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Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation

A Tenerife Pilgrimage to Cueva del Hermano Pedro

St Peter de Betancourt was born on 19th March 1626 in Tenerife and died on 25th April 1667 in Guatemala. His humble beginnings, and heroic life, moves many from all faiths to visit this sacred place. 

St Peter de Betancourt was a Spanish saint and missionary in Guatemala. His short life was full of noble acts of kindness, that touched the hearts of so many in the Canary Islands and beyond. As a young boy he worked on his family’s farm in El Médano as a shepherd, his family were very poor and ended up having their farm taken by moneylenders to pay off some debt. The rest of the debt Peter had to repay by working for the moneylender until he finally was relieved of his service when he turned 23. He used his freedom to sail to Honduras then walked from there, nearly 500km to Guatemala City. In Guatemala City he became an apostle for African American slaves, promoting equal rights and supporting them with housing and health. St Peter gave alms to the poor, built small chapels in poor areas for children and, also converted a hut into a hospital for the poor. St Peter gave all he could to help those who had been abandoned as he empathised with their sufferings. His view of women was inspirational too, rather than condemn prostitutes in the city, he empowered them by guiding them towards a better life, finding them jobs, and in turn their dignity.

The Cave Pictured here was where St Peter took refuge in the cold winter nights working as a shepherd and upheld his daily worship. In respect of St Peter, this cave has now been made into a memorial and church. Mass is conducted here every Saturday. Its location is across the road from the beach along a convenient road through the desert land, about 5 minutes. Opposite the entrance of the cave, benches are placed to sit and meditate. Inside the cave, worshippers and observers place gifts all around and write prayers on notes in his memory.

His cave brought tears to the eyes of all the visitors, lighting candles on the altar, and remembering all the sacrifices St Peter made for the lives of others. Catholics of Tenerife believe St Peter is ‘The saviour of the island’ and by visiting the place and praying to God, prayers can be answered, and miracles can happen. No matter personal beliefs we can all learn a lot from St Peter’s life. The cave is a magical, emotional place for retreat and well worth a visit.

(Cueva Del Hermano Pedro (Cave of St Peter) is open 7 days a week and is free entry)

From ‘Landfill to Paradise’ at Palmetum Botanical Gardens

02/10/2020

When researching ‘Things to do in Tenerife’ before my visit (like a typical tourist) I came across a botanical garden in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is the capital city and beautiful as it is (a concrete paradise), I was curious where this botanical garden was located. To my surprise Palmetum is right on the coast of the city centre next to a car park and a short walk from the big chain stores! I browsed the website for more information and was pleasantly surprised to find out Palmetum was built by the community and transformed from a rubbish dump! With excitement and intrigue, I made the trip to Santa Cruz on a beautifully sunny day perfect for strolling gardens.

Behind the car park are the entrance gates and the visitor information centre. Inside you can buy your tickets (a reasonable €6 and €3 for locals) and buy souvenirs from the gift shop including locally produced Aloe vera skin care products great for soothing sunburnt skin. The lady that gave me a ticket and a map (€0.50) explained the routes I could take around the garden starting from the spiral staircase.

Walking along the bridge at the top of the staircase, I could see Banana trees across one side and the tops of palms on the other. I felt mixed emotions seeing the multi-story flats and car parks in the distance. I felt a sense of achievement that I found an oasis in amongst the hustle and bustle of city life, but also, I was sad knowing the whole island was once covered with fertile land.

The garden was finally open to the public in 2014 after over 20 years of hard work (see timeline). In 1983, the Landfill where the garden now stands was closed and €4 million was invested to clear all the waste, re-turf, and build paths. In 2007 the government-funded this project and local charitable organisations came together to finish the project. It’s a fantastic example of commitment to the community. Looking at the exotic garden myself in 2020 it’s difficult to imagine it being a smelly landfill 20 years prior.

