Tuesday, January 10, 2017

January 8, 2017: Circumnavigating Tenerife in a Mercedes Driven by a Ukrainian Who Used to Live in Denmark

Subtitle: Terrific Tenerife

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”
Maya Angelou, Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now   

After a mostly relaxing afternoon on a very windy Alcala beach and a nice dinner at Red Level hotel last night, I had arranged for our last day in Tenerife a tour with a company called Tenerife host. The best part about this tour is that they asked you what you were interested in and then tailor made it for you. I said, "Scenery and wine for Paul."  So at 10 AM, a Ukranian guy in a  Mercedes showed up with a big smile and a plan for today. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical. He said he had been living here 5 years and before that worked in Denmark . He promptly pronounced Denmark "boring" and then he and Paul made a plan for the day-- Circle the island and look at all the cool scenery we hadn't already seen and visit some wine sites .
Our guide and driver, Gregory
Another form of skepticism I had was that our tour  would be worthless, especially after visiting the most popular tourist spot in Spain, Mount Teide, already and  seeing Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje and all the crowds,  hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and go-karts, waterslides, and other Gatlinburg-esque features. I'm fine with Gatlinburg in Gatlinburg, but I dont' want it in Tenerife, thousands of miles from home.

So from the outset, let me say that I was pleasantly surprised by both my guide and the wonders of Tenerife that you don't see unless you remove yourself from the overtouristed beach scene.

We started by going to a nearby cliff with three large rock formations called Los Gigantes (the giants.) There are three viewpoints in the village, the main one on main road to towards Tamaimo another above the sports club and a third on a coastal path around the Hotel Barcel√≥. We saw them from two sides, so we felt very lucky. These cliffs rise about 1500 to 2500 feet out of the sea. If you have ever visited Dover, Eastbourne or Cliff of Mohr, you get some idea of how they look.

Los Gigantes from a northern vantage point

 And looking from the south shores:
This view is about 5 miles from where we were staying. We also saw them full frontal but distant from La Gomera.
One of the viewpoints had a lighthouse and I will include that photo because I am a lighthouse freak :)
Photos for freaks :)
From this lovely vantage, we proceeded down a very windy road that made "The Dragon" in Tennessee and North Carolina look tame. It was a serious engineering feat that it was built at all. This went through the mountains with abounding ocean vistas. The road went to a town called Masca, which was a hideout for pirates of the Atlantic at one point. If the guide thought that Denmark was boring, what about these pirates? They eventually converted to farming. Not that farming is a bore, but if you were once a swashbuckler...

Views from the Masca road...there was a postcard around every corner

The pirate conquers motion sickness to make hundreds of turn going around Tenerife on the Masca Road. Note EU funding and Spanish engineering to make the road behind him 

Masca is a village now of about 50 people. It is a popular launch point for a 3 hour downhill hike to the beach. A boat will pick you up there and take you to Los Cristianos...if you don't want to go back up
Masca village. Now a hiker's paradise and once a pirate refuge
Once we descended from Masca, we followed the Northwest coastline which is rugged  and not very heavily touristed. There were numerous valleys and even coastline with banana plantations and fincas (farms) for various vegetables and citrus  along the way.

Orchards and bananas all the way to the north beaches of Tenerife

In a very nondescript restaurant along the roadside, we had a nice light lunch of local cheeses and croquettes. The restaurant had a lovely tropical garden and was located next to a small banana grove. I had fun feeding the little dog who was more than happy to consume my leftovers.
The gardens at our lunch stop. Cacti seem to do well in all of the Canaries we have visited so far.

A recipient of our leftover cheese. He was living with the bananas

From here we ventured to the first capital of Tenerife, Garachico. Garachico and the surrounding area is arguably the least spoilt coastal area of Tenerife, and is in sharp contrast to the heavily touristed southern beach areas and has a real Spanish flavor.  This capital was destroyed in the 1706 by a volcanic eruption and the capital moved to La Laguna.  Most of the town was eventually rebuilt. We had a nice stroll down the streets which had a colonial feel with many wooden architectural features and noticeably older Spanish design. Parts of the town reminded us of old San Juan, Puerto Rico as well with the stucco and wood.

Wooden windows designed to keep strong sunlight out, but still provide ventilation

Wood balcony on stucco

Some streets reminded us of old town San Juan, PR

And the balconies were somewhat reminiscent of New Orleans

People must have been shorter when they built this door.

Me and my honey on the streets of Garachico

There is no beach worth mentioning; the coastline is essentially volcanic debris, but this does give the town its charm and a reason to visit it. Near the old port in Garachico, there has been considerable recent effort to landscape the shoreline. Many paths have been laid as crazy paving, and some natural rock pools made into swimming pools.

There has been some effort to make some "natural pools" along the beach. The water beyond is quite rough

Another feature of this town was the "world's oldest drago tree." I have since been told, that like the world's oldest continuously occupied human settlement, everyone essentially makes this claim. Gregory told us that there was "an older one" nearby but a storm destroyed it. However, when the scientists dated the tree it was 8000 years old. When I asked how old the current eldest tree was he said, "Between 500 and 5000 years. They won't know till it dies." So....maybe not the oldest. But still, a danged beautiful work of nature.

