Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Norwegians, Ripped Mountain and Potatoes on the Canary Island of Tenerife.

     If you were to sail in to the city port of Santa Cruz, in Spain's Canary Island of Tenerife today, you would undoubtedly find a place packed with cruise ships, tour buses, eager taxis cabs awaiting on the quay, and inter-island ferries speeding in and out of the harbour. You might also be lucky enough to spot the La Palma, a floating museum. The beautiful old boat was built by W. Harkness and Son, Ltd. in Middlesbrough in 1912. It had been ordered by the British firm, Elder Dempster and Co., Ltd., who intended to improve transport between the Canary Islands.

The La Palma, a lady with fine old-fashioned lines

     If you had sailed into the same port in 1926, you might be joined on the south mole by one of the Blue Funnel or Union Castle Line ships from London. You might also have spotted a Norwegian Navy training ship parked against the south mole.

The Union Castle boats stopped regularly in Tenerife

     Tenerife was perhaps the furthest south the Norwegian Navy had ventured since Viking explorers had braved the waves. Apart from enjoying an interesting training adventure in warmer climes, the idea was for a group of young cadets to investigate if there was any connection between the pre-Hispanic Guanche people on the islands and ancient navigators from Norway. Today historians believe most of the Guanche people may have been brought to the island from North Africa by Phoenicians or Romans, perhaps in search of different dyes. Others suggest there were earlier nomadic people who drifted to the Canary Islands much earlier, possibly on rafts built with reeds from the Nile.

A Norwegian gunboat of the kind used as a training ship

     The Norwegian training ship was to remain in Santa Cruz for at least ten days before calling in at Casablanca in Morocco. A young Lieutenant, known for his keen interest in ancient Viking exploration, six cadets and two ordinary seamen were issued with three tents, backpacks and rations for five days. Their mission was to look for a cave, which was supposed to be located in the volcanic landscapes at the base of Mount Teide, and where local anthropologists had discovered a Guanche burial chamber. 

      It was a beautiful early morning when they set off on the winding, dusty road towards the colourful town of La Orotava. From there they took one of the mule tracks which were so often used by European geologists, astronomers and anthropologists to explore the great Las Cañadas calderas. They spent their first night under a spring in the Aguamansa pine forest. 

One of the tracks in the beautiful Aguamansa forest

      After finding their way through the forests and then through a desolate landscape of volcanic rocks and shrubs, they climbed up towards Mount Teide from the base of one of the sedimentary plains at the edge of the eastern caldera. The young officer and his companions then set up their camp inside a sunken dip on the pumice plains which were overlooked by an ugly and dramatic example of eruptive force known as Ripped Mountain, Montaña Rajada.

The pumice fields, a Martian landscape under Montaña Rajada

     The heat of the midday sun and the dryness in the air hit them hard to begin with. However, the climate can be deceptive at the base of Mount Teide. In fact, it wasn’t long before fierce gusts of wind had them scrambling to collect loose volcanic stones to build a barrier around their camp. Sudden chills in the air made them feel quite unsure of themselves. They had not been warned that weather conditions in the bleak, high altitude, Martian landscapes on the island of Tenerife, can become treacherous very quickly in winter. Nevertheless, those same gusts of wind calmed as suddenly as they had appeared and the young men went to sleep early. They were exhausted after the day’s trek, and looked forward to hunting for Guanche remains on the following day.

     Then, at the crack of dawn, they were all shaken awake by a strong gust of wind. Within minutes the young men were wrapping up in as many layers of clothes as they could find. It was now icy cold. In fact, it had begun to snow. More than snow, they were in the midst of a blizzard as blinding as those on Gaustadtoppen, Norway’s highest mountain. The fierce storm, with the wind making the volcanic rocks produce anguishing screams, had them huddled in their tents for most of the morning. When it ceased, allowing them to peep out, timidly pushing drifts of snow away from their tents, they were engulfed by a dense fog.

