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Germ of an Idea or What goes Around Comes Around

As I wrote earlier, my husband and I chose to go on a special trip to the Canary Islands, the destination prompted by my memories of a trip taken with my grandmother many years ago.

Laspalmaswriting56

vivgranship

My grandmother and I

As I wrote “The inspiration for this trip all started many years ago—to when I was an 8-year-old girl to be exact. At that time my grandmother took me from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to Cape Town by train and then by steamer ship to England, a trip that took 2 weeks. On the way there, and back, the steamer stopped in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. I was fascinated by the new culture and the new language, Spanish. Recently I was writing up my grandmother’s memoirs, which reminded me of that time again. So, when my husband suggested we go somewhere special for a “big” birthday, the Canary Islands were top of my list.”

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One of the Union Castle Line ships in Cape Town harbor in the 1950s

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I was a gypsy in the costume parade

The steamer ships were part of the Royal Mail service, run by the Union Castle Line, delivering mail between England and southern Africa. As far as I remember, my grandmother and I went to England on the Stirling Castle and returned to Cape Town on the Pretoria Castle. We lived on each ship for 2 weeks and I can vaguely remember some special events, like kids’ activities and a film evening. The biggest event was the “Crossing the Line Ceremony”, when the steamer crossed the equator. It was like a festival, with a costume competition, a party, plenty of shaving cream sprayed around, and lots of champagne for the adults.

Here a few pictures from that trip, very evocative pictures that got us dreaming.

 

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Eating on the Canary Islands

outside

Entrance to La Perla

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inside

The bar counter inside

La Perla Bar Restaurant, Garachico, Tenerife

On Jesus Diaz Martin, just a block off the main plaza, opposite the Quinta Roja Hotel.

The lady from our hotel recommended this the first night we were here in Garachico when we said we wanted to try local cuisine. We liked it so much that we returned another night.

It’s quite plain on the outside, but with pretty décor inside (lots of green plants and statues) and linen tablecloths, and doesn’t seem too touristy. There’s also a large bar, with wood trim. But, the main draw is the food—large servings of really tasty dishes. And the amazing thing is that it’s all produced from a tiny kitchen off to the side, run by just the owner and his wife and a helper.

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There’s the small kitchen where it all happens

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Attractive interior

All the wait staff are very pleasant and we managed fine even though we don’t speak much Spanish really and their English is limited. Luckily the menu is in English, Spanish and German.

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The wine made on the Canary Islands is actually very good

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Ham and melon

The first night we had sopa de pescado(fish soup—Rod) and Melon con Jamon(melon with ham—Viv) as starters, then Cherne plancha(seabass platter). Plus 2 bread rolls (as I mentioned earlier, on the islands you pay extra for bread), a large bottle of water and a bottle of Canarian rose wine, and the total was only 43 euros!

We also had our first experience with two of the famous Canarian sauces: they are called mojo saucesand are served with every meal, usually with the bread, but added to anything. The most common are the green sauce (mojo verde) and the red (mojo picon), which is much spicier. We also had the famous wrinkly potatoes (batata arrugado), served at almost every meal and a traditional Canarian food. These potatoes are boiled in their jackets in salted water and when tender are drained and left to dry over a low heat until they become wrinkled, hence their name.

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Fish dish, 2 sauces, and wrinkled potatoes

Rham

Rod M with ham and melon

Rprawns

Those are giant prawns!

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The mussels were delicious

The second time, we both had the melon and ham, as it was so good. Then I had Mejillones (mussels) and Rod had Lagostino(giant prawns), plus the wine, water and bread rolls, all for a total of only 50 euros.

Many of the other hotel guests also seem to come here and they were all very satisfied too. And plenty of locals come, so it must be a good place. Definitely recommended.

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On the first zig-zag on the road going to the right uphill, the statue is where the white umbrellas are at the roadside cafe

statueOn the edge of Garachico, on a bend in the road going up the hill out of town, we passed a small car park, with a viewpoint, roadside café and an intriguing statue. It’s called “Monument to Canarian Emigrants” and we wondered about its significance. It was erected in August 1990, and the sculptor is Fernando Garciarramos.

Well, it turns out this is a big part of the history of the islands.