I followed the map that took me around, but there were also helpful signs in English directing me to different continental palms and other plants from around the world. The walk around took 2hrs at a leisurely pace on flat ground so it’s suitable for most fitness levels. The variety of plants and trees was immense and fascinating. In the collection are around 3,000 species of plants and 600 species of Palm trees. Obviously, the garden specialises in Palm species, it’s in the name Palmetum, but also, they have a nice collection of non-Palm plants mainly for educational and conservation purposes.

Did you Know Palm trees are used in many ways, to make rattan, sugar, oil and for medicinal purposes?

Just a few of these are species of Aloe, cacti, Hibiscus, and succulents. With all that this little piece of paradise has to offer, I would recommend Palmetum to anyone interested in botany and gardening, but, also to those who just want a peaceful pretty place to relax away from the shops. If you are interested in learning more about the story of this garden please visit the Palmetum website or even better why not book a guided tour* for your visit and connect with the locals that look after this amazing place? you won’t be disappointed!

*((info@palmetumsantacruz.com)

Written by Charlotte Taylor

Experience 17th Century Tenerife at Casa de Los Balcones

16/10/2020

La Orotava has to be my favourite city in Tenerife. This picturesque town is situated north of the island and boasts charming, Canarian architecture some as early as the 17th century. Walking down the narrow-cobbled streets I travelled back in time, to Canarian life, centuries ago. The smell of coffee and baked goods enticed me to follow, leading to the little artisan coffee shops with outdoor seating, that are well used by local families and friends, soaking up the glorious sunshine. As you will see upon visiting, Orotava residents love to keep their city immaculate. I found colourful flower beds dotted all over the city and hand-painted signs directing me from a beautiful house to a beautiful house. One of the most magnificent houses, and the most popular for visitors, is La Casa de Los Balcones (house of Balconies). The House is well advertised, but if you do struggle to find your way, ask one of the friendly locals as they will proudly point out the crown jewels of their hometown.

The three-floor mansion was built in 1670 by the best Canarian carpenters of all time. The estate is owned by Mr. Carlos Schönfeldt Machado, an inspirational man who is dedicated to promoting traditional Canarian culture and has been doing, for the last 50 years.

On approaching the house, I was impressed by the thought that had gone into the design from the start. The heavy, dark pine contrasted the delicate floral design on the forged iron bars over the windows. The first room from the entrance is the gift shop and ticket desk. Here I purchased an audio guide (Highly recommended) in my chosen language for €1 and was directed to the ‘snail-like’ spiral staircase. Inside were a few perfectly preserved room exhibits; The Living quarters, Kitchen, Bathroom, and Dining room. The only room in the house that wasn’t in its original location was the bedroom, that’s furniture was moved to another, more accessible room. However, the audio guide explained the room is a replica of the bedroom with all the original furniture. Next, I went down the stairs to the wine press room. I was shocked at the size of the winepress, and I could imagine the large quantities of fruity Canarian wine that could be produced and enjoyed by the family and friends.

Following the wine cellar is the grand courtyard. This area was full of exotic plants relaxing water features and the pièce de résistance – The astounding central balcony.

The outdoor area was spectacular. I sat back and listened to the birds singing and the trickle of the water features, as the sun beamed down on the architectural masterpiece. The carving of this heartwood pine is so intricate, it’s no surprise why the locals are so proud to have this building open to the public for so long. After a long time of sitting in the courtyard, I made my way to the final room. The Craft studio. In this room, you can see all the traditional handmade products, made lovingly by local artists. Wicker basketry, lacemaking, pottery, and little dolls wearing old customary clothing are just a few of the things you’ll find in this room.

Final Thoughts- AMAZING! Not to be missed. It was a delight to visit and the audio guide was very informative. The museum will make anyone fall in love with the Canary Islands. You can buy tickets there or online at https://casa-balcones.com/en/ …. Enjoy.

Written by Charlotte Taylor

My inspiring volunteering journey

By Toria Hateley

When I volunteered for a couple of weeks at the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation  in the Canary Islands , I was excited to find out I could get involved with lots of local charities on the island of Tenerife – including spending time at a local dog shelter. I made the decision to spend some time on this beautiful island volunteering between placements as a first year student veterinary nurse.

