Why I love Tenerife

The weather

Yes, the weather is great. No heating or A/C required. But it’s more than that. I love how different the weather is. When it rains, there is always a patch of blue sky somewhere. Sometimes it rains and shines at once. The rain often falls as a mist. Even the color of the blue sky is different when you look at the horizon. Sometimes the view of Gran Canaria is crystal clear, other days, the “panza de burra” erases it from sight. The rainbows, the microclimates. I could go on and on about the weather in Tenerife…

The plants

I still remember the thrill of the first hike in the Anagas, seeing the succulents all over, creeping out of the cracks in the volcanic rock. “In other places, they would be house plants!” My first love among plants is the aeoniums (bejeque), many varieties are endemic to the Canaries. (I even love the word “aeonium” — the shortest word with all 5 vowels. So there, ambidextrous murcielagos.) How many varieties of aeonium like rooftops? The drago and the tajinaste deserve their fame, and deserve a trip to Icod and Teide, but I’ll mention the lesser-appreciated plants: the sinewy branches of the tabaiba, the cardón cactus that hang off cliffs in a big “J”.


And the salt-loving succulents:

  • the common iceplant (ficoide glacial) is amazing to look at: bubbles all over, like jewels. You can eat it too — throw it in salads.
  • the bolita plant, I’m not sure what it’s called, but they’re everywhere.

Ice plant

Bolita plant

On a volcanic island, the first life form to appear is lichen. You need to take a close look to appreciate the strange forms a lichen can take. A lichen is both algae and fungus living together in symbiosis. Studying lichen led to the invention of this term. 


So peaceful standing in a laurisilva forest or a forest of Canary pines. The needles of these pines condense the vapor of the clouds that hang 2 kms over Tenerife — these pines are key to filling the underground lava tubes with water. 

Then some plants I like are not endemic to Tenerife:

  • The foxtail agave with its huge loop of white flowers. 
  • The agave americano or century plant, that before dying sends up an 8-meter stalk of flowers. The young stalk looks like a giant asparagus.
  • The prickly pear cactus (higo chumbo) — when the cactus dies, the trunk leaves an amazing skeleton. I made a lamp out of one:   This cactus was brought to the Canaries in the 19th century, along with the cochineal beetle (scrape off the white infection on the cactus and you’ll dozens of the female beetles, that hardly move in their lifetime). Squeeze one, and your finger will be bright red.  When Hernán Cortes found red dye much better than the red dye in Europe, his men started asking around for the source. In the early 19th century, the cochineal was the main cash crop in Tenerife, until artificial dyes came along. 40 years ago in the poverty of the postwar, Tinerfiños got back to harvesting the beetles.

Plants in the Canaries

The tidal pools

The coast is incredibly varied, the sculpted rock forming fantastic shapes, the ocean sculpts the colorful montaña amarilla, montaña roja, and montaña pelada. All over, you can see the cracked and cleaved basalt. The perfect hexagons that basalt can form is not inherent to any crystalline nature of basalt. Rather, it is due to the most efficient form of cracking when a liquid rock cools and contracts.

I sit by tidal pools and just wait a while until my eyes adjust and I start seeing life. I remember the first time I dipped my feet in a tidal pool, and soon had 20 shrimp gathered around, eating the dead skin from my feet. I’ve seen more life in the tidal pools of the southeast — Los Abrigos and El Médano. There I see urchins and anenomes, sea cucumbers, spotted sea hares. It took me ten years here before I noticed the siphonophores: the Portuguese Man of War and the Velella or Sea Raft. Siphonophores can’t control movement, so when they wash onto shore, that’s it for them. As a kid, I imagined the Portuguese Man of War to be a huge fearsome creature, but washed up, it’s really just a little blue balloon. The amazing thing about siphonophores is that they are not organisms, they are colonies of organisms, with a few different types to handle each task: one is the tentacles, another builds the sail or balloon, etc. The individual tentacle polyps are connected by a canal system that enables the colony to share whatever food is ingested by individual polyps. (Now that us humans talk about our good gut bacteria, maybe it’s time to be humble enough to think about the 500 species that live with us not as “parasites” but as smaller but equal  partners: we are a colony too.) 

The elevation

The highest point in Spain is just a few kilometers away from the ocean. And all the ironmen on the island run from the ocean to the peak in a race called the Blue Trail. Teide is incredible, but it was actually the older, more grooved mountains of the Anagas and Teno that just awed me.  The drive over the crest to Playa Benijo still takes my breath away.

The beaches 

The black sand beaches are so fine that I used to obsess making sand castles from mud drippings. The kids would just watch me getting carried away, my mind off wondering whether Gaudi was similarly inspired. You can do so much with that black sand: mudballs, graffiti on your kid’s back, whatever. 

What I don’t like

The corruption: The rule is no building can be 100 meters from the coast, but apparently, the Departamento de Costas can issue exceptions. Nuff said.

The energy use: We need to do better upping the renewable energy use to 100%. See my intro to installing solar panels. 

It’s up to us to fix what we don’t like.

See my “Textures of Tenerife” photo album