Niall’s virtual diary archives – Sunday 08 November 2020

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Sunday 8 November 2020: 00:08. Three months have passed since my last update here, little to report except on the travel we packed in during late summer between covid lockdowns. We had actually booked Tenerife for August well before covid, and despite that everybody was freaking out, I decided that we ought to go anyway, on the basis that a second lockdown was surely coming after the schools returned (and oh how right I was on that!), so best to get your holidays in now, as there would be no further escape for long thereafter. As we were renting our own house there and would not be expected to come close to other humans due to mostly travelling around the island and never going indoors, I felt it no riskier than at home. On this I was correct – even in the completely outdoors water parks which had by far the most close contact with others, the water is both chlorinated AND is sea water, and thus is highly salty.

I had never been to the Canary Islands before. They have a reputation of being a tourist trap. I am glad to report that whilst they do have tourist trap bits, if you avoid those, Tenerife is a world class destination experience. Such enormous variety of landscape and terrain on a single island around which you can drive the circumference in under two hours on a very good motorway. You have rainforest, lunar/martian landscapes, volcanic complete with sulphur smell, black sand beaches, cliffs, valleys, plant and animal life, some of the most amazing sights and scenery I’ve ever seen. There is lots of history, old fortifications, naval battles, pirates, old world towns and architecture, many catherdrals, and some very excellent museums. Obviously the food and drink are superb as with anywhere in Spain, and cheaper than in Ireland. And it’s warm, but surprisingly not that humid as the very tall mountain mixes down dry air from high up, so it has probably the best climate of anywhere I’ve ever been – dry without being too dry, warm without being too warm like summers on the Spanish mainland. Something that you really notice compared to Europe is just how pristinely clean everything is at least if you avoid the south – no plastic on the beaches, no pollution which you immediately notice when breathing, and how far across the sea to the other islands you can view. Yet, at the same time, if you want nightlife you have it, if you want your drive-through McDonalds, it’s there. Internet connectivity was generally fabulous, 4G on my phone throughout, and very high performance at that, much better than 4G in Ireland. It has all the comforts of Continental Europe, a much better climate, and a vast choice of stuff to do. I came away from there seriously considering relocating there permanently. That’s how nice it is out there.

Now, in the end, we weren’t there during normal times. We flew out and back on an almost empty plane (which was very pleasant as a result). The English speaking south was desolated, but things were busy enough in the Spanish speaking north where we were as Spanish mainlanders could holiday there without quarantine. The island itself was thus nicely unfull overall, which made it very pleasant to travel around indeed, yet where we were staying all the restaurants and facilities were open and quite busy. I am extremely sure that I would not like it anything like as much during normal non-covid times. Something like twenty-five million people visit per year, and high season is known for the island being absolutely jammers full which does not sound pleasant at all. So our experience was not typical, and permanently relocating there would not be to what we experienced.

And besides, ultimately, it’s a four hour flight from Northern Europe. Getting to and from it is therefore a pain, and not at all guaranteed to remain financially viable in the medium term as climate change gets cracked down upon. Tenerife would be a great place to relocate to if you were young and mobile (assuming you had work doable remotely), or were retired and no longer dependent on needing to find employment if your employment unexpectedly was terminated. As much as living in Northern Europe is much less pleasant, there are very good reasons why all the young with skills and motivation have been migrating from south to north for decades now, with no change in that migration pattern likely soon. The North is where the good jobs are, and it’s where we already live.

After much reseach, I decided on staying for our nine days in Radazul, a commuter town on the southern coast just outside Santa Cruz, the capital. I chose it because if you stay on the northern coast, the climate is far more humid and cloudy, whereas on the southern coast, you get blazing sun and clear skies most of the time. There is thus far less vegetation in the south. The entire of the north of the island is Spanish speaking, and apart from the extreme mountainness, you would swear you were in some part of the Spanish mainland in terms of look and feel. Here is the view from the house we rented:

We looked at that each morning as we drank espresso waking up. It was very pleasant.

One of the earlier things we did was to scale the mountain in the middle of Tenerife, which takes you up 13,000 feet or so. On the way up the terrain completely changes multiple times – forest, shrubs, desert, then actual elemental sulphur emitted recently from the volcano:

Yes, it actually smells like hell up there thanks to the sulphur. The kids seemed most impressed with the stinkiness. And obviously the view from 13,000 feet up is quite something, as is the lack of oxygen which was also a first for the kids. They handled the steep cable car ride well I thought.

On the large plateau on which the mountaintop sits – a mere 8,500 feet or so up – there is some amazing terrain. Here is me walking in it, it wasn’t sand by the way, it was more like a kind of pumice gravel, very odd consistency, indeed it seemed very much like you were on a Martian surface:

Clara was, as you can see, quite taken with the landscape and was attempting to capture it in her notebook.

We went lots of other places with many beautiful sights. Fabulous variety in Tenerife. The only place where we failed to get good photos that I would have wanted to show here was of the rainforest north of Santa Cruz. It is full of laurel trees and this forest has been here since the time of the dinosaurs, indeed this is what dinosaurs thought was typical, and it doesn’t exist worldwide outside a few remote islands any more. If you search Google for images of ‘Anaga Mountains’, you’ll see what we failed to capture. The reason for our failure, incidentally, is that they were closed to walkers when we visited due to fire risk, so we had to just drive through them.

