Welcome back once again to another entry of Mastication Monologues! I may or may not have more free time to write on this blog now that I have officially graduated from my speech pathology program, but my wife and I actually just came back from a magical honeymoon in the mysterious land of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. When we eventually settled on the location, I was very excited because I wanted to go somewhere in Spain, but a location I had never been before so my wife and I could explore together.
The Canary Islands are a series of volcanic islands that are off the west coast of Morocco that truly are a hidden gem and basically Hawaii for Europeans who are searching for fun in the sun, i.e. English, German, and Russian tourists mostly. However, when we told people stateside where we were going, we were greeted with typically an uncertain, “Oh cool. That’s awesome.” followed by, “So where are they exactly?” However, they wished us well and to have plenty of fun which we obviously did. Funny enough though, the islands are not named after the chirpy birds that were used in mine shafts rather the birds were named after the islands. Numerous theories about the islands’ name abound. One involves the Romans calling the islands Canariae Insulae or “Island of Dogs” due to the presence of the dogs the indigenous Guanche tribes bred, worshipped as gods throughout the island, and even mummified them to be buried with their owners. When the Spanish arrived in the 1490s, they described the same large, powerful dogs killing wolves that were attacking their livestock, and today this ancient breed is known as the Prensa Canario as shown below. Another theory is that the Romans named the islands after the large amount of seals or “sea dogs” they saw on the shores. Instead of starting our travels in the Eternal City like the ancient travelers, we left Chicago on an overnight flight. We decided to start our honeymoon off right with a light dinner at Hub 51 at O’Hare airport. We had been to Hub 51 in Chicago before with friends (delicious food), so we knew they wouldn’t disappoint us. We got a delicious, not too dry Giuliana prosecco in addition to sharing guacamole and chips. The chips were on the thin, cantina-style side which sometimes was a drawback if we wanted to really pile on the rich but not too spicy guacamole. We also wanted to try their Brussels sprout salad, but we had a stroke of luck when they said they were out of the Brussels sprout salad. We switched it up and ordered the Sonoma salad instead which was delectable from the mixed greens to the fresh slices of grapefruit that offset the sweeter vinaigrette and candied walnuts. With our bellies full and ready to depart the Windy City, we eventually arrived in London-town and had a layover in “beautiful” Gatwick airport. During our time there, we decided to grab some food before our next leg to the islands. We ended up at Garfunkle’s which seemed like England’s take on a Chili’s with general burgers as well as more traditional British fare in the form of fish and chips and a chicken pie which we ordered. While the fish and chips weren’t as authentic as getting it from a chippy or a fish and chip shop for those who don’t speak British English, the breading was light and crispy with plenty of delicious cod beneath. Their chips were a bit stale which I didn’t care for, and their mushy peas were a bit too mint heavy. Janice’s chicken pie was more satisfying with layers of creamy mashed potatoes, seasoned chunks of chicken, a hearty cream sauce, and a side of carrots and broccolini. After our bite to eat, we grabbed brews to watch the Belgium v.s. Tunisia. Funny enough, the beers my wife got were from Portland, Maine that her and her friends get when they’re in Connecticut. It was a quite hoppy IPA, but thankfully it was something light before the second leg of our trip that finally brought us to Tenerife.
Flying into Tenerife, it looked like a more desert-covered version of what I would expect Hawaii to be. The most breathtaking portion of the island was seeing the looming Mount Teide above the clouds. It is a still active volcano that the native Guanche people called Echeyde. They viewed the peak as a portal to hell and the home of a powerful demon, Guayota, who was imprisoned there as punishment for kidnapping the god of sun and light, Magec. The subsequent eruptions of the volcano, the most recent in 1909, were seen as Guayota attempting to escape. We were swiftly shuttled from the southern airport on the island of Tenerife to our hotel in Los Alcantilados Los Gigantes. However, it wasn’t just any special night, it was La Noche de San Juan or Saint John’s night which was adopted by the Catholic Spanish from the pagan Guanche people who originally celebrated the date to ring in the summer solstice. We could see the traditional giant bonfires dotting the countryside as the local Canarios were burning old belongings to signify a new start to the year. When we finally arrived to our hotel, we were exhausted yet at the same time exhilarated and ready to find a beach party to experience a unique cultural celebration. Our first meal wasn’t quite a leap into the unknown at the restaurant across the street from our hotel with a Margarita Italian-style, thin crust pizza with mugs of typical, thin, Spanish lager native to the Canary Islands called Dorada. Once we were fueled up, we began our hunt for the beach party for San Juan. We received conflicting information from the waitress and the front desk worker, but they both said that there was a giant wooden sardine to be burned. We had to be there simply for the randomness. It soon began a wild goose chase of people telling us to just find the beach in addition to randomly attempting to find the party with a German family. Suddenly, the skies in front of us lit up with glittering explosions, and Janice and I immediately ran toward them, leaving the Germans in our wake. We finally found the hidden route to the beach party and were faced with only the finest Euro-techno beatz Tenerife had to offer. I asked the bartender about the burning sardine, and it already happened two hours ago on the beach! Still, the thrill of the hunt was entertaining, and we enjoyed the ambiance. After a cold Dorada looking out over the revelers on the black sand beach and the pile of ashes from the wooden sardine in the background, we decided to call it a night.
Our first morning in Tenerife was breathtaking as we enjoyed the iconic cliffs or alcantilados right outside our window. We then went downstairs to experience the interesting buffet that our hotel had to offer. It was very European with plenty of cereals, cold cuts, and a bread wall. You heard me right. It was literally a wall of fresh bread that you could slice your own piece of baguette, boule, or rye. I swear I saw Janice kneeling in front of it praising the carb gods, but maybe it was just my jet lag. I helped myself to a variety of fresh fruits like the Canarian banana that is smaller than the ones found stateside, but are much sweeter and probably the best I’ve ever had. They also had churros and melted chocolate (not pictured here) which constitute a typical Spanish breakfast. There was also a sopressata spread that was salty and spicy in all the right ways. At midday, we decided to watch the England vs Panama game at one of the many local British bars. The food was nothing to brag about compared to what was to come, but I tried a corned beef and Branston pickle sandwich, something I never tried before. While in America, we think of salty, crunchy pickled cucumbers, Branston pickle is an English made spread that consisted of chunks of pickled carrots, onions, and turnips in a sweet, slightly spicy brown sauce. Apparently it’s very popular in English pubs on cheese sandwiches. It was okay on a very simple sandwich, but it did not set my palate alight compared to other meals we would have this trip. After enjoying the 5-0 thrashing of Panama and plenty of airhorn blasts from the barkeeps, we had a date with a private sunset cruise from Puerto Colon.
We were treated to delicious Spanish cava or champagne and (in counterclockwise order below) a mix of Spanish cheeses, mild and spicy Spanish chorizo, and melt-in-your mouth jamon iberico (Iberian ham).Between the appetizers and the main course, we were treated to something unbelievable: 30-35 pilot whales swimming around our boat. Captain Marco said he never saw anything like it before because these whales are naturally shy around humans and boats.
Eventually, all that excitement made us hungry, and we had a mouth-watering mixed paella that contained fresh mussels, tiny clams, plentiful rings of calamari, and juicy pieces of sausage and chicken. It was followed up by a decadent chocolate torte and an apple tart that were too good for words. As came into port, we were brought to a lookout point to watch the sunset. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.