The Canary Islands: Not birds... dogs

May 6, 2019

May 3, 2019, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain — Yes, Spain. Though I was just 62 miles off the coast of southern Morocco, I was in Spain! Spain finally took over the Canary Islands in 1496, having made several forays there earlier: The Aristocratic Conquest attempted by nobles in the early 1400s... the Castilian Conquest attempted in the mid-1400s... and the ultimately successful Royal Conquest from 1478 till 1496.  

 

The 7 main and numerous smaller volcanic islands range from lush forest to cactus-filled desert... on the same island.

 

First glimpse of Santa Cruz, from my veranda

 

Lots of yachts

 

 

Due to its location off the coast of Africa — and the prevalent trade winds — this archipelago was a trading post between Europe and the Americas. Fleets of gallons would leave Europe and head south for the Canaries to catch the trade winds to take them west to the New World. There are microclimates, e.g., the northeasterly trade winds bring rain, which accounts for the lush greenery on the east sides the islands. Its atmospheric conditions are such that there are several astronomical observatories. 

 

If any of my photos look familiar, Tenerife was the location for Clash of the Titans, Fast and Furious 6, and one of the Jason Bourne movies — though I imagine these films were shot out in the rugged landscape. I didn’t get to that part.

 

A little history: The indigenous people of Tenerife were the Guanches, who DNA says might have been Berbers from Northern Africa, and who have been traced back to 200 B.C. Like the Egyptians, they mummified their dead. On the island with them at the time were sheep, deer — and dogs. Pliny the Elder wrote there was ‘a vast multitude of dogs of very large size.’ The Spanish arrived in the 15th century and saw the dogs, which the Guanches considered holy. So they named the archipelago Islas Canarias... from canis, the Latin for dog. The pretty little yellow birds came later and were named for the island — not the other way around. 

 

Along with the assorted conquistadors, other European traders and missionaries were early visitors — all headed for the New World. Today the Canarians are mostly Catholic. The islands became so wealthy from trade, they attracted pirates and privateers. The English had their eye on the place, and in 1797, Horatio Nelson led his British fleet against the Spanish — and gave up one of his arms.   

 

General Francisco Franco had been posted to the Canaries — to get him out of mainland Spain. Instead, in 1936, he took control of the islands and started the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Franco controlled Spain until his death in 1975. 

 

I was delighted to get off the ship into a part of Spain — even though it’s miles and miles south of Madrid. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which is capital of Tenerife (population 905,000) and co-capital of the entire archipelago (population 2.1 million), is a charming city along the coast and below the volcanic peak. At 12,000 feet, Mt. Tiede is the highest point in Spain and the third largest volcano in the world, measured from the ocean floor to its top. 

 

Over the years, many islanders emigrated to Venezuela and Cuba... but Latin Americans emigrated back here. So the culture and cuisine of the Canary Islands are a rich mix.

 

With a climate that is subtropical and ‘desertic,’ tourism is their main industry, though there is also much construction and tropical agriculture: bananas  and tobacco, plus other fruits, vegetables, grains and sugarcane. Beaches and the 4 national parks attract visitors. 

 

You know I’m a language maven: One of the islands, La Gomera, is famous for its ‘whistling language,’ called Sylbo, which I’d seen on Facebook years ago. Take a look and a listen on youtube — google ‘La Gomera + whistling language’ — it’s worth it! 

 

I was on a ‘Santa Cruz by Foot’ excursion with a young Canary Islands native, Javier, who is also a naturalist and environmentalist. So when one of our passengers spotted this bird, Javier looked him up. This is an Abubilla, or  upupa epops, aka a Eurasian Hoopoe, native to Europe, Asia and the northern half of Africa. The first photo is mine, without a telephoto. The second I stole off the net. It’s enough to make me a bird watcher. 

​ 

On our 3-hour jaunt around town: Plaza de España, the major gathering place of Santa Cruz...​

​Iglesia de San Francisco Asís,  originally a Franciscan convent...​

​Inglesia de la Concepción...​ there had been a ‘Festival of the Cross’ procession that morning through town.

​Teatro Guimerá, constructed in 1849, hosting a production of La Cubana...

La Noria is the street where the Murgas hang out in their colonial style houses. The secretive Murgas compete with one another at the annual pre-Lent Carnivals, writing and performing satirical songs. Our guide told us that the Canary Islands Carnival is second only to Rio’s.  ​Here’s the HQ of the Murga of the Mad Devils. 

A famous and beloved local performer from Carnivals past...​

​​You know me and architecture... The good:​

... the Bad:

​... and the Ugly. But the city is trying to maintain the old: The classic building has been bought by the government and is now the HQ of Amnesty International.​ The building on the right  — or what’s left of it — is ‘disponible,’ or ‘available.’ And ugly, in its current state.

​Unfortunate graffiti...​ though it could have been a lot worse.

Self-portrait, with hats... 

 

Flowers abound. Every available plot of dirt was planted with begonias, petunias, salvia... even this wall near the Plaza de España.

 

Though they’re only 62 miles west of that continent, Javier said Canarians have their backs to Africa — and their faces towards Europe and the Americas. It was a very pleasant place to visit, if only for an afternoon. 

 

Next stop: More España! #

 

 

 

 

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