Sunday, 29 January 2017

La Gomera - Next stop America.....

Sound and Fury




La Gomera is made of cheese. Very hard cheese. I know it is hard because a bit of it broke off and hurt my car....  But more of that anon.




La Gomera is a Canary Island, with a particular claim to fame.  This was the last bit of land Christopher Columbus set foot on before he discovered what may eventually be known as the Dis-United States of Trumpica.  Here is his boat.....





Quite small isn't it?

La Gomera is also the home of a tribe of Clangers - at least it seems so, as the folk here have developed a language made up entirely of whistles.  The reason for this being that the island is so gullied and ravined that rather than make extremely tiresome journeys down and up to cross valleys of cheese to make conversation with their neighbours, the islanders whistle at each other.  So developed is this language, that even the emergency announcements on our ferry from Tenerife were given in Siblo, as it is called....






Or did I imagine that?


Anyway, our accommodation on La Gomera was basic:







Though it looked better from the back:







Up the hill above the port, or rather above what appears to be The Vale of Eden:








I find apples growing. Thorn Apple. AKA Datura stramonium, aka jimson weed, which gets its name from Jamestown Weed after an unfortunate incident in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1676, when British Soldiers inadvertently stewed up some of the plant and spent eleven days totally out of their tiny minds.....






Which brings to mind Benjy, in The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner:

I'll declare. Luster said. You fusses when you don't see them and you fusses when you does. Why can't you hush. Don't you reckon folks gets tired of listening to you all the time. Here. You dropped your jimson weed.  He picked it up and gave it back to me.  You needs a new one.  You 'bout wore that one out. We stood at the fence and watched them......

[The book is a little on the confusing side, but well worth a read....]







Perhaps this coloured my experience of the island?  

But I digress.....








I seem to be followed by birds.  

But I digress.







Our accommodation is in fact quite secure.  I had earlier mistaken the road from the harbour, and now we are settled.  This, I believe, is what is known as a paramour.....




Torre del Conde (1447)



But maybe I got that wrong?


Anyway, the island of La Gomera is just far enough from Tenerife to be able to see El Teide, but to be out of earshot of the hoi polloi on the esplanade at Los Cristianos....







In order to explore the island, I acquire an antique Seat Ibiza five door hatchback.  This vehicle has a clearance of approximately 25 centimetres.

I know this because the precipitous, tortuous roads are strewn with lumps of hard cheese that have fallen from the overhanging cliffs. Most of these, I can attest, are less than 25 centimetres in diameter. 

One rock, however, on the road just outside Vallehermoso, was more like 27 centimetres in height.....

I rang the office in San Sebastian. They told me to drive the next twenty five kilometres of tortuous, cheese-strewn, mountain roads to Valle Gran Rey, where they had a mechanic. The car sounded very sick, but, we did, eventually, make it..... Just before the mechanic closed for his traditional four hour lunch break.....






Lovely scenery on the way.






When you can see it.....







The mechanic, having checked that I had taken out full insurance, gives me an identical, but roadworthy, Seat Ibiza, and we return to the misty heights of the Parque Nacional de Garajonay, where busloads of day trippers marvel at the mists.....







This is a remarkable stretch of forest, swathed in condensation as warm breezes from Africa and the Mediterranean meet Atlantic trade winds.  These forests, largely made of evergreen laurels, represent what much of Europe was covered in before the ice ages, and it is now protected by World Heritage status.

There are also cheese trees up here.... Clangers whistle softly to each other. The Iron Chicken clanks around and there are Soup Dragons in the undergrowth....








Down on the south coast, at Playa de Santiago, near the island's only airport, the Avenida Maritima is closed....








The black volcanic beach is quiet.....







The petanca pitch is quiet.  Just a quartet of Germans passing the time.....







And on the rocky jetty a solitary venturer contemplates swimming to Trumpica in the wake of Christopher Columbus.






Though half way across the Atlantic he meets a shoal of fleeing barracuda who warn him of the Trumpfish.  So pretty soon he is back.....








