I refer to the Canary Islands as Spain’s “Hawaii.” Both are groups of volcanic peaks jutting up from vast seas. the Atlantic for the Canaries and the Pacific for Hawaii. Both have year-round springtime weather. Both are rich in tropical vegetation. And both are major tourist destinations, as well as retirement meccas.
I am visiting an old friend in Tenerife the largest island in the Canaries. The island is formed by one large volcano, El Teide, the tallest mountain in Spain. On the windward side (northwest) one finds land covered by tropical plants of a great variety made possible by the frequent low cloud cover and rains. The leeward side, south and east, is dry and in essence a desert.
In the center is the huge park surrounding El Teide which one may climb easily. The park offers evocative land formations, including the still active volcano, and a wide range of exotic flora found only here.
Tourists are divided into two groups. The largest group consists of those headed to the beaches in the leeward side of El Teide. These are the Europeans searching for fun in the surf and sun. This group is largely younger families on holiday.
The smaller group of visitors heads to the windward side and its rich offer of tropical plants. The oldest botanical garden in Spain is here (in fact 25 meters from where I am writing this blog). Almost every open space is planted with bananas which are shipped all over Spain. Most of these visitors are older and this is he center of the many retirement developments.
Tourism, which includes part year residents, is the commercial lifeblood of Tenerife and all the Canaries. Blessed with eternal spring, like Hawaii, visitors come year-round. One friend who is a university professor here claims that the Canaries have always been a “mono-cultivation” place. At first most economic activity focused on harvesting the islands’ forests to make wood for building and outfitting ships. The Canaries were the last stop for Spanish galleons heading west to the Americas and here the boats went though last minute modifications and repairs. This was also the last stop for taking on supplies for the trip, water, salt fish, fruit, lumber, and more.
All of this led to eventual deforestation of the islands. The “mono-cultivation” then turned to the manufacture of exotic dyes from lichen that grew on the islands. These were replaced by manufactured dyes and the islands turned to wine and sugar cane. These products were then replaced by banana cultivation. Finally the islands’ economy turned to the “mon-cultivation” of tourism.
Lack of a diversified economy has saddled the islands with roller coaster economic development. However, the tourism industry promises to provide major stimulus for well into the future, since the islands will always have surf, sun and beautiful flora and the world’s population is becoming grayer.
For those who like Hawaii I can recommend Tenerife and all the Canaries as a perfect replacement. For others I recommend them for their special biospheres featuring a wealth of exotic plants and their unique land formations.