As the co-author of the Lonely Planet guide to the Canary Islands, I’ve spent weeks wandering the beaches and exploring the diverse terrain of these enchanting Spanish islands just 60 miles off the coast of Morocco. I’m always happy to find an excuse to go back.
The Devil in El Teide
Whenever I’m in a plane approaching Tenerife, I find it hard to take my eyes off El Teide, the 12,198-foot smoking volcano. From the air, it’s clear that the entire island is a slow and steady buildup to its pinnacle; in a sense, all of Tenerife forms El Teide (pronounced “el TEH-ee-deh”).
On my last trip to Tenerife, I headed straight for the national park that encircles the volcano and arranged for a tour with a park ranger. We hopped in his jeep to visit a desert where scenes from the original Star Wars were filmed, a pre-Hispanic archaeological site, and an old stone hut once used by shepherds. The ranger also recounted the legend behind El Teide’s last eruption, in the 13th century. People of the Guanche tribe populated Tenerife at that time, and they believed that the devil lived inside El Teide. Legend has it that the devil became jealous of the sun’s light, so he swallowed the sun, causing darkness and destruction across the island. For days the sun and the devil battled inside the volcano, but the sun eventually triumphed and plugged the volcano with rock, trapping the devil inside. In fact, the story was informed by what actually happened: During the eruption a cloud of toxic ash blocked out the sun so that the only light came from the mouth of the volcano. The “battle” was the rumbling going on inside the volcano, and the “plug” was formed by new volcanic rock. So while the Guanches lacked scientific knowledge, their theories weren’t so far-fetched.
Give a Little Whistle
I was driving around Garajonay National Park on the island of La Gomera when I made a fortuitous lunch stop at a restaurant called Las Rosas. It turns out that it’s one of the few places in the world where you can hear a live demonstration of Silbo Gomero, the ancient whistling language used only on La Gomera. This fascinating means of communication nearly died out in the 20th century, but today it’s experiencing a renaissance, with kids across the island learning Silbo. The Las Rosas waiters explained how different whistles are used to imitate various Spanish inflections. Silbo experts can convert nearly any word into a whistle—and though a phrase or sentence might sound like birdsong, it’s perfectly understood by fellow whistlers. Originally used to send messages across La Gomera’s rough, ravine-scored landscape, Silbo is now an ideal way to hail friends across a town square or entertain a hungry crowd waiting for lunch. (Restaurante Las Rosas, Las Rosas, La Gomera; 011-34-922-80-09-16)