The world's "oldest" drago tree. After 500 years, who's counting anyway?

Something Paul found even more gorgeous is that there was a Museo de Malvasia--the local grape that most Canarian wine is made from. Garachico, prior to the eruption, was the center for exportation of Malmsey wine, which was very well regarded but the Brits of it's day. Amongst its devotees were the greats of English 101, such as Lord Byron and Keats. An interesting note is that William Shakespeare received Malmsey wine as a portion of his salary. We had a very nice wine tasting there in this family owned winery and museum. The dry white grape of the liston varietal was particularly tasty and we saw and tasted a beautiful rose as well. We weren't quite as drawn to their reds, but overall it was a fun tasting experience. Additonally, the showed us products, mostly cosmetic in nature that they manufactured from the grapeseeds.  They also had a nice tropical garden. We would recommend a stop here for anyone interested in wines or history or both.

The dry white from the Liston grape on the far left was really nice. We loved the color of the rose

The museum of malvasia

Family run. Very knowledgeable folks.

Paul tries out their novel wine opener. 
Since Gregory sensed Paul's eagerness at the Museo de Malvasia, our next stop was Icod. Housed there is a really fascinating museum of Canarian wines and a shop called Casa de Vino. This is right up there with Casa de Vinyl in Paul's world.  This museum was fascinating. The grapes used in Canary Islands are very far afield from most of the rest of the world. The way that they tend the grapes, maintain vines and even insure sufficient water is also unique. This museum explains it all to the interested wine connoisseur.

Canarian grape varietals. Nothing French in this room!

Paul and Gregory admire the many wines produced in Canary Islands

They also display some old wine making equipment. Pretty much all wine on the Canaries is a handmade production with natural fermentation. Aging wine here is pretty much unknown, although we did find one syrah, a rarity here, aged 8 months in oak.  The tasting room was very good and they had not just one winery, but tasting and selling wines from all over the Canaries. They also had a cheese and a honey tasting if you wished.

A large wine press at Casa De Vino

At this juncture, we began a race against sunset. I had asked to go to the Anaga Mountains in a very remote northeastern section of the island. The guide was game for anything, so off we went leaving quite a number of interesting historical sites in our wake. We regret that we did not have time for La Laguna, the second capital of Tenerife, nor the current one, Santa Cruz. But we did get a trip up some pretty rugged mountains and some gorgeous vistas. We even got out for a very short hike to get a feel for the trails on this less accessed area, in case we ever make it back.  We did manage an absolutely stunning sundown from on high.

Anaga Viewpoint

Laurisilva Forest found anywhere in the Canaries if the altitude reaches >2000 ft

We hope to explore these hikes in the Anaga in the future

The backside of the island from Anaga Mountains

Sunset with Mt. Teide in the background

Paul mentioned to Gregory as he got back into the car that we had an 8:30 dinner reservation at a restaurant at our hotel. Here we experienced a Nascar like return.  We did make it back at exactly 8:27 pm to the South of the island with a pale, white knuckled Paul holding fast to the passenger subway strap. It was scary. I've been on so many third world rides like this, I have learned to just sleep.  Having your eyes closed while driving 100mph can be a good thing.   We were delayed during a crash on the freeway and got a look at a search and rescue going on actively near Medano beach where we stayed two nights before and where wind and strong ocean currents abound.  Even though the Ukranian Dale Earnhardt equivalent was exceeding any normal speed limit frequently and tailgating like Bristol, TN raceway on a fast night, we arrived thankfully in one piece.

Mojitos, anyone?
And we did indeed enjoy our dinner of massively creative tapas at a restaurant called DUO. Every dish was artwork. Our only complaint is that it was a very slow night and it was very obvious that the restaurant staff wanted us to eat up and get up. But it didn't ruin the meal entirely.
Ummm...that is a mojito...seriously

And why not have 4 pats of butter?

Our appetizers. Thankfully only one bite each: green apple gazpacho, crab bite and a iberico ham croquette

Two bites of  tuna with accompaniment

Seafood coconut soup. Thank heaven none of these courses were more than a mouthful

Canaries apparently have good wild mushrooms. These are served on a toast point with potato  
hake in papaya 

Lamb and risotto. Even with tiny portions I was getting full by this point.

Kiwi sorbet, kiwi and cucumber

Flan ice cream with fancy decor

What a day! Completely around the island, albeit the last 75 minutes in the dark, but we did see port operations on a grand scale passing through Santa Cruz. Tenerife is not only a well known cruise , but also has a refinery and ships petroleum to Spain and South America. They are the center for numerous independent shipping companies and the host of containers and container ships bore witness to the importance of their geographic positioning not only in the time of Christopher Columbus, but also in the modern era.

Next I am going to post a few funny photos before signing out about this grand day in Tenerife, because we all need a laugh as least as much as we need information about worldwide vacation possibilities...Actually, even more than we need that...

