Postcard from Tenerife

One of the delights of learning new languages is playing with the new words in the patterns of the languages you already know. In English, you can say, big to mean “cool”, “heavy”, “brilliant”. Germans will use their equivalent, groß, the same way. Do Spanish speakers? If they didn’t, they might now.

Over seven days in Tenerife, whenever we got a plate of delicious food or a glass of incredible wine, or turned a corner to see an amazing view, I’d hear Tim give a low whistle and say (to the baffled amusement of the Canarians), “Grande”. And Tenerife, the largest of the seven Spanish Canary Islands, deserves the word. Hovering off the coast of norther Africa, Tenerife is famous for its volcano, Mount Teide, the largest peak in Spain at 3,718-metres (12,198 ft); its stunning landscapes; and (most importantly for those visiting from northern Europe), its year-long sunshine and high temperatures.

We went all over but didn’t really do anything besides eat, drink, lay in the sun, and drive.

Long, winding drives through crazy landscapes both lush and alien. The road to Masca, which ribbons through the islands northwestern corner with hair-pin turns and cacti at every corner.

Through Anaga National Park, which occupies most of the northeastern corner and is luscious and green with Canarian pines.

We ended up at pristine beaches, thick with chunky sand and hunks of holey rock plunging out of the blue waves. I searched for sea glass in the crumbles of volcanic sand. We stacked colorful lava rocks in approximations of snowmen figures.

We passed through towns where the houses were built on each other into the mountains, balanced together like stacks of blocks. Little squares were still decorated for Christmas, and fat Santas rappelled down bright walls or dropped from wrought iron gates.

We ate tapas and paella, drank carafes of delicious cool red wine and tall cups of rum and pineapple juice—a lime bobbing at the lip of the glass. We bought avocadoes by the pound and ate a heaping bowl of guacamole every day. Our table was filled with vivid food—rosy slivers of Serrano ham, rough hunks of salami, moon-yellow slices of Emmentaler, pauncy green olives bloated with brine, persimmons and mandarins like little balls of fire. We bought spicy red Canarian mojo and topped everything with it—eggs, toast, avocadoes, potatoes—until the squat little jar was scraped clean.

We spoke Spanish, English, and German. Sprawled under the strong equatorial sun we talked about everything under the sun—about the ethics of keeping orcas at sea parks, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the differences between comets and meteors, the types of volcanoes, if it’s possible to grow a banana tree in a non-tropical climate (also known as our kitchen).

One night in the middle of our trip, we drove up to the slopes of Mount Teide to watch the sunset and the stars come out. We wandered around the edges of the volcano, a landscape full of rocks and cacti and wild openness. As the sun sank, we climbed up a burgundy finger of scoriaceous rock, it’s porous surface making it look more like coral than stone. The stars slowly began to appear—and there is no way to write about them without using every tired cliché in the book. It was incredible. A sky so dark and clear that, directly above us, we could see the faint flickers of the Orion Nebula.

And there’s no other word for that, I think, than grande.

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