From Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’: “The tenant of the Estancia Paso Roballos was a Canary Islander from Tenerife. He sat in a pink-washed kitchen, where a black clock hammered out the hours……………….. …………….Homesick and dreaming of lost vigour, the old man named the flowers, the trees, the farming methods and dances of his sunlit mountain in the sea.”
My – but Chatwin’s way with words was poetic and his early death a sad loss to the world; and my – but that old man’s dreaming speaks volumes for the magic these islands weave. “My sunlit mountain in the sea” – meandering the foothills of Tenerife’s west coast the other day it I couldn’t get it out of my head…..whatever parts of the book were, as some claim, a fiction, I haven’t the slightest doubt that the exile’s story is a true one.
It’s January, and, effectively Springtime in these islands, sometimes called “The Islands of Eternal Spring” for their generally balmy climate. It’s likely that we will have more rain before Summer comes, possibly snow on the high peaks, but all along the coast and on the lower hillsides spring blossoms and flowers are vibrant. I think the old Canary Islander in Patagonia would have loved it his year. We had around two years of very low rainfall, none in many places in the south of the island, but this Fall brought enough to revive the landscape, coat the parched vistas with greenery at last, and imbue our walk from Chirche to Arguayo, near Santiago del Teide, with a sense of the earth’s renewal, as well as present us with a feast for the eyes.
It always amazes me that folk actually live in Chirche, but according to figures I looked up around 224 people do. It perches on the heights above Guia de Isora, its streets seem almost vertical, and require a confident sense of balance, but I totally understand the attraction, it has a serenity which is palpable, even when we returned mid-afternoon to collect the car we’d left at the beginning of the walk it was utterly peaceful.
The walk took us along the western hillsides, well below the areas devasted by last year’s fires. Chirche lies at just over 2,800 ft above sea level, and Arguayo at a tad over 3,000, so there wasn’t too much uphill. We, basically, followed the water course, in part the old, cement channels and in part horrible, modern, plastic tubing – but what can you say? Islanders need their water, and Tenerife is lucky that at least the underground galleries mean that higher up it’s stored out of sight. There are places along this route where it emerges into small reservoirs which are very picturesque, the prettiest was fenced around so that I couldn’t photograph it, but this one was quite nice too.
Driving through Santiago del Teide the previous week, Cristina and I had noticed that the almond blossom was on the cusp of bloom, and that was what had determined our route this day. We were not disappointed. The almond trees were laden with fresh pink or white flowers, enough to provoke deep sighs of appreciation. But not only the almonds were celebrating spring. The fallow fields we passed were overflowing with wild lavender and margaritas, which were abundant enough to be a movie scene…..in fact Pilar and Cristina acted one out, but since Pilar is a bit internet-allergic the pix aren’t for publication.
Small plots (probably what the English would call allotments) heaved with produce of all sorts. The only sad and withered plantlife were the vines, some still shedding amber-colored leaves, and others cut back ready for the new season growth.
We passed through the villages of Chiguergue and Chio en route, exchanged greetings with farmers and villagers, but didn’t meet any more hikers. We stopped to admire neigboring island La Gomera, a sight I’ve run out of adjectives for….. this clear and balmy day it was like pale purple inkblot at the intersection of sky and ocean; other times you can pick out ridges on the mountains and even villages, depending on the visibility.
I noted things I wanted to return to check out – a communal bread oven, a small threshing circle. Shortly before Aguayo we were amused by the sight of what looked like a large bucket sliding down a zip line from the higher hillside, and then spotted the guy operating it, who told us that they were re-enforcing the concrete bases of the pylons higher up. Sad but necessary, electricity being vital to our lifestyles now, but these pylons were inaccessible by road and this time-proven method was the most practical way to transport materials and tools up there.
A few minutes after chatting with him we were in Arguayo, another sleepy village, another note to return to take a look at its cemetary, which looked beautiful and interesting. We’d left a car there in the early morning, and slid gratefully into the air conditioning.
Winding our way back to Chirche by road I remembered that quote again, and wondered what the old man would make of today’s Tenerife. Chatwin wrote “In Patagonia” in the early Seventies, which means that the old man likely left the islands early in the 20th century, when migration from the archipelgo was at its peak………but that’s a story for another day.