During my time with the AWDF I learnt about the resident whales and dolphins, helped conduct and collect research out on the whale watching boats, joined campaigns against the captive dolphins at some of the biggest parks on the island and walked , groomed and helped with re homing of the local shelter dogs.

The Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation (AWdF) , is a UK Registered charity. It was founded to continue the work of Spanish environmental agency, Proyecto Ambiental Tenerife, some twenty years ago and runs the volunteer programme on the island’s whale watching boats, one of the largest whale watching centres in the world.  The AWdF runs cetacean educational awareness, research and conservation programmes. Its volunteers act as ‘Research Guides’ on the whale watching boats. The AWdF also works with the tourism industry in Tenerife, promoting cetacean conservation and promoting responsible whale watching and other eco-tourism opportunities on the island and works with local charities and animal shelters.

 When I was changing placements I desperately wanted to use the two week gap gaining some experience in a different part of the world, I wanted to use some of my student veterinary nurse skills in this but also wanted to experience something completely different to anything I had before. After weeks of searching I came across the AWDF website online and within half an hour of being inspired by their campaign I had booked a volunteering placement and flights to Tenerife.

As the plane was coming in to land at Tenerife South Airport I could see a sheet of blue ocean below us and a range of tall mountains in the distance with the sun creeping down behind them.  I was feeling exited and eager to get off the plane, one of the co-coordinators was waiting to take me back to headquarters to meet the rest of the team.  Lots of things were running through my head but I couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer size of the ocean below us, the creatures that inhabit it and the exiting time I had ahead working with them.

After driving up the windy roads of Arona we arrived at AWDF headquarters in the hills, known to the locals as “The Dolphin House”. The buildings were old, rustic and beautiful with a giant dolphin sculpture looking over the sea. I was shown to my room in the “back apartment” where I met my new roommates – who were also exited as it was their first day too!  I dumped my bag on the bed (bunk beds – think hostel not hotel) and headed into the main building for a tour. Everyone I met on this amazing journey was from all areas of the globe , it was amazing listening to everyone’s stories and backgrounds – we all have one thing in common , we love animals and were brought together to help them and the planet by this amazing foundation.

Over the weeks I learned about the different resident species of whale, dolphins and sharks on the island, how to track their co-ordinates, their behavior and how to take fin shots (this is how they identify the different families – called pods). The experienced volunteers could tell them all apart by the shape of their dorsal fin! The aim was to collect data to monitor their movements, their population and to see if the human traffic on the oceans were affecting them.

Going out on the boats was so exciting for me, I loved being out on the ocean and I can’t describe the ecstatic feeling that I felt when I saw my first bottlenose dolphin in its natural habitat; they were so playful with the boats! I saw Atlantic spotted dolphins, pilot whales, sea turtles and even a hammer head shark. We would spend each day, all day on the boats filling out data sheets of our encounters and taking fin shots to uploads on the data base back at the dolphin house. The AWDF also have a petition to try to ban single use plastic, so at the end of each trip we would collect signatures off the different tourists from around the world.  The majority of marine waste is single use plastic pollution, combines of lots of different household wastes from humans.  The AWDF organize beach cleanup campaigns around the island to collect and correctly recycle single use plastic and waste on the shores – I was lucky enough to get involved with one of these while I was volunteering with them.

When signing up to volunteer with the AWDF they encourage you to conduct a personal project to help the foundation. I decided to write a day to day blog to post to my peers on social media to highlight the work and encourage others to volunteer, as well as offering to help at the local dog shelter in Arona, the local village. The shelter was really close by the house so one of the coordinators would drop us of there for a few hours. The set up was high in the hills, housing around 30 dogs – all handed in as strays on the island. They would be vet checked, trained and re-homed if they were all signed off. They also had a cattery with some cats and kittens. There was lots of volunteers every day, sometimes the dogs would have already had two or three walks through the hills so we could spend time in the kennels grooming or keeping them company, the volunteers would sometimes be tourists with a love of dogs who just wanted to help , or locals who had been there for years.  When walking the dogs we would go in pairs with a dog each, usually I would choose my favorite dog to walk – Scar, a large cross breed with the biggest eyes and the waggiest tail.  We would walk them on a designated route up the sandy hills with water stops on the way. The re homing of the dogs was fairly difficult for the shelter however sometimes external charities aboard would re home them with some even coming to live with new families in the UK!

