The Canary Islands are Spain's tropical paradise and for Spaniards living in mainland Spain they are synonymous with holidays, as they are for the hundreds and thousands of foreign tourists who pack the islands' resorts all year round. Colonized and populated by Spaniards, they lie 1,150km off the coast of Africa. They are politically and administratively Spanish and yet culturally and geographically they have very much their own personality.
The Canaries today consist of seven islands divided, for administrative purposes, into two areas. The province of Las Palmas brings together the major island of Gran Canaria and the lesser ones of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife encompasses Tenerife and its satelite islands of la Gomera, La Palma and Hierro. Within the archipelago there is a variety so extreme that it is easiest to refer to it as a mini-continent. The isles share an eternal spring climate but they differ dramatically amongst each other. Exploring the Canaries you move from sub-tropical vegetation to volcanic semi-deserts, from verdant cliffs and gorges to sand dunes by the sea shore.
One wonders to this day when and how the ancients learnt about this little paradise which Herodotus called the Garden of Hesperides, Homer the Elysian Fields and Pliny the Fortunate isles. Modern contact with the Canaries began to develop in the Middle Ages as sailors from peninsular Spain arrived to plunder the isles of their orchids, which were used to make dye, and of their inhabitants, who were enslaved. Conquest in earnest only began with the Norman adventurer Jean de Bethencourt who, in 1402, claimed Lanzarote on behalf of his feudal lord. Henry III of Castile. In 1483, during the region of the Catholic Monarchs, Pedro de Vera established a base in Gran Canaria and in 1496 Alonso Fenández de Lugo won control of Tenerife. From then on colonization started in earnest.
The original inhabitants of the Canaries were a race known as the Guanches, a name derived from guan, meaning man or people, and achinch, meaning white mountain in an obvious reference to Tenerife's snow-capped Mount Teide. The natives lived a Stone Age existence of shepherding and very rudimentary agriculture. They buried their dead and, in the case of chieftains, mummified the, much like the ancient Egyptians. In Tenerife, Bencome, the mencey or leader of the tribe, fiercely resisted the conquistadors with his flint exes and slings, while in Gran Canaria the ruling guanarteme. Semidán, welcomed the European strangers and established truces.
The isles began to realize their potential for the Crown of Castile as the links developed with the New World. Right at the beginning of that awesome period Christopher Columbus, on his first voyage, rested at El Gomera before venturing into the unknown, westwards in search of the Indies. Before long the Canaries were to become the vital link in transatlantic crossings, a stepping stone between Europe, Africa and the American continent. Last century, as trade and travel increased, the first hotels began to open in Tenerife. Since then commerce and leisure have spread and never ceased developing throughout the archipelago which still retains the paradisiacal qualities that earned it such poetic appellations so many centuries ago.
Folklore and crafts
Popular songs and dances have a characteristic cadence, in which contributions from the Peninsula mingle with a native basis. An exotic, original feeling is conveyed by the expressive stances of the dancers, by the many coloured costumes, which are different on every island, by the rhythm of the melodies - some of which have airs of a certain languid slowness. The isa and the folias are the most popular songs and dances, apart from the malagueña of Andalusian origin, which has taken root in the Canaries. The typical musical instrument used for accompaniment is the timple, a kind of ukulele with a harmonious sound. Crafts mainly take the form of openwork and embroidery, which are done by Canary women with great skill and refined taste. It may be said that the first Canary greeting which the traveller receives upon his arrival in the islands are examples of this delicate work shown and on sale everywhere. Pottery also has a long tradition and is of the greatest interest, as is making baskets with palm leaves, reed and wicker. Delicate objects are also produced by carving wood.
The Canary Islands are a shopping paradise because there is no joy-cooling customs barrier. Shopping therefore is a pleasure as never before. Not even the tax-free shops at the airports can compete with prices in the Canaries. Liqueurs, tobacco, cameras and film cameras, tape recorders, transistor radios, watches, everything is cheaper than in their countries of origin. From Nigerian crocodile skin to ivory carved on the banks of the Ganges or real Chinese silk, the most curious, rarest objects can be found.
