La Orotava

It’s been more than a year since my last post, partly because of the kind of travel I’ve been doing but mostly because other writing has occupied my time.  I’ve had a number of short trips around North America and one major three-month adventure in the Canary Islands.

As I reflect on that experience, the longest uninterrupted time away from home I’ve ever had, I’m flooded with fond memories.  Femi and I rented a house outside of La Orotava on the island of Tenerife, a beautiful sixteenth century Spanish town on the slopes of Mount Teide, an active volcano and the highest peak of Spain.  The house was relatively comfortable with a few idiosyncrasies and enough room for short-term guests.  Although we spent most of our time alone, we had friends and family join us to relieve any homesickness and add to our enjoyment.

After an initial period of settling in, we returned our car and relied on walking or taking the local buses to get around.  We developed a routine.  We would walk down to the main road in the morning past the local men chatting at the bus stop and up again, very steeply, past the church into the town centre.  At first, we had to stop along the way to catch our breath but after a couple of weeks, we were making the precipitous climb without difficulty.  After some experimentation, we chose a coffee shop on the corner opposite City Hall where we had our café con leche and a croissant.  We wandered and did our daily shopping, taking in the many festivals and parades along the main drag.  We felt quite superior to the hordes of tourists who arrived every day with their guides and crowded us locals off the narrow sidewalks.

We got to know many of the old buildings around town.  We loved the wood-panelled library with its old smells and the reading room where people browsed the newspapers from abroad.  I listened enthralled several times to the resounding organ recitals in the cathedral that almost lifted you off your feet in their crescendo.  We learned about volcanoes at the local museum and then walked among the different green, black and brown lavas up at the peak, although we hesitated to climb as our host suggested to see the spectacular sunset and descend in the dark.  We also saw how the original Guanches had been wiped out after the Spanish conquest by disease and removal from the lush agricultural land.

I had great intentions of painting, learning Spanish, and taking guitar lessons but the days and weeks went by so quickly that, with our travel around the island and spending time with guests, none of it materialized and I didn’t miss it.  We slowly relaxed, taking each day as it came, deciding in the moment whether to take the bus somewhere, what restaurant we hadn’t yet tried, what street we hadn’t been down that was worth exploring.  We did a couple of junkets to the other islands to take advantage of being there and enjoyed the variety of geological and architectural structures.

The aspect of our time there that has been the biggest treasure though, is that Femi and I became really good friends.  We had no one but ourselves for fairly long stretches, requiring a different kind of intimacy than we normally needed in the city with our friends and family around.  I wasn’t aware of this growing friendship at the time – we just worked things out as they arose – but in retrospect it added a new dimension that has deepened our relationship.

One of the discoveries that fuelled this change was a small hotel on a tiny side street I noticed one day as we walked by.  It had an interesting doorway and as I peaked in, the porter came and invited us in to see it.  The Alhambra, as it was called, faithfully reproduced many of the Spanish features of the original, enhanced with huge paintings by Spanish artist Antonio Ortazzo.  We spent Femi’s birthday weekend there, sitting in the various pubic rooms, enjoying the wonderful breakfasts, and revelling in the huge mosaic tiled bathroom.  We were delighted with ourselves for having found it and experienced being away from home for a couple of days as a special treat.

It is highly unlikely we will be back in the Canary Islands but I am grateful for having the opportunity to experience life there and to carry with me such lovely memories of our adventure.

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