 It can snow heavily on Teide volcano and the high mountains of Tenerife 

     In spite of being hardy Norwegians, accustomed to Arctic conditions, nobody had prepared them for this kind of weather on an island so close to the western extremes of the Sahara Desert. The Lieutenant, anxious as he was to pursue their amateur anthropological investigations, told his companions they would probably abandon their expedition. He would not have known that, if they could only keep themselves warm for a day or two, the weather front would pass. Brilliant sunshine and the warm volcanic soil beneath them would soon melt the snow away.

     For the time being, however, fearing they would never find their way in the fog, the officer sensibly decided that they would stick it out for one more night. They would use their small paraffin lamps to heat up their rations, as well as their tents if necessary. That decision could have been fatal.

     The inhalation of paraffin fumes began to sting their eyes and make them nauseous. One of the seamen began to feel so unwell and drowsy that he rolled over and knocked a lamp over with his elbow. Paraffin spilled all over his legs and caught fire. He was screaming in agony and terror as is companions dragged him out of the tent and into the fog. They managed to put out the flames by rolling him in the snow, but he was badly burned. Meanwhile, the tent became a roaring bonfire. Nothing could be saved. It was a disaster.

A plaque pays tribute to José Bethencourt outside the house he lived in 

     If only they had hired a local guide, José Bethencourt, the guide from La Orotava. Without him, unfamiliar to the terrain and the surroundings, especially at night, the Lieutenant had to make a decision. Should he send two of his team off into the night in search of help, with only a compass to guide them?

     He probably made the correct choice. He was not going to risk losing two men in this strange, inhospitable landscape in freezing conditions. No, they would all huddle up in the two remaining tents until daybreak. The injured cadette was not in grave danger, in spite of the pain. He had nasty burns on his legs, but he would survive. Evidently they would need to get the young fellow back to their ship and their expedition would have to be abandoned, but that was just too bad.

      Except for the one with the horribly burned legs, the young seamen slept on and off. When they opened the tents to stretch and make coffee in the morning, the fog had cleared. There was not a breath of wind. It was quite extraordinary. 

Shrubs, like Teide broom, and jagged volcanic rocks protrude through the snow

     Not a cloud in the sky. In fact, the snow and ice very soon began to glisten with the rising sun which began to toast their faces. It was going to be a magnificent Tenerife day. How they wished they could continue with their adventure. After a good breakfast, more coffee and a short stroll to inspect their snow-covered goat track, they packed their tents away, ensured there was no rubbish left in their enclosure, and made their way down to the sedimentary plain again before heading back towards the Orotava Valley.

     It was slow-going. They took it in turns to help the injured cadette down the rocky tracks. The path was covered with snow to start with, but soon turned muddy as they descended from their campsite at nearly 7,000ft above sea level into the dense Canary pine forests. They reached the first stone and thatched cottages in Aguamansa by late afternoon.

Traditional thatched cottages adorned the agricultural hillsides

     A group of women filling brown sacks with pine needles greeted them with waves and amused cackles before running towards them when they realised the young men needed assistance. The same women invited the Norwegians to follow them down between neat agricultural terraces, and then under majestic chestnut trees to what appeared to be a small hamlet. Plumes of scented smoke filtered through thatches and the aroma of delicious goatmeat stew made the young seamen’s stomachs ache with hunger.

One of the favourite meals in Tenerife is succulent goatmeat stew

     The young adventurers were never going to make it to the comforts of La Orotava before dark so these village people offered them all they had in the way of shelter, food, water and wine. It was the year 1926, and most islanders lived from the land. There was no such thing as money in these upper hillside regions, which are known locally as las medianías. However, the inhabitants were blessed with happiness, with the routine of existing, and with the kindest hearts and warmest humour to be found anywhere on Earth. And, for just one night, these country folk belonged to the young, intrepid foreigners, especially to the one with the nasty burns on his legs.

     A rather plump lady with glorious, reddened cheeks and hands like a man's was summoned to take a look at the burned legs. Her name was Feliciana. She was the curandera, a kind of herbal doctor so often used by mountain folk. She was not a trained doctor, of course, but her cheery attitude and beaming smiles persuaded the young Lieutenant to allow her to help the unfortunate cadette. Once again, he was correct in his decision.

