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Trip to the Canary Islands

Today is the day. My summer break started on June 1, and now, one and a half months later, we're going on our trip. I organized the trip by going to the travel agent and choosing all the hotels we'd be staying in. We were afraid of unfriendly reactions in Arab countries with the US in Iraq and all that. We also decided against travelling to India (plans) because of the rainy season and the temperature. We didn't feel like going all the way to Japan. So we decided to go to the Canary Islands.

Claudia was in Teneriffe about ten years ago, at Playa de las Américas. She warned me: Thousands of tourists! (Later I learnt that they have 150'000 hotel beds in that corner of Teneriffe…) I also heard from another friend that it is difficult to organise accomodation on your own – not cheaper at all, just more hassle. What I didn't know is that 1. summer is off-season, and 2. everything else besides Playa de las Américas is rural.

2004-07-15 Canary Islands

Arrival at the airport Teneriffe North When we arrived it was cool and windy. We flew with Iberia via Madrid, and when we arrived, the sky was cloudy. I also didn’t know what effect the trade winds have on the islands: When they blow, one side of the island is covered in clouds, the hilltops are cold and wet, and the other side of the island is dry. In the old days, most of the islands were wood covered, much like the Iberian peninsula. And much like on the mainland, it was all laid waste by man: Charcoal for industry, cooking, heating, and timber for the naval fleets all ate into the forests of old.

The airport Teneriffe Norte is high up near La Laguna. This explains the crappy wheather. We get our rental car and drive south. Our first hotel is on the east coast – the dry part of the country.

We are dead tired.

We packed until the early morning hours, went to bed at 6:38, got up again at 9:30, left at 10:45, checkin at 11:40, take-off at 13:20, transit in Madrid, arrived at Teneriffe Norte at 20:00, waited for the luggage, took the car… In Switzerland we bought some food to take along (watch out, food will take quite some space on these pages…):

  1. 4 Biberli, eaten in Kloten, Zürich’s airport, as a breakfast replacement
  2. 2 Panettone, eaten on the flight to Madrid
  3. 2 plastic boxes with an improvised greek salad, each with ½ capsicum, ½ tomato, ½ Feta cheese (100g), olive oil, vinegar, eaten in Barajas, Madrid’s airport
  4. 2 pieces of bread with a Tomme cheese [1][2]

When we sit in the car, we feel like eating the last thing we still have… Bread and Tomme! Claudia puts her Tomme between the two halves of her bread, opens her mouth, stretches it a bit more, and takes a hearty bite. And with that, the melted cheese spurts out between her fingers, drops on the car seat, the car floor, her trousers… A total mess! And we’ve been in the car for only a minute or two. :D

Unpacking in Finca Salamanca Late at night we arrive at Finca Salamanca. We eat in the restaurant that is part of the Finca. The food is bearable. Typically Spanish. Far too expensive for what it is worth, in our not so humble opinion.

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2004-07-16 Canary Islands

The first alarm goes off at 8:00. The second one goes off at 9:00. We get up and drag ourselves to the restaurant. Breakfast! Chocolate Müsli for Claudia (yuck!), instant coffee by Nestlé [1], Toast instead of bread, but two different kinds of big lizards on the stone wall behind our table. We love lizards! Big brown ones, even bigger black ones. One of them even jumped from the wall onto an empty chair. We love big black jumping lizards! :)

Town centre of Arafo We have the cheapest category of rental car, and therefore no automatic transmission. Claudia is driving. I don’t like to drive, and haven’t driven a car in years. At least she drives once in a while with her parent’s car. In order to get used to manual transmission I paid her a lesson with a driving teacher in Zürich before we left. No problems!

But in a new town, with small streets, tight corners, where you don’t know the way, and where the car is not a dazzling turbo something, things get a bit harder. And so we are confused, get lost, double-turn, miss the right exists, grow frustrated, look for shortcuts uphill until the damn road either ends or is so steep that we don’t dare continue. And by then the road is narrow. So narrow in fact that doing the U-turn is a pain.

This is how we spend our first few hours in Güimar and Arafo.

We also stop in Arafo, looking for the famous bakery suggested by our travel guide. It turns out that it is a very small totally normal looking bakery. Maybe it is special because most villages here don’t have one? We don’t like the look of the food and decide to buy something familiar looking. We call ‘em Prussiens but they call ‘em Palmeritas. Our new favorite snack!

