Tenerife: Christmas On The Canary Islands

Tenerife Overview Title

I love sitting by the window in airplanes. Why? Well there’s often so much to see! I’ve watched the moon rise over a rolling sea of clouds, I’ve seen stars shed miles of atmosphere and sprawling cities blend into a lake of light. I’ve passed over frozen exhaust trails from long-gone jets—a series of floating roads in the sky—and marveled over massive mountain ranges scaring the earth’s surface.

This time I found myself entranced by the mountain dominating a harsh cloud-island. It invoked thoughts of Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods. At first only a smudge revealed any sign of its presence. Then as the plane closed in to land the mountain loomed out of the haze. “Welcome to Tenerife,” boomed Mount Teide, from under its snow-capped crown.

Tenerife 2014 Xmas-178 South Pan

A Toasty Blanket

It would take 5 days for me to see that snowy peak again since the island would be wrapped in a blanket of haze.

As the plane bounced down onto the runway in the south of the island, my boyfriend, J, who’d grown up there looked out the window and groaned.

“What’s up,” I’d asked.

“Calima,” J mumbled, gently scowling at the muted sun.

“What’s that?”

“It’s when the winds carries dust from the Sahara Desert to the Canary Islands. It’s a dust storm that brings heat, plagues and locusts.”

“Yikes.”

“Yeah, when it comes it’s like Doomsday has arrived. People don’t go out…”

Seeing my wide-eyes J quickly added, “… In summer, but in winter they are more subtle.”

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There had been mention of calima before we left for Tenerife as I pestered my partner for weather details to plan what to pack. J had said it would be swift and unpredictable if it came, so I’d backed shorts, three-quarter lengths and pants to cover all my bases. It was a good thing too, because here was calima. Waiting for us.

It was necessary to use all my clothes on the trip. With calima present I found myself at times with shorts and a t-shirt. Without it, I wore pants and a light sweater. The other factors were elevation and precipitation. When we made excursions up Mount Teide and the ridge of the island we had to dress warmer while down by the beaches it was hot enough to swim.

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And though a desert climate persisted in the south of the island, a cloud rainforest reined supreme in the cooler, wetter northern part of Tenerife.

If you don’t have a friend to live with on the island I’d suggest renting a car. There is public transport but it’s awkwardly scheduled and, I’m told, pretty unreliable. You can also book tours, but then you’re stuck on their schedule (raise your hand if—like this woman—you hate being dragged from a cool museum or park too soon).

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Plus you wouldn’t get to see things like this graffiti.
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Or this, Hermano Pedro‘s cave. He was only recently canonized in 2002 despite living during the mid 1600s. Many locals come here to worship him and present wishes or pay back old ones.

The Neighborhood Mountain

J and I were lucky to be able to stay with his parents for Christmas. I was super excited. There would be a lot of firsts on this trip: first visit to Spain, first trip to a volcano, first unofficial food tour and the first sip of milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Yeah, you read right. There was hot weather milk imported from the mainland.

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It was perfect for our morning tea… oh god I’m truly British now!!!

We stayed in La Tejita, a tiny collection of houses on two roads. Just a stone’s throw away stood Mountaña Roja, or Red Mountain, an old volcano. We could see it over our breakfast each morning.

The area is a national park and a great hike! You can climb to the top and look back on the island or out across the endless ocean. It can be windy though, so be careful.

Oh, and wear runners. Sandals suck for this hike because there are many small stones that get caught up in your shoes. I had to stop every few steps to kick free the rocks when J and I climbed it. It looked like I was waddling from a distance I’m sure.

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In this Google Map photo sphere you can see the village directly down the path and if you whip around you can see Montaña Roja.

Apparently a friend of J’s parent’s once visited, glanced at the mountain and asked why it’s called Red Mountain.

J’s mother was rightly quite flabbergasted by the question.

Tenerife 2014 Xmas-180 Tenerife 2014 Xmas-188

The Fishing Town

Also a mere stroll away is a fishing town called El Medano. It’s home to sports tourism with a beach catering to windsurfing, kite surfing and standup paddle boarding. If you are a wind-water sports fan then this is the place to be on the island.

An ancient hotel—by island standards—called Hotel Playa Sur Tenerife is situated right on the beach. I found a rather amazing video advertising the place (many opportunities for some butt dancing).

Any guesses on how old the video is?

I have to say, its sign (according to J a relic from the 80s) has an awesome English section.

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When I first read it I got the impression people could casually pass through each others’ rooms.

The town itself was really laid-back. Unlike some of the other areas on the island this one clings to a more local feel. There are still English pubs and tourist knickknack shops, but there are also Canarian craft stores, restaurants and community squares.

“El Medano used to be a tiny fishing village,” J mused as we zig-zagged through the desert shrubs in the darkness of our first night there. Being native born instilled total confidence in my partner’s night navigating skills.

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“I don’t have to worry about scorpions or snakes do I,” I nervously replied as I dodged yet another spindly bush.

“There’s nothing that can kill you here,” chuckled J.

Casually sauntering toward the distant lights he continued, “my friends and I used to stumble home drunk through the desert to get back to the village.”

Meanwhile I gave a small ravine a wide-berth.

As we walked through the town it was fascinating to compare it’s structure to Canadian, Thai and English urban planning.

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For example here there were large cement plazas instead of parks. Keeping grass happy in the desert doesn’t make much sense so these flat open spaces are the social zones instead. They also make remarkable rollerblade arenas!

Another difference was the social rules. Seeing kids hanging around at 12 p.m. and 2 a.m. was so odd! Everyone came out when the sun went down.

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In the next post I’ll tell you about Canarian eating habits! Boy was that a new experience.

Tata for now!

Next time we travel to Masca, a tiny mountain village so isolated it only became accessible by road in the 1970s.

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