Tenerife: Masca, Los Gigantes, La Laguna

When it comes to describing the pristine landscapes of foreign hotspots one can’t help but use the same words as a vacation pamphlet: sun, nature, peaceful, vast, monumental and exotic. These words brimmed over the valley walls surrounding the village of Masca and my lips ached to whisper them. I swallowed and looked harder.

Precarious. Stubborn. A stronghold. I saw a landlocked ship among the geo-waves. Hidden among the giant crests, a green ark rested for eternity, carrying a small clutch of humanity and gardens. At its prow, an imposing figure proclaimed the direction to the sea. Is this the ribbed turtle that carries the world upon its back?

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The area’s hunger for company is held off by a steady meal of tourists fed in by a tarmac river that winds along the valley walls. People come here for the beauty and the mystery.

Advertised as a village that only recently broke free of its natural isolation (it only received a road in the 1970s), Masca is a treat to see, but the surrounding wall of paradise splendor is the real gift to your eyes.

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To get supplies the villagers here used to have to hike for four hours through a narrow ravine to reach the ocean and their boats.I can’t imagine this made it easy for them when people got hurt or sick. When healthy though the inhabitants must have reveled in the freedom. Even when Franco dominated the island Masca was a sanctuary from outside authority.

The trail from the village to the ocean is still open and many visitors enjoy trekking down it then catching a boat ride to Los Gigantes harbour. I hear it’s a marvelous journey! It’s on my to-do list for the next time I visit Tenerife.

This first trip was really only a sampling!

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What to dodge

The road to Masca can be quite a challenge and turns many people away. Confident, speedy local cars and buses coupled with this narrow, winding road can cause even the most confident foreign driver’s knuckles to turn white! However if you ask your home-stay momma, poppa or friend to drop you off in the valley they can pluck you from Los Gigantes!

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Los Gigantes: home of giant waves.
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And giant crabs AH!

According to local opinion the line of restaurants within Masca are overpriced (as often happens in tourist hotspots) and the food is lacking. I’d suggest having a hearty breakfast wherever you are staying, packing a nice picnic and having someone drop you off at Masca. Definitely take a stroll through the village, but don’t stop for lunch.

Instead, hike down the Masca ravine and munch on your well-earned picnic when you’re settled on the awesome beach at the end (disclaimer I haven’t seen the beach myself, but I’m positive it’s at least nice).

You can have a nice big supper in Los Gigantes within view of the massive cliffs that give the town its namesake to tie off the day in a nice way.

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Did I mention the giant cliffs of Los Gigantes?!

Before you leave though here is a bit of history that ties the valley to the rest of the island.

History is written by the winner

In the not so distant past, at least in geological terms, Masca was the last parcel of land to belong to one of the nine kings or mencey of the Guanches, the original inhabitants of the island. This mencey—originally named Pelinor  (or Belinor)—gave up his authority, religious beliefs and name to keep Masca. The rest of the island and its kings were snatched away.

Saw so many of these guys! The three kings that visit baby Jesus! J said the Canarians have a big celebration around the three kings (bigger than Christmas).
Saw so many of these guys! The three kings that visit baby Jesus! J said the Canarians have a big celebration around the three kings (bigger than Christmas).

Though there is little left from the lives of the Guanches you can still find scars across the island from their fight against the Spanish invasion known as the Castilian conquest.

One example is the pair of towns named La Matanza de Acentejo and La Victoria de Acentejo.

La Matanza de Acentejo, or The Slaughter of Acentejo, refers to a battle in 1494 where the Guanches ambushed the invading Spaniards and allies in a ravine called Barranco de San Antonio. The aboriginies’ mastery of mountain warfare and knowledge of the area helped them kill an estimated four out of five Castilians.

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Later the two forces would clash again near Acentejo, but this time the fight was out in the open and the tactical advantage went to the heavily armored invaders. Their cries of victory rebounded across the mountains that day and would be heard centuries later by historians who named the battle a decisive win for the Castilians.

In honour of this victory the Spaniards erected a hermitage and the town of La Victoria de Acentejo (The Victory of Acentejo) later gathered around it.

Beyond the names heralding Castilian losses and victories you can find memoirs to the legends of Gaunches across the island. In fact, the last nine mercey still stand at Plaza de la Patron de Canarias (the Square of the Saint Patron of the Canary Islands).

With their backs to the sea they gaze forever over the land they couldn’t keep free from the invaders.

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“They all look forlorn,” I said to J as we slowly strolled along the line of statues. Seagulls cried over our heads and people chattered at the feet of the men whose memories had previously been chipped from the volcanic rock of Teide itself.

“I think that was the idea,” J replied.

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Colonial Remnants

It seems sadly fitting that these kings now stand fixed across a religious square like a display of collectibles.

After all, at the end of the Castilian conquest all of the mencey that had not died in combat, except Pelinor, were taken away from Tenerife to be presented to the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.

You can see them being presented here by Alonso Fernández de Lugo, the man responsible for conquering La Palma and Tenerife.

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“AlonsoFernandezdeLugo2”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AlonsoFernandezdeLugo2.JPG#mediaviewer/File:AlonsoFernandezdeLugo2.JPG

This guy was an interesting but cruel man. He enslaved many Gaunches and enforces strict rules on the islands under his control.

As merciless as he was to the aboriginals, if local legend is to be believed he once ordered a street to be made twisted rather than straight in La Laguna so he would not have to see the site of his son’s death in the town.

I actually coincidently photographed the bending street without knowing its history when I was touring it. Apparently you can’t shoot a picture anywhere on the island without capturing a remnant of its colonial past.

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It’s a lovely place for a stroll, La Laguna, and—if you have some extra money—to shop. Cars are not allowed in the old town so you’re free to walk wherever you wish between the buildings.

While Masca had a rural charm La Laguna has the trappings of an old town slowly creeping its way into the present. Bursts of modern artistic fervour was draped from walls and exploding from patios (warning nudity is coming).

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The streets were neat and messy all at once, like a complicated adopted child. Among the tidy churches were paper maché  depictions of what you could only guess was supposed to be debauchery incarnate.

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Tenerife has a lot of historical and modern baggage it needs to sort through—from slavery to poverty to a dwindling freshwater supply—and you can see the weight of it all in flashes across the island.

When you visit, remember to keep the island’s history in mind. You’ll see a whole other world beneath the stones of colonization.

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