One of the important stories about the Canary Islands is the history of migration out of the islands. Because the islands are a crossroads in the Atlantic, they soon developed a very important relation with the newly conquered territories across the Atlantic. Canarians, both of indigenous and European descent, were present on some of plaqueColumbus’ journeys.

The flow of people from the Canaries to the Americas was constant from the late 15th century to the middle of the 20th century. This was due mainly to the small size and poverty of the islands, and the lure of a better life. For example, in the early 1800s more than 18,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to the Americas. Most to Cuba, and fewer to Venezuela and Puerto Rico. There are also Canarian communities in Louisiana, Florida and Texas in the USA.

statue2Many Canarians in the Americans played important roles in the bid for independence from Spain in many of those countries. For example, leaders such as Francisco de Miranda (Venezuelan military leader) and Simón Bolívar were of Canarian ancestry, and the iconic leader of Cuban independence, José Martí, had a Canarian mother.

The last large migration of Canarians towards the Americas took place in the 1950s mainly to Venezuela. Since then, Canarians have started, for the first time, to migrate to Europe. Most settled in Spain, but a few small Canarian communities are in the UK, Germany and Sweden.

A small minority of Canarian emigrants and descendants have also returned to the Islands from the 1960s onwards. As living conditions worsened in Latin America and at the same time improved on the Islands with the boom of tourism, many American-born Canarian descendants applied for Spanish passports so they could return settle back in the land of their ancestors.

A really interesting part of the history of the islands, which is way more complex than we ever realized before coming here.

 

 

Canary Islands Part 2

firgasmaps

The town of Firgas on Gran Canaria has a sloping street with tiled maps and illustrations of all the Canary Islands, plus a relief model

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Firgas also has this lovely street lined with tiled benches and plaques, one for each of the island’s main towns.

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Many towns have outdoor cafes on or near the main square—note palm trees and balconies

Canary Islands: Part 2: Summary of islands

(I’ve put a lot of photos in this post, so please enjoy and scroll through).

We spent 10 days on the islands—a week on Tenerife and 3 days on Gran Canaria—so we were able to explore a fair bit. On both islands we stayed on, and visited, the north part of the island, rather than the south, as the south is a bit warmer, has more beaches and many big tourist resorts. We’ve always shunned resorts as we feel that’s not a good way to find out about local life and culture.

In some ways the two islands are very similar, but different in other ways so we’re happy we visited at least two of the 7 islands. If we ever revisit we’ll try to visit another one too, as well as return to Tenerife.

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Courtyard in garden of main cathedral of Las Palmas

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Mountain village view—the sea is never far away

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Main plaza in Garachico

(Here are some general observations. Later I’ll try to describe specific places and events.) It was interesting to be on an island with an island culture and the sea a constant presence. We enjoyed hearing Spanish (although we speak very little), and it was wonderful to see the architecture with a strong Spanish influence: towns and villages with a main plaza—the hub of local life—surrounded by a big church, usually with a belfry, and many government/official buildings. The plaza is usually pedestrianized, so kids can run around, throw balls or ride bikes, and adults/families sit around a central kiosk selling drinks and snacks, or at café tables spilling out onto the square or side streets.

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Main plaza in Garachico (other side)—our hotel is the burnt orange building on the right

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Main plaza in Buena Vista on Tenerife’s north coast

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Beautiful balconies

Most buildings are painted in bright colors—such as blue, yellow, orange, ochre, green—and many have beautiful wooden or wrought-iron balconies. Palm trees, pointsettias (in pots and as live shrubs), strelitzias and bougainvilleas bring a bright tropical touch, and outside the coastal towns and villages huge banana plantations are never far away.

bananas

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tenerife has many banana plantations

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Volcanic landscape on Tenerife

MtTeide

Mt Teide

All the islands are volcanic in origin but Tenerife is the one where this is probably the most obvious. Mt Teide dominates the island, and the north coast is marked by coves, inlets and rocky outcrops of craggy black rocks, against which the waves pound ceaselessly.

