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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 9: Puerto de la Cruz to Tacoronte
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Today: 27196 steps/20.30 km/12.61 mi/4h 3m
Total: 318409 steps/238.60 km/148.26 mi/47h 16m

John Reid Young, a friend of Ron Mackay, invited me for a morning drink (a coffee for him, a lovely dark hot chocolate for me) at a cafe opposite the San Telmo rock pools. The tide was too high for swimmers, but at the right time of day and year they're a popular place for a dip in the middle of Puerto de la Cruz.

"My great-grandfather was the first to attempt to export bananas to the U.K.," he said. That was in the 1870s. His family remained in the importing and exporting business, the preferred goods changing with the times. John was born in London but grew up on Tenerife and is now a tour guide and author.

The cafe was at the eastern edge of the old town, near where fishing boats come in and are hoisted up onto land for repairs. To our east was all new development, much of it of the block variety popular in the 1970s, "because that was the thing to do," he said. "There used to be banana plantations over there." He lamented that the island's development around tourism had been too fast, with too much construction and removal of old homes.

I remarked that I'd heard German spoken more widely than English in Puerto de la Cruz.

"That's because you're in a German hotel," he said. "It's been German-owned since the end of the nineteenth century. Or maybe the beginning of the twentieth." A man sat down a few tables away, and he and John exchanged greetings. It was the man who had upgraded my room at the Hotel Monopol. "There's your owner now," he said.

I'd inquired about hiring him to guide me up from Punta del Hidalgo to Chinamada on Friday; I'd heard it was a tricky climb. But he was already booked.

"You'll be OK," he said. "The trail is very well-marked."

"But is it very steep?" I asked.

"There are a few steep parts, but you are fit. You'll be fine. I used to do the trail with schoolkids."

"And there should be people on the trail." I'm more confident with more hikers around. Ideally I'll set off around the same time as a few others.

"Yes, but most of them will be coming down," he said. "I prefer going up. Going down is hard on the knees."

He presented me with a copy of "The Skipping Verger and Other Tales," a collection of his short stories. "This is my first book," he said. "I think your hotel is mentioned in the first or second story."

"And it's the perfect size!" I said. It wasn't too heavy to carry.

"It's good for keeping in the front loo," he said. "Sit down, read one story."

We fist-bumped a goodbye as is done these days. I went up to the Monopol's terrace and saw Teide with a ring of snow around the top in the glory of a cloudless morning. I had a quick walk around the harbor area and then it was time to start walking up hills again. I felt I'd given the city short shrift; my late arrival last night had meant I hadn't soaked up much of the city's mood. It's a place I'd like to spend more time.

Teide seemed almost approachable on this sunny day. I climbed out of Puerto de la Cruz, crossed under the north autopista, and was soon passing through lovely hill towns: El Pinito, Cuesta de la Villa, Santa Úrsula, La Victoria de Acentejo. This was the Orotava Valley, and it was wine country. Instead of banana plantations there were tomato gardens and vineyards. One woman was selling wine from her own harvest out of her home, a sign outside advertised.

Except for El Pinito, these were all fairly sizable towns. They had supermarkets, fruit markets, perfume stores, footwear stores, banks, schools, doctors' offices, and bars and restaurants, the latter often casual joints operated by the vineyards. The main road linking them was TF-217; steep side streets headed downward toward homes and the autopista and upward to homes and gardens. Public buses known as "guaguas" (pronounced "wah-wahs," after the horns on the original vehicles) came by frequently. I bought water at a place signed as both "supermercado" and "minimarket"; when I arrived, the proprietor was bringing in crates of bananas.

My lunch stop was at one of the casual eateries, a recommendation from a friend from grade school. It appeared to be a two-minute detour off of TF-217, but the road was at the angle of a ski slope. The world's steepest street segment is supposedly and unofficially in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but I wonder whether something on Tenerife has the edge. Cars with manual transmissions proceeded steadily up the street in first gear, like funiculars, or faster in second gear if they had a running start. This is the one situation where I relax my pedestrians-must-always-have-a-place-to-walk rule. If a driver needs to keep momentum up a narrow street to avoid a stall, I don't mind moving out of the way.

The restaurant, Guachinche La Huerta de Ana y Eva, had a floor made of sand. I was seated by myself at a long table of the sort found in beer gardens. There were menus posted in English around the restaurant and outside; the waiter slapped the Spanish menu down on the table. It was just a thin list of food items and prices with no explanations, one per line, printed on the kind of thermal paper spat out by credit-card machines.

One item, listed among the cheeses and salads, caught my eye: pella de gofio. For all I know it was supposed to be a dessert, but it made a decent starter: gofio (powdered toasted grains) kneaded with water and sugar, topped with raisins, almonds, honey, and sprinkled gofio powder. It came in the form of a large log and was, predictably, very sweet and heavy, but not overwhelmingly so, and I enjoyed the textures.

My main course was the bichillo de cochino negro, "high quality meat" of the black pig "that is removed from the area between the ribs and the back of the animal," according to the English menu. The portion came splayed open like a fish fillet and was served similarly, with a wedge of lemon. It had very little fat and was marvelously salty, juicy, and tender.

Vineyards are all over the area, including perhaps the one that supplied my lunch serving; the one that offers tours, tastings, a restaurant, and a shop is Bodegas Monje. I popped into the shop and saw an unusual bottle caked in dirt. It was labeled as a submarine wine. I asked about it.

"We submerge the wine for five months, twenty meters under the sea,” the attendant said. "It ages the wine faster because of the pressure. If you have a license, you can go down and taste it. It's an unusual experience."

"A license?"

"A diving license."

In addition to underwater tastings, Monje offers "wine and sex" nights, more like burlesque shows according to my guidebook, but the shop display included a selection of sex toys. I did not ask whether they were for sale.

A couple of towns later and I reached my accommodation in Tacoronte, a house with a few other guests and a living room containing two red couches, lit by a chandelier with two of six lights functioning. Two of the rooms were on the terrace, one occupied by a German who's spending the winter riding around the various Canary Islands on his motorcycle.

I went back up to the main street to find dinner. It was the kind of street where I'd love to spend a week trying all the no-frills spots: the Turkish kebab place, the two Chinese restaurants, the bar that's also an arcade, the bar that's also an arcade and chicken grill, the hamburger-and-hotdog place, the pizzeria. A casual place beckoned with two dozen hanging hams. It was called the Streetcar (El Tranvía); Tacoronte was the end of the line from Santa Cruz until 1951.

It looked like an American diner, with a curved bar area and a display case of desserts. The menu wasn't much at the late hour, but I didn't want much; a slice of Spanish tortilla, a ham-and-cheese bocadillo, and a beer were enough.

Tomorrow is downhill all the way, and I'm not upset by that.

Go on to day 10