The  AWDF also encourage  volunteers to take part in other activities whilst with them such as surfing , diving , snorkeling , horse riding and hiking the third highest volcano in the world (El Teide).

I absolutely loved this experience and will definitely be returning whenever I next can, it has sparked a further love for traveling and learning for me. I believe this volunteering journey really helped inspire me as a student nurse because it opened my eyes to all the opportunities we gain from this journey. Understanding that learning about any animal is beneficial and knowing how important it is to look after our planet and everything living on it, as well as experiencing different cultures.

The main thing I learnt is how important it is to meet like minded people, from anywhere in the world and let them inspire you to be the best person, and student veterinary nurse, that you can possibly be!

Toria

Swimming with Dolphins

by Emma Chereskin

Today, we set our alarms for 5:45 in the morning.

Arming ourselves with coffee in water bottles, we set off for the village of Moro Peixe with Maxime, owner of Sao Tome’s Paradise Tours for a morning out on the water.

At the village, just 20 minutes north of the city, we were brought to the Turtle Museum and Hatchery. A part of Project Tato, the hatchery trains eco-guards to patrol the beaches looking for turtle nests. By bringing the eggs safely to the incubation center at the museum, the baby turtles have a much higher survival rate when they are born.

The eco-guards and museum are doing amazing work for the conservation of 7 different species of sea turtles. We cannot wait to further develop a relationship with Project Tato and the Turtle Museum and Hatchery and to have our future volunteers experience turtle hatching season first-hand.

After getting to see the incubation room for the turtle eggs, we headed out to sea to find some mammalian wildlife, namely cetaceans. We scanned the horizon looking for any splashing or a glimpse of a dorsal fin. And finally, seemingly out of nowhere, we were surrounded by around 200 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins. We watched in awe as they breached, lunged, surfed, and porpoised all around the boat.

As the boat slowed down, we were able to get in the water with them, maintaining a respectful distance. One at a time, we put on our snorkels, jumped in the water, and held on to the boat as we meandered behind the group. Holding on to our swim suits with our left hand and the boat with the right, we lowered our faces down to see the world below us. And it was magical.

The dolphins swam so gracefully through the water, some with calves trailing beside them. We could even hear the dolphins click and whistle as they called to one another! It was an amazing experience, to see these animals in the open sea, where they belong. While we were watching the dolphins, we almost forgot to hang on to the boat!

It was sadly time to leave the dolphins to their own devices. It is so important to us that we only work with organizations that value and observe strict whale watching guidelines. Throughout our excursion with Maxime and Paradise Tours today, we maintained a safe distance, never interacted with the dolphins directly, and left after 30 minutes of watching these beautiful creatures.

On our way back to shore, we were able to stop for a brief swim in the shallows of Cabras Island. The crystal clear water was amazingly refreshing. As we headed towards home we snacked on fried sliced breadfruit and sat in awe of the amazing morning we were given by the dolphins of Sao Tome and Maxime.

 

 

 

Sao Tome Botanical Gardens

by Emma Chereskin

Today we headed for Sao Tome’s Botanical Gardens at Bom Sucesso. Located high up in the mountains, it took a 2-hour long trek to get there from the city center. We were treated to a lovely road trip through villages and gorgeous rainforest, where we learned that wild pigs and goats abound on the island. The gardens are situated above the cloud bank, so we were surrounded by surreal mist as we toured the grounds.

