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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How Did That Canary Get Its Name?

Canary Wharf By mattbuck [CC BY-SA 2.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A recent picture of domestic canaries provoked a comment from a reader, who said "I was under the impression that the "Canary" part of the Canary Islands was a reference to Canines - dogs, not birds." And he's quite right. Accepted history (that may, or may not be correct) is, indeed, that the Canary Islands are named after the dogs, while the birds are named after the Canary Islands.

However, as I've mentioned here before and am bound to say again (and again), I have not yet found and, I am sure I never will find, any topic related to the history of these islands where there is one, singular version that can be proven, beyond all reasonable doubt.

What do you expect from the Fortunate Isles, The Garden of the Hesperides and / or Atlantis - depending which is your favorite myth or legend to attach to these islands. None of which can be proven, of course, but then again they can't exactly be disproven either.

Dogs have certainly been important in the Canary Islands in all known history, going right back to the pre-conquest, guanche, inhabitants. Archaeological excavations in several burial caves in Tenerife have shown that the dog was buried with his master, so it could "guide the soul to the region of the dead".

When the Mauritanian King Juba II, sent a marine expedition to the islands, between 30 and 25 BC, the discovery was described by Pliny, who wrote that the Canaries received this name "for their dogs, two of which were sent to Juba". Apparently, "Juba was very happy with his strong and intelligent dogs and when he marked the island on his map he called it the "Island of Dogs". He wrote the name on his map in Latin, "canes". (Mauritania was then part of the Roman Empire.) He probably only meant, "Look that's where my puppies came from" or, "Go here if you want a free hunting dog". 

Because, this report tells us, "Regardless of what Plinius wrote, the fact is that the island called today Gran Canaria, was inhabited by a tribe who called themselves the "canarii". They are said to have had North African, Berber origins. People started to call all islands "the Islands of Canaria", from which they were later called "Canary Islands". Again, here we are told that the name derives probably from a north African tribe (the Canarii) or possibly the Latin term Insularia Canaria meaning Island of the Dogs. Take your pick!

There is also a further opinion - from Historian, José Juan Jiménez, of the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Museum of Nature and Man) in Tenerife - that Pliny screwed up his translation and that the Canaries, in reality, owe their name to the "cannis marinus", a species of large monk seal that populated the coasts until the 15th Century. Although the seals disappeared and the aboriginal people were wiped out, mainly through a mixture of disease and intermarriage (not the seals), the dogs have remained "man's best friend".

Perro de Presa Canario


Today's Perro de Presa Canario is originally from the Canary Islands in the 1800s, but may or may not bear any resemblance whatsoever to the original dogs of the islands.

"Its exact ancestry is unknown, but enthusiasts believe that an already established farm dog from the Canary Islands by the name of Majero bardino majorero was crossed with the Mastiffs and Old-Style Bulldogs that were brought from Europe to the Islands."

That many of those "imports" came from Britain, "The British character with their traditions to the fighting of dogs also arrived to the islands.", it should be no surprise that the fancy has gone full circle with renewed popularity among the criminal classes in the UK.

The Origin of the Presa Canario tells us that, "A few years following the conclusion of the conquest of the Canary Archipelago, reference is made in the Documents of the Municipal Council of Tenerife to their agreement of February 5, 1526, that in view of the damages produced by dogs to livestock, both small and large, the extermination of the same is ordered." Presuming those were native wild dogs and that the order was carried out, it is doubtful much of the genetics of the original dog exists, if any.

Gran Canaria's Tourist Board sum it up best in, Mysteries of the Canary Island Dog:

"The origins of the Presa Canario are as old as the legends of the Jardines Hespérides (The Garden of the Hesperides). Many stories have been told about the dogs from the Canary Islands which confuse reality and fiction and experts and historians often contradict each other when talking about the characteristics of the native dog or the role which they played in the Conquest."


Nowadays, following a recovery that began in the 1970's, modern Canary Dogs have fanciers all over the world. Having owned a possible bit of one (a mix with many similarities to this specimen), I can certainly understand why. Bright, dependable and very, very strong.

Because of links to a previous post about the disappearance of the dog symbol, I discovered two more websites devoted to these dogs, ElPresa.com - just Presa Canario and The Dogo Canario Club of America. For more information on the breed, see also, Presa Canario Canary Dogs and Canary Dog (Perro de Presa Canario).

