Santa Cruz, our expert Linda Wainwright’s home town, is a strong connection for her as she has lived in the Canary Islands for 20 years. Like anyplace, the good, the bad, and ugly spring forth. In spite of the things that suck, Linda loves her city and calls it home.
By Linda Wainwright
It may come as a surprise to some to realize that this small island of Tenerife is home to a city, let alone two of them. After all the entire population of the island is less than 900,000 souls. Yet, two cities there are. The original capital was La Laguna, now a World Heritage Site, but it bestowed the honor to Santa Cruz, up until then its port, in 1833.
Santa Cruz is my city and if you live in Tenerife, and like the arts, then you’ll be a frequent visitor for sure. It’s where it all happens. You could say the rest is for tourists or country folk. Every time I curve off the autopista, see the docks, The Auditorium (Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín, but called The Auditorium for short) and the Anaga Mountains, which cradle the city, I get a thrill, even after all this time.
1. The First Glimpse of the Cityscape
The view is the first thing I love about it. The Anaga Mountains are one of the oldest parts of the island, and they tower over the city protectively. Coming into the port of Santa Cruz by boat, the sight is even more impressive. As a backdrop to the Carnival Parade or a sporting event, like the annual Half Marathon, there is no equal.
2. The Rich Variety of Architecture
The mixture of architecture is eclectic and surprising. Modern structures like Santiago Calatrava’s Auditorium, appears to sweep like a gigantic wave over the sea wall. New buildings shadow the remnants of 17th/18th century fortifications, like the Castillo de San Juan. For a history buff like me, this is bliss.
These fortifications were built to protect the city against pirate attacks. That is to say, pirates like British hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, who suffered his only defeat on the shore of the city, and lost his arm in the process. I try to get up for the annual re-enactment of the Battle each July, always secretly expecting someone to turn around and accuse me of spying.
This juxtaposition of architectural styles, somehow works really well, and gives the city a special vibe. I’ve spent entire days, happily wandering, camera in hand, snapping it all from flaking doorways of abandoned houses to the sweeping façades of modern office blocks.
3. The Stylish Al Fresco Dining
Of course, in this climate, no city wander is complete without a stop in a sidewalk café or bar, for coffee, or tapas, or a glass of one of Tenerife’s excellent wines. My favorite place to while away time and people-watch is Calle Noria. This wee thoroughfare was renovated a few years back. It reminds me of the streets of Old Habana, minus the flaking paintwork, because although colorful, it was spruced up and lovingly restored after years of neglect.
It’s pedestrianized, and lined with bars and restaurants, every single one of which I can, hand on heart, recommend, from traditional Canarian dishes to sophisticated nouvelle cuisine. Footsore after shopping or guiding visitors around the city, I sink thankfully into a chair at my favorite, Bulan (and I assure you that I’ve tried them all). I scan the menu to see what innovative new tapas they’ve come up with, as suited, Canarian yuppies and expensively clad tourists from a cruise ship stroll past. These are not the types we see in the south. The people watching is rich here. At night it’s the place to be before or after theater or concerts, or just to see and be seen.
4. The Arty-Farty Stuff
If there was one thing I missed in the early years of living here it was Culture – note the capital “C.” I spoke no Spanish, and the south, where I lived, was a cultural desert. Now the magnificent Auditorium, stands on Santa Cruz waterfront, where I’ve seen opera, ballet, The Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, jazz and world music concerts.
One of the best memories of my entire life is watching Senegalese singer, Ismael Lo, perform on one of the building’s spacious terraces one balmy summer night. There is also historic Teatro Guimerá, where I perched in the gods to watch plays and flamenco. I can get my annual (wish it were more often) Blues fix at the Santa Cruz Blues Festival one weekend each June, nursing a cold beer in the plaza of the historic Iglesia de la Concepción. How cool is that?
Most recently Tenerife Espacio de Artes was opened, which houses art and photographic galleries, a small cinema, which shows independent and vintage films, and the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen.