     Nobody had any black olives, whose juice she swore would soothe the burns. But there were plenty of recently dug-up potatoes which Feliciana proceeded to peel with a gigantic knife, dropping the peel in a heap onto the hard-trodden earth floor of the cottage they were sheltering in. She then used the same knife to cut the potatoes into fine slices. These she placed, very gently and neatly, onto the cadette’s burns, attaching them to his legs with slithers of green plant shoots. Feliciana then covered these with a warm, moistened cloth. The seventeen year old lad had already felt some relief by just watching the woman and by listening to her humming, but he felt the throbbing pain of his burns ease away when the potato dressing on his legs began to take effect. Apparently, the juice from potatoes had been used for generations as a natural reliever of pain and healer of certain kinds of wounds.

Men digging up potatoes like those used to soothe those burns

     On the following morning, just before the expedition retreated from the hills, with help from the Civil Guard in La Orotava, Feliciana came to bid them farewell. She also brought  a small earthenware vessel containing an oily ointment which she had prepared. It was a mix of what looked and smelled like lard, crushed thyme and rosemary. After carefully removing the potato slices, which were now dry, she very gently used two large fingers to spread the home-made cream over the burned legs. She also gave instructions to the Lieutenant to make sure the cadette used the ointment every day until the sores were better. And so he did. In fact, the Norwegian ship's Medical Officer was so impressed by the effect of Feliciana's ointment on the cadette's skin that he tried, in vain, to produce a similar kind of paste before opting for the more conventional methods of modern medicine. 


Author of:

The Journalist (a novel) 

The Skipping Verger and Other Tales ( a collecgion of short stories)

A Shark in the Bath and other Stories (a collecgion of short stories

El hombre de La Guancha y otras historias (a collection of short stories in Spanish) 

(For more information, please click on the images to the right of this page).

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Twitter: @reidten

Instagram: authorjohnreidyoung

John Reid is also owner at TENERIFE PRIVATE TOURS

Monday, December 6, 2021

A little "naivety" Christmas tale from the Canary Island of Tenerife


When Peter was a little boy, growing up in Spain’s Canary Island of Tenerife in the 1960s, Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, only had to climb down a dozen or so chimneys. There were very few European children living on the island and local kids knew only of the magic of the three Wise Kings of Orient. Father Christmas was just a quaint old fellow they had begun to refer to as Papa Noel, and he was definitely looked upon as very inferior indeed.

Papa Noel was still quite a novelty to Spanish children in the 1960s

Little Peter, the foreign child from Great Britain, and his best Spanish friend, Manolito, each worshipped their own provider of Christmas gifts. Each had been taught, from a very early age, that his own particular belief, or joyful tradition, was better by far than the other’s.

Anyway, way back in 1965, Santa Claus came down the chimney at Peter’s house, as usual on the night of 24th December, with stockings full of brilliant toys. On the following morning, Peter was in a state of great excitement. He opened his presents and played and played and played. His best Spanish friend, Manolito, was green with envy, as Peter innocently showed off his new lorry, train and cowboy pistol. In fact, he refused to talk to Peter, his neighbour on the edge of the banana plantation, for days.

A couple of weeks later, the Wise Kings of Orient trotted up on their camels to Manolito’s grand house in the middle of a banana plantation. When Manolito opened his presents on 6th January it was his turn to leap about in a state of great excitement. His father was a very important man and seemed to get preferential treatment from the Wise Kings.

The three Wise Kings, Melchior, Gaspar and Baltazar crossing the deserts.

Pillowcases, not stockings, were packed with extravagant and superb toys. They appeared far better than Peter’s and were spread over a Persian carpet for all to admire. Yes, Manolito had received many more and grander presents than Peter. He even got a belt with two golden cowboy pistols. What’s more, by the time Manolito began to play with his lorry and train, Peter’s were all very worn indeed. Wheels had fallen off and they were now only fit for the poor boy who lived in a hovel down the lane. The pistol no longer even made a bang. It was Peter now who was green with envy, and he too refused to talk to Manolito for days and days. 

News of this envious behaviour between two little boys reached King Melchior, the senior of the three Wise Kings. He summoned King Baltazar.

“Ah! Good morning, Baltazar. Listen, I’ve received some rather extraordinary reports. My falcon tells me you’ve been having furtive meetings with that old snowy fool they call Santa and, in fact, that you appear to get on quite well with him. Is this so?”

