A couple of travel writing friends were on a press trip on Tenerife recently to experience some of the ‘real Tenerife’. As well as Teide National Park they’ve been taken to one of our favourites spots on the island, remote Anaga, During a live broadcast for Lonely Planet Abigail King from Inside the Travel Lab mentioned the narrow terraces cut into the steep ravines.
Clearly agricultural terraces are commonplace around the world, but maybe not so much like the ones you find in places like Anaga on Tenerife and on some other Canary Islands.
When you see them for yourself, getting narrower and narrower as they climb up steep hillsides, it rams home just how difficult life on the islands must have been. I say must have been but that should be ‘still is’ for some local farmers. Whilst the majority of the terraces found around the Canary Islands have been abandoned, their owners (or children of farmers) having sought better paid, less difficult occupations in tourism, there are still terraces on Tenerife where you can see farmers tending them in a manner that has changed little over the centuries. It’s one of the reasons we call our walking routes in Anaga ‘Stepping Back in Time’.
The mention of Anaga’s terraces got me thinking about other links to the past which we’ve become so used to seeing that we barely register them. There are many remnants of the past to be found in the Tenerife countryside, here are six more.
They’re not sexy, or particularly pretty to look at, but you’ll find narrow canals all over the island, especially on walking routes in the south of Tenerife where water was scarce and, up until relatively recent times, had to be channelled in from more water rich areas. Quite a few of these still have water rushing and gurgling its way along them.
Connected with the above but more commonly found in northern parts where there’s historically always been more Canarios, are lavaderos. These communal washing areas are where local woman would meet to wash clothes. In a few places, such as the Rambla de Castro in Los Realejos, there was a hierarchy of water usage, with the local washerwoman only getting the water which had already passed through the grounds of some nobleman’s mansion. There is a nicely preserved example in Vilaflor for anyone who doesn’t want to (or can’t) walk far to see this snapshot of past life on Tenerife.
The foundation for many walking trails in all areas of Tenerife are the old trading roads (camino real) which linked village with village and the coast with the hills. Some date back to before the conquest. These are generally easy to spot when you’re on one as they consist of a clearly human-laid cobbles, usually more boulders than cobbles. The upside of these former trading routes is they create ready made paths, the downside is they can be tiring on the feet when you’ve been treading them for a couple of hours.
Every so often in the Tenerife hills you come across a large, distinct circle made from carefully laid stones bordered by a low stone barrier. These are called eras. I’ve been told about discussions people have had regarding what their purpose was, one suggestion was a pen for goats. They are threshing circles, where the wheat was separated from the chaff either by being beaten, stomped or by a special cart pulled by oxen being dragged over the wheat. You often find them next to merchant trails. The hills above the south and south west coast are particular good for era spotting. If you want to see how they actually worked, the Dia de la Trilla near Santiago del Teide in July is a small agricultural festival where wheat is threshed in a variety of ways including by frisky horses and oxen pulling threshing boards.
For a relatively small island there are a lot of religious shrines dotted around the countryside, a few connected with minor, and quite major, miracles including lava-stopping saints. There’s often a good story behind the existence of a shrine and they’re immaculately looked after. One time we wandered into a cave shrine on a hillside to find a group of women singing. It was, well, divine. Another time we hacked our way through overgrown brambles to another cave shrine which was the object of a pilgrimage that not many people know about. Whenever there’s any of these on our walking routes we include the story behind the shrine.
One of our favourite old constructions to be spotted around Tenerife is the lagar – a large, wooden wine press. There’s something quite beautiful about the design and, being made of wood, they blend in perfectly with their surroundings, complimenting rather than detracting from the landscape. Obviously wine growing country is the best place to see lagars but traditional towns are good hunting grounds as well – Santiago del Teide has a couple of the best examples. We have actually sipped grape juice freshly squeezed on one of these old presses, but that was on La Palma.
These are just a handful of some of the links to the past which can be found along Tenerife’s walking routes. We always like to leave some things out, so there are still plenty of surprises to be discovered when you take to the hills.