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Having just spent an idyllic long weekend on La Gomera, it strikes me that most visitors to Tenerife never see anything more of our neighbouring island  than the stunning canvas it lends to the nightly sunset, or glimpses of its shoreline from dolphin watching trips along the Los Gigantes and Los Cristianos coasts. For those who make the effort to take the ferry across the water, a forty minute sailing lands you on an island which is a far cry from the bustle of their Los Cristianos departure point.

La Gomera was once described by a friend who has lived on the island for some 14 years as being shaped like a circular tablecloth that someone has pinched in the centre and raised off the table. Steep barrancos (ravines) create deep folds in the landscape that run from the coast to the central rainforest of Garajonay National Park, making travel a time consuming and sinuous business, and farming a back-breaking toil.

The difficulty of easily traversing such a landscape, combined with rocky coastlines, strong currents and sheer cliffs which prevent the coastline from getting sucked into the Tenerife addiction of beach building, has meant that La Gomera remains mercifully devoid of large resort development. The down side to that equation is that many of La Gomera’s younger generation have abandoned their agricultural inheritance to make the weekly commute to Tenerife for an easier living and bright lights, leaving La Gomera low on economic development opportunities. But the island has seen an influx of (mainly German) immigrants who have invested in renovating traditional properties, opening restaurants and select rural guest houses and cultivating fincas. The end result is an island of rare beauty, unspoilt by tourism.

I’m not a fan of coach tours with their prescriptive itineraries and refreshment stops which often bypass local pockets, but if you want to tour La Gomera in a day, on this occasion it’s probably your best bet. Confident drivers can hire a car at the ferry terminal and explore independently but for anyone who doesn’t have experience of driving abroad and on mountainous roads, letting a coach take the stress has a lot to be said for it.

Those who prefer a more leisurely day can wander around the capital of San Sebastián where the ferry docks and from whence Christopher Columbus set sail on his globe-changing voyage of 6th September 1492. Buildings of note are the iconic Torre del Conde (above), the little church of La Asunción and Columbus’ House where the eponymous hero stayed prior to his epic voyage and which is now a museum. There are shady pavement cafés and restaurants serving very reasonably priced menus del día of typical Canarian cuisine and lots of places to stroll and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere.

Visitors in the north of Tenerife should consider taking a day return flight on BinterCanarias or IslasAirways who fly into the airport a short taxi ride from the resort of Playa Santiago. Best known as the location of the La Tecina Hotel, Playa Santiago has seen a small but steady growth over the past five years and now offers a picturesque marina; a small, black sand beach; nice restaurants with promenade views and a good selection of shops. It’s a laid back, one horse sort of resort where the default setting is sunny and life moves at a ripple pace – the perfect spot in which to enjoy a very different Canary Island for a day.

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Yesterday was a nerve wracking day.
It’s been two years since the car was last tested for the ITV – the Spanish equivalent of an MOT- and it couldn’t be put off any longer.
Last week Jack rang the test centre and made the appointment; 3.30pm on Monday 30th November. So at midday yesterday preparations began in earnest.

First we popped the hood to check oil and windscreen fluids. EEK – what oil!!!
Then I looked at the tyres which looked okay (we’d singularly failed to do that last time and were left looking suitably stupid when the guy pointed out flat, smooth rubber where once tread used to be). Finally I checked all the lights were working.
Well, we agreed, if it’s anything else, it’s out of our control.

We drove up to the garage to buy some oil and give the car her bi-annual wash and brush up. There’s nothing in the test that says the car should be clean, I just figured that it might help to give the impression that we actually do exercise some kind of care over our vehicle. You know and I know that’s a load of cobblers but the ITV test guys don’t read this blog.

Finally, we got together all the documentation and headed up to Los Realejos.
Once in the office we handed over our documents and waited while the girl checked for the appointment. No appointment was there.
There’s a funny thing that happens when things start to go wrong around here which I suspect may be a stress related syndrome; we both become Spanish-deaf. Unable to make out a word the girl was saying, we moved, baffled, to the back of the room while the next in the queue was seen.

Just as anxiety levels were reaching boiling point we were called back to the counter and with a smile, told to join line number 1. We headed back to the car, nerves jangling.