 

 

 

 

MtTeideR

Mt Teide National Park

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Garachico—note black volcanic rocks

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Garachico

We spent most time in Garachico on Tenerife and used it as our base, and would do so again. It’s on the north coast, almost at the west end of the main coastal road TF42. This pretty town sprawls along the black rocky waterfront and up the mountain close behind. Established in the 16th century by Genoese merchants, Garachico was once the most important port on the island. That ended in 1706 when the Volcan Negro erupted and lava buried the harbor and much of the town. The façade of the former Santa Ana church escaped, as did the Castillo de San Miguel on the waterfront. It now houses the Heritage Information Center.

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Dogs are prominent on the Canaries’ crest

Once we got our orientation here we loved it and even returned for a day when we were staying at El Sauzal, another town further east on the coast. Garachico is a lovely town of narrow cobblestone streets, attractive colored buildings, many with striking balconies, a large plaza for pedestrians only, little souvenir shops and many restaurants and bars. It’s bustling in the day, but casual and friendly, and much quieter at night. Our hotel, the Quinta Roja, was in a huge former mansion fronting onto the main square so we were right in the center of local life—a bike rally on a Saturday morning, church services and bells on Sunday, family voltas (slow promenade while chatting) every evening.

 

mtvillageview2

oratavo

Steep street in Oratavo, Tenerife 

As a tourist on the islands it would be almost impossible to visit without renting a car, as public buses, although plentiful, will only take you to certain places. So, we did. In Garachico, and all the other towns, parking is a big problem, so it’s best to find a public parking place and then just walk. In Garachico you can park all along the seafront or in a parking area right next to the sea (all free, but all very busy at weekends when many day-trippers come visiting). Driving on the islands is not too difficult, if you know where you’re going and have a good map (the one from the Tourist Office at Tenerife airport was excellent). However, the roads are some of the steepest we’ve ever driven, with some incredible switchbacks and hairpin bends. But, considering the mountainous terrain the road system is pretty good. It’s actually remarkable that many local buses go up these steep winding roads.

fishdish

mojospuds

Special Canadian sauces and wrinkly potatoes, served here with fish

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Las Palmas main cathedral

On both islands you have to pay extra for bread at a meal, but it’s very good bread. Seafood everywhere is wonderful—fresh and plentiful. It’s not recommended that people drink tap water, so everyone buys bottled water. In shops and supermarkets you can buy very large bottles (up to 8 liters, which is a bit over 2 gallons) very cheaply.

We flew from Tenerife to Gran Canaria and stayed in the main city of Las Palmas, which is way bigger and more built-up than we were expecting. The port is also huge—it’s always been an ocean crossroads and still is. For example we saw oil tankers from Venezuela. It’s a very cosmopolitan city—we saw many Muslims in special robes and African people. Sadly, we also saw quite a few homeless people.

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Casa Colon (Columbus’s House) in Old Las Palmas

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In the market

The best part of the city is Old Las Palmas, called Vegueta, which we went to by bus (1.40 euro each). It has a bustling covered produce market (the Mercado), old churches, mansions and squares, all in bright colors. We had fun visiting the main cathedral of the island and the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art housed in part of the cathedral buildings. Vegueta also has the Casa Colon and the Museum, mentioned in Part 1. Here we learned a lot about the history of the islands, archeological, pre-colonial and colonial. What’s really brought home is how they have been an important sea crossroads all along.

terorstreet

Pedestrianized street in Teror

We were able to get out of the city one day, and drove up to three gorgeous mountain villages (Arucas, Teror, and Firgas), all with their own special church and squares.

If you are ever able to, I’d definitely recommend the Canary Islands for a wonderful trip.

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Square in Old Las Palmas

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The town of Garachico on Tenerife Island. On the end of the spit of land, center left, you can see 2 white shapes. Those are the Yasuda sculpture

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Garachico from the other side. Now you see the arches more clearly

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The arches at the end of the spit

gatesKan Yasuda on the Canary Islands

We saw an exhibition of outdoor sculptures by Kan Yasuda in Sapporo, Japan a few years ago (see here https://ourvisitstojapan.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/talented-sculptor-kan-yasuda/ ), plus he has a permanent imposing piece in the JR Tower Complex in Sapporo.

gatesotherside

gateV

gatetoanother

Looked at from this angle, one can easily imagine the symbolism of one gate leading to another world/life

So, imagine our surprise when we saw an unusual outdoor installation in Garachico on Tenerife Island (Canary Islands) and discovered that it’s one by Kan Yasuda. It is two large white square arches/gateways, spaced apart and facing the sea pounding on the black volcanic rocks. One is open and the other divided, perhaps like a double doorway. This type of arch/gateway is frequently used by Yasuda and perhaps represents a key to another world/life.