From all this, it is easy to see why the dogs became adopted as a symbol of the islands, even, currently, being included on the islands' coat of arms (although not until the 1770's, first described by José de Viera y Clavijo), for their strength and versatility - not unlike the aboriginal inhabitants, which, assuming the Berber origins are correct, imagine a whole population of Zinédine Zidane's - and, by extension, became the protagonists in the accepted version of the history of the naming of the islands, whatever the facts.

Serinus canarius By Juan Emilio (Flickr: Canario silvestre, Serinus canarius(♂)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We do definitely know from several references (well, maybe) that the native wild canary birds were named after the islands. The canary, common name for a familiar cage bird of the family Ploceidae (Old World finch family), descended from either the wild serin finch or from the very similar wild canary, Serinus canarius (Altantic Canary), of the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the Azores and introduced into Europe in the late 15th or early 16th Century.

On the other hand, it is still a bit "chicken and egg", because, a little too coincidentally, the Latin verb "canere" means to sing. So were the birds named after the islands, or because they can sing, or were the islands named because the singing birds abound?

The answer is still not absolutely clear.

Canary Wharf Skyline By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

So, what has all that to do with a picture of London's Canary Wharf?

"Canary Wharf itself takes its name from the sea trade with the Canary Islands, whose name comes from the dogs (Latin canis) which the Spaniards found there, producing the linguistic coincidence of trade between the Dog Islands and the Isle of Dogs." However, just to add yet more uncertainty, another explanation for the latter denomination could be the rumour that the docklands was once the site of King Henry VIII's hunting kennels.

Nevertheless, exotic products from these islands had been unloaded on the site of the now One Canada Square or Canary Wharf Tower. A trade which began in the 16th Century when English pirates merchants had been carrying that famous Malmsey (Malvasia) wine known as Canary that was popular in England (and particularly with Shakespeare) - back from the old port of Garachico.

Was architect, Cesar Pelli, thinking of Spain's tallest mountain; Tenerife's Mount Teide, in the Canary Islands or perhaps the Guimar Pyramids when he designed Britain's tallest building; the 235 metres (771 ft) and 50 story pyramid-topped building, I wonder? Like the rest of these questions, this will probably never be definitively answered.

All events are liable to change beyond our control.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Yogourt of fragmentation hand grenade

Ready to be fragmented?

Prepare your sides for a really severe splitting! Honestly, I have not laughed as loudly, or as much in ages, as I have at these two wonderfully screwed up translations.

How the hell the unsuspecting English speaking visitor is supposed to cope, is another matter entirely. Actually, now I know why British visitors stick to familiar English Breakfasts, Sunday Roasts, McDonalds and such, so prolific in the resorts. They obviously don't want to - literally - risk their lives with the local food!

The first example is a homemade desert menu (and the deserts), from a restaurant on the south of Gran Canaria, whose identity has been obscured to protect the guilty.

Miguel at Canarias Bruta comments that "He who has translated this menu into other languages (without doubt, someone called Babelfish, Systran or similar) ought to get the Nobel prize for literature for such great work." And continues, "I am going to order the Brochette of Fruits. It ought to have an explosive flavour." You bet it will!

See the post here and the full version of the menu image here

Oh, for those who don't know, where it says "yogourt of fragmentation hand grenade", it is actually trying and, obviously, failing utterly miserably, to say "pineapple yoghurt". :)

No, please, don't ask me how even a automated translation robot (even if it's on speed or acid) can make that connection! Personally, I'm not sure I really want to eat "Arm of Gypsy", either, but at least that is a literal translation of the Spanish original. Of the six items listed on that menu, not one of the English translations gets it completely correct.

But, wait, there is more ... Bandage the fragmentation hand grenade

Once you've risked eating the aforementioned hand grenade, it is pretty likely that you will want a bandage and the intrepid Canary Island traveler need go no further than the Lagartario de la Montaña de Arucas (Lizard zoo in Arucas), also Gran Canaria.

This time, they suggest - and I am going to translate it because you will not work it out from the English at all - that, "If you want to see the lizards in action, throw them a tomato."

Fair enough, so far? The next bit is what gets totally mangled, from "vendemos" (we sell) into bandage, which would have been "venda" in Spanish. What they really mean is that "if you don't have a tomato, we sell them in the restaurant." Perhaps, on the other hand, if you don't have a tomato, the lizard will bite you and you'll need first aid! :)

In all fairness to my neighbours, translations, it has to be said, are no better in Tenerife. I've had my rant previously about the Sweets of Canary and other Dodgy Translations. And, as I have said before and the above proves, menus everywhere contain similar examples of non-edible things to the point that I have given up on trying to translate their English.

All events are liable to change beyond our control.

