Saturday, 18 January 2014

Blogging back home

It proved to be very difficult to get anything posted up while we were in Tenerife... the link kept going down. It's a shame as I think there is nothing so crisp as an account of new things seen while they are absolutely fresh in the retina.
We were mostly escaping from the happy-lands of tourist-ville during our stay in Tenerife, which meant going by car for at least an hour or two to get to somewhere far away, usually to the north. It also meant going into or through the dense wintry clouds which seem to clothe Mt Teide at this time of year.
They had had unusual rainy weather and floods just before we arrived, and enough snow to close some of the high passes. The dry scorching lower slopes to the south are by no means the only landscape or condition to be found...  We were in fact seeking out the windswept ridges, the misty mountains, the cool forests full of birdsong, the almost-English deciduous woodlands, the terraced allotments and vineyards.... such variety in such a small space.
There is now a 'Green' policy on the island - quite a change from our last visit here, with recycling all over the place.
We also searched out some of the fascinating history of the place, which again is better presented than 10 or so years ago, with more pride and more sense of connectedness.  So, the amazing courtyard architecture of the big merchant houses in San Cristobal or Garavico or Puerta de la Cruz can be seen to emerge from Spain's Moorish past and yet - going forward - to link very intimately with the building styles of Cuba or Guatemala as Spain's New World was developed. Similarly, we saw how popular the use of English sash-windows was, and how widespread - combined with the balconies which may have come from Portugal or NW Spain, or even Italy.
The overwhelming thing though is the volcano - it's massive outpourings and effects. We saw lava-fields and (really) whole districts where the rock must have been belched out in a colossal shitting agony - hundreds or maybe even thousands of years later, the stuff still looks unweathered, clinkery, scorched, ashy, and yet with a kind of congealed, viscous, sticky appearance. From almost any distance, you feel you could just go and smooth it down, like the top of a cake about to go into the oven. Yet it is tremendously hard, baked by the great infernos of the inner earth, into a terrifyingly scratchy and rough and impermeable surface. There is miles and miles and miles and miles of it.
Each road is hacked out of the mountainside through deep layers of this stuff. God knows how they did it... and yet they did. Maps date back to the early 1300s show that somehow, the engineers and soldiers and merchants managed it.  Some of the roads have been noticeably improved since we last came... wider now, and with better surfaces. But they have twenty-five million hairpin bends, and some of them are so steep you wonder if your car will make it up the next 10 yards.
The roads go through the lava fields, and round and down the mountains. You cannot get from one village to another (outside the modern tourist villages of the broad, hot southern slopes) without going along these precipitous roads, often over terrifying high ridges.  Everywhere, you can see where people hacked small terraces out of the mountains. Most are abandoned now. Standards of living have improved, and the young have fled - generation after generation, since the Spanish conquered the place.
The story of the Guanches - the aboriginals - is tragic. Enslaved, betrayed, murdered, raped, banished, exploited, orphaned - all the techniques which Europeans could bring to bear were employed. The Catholic church itself arrived to do its bit - all the different sects competing to build churches and convents, where girls were gathered in for safety and piety.  In San Cristobal de la Laguna (now a World Heritage site) as elsewhere, the Franciscans have done a bit better than the Augustins or the Dominicans - they have slightly more nuns left, hiding behind their gorgeous antique screens (more Arabic influence) up on the 16th century balconies.  The Canarians are able to point out typical Guanche facial features in some of the population - high cheekbones, for instance. Most people, they say, have Guanche blood nowadays. The DNA sampling has helped. It shows that the female lines were continued, while the male lines were mostly obliterated (see).   These Guanches are probably of Berber origin, with blue eyes and blonde hair. They were observed by the first literate conquerors to be noticeably respectful of their women.   And on one of the islands, unlike the others where robbery was punished by first one (then on a second offence the other) eye being gouged out, it was noted that robbery was not punished because it was considered an art form.
So, these amazing islands of which Tenerife is the largest, have an astonishing history, and an astonishing landscape to offer. This time of year is their high season for tourism as northern Europeans arrive for winter sun. This year it's especially busy as people have avoided the potential trouble spots of N Africa, for example.  The food is utterly wonderful. Tourists are welcomed and treated with great courtesy and professionalism. You can walk, drive, bike, swim, snorkel, dive, climb, paraglide, hang-glide, explore, sunbathe, study, relax, talk....  I will put some photos up here or onto FB to show you the variety.
We only got home last night and I miss it already.  I'd go back any day - maybe stay in the north this time, or in one of the old cities. Most tourists we saw or met were really on the older side, but I think the young would find plenty to do in the hotspots of the south.
I added loads of photos of all this to Facebook

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