These arches in Garachico are on a spit of land off the main public car park along the seafront, and we guess that they are strategically placed (as Yasuda always does) but I couldn’t find much information. The name is Monument Tensei Tenmoku (which apparently translates loosely as “door handles”). Garachico acquired them in 1999.

At night the town lights up the arches with changing colored lights, which gives a whole different atmosphere to them than during the day.

blue

green

purpleVery interesting and we enjoyed walking up to the arches, and looking at them as a frame for the tiny black rocky island just in the sea beyond.

Who would have thought to find these here on Tenerife? And yet, apparently Yasuda is very interested in Multiculturalism and bridging worlds, so then it is very fitting.

 

 

Recycling As Art

Garachico

The town of Garachico on the north coast of Tenerife Island. The sculpture is on one of those spits of volcanic rock 

Gheart

The heart at Garachico

Recycling can be beautiful

We’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to the Canary Islands, which I’ll start to cover in more detail from the next post. But, to start, I want to post about these unusual sculptures. As you know, we are fascinated with outdoor art, so these couldn’t fail to catch our attention.

These two interesting sculptures, which we discovered along the north coast of the island of Tenerife, were done in June 2017. One is on a pier-like spit of volcanic land in Garachico, and the other is in the square in front of the big church in Buenavista, the pretty town at the west end of the main road TF42. They are striking so we looked more closely. Each is a metal heart frame that’s being used as a recycling space for bottle tops and caps. What a great idea. They are basically the same, except the Buenavista one has a metal “B” shape opening for people to put plastic bags of caps, and the word Diversa (diverse or several) below.

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The heart at Buenavista

Bvchurch

Church square in Buenavista

signThe board for each is the same, and reads roughly (my Spanish isn’t the best!):

Conscience/Awareness

Educational Sculpture

The heart is symbol of goodness and solidarity.

When the artist holds out (his) hands,

One for help to yourself

And the other to everyone else.

The artist is Moises Afonso, who is a Tenerife sculptor, working largely with metal. He believes you can transform iron into anything you can imagine. He was born in Icod, on the north coast of Tenerife. His father was a blacksmith, so Alfonso grew up understanding metals. He is currently studying the creation of a School of Blacksmiths in the Canary Islands.

 

mapatlantic

Maps in the Casa Colon museum in Las Palmas

mapNatlantic

rock

Volcanic rocks along the north coast of Tenerife Island

The inspiration for this trip all started many years ago—to when I was an 8-year-old girl to be exact. At that time my grandmother took me from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to Cape Town by train and then by steamer ship to England, a trip that took 2 weeks. On the way there, and back, the steamer stopped in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands. I was fascinated by the new culture and the new language, Spanish. Recently I was writing up my grandmother’s memoirs, which reminded me of that time again. So, when my husband suggested we go somewhere special for a “big” birthday, the Canary Islands were top of my list.

And it was a great choice—new destination for us, a new culture, fascinating landscapes and mountain villages, and great food, especially seafood. We spent a week on Tenerife and 3 days on Las Palmas. I’ll cover those and various attractions and excursions in upcoming articles. But first, a brief introduction.

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A wonderful meal of cuttlefish, octopus and “wrinkly” potatoes

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Canarycoatofarms

Canary coat-of-arms

Part 1: Bit of History.

First, how did the islands get their name? Contrary to what people might think, they are not named after the little yellow bird, the canary. They got their name from a Latin term, Insula Canaria, which means Island of the Dogs. The early Romans who first visited these islands gave them this name. Some historians believe it was because the original residents worshipped dogs (and kept a lot of dogs), but others think that the dogs referred to were actually Monk Seals, which in Latin were translated as “sea dogs”. The canary bird is native to the Canary Islands, the Azores and Madeira, and got its name from the islands.

