We had booked a month in an apartment in Puerto de la Cruz, in northwestern Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands sitting just off the west coast of Africa. We had very little, actually not much of anything, on the agenda. Our time here was far more about all the things we would not have on our agenda, than anything we might end up doing.
After spending roughly 6 weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago, then another week as typical sightseeing tourists in Madrid and Nuremberg, we were looking forward to a serious chunk of time relaxing and doing very little of the following:
Spending 50% of our waking hours walking with a backpack on
Sleeping in bunk beds
Sharing bathrooms with older men on relatively unhealthy diets
Fighting crowds to photograph royal palaces and/or insanely large cathedrals
Setting aside a chunk of time every day to “work on my feet”
Washing underwear in the shower
Well, I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear – mission accomplished! The place we rented in Puerto de la Cruz’s main tourist/beach district happened to be almost unreasonably large, far larger than necessary, yet made sense thanks to its surprisingly low price tag of roughly $Cdn1,200 for the month. Which may not sound so cheap in the scheme of long-term rent, but in comparison to European hotel “bargains” that never come in below €40-60 / night ($60-90), this was a true steal of a deal. 3 bedrooms and 2 (!) bathrooms. A big kitchen, a washing machine and, best of all, a very comfortable couch. There is also a TV, but we never really used it since the few English channels pretty much sucked, and for sports I could choose between German soccer and local soccer – really local, as in the camera shakes when the guy has to let someone go past to get to their seat. The German thing was a real feature of Tenerife and, we’re told, Puerto de la Cruz in particular. Apparently it has been a very popular German holiday destination for decades now, which also means that the hiking trails are far more popular than they would be amidst a mainly Spanish crowd (the Spanish being much less likely to be found hiking than smoking and telling stories really loudly). The larger, more modern resorts and bigger, more impressive beaches are way down on the south side of the island, also popular with Germans but reputedly also teeming with pasty British “holiday-makers”. Not that there aren’t plenty of English in Puerto de la Cruz as well, though, something that was actually a major plus when it came to watching English Premier League soccer and literally having 4 or 5 different pubs to choose from (my favourite was the Bee Hive – €2.50 pints and about 10 TV’s).
Anyway, needless to say, none of our 3 bedrooms featured bunk beds so that issue was off the table, my feet have slowly recovered to their familiar pre-hike pink flatness, my underwear only gets washed in the shower when I forget to take them off before heading in, the closest thing to a palace in Puerto de la Cruz is the most majestic of their 6 different supermarkets, and the only incontinent old man in our bathroom was me. As for the all-day hiking ordeals, while we mostly ditched the full backpacks, we actually ended up doing a lot more hiking than we had originally planned. After our first Camino it took us at least 2 or 3 weeks before we would walk anywhere except at gunpoint or in search of more ice cream. This time, however, rather than hating the thought of strapping on the hikers and hitting the trail, which we thought might happen, in fact the idea of not hiking at all for days at a time felt weird more than anything, so almost immediately we starting heading out around the island checking out a variety of day hikes. Maybe it was just because Tenerife is so rife with great trails. Spectacular coastal trails, quiet forest walks, amazing narrow ravines and, of course, sensational Mount Teide. At over 3,700 metres, this dormant volcano is the highest point in Spain, and its impressive peak is not only surrounded by a wide variety of different trails but it also insinuates itself into the background scenery from almost everywhere on the island, dominating the landscape like a tourist at a Guatemalan market.
The most impressive of the hikes were the two we did in Mount Teide National Park, right under the looming visage of the volcano itself, and the hike down Masca Gorge. I am currently working on an entire entry on the different hikes we did on Tenerife with descriptions and transportation details to help those avid hikers looking for more information so I won’t bother describing every trail right now.
Even though their reputation (well, maybe more their scientifically proven history) for great weather was a major part of why we chose the Canaries in the first place – another “eternal spring” destination with lows of 15 and highs around 25, and plenty of sun – once again we have to consider ourselves very lucky in terms of weather. It rained a couple times overnight, which didn’t really affect us in any noticeable way, despite the fact the forecast often predicted 50-75% chances of rain. It maybe sprinkled once or twice when we were out walking, enough to make us frown skyward and wonder if we were going to regret leaving our umbrella at home, but it never ended up amounting to much, and we were able to continually celebrate the sheer genius of our skepticism.