That's a lot of crying

Not sure I want this as a vanity plate

Chips, Mars Bars...and Condoms. Maybe Mick Jagger hangs out here?

This small museum of the native Gaunches is located....in a parking garage. No use wasting space!

Not sure this is really what North African Berber life looked like pre-1400, but whatever. They tried, I reckon.

Fake snow for Christmas even in the tropics!

Today was about chasing sun-rays, beach waves, & sunsets. All things beautiful that give you peace are worth chasing. Everything else isn't.”

April May Montessero

Paul's Ponderings:   We had a great final day out in Tenerife....and it really opened our eyes to what we thought was mainly a tourist type island.   That stuff certainly exists, but there is so much more, particularly in the northeast forest area.   It's worth a return on its own (we hope)!   These islands are an amazing area and full of both hiking and culture that is quite unique and they are equally manageable due to their size.   Plus, the added attractions of wine and great food are thrown in.   All in all this was a very nice end to a great trip.....next up (in some order) are La Palma, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and El Hierro.   Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

January 7, 2017: Relocation to the Alcala Nation

Subtitle: Mellow at Melia Red Level

Gran Melia reception in Alcala, Tenerife

At hotels, you are an actress. Absolutely. You can do what you want. Go where you want. I love my home too. But I love to arrive in a hotel. They have books, chocolate, food. I put things in the little refrigerator. 
                                     Sonia Rykiel

So for Act III of Anniversary V, after leaving our lovely group in Medano, Tenerife, I booked a luxury class hotel on a beach for our last two days. Our goal for today was relaxation. And we found it at Gran Melia in Alcala. Alcala was once a tuna fishing village and cannery.  It is  still involved in fishing in Tenerife in a major capacity, but is better known for growing bananas and tomatoes at present.

We are here because of the Gran Melia Hotel. Paul and I trade year to year on who is responsible for the anniversary celebration. We have had some great times in five years in Costa Rica, Vero Beach, Bahamas, New Mexico and now, The Canary Islands. We did a week of fairly gruelling days hiking, and now we are on the tiny bit of luxury I feel he should experience before we go home.

This hotel is really one of those "rich people who want to be pampered" places. Frankly it is NOT my style, but since it is a gift, I am going with the flow. The grounds are immaculate and they tend to every need. For example, we have a "butler" and we are required to call him to "draw our bath" at the jacuzzi on our private deck. Believe me, even on MD wages I can only afford to keep the pirate here for about 2 nights, but we are having a blast. Today was relaxation to the max day. We checked in, walked around to check out the place, and then caught up on email, rest and "jacuzzi" time.

Lighting feature in our room

Christmas in the Lobby. It isn't over till Monday here.

This hotel is crazy gorgeous with many beautiful design features. Our room which is "red level"--- a separate adults only part of the hotel with additional luxury features like a butler.... what do you do with a butler????

Black sand volcanic beach at Melia Red Level. Lest you be too jealous, it was so windy no one was allowed in the sea.

The whole resort. Many pools and luxuries for all sorts of guests.

Our private terrace with sunning chairs and jacuzzi tub...which is filled only by "the butler."

A humongous infinity pool of sea water. All other pools are heated.

Our not too crappy room
After a week of challenging and gorgeous hikes on La Gomera, we were okay with a day of luxurious rest and very grateful for the privilege and the opportunity to do it. Our incredible unmerited favor is not lost on us.

So what to do after a walk around the property and a beautiful sunset and a day to do not a thing that is required?? Dinner at the luxury French restaurant, of course. There are 8 restaurants on the property with a range of food and service. 

Sunset in Alcala Tenerife 
Off to dinner at la Terraza. The amuse bouche was pulpo and potato with mojo. Very tiny. Very yum
A shared lobster salad. See description below. 
Despite the "wild shots" promised in this lobster salad, no one was injured.

Paul shows off his vegan "pasta" 

Incredibly tasty Canarian wine. Most of it has a very vegetably taste. This one was all fruit and amazing.

Berries and cream for dessert are berry, berry good.
We know we are amazingly fortunate to have this experience, even if only for two days before going  home. Tomorrow, we are going on a tour to hopefully the NONTOURIST parts of Tenerife. Stay tuned!

Luxury is anything that feels special. I mean, it can be a moment, it can be a walk on the beach, it could be a kiss from your child, or it could be a beautiful picture frame, a special fragrance. I think luxury doesn't necessarily have to mean expensive. 
                                                                                           Aerin Lauder

Paul admires the sunset on a windswept Tenerife
Paul's Ponderings: A VERY low key day today after a week of activity.   I guess we are entitled to do less than 10,000 steps for a day or so!   We moved out to our "Red Level" hotel today and had to loaf around a bit to get into it, so we had a nice lunch and sat on a sunny terrace for a while.   Not too bad, considering Knoxville is 7 degrees tonight.

Our main accomplishment was a nice dinner at the restaurant here at the resort, which is indicative of the fact that this is in fact a vacation!   We've enjoyed wines from the Canaries over the last couple of years, which are hard to find in the US, and we had a nice one at dinner tonight.   Overall a nice day out in an interesting and beautiful location.