The final place with photos I want to share here was Masca Valley. We very nearly didn’t go here, it was right at the end of our holiday and hadn’t been high on our priority list, partially because it is literally the furthest and most difficult place to get to from Santa Cruz, and partially because it’s a mecca for hikers, and we didn’t think it suitable for the kids. We mainly went there because we thought our visit would be incomplete without going. And boy were we right!

Yeah this place is somewhere very special indeed. The kids, despite their young ages, had been wowed on a number of occasions during the trip. You’d have thought they would have been all wowed out. Then they came here. Stunned silence followed for quite some minutes as they gawped around them attempting to take it all in. The last time I saw them do that was their first visit to Yosemite Valley. Yes, Masca Valley is that impressive.

The town in the centre itself is built up a steep slope. We had lots of fun going down into the town on perilously steep and slippery cobble paths. You can actually see the town stretch along the ridge in the photos to that middle peak, we walked all the way along. The entire town is surrounded by very steep mountains, and the town itself couldn’t be cuter looking, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t intentionally designed to look incredibly pretty (the actual story of why it looks as it does is enormously depressing and mainly due to horrible sustained poverty, discrimination, and Christian missionaries).

Something these pictures completely fail to capture is what is going on over your head in Masca Valley. If you look up, there is this maelstrom twisting and twirling above you, occasionally splattering you with little bits of drizzle. It is the humid air from up north blowing up over the mountain where it collides with the dry, desert air of the south. Clouds carried up the north side evaporate when they hit the south, but they don’t do so instantly. Rather, it is like a flux, a never repeating plasma of vortices shifting and twirling against each other. It is extremely hard to not just gawp at it for twenty minutes in silence, it is completely mesmerising.

On the way out of the valley I attempted to capture that maelstrom from up high. I completely and totally failed, but at least you get the idea:

You can see all that cloud from the north on the right, and the dry clear air from the south on the left.

Finally, Tenerife has an abundance of amazing man made sights as well, including a world class children’s science museum as good as any in San Francisco. Here is a picture of the Black Madonna in her cathedral in Candelaria, and indeed myself and Henry looking at her:

In hindsight we should have taken a lot more pictures of the capital Santa Cruz, which is a lovely old world feel Spanish town, yet also cosmopolitan (we ate very nicely there, despite covid, and extensively wandered by foot its streets). We also should have taken more pictures of Garachico, which is not much changed since the 17th century due to getting partially wiped out by a lava river pouring through it. It had been the capital of the island, the wealthiest part, so it was full of state of the art for its time opulance most of which was left unchanged after the citizens rapidly relocated elsewhere. It is thus chock full of heritage and history, including a monastery and convent still operating since back then unchanged in all these centuries.

You will probably note that I barely mention in any of the above the Tenerife which 95% of those visiting think is Tenerife, which is the southern English speaking part. Don’t get me wrong, we did spend about a quarter of our time there mainly visiting the theme and aqua parks, which are all world class, as good as any in Disneyworld Florida etc. We also stopped off there for an afternoon to wander around, and absolutely can I see the attraction: it is heavily overdeveloped, but that also means everything is within walking distance or taxi ride for the most part, and that means you can spend most of your time there drunk and incapable of driving and that’s not a problem. Waking up in your five thousand room hotel with a hangover is fine when five minutes walk away you are on golden sand beaches (the golden sand is imported so tourists get what they expect, the natural stuff is black, and apart from being very hot in the sun it’s very much superior to golden sand). When we were there it only had English old people in it, they still kept the bars busy, mostly whinging about Brexit and the NHS. They were friendly, but very much the kind of English who annoy everybody else in Europe. If it were running at full tilt, I suspect it would be lots and lots more of the same, only a bit younger, and with lots more children as Tenerife is the most favoured destination for those with younger families.

For a cheap holiday break away, you can get a room in those five thousand room hotels for maybe €200/week, flights might be another €200, spending money maybe €500 and you’ll be done for under a grand. Try achieving the same with a week in Killarney, for example, despite that you don’t need to fly there. Last time I tried I spent two grand, because Ireland is very unreasonably priced compared to Tenerife south. That’s why so many Irish flock to the Canary Islands instead of holidaying locally, Irish tourist destinations are geared for richer folk than the Irish .

Now, I did spent a lot more than two grand on our nine days in Tenerife. The house, which was twice the size of our own in Ireland, took a good chunk of it. As did all the activities out each day. All in all, excluding flights, it was similarly priced to our Christmas in California year before last, so our rate of ‘cash burn’ was quite similar, though we did do more expensive activities per day in Tenerife than we did in California, during which many days were spent scouting out our wedding, and thus were mainly driving and not spending money. Obviously, both were well under half the cost of our two weeks in Disneyworld Florida nearly three years ago, which was hideously expensive, but also unforgettable.

It’s now 2.25am, and I’m very tired so I’ll stop for now. Next few days I want to write another post updating where things are at with my Mintos peer-to-peer lending investments, as I just recently shifted allocation once again due to new news. See you then!


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