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Mysteries endure at Canary Islands

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Author Topic: Mysteries endure at Canary Islands  (Read 241 times)
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« on: June 12, 2008, 11:37:42 pm »

We drive to where I recall the parador stood, but its windows are boarded and its once pleasant street is a noisy, dirty harbor boulevard. Luckily, a sign leads us to Spain's newest parador, a short drive into the mountains, where it rests in a serene setting backed by majestic peaks and fronted by rolling Atlantic swells.

The parador is a perfect base from which to explore the island and is only a 20-minute drive to La Caldera de Taburiente National Park, the last refuge of the Guanches. We wind upward to Cumbrecita, where we look out on a crater six miles across, whose awesome walls drop 6,000 feet.

Here, the invading Spaniards could not dislodge the Guanches, but the honorable Guanche chieftain was induced to come down for peace talks and was ambushed by the Spaniards. The era of the independent Guanches ended, followed by slavery and their slow disappearance.

Crenelated shafts of rocks shoot up and fall away into tree-lined valleys of lime-green Canarian pines. Landslides cut trails that disappear above sheer cliffs. Hundreds of lava spires point toward the sun from the caldera's walls. An early snow remains in crevasses.

Around a bend a German hiker warns us: "The path narrows ahead. The drop is 1,500 feet. Best stop here." We turn off, crossing crude wooden bridges arcing steep gorges. Chocolate, rust and buff-colored rock pinnacles tower over us.

One day we drive to Mazo to visit the handicraft center at the Escuela Insular de Artesania and the centuries-old Church of San Blas, and we stop at the Cueva de Belmaco, home to the vanished Benahoare, a Guanche people. The ancient inhabitants left behind four sets of engravings on cave walls whose meaning has perplexed scholars since their discovery in 1752. The rest is crumbled rock, dust and a confusing mass of rubble. The spirit of the Guanches is not found here.

We push on to the newly active volcanoes of Fuencaliente, where we park near a sign that states: "The Fuencaliente Town Hall will not be responsible for any loss of personal belongings or cars." This is not far-fetched. The lot sits on the rim of a volcano that blew in 1949. Farther on stands another crater that erupted in 1979, creating Spain's newest landmass.

Our last day finds us hiking in the sunshine through pines with lime-green needles up to the 6,000-foot Pico de la Nieve, or snow peak, where we pass the isle's famed observatory. The area is called an astronomical preserve. Here, in a crystal-clear arc of sky, European astronomers study heavenly phenomena from star bursts to the expansion of the universe.

With its far-ranging views of rocks, gorges, calderas and silent forests, it seems like the perfect spot to say goodbye to the vanished Guanches.

A fine time to visit Tenerife is in February during carnival. Tenerife's carnival is said to be second only to that held in Rio de Janeiro

Airlines serving the Canaries include Iberia and Spanair and other international carriers.

The islands' climate is called an eternal spring whose temperatures warm a bit in summer. The busiest time for the Canarian paradors is from mid-October to mid-April. The English and Germans come in winter, the Spaniards in summer. As author James Michener wrote, "The noun parador is derived from the verb parar, to stop. A parador is therefore a stopping place or inn -- and in the opinion of travelers they are the best in the world." For information, visit, or

The Museo de la Naturaleza y El Hombre in Santa Cruz de Tenerife houses several Guanche mummies, skulls and an array of Guanche artifacts.

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