“Well, I don’t really know him well, your Majesty, but the one some people call Father Christmas is quite a pleasant old chap, actually. We meet every year and share a glass or two of port on the roof of All Saints, the British Anglican church in Puerto de la Cruz. But I spy on him, of course! Um, if you remember, you did send me to spy on him a few years ago in order to find out where he got his children’s toys from!”

“Did I? My goodness, gracious me! Very well then. I mean, good. Well done, indeed!” stuttered King Melchior, rather caught off guard.

All Saints Church, in Puerto de la Cruz, built upon rock and tradition.

“Well, I would like you to negotiate a truce with him. All this competing for the finest toys and between our religions and beliefs is very confusing. It is stirring up trouble amongst ordinary human beings. We cannot have little children, like Peter and Manolito, falling for adult tricks and jealousies, and about beliefs and religions being better than the other, don't you think?”

So, the very next year, when King Baltazar and Father Christmas had their annual meeting on the roof of All Saints Church in the town of Puerto de la Cruz, it went on for much longer than usual, a bit like that Brexit business. Negotiations were quite tough and each needed to consult advisors around the continents. But a treaty was signed under which children should not be affected by adult interests, predilections or political and religious nonsense.

It is after the sun has set over the great Mount Teide volcano that the three Wise Kings and Father Christmas make their way to the Canary Islands.

The process would take a few years, of course, and is still in its early days, but King Melchior’s idea was for the Three Wise Kings and Father Christmas not only to use the same shopping centres and toy manufacturers, but also to share the duty and pleasures of bringing joy to children around the World.

And so it began to happen. In fact, Spain’s Canary Island of Tenerife had the great honour of becoming the headquarters of this new Association of Shared and Differing Beliefs and Religions. Today, children on this and other islands under Spanish dominion are blessed.  In fact they are very lucky indeed. That very sensible and uniting agreement signed by King Baltazar on behalf of the Wise Kings and Father Christmas on the English slate roof of All Saints Church in the Taoro Park, enables them to receive gifts from both Father Christmas and the Three Wise Kings.

This nativity scene can be found at the Bodegón El Monasterio.

In other words, children of all nationalities enjoy visits from Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, celebrating the birth of Jesus, but can also expect equally wonderful gifts from the Wise Kings in January when they come to present baby Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Actually, between you and I, the adults keep most of the gold and things, and Father Christmas has taken to climbing over balconies because of the lack of chimneys on the island. Well, homes don’t often require heating in the sunny Canaries.

But the whole point is that the idea works. As a result of that meeting on the roof of All Saints Church, both Peter’s and Manolito’s grandchildren have learnt to love both Father Christmas AND the Three Wise Kings of Orient.

Sharing and being tolerant of each other’s beliefs, especially at Christmas, is a wonderful thing, you know. 

All the best to you all, wherever you may be, and do be kind and understanding.

By John Reid Young

Author of books. For more information, click on the images to the right of this page or on the following text:

 Travel Stories in Tenerife and the Canary Islands

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours

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Friday, November 19, 2021

When Tourists saddled up to the call of a volcano in Tenerife.

    In recent weeks, since the eruption from the La Cumbre Vieja mountain range began on 19th September, on Spain's Canary Island of La Palma, scientists have been learning and exchanging more information about Strombolian eruptions than ever before. However, even they understand that against the forces of nature, especially those deep in the Earth's bowels, mankind has not got a chance.

A beautiful sunset, with Mt Teide above the clouds. To the right, a dramatic plume speaks of La Palma's eruption. 
(Photo taken during a picnic on 21.09.2021). 

     What began as a sparkling and exciting event, with magma and gases creeping through volcanic tubes and pushing their way to the surface, like a kettle coming to the boil, soon turned into a nightmare, and devastation for inhabitants of La Palma. 

