kind of mush together into one phrases.  How are you doing? becomes Howy'alldoin?  Well, same effect on Tenerife.  My Spanish is quite crisp and I enunciate most everything as they do here in the North, and have even been complimented on my 'Basque' accent in Spanish.  The island life however has made these people's tongues lazy and it took a bit more concentration on my part to comprehend the laundry list of food she ran through.  Somehow we settled on a tuna salad and small calamaries.  The calamaries were delicious but the tuna salad surpised us a bit.  We had expected a green salad with tuna sprinkled atop, but what came out was cooked tuna with onions and peppers surrounded by sliced fried potatoes.  Delicious nonetheless, our full bellies were happy to rest of the black sand of the beaches while we snoozed a bit.

As you may remember from a previous blog, Tenerife is quite famous for it's active volcano, Mount Teide.  Later on I will tell you about how we hiked to the top peak, but until then, you can just think of the moutain as the reason I was laying on black sand - left over lava from previous eruptions.  While many people think of a beautiful island covered with white sandy beaches, the beaches of this island are the exact opposite.  Many are quite rocky and the majority are black as coal, making walking on the sand quite a challenge.  But, as we lay our towels down, the heat from the sand warmed our backs and made us forget about the whipping wind and allowed us to enjoy our first vacation day seaside.

Due to a foul up with our flight, we ended up deciding to come one day earlier than we had planned, and since our apartment we had rented didn't start until the following day, we found a nice little hostel to stay the first night in.  Named Casa Esmeralda, the house, owned by a Dutch couple, was nestled into the foot of the rocky mountains and the southside had an entire wall of windows with amazing views of the ocean.  Our room was all wood with its own balcony and absolutley gorgeous.  When we booked the hostel we saw the photos of that particular room and wrote an email to the hostel requesting that specific bedroom and voíla, we got it! 
The chatty host recommended us a nice little Chinese joint in the town 5 minutes away so we were off!  Named El Médano, the town had a lively main square full of tourists as far as you could see, or hear.  The Canary Islands are quite a popular vacation spot for many Europeans, and our menu was available in something like 10 languages!  Even Finnish!  With live music in the square and a huge selection of restaurants in cute little terracota-roofed buildings, we decided that if we were touristy type people, we would definitley select this town as a week-long vacation spot.  However, we are more outdoorsy and headed home quite early to get a good night's sleep for the first of our fresh-air activities the next day.

When we woke up we were shocked at the spread the Dutch couple had set up for us.  The hostel said 'breakfast included' but this buffet breakfast was grand!  Even more for the fact that we were the only two guests!  With fresh-squeezed orange juice awaiting us, yogurts, granola fresh fruit, hams, cheese and salami to put on crossiants, rolls or fresh bread and 5 varietes of jam to make your toast incredible and coffee we both ate like kings!  Eating the feast while gazing at the sea was unbeatable and we worried a bit that maybe we should have booked the entire trip there instead of the one we had booked, but alas we got around and headed out towards the north of the island where we would stay the rest of our 7 days...which I will tell you about soon to come!

The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the wild island of Tenerife, didn't actually communicate much through words when they lived on the land in the 1300s.  Instead, the spoke in a language called Silbo, which means 'whistle' in Spanish.  This whistling language was full of different sounding calls that could be heard over long distances, gaping ravines, vast valleys and high peaks (it's quite a mountainous and rugged terrain).  Even with Spanish conquest and almost extinction, the language lives on and is now a required subject for school children, keeping it alive.  So, instead of closing my blog with a normal kiss, I'd like you to try and read this aloud and though I am completely sure it is NOT Silbo, it will count for effort.


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