When we start to plan our foreign jaunts we always set out with the greatest of intentions to do lots of thorough research. But it always becomes a little half baked and thus we often wake up on day 2 or 3 and genuinely have no real idea what we are going to do. This lackadaisical approach is not without its merits though. The feeling of discovering something without any pre-warning is rather special. I often imagine how it must feel to stumble upon some of the world’s truly great wonders completely unaware. Naivety is surely worthwhile when the prize is to be so overawed as to be left speechless.
It was because of our lack of research that we were rather blown away by the lush and dramatic Anaga mountain range at the north east tip of Tenerife.
For the second half of our week in Tenerife we based ourselves in the north of the island, in the small hillside town of Santa Ursula. The north of the island is noticeably greener than the south, with many palm trees and I think I even spotted some grass. The steepness of the hills up to Mount Teide are also much steeper in the north. So much so that as we drove around Santa Ursula looking for our hotel I became genuinely concerned that our hire car might flip over backwards.
In 2011 we visited Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, which claims to be the steepest residential street in the world. I have a message for the residents of Baldwin Street – You are living a lie my Hokey Pokey eating friends. Santa Ursula has a lot of residential streets that make yours look pretty mundane.
After some muffled screaming, whimpering and ragged gear changes involving more door handle grabbing, we eventually found our way to our hotel. For some reason we had yet again booked ourselves into a hotel that was all about horses, despite the fact we have no interest in horses. This place also had dogs, cats, chickens, pigeons and a massive turkey. We are not greatly interested in these either, though some of them taste nice. It was a little surreal. But our room was nice and airy and the view was even more impressive than from our last hotel.
As we were now in the north of the island we turned our attention to what the north has to offer. Jumping straight out of the pages of our guide book came the Anaga Mountains that had eluded me previously. We decided to go and walk there.
Before leaving the UK I had bought a new satnav, and in anticipation of 6 days driving in Tenerife I bought one with European maps. By this stage in our trip the new satnav had shown itself to be pretty useless at times. It reminded us of our satnav we bought in New Zealand in fact. We christened the New Zealand GPS with a special name, “ShatNav”. This new unit was justifiably christened “ShatNav 2”, and amongst other things it seemed to have no way of telling what was a one way street. Instead of taking us on the logical route to the mountains, Shatnav 2 took us round the motorway to the southern coast, through the busy Capital City of Santa Cruz de Tenerife with it’s endless traffic lights and then along the coast road.
Luckily, being a little lost in an exciting new place is rarely a disaster and we found ourselves at the picturesque beach of Playa de las Teresitas. This beach is striking in Tenerife for the simple fact that it looks like a beach. The natural sand colour in Tenerife is black, which looks strange and rather unappealing. Most beaches in Tenerife have black or dark grey sand. But at Teresitas the sand was shipped in from The Sahara Desert in the 1970s.
The beach looks rather contrived as a result, with perfectly positioned palm trees and still waters courtesy of a very prominent sea defense wall designed to stop the precious sand from washing away. But that was of no concern to us. It was clean, it had changing rooms and sun loungers, the water was clear and warm (ish) and most importantly the sun was shining. I later discovered that this is the beach that the locals use, and it is so far from the tourist resorts that few bother coming to see it. Which is lucky really as nowhere at Teresitas can you get a fry up or a schnitzel.
We spent a wonderful 3 hours sunbathing and swimming, before strolling along the beach to take in the view. This was the only time we spent on the beach during our trip.
From Teresitas we then drove up and into the mountains, which were immediately impressive. This was the most “white knuckle” of our drives. The steepness of the hills was such as to make it seem impossible that a road could be built, but despite this we eventually reached the junction at El Bailedero right in the middle of the range. Our plan was to turn west to the Anaga Mountains visitor center and walk from there. But it was raining so instead we continued northwards towards the coastal town of Roque de las Bodegas, having no idea what we would find.
The descent to Roque de las Bodegas, the only road route to the town, was steep, perilous and breathtaking. So when we eventually reached the bottom and pulled into town to see two big tour buses parked up outside the local restaurant we were a little confused. I could barely drive a Renault Megane down the steep switchbacks.
We parked up and walked out on to a rock outcrop to take photos. A girl was performing some sort of synchronised swimming routine in the rather sizable waves, which seemed a little strange. Then a couple more buses arrived. By now the town, which looked to have a population of about 50, was playing host to over 100 tourists.
Most annoying of all, we quite fancied some lunch but the tour parties, no doubt all exhausted by the terrifying act of getting there, were all guzzling wine in the restaurant to deaden their fear of the return journey. It was packed.
We pressed on a little further along the coast and found another empty restaurant. They offered us lunch for 30 Euros each, which ensured we left at speed and returned to the first restaurant to wait for the crowds to leave. Soon enough a table came free and we were presented with Canarian soup, fresh fish, wrinkly potatoes, a very impressive salad, more great fennel seed bread, a small jug of wine and a plate of cheese. It was delicious, very filling and only cost us 12 Euros each. If you are ever brave enough to venture this far north in Tenerife, be sure to eat at Bar Playa Casa Africa.
The climb back out of Roque de las Bodegas was tough. I found driving up the switchbacks more difficult due to the gear changing and door handle grabbing that was necessary. But what made it harder was the bloody tourist buses that amazingly were now trying to pass each other as they arrived and left. Quite how the elderly Germans on board could stand the perilous maneuvers is a mystery that can only be explained by the flagons of wine that we had seen Bar Casa Playa Africa delivering to the tables.
