One day searching the library for books on the history of the Canary Islands I stumble upon a couple of thick books with the title written in gold on the dark green backs that immediately draws my attention; “Tenerife and its six satellites”. I take them home and they turn out to be quite wonderful reportage books, written by the English writer Olivia Stone in the late 19th century. During one of my trips to Tenerife, I take the opportunity to reread the part of Tenerife and to travel in her footprints to the village of Garachico, 136 years after her.
It wasn't unusual with British visitors in the 19th century, the Brits have actually been present in the islands since the 15th century, involved in the trade to and from the islands of goods, such as sugar, Malvasía wine and later, tomatoes and bananas. What is remarkable with the writer Olivia Stone is that she managed to travel around the seven islands, often on donkey- or even camel back, together with her husband, the illustrator and photographer John Harris. They even managed to surmount the Teide mountain! As a result of their trip she wrote the travel book “Tenerife and its six satellites”; two volumes that describe the nature, culture and everyday life in the Canary Islands in the late 19th century.
It is an important historic document due to the vast amount of information and observation she accumulated and has never really ceased to be a popular book. Her enchanting prose style makes it easy to read, still almost 140 years later. Although, it is important to bear in mind that she saw the islands through the eyes of a British upper-class lady which sometimes can result in a somewhat arrogant approach and a lack of objectivity. But her determination to discover all the islands, her lovely descriptions of the landscapes and her untiring curiosity about all the aspects of the social reality is truly impressive and makes it well worth the read.
Olivia and John arrived in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on September 1883, after 8 days on a boat from England. After visiting the capital and the important historical town of La Laguna, they continued along the North coast, passing through Matanza and Victoria de Acentejo and stopping over in the beautiful town of La Orotava. One morning they start their journey on horseback towards Garachico. Olivia writes in her journal; “At 11 a.m. we leave for Garachico, feeling like true explorers, with only a map to guide us”.
The history of Garachico goes back to the times of the aboriginal population on the island that had settlements in this area. Not much remains from this period, although the name Garachico is of guanche origin. The town itself was founded by the Genoan banker Cristóbal de Ponte after the conquest of the island in 1496. It soon turned into the most important harbour of the island, from where ships loaded with, first sugar and then wine from the island, left towards Europe and America. It remained so until the 17th century, when a series of disasters hit the town. In 1646 an enormous landslide devastated Garachico, killing more than a 100 people and ruining over 40 ships. This was of course a big tragedy to the town, that would need its time to recover, but only 30 years later another event would put a definite end to its importance as a harbour. In 1706 the Trevejo volcano entered in eruption and seven tongues of hot lava descended towards Garachico, burying big parts of it and destroying the harbour completely. Thanks to the slow nature of the eruption, no one was killed, but it would change the destiny of the town forever as traders started using the harbour of Puerto de la Cruz instead, turning Garachico into the quiet fishing village it is, still today.
Olivia and John arrived in Garachico on an unusually hot day in September and when they ride into town, all the doors and windows are closed and it's all very quiet. They have the feeling though that they are being looked at from behind the blinds. They admire the coast with the prominent Rock of Garachico and the volcanic swimming pools of El Caletón, created by the eruption in 1706. Then they arrive at the main square where they decide to rest for a bit, since Olivia has a terrible headache. A man appears that turns out to be the doctor of the village and he invites them to his house, where Olivia can rest and they are invited to a nice home cooked meal before continuing their journey.
We arrive by car and it's a nice and fresh day, sunny but not too hot. It's not as quiet as it could have been in the 19th century, with plenty of tourists wandering around or having lunch at the many restaurants, but Garachico is still a calm and tranquil town. We spend a few hours strolling along the coast and through the pretty parks and streets of this well kept town and finally we arrive at the main square where we stop for coffee and cake at a café. This part of town is very intact and well kept and it is not difficult to imagine how we are back in the 19th century and how the town doctor still lives in one of the pretty houses next to the church.