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Gran Canaria. The islands are all very mountainous

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Tenerife Island, with volcano Mt Teide in the center

RTeide

Rod M, with Mt Teide in the distance

This group of islands, just 62 miles off the southern coast of Morocco in Africa, has a long history and a fascinating mix of cultures. Because of their strategic location in the north Atlantic they’ve always been a crossroads. There are 7 main islands and all are volcanic in origin, emerging from the sea millions of years ago (the oldest between 16-20 million years and the newest 8-13 million years). Plato located the huge island of Atlantis here, which supposedly was destroyed by an earthquake and sank. This is probably just myth, but all the volcanic rocks and the volcano Mount Teide, on the island of Tenerife, attest to actual volcanic activity. Mount Teide is the third highest island volcano in the world, and Spain’s highest mountain.

Teide

Mt Teide National Park

Teidevolcanic

Much of Mt Teide National Park looks like a lunar landscape

patterns

Guanches pintaderas

Plutarch wrote about the islands in 82BC and the Romans called the islands Las Islas Afortunadas (the Fortunate Islands), presumably because of the good climate allowing for bountiful production of crops etc. Waves of peoples came from North Africa to settle and a thriving Guanche culture evolved. The name comes from “guan” meaning “man” and “che” meaning “white mountain”, referring to the snow-capped Mount Teide on Tenerife. According to Spanish historical records, the Guanches were tall, strongly-built and blue-eyed. Their society was based on a tribal structure, with a king or chieftain at the head. They worshipped Arbor, a powerful god who could bring rain and stop the flow of lava.

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One of the mummies in the Museo Canario

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Some of the pintadera patterns

Much of this very early history can be seen in the Museo Canario in Las Palmas (on Gran Canaria island). The collection includes religious statuettes, pottery, tools and weapon (from roughly-cut wood, stone and bone) and jewelry of the Guanches, as well as skulls, skeletons and mummies (which show a direct connection with Egypt). Noticeable are copies of paintings found in Galdar, a town on Gran Canaria where archeologists found the last vestiges of the Guanches, including stone houses and megalithic burials. There is also a good collection of pintaderas, which are terracotta stamps used for printing geometric patterns on cloths.

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Viv M outside a restaurant in Icod, Tenerife, with more modern folk costumes

Europeans learned of the islands when the Genoese explorer Lancerotto discovered them, giving his name to the island known today as Lanzarote. Spanish conquest of the islands began in the early 1400s and was complete in 1496 when Tenerife was conquered. Sea trade from the Far East, Africa and Europe all passed through here, so the islands had great strategic importance. An early example of the vital role the Canary Islands play in Atlantic shipping routes was when Christopher Columbus stayed on Gran Canaria in 1492 en route to his famous voyages that ended in discovering the New World. He used Las Palmas as a base when setting out for the west—what he thought were the Indies but were in fact the Americas.

 

colon

Front of Casa Colon

A lovely museum in Las Palmas is Casa Colon (Columbus House). It’s in an attractive Canary-style mansion in the oldest district of Las Palmas, built around indoor courtyards with beautiful wooden balconies. It was the palace of the first governors of the island and Columbus stayed there in 1492 while one of his ships was being repaired. Since 1952 it has been a museum, with models and artifacts relating to his voyages.

coloncourtyard

Courtyard in Casa Colon

modelship

Model of Columbus’s La Nina ship

Garachico

Garachico is a lovely town on the north coast of Tenerife

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Market in Las Palmas

Great prosperity came to the Canaries due to the booming overseas trade and sugar cane industry. But, the islands’ fortunes have fluctuated, affected by the dangers of pirates, eruptions by the volcanoes that damaged farmlands, and the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). General Franco seized control of the islands in 1936, which led to the Spanish Civil War. Since then, the economy depends mainly on agriculture (lots of bananas) and fishing; trade, boosted by their free-port status; and tourism. Since 1982 the Canaries have enjoyed a statute of autonomy under the Spanish constitution, with the cities of Santa Cruz on Tenerife, and Las Palmas on Gran Canaria sharing the status of capital.

bananas

Many huge banana plantations dot the islands

fishIt’s an amazing story and one that many people know very little about (including us until now). Because of the tourist industry they are fairly easy to get to from many cities in Europe and UK.

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The main plaza in Garachico—the Spanish influence is very obvious

 

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