Since most of our hikes started in different places around the island, we ended up spending a considerable amount of time on “guaguas” – the Tinerfeño name for the local buses – and, for the most part, they worked pretty well. Using a “Bono” transport card (presumably named to reflect U2’s well-known obsession with affordable public transport) these trips were fairly cheap, reasonably comfortable and, while never quite on time, were at least always predictably late. Of course, the exception to the rule was the daily bus to Mount Teide. First of all, why there is just one departure per day to the island’s biggest attraction was baffling enough, the driver just waiting around up there for the one return trip late in the afternoon. Which meant that the morning line started forming at least half an hour ahead of time, and for some reason this is the only route on the island that will not accept the Bono card, forcing everyone to pay individually, and painfully slowly, as they board. We rode this bus three times in total, and every time it managed to be super-irritating. The first time road work sent us on a huge detour up and around the northern part of the island, making the normally 75-minute trip more like 2 hours, plus the driver shorted me €10 change and refused to either acknowledge or return it. The second time we made it all the way to the park before hitting construction that left us sitting mere kilometres short of our destination for an extra half-hour. And the third time the bus just left half an hour late for no clearly discernible reason. Guagua 348, our sturdy green nemesis.
The beaches on Tenerife are not particularly great, but the opportunity to lay on any beach in the winter, small and black sand though it may be, is obviously still plenty enticing to a lot of people. Especially a beach that is technically still part of Europe, making travel cheaper and simpler. Of course, we didn’t actually use the beaches the way everyone else did, but just for photos and atmosphere, really. Mainly because when push comes to shove I really just hate having sand on me.
Some other stuff
Up toward the middle of the island in the picturesque Orotava Valley is a little town called Aguamansa. We passed through there a few times and did a couple hikes in the area. Nice forest. Also, right next to the road, apropos of nothing, there is a chain-link pen offering camel rides.
While our apartment checked basically all the boxes we were looking for on this retreat from required activity and daily socializing, it did have one pretty clear downside – noise. While our location was wonderfully central, this also meant we were right in the middle of a whole bunch of restaurants and bars, and there was even a small casino on the corner. The tiny below-ground plaza right below our bedroom window actually featured a karaoke bar and, we soon learned, not the kind where the really good singers hang out. Also, probably since it is a dead-end, our street seems to serve as the parking spot of choice for all delivery trucks. It is truly mind-boggling how many empty bottles were hauled out of our surrounding buildings every day, then replaced – just as loudly – with a wide variety of full ones. I expect it will take months to get the sound of clinking glass out of my head, like some sort of alcoholic version of tinnitus. Besides the constant clinking, and the nightly music, and Germans cheering loudly for every occurrence in every Bundesliga game played at any time, any day, and the Canadians (presumably) who decided to sing “Oh Canada”, loudly and badly, one night at about 3 am, and just the general disruptiveness inherent to drunk people, they also started doing some work in one of the apartments recently, which suddenly added a jackhammer to the mix. On the bright side, we are never worried about our tiny travel speaker being too loud, and our long-term commitment with sleeping with ear plugs has once again served us well.
A nearby town, Icod de los Vinos, is famous for “El Drago Milenario”, a dragon tree that they claim is 1,000 years old. Scientists are skeptical, and although the town has twice applied to have it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is still definitely not a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a more or less okay photo op, though, so there’s that.
A very specific local festival took place our second-last night, known as the Arrastre Los Cacharros Y Castañada – which loosely translates to “drag the pots and pans” and “chestnut festival”. The second part is yet another Spanish excuse to eat – roast chestnuts, wine, wreckfish, gofio, sweet potatoes, you know, the usual. Oh, you’re still wondering about that first part? Yeah, kids gather at the main square and tie cans and pans and all sorts of crap to a string and then run around dragging it clattering behind them, gleeful like tiny madmen. There are some wildly contradictory theories as to the origin of this. One says it started when they used to roll empty wine barrels down to ocean to wash them after harvest. Another says Saint Andrew got so drunk that he passed out on the street, so some kids tied pots and pans and cans to him so he’d wake up when he rolled over. However, these days it seems to mainly be a traditional excuse for kids to make as much noise as humanly possible. Which is pretty cute when it involves toddlers, maybe less so when it’s teens with acne and fledgling facial hair, which is only one of many reasons we didn’t manage to stay up long enough to enjoy that part.
The Puerto de la Cruz malecón is long and varied, with pleasant cafés, medieval walls, modern resorts, fascinating graffiti, crumbling seawalls, various Africans selling either handbags or soccer jerseys, a soccer stadium, and even an old man who dresses up as Poseidon every day. It is almost always packed with tourists strolling in as leisurely a manner as possible, inevitably while holding hands and blocking the entire sidewalk. There is an odd statue of a woman seemingly rushing out of the ocean – wearing a dress – with one basket of fish in her hand, another balanced on her head, and a startled expression on her face like she somehow wasn’t expecting to end up with fish juice running down her back. People are constantly flocking around her to take photographs. Not reflecting well on Tenerife tourists, however, was that over the years thousands of grasping hands – and who knows what else – has rubbed away the paint leaving three shiny, highly conspicuous areas. Both breasts and, rather grossly, her lips. To quote New Girl, “It’s like letting a dog drink water out of your mouth – it’s not great, but it’s legal”.
So that’s it for Tenerife. Tomorrow we head to the south end of the island to catch a ferry over to La Gomera, a nearby island known for hiking, natural beauty and being far less popular with the beach & booze crowd.