     Hundreds of homes have been buried under rivers of lava, swallowing up the memories of generations and turning some of the finest banana plantations into petrified, fuming rock, whilst treasured black-sand beaches have been smothered by smoldering lava. Inhabitants are also suffering the consequences of the fallout, in the form of ash particles weighing down roofs and blanketing everything with something resembling powdered, black snow. Sulphur dioxide has poluted the air they breathe. COVID pandemic rules imply the compulsory wearing of masks. Now people wear masks to protect their health, not from a man-spread virus, but from the dangerous levels of volcanic debris and chemicals in the air. 

Like a snake, a river of magma finds its way in La Palma

     The island of La Palma, la isla bonita, is over 50 miles away but we, on the island of Tenerife, have memories of our own volcanoes, of course. One only has to visit the great Las Cañadas caldera to realise that Mount Teide Volcano is just a small hillock compared to what may have been there long before. We also have written memories of the last eruption on the island, a little over 100 years ago. Not only memories, but a feeling, not so deep down, that anything might happen one day. After all, as La Palma has come to remind us, the Canary Islands are still volcanically active.

     On rare occasions we have felt the minor Earth tremors that have been keeping people awake on La Palma. Some of us remember, only a few years ago, before the under-sea eruption off the island of El Hierro in 2011, that there were whispers about an imminent eruption on Tenerife. A series of earth tremors, centred between the towns of  Santiago del Teide and Icod, got people all het up. Even a few English newspapers told their readers that Teide was about to blow its top! A maximum register of 3.2 on the Richter Scale was not much to worry about, but the coincidence of a number of similar shakes over a period of weeks persuaded the authorities and scientists to come clean about the fact that something might have been about to happen. 

     Although nothing actually did occur at the time, local gossip also led to similar conclusions. Tomás, the lovely old gentleman from La Guancha who used to come with his lorry on Saturdays to sell us home-grown fruit and vegetables, told us there was a cave to the south of Icod from which nasty smelling gases had begun to appear. Mind you he was also convinced that the unusually hot weather we had been having at the time was also due to volcanic activity!

     The authorities tried to persuade public opinion that if anything did happen, it would not be on a catastrophic scale. Indeed they believed, if it happened at all, that it would be “a gentle, Strombolian eruption” which might perhaps start a few forest fires and burn a house or two, but no more. Scientists supported that belief. However, as La Palma has evidenced now, nobody can predict nor control the damage an eruption might cause, or where exactly a volcano might decide to appear in its explosive beginnings. Having said that, scientists, using modern equipment and satellite images, were almost exact in pinpointing where the Earth would give this time.

The "gentle eruption" of Chinyero (Tenerife, 1909)

     Perhaps memories of the last eruption on the island of Tenerife, in 1909, had persuaded people that any eruption would be "gentle", until this new La Palma volcano. 

     Nevertheless, when Chinyero erupted, the municipality of the Valley of Santiago was practically cut off from the rest of the world. Messenger pigeons became the essential means of communication during the eruption. The information carried by the birds took no more than 5 minutes to reach Garachico from Santiago del Teide. From there, the news was then urgently transmitted to the authorities by telegram.

     The eruption of Chinyero, however minor, produced a whole range of reactions. Fearful inhabitants took their religious images up to the lava flows and legend suggests the lava came to a halt where they stood. Victorian tourism found ways to take advantage of the situation and a number of excursions were organised to visit the volcano. Moreover, the Chinyero is famous for having been the first volcano to have been mentioned in the press, and to have been filmed and photographed. It is also the first to have been studied by contemporary scientists and about which extensive, scientific reports were made.

     Chinyero began to erupt just after two o'clock in the afternoon of 18th November, 1909. Its activity lasted for 10 days, unlike the new La Palma eruption which, as I write, is two months old and still going strong. The eruption was preceded by a series of earth tremors and underground noises which alerted the inhabitants in Santiago del Teide and neighbouring regions. The eruptive process began when a 600 metre long crevice opened up and this was accompanied by loud explosions, heard as far away as La Laguna and Santa Cruz. The eruptive column towered sky high. As one local resident described,

“It gave a great thundering sound and the plants and trees flew into the air with the smoke and earth. The shrubs went up, turning over and over and were covered in black and red earth. Huge stones were also flung out, everything spreading out when it reached high up, and bits of gravel came down on us, so hot that we could not hold them in our hands.”

