Saturday, 9 May 2015

Tenerife Packaged

An all inclusive week on the beach, or by the pool; sedentary sipping of cocktails while intermittently dipping into the water, before racing to the buffet before there's no more ambiguous slop left, repeatedly... For some people I completely understand this is heaven. For me, a total nightmare. However, can some of the shorter cheap deals be a platform for an interesting break? I take a last minute budget trip to the Canary Island's volcanic island, Tenerife.

I'm going somewhere, but I don't know where. I'm totally open to ideas, and for once I decide to delve into the world of last minute 'sun holiday' internet deals, that usually cater for the above. This is a departure from my normal mode of choose destination, book a flight, book a hotel and plan.

At first it looks like the only choice is Malaga. My stomach churns at the thought of dodging intoxicated 'Brits abroad' and finding a grain of culture, somewhere. But then a deal emerges up for Tenerife, departing the following week and staying in a three star self-catering apartment for three nights. The gamble is made and the deal is booked. If I hate it, it's only three nights to survive...

The prospects, or 'rules' if you like, are no excursions (beyond the local resort), and keeping costs to an absolute minimum.

The time comes around quickly, and I am boarding my flight to Tenerife with Thomson. I'm not sure what I expected; hordes of stags and hens perhaps, but the flight was fine. In fact the flight wasn't too busy at all, and mainly occupied by pensioners. Often you can judge the sobriety of a 'resort' by the flight occupants - so far so good...

Arriving at the airport with no checked bags to collect, I am out into the Tenerife sun in about five minutes and trying to locate the dreaded holiday transfer bus. I board very quickly, but then reality sets in that no matter how quickly I was able to organise myself, the real deal is that we have to wait for everyone else. That waiting takes an hour - an hour of sitting on a mildew smelling bus in a car park for discombobulated, inappropriately dressed tourists. Finally the last few dazed passengers board and we begin the journey - all very nice at first with cactus and beautiful desert flower lined roads - and then into a battered old industrial estate.

I'm not sure what was piled up higher; my various feelings of dread, or the rubbish outside along the road. More than two hours since landing and numerous hotel drop offs, the scenery improves somewhat and the bus turns a corner around a looming mountain, bathed in the last moments of sunset, and we pull up alongside a hotel. "Oh, that looks nice" I hear, before the announcement is made that this is our accommodation. Things are looking up.

The Oasis Mango Apartments are at the top of a large hill in Los Cristianos. Said hill has been much slated in a number of whingey reviews, so I'm curious about just how challenging this will be. I approach the outdoor reception and we are met with pleasant smile and prompt check in. I'm immediately relieved and surprised at how immaculate and pleasant the hotel complex is, even though it is getting dark now. Perfectly manicured gardens are dotted around splendidly, and not a blemish in sight.

But could the room be the catch? Would it be filthy? Would there be large and scary bugs? A few steps up, and a nervous key turn - the apartment itself meets the same standards. So clean, spacious and nicely decorated. Each room facilitates a smile of relief. The balcony overlooks Montanas Guaza - something on the 'to do' list.

Now to tackle the infamous hill to pick up some 'survival supplies' from the supermarket. Of course, not much of a challenge on the way down. Arriving in a 'strange land' at night, there is always a slight sense of disorientation and a subtle hint of foreboding. However, the route is easy, and I quickly realise that getting lost would be difficult. I pick up water and breakfast for tomorrow, and acknowledge how cheap everything is. 'Surviving' on this budget should be easy.

The journey back up the hill with shopping is less easy, but no way near as astronomically challenging as suggested by some. Were they carrying six crates of beer? Were they blind drunk? Who knows.

Unfortunately the Spanish neighbours are a little noisy on this first night. Part of me wonders if this could be some sort of secret party destination. The noise dies down and I manage to get a pretty good night's sleep.

Day one is bearings day. Where on earth am I? This time the walk takes me further than the supermarket, all the way down to Los Cristianos harbour and beach. In the middle of the roadways, there is an immaculately manicured garden area, giving the first taste of some of the wonderful plant life that Tenerife fosters. Tall palms, interesting trees with hanging brown pods (I wish I knew what they are) and topiary bushes lead the way. Pots of aloe vera and cacti seem to be well treasured by residents.

In the quiet of early morning, the harbour is lovely and tranquil. The warmth of the sun is already apparent. Not a place for beach lovers, if this is your thing, although there are a few man-made beaches dotted around as I walk further. No sign of the expected hordes of tourist just yet....

I stop for a cup of tea in front of the well looked after vista of palms, sea and decorative paths, and pause for some people watching. This is absolutely a place for a tourists - not a whisper of conversational Spanish thus far. Not so much of a surprise.