5. The Shopping
Nope, this is not what you’re thinking. The kind of shopping I mean is markets. Every Sunday a large street market springs up around the permanent produce market of Nuestra Señora de Africa. Inevitably these days there is a lot of global tat, stuff you can buy almost anywhere in the world, but squeezed between the Thai cottons and Moroccan leather are book stalls, tables of artisan jewellery, and, increasingly, antiques and bric a brac.
I’m not so keen on Sundays, the whole island seems to crawl with folk, clogging the roads and beaches, whether locals or tourists, but a trip to the market is a joy, and since I’m going against the flow, the journey is usually quite peaceful. Apart from browsing the streets I take the opportunity to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and cheeses in the produce market too. Afterwards, well, a nice lunch on Calle Noria is the thing to do, of course.
6. Parque García Sanabria
When money is tight and I can’t afford to eat in a bar or restaurant, I have a favorite place to take a bocadillo (crusty bread stuffed with a filling of choice), and that’s the very cool Parque García Sanabria. It’s the perfect city center park, with cool walkways shaded by trees or bamboo. Fountains gurgle. It’s green and restful, rather than colorful, and it has a secret surprise.
As its pathways twist and turn you discover works of art by world-famous artists including native son, Oscar Domínguez. It is a free, outdoor art gallery as well as a lovely place to chill out.
7. The Museum of Man and Nature
This was a hard choice, the 7th one, having to discard so many others. However, as a history buff I couldn’t leave it out. This beautiful building, once a hospital, houses a fascinating collection of mummies. Although not as ornate as the famous Egyptian mummies, these relics of the Guanche, the island’s pre-Conquest people, are a bit eerie, but quite breathtaking.
As the name indicates, as well as evidence of ancient peoples, there are large displays explaining the origins of the islands, its flora and fauna, with interactive exhibits. If you’re as into history as I am it’s a full day, so it’s a delightful coincidence that the “museum café” is a cut above the norm, offering original nouvelle cuisine-style dishes, and Sunday brunches.
And, so, what drives me crazy, what sucks about my city?
1. It’s Just Too Laid Back
In some ways the expectations and demands of modern tourism have still to sink in for Santa Cruz. In 2011 (I can’t find figures yet for 2012) well over 800,000 folk arrived on cruise ships, often to find shops and facilities closed for lunch – the siesta still reigns supreme here – or because it was Sunday. Laid back is fine for a small fishing village, but not for a city which boasts of being the gateway to three continents.
This attitude, which affects the cruise trade, affects me when I want to get something done. Many offices and shops shut down at 1pm, and appealing as it may sound, I may not have the time to hang out until they reopen at 4.
2. There is a Stinky Oil Refinery in the Middle of Town
Santa Cruz, like all cities, has grown too fast, or is it that planning is inefficient? I don’t know, but right across the road from the main shopping mall sits a massive, dirty, smelly oil refinery. The city has grown up around it, and it’s been painted in sort of 1960′s graffiti, but nevertheless – it’s an oil refinery.
I certainly wouldn’t like to live anywhere close. Curving down the coast road, entering from the south, its stench often overpowers me, and totally ruins my happy contemplation of the scene. A new “mega port” is, controversially, being constructed currently on the south east coast, and perhaps this means the refinery will move in due course, but right now it is an eyesore and a pollutant.
3. They’re Always Digging Something Up!
Yes, that’s kind of half in jest. Truly, I’ve been sitting here for around twenty minutes, trying to think of something else I dislike about Santa Cruz – and I can’t. Compared to the south I find people more friendly, policemen more helpful, and even taxi drivers more cheerful.
The center of the city, however, has been undergoing reconstruction, it seems forever. The area around the main square, Plaza de España, is about half way through a three-phase reformation, which began so long ago I can’t remember. Of course it’s necessary, it is lightening up the traffic load (by building tunnels), making the square more user-friendly, and inching the capital into the 21st Century. In the meantime, however, it’s a pain.
So there you have it. My city. I left out loads of good stuff, and struggled to find the bad – you could say that I like it here!