      There are also memorable tales about folk in the Orotava Valley. Some were brave enough to take a close look at the eruption. I remember being told by Noel Reid that he witnessed the eruption at close range. He was a lad of seventeen at the time and remembered that there had been a series of earth tremors for a couple of months before the eruption. 

     The first sign that the earth was attempting to breathe was when news arrived that gases had appeared from a cavity on the side of Mount Teide. Everyone thought the peak itself would erupt and foreign residents hastily began to pack their bags. Many British residents took boxes and cases for safe-keeping at Casa Reid in Puerto de la Cruz or at El Nido, the Vice Consul, Tom Reid’s home, itself built in 1894 on the top of a volcanic rock. Some residents were invited to stay, resting wherever they could find space, indoors or on the verandas. 

El Nido, the British Vice-Consul's house in the Orotava Valley.

     From other parts of the island, the noise of the explosions from the eruption could be heard like distant thunder, and the amazing red glow of lava shooting into the sky were very spectacular. Local people were frightened. The Bishop of La Laguna ordered everyone to pray. But the rumblings and the glow seemed to go on for days without apparently causing great harm. 

Tourists from around the island got a close look at the volcanic eruption (1909)

     Therefore, like a number of others, Noel Reid and a group of mostly Spanish friends, including Anita Perez, a beautiful local girl who lived at a house called Los Frailes, could no longer resist the temptation. They decided to get a closer look and rode their horses as far as Icod de los Vinos, and up into the hills along the old carriage track.

They rode into the hills from Icod de los Vinos

     They left their horses at a certain distance, for fear the animals would become nervous as they neared the constant explosions, and walked higher into the hills where they set up camp close to the inhospitable black, old lava flow produced by another volcano, the Trevejos, which destroyed part of the original trading port of Garachico in 1706. 

The Trevejos Volcano erupting and destroying part of Garachico, as depicted by artist Ubaldo Bordanova

     The following day, the intrepid group of adventures then proceeded on foot to within half a mile of Chinyero, to see the earth flinging rocks high in the air and spewing lava. Noel Reid, who just seven years later was much closer to hell, earning the DSO for bravery at Ypres in the First World War, and his party of youngsters, were not the only ones to get a close look at Chinyero. 

Captain Noel Spence Reid DSO, MC (born in Tenerife in 1892)

     Another member of the distinguished British community, Austin Baillon, often recalled his own father, Alex Baillon’s memories. According to him, the thunderous explosions could be heard from as far as the island of Gran Canaria. People in nearby villages, like Guía de Isora, spent the best part of a week in the streets. Seven craters opened up on a plain. Liquid stone was blasted 600 feet into the sky and glowing lava gushed into the night in four huge, slow-moving rivers, like immense burning snakes. Alex Baillon said it was a splendid sight to see the frightful force of nature. 

     There is a tale about the priest of Tamaimo holding continuous prayers in the little chapel, begging for the lava not to reach them. It stopped just before the village. 

     Until the current eruption of La Palma, it was hoped, and almost believed, that any future eruption would be as safe and as obedient to Christian prayer as Chinyero, or perhaps no worse than Chahorra, the fissure eruption that appeared on the side of Pico Viejo, alongside Mount Teide in 1798. 

     One can only pray, in fact, judging by what we have witnessed these days on La Palma. Prayer, even for the non-believer, is all we have when nature decides the pressure has become too much. 


Author of books:




collections of short stories set in the Canary Islands,


(For more information, please click on the images to the right of this page).


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Twitter: @reidten

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Friday, April 24, 2020

A Very British Kind of Place on the Canary Island of Tenerife

          They were very different times. The number of inhabitants in Puerto de la Cruz on the island of Tenerife may not have been much more than five thousand. A fair number of those were British and Irish. Early forms of tourism were just beginning and town houses were being converted into pensions and boarding houses to cater for the growing number of travellers, scientists and artists. So quaint, if we compare it to the five star luxury hotels in today's modern resorts, the beautiful old Martianez Hotel offered improved sanitary arrangements installed by an English plumber. One could stay at the Marquesa for seven pesetas a day. There were no roads but dusty tracks and caminos reales, stone highways connecting the old port with the towns of La Orotava, Los Realejos and beyond. A carriage from the port to La Orotava cost as much as ten pesetas. Visitors could hire a landau for 600 pesetas a month or a donkey for two and a half pesetas for a morning. There was the beginnings of an electricity supply, generated by water flowing from a water gallery at a point near Aguamansa and supplied to only a few wealthy properties. There was no television. There was no rush.

