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October 2020

Discovering Guanche Life at the Museum of Nature and Archaeology

27/10/2020

I couldn’t visit Tenerife without learning about the first people to inhabit the island before the Spanish settled there. Since the Pyramids of Guimar are currently closed due to Covid-19, the next best place to learn about the history of Guanches is the Museum of Nature and Archaeology. This museum is extensive and takes a couple of hours to walk around. At the entrance of the museum are the ticket office (€5 non-resident) and a small gift shop. The staff were approachable and showed me how to use the online audio tour in English. The Audio guide, that I opened on my mobile, was basic, so I would highly recommend purchasing the book ‘The Guanches, survivors and their descendants’ as this book gave me all the information I needed to follow along with the archaeology exhibition.

Who are The Guanches?

There were two races of Guanches; Cro-Magnon and Mediterranean, and unlike common belief, they lived across the Canary Islands, not just Tenerife. However, since they had no forms of communication overseas, they had to be inventive and were very intelligent to survive and adapt to their environment. This is a brief overview of what I have learned about the Guanches.   

Home

They liked to live in the caves as little construction was required. Where there were no caves, the homes they built for themselves were usually like huts, made with straw or leather roofs and stone. They made beds from dried grass and blankets from animal skin.

Model of Guanche homes in caves*

Food

The diet of the Guanches was simple and wholesome. Barley, legumes, berries, local fruit, meat, cheese, and (wheat) porridge were often on the menu. They also ate gofio (Canarian flour made from roasted grains) in various dishes. This was believed to give them energy for the physical demands of daily life. They weren’t known to drink wine, but they did have a drink made from molasses that they believed had magical properties.

Hand Mill to make Gofio

Crafts and Activities

The Guanches were excellent potters. Throughout the museum are many decorative items of pottery. The garments they made were well made, considering they were using fish bones for needles! They were made from goat skins that would be good to keep them warm on cold nights (even Tenerife gets cold nights). They also used art to communicate this was shown by the carvings that were found inside the caves and on rocks from the Guanches.

 Weapons and Tools

Being mainly peaceful people, the weapons seen in the museum are mostly for hunting for food and defence. I could see from the collection that the Guanches were resourceful people. Knives were made from a hard stone called obsidian (formed from cooled lava). Spears were carved from wood and sharp stones (Tabonas) were used in conflict.

Morals

The Guanches had high morals for their time, preferring a quiet life upholding their religious beliefs. They didn’t have a place of worship like we see today, but they made fertility Idols out of stone and clay to worship and ask for good health and many offspring.

Burial

Guanche people had elaborate ways of burying the dead such as preservation using lard, rock dust, and various herbs and wrapping the corpse in fine leather and fur. They dried out bodies in the sun, then they were buried in caves. It is believed the more layers that covered the corpse, the more respected the person was in society.

So, what did I take away from this museum? The Guanches are the ancient civilisation in the Canary Islands. They made tools out of stone, weapons out of bones, and clothing out of leather and fur. I assumed, being ancient civilians, their lifestyle would be basic, but, interestingly, the Guanches knew many crafts and were more emotionally mature than I had realised. The museum’s collection was large, but as they said in the audio guide, most of the remains of Guanche civilisation are still owned by people with private collections. There’s much more to I could write about what I learned from the museum but cleverly I was still left wanting to learn more. Hopefully, with time further private collections will be donated to the museum, because this definitely is an intriguing part of Canarian history.

Information was sourced from the ‘Museum of Nature and Archaeology, Santa Cruz’ and also from the book ‘The Guanches, Survivors and their Descendants, by Jose Luis Concepcion- 22nd edition’. Photo of Guanche homes taken from https://clubcanary.com/en/guanches-in-tenerife.

Written by Charlotte Taylor

Shakespeare, Pirates and a Glass of Red in the Evening

23/10/2020

A crisp cool glass of white wine (or red if you prefer) is a perfect way to end a day of roasting in the sun here in Tenerife. There is no better place to buy local Spanish wine than Casa del Vino (House of wine) in El Suazal.

I visited the museum one hot weekend and took advantage of both the wine and the new honey museum, followed by a wine tasting session. The building at Casa del Vino was originally an old country house “Hacienda de san Simon” (Estate of St Simon) to use for farming and food production but was then sold to the council in 1959. The wine museum was small but packed with history. Signs were nicely arranged around the room like a timeline of firstly the history of winemaking in Tenerife but also the process of making wine. I was impressed by the amount of detail given and the translations in both English and German, the museum obviously attracts many tourists.

Here are a few interesting facts I learned about wine history and production in Tenerife….

  1. Because Tenerife has many mountains and orchards in the steep terrain, farm work is mainly still done manually.
  2. Vines can adapt to many terrains and can live hundreds of years.
  3. Wine was introduced to Tenerife by Spanish and Portuguese settlers; however, history tells us the Guanches (Aboriginal people of Tenerife) used to make and consume a drink made from molasses and berries of the Mocan tree, that was said to have magical properties.
  4. Pirates came to Tenerife with the sole purpose of stealing the wine, and in doing so, spread the word about Canarian wine around the world.
  5. William Shakespeare was partly paid for his work with a barrel of Tenerife Malmsey wine each year. Perhaps this sweet wine even inspired some of the writings we still love today.

After I had looked around the wine museum, I was directed to the next exhibition about Honey production. This display is fairly recent and isn’t translated into English, but it still was still a nice addition to my trip. The best part about the addition of a honey exhibition, in my opinion, is being able to purchase the local honey products at the gift shop.

After seeing both exhibitions I sat down and relaxed as the tour guide and wine connoisseur prepared the tasting session. Boards of cheese fruits and bread were lovingly arranged on the tables. Maria was very approachable and knowledgeable so when I admitted I knew very little about wine, it didn’t faze her she just smiled and taught me all the basics. Maria gave us four wines to taste; A dry white wine or sweet white (I chose the sweet wine), A rose wine, and a red wine. Maria had told us they change the wine selection each visit so when tourists visit a second time, they can try more of the wine Tenerife has to offer. I thought that was a thoughtful idea. The wines were all delicious but the Red wine ‘El Ancon’ from Ycoden-Daute-Isora, was my favourite. It had an unusual herbal taste like the smell as you walk into a health food shop. I purchased a bottle from the gift shop after the session.

The Gift shop sold a wide variety of Canarian food. From honey to aloe cosmetics, banana liquors to mojo sauce, and fresh goats’ cheese, I could see an abundance of homemade and/or local produce. To the left of the gift shop was the wine room where I could buy any wine from my tasting session or many others local to the area. I asked Maria for the red wine from the tasting session and was surprised to find it was only €8! Bargain! I thought as the wine was of such high quality. I was impressed to see that there were wines for all price ranges. At the end of my trip, Maria led me to the door and wished me well for the rest of my stay in Tenerife. She was a lovely lady as were all the staff and I will definitely visit again to try some more wines.

Written by Charlotte Taylor

A Tenerife Pilgrimage to Cueva del Hermano Pedro

18/10/2020

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)

Written by Charlotte Taylor

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

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