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Let Sleeping Volcanoes Lie

July 26, 2007 By:
Silke Schmidt, JE Feature
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Mount Teide
The volcano is sleeping. With its last eruption on the slopes of Pico Viejo -- the old crater -- in 1798 and over a period of three months, Mount Teide has shown itself peaceful to the people living at its foot on Tenerife, one of Spain's Canary Islands, for more than 200 years now.

But the sleeping beauty -- visible from almost every part of the island -- is fuming. Little white puffs of smoke rise almost constantly from Mount Teide's conic peak, and at many places along the volcano's flanks, sulphur fumes give the rocky ground a yellowish tint and the surrounding air an unpleasant, egg-like smell.

Thousands of day-trippers visit the island's majestic, more than 12,000-foot-high mountain each year. Most choose to master the mountain by taking the "Téléférico," the bright-blue cable car. Hiking up -- maybe even all the way to the smoking summit -- may be a more intense experience, though.

The only way up Mount Teide leads through the Montaña Blanca -- the White Mountains. Even in spring and fall, the sun burns down mercilessly on the treeless slopes. Few plants dare grow on the gravelish pumice stone, which is glaring in bright white to orange hues.

As the path winds upward, the landscape changes: The white pumice gives way to darker rocks -- sharp-edged, rough lava stone, red or deep black in color.

The full grandeur of this volcanic landscape folds out after a little more than six hours of walking, looking down from Mount Teide on what has been Teide and Las Cañadas National Park since 1954.

It is a moon-like topography, with numbers of craters and little vegetation. And that fact easily explains why the Teide area has been a filming location for a number of famous movies.

In the 1980s, Master Yoda and his Jedi were guests there, for some scenes of the first "Star Wars" movies were filmed near Mount Teide. Watching "Planet of the Apes" might also lead to déjà-vu experiences, and for "The Ten Commandments," even the Holy Land was filmishly transferred to Tenerife.

As fascinating as Mount Teide may be, Tenerife has got more to offer. The island's greener side can be found in the north: Pine forests cover wide parts of the Anaga Mountains, which are popular with hikers but hardly overcrowded. Narrow mountain roads lead from the island's capital of Santa Cruz, from nearby La Laguna and smaller towns in the north up into the Anagas.

Thriving in Cave Houses
Numerous miradores -- or "viewpoints" -- are worth a stop. Close to Mirador Pico del Inglés ("Viewpoint of the English"), a road turns left to the tiny village of Las Carboneras, a great place to enjoy some local food and take a short walk over to Chinamada, the only spot on the island where most inhabitants still live in traditional cave houses.

The locals are especially friendly up in these remote parts of the island. Which may be quite irritating when it's a bunch of sturdy, mustached guys with shouldered guns who greet you with a broad smile. But no need to worry: Hunting rabbits, usually with the help of sleek Spanish greyhounds, is one of the local men's greatest hobbies in those deep-valleyed mountains.

In Chinamada, whitewashed houses are built right into the volcanic rock. The actual living rooms are located inside the mountain, where temperatures are cool in the summer and cozy during winter.

While Tenerife is a paradise for outdoor lovers and hikers, only few places along the island's coast are suitable for swimming: Sandy beaches are rare, and most of them -- with the exception of Playa de las Teresitas, slightly east of Santa Cruz -- have got black, volcanic sand.

It's usually mostly tourists who use the sea for swimming, anyway. Locals prefer fishing. At the natural pools of Garachico, where at each low tide numbers of fish get periodically trapped, even children try their luck, attracting fish with breadcrumbs, while their grown-up idols throw out the lines standing high on top of the rough rocks.

Tourists, once again, take out the bath towels: Snorkeling is quite a pleasure at Garachico's pools, which were formed during the eruption of Mount Teide in 1706, when lava crawled into the sea and then cooled. Schools of gold-colored fish surround snorkelers in one pool, while in another, dark blue and red ones might have gotten caught. Each tide brings another mix of species to the pools.

High above Garachico rises Mount Teide. Large parts of the village have been destroyed during the eruption that formed the pools. Sometimes, visitors strolling the streets of Garachico and the surrounding hills may discover the ruins of houses that were in the lava's way some 300 years ago.

Legend has it that Christopher Columbus saw Mount Teide erupting when he passed Tenerife on his voyage that led to the discovery of America. Later, it has been said, the Conquistadores made stops at the Canary Islands.

Whether that's true or not is hard to say. Only about 100 years after Columbus passed the islands, the first Jews arrived on Tenerife: By 1626, the city of La Laguna, at the foot of the Anaga Mountains, was home to a large community of Crypto-Jews, who had followed trade to the Canary Islands.

In 1604, peace was eventually achieved between Spain and England, which immensely increased the trade of sugar and wine from the archipelago -- a trade in which the "New Christians" of Lisbon or Bayonne, and also the Jews of Amsterdam, were much interested.

Eventually, some of the merchants who had put a lot of money into the trade took up residence in Tenerife and La Palma. This colony soon grew, due to a wave of anti-Semitism in Portugal. Today, only a few Jewish families live in Tenerife; the nearest synagogue is on the island of La Palma.

Mount Teide is one of about 15 volcanoes worldwide which, scientist say, have the potential of waking up within the next 50 years. In the meantime, the volcano is sleeping, blowing pretty little puffs of smoke.

Info to Go
Visitors preferring a quiet holiday should consider going in spring (April/May) or fall (September/October), when European school holidays are over and the temperatures in Tenerife are still very pleasant.
English is spoken in all hotels and at the tourist attractions of the island, as well as in all major towns. The native language, of course, is Spanish -- a Spanish that has got more in common with the Spanish that's spoken in Central and South America than with the language on the Spanish mainland.

 

For more information, go to: www.etenerife.com.

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