’Welcome to the Hotel California, such a lovely place, such a lovely face.’ No, unfortunately I didn’t just jet off to the west coast of the US to mingle with the beautiful people. I’m still humming that dratted tune by The Eagles, which rings discordantly in my ears 24 hours after the last blast of that niggling chorus.
‘Hotel California’ echoes (off-key) across the Playa de las Americas on the steamy resort island of Tenerife, in the Canarian archipelago off the coast of North Africa. It appeared that every ‘international artiste’, every ‘international song and dance’ performer, every pub singer who should have been pensioned off decades ago and every drunken karaoke star had their own, unique, inimitable (thank God) version of that song. And goodness me, did they like to belt it out.
Aside from my inerasable audio-visual memories of performances by Robbie G Williams, Movin’ Marvin, whose talents include ‘clogging’ (up the pipes, one imagines) and the scatological rambling of Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, my olfactory glands were assaulted by the aromas of the food on offer. Not much in the way of paella, freshly cooked fish or tapas bars, but if you fancy a full English breakfast at any hour of the day, prices start low and pints of lager are served alongside.
Tenerife exudes a sickly sweet aroma, not from the acres of banana plantations, but something more like bubbling beef fat, fish and chips and warm ale, oh and a heady whiff of coconut tanning lotion emanating from the pink bodies lying lined up on the artificial beach, like sausages about to burst their skins under the grill.
Having said that, I had a fabulous time.
The local Titsa bus service runs rings around the island, making escape from lagerland possible.
We travelled up the coast to Los Gigantes, a resort clinging to a gigantic rock face (hence the name) and watched paragliders plunge over the precipice and land expertly on the grey sanded beach, while we, from the safety of the Restaurante Marinero Jessi’s sun-drenched terrace, wolfed down grilled plaice, papas arrugadas con mojo (‘wrinkly’ potatoes boiled dry in salty water and served with mojo, a delicious sauce made from peppers, vinegar, cumin and garlic).
We washed it down with a potent sangria, involving red wine, fresh fruit and some fiery brandy. All this for under €30 (for two) and we didn’t have to negotiate the tortuous winding mountain roads after.
However, to really appreciate the island and find some hidden, less tourist-packed places we really needed our own set of wheels. We hired a white (for some reason, 90% of Tenerife’s vehicles are white) Fiat Punto for three days and headed off to explore.
Tenerife contains many different environments. The south and eastern areas, where most of the resorts are situated, are arid desert covered with banana plantations and building sites. The region’s half-finished quality and the piles of rubble give the appearance of Beirut. The north and west coastline, however, is filled with lush green valleys and forests.
I bobbed about in the thunderous surf at the Playa de San Marcos and built up a ravenous enthusiasm for the grilled fresh sardines and salad (with bananas!) at Maria’s beach-side restaurant.
At Icod de los Vinos, we admired the ancient Drago tree, which resembles a giant broccoli floret, oozes red blood when cut and is said to be more than 1,000 years old. We pottered about in the beautiful herb garden surrounding the tree and jumped when ten-centimetre lizards, who’d been basking in the sunshine, scuttled off before our feet.
Pottering through Puerto de la Cruz’s beautifully laid out botanical gardens, I could have been back in Havana, meditating in the shade of a giant banyan tree and dodging the razor sharp fronds of dangling palm leaves.
My favourite part of the island was the isolated north-eastern tip, where the spiky, verdant Anaga mountain range divides the two romantic, rocky coasts. We drove slowly along narrow lanes, sticking to the side of sheer cliffs, screeched around hairpin bends with dust flying in our wake.
Just beyond the tiny village of Tabanana are two pebbly beaches, popular with surfers. A red warning flag flew on our visit, so I had to be content with a nostalgic crab-chasing, rock pooling session amongst the spume and spray.
No visit to Tenerife is complete without a pilgrimage to the volcanic Pico del Teide, at 12,198 ft (3,718m) above sea level it is Spain’s highest peak. We explored the lunar-style landscape, dotted with aromatic sage-green bushes, on one of the many hiking trails.
After a day in the hot, dry sun, swimming against the tide, battling with the undertow and hiking through the wind-blown mountains, we built up healthy appetites for food and drink in the endless line of bars and restaurants that stretch from Playa de las Americas along to Los Cristianos.
If I could just find a venue where the ‘entertainers’ had never heard of The Eagles…