Seasonal Hours of Daylight in Tenerife

Click for Tenerife Sur, Canary Islands ForecastApart from the relatively warmer weather, one of the major reasons for visiting this latitude (28°N) in the winter months is that there are far more daylight hours. Whilst in the UK, it begins to get dusk at around 3:30 pm in mid-winter, the earliest in Tenerife is around 6:30 pm.

On the other hand, in summer, we don't have very long days with it remaining light until well into the late evening. There is a variation between seasons (probably no more than two hours of difference between mid-summer and mid-winter), but it is not as marked a variation as it is at more northern latitudes, such as the UK or those places near the north pole that have total darkness in winter or where the sun never sets in summer.

This is maybe not something you think about, normally, until you get here and notice that it has not got dark yet at the time you are used to it doing so, but it is certainly a good reason to visit the islands and avoid mitigate the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

All events are liable to change beyond our control.

Tenerife Ski Resort?

Teide Ski Resort

There are many sports you can practice in Tenerife, like walking or golf, or any number of water sports. It is also true that Mount Teide can be covered in snow frequently throughout the year, but one thing you can not do here is to ski. Or can you?

This site, Teide Ski, which, actually, has been in operation since 2002, but has just come in for a bit of attention from the press would have you imagine otherwise.

The site, which claims there are "7 lifts, 10 runs (15 km of slopes) 2 green, 3 blue, 4 red, 1 black", is, of course, a joke and produced, probably just as a publicity and marketing stunt, by Nevasport.com, which is a genuine Spanish ski portal. The even funnier thing is that, of all the 2,500 ski resorts they list, the one which gets the most online visitors is the Teide Ski Resort, even though, in reality, it does not exist! Personally, I love their little camel logo with a woolly hat and snow on his back, but I wonder how many people have driven up Teide following their maps, looking for the resort in the "Orotava Land"?

All events are liable to change beyond our control.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tenerife's Secret Jewel: Teno Rural Park

Teide from Teno Alto

The island of Tenerife has a wide variety of endemic flora and fauna, as well as several different landscape structures and, almost 45% of the island is protected. The jewel in the crown is the Teide National Park, created in 1954, but the island also has the Corona Forestal Nature Park and the Anaga and Teno Rural Parks.

The population of the Teno Rural Park resides in small villages and many still live off the land through agricultural and farming activities. Among these hamlets are Los Carrizales, Masca, El Palmar, Las Portelas and Teno Alto, which together have around 1,500 inhabitants.

Finca Los Pedregales

The area of the park is around 8,063.6 hectares and this unique landscape is testament to the importance that agriculture had for the local economy in the past. There are various houses renovated to offer rural accommodation, as well as a hostel, the Albergue de Bolico, situated very close to Las Portelas. The park's management office is located at the finca Los Pedregales, in the valley of El Palmar.

Flora and Fauna

Because of its altitude and position, the Teno area contains a great biological diversity and is a refuge for various threatened species, such as the birdlife of the sub-tropical rainforest or endemic lizards. The most representative forest area is the Monte del Agua, with many endemic plant species and, which is the remains of woodlands of the Tertiary period.

Natural Values

The Teno area is an ancient volcanic mass, which the processes of erosion have modeled to its current landscape, forming giant cliffs on the coast. The last volcanic activities in the area formed valleys and opened in the shape of a fan, giving rise to the Isla Baja (Low Island) areas, such as Buenavista del Norte and Teno Bajo.

The present geography is characterized by fertile valleys, such as that of El Palmar and by deep ravines, such as Masca. On the west coast are the impressive Los Gigantes cliffs, which reach over 500 meters in height.

Historical Heritage



Amongst local produce of importance are; potatoes, cheese, wine, saffron, fruit and honey. All of these products are produced commercially in the area. Meanwhile, in Teno Bajo, tomatoes are produced. Around Buenavista del Norte, there are plantations of bananas and nurseries for flowers.

Despite the demise in artisan products in general, in Masca you can still find items made from palm leaves and wickerwork in Las Lagunetas and El Palmar. In some hamlets, you can still find old kilns for making roof tiles and bread ovens.

The festivities celebrated in the various villages are mostly related to the end of harvest, in the months of September and October. Of particular historical and cultural interest is the Dance of Las Libreas, which is unique to El Palmar.

The Teno area has been protected as a Natural Park since 1987 and was reclassified to its present category of Rural Park in 1994, under the Canary Islands' "Law of Natural Spaces". A special protection zone for birds has also been declared.

Parque Rural De Teno


All events are liable to change beyond our control.

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