Friday, January 17, 2020

Olivia Stone meets her guide in Tenerife.

It was mid-day on the 9th September, 1883 when Olivia Stone and her husband John arrived at the Turnbull Hotel in the Orotava Valley. There was a heavy cloud hanging in the valley, as it so often does, and it was hot and sticky in the old town of Puerto de la Cruz. 

Although the couple were tired and glad to step down from the carriage that had brought them from La Laguna for twenty five pesetas plus another ten for their luggage, Olivia Stone, never one to wait until tomorrow, was eager to make arrangements.

She was determined to explore every corner of the island in order to begin writing her second travel book as soon as possible. Her first, Norway in June, had been a resounding success, with The Spectator having refered to her writing as "fresh, and charming, comprehensive and instructive"

Olivia Stone, an elegant, cultured and organised lady

Olivia was a cultured and organised lady. Before departing from England she had made certain of bringing letters of reference to present to important members of the community, like the Marquesa de Sauzal. The Stones also had letters of introduction for useful European residents like Peter Spence Reid, the Honorary Vice Consul, Charles Smith of Sitio Litre, Louis Renshaw and Germán Wildpret, amongst others.

As soon as John and Olivia Stone had refreshed themselves after their dusty carriage ride they were served lunch. After a brief siesta, as Olivia Stone later described, she explained to the the hotel proprietors, John and ElizabethTurnbull and to Mr Reid, who had kindly come round to welcome them, that they wished to begin exploring the island, and especially to climb Mount Teide, without delay.

“In that case we must send for Lorenzo!” exclaimed Mr Reid.

Lorenzo was an institution in the valley. He became a well-known guide in the late 19th century for any of those adventurous Britons and other Europeans who had the very misunderstood urge to climb Teide and was therefore the person to consult about when and how to climb, depending on the weather conditions. As it happened he lived close by and arrived in a matter of minutes. Besides, it was none other than Mr Reid who had sent for him, and the port was still a small town of not more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Peter S Reid in his latter years at his home "El Nido"

Olivia Stone took note that “don Pedro el inglés”, as he was affectionately known by the locals, was a young looking 53 year old. Peter Reid had been born in Melrose, Scotland, in 1830 and had arrived on the island of Gran Canaria to work with his cousins at Casa Miller, (Swanston, Miller and Co.). Given the interest the Orotava Valley in Tenerife had earned amongst Victorian travellers the firm sent young Peter Reid there to establish a subsidiary in Puerto de la Cruz in 1863. Peter Reid decided very soon afterwards to cut his ties with his cousin and formed his own company in 1865. It became one of the most flourishing firms in the Orotava Valley. At first he imported wood from the Baltic and soon brought in porcelain and foodstuffs from England and even goods from as far away as China. He is still hailed as having been the pioneer in the export of Canary bananas to the United Kingdom but was probably best known for his export of Canary onion seed to the USA. Peter Reid also imported excellent fabrics from Ireland destined for a calado linen work industry he helped to establish and which still flourishes today.

A simple advertisement in Osbert Ward's guide book, The Vale of Orotava, (1903)

It was clear Olivia Stone was very taken by this very kind hearted and able man with the gentle Scottish accent. But she also observed, “Mr Reid, our Vice Consul here, holds religious services on Sundays in his house. Being a Scot and a Presbyterian, he sometimes gives a rather long sermon based upon Scottish religious works”.

Some Spanish historians have been quite blunt about Olivia Stone. They considered her to be rather too Victorian for their liking. In other words, she gave the impression of believing herself terribly superior, possibly because she pointed out failings as well as virtues. She was very observant but evidently might not have realised how much some of her honest opinions could upset proud feelings, especially in Gran Canaria, the other principal Canary Island. Just the title of her travel book, Tenerife and its six satellites could have caused a civil war. In Gran Canaria the administrative classes considered their island to be the equal if not superior to Tenerife. Of course, Olivia had evidently taken into account the larger physical size and height of Tenerife for her title and nothing else.

Olivia Stone's illustrated guide to the Canary Islands

Olivia also made it clear that she became very fond of Tenerife. She was happiest when sitting outside her tent, somewhere in the vineyards or pine forests of the upper-valleys, sipping a cup of wine and basking in the unique scenery. This is reflected in one of her poems.......

Have I not turned to thee and thine,
Oh Sun-land of the palm and pine;
And sung thy scenes, surpassing skies
Till Europe lifted up her face
And marvelled at thy matchless grace
With eager and inquiring eyes?
To pitch my tent, some tree and vine
Where I may sit above the sea,
And drink the sun as drinking wine,
And dream, or sing some songs of thee…

Lorenzo García López, the Mount Teide Guide

She liked Lorenzo, the guide. He seemed to be quite cultured. In fact his fame was even advertised a few years later in George W. Strettell’s guidebook, Tenerife, personal experiences of the Island as a Health Resort, in which Lorenzo was described as an authorised guide to Mount Teide, with 22 years experience and good references. There is no doubt that Olivia Stone played her part in creating his well-deserved fame after describing Lorenzo as a thin, energetic looking man with black hair, dark eyes, a black moustache, well tanned skin and very handsome. Having at first assumed that the man was in his mid twenties Mrs Stone later wrote that she discovered he was in fact 35.

Lorenzo agreed to supply the English couple with three horses for a ride around the island, beginning the very next morning. The horses cost five shillings a day plus food for them and the men. 

I think that is a fair price”, wrote Olivia Stone, “especially as the normal daily price is six shillings.”

Hiking up Mount Teide was not as common or easy as it is today

Lorenzo charged them an extra four shillings for climbing the great volcano. Curiously enough it has generally been superior visitors like Olivia Stone who have done most to paint Tenerife at its best and to express their admiration and gratitude for the hard work of those early day guides like Lorenzo.

As a matter of interest local people knew the guide as Lorenzo el Morisco (Lorenzo the Moor), possibly, as some historians suggest, because one of his ancestors had bought a house in Puerto de la Cruz which had belonged to a Moroccan family.

In her accounts Olivia Stone seemed to describe what she saw on a particular day, and not perhaps as things were in reality. Nevertheless, despite what may evidently have been a misinterpreted superior nature, she did manage to express the gentle manner of the islanders with unique honesty, especially when referring to local custom. For example, when walking down an apparently deserted street in the midday heat, tiny postigos would suddenly open in beautifully carved, wooden shutters and a curious, often very beautiful face would look out just to see what was going on in the world.

Permited courting through a postigo as illustrated in Frances Latimer's The English in Canary Isles.

Olivia Stone also referred to young mothers carrying carafes of wine or pots upon their heads with their hands carrying even heavier loads whilst children hung on to their mother's dresses and aprons. Unlike most of her comtemporaries from the British Isles, she also showed a healthy admiration for Canary Island cuisine.  If she were to explore the more rural communities, away from the grand tourist resorts of today, she would find to her delight that the customary dish has changed as little as the islanders' generous and welcoming nature.

By John Reid Young

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".

Owner of Tenerife Private Tours....

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