I corrected a huge ommission in my island experience today. I confess that I’ve never spent more than ten minutes in the stunningly beautiful, little town of La Orotava in the north of the island. I’ve passed through it countless times on journeys from the south to other parts of the north, but never stopped. Partly that’s been circumstances, and partly because parking looks like a nightmare.
You know how there are always places you mean to visit, but they are so close (in this case a little over an hour) that you put it off? Well, I’ve been doing that for at least 14 years now in the case of La Orotava, and especially for the Corpus Crisit celebration, but, today, at last I made it……and how was I rewarded? It poured with rain all morning! Still, it was worth it, and left me itching to get back as soon as this awful weather lets up. The north of the island has far more rain than we do in the south, hence it’s pretty and green and bountiful, but, apparently, even by standards there, today was a huge bummer, but I get ahead of myself.
The reason to go today, specifically, was to see the amazing sand and floral carpets which are produced in celebration of Corpus Cristi. I can’t see any reason to wax lyrical when someone else has done it far better than I, so if you want a great description of the event, check out this link, which was written recently by an excellent local writer, in anticipation :
As well as in La Orotava, which is by far the most famous venue, carpets are laid in La Laguna and in Adeje, and certainly in other parts of Spain and the rest of the world. I actually thought this happened in San Antonio, Texas, a town which has many cultural links to the Canary Islands, but I can’t find any reference to it online.
So – Colleen and I set off at, well, not the crack of dawn, but early enough, hoping to at least get decent parking. There was a quite spectacular sunrise over the ocean as I walked poor Trixy, way earlier than the hour to which she has been accustomed of late, and I should have been warned then, as the brilliant, scarlet ball of sun rose into heavy and ominous clouds. The thing is that here, in the south, the day often starts with clouds, which disperse in the sun’s warmth, so it didn’t register. However, as we reached the outskirts of La Laguna Colleen puzzled over what was going on with her windscreen…..that’s how rare summer rain is to us “southerners”! Drizzle it was, and it became steadily heavier as we got closer to La Orotava. Colleen, like me, being a hardy northerner (of England) we decided not to be nesh, grabbed the first parking space we saw (happily Colleen was driving, because she obviously has the parking karma which I lack), and strode off up the hill, following the trail laid by the soggy ribbons and bunting which lined the streets, defying the elements.
We found a town decked out and waiting for the high point of its year, but oddly subdued. A lady watching the downpour from her shop doorway told us that it had been hot only yesterday. This kind of weather would be normal here in winter, but is most strange for June. As we got nearer to the town hall, where the main “carpet” of colored sand is located in the town square, the streets were closed off, and heaps of pine branches and cartons of petals waited to be used. Normally, work on the carpets would have been well under way by that time. We headed for the first floor balcony of the town hall, from where we could snap the main display, not to mention shelter from the rain for a while!
We elbowed our way through, and tried not to take too much time, the crowds were already building up, despite the rain.
Over the rooftops we could see the dome and towers of the church, looking more Moorish than Canarian, but then, so much Spanish architecture was influenced by the Moorish occupation. The bells rang out constantly as we surveyed the scene, and we could see the ringers in the bell tower (oops no close up lens again!). Beyond the church towers is only mist, no sky, no vista, just a weirdly light grey mist. Compare my picture to the one on the article above. We wandered around the nearby streets, where people were beginning to work on the carpets at last, and local dignitaries were being interviewed by tv and radio, but that “atmosphere of joy” which Andy Montgomery describes in the article was definitely missing. I suppose disappointment and frustration were more the order of the day, although there was a group of good old boys sitting on one street corner serenading San Isidro to put a stop to the rain. I hope he did, but I have a feeling not, from the way the rest of our day went.