The Martianez Hotel in Puerto de la Cruz

          The small and distinguished community from the British Isles and the growing number of winter visitors were regarded with respect and affection and went about their business with gentility. Nevertheless, although they were a very cultured lot and therefore needed little in the way of entertainment, because they made their own, they lacked a very important ingredient. There was nowhere, outside the privacy of their own home or boarding house, at which to enjoy a decent game of one kind or another.

          So one should not surprised to hear that in 1896 a small group of those intrepid pioneers hired rooms above a chemist owned by a gentleman by the name of Ramón Gómez, in Calle Santo Domingo, a street just above the fishing harbour. It was there that they founded a games club called The Guanche English Club. They had a billiards table and a cardroom, and drinks were served. To them it might have seemed like the beginnings of their very own version of the Travellers or Caledonian clubs in London, to which gentlemen could slip away to escape a female plot. But that wasn't the case at all. Ladies, as in so many British colonies, were very much a part of the act and the club was a regular host to the Orotava English Musical and Dramatic Society, an early equivalent to today's English Speaking Theatrical Association in Tenerife, better known as E.S.T.A.

Puerto de la Cruz with ships at anchor

          What they really yearned for was some outdoor activity, a bit of sport, old bean! Therefore, in October 1902, at about the same time Kitchener was putting an end to the Boer War, the beginnings of an outdoor games club began to blossom in the Orotava Valley, although there had already been attempts to get a golf links going outside the valley, at La Quinta in Santa Úrsula. 

          Captain Hamilton Boyle, Reverend Humphreys, Doctor Lisham and Messrs Woolley and Osbert Ward, author of The Vale of Orotava, a guide-book published in 1903, decided it was time. They met for an afternoon of outdoor activities at San Antonio, where Walter Long Boreham, one of the main benefactors of All Saints church had lived, because there was what they called a cement lawn-tennis court as well as a small croquet lawn. 

          The same group agreed to meet again, this time with Vice-Consul Tom Reid and Mr Gregory at El Robado, Colonel Owen Peel Wethered’s magnificent mansion at the heart of what today we know as San Fernando. El Robado's gardens, which were described as spacious and where croquet and the ancient game of bowls could be carried on in a most scientific manner during picnics and tea parties, would be an ideal venue.

A tea party at El Robado

          Four years later the popularity of these games parties at private houses, and the growing number of visitors to Puerto de la Cruz persuaded these fun-loving British residents to rent the grounds adjacent to San Antonio from doña Celia Zamora in order to establish a permanent club. A huge sum of seven hundred and fifty pesetas a year was the agreed rent. 
          The new club, the Orotava Bowling and Recreation Club was declared open on 15th November, 1906. Subscriptions were set at thirty pesetas a year, twelve and a half for three months and five pesetas for just one week. Steamers, like the Avocet or the Ardeola which belonged to the Yeoward Brother’s Line and could be seen at anchor off Puerto de la Cruz while they loaded bananas, were bringing a constant flow of winter visitors to the club. It was becoming a tremendous success and in 1908 the club was registered for the first time under Spanish law as an association. 

The original bowling green at the club

          Those who preferred bowls were indignant in 1907 when upstarts asked if they might play tennis on their tender bowling green. The request concentrated minds on the fact that proper tennis courts would have to be on the agenda. Alas, they would have to wait because war got in the way. Indeed, suddenly, it all changed. The rumblings of the Great War began to affect the arrival of merchant and passenger shipping to the Canary Islands as German U-Boats took their toll. Few new visitors made the journey and younger club members volunteered to fight for King and country. Life and membership at the games club was badly affected. 

          It wasn't until 1924 that new tennis courts were laid just where they are today, albeit overgrown with weeds since the British Club was asked to leave the premises. Tennis almost became the main event and matches began to be organised against rival clubs such as the Hesperides Club of La Laguna and The British Club of Santa Cruz. Faces grew younger in between the wars and as the 1920s swung in so did the demand for a bit of harmless fun, and dances and other activities were organised in style.