Further strolling past the plethora of cafes catering for British tastes, I witness the holidaymakers oozing into position for breakfast, some perhaps with a dose of after-sun and aspirin. Despite this 'tourist trap', this area is relatively clean, and certainly at this time doesn't feel too much of a 'Brits abroad' nightmare.

A large Fred Olsen boat departs near a breakwater which extends out from the harbour. As I walk out, I notice that this seems to be a 'selfie' hotspot. To the far left is the mountain nearest our hotel, Montanas Guaza, stretching out to the coast, and on the right, Chayofita and the beginnings of the infamous Playa de las Americas. For my own sanity I spared myself the hub of Tenerife's tourist zone, at least. Behind me is Mount Teide, magnificent as it is, although within the confines of this budget challenge, I won't be experiencing it this time.

Now to tackle the full brunt of the return journey up the 'epic' hill. In the mid-morning heat, this is a little bit more challenging, but still no expedition. The supermarket serves as a pit stop for some lunch supplies - local fresh bread and cheese.

Lunch is quickly devoured on the ample balcony, and followed by the obligatory task of attempting to sit by the pool. I last an hour before my inherent 'let's explore' gene pulls me away from the cocktail sipping companions.

'Monkey Park' is up next, virtually around the corner. As a PETA supporter I have awful visions of tiny cages, poor conditions and subsequent marching out just as soon as I have arrived. However, as soon as I have arrived and collected my tub of fresh vegetables to feed the residents, it's clear that this place is actually something far from the visions I had. To start with the gardens are exceptional. All manner of beautiful colours and unusual foliage are abound. I traverse a raised wooden walkway with crocodiles below. Everything here is maintained well.

From what I could tell, the animals were more than looked after with spacious and well appointed enclosures, one of which guests were able to walk into. I enter a caged door which leads to an area with lemurs, guinea pigs, giant tortoises and iguanas. It was a pleasure to be able to feed them.

Winding paths appointed with more wonderful desert blooms and various cactus types surround more spacious enclosures. I am able to hand feed a spectacularly colourful bird - an experience not normally given in a regular zoo. Some of the larger monkeys extend their arms through the cages with open hands as I pass. Judging that they have spotted my vegetables, I offer them some chunks of apple which are gladly plied from my fingers.

I'm never one to be completely satisfied that zoos are a happy place for any animal, but Monkey Park did seem to convey a sense of well being from them.

After the quick journey back to the apartment, the evening is spent relaxing and sampling the local wine, Vina Norte. Supposedly enriched by the volcanic soil, which permeates into the flavour, I found it to possess a fruity, punchy yet somewhat acidic flavour. I also get to try some delicious pizza - though from one of the many packed in cafes catering purely for tourists - it really does give some mainstream pizza restaurants in the UK some stiff competition in terms of both price and quality.

The second and final day of this very short Tenerife sampler arrives and first on the agenda is tackling Montanas Guaza, one of the easier mountains of Tenerife just next to the apartment. As mountains are, the route upwards is deceptive as it involves actually going downhill first to the harbour and then left along the coast to access the footpath. There is a welcome cooling breeze as I leave the giant concrete hotels, which give way to some beautiful private villas and then finally the start of the footpath.

Glancing up, I can already see the interesting change in plant life even at such a small altitude change. The bushes give way to smaller cacti and then finally some of the huge spiny big brothers towards the top. Tiny lizards scurry for cover as I loosen some of the rocky rubble leading up the winding mountain path.

I make it to what might be considered 'base camp', affording views of the highly developed coast. At this point I begin to realise that although there is no genuine culture to speak of here, the real 'culture' of Los Cristianos is very much tourism fueled. At the very least as an observer, it offers a glance into the typical lego-like constructions of a purely generic holiday landscape, nestled into the real and rather spectacular landscape of Tenerife.

'Hiking' sample achieved, it's time to sample what everyone else seems to be doing - people watch. I later park myself in a peaceful eatery far left of Los Cristianos harbour, and take in the views of swaying palm trees, the rapid arrival and departure of ferries, and the various caricatures of package holiday lovers shuffling by, some of them in dire need of the local aloe-vera after-sun.

Package holidays really are a culture in themselves. If you are able to mindfully remove yourself from the equation, even just to observe briefly the comings and goings, the trials and tribulations of the package tourist, it makes for an interesting experience. Wherever you go in the world, there's always one or two aspects of the genuine article that permeate through - in Tenerife's case it's the majestic mountainous landscape. 

With the current GBP to Euro rate, the small budget was very easy to stick to with ample supermarkets available for DIY meals. One really could easily make a package deal a starter platform for a more substantial trip. I would be happy to return with the North of the island and Teide in mind, and break the bonds of the tourist laden South for a more rural affair.

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