La Orotava’s other claim to fame is La Casa de los Balcones. The most famous feature of Canarian architecture is the wooden balconies on many of the old houses, some beautifully carved, and exquisite examples can be seen in this old building, which also serves as a handicraft exhibit and shop. It used to be that you could see the wonderful tablecloths for which the island is also famous, being made here. Whether you still can I don’t know, because today it resembled a Disney World store in a thunderstorm, and as soon as we got in we looked for the exit! Maybe it isn’t always so busy and commercialized, they must be feeling the recession as we all do, and they have every right to take advantage of whatever business they can drum up. I will definitely try it again some day.
The rain was getting heavier, and we knew the time had come to go. Lucky for us there is always the thought that we could come again another year, but you had to feel sorry for the tourists, for whom it was maybe a once in a lifetime visit. We took refuge in a little bar and ordered delicious, thick hot chocolate and slices of fresh cake before we set off though. I took off my sodden cardigan and used it to dry off my hair, but although we were almost soaked to the skin we weren’t all that cold, the hot chocolate took care of any chills.
We had seen horrendous holdups on the autopista going in the other direction as we arrived, and since we were leaving far earlier than expected, we decided to drive back over the mountains, instead of using the main road, which snakes around the coast. It wasn’t long before we emerged from the clouds into bright sunshine. This place never fails to amaze me in this. I swear there is always somewhere on the island that the sun is shining!
As we climbed, Colleen pulled over, to show me a sight of which I’d heard, but never seen before, the famous Rosa de Piedra, or Stone Rose.
These stunning, flower-shaped rock patterns are formed as cooling, volcanic lava sets and cracks, and there are several throughout the island. I’d been told about them, but never seen one before, although, to be sure, this one is right alongside the road. What the authorities have done in recent years, though, is create pathways and access so that you can see sights like this in pleasant safety.
We set forth once more, welcoming the sun’s heat as it streamed through the car windows, but not before walking back a few feet to snap our first view of Mount Teide, as the mist swirled up through the forests and threatened still to spoil the vista.
As we drove, we swapped stories and experiences of the island and of Gran Canaria, where Colleen used to live. It made me realize what a whole lifetime of memories I have here, and how good the time has been. Colleen mentioned the Visitors’ Center, in the National Park, which I hadn’t visited in years and years, and supposed was the same as it was back then, when the kids were fairly young, so we decided to make a stop there too. How wrong I was! It is a modern, well cared for unit, with interactive information for children about volcanos, rock structures, flora and fauna, and an excellent video describing how the island rose from the Atlantic seabed, and subsequently was molded by more volcanic activity. …..at least one of the theories, because there is stilll some debate about it. Surrounding the Center is a really nicely laid out walk, immaculately pathed and stocked with local flora. This used to be a rugged, little walk, more natural to be sure, but now it is accessible to people who are not so spry, which is nice.
I have to say that I had to resist the urge to whoop when I saw these:
In the bright light they didn’t photograph too well, but these are the famous, blue tajinastes. I have understood them to be rare, and I’ve never seen them before, so I am assuming that they have been placed here specifically by the Cabildo as a showpiece of the gardens around the walk. The caldera and the roadsides were heavily laden with the more common, red variety, most of which have just about finished blooming now.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but when the tajinaste are finished I think summer has really come, the heat, the dryness and the parched landscapes we are more familiar with in the south. Mind you, you would have laughed at that statement had you been on our downward journey, which took us back into thick mist, where headlights loomed with scary suddeness out of a gloom, which resembled The Twilight Zone. It enveloped us all the way down the mountain, well past the point at which we would normally have emerged from it, and when we did, it was to leaden skies even down here on the coast.
It might sound odd to keep harping on about the variety you find in this archipelago, let alone on this one island, and all are so very different in landscape, weather and traditions, but even after so many years, that it still never fails to engage me always surprises me. Scorching sun in the caldera of a volcano, colorful traditions in one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever seen, the best hot chocolate in the world, mist rising through forests and a white knuckle drive back to the coast where I watched a stunning sunrise this morning, all this is just, well, normal here.
Like I keep saying, nowhere’s perfect, but it will do for now…….to go on observing, to go on seeking new experiences enjoying the journey.