Monday, 31 January 2011

Micro-continents of Splendor and Sun – the Canary Isles


Gran Canaria Travel Pack (Globetrotter Travel Packs)Lanzarote, Tenerife, Gran Canaria – names that may be familiar to many holiday-brochure browsers. And the holiday expectations are familiar too - revolving around that holy trinity of sun, sand and sea. The tourist industry, for this far-flung Spanish archipelago, has been constructed to funnel sun-seekers fast, from their north European homes, to the toweled pool-side sun-beds. That focus is a shame, however, because these splintered volcanic shards, lying off of the coast of Morocco, are fascinating and breathtaking - packing a continental-sized diversity into their tiny areal extents.

Loggerhead Turtle, Swimming, Canary Isles Photographic Poster Print by Gerard Soury, 24x32The primal urge of geology is the common denominator for the Canary Isles. Each island is the surface expression of the rude thrusting of volcanic forces, along the margins of the North African shelf. That violence has created some stunning landscapes, still occasionally rumbling and hissing cones into the cold Atlantic. The newer volcanic peaks can claim to be the steepest islands in the world, with Tenerife's Mount Teide, and La Palma's Roque de los Muchachos, slicing over 2 miles into the sky. It is that rapid rush of elevation on the islands that produce such a concentrated sequence of climate and flora – both within, and between, them.

The contrast of climes is most extreme when driving up the mountains of the wettest of the islands, La Palma. Whilst the mountain tops are coolly wreathed in cloud, down at sea level a benign, subtropical clime can hold sway. Here you will find catcii, withered grasses, and banana plantations. But as you wend your way up the roads, into the hills, in minutes you can be in a Mediterranean meadow land - broom, nodding flowers and scented shrubs; all enfolded by woods of sweet chestnut.

The farmed terraces overflow with vines, whilst almonds, oranges, avocado and fig trees are abundant, taking advantage of the rich red volcanic soils. Upwards again, and you'll soon be shadowed in the pine-scented woods of the cloud forest. Then, when the road levels off, at the crest of the Roque de los Muchachos, you'll find an alien, rocky landscape - a blasted gorse-heath of snow, rock and ice. Here the story ends in airs of peerless quality, where observatories from around the world have gathered to gaze at the night's glories.

Canarians have a story to tell too. Descended from Spanish conquistadors and the original Berber inhabitants, who migrated from North Africa more than two thousand years ago, the Canarians are now united - but also apart. They share a common language, Spanish, and a common faith, in the Catholic Church. But each town is an island, fiercely proud of its identity - and each island a nation, with the even the status of capital split between the islands' cities.

The people of the Canaries have adapted well to their brilliantly variable micro-climates. With water often scarce, tunnels are carved into the mountain rocks, bringing the dew-dropped moisture of the cloud-forests to the farms and vineyards. On the drier eastern islands, such as Lanzarote, or Fuerteventura, rocks are piled feet thick, to hold moisture close to the soil. The farmers even build crescent rock shelters to protect each of their vines, growing in the hot black volcanic ash.

At the beach, further untouched worlds wait for exploration- the sea is liquid light, pristine and clear. Don goggles, and snorkel your way around a black landscape specked with the blue flashes of fish, jeweled red crabs and glimmering green sands.

Be braver, and go scuba diving, and you'll discover the denizens of a craggy rocky underworld, fed by the up-swelling Atlantic currents. Which ever way you turn on the Canaries, it seems surprises are thrown up to delight. So don't get pinned to the pool-side when you go; unpack you instinct to wander, and make the wonders of these micro-continents your own.

This article is contributed by Lima, an avid traveler who owns a website offering high quality adjustable dumbbells for sale

Photo: Terrace


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