I’d heard of the Canary Islands, but if asked where in the world they are located, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I would not have known that these beautiful islands are off the west coast of Africa but belong to Spain. I don’t think this would have been a place ever to catch my radar were it not for cold and rainy weather making France seem a little less than desirable for travel the end of November. In search of warmth, sun and sand, we landed in Tenerife for a five-day getaway. A trip to the Canary Islands for Europeans is a bit like our vacations to Mexico although the Canary Islands are VERY affordable – cheap even. But the experience is not.
When we arrived at the airport we were bombarded with signs and pamphlets for tourist hot-spots, but the one that caught our attention was Siam Park – Trip Advisor proclaimed number one in Europe and second best water park in the world. A must see, must do for Max and Camille. According to the kids, this park had an impressive wave pool with surfable white capped rollers, a lazy river that took the rider through an aquarium where sharks and other big fish could think about eating the kids for dinner and the place was exceptionally beautiful. Camille was impressed by the plants, landscaping and the view from the side of the mountain. When describing it, she recalled how in the U.S. our water parks are just sort of “plopped” down whereas the Siam is nestled into the side of the mountain as if it had always been there.
While the kids played at the water park, Jeff rented a mountain bike and set off in an uphill trajectory that would last nearly five hours. He returned to our condo, Ona Sueno Azul, wiped out, for sure! He was excited to ride here as apparently many of the European professional bikers build muscle and lung capacity by biking up the steep hills up towards the giant El Teide Volcano at 5,000 to 7,000 feet. It sounds like these guys sleep in the thin air to acclimate. The weather in Tenerife is sunny and pleasant, but cloud cover near the summit at 10,000 feet provides rain water for the island. On this island you can sun and swim bikini clad and don a winter parka on top of the volcano all in one day.
Our visit to the top of El Teide brought back memories of Iceland. Traveling from sea level we passed through banana and papaya farms first, then entered scrub land with prickly pear and sagebrush. Another thousand feet up and we were in the lava flows and alpine layer where dry fallen pine needles over lava flow made the earth look burnt orange. Above the pines the finer lava flows gave way to black boulders and “mountains” of lava and weird rock formations. It’s an area that is desolate and other worldly like a Hollywood set for an extraterrestrial science fiction flick. Each of these distinct altitude zones gave way to unique flora and fauna, and left me wondering how humans could manage to survive let alone thrive in a place like this – beautiful as it is, but seemingly desolate.
To get to the top of El Teide we rented a car for the 50 kilometer trek that Jeff had biked the day before then took the cable car to the summit. We were told that it would be cold at the top, but did not realize that cold would mean below zero temps and even colder wind chills. We left Paris with shorts, t-shirts and sweatshirts – we needed snowmobile suits at the top! Being the minimalist traveler, I had only a pair of black sandals, thin easy-dry pants and a summer linen sweater. Within two minutes of reaching the top of the volcano, clouds came flying over heads on the heels of 40 mph winds, I was shaking violently and my toes began to turn blue! We took a few photos and came directly back down excited that the car would be hot from the sun beating down on it!
One of the reasons we love going to Mexico is because we enjoy their sense of hospitality. There is a kindness and easy-going nature about Mexican people that we appreciate. While Europeans have been mostly pleasant and kind, Americans in the Canary Islands are a novelty, so hospitality towards us extended past kindness to grand gestures of generosity. In the restaurant, Bombay Babu, the Pakistani owner was so excited to have Americans in his place that we were given a free bottle of wine! The food was EXCEPTIONAL, so each day in the Canaries, all we wanted to eat was Bombay Babu. We forced ourselves to try a couple of other restaurants, but went back to the generous hospitality our last night where we were showered again with free drinks and an appetizer. Overall, food here is unbelievable – the best of each world cuisine to make every traveling palate happy. This was the first place that had so many restaurant options that being vegetarian was easy and enjoyable for us. In most places being veg means we can’t enjoy the traditional food – in the Canary Islands typical food is fish.
Most of the food we ordered mild, but requested an Aloo with maximum heat – we like it hot, but this might have topped our heat tolerance levels. Jeff needed to take a few “cool down” breaks between bites! I think if this had been a buffet, Jeff would not have won!