Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Exotic Canary Islands and Morocco

Texts: Letters from the Canary Islands, by Daniel Jay Browne, Lyceum Press, Boston, 1834

Our Journey Around the World, Frances E. Clark and Harriet Clark, 1895.

"The inhabitants [of the Canary Islands], at least one half of the year, experience the intense and almost perpendicular rays of the sun; and when the periodical rains neglect to fall…Then that same orb which cheers and enlightens more temperate regions of the earth, here comes the most deadly bane…Kind nature has devised suitable reparation by fanning the earth with refreshing breezes, and by setting apart an appropriate season for rain.”

Shadows of the Saharan Desert, Morocco
We now depart Europe and continue on to some of the more exotic locations of this Earth.  From the south of Italy, we boarded a small cruise ship that took us through the temperate azure of the Mediterranean, through shoreline fishing villages, olive groves, stunning beaches, and more.  We stopped at the southernmost Port of Spain and departed the continent for an African journey beginning in Morocco.  Morocco is a very Arab-influenced part of Africa, and this trip does not allow for Sub-Saharan exploration, so there is still plenty to see on this continent.  But Morocco is home to the great sweeps of desert sand, broiling camel rides, and picturesque oases that inspire a festive, heavenly time.

We also tripped over on a short boat to the world famous Canary Islands.   Technically owned by Spain, this tropical slice of paradise seems like a world away from any sort of modern life.  Tribal culture is still very prominent, and much of the land seems untouched by any hand or foot, much like our beginning journey in Alaska and the western United States.  The small islands are home o hundreds of active volcanoes, and tales from the native villages kept us on our feet as we traversed the edges of the jungles, looking out for exotic wildlife and vegetation. 

A profound silence reigns with regard to their origin, in which the world must probably forever remain in darkness.” –Letters from the Canary Islands, on the native inhabitants.

The native tribes here, which have been visited by Europeans and Westerners, especially Spanish explorers, have attempted to maintain the traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing, gathering, and living beautiful days at the water’s edge in their grass villages.  The western influences are slight but unignorable—a Spanish priest resides in the largest village, and oversees the Catholic Church there, but some tribes still practice indigenous religious practices.  We observed a dancing ritual to welcome the rainy season.  The rains and sun dictates the very day-to-day life of these inhabitants, so a rainy season that remains too dry or a series of storms can change the entire course of their livelihood for a year or more.  In order to please their several mythological gods of rain and weather forces, they practice a dance and celebration.  While the modern influences have rendered this celebration more for show than for true results, the energy and experience were nonetheless unforgettable. They were very welcoming to our small party but stressed the importance and seriousness of the event.  We were included in the dancing, but the chanting and spiritual portions were somewhat isolated from our prying Western eyes. 

Peak Teneriffe, Canary Islands
We hiked around the base of the tallest peak of the islands, Peak Teneriffe, which has been an active volcano not too long ago in the past.  Ever rumble of a mule’s hooves or snapping twig of an iguana in the brush made me jump for fear of another catastrophic eruption, but o course this is such a rare occurrence.  Walking on crusted dried black lava, which has a wavy, frozen, appearance but is sharp, vicious, and easily broken, was something unsettling as well.  The whole proximity of the eruption and destruction of a volcano was all around us.  The tropical excursion was enlightening, relaxing, and rejuvenating.  The combination of old and new in the cultures here is a great lesson in cooperation and compromise. 

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