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Archive for the ‘islands’ Category

A few years ago we were flying to San Juan, on our way to the island of Grenada. A lovely sunset inspired me to get poetic!

At sunset                                                     sunset

A rainbow band across the sky horizon.

We fly into the blue-indigo-violet band

Taking us to a magical place

Another place, another time.

The colors deepen,

Disappear.

We continue into the night.”

 

I remember ROY G BIV,             sunset3

That BIV band has my favorite colors

Beautiful.

Peaceful.”

 

“A treasured moment

To fly into the band,

Into my colors briefly

Before they fade and die for today

We leave a golden glow behind us

Where the sun was.”                                      sunset2

 

A Tanka:

We fly into the

Blue Indigo Violet band

Of sunset rainbow.

Treasured moment, becoming

One with our cosmos briefly.”

 

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Rtree

Rod M and El Drago trunk

tree

El Drago

signEl Drago Milenario, the Dragon Tree

In Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

This big old tree is advertised in all the guidebooks to Tenerife, so we decided we had to go and see it. It’s in a special park in Icod de los Vinos (Icod of the vines), a town not far along the coast from Garachico where we were staying. Parking is a huge problem as this is a big tourist attraction, and as I mentioned before there’s not a lot of parking space on the islands as there’s not a lot of flat land. So it’s best to follow the signs for the El Drago parking garage (not free).

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Square Andes de Lorenzo-Caceres

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El Drago and other smaller dragon trees in the park

We paid 3 euros each to get into the park (senior rate). You can see the tree from a pretty town square next to the park, the Square Andres de Lorenzo-Caceres around the Church of San Marcos, begun in the 16thcentury. But it’s worthwhile going into the actual park and walking in it a bit: you get closer to the tree and see many other trees and plants in the park.

Why is this tree one of the biggest tourist attractions of the island?

The El Drago (Dracaena draco) is supposedly the oldest tree of its kind in the world (it looked like some kind of euphorbia to us) but the actual age is disputed: some claiming that it’s up to 1,000 years old, but most experts say that’s very unlikely. It’s not a hardwood tree so it’s amazing that it’s that old anyway. It’s also the largest D.draco tree alive, partly because of its massive trunk formed by clusters of aerial roots that grew from the bases of the lowest branches and grew down to the soil.

Vtree

 

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A dragon tree with berries on Gran Canaria

 

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Municipal Park, Arucas, on Gran Canaria

The park has many other dragon trees, much smaller (some were especially planted to hopefully replace this old tree when it does finally die). Other parts of Tenerife, Gran Canaria and three of the other Canary Islands also have some these trees in various places, so they are emblematic of the islands. However, they are not as prolific as before and are actually on an endangered list in some places.

The Dragon Tree is one of the most unusual plants on the Canary Islands. These are actually sub-tropical tree-like plants that are native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Madeira and a part of western Morocco. They are, interestingly, a member of the asparagus family Asparagaceae! It has branches on the top, in a kind of umbrella shape, that end in tufts of spikey leaves. As Wikipedia says, “When young it has a single stem. At about 10–15 years of age the stem stops growing and produces a first flower spike with white, lily-like perfumed flowers, followed by coral berries. Soon a crown of terminal buds appears and the plant starts branching. Each branch grows for about 10–15 years and re-branches, so a mature plant has an umbrella-like habit. It grows slowly, requiring about ten years to reach 1.2 metres (4ft) in height but can grow much faster.”

berries

In Arucas

casadelvino

At Casa del Vino on Tenerife

oratavo

In Orotavo, Tenerife

Its red resin-like sap (known as “dragon’s blood”, el sange de drago) and its fruit were used in Roman times to make a medicinal powder, and it was used in pigments, paints and varnishes. The Guanches (original inhabitants of the Canaries) worshipped this tree and used the sap in their mummification process.

We were very happy that we visited this park to see this tree and learn something new about Nature. Around the islands we noticed many plaques, boards with emblems and/or names of places, and local flags that have the dragon tree on them in some form.

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Hotel San Roque in Garachico

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Crest on the square in Icod—with Guanches and the dragon tree

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viewto

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.

 

 

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placement

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.

 

 

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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.

octcuttle

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

teneriferelief

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.

mummy

One of the mummies in the Museo Canario

patternspic

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.

Vfolkcostumes

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

market

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.

Gplaza

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

 

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