The islands are the ideal setting for the practice of all kinds of sports. There are many fans of underwater fishing, swimming and whatever other sports there are on the beach and at the swimming pools. The traveller has a thousand training possibilities at the tennis courts, trap-shooting, riding clubs and the magnificent golf courses with a perfect lawn on undulating terrain. There are also occasions to get to know local sports, such as cock fights, the game of sticks, a kind of fencing with two long poles, and the famous Canary catch as-catch-can of remote origin, which requires great skill and strength and is a spectacle of major interest. Another tradition is el salto del regatón or de la garrocha, practiced above all in the island of La Palma.
The Canary archipelago is connected with Europe, Africa, but especially with the Spanish peninsula, by numerous sea and air links.
The shortest distance between these islands and Africa is 115 Km. From Gran Canaria and Tenerife to the port of Cadiz, there are 680 and 705 miles, respectively, the equivalent of two days at sea. Direct flights by jet from Madrid take a little over two hours. Every island, with the exception of Gomera, has airports for national and international flights. For the moment, the airport on the island of El Hierro only receives national flights. There are numerous air and sea links between the different islands of the archipelago. Especially between Tenerife and Gran Canaria there are several air and sea links every day.
Canary cooking includes many dishes prepared with fish caught in large amounts along the coast. Fish is served with the famous papas arrugadas, potatoes boiled in salt water, and a hot sauce called mojo. Traditional dishes are watercress stew, the popular sancocho canario, made with salted fish and mojo, rabbit in salmorejo, a sauce consisting of water, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, sweet black pudding, etc. Banana and tomato, the main source of wealth of the islands, also occupy an important place in Canary cooking as do avocado pear and papaya fruit as well as gofio, a roasted mixture of wheat, maize or barley, which is eaten with certain dishes of the country instead of bread. Among the sweets, especially outstanding are tirijalas, bienmesabes, frangollo, bizcochos lustrados, turrones de melaza or gofio and pastry. Typical of the island of El Hierro are quesadillas and of La Palma rapaduras and marquesotes. Among the drinks produced in the islands, there are especially rum, rum-cum-honey, malmsey wine and the reds from Tacoronte.
A splendid complement of a Canary meal is the excellent, native tobacco, world-famous because of the quality and variety of its tastes, among which the typical cigars, exported to countries of all kinds, do deserve special mention.
The Canary Islands have a climate of their own, due in the
first place to their geographical position in the middle of the Atlantic,
near the African coast; secondly, because of their place in the path of the
trade winds, which are responsible for the peculiar character of their climate,
and thirdly, because of the variety of their geographical features, ie, the
more mountainous islands have more rain, such as Tenerife,
La Palma and Gran Canaria, and the less rugged ones, such as Fuerteventura
and Lanzarote, have less rain. Consequently, the mountains have a direct bearing
on the amount of rain that falls and not the proximity of the African continent,
as is commonly believed.
All the climatic indicators based on the sensation experienced by the human body when the values of temperature, humidity and wind speed are combined coincide in showing that the islands have the best possible conditions for eternal spring throughout the year.
The temperature variations between the different seasons are especially eye-catching: 6C (42.8F) between the warmest and the coldest month. The number of really good days varies from between 90 per cent in August and 50 per cent in January, and it is typical for them to be mild - between 18 and 24C (64.4 and 75.2F) -, with clean, fresh air, a rather high degree of humidity (80 per cent) and a partially clouded sky in places lying east of the mountains and close to them. The less agreeable days with a southern African wind only account for 7 per cent (26 days in the whole year). At the same time, its mountainous features produce temperature changes depending on the altitude so that even snow is found on some peaks.
The so-called Canary current contributes to the mild climate. It keeps the surface temperature of the sea below that corresponding to the latitude. The mean temperature of the sea water is 22 in the summer and 19 in the winter.
As a result of their pleasant spring with a mean temperature of 18C (64.4F) and their splendid summer with 22C (71.6F), the climate of these marvelous islands is unmatched and the feeling of well-being constant.