We see lots of old men on the city square. Everything is calm. The weather is hot. The big old trees cast a welcome shade. We sit. We sip some water and eat Palmeritas. Time passes.

When we got up we had decided to go hiking in the national park of Teneriffe. Like on most islands, the centre of the island is a national park. This is where the forest is, if there is one at all.

Supermarket in Arafo In a local supermarket we buy some more water. And then we start driving uphill… [2]

Driving Up

When we finally reached the ridge separating east from west, cloudy from sunny, cold from wet, we paused and looked around.

Weeds adapted to the dry ground The winding road goes forever on... The eastern side is dry and rocky Another vulcano crater in the distance Looking down the western side: Clouds!  Notice El Teide in the distance.

Arenas Negras

We wanted to hike in the Orotava valley, but when we saw the clouds down on the western side, we decided to stay around the mountain, the Teide. We did a three hour hike starting from El Portillo: Arenas negras.

The first part had a trail through lots of bushes overgrowing it from time to time. It was always the same bush. Sometimes we saw big spiders in their nets. It was always the same spider. Black and yellow legs. Some red markings. We also saw lots of caterpillars. It was always the same caterpillar, feeding on always the same bush. I bet the spider its the butterfly.

It was weird. One bush. One spider. One caterpillar.

The caterpillar was nice. Green, hairy, red and yellow dots. No pictures, unfortunately.

Finding our way was often frustrating. Trying to evade the cobwebs, trying to avoid ticks, trying to find the trail again.

The trail started with a sign saying “Beware the bee hives!”

That was weird, too.

We reached the plateau: El Portillo At first, a flat plain, with round bushes. Erosion exposing the layers and layers of lava, ashes, and dirt. Claudia he descent over the black lava slope: Arenas Negras.

Back in Güimar we went looking for some Tortilla. Basic food, but eatable. But we found no bar that we liked, and no bank that was open. And the ATM will cost us CHF 5 for every transaction. We bought a lot of food in another supermarket instead.

Later that evening we jumped in the pool back at the hotel. The sun was gone and it was cold. But after the long hike, we needed it.

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2004-07-17 Canary Islands

We slept late. Very late. We ate stuff we had bought in the supermarket for breakfast. We can do without the food they serve here. Water, Palmeritas, Avocados, yoghurt… All on the little terrace out in the back. Claudia rediscovers her love for Guava juice she had learnt to love when we were in Kauai years ago.

We left for Güimar again. We found the real center of town today. This explains why we didn’t find neither Tortilla nor bank, yesterday. We bought some Après Soleil for Claudia, because she burnt herself badly on yesterday’s hike.

We ate a bocadillo con tortilla española with some additional cheese and mayonnaise on it. It was Claudia’s idea. ;)

Then we drove to Thor Heyerdahl’s museum: The pyramids of Güimar. You remember Heyerdahl? The guy who crossed the Atlantic on a grass raft built to some old Egyptian plans half-guessed from a few drawings? That’s the one. He apparently settled down in Tenerife, and he spent some time investigating the pyramids of Güimar, since they looked so similar to very early Egyptian and pre-Inca pyramids. He built a museum around them in fact, and collected interesting pottery to illustrate the connection between the two cultures. It looked quite convincing!

The pyramids of Güimar A replica of the raft they used to cross the Atlantic

I was at first unpleasantly surprised by the price – 10€ per person; it was worth the price in the end, however.

We took another plunge in the hotel pool in the evening, Claudia’s sunburn is hellish.

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2004-07-18 Canary Islands

We get up late and take the car to Santa Cruz, then continue further north up to San André, to the Playa Las Teresitas. [1] They dumped some rocks off the coast, and then brought tons of Sahara sand to create an artificial beach. This far north you don’t find many tourists, they are all down south.

Got a nasty sunburn on my legs, because I fell asleep in the shadow of a palm tree. When I woke up, the shadow had moved, and my legs had not. And I had no sunblock on my legs, because this morning it looked cloudy and I put on some long trousers. We did not hope to see the sun up north, and yet we did.

