For a start forget everything you think you know about Tenerife if at the mere mention of the name your first thought is ‘yeeuch’ accompanied by visions of of an island developed purely for tourism that is full of Brit bars packed with sunburnt, beer-bellied blokes in football shirts.
Tenerife was formed around 7 million years ago and was originally inhabited by a primitive race, the Guanche, whose origins are still the topic of heated debate even though it’s generally believed that they came from North Africa.
Tenerife’s history runs parallel with America’s. Columbus passed this way en route to discovering the Americas but the natives were revolting and Mount Teide erupting so understandably he didn’t bother stopping. However, Tenerife occupied a strategic position and it wasn’t long before a conquering army of international mercenaries ran roughshod over the Guanches and claimed Tenerife in the name of Spain in 1496.
The island’s new settlers were a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Italians and British which over the years created a cultural identity that remains aloof from mainland Spain’s. This cocktail was spiced up when many Canarios emigrated to South America during hard times to return in the second half ofthe 20th century as rich ‘Indianos’ bringing a sexy slice of South American influences with them. These influences have fashioned much of the culture of modern day Tenerife – at the countless fiestas the music played is Latino and the dancing salsa.
Similarly, the landscape defies pigeon-holing as well as it is characterised by great swathes of pine forests, surreal volcanic plains, ancient laurel forests, arid badlands, deep ravines, sub-tropical valleys and of course that iconic volcano and Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide.
The rise of mass tourism in the 1970s clearly had a profound affect on the island’s fortunes…but not its culture. Ironically, the area craved by tourists for its almost guaranteed sunshine and lack of rain was the area that was of little or no use to farmers – the arid badlands. Historically few people lived there, so the development of purpose-built resorts occurred away from where most Canarios lived anyway. In many ways it has been a win-win situation with the new and, geographically speaking, much smaller tourist face of Tenerife existing symbiotically with the traditional Tenerife even though they often have little to do with each other.
The real Tenerife is a land whose micro-climates have created a diverse and breathtaking range of scenic delights populated by a people whose culture is a mix of Spanish and South American with a soupçon of African. The real Tenerife is exciting and unique…and yet many visitors don’t come close to experiencing it.