Boatgirl #12: Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Canary Islands, Spain

11: Santa Cruz de Tenerife

23 April, 2002

Ship’s position: 28 28.31 N, 016 14.48 W
Heading: 207.2
Speed 0 knots (docked)

Boatgirl has been far too busy sipping pina coladas by the pool to send in updates.

However, having overslept into siesta time again, I now have a spare moment while everything is closed and quiet. We docked today in knotted-hankie-on-head land today, that’s right… Tenerife. Beloved island of Brits abroad, drinking too much lager and getting sunburned to a rosy red.

Haven’t ventured off ship yet. Too scared.

So, what have I been doing? Island-hopping. First, we sailed to Madeira from Lisbon. It’s a Portuguese island, with lots of flowers and grape vines. It’s best known for Madeira wine, made from malvoisie grapes (in Shakespeare called malmsey, Falstaff’s favorite tipple). There’s a big English presence here as well, because of the wine trade. When Winston Churchill’s health was failing towards the end of his life, he wanted to move somewhere warm with nice gardens. He was brought to Reid’s, the most famous hotel here, where he ended his days. We pulled into their driveway behind many black cars with tinted windows and diplomatic plates, and our taxi driver told us that the Queen of Sweden was staying there. We didn’t see her, but we had a lovely tea on the terrace, with view of our ship down below in the harbour.

Funchal, the capital city, is small and charming. Lots of little bars and restaurants, and the guards outside the palace have swords and helmets with white fluffy bits on top.

I managed to get a roll of film put onto CD overnight, which is much more civilized than the three days it takes in West Wickham. There’s a cable car that takes visitors up to the hillside town of Monte, where all the wine traders built their houses in the cooler air. It’s an amazing view of green hillsides with bright orange patches of nasturtium and red bougainvillea, and the smooth flat ocean.

Monte has a botanical garden with the world’s tallest ceramic vase; it’s even in the Guinness Book of World Records, look it up. But, the real reason for going up to Monte, is the toboggan ride down. Now, I’d heard it described, and read that Hemingway described it as the most exciting ride of his life, but I still had no idea what it really entailed.

An English businessman needed a quick way down the hill, when he saw a trading ship pull into the harbour, so he invented this method. It consists of a large wicker chair that seats two people, with wooden rails fixed to the bottom, and a man with a rope and thick-soled shoes on either side. They sit you in this thing, push you off a very steep hill, down a road. A real road, with an occasional car coming the other way, not like a special bobsled track or anything.

The asphalt has been worn slick in many places from continuous usage, but it’s still bumpy and you still head for stuccoed walls at high speed, trusting that your “drivers” will steer you around the corner. Then all of a sudden, you’re at the bottom of the hill and there’s a 10-year-old trying to sell you a picture of yourself in said chair, screaming in terror. I almost wanted to go back up and do it all over again.

Then, we sailed to La Palma, our first stop in the Canary Islands. It’s a tiny island, with a small town with beachfront restaurants. We tried the local Canary Island specialty papas arrugadas con mojo. Mojo comes in green, made with coriander (cilantro), and red. Every local has their own recipe, a closely guarded secret, but the ingredients are chili peppers, olive oil and garlic. The papas (potatoes) are small, boiled in extremely salty water and then baked in their skins, and served with the mojo sauce.

Later, we met up with some of the crew, and on the recommendation we collected from some locals, jumped in a taxi to find the one nightclub on the island. It actually turned out to be a collection of bars and clubs, where everyone started dancing everywhere about 2am. Other than the continuous loop of the same songs over and over, it was a great night out.

Next island, La Gomera. We took a tour into the Garajonay National Park in the center of the island. It’s the only virgin Laurisilva forest left in Europe and is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. This is the forest that covered all of Europe before the last ice age, and survived only on these islands.

La Gomera, one of the least inhabited, was spared the deforestation of Tenerife. The laurel smells amazing, earthy and piney. The other attraction of La Gomera is the whistling language of the Guanche people who originally inhabited the island before the Spanish took over. The island is so mountainous that they developed the whistling as a way a communicating across ravines; it can be heard for 3 or 4 kilometres. It’s still practiced today, because a few of the older expert whistlers started teaching the school children, and now it’s a required course. It’s wonderful to see a tradition being kept alive like that.