To make the most of the cultural opportunities of the island, I spend the afternoon in a bar,







While Amanda explores the exotic local gardens,







And then it is time to say Adios! to the delicate charms of Playa de Santiago







To wind over the cheese mountains again, with their delicious prickly pears.....








To return to San Sebastian de la Gomera, where the locals are very pleased to see us and have arranged to celebrate our arrival.








Though, perhaps, since it is January 20th, they were going to celebrate anyway.  

I think the clue is in the name of the town.....








Though quite why these charming people should be so keen on one of Diocletian's imperial guardsmen (from Gaul) who was shot full of arrows as a punishment for being a Christian and then cudgelled to death (when it was discovered that he wasn't dead as he had been nursed after the shooting by the widow of St Catulus) and buried by the Appia Antica in Rome.....

I just don't know....

Nor, it would seem, do the stars of the show.....








I notice that the local people all have flat heads, with rims,









But I spot one lady, who must be Irish, who is shouting about the beans she has seen washed up on the west coast of Ireland, which brings me back to the story of Columbus and his expedition to discover the source of these beans....








But I digress.....


So we go and eat with the Clangers.....







Where, having ordered by whistling in Siblo Gomero, we have soup from the volcanic soup mines, followed by Blue String Pudding.....






Pass the jimson weed.....







[I may have got confused.  The reference to the whistling and the Clangers was supposed to link to the book, The Sound and the Furry.....]


Friday, 20 January 2017

Tenerife - An Explosive Canary

Teleférico to Heaven






At 3,717.98 metres above sea level, Pico del Teide is the highest point in Spain. The air is thin, so anyone with a heart or lung condition is advised to stay away.  My gynecologist (sic) didn't say a word, so I guess I'll live, though the Teleférico is heart-stopping enough, swinging 1,200 metres up in eight minutes....





At the top of the teleférico the views of the 17 kilometre wide caldera below are stunning, though cloud cover around the coastal fringe of the island obscures some of the scenery..... For example, the bits sticking up in the distance here are the peaks of neighbouring island La Gomera.....





Which, I guess, is fair enough if you compare it with this view of El Teide taken from the Armas ferry Volcán de Taburiente out of Los Cristianos....







Not surprisingly, the cable car doesn't quite get you to the very top of the hill, and, not surprisingly, we stick with the pink brigade resting on brittle lumps of lava beneath the peak....





And then, advised by our ticket not to spend more than one hour at this altitude - and foiled in our attempt to find a bar - we swing vertiginously back down to the car park and the cinders....






At this base level, though at still well over two thousand metres above sea level, there is plenty to explore, from the geological fantasy of El Roque Cinchado,






To gullied desert  landscapes which have been likened to the moon, as portrayed here in one of Martín y Sicilia's paintings (currently on display in La Laguna)..... 





Then further down the slopes we enter forests, with pine-scented air and refreshing walks,






Then you hit the cement level, where isolated villas and hamlets coagulate into sprawling villages, towns and coastal strip development....







Though the shoulders of this active volcano are still present, whether in the north, at Puerto de la Cruz,







Or in the west at Los Cristanos.






And, although there has not been a major eruption since 1909, the sulphurous fumes near the top suggest that it is by no means extinct (there's no such thing as an extinct volcano, Ed.) so one day there may be some spectacular fireworks.  In fact there was worrying seismic activity in 2003, and it is a cert that at some point in the future it will, like Vesuvius, blow, with the bonus of pyroclastic flows into the bargain. 

Somehow I don't think I will be buying a flat in these environs just now!



Monument to the Canary Island Emigrant, at Garachico

Anyway, some people don't seem too bothered....






And others probably wouldn't even notice a pyroclastic flow even if it was served with mojo.....








While for others it would at the least be something to talk about.....








Yup, there's more to Tenerife than volcanoes and cable cars.  There are the Pirámides de Güímar, for example, which inspired Thor Heyardahl, of Kontiki fame, to cross the Atlantic on Ra II, his reed boat.  Ra Ra, (as they might say....)







