Oct. 27, 2016:
This morning, we woke to darkness as we continued into the port of Santa Cruz, on the island of Tenerife, which really wasn’t as early as you might have thought since sunrise doesn’t happen until about 8:15 local time in this part of the world.
This island is the largest in the Canary archipelago by square footage, and boasts a population of nearly 1 million residents. Tenerife is one of the best known and most popular in the island chain, and sees about 6 million visitors per year. The port of Santa Cruz is in the northeastern part of Tenerife, but the most visited tourist areas are in the southwest part of the island, where countless beach resorts exist. Accordingly, tourism accounts for about 75% of the local economy. However, the bananas grown in huge plantations here, and the local wine (again, mostly Malvasia) also contribute a major proportion of the economy.
Like the island of La Palma, Tenerife was born from volcanoes, and the largest/highest of those, Mount Teide, is the highest peak in Spain, towering as it does over 12,000 feet above sea level. Weirdly, while it is always very temperate along the sea coast of the whole island, it is much colder just a few kilometers inland. Just two days ago, it snowed on the peaks of Mount Teide; a snow the locals said was the most severe in about 20 years!
As we drove inland from Santa Cruz through the adjacent suburb of La Laguna, we can see the northern airport, which still holds the record for the largest airline accident ever in 1977. As we drive, we catch sight of Mount Teide covered in snow. We are on the way to the seaside town of Garachico, and then back through the resort town of Puerto de la Cruz, also on the northwestern coast. Again, like La Palma, for miles, you see verdant band fields marching up the hills from sea level, gradually giving way to grape vines, palm trees and cactus (mostly prickly pear and something that looks like the cacti we saw in the Galapagos islands). Again, the upper elevations have numerous stands of Canary Island pines. In short, it’s a beautiful drive.
When we arrived in Garachico, we found a town dating back to the sixteenth century, but one which has known much adversity over the years, including the eruption of the local volcano in 1706, which moved the coast about 1/2 mile westward, and totally destroyed the local viticulture. In the old center of town, you are able to see the former port gate entrance to the town, now completely landlocked.The most recent disaster happened just tow days ago, when the same huge storm which blanketed Mount Teide with snow flooded Garachico with rain and waves so large it washed out many seaside fences and shut down the highway with flooding. One local said it was like a “mini-tsunami” hit the town. Nonetheless, it was fun to walk among the colonial buildings washed in the early morning sun.
From Garachico, we drove up an incredibly winding road to reach the connection with the main highway back to Santa Cruz. We stopped for a coffee at a restaurant at the top, named, appropriately, Mirador de Garachico (Viewpoint of Garachico). The views of Garachico over 2,000 feet below us were spectacular, as was the view of Mount Tiede off in the distance. From here, you could really see the progressive changes in vegetation, as the banana plantations gave way to grape vines, and finally were crowned by forests of Canary pines.
Our tour wound up in the seaside resort town of Puerto de la Cruz, which was the first town on the island to become a resort destination. Many famous people have traveled here. Notably, Agatha Christie stayed here for quite some time, and wrote two of her novels here, reportedly while nursing a broken heart caused jointly by the death of her mother and her divorce. This town is definitely someplace you would like to travel to and experience! The town council has erected some amazing public bathing pools alone the seashore which incorporate some of the lava outcroppings. Further, several hotels along the main street have also built giant water parks along the sea. If you aren’t a guest of one of these hotels, or don’t want to pay for the right to use the community pools, lots of people still enjoy swimming in the sea. This is all made possible, despite the rough waves and menacing lava rocks by the creation of several little mini-ports for swimmers along the inner bay. Jim and I enjoyed our walk along the seaside, but were ready to return to the ship.
This afternoon, we ventured out on another tour; this time of colonial Santa Cruz. We had a local guide, Laura, who was a real Spanish spitfire! She did a great job of imparting her love of her home town along with a healthy dose of history, including the fact that Admiral Horatio Nelson lost one of his rare sea battles here fighting the Spanish navy, a loss which cost him his arm. The arm still remains in Santa Cruz, but Nelson was allowed to return to England after surrendering to the Spanish.
The town has its expected collection of colonial remains and churches, but it has also done a great job of keeping up with the times. Really, it’s a lovely town, with beautiful parks and squares, and lovely tree-lined walkways, complete with music in the main bandstand. In fact, we passed multiple buildings which support all types of musical and theatrical arts, and we heard several choirs practicing through the open windows. The older buildings have been well-restored and the newer buildings merge harmoniously with their older neighbors. Probably the most notable structure for architectures buffs, though, is the amazing opera house designed by famous Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, which looks like a smaller version of the Sydney opera house with a sail stretching over it.
The real reason we decided to take this tour, however, was the lure of tasting some of the local tapas and wine. We did these tastings at two restaurants, and were pleased with both. Notably, local goat cheese was yummy, and often wins prizes at global cheese competitions. Content and relaxed, we walked back to the ship in the golden hour. Tonight our ship sets out to sea at midnight for a two-day sail to the Cape Verde Islands, where we will be exploring the island of Porto Grande.