We patiently followed two buses as far as the junction where thankfully they continued south, presumably towards the cruise ships we had seen docked at Santa Cruz. We turned west and up onto the highest ridge of the mountain range. We stopped at a viewing point and admired the view to the south. I then got a bit curious and climbed the bank behind us and found myself teetering right on the top of the ridge. I had breathtaking views down at Roque de las Bodegas below, and in the other direction across the rugged green mountains towards the island of Gran Canaria, just visible in the distant clouds .
As you can see, the weather was now better so we made our way to the visitor center. We parked up, donned our walking boots, loaded our rucksack up with food and water and went into the visitor center to ask for information on the walking tracks.
The girl spoke no English so I had to ask in Spanish. It was now around 4pm so time was limited, and we agreed that a walk of 1 hours (una hora) was best so she sent us on the Path of the Senses. Twenty minutes later we had completed the walk and were back at the visitor center, laughing at the amount of food and water we had carried for what was essentially a children’s educational walk.
Though the walk was rather short it was interesting. Signs along the way encouraged us to imagine we were beetles, and then to touch and feel the trees, before eventually presenting us with the ultimate prize. Just check out that view!
We burned more calories laughing so decided to make that the end of our walking for the day. We finished at the view point near the visitor center where a local guy was sat folding palm leaves into shapes. He approached and handed me one. This happens all over the world. Somebody hands you something, you take it out of politeness and then they demand payment. I had no need for a folded up palm leaf so let him know with a polite “No gracias” and a smile. He threw his creation over the edge, and I concluded it must be some sort of throwing thing that would maybe float gracefully through the sky. I watched as it just fell into the bushes. As I turned back I saw him stomping away and realised he had flung his folded up leaf away in anger. I suspect we weren’t the first people to dismiss him that day. He walked away muttering insults that I had no chance of understanding.
Some other tourists were giggling, obviously enjoying the show. We decided it was best to leave as he did seem rather angry. As we walked past him he glared at me and muttered some more insults, whilst continuing to fold another palm leaf.
We continued west and eventually left the mountain range as we descended into La Laguna. This was another place that I knew nothing about but which was in fact superb.
San Cristobal de La Laguna, to give it it’s full name, is a small town with a delightfully quaint center. Admittedly the outer regions of the town looked a little naff, but who cares. The core of the town in the area of the plaza has a wonderfully relaxing feel.
We spent a good hour walking, taking in the interesting Canarian architecture as we toured the shopping streets. It was incredibly clean, though we knew that a huge street party was being held the next day so this maybe why.
Walking through Le Laguna reminded us of some of the South American towns we visited, and I have since learned that La Laguna was actually used as template for many of the new towns created in South America by the Spanish Conquistadors.
On our second night in Santa Teresa, our host Maria recommended that we eat at a local restaurant called Granchicha David, just down the road. We are not scared of a culinary adventure (much) so we went for it. Passing by on the way back to the hotel I went in to book a table. It wasn’t that sort of place though. It was so much like the impromptu eateries of South America. I just told them we would back at 8pm at Spanish. What I said probably translated a bit like this.
“Hello. We come to eat. 8. Yes? 2 peoples. Goodbye. See ya later!”
I am justifiably proud of my limited Spanish. That little bit there is twice as much as I picked up of French during 3 whole years of French at school.
We arrived at Garanchica David bang on 8 o’clock, and were relieved to discover that the place was busy with men and women. A lot of the overseas eateries that we visit often seem to be “men only” type establishments.
We ate and the waiter who I had spoken to/at earlier happily handed over an English menu. It made things a little easier, but not a lot easier. I forgot to take my Spanish dictionary with me that night.
Some of the words seemed familiar, especially the meat related words. I picked loads of them up in Argentina. So we ordered chicken, sausages, a bbq mystery meat and chips. We tried to ascertain from the waiter if this was too much, but he just smiled, nodded and laughed.
Things started badly. The first plate that arrived was the mystery meat and it looked like liver. Claire is appalled at the thought of offal. I hate liver, having endured it stoically as a child. Anything like that is now strictly off my eating agenda though following the horrific beef heart skewer in Peru.
It was a huge plate of meat in a dark sauce. Aside from a plate of chips, nothing else arrived though. As I sipped my Coke I could see the kitchen staff looking at us. I started to imagine that this was probably their most prized dish and that we were going to offend them, so in an act of heroism I wielded my fork and entered the world of offal once again.
It was unpleasant, though in all honesty it was probably great if you like that sort of thing. I prodded the pile a bit and noticed that some pieces of the liver were strangely shaped. I covered them back up so Claire didn’t see them. In all I managed about 5 pieces and gave up.
When the waiter came over with our sausages and chicken, and even more chips, I attempted to explain why we had barely touched the mound of liver. It probably sounded a bit like this.
“This (I pointed) we don’t eat. I not understand. It is very good. We don’t eat”.
Then I smiled. At times like this I think it would be easier to just speak no Spanish. But nevertheless he seemed happy and we tucked into the excellent sausages and chicken whilst battling the second tower of chips.
By the end of the meal we were stuffed. We left a large enough tip to hopefully erase any offense caused by the liver refusal, and then headed back to the hotel. My first act was to look in the Spanish dictionary and find out what the mystery meat was. The direct translation was….”entrails”. Which probably explains what the other bits and pieces were.
We absolutely loved Tenerife. It was nothing like we expected, and even less like we had been told. Yes, it has loads of beaches to sunbath on and plenty of bars to get trashed in. But it also had some spectacular sights which are easily accessible and endless opportunities for walkers and cyclist and anybody who loves the outdoors.
If we had to summarise Tenerife in a couple of words I guess we would say that it offers something to everybody, and it does everything well.