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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 1: La Laguna to El Rosario
Sunday, January 2, 2022

Today: 9913 steps/8.16 km/5.07 mi/1h 22m

There was no gala dinner. There was no dinner at all to be had after nine, except from a machine that prepared and dispensed pizza around the clock, the first of its kind in the Canaries.

The plan, of course, was to sit in a plaza by a church in the early evening, drink in a half-millennium of architecture and a negroni or two, and repair to the bar area of a centuries-old tavern with tobacco-peppered air, where I'd finish off 2021 with a hearty dish of inland Canarian cuisine -- rabbit, perhaps -- presently accompanied by a resident of the island who would be so enthralled by my walking itinerary that she'd offer to lead me up and down some of the lesser-known trails and invite me to feed her the traditional 12 grapes at the final seconds of the year, as she did the same to me, just as the bartender poured celebratory glasses of cava. Then I'd sleep until the late morning and awaken, rejuvenated and refreshed.

But none of that happened. At half past seven I left my room, dully assigned as room two but welcomingly signed as the Suite Adelantado, named after the plaza it faced ("Governor's Square"), once the administrative center of the island's former capital. The suite overlooked the green and yellow tents that opened today as a temporary artisan market and blocked most of my view of the plaza except for the security guard assigned to protect them.

Walking into town from the airport I'd been reassured by the populated restaurant tables lining La Laguna's streets, but after dark there were none to be found until I reached the Plaza de la Concepción. Here was a festive crowd, mostly in (or headed toward) their twenties, drinking beer from the adjacent bars. But even these were packing up their tables, and I was lucky to be able to carry out a cup of Canarian red wine.

At the far end of the square, one place kept its door open for another hour. I sat next to Nicolas and ordered another glass.

"Where can I find dinner tonight?" I asked. This place usually served meals, but by now they were reduced to just desserts.

"Nothing will be open."

He brought me around the corner to Tasca El Despacho, which continued to pour libations. There were maybe half a dozen people, one of whom was playing the timple, a five-string Canarian guitar.

"Do you want to go to a party later?" Nicolas asked. "I'm driving there. It's about ten kilometers away."

I contemplated this as the night went on. I hadn't officially started this Abecedarian Walk, so taking a car wasn't yet taboo. But I wasn't sure I wanted to leave the city.

"Maybe. Thanks for asking."

A few more people came in, but the bar never seemed crowded. Some chairs and tables were set up outside. Drinks were cheap, mostly less than two euros.

At some point I looked at my watch and noticed that it was after midnight. There had been no countdown, no sparkling wine, no challenge to eat 12 grapes at once -- no acknowledgment that we had progressed from one year of uncertainty to another. No one seemed to care much when I mentioned it.

"Do you want to go to the party?" Nicolas asked.

"OK." We walked for a few minutes along a main road; there was no one around. The farther we went, the less I wanted to make the trip out of town.

"Actually, I'm going to stay here. Good night, and thank you."

I wasn't quite ready for bed, so I returned to Tasca El Despacho, only to see Nicolas reappear sometime later.

"You're back!"

"I couldn't find my car."

I soon wished him a good night once more before walking back to the Plaza del Adelantado. I climbed up into the illuminated installation of Santa's sleigh and contemplated life for a while, at least as much as one can contemplate life after several sub-$2 glasses of wine while sitting on a wooden platform meant for children.

I headed to my suite, fell asleep immediately, and came to at around seven with a relentless headache, severe and totally incommensurate with what I'd remembered as a relatively tame night. What did the Canarians put in their wine?

Usually a sip of water or a splash of the same on my forehead, or, those failing, a redistribution of my body into another position will ease the pain somewhat. But this time there was no respite, not even the tiniest mitigation, no matter how much I plunged my head into the dozen or so pillows provided in the Suite Adelantado. I drifted in and out of slumber for a couple of hours before sleeping restfully once again.

I woke up at two in the afternoon, feeling much better. I stood up, stretched, and moaned from satisfaction rather than pain. I showered and strolled La Laguna's pedestrian street grid, whose design had been used as a model for New World developments.

To my surprise, the street activity increased as the evening went on, and plenty of restaurants were open into the night. At nine I had a tapas dinner of Padrón peppers (similar to shishito), grilled fresh cheese with red and green sauces, and croquettes with almogrote (a kind of cheese spread), and I wasn't the last one seated.

One reason for my stopping in La Laguna was to see the island's history museum, which occupies a 16th-century house. The island's indigenous residents, the Guanche, probably arrived from Africa a couple of centuries BC, but they left no trace of how they made the trip. They were good defenders, and the other islands in the archipelago fell to European conquest a few years before the Spanish finally took Tenerife as well at the end of the 15th century.

Having assumed control of the land, the Spaniards set about populating it with European nobility, imposing Christianity, and establishing trade. They kept detailed notes of deeds and events and spelled out specific laws. The museum's copy of the rule book was conveniently opened to "Sale of beverages and edibles," so I know, for instance, that my goat's milk will be pure and not mixed with that of a sheep or cow, and that wine, oil, and other liquids will be properly sealed for quality control and not mixed with water to add volume.

As the last stop westward before a trans-Atlantic journey, and located within the trade winds that finish in central America, the Canaries assumed an important economic role even with few natural products. Sugar made the island rich in the 1500s until the plantations opened across the ocean; then came wine until it declined due to the cheaper product from Portugal; then followed a brief period of cochinilla farming (a red dye produced by insects that live on prickly-pear cactus); and eventually the introduction of bananas kept Tenerife's export economy afloat. Through all this, the island remained the home of the Guanche, of settlers from all over western Europe, and of people forcibly brought from Africa. Now the major commodity is tourism, but agriculture and farming are still important components of the economy.

Today's relatively short walk was the legacy of my original itinerary, which would have had me landing from Madrid this afternoon, hastening to the museum, and then making my way an hour and a half south. I headed downhill through the suburban sprawl that backs onto La Laguna and Santa Cruz. The streets were quiet, with few people or cars apart from a happy group at one restaurant, and the weather was typically warm.

I reached the region known as El Rosario, known for the island's most notorious pirate, Amaro Pargo. I'd booked into a yellow house along the highway, next to a fruit market and a restaurant -- both closed today, alas, though a place up the road fed me my rabbit, along with a pepper longer than my forearm -- and just above a bend in the road with views of Gran Canaria rising above the red haze at sunset. In the distance a group was on their terrace, merrily singing.

"No puedo estar sin tí!" they rang out raucously to the tune of "I Can't Stop Loving You," their voices carrying up the hill as clearly as a record player.

The house is across the street from the neighborhood belén, a type of nativity scene found all over Tenerife at this time of year. The concept wouldn't hold much interest for me except for the chance to spot the local addition known as the caganer, a guy squatting with his pants down. According to the legend, his output fertilizes the land, and it's therefore bad luck not to include him somewhere. But I detected no caganer among the hundreds of figurines here in El Rosario, or in the belenes at the Hotel Laguna Nivaria and the Casa Salazar. Maybe someone will have to point him out for me.

Go on to day 2