On our cozy little terrace, we ate arroz con leche, yoghurt, Palmeritas, Burgo de Arrias (queso blanco). The clouds just came on rolling down from the mountains in the west. It sure looked like rain and fog. We expected to do a little hike up north.

Maybe I didn’t notice the sun because the wind was cool and soothing.

We ate at the beach before going home. The food was cheap. It was edible. ‘nough said.

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2004-07-19 Canary Islands

Hacienda Cristoforo We checked out before 12:00 and drove south. The next few nights we were going to spend just north of the big tourist purgatory: Hacienda Cristoforo in Adeje, north of Playa de las Américas. [1]

We ate our breakfast in the restaurant again, since we had to get up so “early”. The coffee is terrible. Even the fruit juice is what they call a “nectar” – a bit of fruit juice, water, and suger. The juices are terrible. Only much later will we learn how to find those little places that sell fresh orange juice. Some machine in the background, they drop the oranges in a basket at the top, and they are automatically cut and squeezed. Amazing! Delicious! Why don’t they have this kind of stuff here in Switzerland?

But I’m getting carried away. Today, breakfast was terrible.

Only Claudia has her beloved Guava nectar. It’s what she wants every morning, from now on. I don’t like it, but she doesn’t care. Guava juice it is. I stick to water. The drinking water here is good. I prefer the Teide water, it has a slightly sweet aftertaste. I avoid water from the mainland, or god forbid one of these artificial cocktails Nestlé or Vivendi Universal are marketing (remineralized water and all that). Nestlé… :( [2]

We drive south. We should have brought little external loudspeakers along. We don’t like to put on our MP3 players, everybody listening to his own music. We want to share it. It should be playing in the background. It should be playing in the car. It should be playing in our hotel. But I forgot to bring them along.

We arrive early in the afternoon. Too early. Nobody is expecting us. It looks like stone houses in Ticino (the Italian speaking part of Switzerland). They have a horse, a donkey, a pig, a sheep, and several geese in the back near the pool. We were to find out that they also have tons of cockroaches in our bathroom. We also find two cats and a very nice dog. Claudia sees her first geckos.

We find three cockroaches in our bathroom today. Comparing the description of the Asian Cockroach and the German Cockroach behaviour, it seems that we were seeing German Cockroaches. They didn’t like to fly. They liked to hide in cracks and holes. They were usually found in the bathroom. The strange thing is that they must have been at least 3cm, maybe 4cm long.

I killed two of them. One escaped. When entering the bathroom, we looked around cautiously. We scanned the dark wooden beams. We examined the walls. We watched the cracks. We carefully took our shower while the other one watched our back. It was terrible.

Out bath tub had an integrated yakuzi. We never tried it.

There is also a solitary wasp that is building its nest in one of the corners of the room. Once we are convinced by the landlord that it is harmless, we quite enjoy its coming and going through our front door. We keep all the doors open because the heat would be unbearable otherwise.

The landlord looks like Socrates when he had more hair. Or maybe like Gandalf when he was younger. Long white hair with soft curls, long white beard, white linen clothes. The lady has a mesmerizing smile, dark eyes, long black curly hair, soft voice. He is Greek, she is Spanish.

As the wasp’s nest grows, we discover several other such nests in the darker corners of the living room.

The owner’s name is Denis. He likes it “biodynamic” (Based on a series of lectures given by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1924, Biodynamics is a method of agriculture which seeks to actively work with the health-giving forces of nature. It is the oldest non-chemical agricultural movement, predating the organic agriculture movement by some twenty years and has now spread throughout the world. [3]). The cockroaches, the wasp, the cats, tiny ants… It is getting far too biodynamic for us!

We never visit the pool.

We buy some food in a tiny supermarket, and spend the last hours of sunlight on Playa Torvisca (at Playa de las Américas). It is calm, here. Not many people around this late in the evening.

I think Claudia would have preferred all-inclusive tourism to our turismo rural – she keeps talking about some good pasta, Spaghetti Napoli, or a good pizza… The off-season is very nice.

When we come home, I make some Spaghetti Carciofi (ie. canned artichokes). We don’t have any cream, and add some queso blanco (white cheese). It’s rough fare.

The landlord’s kids have brought their friends to his parents’ Hacienda. They sleep next door. They try to be quiet, and we sleep well. No cockroaches leave the bathroom.

