Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Las Canarias III: Santa Cruz & La Laguna

The north-east peninsula of Tenerife is a world away from other parts of the island. The climate is wetter, the trees are greener, and the cities are bigger. The capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is a proper city with tall buildings and lots of services. Many of the people we spoke with weren't fond of its modern aesthetics, but museums, markets, and quirky restaurants, all within a stone's throw of colonial towns, sunny beaches, and natural trails, made Santa Cruz a win for me. 

The anthropological museum is well known here, and Rob and I were on our way, but accidentally stumbled into the library first, where I was easily distracted by a flyer for an exhibit on Walter Benjamin, who I am familiar with for his writing on translation theory but was curious to know more about. Unfortunately, I was then sidetracked again as we tried to track down this exhibit and we ended up in a very contemporary display addressing gender stereotypes. Not that the exhibit wasn't interesting, but we left a bit dazed and confused and not particularly motivated to focus our attention on other pursuits of higher knowledge. If anyone knows what secret crime the USA perpetrated against Montevideo that could apply to a hypothetical future of the European Union, please explain it to Rob or me. 

Although we only made it to the front door of the museum, the anthropological history of Tenerife is interesting and important. The native peoples are now uniformly referred to as the Guanche, but this is somewhat misleading because the six different islands that make up the Canary chain actually had very diverse cultures. Having lived in the geologically comparable Hawaii where the natives had a highly developed seafaring culture, I was surprised to learn that the Guanche had no navigational skills to note. Genetic markers and linguistic similarities indicate that the inhabitants of the islands were most likely Berbers or other peoples from north Africa who had drifted there by chance, and as a result the communication between the islands was infrequent. My favorite anecdote of this cultural disparity is the treatment of criminal justice. While theft was taken quite seriously on most islands (punishable by head-bashing with rock, eye gouging, etc.), in La Palma there was no consequence, as thievery was instead considered an art. 

As in most stories of colonization, much of the original Guanche culture has been lost. This is especially unfortunate in the case of the language, which was curiously based on whistles. The author of the book I read, though, argues that a significant percentage of contemporary population is genetically linked to the Guanche, and that the culture is still alive and relevant today. Rob and I saw this first hand when it came to the tradition of goat herding. On many occasion our hikes were narrated by the faint sound of goat bells twinkling in the distance, and the goats nearly always left their mark on the trails! And the goat herding culture has had a very important impact on the cuisine: The cheeses! Every island has its own, equally delectable varieties. When I was debating which community to select as a preferred placement I briefly considered the Canary Islands because of how happy I was in Hawaii, and I might have gone through with it if I'd been aware of the abundance of savory goat cheeses! But that's just me.


Rob makes crazy mojito eyes with some delicious mojos!

Half an hour by tram from Santa Cruz is La Laguna, a very different kind of place. Nobody will complain that the city is too modern, as San Cristóbol de La Laguna has retained all of its two-story colonial charm. The university is located here, and after an afternoon of meandering I confess that I was daydreaming about applying! It's a colorful city that favors pedestrians, and Rob and I were there on a holiday so the streets were extra crowded. I've also noticed that Rollerblading seems to be making a comeback in Spain, as some trendy people wove around us and through the crowd more than once. We ambled through the streets and Rob waited patiently as I gravitated to a few hip shops, then we followed a churros & chocolate sign into a café where we could people watch. 

We snuck in here to break up our walk with a coffee--it doesn't take too much convincing to assimilate this aspect of Spanish culture!

The natural park to the north-east of these two cities is different from the parks below. The roads are equally as ridiculous and winding (they bring a whole new meaning to scenic byway), but the moister climate means greener trees and a completely different landscape. This is as close as the island of Tenerife comes to a proper forest. Many people continue to live traditional lifestyles here, and I was impressed with their ability to cope with the ups and downs. Literally. Rob and I spent a long while breath-taken at a scenic overlook, during which time we observed that someone actually had a zip-line to their home, and we watched as an ancient man slowly emerged from the hillside and took a seat on the side of the road. We offered him a ride to the next town, and on the way he explained to us that he makes that hike most days: Up the mountain, down the mountain, and back again. I smelled hyperbole, though, when he claimed the trip took him only 20 minutes. An athletic person might take at least an hour, and Rob and I would probably take three, so that hunched-over old man would likely land somewhere in the middle! 

We did our own bit of upward climbing during a hike on the north coast of the park. It started off serene, wandering along the rocky coastline, but after the last small village it took a sharp turn straight up. I was more than flushed by the time we reached the last house, with a tiled address that read "1"--I can't imagine who delivers their mail! The trail continued ten times farther up, conveniently tucked into a valley isolated from the permanent island breeze, but we pressed on and like most challenging endeavors, the view from the top made it all worthwhile!


Rob and I were enchanted with this beautiful road carved out of rock, and even more impressed that it lead to nowhere!

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