Our guide led us around the gardens, pointing out different species of plants, some endemic, and describing their properties and uses. We were captivated by the beauty and colors of the plants. We learned which plants were good to make tea out of and which were used for medicine when you were sick. We even learned which plants were considered aphrodisiacs. One of the most interesting plants turned out to be the cinnamon tree. Cinnamon sticks come from the bark of the cinnamon tree and we were able to sniff the bark in its natural state before the drying process. So cool!

We eventually came to a small greenhouse with many hanging plant boxes. We had reached the orchid house! Our guide explained that there were many different species of orchids on the island, roughly half of which were endemic, meaning we could only see them here. The way they had planted the orchids in the hanging boxes was unlike anything we had ever seen. So beautiful!

A papaya tree was also featured on our tour and we learned that the bottom of the tree had large beautiful yellow flowers while the papaya fruit was located up at the very top of the tree. Who knew? We journeyed on to see huge elephant ear plants, a mangrove tree and even giant snails! The snails live in the jungles and make for a tasty snack in a pinch.

After the tour we were able to try some bananas that had just been cut down from a tree. We both agreed they were some of the best bananas we had ever had. The journey through the botanical gardens at Bom Sucesso was definitely worth the trek up into the cloud bank.

Sao Tome – First Day at Sea

by Emma Chereskin – Research Coordinator

After the 10 hour flight to Sao Tome, and after a couple of days of settling in, meeting some fabulous people and planning our schedule for the next three weeks; today was the first day we were able to get out on the water to see our humpback friends.

After a 2 hour trek along the eastern side of the island from Sao Tome city to Porto Alegre, we were greeted by beautiful beaches and a large number of hermit crabs.

Out on the water, the sea was quite rough, with whitecaps and huge swells that obscured our view of the horizon.

Our captain drove the boat around Rolas Island, a beautiful little volcanic paradise. As we took out the GPS, we watched the latitude get lower and lower until finally, we were at the equator!

We were fortunate enough to say that our trek took us all the way from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern.

Rounding Rolas Island we stopped the boat the submerge the hydrophone. We waited anxiously to hear the characteristic humpback song or whistles of dolphins, but alas the sea was silent.

We journeyed onwards with a brief pit stop at the docks on Rolas Island.

We were treated to views of a gorgeous beach with crystal clear water and were able to watch a fisherman swim home with his daily catch of octopus and red snapper.

We headed back to shore, unable to spot any whales. But a day out on the water is still better than a day spent on land.

We drove back to the city with salt drying on our skin and smiles on our faces.

So begins our whale watching season!

Here’s to better luck next time around.

Mount Teide – A tough yet rewarding challenge!

by Michael Panaretou

Mount Teide is the 3rd highest volcano on the planet and is located in the centre of Tenerife.

We started our ascent at around 0100 at the bottom of the Monta Blanca trail located just a couple kilometres up the road from the visitor centre and Mount Teide cable car.

At the bottom we quickly realised why the area was called a dark sky park as we were able to see hundreds if not thousands of stars. This was all possible as a result of a lack of light pollution in the surrounding area.

As we ascended up Mount Teide we saw views of all around the island, from the tourist areas of the south to the hills and mountains that make up the Volcanic landscape of the Island.

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As we climbed we began to feel the effects of the altitude. At around 3000m above sea level the lack of oxygen resulted in us feeling light headed and dizzy, because of this we had to take frequent breaks in an attempt to acclimatize which only slowed us down.

By around 5am we were nearing the peak and the temperature was quickly plummeting however due to us climbing up at a far greater speed than expected we had to stop for around half an hour.

During this half hour stop we were all exhausted and decided to lie down for a bit, however, due to a lack of sleep one out of the three of us managed to fall asleep, probably to surprise of many of the other hikers.

At around 0615 we started to notice that the sky was beginning to brighten up which was our indication to begin the final ascent to the top.

After powering up the final slope we had finally made it the peak of Teide.

The view was breathtaking. The feelings of the relief and accomplishment went abundantly clear at the top and almost helped to balance out the freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen.

