Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Canary Islands

After a busy week of informative seminars and fun social activities sponsored by Cornell Sailing for participants of Atlantic Odyssey 1 and 2 rallies, it was finally time to get out and about and see some of this island.  Hard to believe we had been here well over 2 weeks and had not yet ventured out and seen a thing!  

A tower in Teguise village just
off the town square

Virginia and Dennis on S/V Libertad had rented a car for a couple of days and kindly invited us to accompany them on a day of exploration.  As with previous land trips with them in mainland Spain and Morocco, we were happy to let them research and decide what would be best to see and where to go.  Like having our own personal tour guides!  

We knew nothing about the Canary Islands before sailing here, other than what is printed in our sailing guide for this archipelago.  There are 7 major islands with many small islands and rocks in this archipelago, and it lies west of the North African coast.  The ancient sedimentary geological formations show that the islands were once part of the African continent; however, their major features derive from more recent volcanic activity.  The last eruption was in 1971.

Traditional Canarian costumes
Maybe it is coincidental or maybe there is a geologic explanation that the islands are in almost perfect order of oldest to youngest, from east to west.  Lanzarote is the oldest island and it is the one situated closest to Africa.  That is where we have been since 2 Nov.  The next island westward is Fuerteventura, where we will be sailing tomorrow; and it is the next oldest island.  Next, both geographically westward and in age order, is Gran Canaria.  We will be sailing to Gran Canaria the day after tomorrow, after spending only 1 night at Fuerteventura.  There is only one marina on Fuerteventura which can accommodate a boat the size of BeBe.  There are no suitable anchorages. So we will not be seeing anything of Fuerteventura except as seen by sea.

The next island westward from Gran Canaria is Tenerife and also is the next in age.  We will sail to Tenerife on 5 December or 6 December and will remain there until 9 January when we will depart with the Atlantic Odyssey II en route to Martinique in the Caribbean.  The other islands west of Tenerife are La Gomera (home of a unique whistling language), La Palma (the island farthest west and north), and El Hierro (the island farthest west and south).  La Palma and El Hierro are almost due north/south of one another.  El Hierro is also the site of the most recent volcanic activity in this archipelago.

There are few permanent surface streams on these islands and water is scarce.  Areas of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are totally barren and the other islands are semi-desert, albeit very mountainous semi-desert.  Water is supplied by desalination today. Flora is a mix of southern European and African and agriculture is completely dependent on irrigation.  The chief interest of fauna lies in the birds.  There are more than 200 species, many unique to this archipelago.  

Note that the canary bird is named for the islands rather than vice versa. The islands are actually named for dogs, not birds.  Originally these islands were called the Fortunate Islands by Phoenician traders who came here to collect the very valuable purple dye called orchil. 

Typical African masks and junk for sale
The early inhabitants of all the islands have come to be called Guanches, although originally this was the name of the people of Tenerife only.  Their origins appear to be Cro-Magnon, Berber and Semite; although their practice of mummifying their dead and the roots of their language suggest an early Egyptian connection.  King Juba II of Mauritania (in the area now known as Morocco) sent an expedition to the Fortunate Islands in 60 B.C.  The troops discovered large dogs roaming the islands and brought 2 of them back to the king.  Today the native dogs of Canary Islands are much smaller.  The Latin name Insulae Canium -- The Islands of the Dogs -- was given to these islands by Pliny the Elder around 60 A.D. when he wrote about the expedition sent by King Juba II.  That name persists today as Islas Canarias.  How strange that these islands we associate with that special tiny yellow bird are really named for large dogs.

An African woman tending her stall.  She was
NOT selling the fake designer handbags.

Arabs arrived here to trade in 999 A.D.  Later, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the French, Genoese and Portuguese navigators were well received by the island inhabitants. They found the local people existed comfortably and were well supplied with the necessities of life, yet they had no knowledge of navigation; no boats; and existed with no inter-island communication.  This is the first island or group of islands we have visited where the local people were not sea-going.  At first I considered this very strange, until I realized that the reason for their lack of sea-going skills might be due to the fact that there were almost no trees on these islands from which to build boats!  

Never could get close enough to see the traditional
dances.  This photo was taken by holding camera
up over my head.

The Arab traders found inhabitants who primarily were cave dwellers (few trees with which to build houses?).  The island inhabitants still used tools and weapons made of small pieces of wood and bone with obsidian cutting edges.  Cooking utensils were of unfired clay and clothing was made from goatskin and vegetable fibers.  These islands appear to have skipped the Bronze Age entirely.  Metal objects and fired ceramics arrived here via traders; none were produced on these islands.

Fast forward to 1823 when the islands became a province of Spain.  In 1853 the islands were declared a free trade area, a move that greatly increased their prosperity.  In 1927 the 7 islands were split into 2 provinces.  Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera comprise the western province.  Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote comprise the eastern province.  There remains today an active competitiveness between these 2 provinces.  General Franco was the military governor of the islands in 1936 when he planned and then led the nationalist revolt which sparked the Spanish Civil War.  Black bows adorning the national flag were seen in Tenerife following Franco's death in 1975. Proof yet again that there are always at least 2 sides to any disagreement, especially in governing politics.

Since the 1960s tourism has played an important in the economy of the Canary Islands. 
The percentage of GNP derived from tourism is estimated at 65% to 70% and increasing.  It is easy to see why tourism is so popular here.  The climate is superb!  Humidity is low; surprising for islands.  It is much warmer than cold Britain and northern European countries. Yet during the hot summer months, these islands are significantly cooler than the very hot temperatures found in mainland Spain.  Kind of strange that people come south, closer to the equator, to enjoy cooler temperatures.  We have not seen a single biting insect in the month we have spent in the marina in Lanzarote.  This the first place we have visited anywhere in the world where there are no biting insects.  Maybe it is just because of the time of year that we are here, but we suspect it has to do with the lack of any standing water to encourage insect breeding.

Our day of exploring Lanzarote with Virginia and Dennis began with a drive to a Sunday open-air market in the town of Teguise.  We have visited so many of these type markets that they now all seem the same.  This was not a food type weekly market; this one is designated for arts and crafts and clothing.  A few of the stalls had an African influence; and, as always, included Nigerians selling fake designer handbags.  Those fake purses must be really popular because we have seen these for sale throughout the Med at open-air markets and on sidewalks.    
Flamenco street dancer

Bill and I saw nothing that peaked our interest; we just are not shoppers and not buyers of souvenirs.  But Virginia found several pieces of locally produced jewelry as gifts.  After all, Christmas is just around the corner.

There was a group dressed in traditional Canarian costumes.  They danced and played music.  Would have been more entertaining if there had not been such a crowd around them preventing others around the town square from seeing the performances.   Behind them there was a woman doing street performance of flamenco.  I enjoyed watching her much more than the glimpses of the traditional costumed dancers and musicians.

Street dancer doing
flamenco.  She was pretty

Moving on down the highway (a generous descriptive term for that narrow road) we wound our way northward to find one of the homes of César Manrique.  More about that in another posting soon.

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