The tennis courts at the British Club (note the long whites)

          The club also survived the Spanish Civil War and, immediately afterwards, WW2. It kept going thanks to that old, solid British spirit, keep calm and and carry on. It was also thanks to its Spanish members like the Marquesa de Villafuerte, the Llarenas and the Salazars that the club actually carried on playing games.

The Club rules were even translated into Spanish

          Indeed, the club bonded great and lasting friendships between families like the Machados and British residents. How they loved their croquet, especially when the game was played on the large green beside the clubhouse. Bowls always seemed just a bit too English for them, with all that bending down on one's knee and those memories of Sir Francis Drake and the Armada. 

Tom Reid (British Vice-Consul) and Noel Reid (First Junior Member, aged 16) pictured on the croquet lawn in 1908

How they loved their croquet!

          Especially after WW2, the club boasted some of the best young tennis players in Tenerife, like Alfonso and Antonio Cologan, of Irish ancestry, and their brother Leopoldo, Marqués de la Candia. They were good years when members like Felipe Machado, who purchased Risco de Oro from George Marriott, was Vice-President and Leopoldo Cólogan were on the committee under Noel Reid who had carried on with the work of his brother Rio.

          In between and after the wars the club had prospered. It became an open and friendly place, and consequently more and more cosmopolitan, with a number of very distinguished and able European members and quite a few American and Canadian representatives always willing to lend a hand. Nevertheless it retained a very British feel about it. Her Majesty´s birthday was celebrated as loyally as in old British dominions and colonies. Officers from visiting Royal Navy ships were graciously entertained by the club for many years and their ship's crests were proudly on display around the bar. A smoky, ruthless game of bridge could be fought in a quiet corner of what was the Dick Peto room, named after a member who donated a thousand pounds, a huge sum in those days, after WW2.

Some club members celebrating Armistice Day in 1929
Antonio, the gardener, is on the left
If anyone would like to know who the others were, I'd be happy to tell you.

          A splendid, strategic and sometimes uproarious bowls competition would entertain a critical audience, before and after a gin and tonic. A serious game of tennis could be had any day, provided one fetched one's own stray ball from the banana plantation. In the latter years of the 20th century bandits fought against angels in thrilling and hilarious Sunday tournaments. A gentle tea and biscuits, served by Rosa and duty lady members, were available to ease one out of an afternoon siesta. Charitable dinners, competitions and seasonal dances were arranged and held in grand and traditional style. The bar was a regular meeting place for many a resident who simply wanted to relax, chat and enjoy a drink at a very reasonable price and in very pleasant surroundings.

The original entrance to the British Games Club.

          It would need a book to fully account for the history and traditions of what is still today known as the British Games Club. Even though the club was forced to move, and did so in style and with that same keep calm and carry on attitude, to Club de Tenis Puerto de la Cruz, sometimes better know as Alvaro's Club, a careful study of many of its members, past and present, would certainly reveal a wealth of talent, culture and experience. The club, just as the other pillars of the British community, the English Library and All Saints Church, reflect a unique British volunteering spirit. Silently, behind the scenes, there will always be those prepared to work tirelessly in the interests of their British community.

Alvaro's Club

          When the current crisis is over, the COVID-19 storm, anyone joining the club will realise at once that present members maintain the old club’s high standards. Newcomers will soon feel glad to be a part of its delightful character, especially with all its lively activities. There have been changes, of course. Apparently, in 1955, when new, young and radical members suggested that cold drinks, including beer, might be served after games, many of the senior members got into a flap. Hip flasks would be permitted, of course, what, what!

By John Reid Young

(This is an adaptation of a previous article of mine, published fifteen years ago in island newspapers, and certain images may have been reproduced from internet with no personal financial gain intended.)

Author of books "A SHARK IN THE BATH AND OTHER STORIES" and "THE SKIPPING VERGER AND OTHER TALES", collections of short stories set in Tenerife and the Canary Islands". (For more information click on the images to the right of this page).

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours....

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