We probably spent around an hour sitting on the peak and taking in our surroundings before eventually we decided it was time to begin our descent.

On the way down we walked down the same paths as on the way up but this time we were  actually able to see what was around us.

To our surprise the landscape was greatly varied with our initial surroundings being your typical volcanic landscape and as we got closer to the bottom the landscape resembled that of a desert.

By 1035 we had reached the bottom and our hike up and down Mount Teide was completed.

My Experience as an AWDF Volunteer

By Rhiannon Jordan

The Day Before:

As my flight was on final approach to Tenerife, I found myself mesmerised by the beauty of this volcanic island. In between black basalt rocks were white sandy beaches, and amongst the urban sprawl of Los Cristianos were rural pastures and fields. The most awe-inspiring feature was rising above the layer of clouds as the volcanic peak, Mt Teide.

It was even more beautiful and impressive once I was on ground level. As my taxi was driving up the mountainous road to Arona, I could see falcons soaring above on the thermals, with jagged rock formations surrounding the roads and, in the distance, a neighbouring island about a mile off the coast of Tenerife.

My hotel for the night was in a quiet street not too far from the bustling town centre of Arona. The hotel owners were very helpful, which for me as a first-time single traveller made the start of my week-long holiday easier, more relaxing and stress-free. The local dish I tried at the hotel bar was huevos estrallados (eggs with chorizo, serrano ham and fries). It was very tasty, and I enjoyed every mouthful of the food.

The town of Arona is a peaceful and safe neighbourhood, much unlike the busy tourist area of Los Cristianos. Even though on the first day of my holiday I stayed close to the hotel, I could tell that the local culture of Arona was that of a relaxed and friendly place.

As I laid down for the night, I was feeling excited, nervous and eager to start my week as a volunteer at the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation (AWDF).

 

Day 1:

My day started off with one of the Co-ordinators, Katrina, picking me up from the hotel I was staying at. It was only a five-minute walk to where I would be volunteering for the next week, which was a beautiful Spanish townhouse with a statue of a dolphin on the roof.

After dropping off my luggage at the adjacent apartment, I was given a tour of the facilities. As I wandered around, I noticed other volunteers cleaning up the bathrooms and kitchen. It was lovely to see how much they cared about the AWDF headquarters, and that the volunteers were keen to get their hands dirty whilst cleaning up.

I had my induction to the AWDF at 10am, where I, as well as other new volunteers, were introduced the organisation and what our roles would be during our time here, which depended on how long you would be staying for. Luke, another co-ordinator, was presenting the induction. I expressed a lot of enthusiasm for my week here, as I was excited to be given the opportunity to make a difference for the better of the world.

After the meeting, Katrina took us on a tour of Arona, so we could familiarise ourselves with the walk into the town centre and the facilities available in Arona. She told us where we could find the small supermarket, nearby ATM machines and the local pharmacy, and she pointed out the bus stop and bus number that goes to Los Cristianos.

From 3pm until 7pm, we were given free time to ourselves. I decided to spend some time exploring a bit of Arona, saying hello in Spanish to the locals. The supermarket had everything I needed to keep me by, including a 1.5 litre bottle of water for 60 cents. It was a quaint and lovely place for me to sit down and enjoy the views.

At 7pm, we were given our evening meal. We had a local resident, Teresa, cook dinner for us. She prepared two dishes; a traditional Spanish soup and a homemade spaghetti bolognese. It was tasty and filling, and I finished my dinner feeling satisfied and happy.

We had a final meeting at 8pm to find out the plans for the next day, which involved finding out who would be going whale-watching on the boats, and who would be staying at the house and be working on individual projects. Afterwards, we were free to go to our rooms or grab a coffee before bed.

So far, my time as an AWDF volunteer has been amazing; not only have I had supportive staff, whom were approachable and helpful, but also met other volunteers who share a similar interest in protecting the environment and saving endangered species.

I would highly recommend volunteering with the AWDF, and I very much look forward to continuing the rest of my week here in Arona and in Tenerife.

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