Standing on the still wet cobbles which glistened in the sunshine, in a beautiful courtyard, I may be soaked to the skin but I’m smiling. I feel as if I’ve been transported to another time and another place. I’m in a bubble trapped in history, way back at the turning of the 15th and 16th century, when La Laguna was newly built and the Spanish island of Tenerife was the crossroads connecting Europe with the New World.
I had left my hotel in El Médano in glorious sunshine, knowing that the early morning chill would lift and temperatures would soon rise into the mid-twenties. I hopped on the local bus which slowly edges its way along the barren and rather uninteresting coast to the capital of the island, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. By the time I arrived the day was warming up a treat.
It wasn’t the capital of today though that I was interested in.
From the bus I changed to a tram, taking the Number 1 line to the last stop, La Trinidad and the old town of San Cristobal de La Laguna, once the island’s capital. As we trundled along climbing higher and higher, the sky grew dark. “What’s this?” I thought, remembering just how many times I’d been told that week that it never rained in Tenerife. “Well it’s blinking well raining now.” I said to myself, while sitting in my floaty summer dress, watching the drops run down the window.
It was still raining when I arrived in La Laguna and it was cold. So much colder than Santa Cruz just a few miles away but at sea level. I dashed into the nearest café. The lady behind the counter pointed at a large spiral of …something… and I nodded, quite uncertain of what I was agreeing to have with my coffee. Rather than handing me the whole thing, she broke off what was still a reasonably sized portion. It was a churro, a type of Spanish donought; a winter warmer made of deep-fried wheat flour to go with my coffee; a typical way to start the day with a hot chocolate or milky coffee to dunk it in. A cognac on the side would have made it even more traditional I’m told.
But I couldn’t sit in a café all day so back out into the rain I ventured.
Winding my way down a few streets, it wasn’t long before I was back indoors but I was already soaked. That was soon forgotten, however, as I slowly walked around the Santa Iglesia Cathedral and when I emerged the clouds were lifting and the sun broke through.
I wandered around aimlessly, drying off rapidly and discovering one enchanting street after another. Delightful courtyards. Los Calados Artesania, a fabulous shop full of intricately embroidered traditional costumes (no photos allowed). The Museum of Tenerife. More delightful courtyards. Fundacion Cristino de Vera, art gallery.
La Laguna was founded in 1496. The town boomed as the island’s trade with the New World grew. Built from scratch it was the first city to be laid out on a geometric grid. It was also the first non-fortified Spanish colonial town and its plan provided the model for many colonial towns in South and Central America. In 1833 its power as the capital was transferred to nearby Santa Cruz and it is possibly thanks to this that it has been able to preserve its historic character.
Today it is a thriving university town, the cultural centre of the island and as I walk past its beautiful Renaissance buildings it reminds of a town I once visited on another group of islands in the Atlantic, Mindelo, on São Vicente, one of the Cape Verde islands, south of the Canaries, west of Senegal; a former Portuguese colony and another stepping stone to the New World.