With Spanish-deaf effect now at chronic levels, we bumbled through the rapid fire instructions, turning on the indicator when he wanted the reverse light and turning the engine off when we were asked to move forward. Sometimes we got it so wrong that the guy asked us to step out of the car while he put her through her paces for us. Still, other than a non-functioning licence plate light (for which I was pretty sure they weren’t going to fail us) we moved to the final test.

Another case of stepping out of the car while the steering wheel was jerked rapidly and brakes were applied at emergency stop pressure and we were done. Well, apart that is from the bald inside edges of the front tyres.
So it’s two new tyres, a new light bulb, back to the ITV centre and the sack for me in my ‘pre-ITV test tester’ role before that illusive little coloured sticker can be plastered onto the windscreen. Sigh.

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The queue’s eerily quiet beneath its blanket of nervous anticipation. Some are sitting in their cars, flicking distractedly through newspapers, others are standing beside their vehicles shuffling their feet or examining their bitten nails.
I’ve never witnessed a silent gathering of Tinerfeños before where everyone keeps their own company and just waits. It’s an aberration and it runs completely contrary to their normally gregarious and noisy nature.
The next two cars in the queue drive forward into the hanger-sized garage and out of view. I switch on the ignition and slowly drive forward, just three cars away from the unknown. I haven’t been this nervous behind the wheel since I took my driving test and no sooner has that thought entered my brain than it travels down into my right leg which responds by emulating the same state it was in all those years ago and judders onto the pedal sending the car kangaroo-ing forward and narrowly avoiding bumping into the car in front.

I’m in the queue for the Spanish equivalent of the MOT test; the ITV. Unlike in Britain where I’d hand over the keys to some mechanic and then dawdle around the shops for a couple of hours before returning to a verdict and usually a bill, here the ITV is performed in only a handful of centres across the island and you have to drive the car through a series of tests and checks at the end of which you either receive a little coloured dot for your windscreen or with an instruction to carry out the necessary work within 15 days to make the grade.

“Freno! Luz! Izquierda! Derecha!” shouts the man with the clipboard from behind the car.
As usual my Spanish understanding is on a satellite system with a few seconds delay between receiving in ears and translating in brain which causes a sort of Lee Evans effect in my movements. The wipers are going and I’m revving madly as the man repeats “Freno! Freno!” before my brain remembers that the brake pedal’s the middle one.
After the lights fiasco I settle down a bit and take the car through its various tests and emerge at the end in confident expectation of the little coloured sticker.
“Two new front tyres” says the man with the clipboard, “15 days”.
“What!?” I get out of the car onto wobbly legs and look at the front tyres where the tread used to be. I can’t believe it. I’ve topped up the oil and the engine coolant, washed polished and vacuumed inside and out and not once have I looked at the tyres before joining that silent queue. What’s worse, not once have I looked at them before driving around this island on the equivalent of Michael Stipe’s head.
As I head off to the local garage for two new tyres, I realise I’ve just been through the most efficient system I’ve ever encountered on Tenerife where, in the space of the 40 minutes I was there, sixteen cars were rigorously tested against a set of standard criteria and passed or failed accordingly with no fuss, no vested interests and no ambiguity. No wonder everyone in that queue was so quiet, it’s an alien environment for a Tinerfeño.

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The other day I was driving up to La Caldera, in the pine forest in the upper Orotava valley in a queue of painfully slow moving traffic. I’ve learnt over the last four years that when there’s a queue, just to chill out and enjoy the scenery and within a few minutes the reason will soon be revealed. It’s usually banana trucks, but in the past I’ve also had carts pulled by oxen, cycle races and even an ostrich in the back of a horse box slow my progress. In this case the culprit was something that looked like a cross between an ‘Easy Rider’ chopper and a lawnmower (with the power of the latter). These contraptions are quite common in the hills, usually pulling a small trailer full of corn or potatoes.the road to Masca

This one eventually pulled into a dirt track beside a small thatched hut and an old woman wearing a straw hat carefully climbed off, turned and gave her husband a gentle kiss on his weather beaten cheek. It was nothing spectacular, but this simple affectionate gesture moved me and made me smile. It’s little things like this that encapsulate the pleasure of driving on Tenerife’s roads.

From the first time I rented a car on Tenerife, I was smitten by the diversity of the landscape. I can remember clearly driving from the west coast to the north and being almost able to see the line where the drier southern parts of the island met the more lush northern parts with Mount Teide dominating the skyline. It was breathtaking and I’ve never tired of it.

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