Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The South of Tenerife was Purpose Built for Tourism – Another Tenerife Myth

Recently we retraced one of the routes in our Real Tenerife Island Drives guidebook to make sure that the information was still up to date.

It was reassuring to see that nothing had changed, but what’s more it also reminded us of the perceptions we had of Tenerife, particularly the south of Tenerife even after we had moved to the island.

One of our first writing commissions on Tenerife was a location report about the town of San Miguel de Abona in the hills above the south coast. That commission completely changed our opinion of the south of the island.

We discovered a charming little town which dated back to shortly after the conquest, where little English was spoken and the nightlife centred around the ‘Rincon del Ron’ (rum corner) in a converted old bodega and at the Canarian wresting ring. It also had some great little restaurants tucked away in its vertiginous streets. It wasn’t what we expected and I have to admit that it was a compete surprise to find a town that went so completely against my image of the south of Tenerife. It wasn’t an isolated case.As we got to know the south of the island better we discovered more friendly little towns full of character with picturesque squares and beautiful baroque churches whose grandness seemed out of proportion with the size of the towns they were in. On terraces surrounding the towns, people pottered about in plots growing potatoes and tending vines. They were about as far away from the popular image of Tenerife as you could get and yet were only a short drive from the biggest of the southern resorts.Like I said at the start, not a lot had changed since we first wrote the route, or since we included the most interesting of the towns in more detail for the southern chapters of ‘Going Native in Tenerife’. Unsurprising really, probably not a lot has changed in centuries.

Playa de las Américas and Costa Adeje may be purpose built tourist pleasure domes for sure, but much of the south of Tenerife is distinctly Canarian in character and as culturally strong as it always has been.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Are You a Tourist, a Traveller…or a NIT?

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.”
- Paul Theroux

The term ‘tourist’ seems almost like a dirty word these days. It can be used with disdain by ‘serious’ travellers and in Tenerife even from some ex-pats who now go to great pains to point out that they don’t ‘live amongst the tourists’, clearly forgetting that they must have come here originally as ‘tourists’ themselves.

As far as my antique OED is concerned anyone who travels for recreation is a tourist, so that pretty much covers most of us, including serious travellers and those who think that two weeks by a pool constitutes travelling.

However, it’s the attitude to travel which makes the difference and which I think Paul Theroux is referring to. Maybe we need a new word…NIT perhaps (Non Interested Tourist).

NITS are happy to travel across the world to sit by a pool, or on a beach, for two weeks and not visit anywhere, try any of the local food, or get involved with any of the local culture.

Going Native in Tenerife is definitely not for NITs

I’m not the biggest fan of organised excursions – I think they can be a sanitised way of seeing a place without having any real interaction with the locals – but I recognise they’re a convenient method of experiencing a taste of a country/location, at least for people who can be a bit intimidated by the unfamiliar. And if you're not comfortable about driving abroad, they do allow you at least to see some of the island.

However it drives me mad when I read on travel forums “I’ve seen all there is to see on Tenerife” from people who've been on one whistle stop coach excursion.

I’ve been trekking all over this island for nearly six years and yet I wouldn’t dream of making that claim.

These are the people who say: ‘I’ve been working hard; I want to chill out on the beach this time…I’ll go sightseeing next time.”

You know when you hear this, that they really think of sightseeing or getting involved in anything remotely cultural as a chore.

It’s an excuse. They’re simply NITs in disguise and Going Native in Tenerife isn’t for them either.
So who is Going Native in Tenerife aimed at?

The answer is people who might be interested in the following:

  • Where to see one of the longest and most spectacular firework displays in Europe
  • Sipping jasmine tea (or a cool beer) in a chic café set in fairytale gardens accompanied by some of the best views on Tenerife.
  • Strolling through a bamboo tunnel in Tenerife’s most romantic and artistic park.
  • Sampling seafood at a tiny harbour side restaurant where fishermen unload their catch a few feet in front of you.
  • Drinking cool mojitos and watching hot sexy salsa in a bar which feels as though it belongs in downtown Havana.
  • Floating in large azure rock pools far from the madding crowd (not Garachico).
  • Exploring grandiose churches, one with the skull and crossbones inlaid into its stone floor.
  • Driving through a tunnel hewn into the rock where you can enter one side in moody cloud and emerge from the other under clear blue skies.
  • Dining at the restaurant where King Juan Carlos eats when he comes to Tenerife, or alternatively the Tasca which brews its own beer on the premises...

…and any number of other gems which actually involve exploring the island.

In short, anyone who isn’t a NIT.

(All the information listed above and loads of other snippets which you are unlikely to find in other guidebooks can be found in Going Native in Tenerife.)