There are plenty of churches, of course: old ones with their elaborately decorated doll-like Virgins with Childs,






Or new ones, with all-singing, all-dancing Christs on orange walls,








And, occasionally, rebuilt ones after earthquakes, with decidedly modern style stained glasses.....



 




There are museums, indubitably, such as the Museo de Bellas Artes in Santa Cruz, where, perhaps predictably, the second floor with the Flemish Art (commemorating close ties between Flemish ports and the Canaries in the 17th century) is closed for work, and the statues on the first floor seem to be staging a sit-in....







Or there is a delightful museum of wine and honey, La Casa del Vino at El Sauzal, which boasts a splendid picture of Horatio Nelson signing a surrender document having failed to plunder Santa Cruz in 1797, but also claims that Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Shelley and Alexander von Humboldt all produced works which reflected the importance of the wines of Tenerife..... 

And, according to evidence posted here, Poet Laureate William Shakespeare was given a barrel of Tenerife Malmsey every year as part of his salary..... Well, travel certainly broadens the mind! I had been labouring under the impression that the first official Poet Laureate in England was John Dryden in 1668 (though Ben Jonson had been given a pension by James I in 1616....)  

How very confusing!  Depressing - almost.....





And then there is an extraordinary museum in the ex-Augustinian convent at La Laguna, where presently there is a stunning exhibition by local artists Martín y Sicilia.....




Also here I was taken back to my childhood with all the scientific clutter of the science labs my father inhabited. Here there are model steam engines, alembics, test tubes, measuring cylinders, and so on in memory of Blas Cabrera Felipe, the father of Spanish Physics.  Oooh, how I miss those prep rooms....?






Within the same complex, there is also a remarkable collection of stuffed animals, while round the corner there are some live ones too....



Amores perros



Apart from all this, there are bananas (once the main export of the island).....








Wild scenery: (this is looking toward El Teide from the Anaga Mountains in the north-east)....







The sea: (some pink folk think again about the combination of strong waves and jagged lava at Buenavista del Norte)......




And fish: (local artists at San Andrés promote their fishing industry).....







Perhaps.... (local fisherman at Puerto de la Cruz falls asleep on the job - as it were)....








Crumbling buildings: (the roof of a significant palazzo in La Orotava seems to be in need of some attention)....








Flowers: (a beautiful Hibiscus)....







People: (don't you just love the elbow patches?  They go so well with the  mirror shades)......




Sunshine:  (Ah yes, the ubiquitous Russians.  Here you see them at Poris de Abona.  They are doing so well these days.  Absolute Trumps!)......




And canaries......






Poor little bird. But, even if you feel caged in (I have a diploma in bird psychiatry), or if the ground begins to shiver and shake (my minor study was in the geophysics of terremotion), Tenerife is not a bad place after all.....








Especially if you've got a Cactus!








Adios!  (my prickly pair).....










Yellow bird
Up high in banana tree
Yellow bird
You sit all alone like me



The pictures by Martín y Sicilia are reproduced with the kind permission of the artists. 


martin & sicilia
(1974 y 1971, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, España)
Viven y trabajan en Madrid, Tenerife y Berlín


Recientemente ganadores del Premio “Brugal” Artistas Emergentes en su primera edición en la feria de ARCO, Madrid, 2007, José Martin y Javier Sicilia trabajan como dúo artístico desde 1995. Su obra es principalmente pictórica y fotográfica, las cuales en conjunto dan forma al proceso de su producción artística. Hacen una revisión histórica del arte a la vez que se autorretratan en sus obras, no como espectadores sino como protagonistas de las escenas que representan. La tradición de la pintura converge en sus piezas con las nuevas formas de comunicación visual, fotográfica, cinematográfica y publicitaria. En sus últimos trabajos la instalación se ha convertido en un medio importante para destacar el carácter teatral de las imágenes. Las temáticas recurrentes en sus piezas son la destrucción del bienestar social, los problemas que coexisten en Occidente, como la migración, la cultura de masas y la identidad ante nuevas realidades políticas