Finally, I have found some time to continue telling you the wonderful saga of our adventures in the sunny Canary Islands on Mastication Monologues! If you haven’t been following my blog, day 1 was non-stop action while day 2 was more laid back. Today’s post has more of a cultural focus compared to the previous posts, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less interesting.
As mentioned in the day 2 post, day 3 would be the day we would travel across the channel to the west of our hotel to the second smallest island of the Canary Island chain: La Gomera. The island’s name origin is unclear, but some believe it comes from the native Guanche word “Ghomara” meaning “boss” or “notable”. The Romans called the island Junonia, but the first full map of the island appeared in 1372. Long story short, it still remains a mysterious and ancient island compared to the island of Tenerife where tourism reigns supreme. We started by meeting up with our tour group via a very busy transfer in a sea of German and Dutch tourists. Why those particular nationalities? We learned that Angel Merkel, the Prime Minister of Germany, has chosen the sleepy island as her holiday getaway spot. Thus, her countrymen and women were naturally to follow and admire the hiking and natural beauty. When we arrived at the port of Los Cristianos, we boarded the ferry and crossed the crystal blue waters on an hour long journey. We landed at San Sebastian de la Gomera which is the main port of the island. Further interesting history to come toward the end of the post. We started our tour of the island by climbing north into the forested mountains to Los Roques which was a series of ancient volcanic plugs or explosions of cooled magma that are contained within the rock of the Earth’s crust. There have also been indigenous Guanche sacrificial shrines found on the top of these formations, but further climbing has been prohibited after a German film crew looted the site. We then moved to Garajonay National Park whose name is derived from the Guanche lovers Gara and Jonay or the indigenous version of Juliet and Romeo, respectively. However, instead of the Italian version of the Bloods and the Crips, the Guanche version had Mt. Teide erupting as a sign of the gods disapproval, and the forbidden lovers from two different Guanche tribes committing suicide on the top of a mountain on the island. Talk about drama.
However, their tragic story aside, the national park is home to a subtropical forest that was similar to what existed in Europe before massive human expansion. The forests have been traced back to at least 9,500 years ago, and their ancient beauty were a sight to behold. From the moss-covered, gnarled trees to the tiny mountain roads, we were taken aback by Garajonay’s treasures and our bus driver’s ability to somehow allow another bus pass us on a road made for two cars.
As we further explored the park, we toured a recreated traditional Canarian village complete with a house and a hut serving one of the iconic Canarian foods: gofio. The name comes from the indigenous language of the island of Gran Canaria in the same chain, but on Tenerife it is known as ahoren. The Berbers of North Africa, who are likely the ancestors of the Guanche people, call it “arkul“. Whatever you call it, it is a flour made from ground and toasted grains and cereals such as wheat and maize. It can also be found in Dominican and Puerto Rican cooking. It can be made into an oatmeal of sorts, candy, or in this case, cookies. I went for a chocolate cookie and a cinnamon cookie. Janice wasn’t a fan, but I personally liked them.
They were like harder, crumbly sugar cookies minus the overt sweetness which was replaced with a light cocoa flavor or plenty of savory cinnamon notes. Cookies in tow, we went to a lunch where was nothing of note aside from some typical Canarian food like mojo verde, but we saw a demonstration of the indigenous language of el silbo or “the whistle”. The native Guanche people likely brought this language based on whistling as a way to communicate up to 4 miles/7 km away between the mountaintops of the islands (for an example, click here). This language was on the brink of extinction until campaigns saved it, and it is now a mandatory class in schools on the island. However, Spanish remains the dominant form of communication across the Canary Islands. In this demonstration, the “speakers” were able to communicate phrases by mimicking the tonal patters of Spanish via whistling, and they were even able to locate hidden items in the room from our fellow diners and return them back to the original owners. Following lunch, we continued to tour the island and went to an aloe farm in one of the valleys close to San Sebastian which was also next to a banana plantation, two of the Canary Islands’ main products. We learned from our guide Alex that only true aloe very has yellow flowers growing out of it; aloe vera tends to turn purple when low on water; and it can be harvested via cutting and leaving the leaves to soak overnight. I also tried unsweetened aloe water straight from the plant, and it tasted strangely musty yet acidic. It’s not replacing lemonade as a cool Summer drink that’s for certain.
Finally, we traveled back to the port of San Sebastian to see Iglesia de La Asuncion where Columbus prayed in 1492 before reaching the New World in addition to the customs house where Columbus lived during his time on La Gomera and the Torre de la Conde.It was part of the oldest military fort in the Canary Islands having been built in 1450. Although only one turret is still standing, you could imagine how imposing it would be when fully standing even though it seems it was inhabited by tiny people upon closer inspection.