I suspect that, as a travelling companion, I might sometimes be less than easy. When searching for the next destination and one that yours truly will find relaxing and recreational Mission Control is tireless in her pursuit of something different. I’m an unforgiving customer, convinced as I am that life is too short anyway and most of us don’t work that out until we’re careering the downward slope on a tin-tray. By virtue of this home-spun philosophy, which I accept doesn’t stand up to detailed scrutiny, I tend to be picky, demanding accommodation suffused with an air of contentment; views, nature and heritage; excellent food and beverage within a reasonable getting-back-afterwards distance and, of course and always, incomparable birding on the doorstep. That might appear an unreasonable list of requirements – actually, it does when you see it written down like that – and even unfair but when you’ve mumbled agreement to a trip from behind a newspaper and found yourself a short while after gazing in awe at wild elephants and Greater Indian Hornbills in Kerala or counting Horned Puffins coming to roost over Cannon beach in Oregon you tend to get a little blasé.
So I wasn’t as alarmed as one might think when Tenerife and banana plantation were mentioned in the same sentence, despite having initial reservations about both. I’m not good at crowds and plebeian tourism for reasons no more complicated than wanting to make my own decisions about how my time is spent but the option was there and we were able to use Stansted by pinching a couple of last-minute seats at the back of a Thomas Cook flight.
We’d been in contact with the hotel from England and called again after arriving in Tenerife as we’d received no confirmation. That wasn’t a concern, we were assured; everything was in order and we were expected. I can’t imagine hoteliers taking such a relaxed view in northern Europe but, here we were, turning off the road at Bar El Guincho, through a suicidal blind road junction and following directions on hand-painted signs. The informality of arriving at Hotel Rural El Patio was a little daunting and that, coupled with some reviews we’d read before travelling, indicated that we might require a change of plans next morning. I’m suspicious of reviews but there were a couple of common themes emerging from the generally positive feedback we’d read about this place – there were several mentions of ‘uncomfortable beds’ and one specific reference to the coffee at breakfast being ‘vile’. Now there’s a word that leaves little room for interpretation. As things turned out, there was no immediate cause to worry. The hotel comprises a charming group of buildings set around a large shaded courtyard – the eponymous patio – and proved to be a quiet, pleasant place to stay although the beds reminded me of some youth hostels I’d flopped in when I was a student. It was pleasant to find rooms without TV and telephones.
Our host responded to our enquiry about having dinner locally and as far off the tourist route as we could be by recommending El Trasmallo, just on the other side of Garachico. They served local people, he said; the fish is fresh. He called them; they had fresh fish and would be pleased to see us. I’m convinced that here, opposite to what we expect in the north, the authenticity of a restaurant increases in direct proportion to the lighting level and amount of surfaces that can be wiped-off with a damp cloth. El Trasmallo was flooded with fluorescent strip lighting and would comfortably serve as an emergency operating theatre should the clouds and fog we’d been in all day turn into a serious weather event. So, in glaring white light we chose our fish before skidding gently across our plastic seats and sipping our chilled fino aperitif. A superb ‘Cherna’ would be grilled and served with fried garlic. We’ve come across this fish before – it’s a kind of grouper and, although not quite the same as that we’re used to in Florida or the Middle East, it is a tasty, white-fleshed fish that has a big flavour. It was served in typical Canarian fashion with papas arrugadas and mojo. The food was good; perhaps a little too much olive oil, perhaps presented a little too rustically but cooked and served with immense and justifiable pride. The attention of our cook as we ate suggested that slightly different priorities were at play than we’ve seen in more than a few ‘sophisticated’ venues as the evening turned into something that was very much about substance over style. It was also pleasant to buck convention and drink chilled red Tacoronte-Acentejo that had been produced just down the road. A superb occasion and we weren’t allowed to leave without a small glass of ron miel or ‘honey-rum’. This interesting blend of honey and rum is a local tradition and, I suspect, probably very addictive. It certainly seems to have addicted the visitors that roam the Tenerife forums trying to purchase it.
Next day the courtyard of El Patio proved to be the delightful foil against the south of the island and first impressions of Tenerife that we’d hoped for. Sunlight and dappled shade, quiet save for Canarian Chiffchaffs and rustling banana leaves with clouds slowly drifting over the green cliffs above us. El Patio’s owners were delightful and the staff helpful but the beds proved to be, how do I put this – unique. And the coffee was, without any fear of contradiction, as vile as vile could be.