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2004-07-20 Canary Islands

Slept late, ate something, dozed off again, got up at 13:00. We need to find a bank in Adeje! Caja Canarios requires us to open an account (!) before they will cash our traveller cheques, haha. We cash them at La Caixa, which costs us 7€ in comission. Perros!

Well, using the EC card at an ATM costs me CHF 5 as well. Perros, too!

When we have to go to the bathroom during the night, we wake each other so that one of us can always watch for cockroaches. They are just too damn big. And fast, too. When we entered the cockroach cave that night, we spotted another one! It escaped the sandal of instant cockroach death. From its crack, it was probably watching us on the toilet seat, big antennas slowly feeling the air, legs still trembling from its sudden flight.

We take the car to Iglesia Sta. Ursula in Adeje, and then we hike up Barranco del Inferno, to the first waterfall. (I found a story of German canyoneers coming the other way, from the top down to Adeje via Google… [1]) It is damn hot where the trail starts in Adeje, everything is dry, the barranco is dry. Where is the water? It is summer, so either it is totally dry because there is practically no forrest above Adeje, or the water is deviated… The book says that it has been deviated. It will be greener further up.

Looking up into the barranco Looking down at Adeje The heat is killing me! Small channels to carry water to drier places Starting to be greener... Green!! The waterfall is near... Lots of algae in the water Green pools... The last straggler arrives! This is the waterfall! Relaxing... On the way back... It must be a torrent in the rainy season!

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2004-07-21 Canary Islands

Sleep late, wash clothes, play table tennis, lost a ball when it passed the small wall and fell down into the area reserved for horse and donkey… We didn’t dare to enter. The donkey has a bleeding wound on one of his feet. Yuck! And flies, too.

We go shopping in Playa Paraíso. Postcards at an electronics shop run by a Pakistani. We pay 0.60€ for stamps worth 0.52€. Nearly 20% so that we don’t have to go to the post office and buy them ourselves. Oh well.

We stop in a Chinese restaurant and eat. We’re still not excited about the food. Do they have Spaniards in that kitchen? ;)

Then we decided to head downhill to the seawater pool. The road did a little detour, and we thought that we might just cut through it by taking a shortcut via a hotel: Enter the hotel Floral lobby, find some stairs going down, and exit by the beach gate, or something like that. We spent some time exploring the stairs of one hotel without finding an exit, back out onto the parking lot, spotted a hidden door with some Germans coming out, and passed right through. After closing the door we noticed that you needed a key to get out. Trapped in some weird hotel… We descended a few stairs and met an ol’ fat man who was on his way down as well. Exchanged a few words. At the bottom, he said, “You first.” We went on ahead, arrived at the door, and noticed that it required a key. “Yes, you need a key to get out…” Asshole. “Don’t you have a key?” Asshole. “This is private property, you know.” Asshole. He finally lets us out. We just babbled something and waited for him to open the door. What was he going to do anyway? But he sure tried to “rub it in.” Where we were from, where our hotel was, styled himself an inspector, I guess. :)

When we got to the pool, we were astonished to be admitted for free. When we went looking for some canvas chairs, we learned the reason: They were closing in half an hour. Grrrrr! Anyway, we jumped in the water, swam around, sat in the sun. At 18:00 we pack our stuff and leave, walking around the entire thing to get to the little beach in the back. The beach is very small and the water not too clean, but we want to enjoy the sun while it shines. We read until 20:00. Nagib Machfus / Naguib Mahfouz. See 2004-08-09 Books.

Then we went home, shower, more table tennis.

Then we went out to Playa de las Américas. We even found the place where Claudia was with her friend about ten years ago. The place is full of tourists (even in the low season). They are mostly British and interested in drinking. Two for one! Or so it seems.

We found an Indian Tandoori restaurant. Yum! Delicious! It reminds me of our days in Lisbon last summer where we went to eat in Indian restaurants every day as soon as we came back from our boat trip, eg. 2003-07-26.

Then we went looking for a Salsa place. At the very end, they said, there’s this one place where they play latin music… So we went for a walk. A long walk. Most of the bars are closed during the off-season, it seems. The places is called Metropolis but it is practically empty. Maybe ten or twenty locals, good music but only one pair dancing. We dance some, drink our Schweppes Lemón, and around 2:00 we leave. Oh well. :(

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