Eight Paradises, and the Legend of a Ninth

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paradise islands Canaries

The yearning for the unknown has been an intrinsic part of human nature for centuries, and the Ancient Greeks were no exception. Homer and Plato, masterful storytellers of their time, wove tales of mythic paradises and lost civilizations lurking on the fringes of the known world. In their narratives, they gave life to places like the Elysian Fields of the afterlife or the enigmatic Atlantis, which they projected onto the vast expanse now known as Macaronesia. This region, a cluster of oceanic-volcanic archipelagos off the northwest coast of Africa, includes the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, the Savage Islands, and the Canaries.

Among these islands, the Canaries stand out with their unique blend of natural history and cultural heritage. Comprising eight inhabited islands, along with four smaller islets and various rocky satellites, each boasts its own distinct ecosystem. For instance, Fuerteventura, a geological marvel that emerged from the sea approximately 20 million years ago, stands in stark contrast to the youthful La Palma, a mere 1.7 million years old, still undergoing sporadic eruptions.

Having been part of Spain for over five centuries, the Canaries enjoy a consistently warm and pleasant climate throughout the year. While they share many biogeographical features, some species are specific to particular islands, or entirely unique to just one. Canarian biologist Dr. Antonio Machado paints a vivid picture of this biodiversity, listing species such as the majestic dragon tree, the delicate Canary bellflower, the vibrant blue chaffinch, and the impressive giant lizard of La Gomera. However, the story takes a somber turn, as many of these species teeter on the brink of extinction, alongside various birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals native to these islands.

Dr. Machado, a tireless protector of this fragile territory, has dedicated his career to its conservation. Today, national parks and nature reserves blanket over 50 percent of the Canaries, marking hard-fought victories such as the revival of ancient laurel forests and the reintroduction of nearly extinct species. Amidst these conservation efforts, an intriguing cultural revival has emerged—the resurgence of the black Canarian pig, or cochino negro. Once a staple meat, it had dwindled in numbers until a recent renaissance in traditional agriculture and gastronomy saw its return to farms and menus. Folk festivals, traditional dances, and unique sports like wrestling, stone-lifting, and the rustic “shepherd’s leap” offer a glimpse into the rich human heritage shaped by the customs of aboriginal Guanches, colonial Spaniards, and later arrivals from the Americas.

Yet, amid these stories of nature and culture, there’s one particular legend that has transcended time on all eight islands—the legend of a ninth. This tale, etched onto ancient maps and whispered across generations, speaks of the spectral isle of San Borondón. Named after the mystic Irish monk, Saint Brendan the Navigator, who spread Christianity across the seas in the 6th century, San Borondón was believed to be a paradise on Earth, hidden at the far end of the archipelago. Dr. Machado, with roots tracing back to the conquest of Tenerife, is intimately familiar with these tales, though as a man of science, he remains skeptical of the occasional wild testimonies from local fishermen who claim to have witnessed the elusive island appear and vanish like a ghost ship in the mist.

Instead, Dr. Machado finds wonder in the very real wonders of the Canaries themselves. Each island offers a unique earthly paradise, waiting to be explored. Lanzarote, with its otherworldly landscapes reminiscent of African desert terrain, contrasts with the snow-capped majesty of Tenerife, boasting laurel forests and vast pine woodlands. Gran Canaria unfolds as an open book of dramatic geology, while Fuerteventura’s golden beaches and wind-sculpted dunes beckon surfers and nature enthusiasts. La Palma’s colonial charm and wild landscapes, including active volcanoes and vertiginous waterfalls, tell a captivating story of past and present.

El Hierro, once considered the edge of the known world, now lures divers to its deep waters and volcanic pools, where ancient legends of witches and rituals still echo. In contrast, La Gomera, one of the smallest and least-visited islands, conceals misty cloud forests and volcanic caves, preserving the legacy of the native “whistling language,” Silbo Gomero, a UNESCO-recognized Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Lastly, La Graciosa, recognized as a separate Canary Island only in 2018, remains an untouched gem. With no asphalt roads, it is one of Europe’s last frontiers, featuring pristine beaches like Playa de las Conchas, scattered whitewashed houses, and an abundance of native wildlife.

In conclusion, the Canary Islands, with their rich biodiversity and captivating landscapes, offer not only a glimpse into the wonders of nature but also a tapestry of cultural heritage that has endured through the ages. The legend of San Borondón, though tantalizing, is but a small part of the larger story that these islands have to tell—an epic tale of paradise, both real and mythical, waiting to be discovered by the modern-day voyager.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about paradise islands Canaries

What are the Canary Islands known for?

The Canary Islands are renowned for their unique blend of natural wonders and cultural heritage. They are famous for their diverse ecosystems, including rare flora and fauna, as well as their captivating landscapes, ranging from volcanic craters to lush forests.

Who is Dr. Antonio Machado, and why is he mentioned in the text?

Dr. Antonio Machado is a Canarian biologist dedicated to the conservation of the Canary Islands’ fragile biodiversity. He is mentioned in the text because of his significant role in protecting the unique species and natural habitats of the islands.

What is the legend of San Borondón, and why is it mentioned?

The legend of San Borondón is a mythical tale of a hidden paradise on Earth, often associated with the Canary Islands. It is mentioned in the text because it has been told across all eight islands for generations and contributes to the islands’ rich cultural history.

What are some of the sports and cultural activities mentioned in the text?

The text mentions a variety of sports and cultural activities that are part of the Canarian heritage. These include traditional sports like wrestling, stone-lifting, and a rustic form of pole-vault known as “shepherd’s leap.” Additionally, there are references to folk festivals, dances, and the preservation of the native “whistling language,” Silbo Gomero.

How does each of the Canary Islands mentioned in the text differ from one another?

Each of the Canary Islands has its own unique characteristics and attractions. For example, Tenerife is known for its snow-capped Mount Teide and diverse landscapes, while Gran Canaria boasts a dynamic topography with volcanic crags and sandy beaches. Lanzarote’s UNESCO-protected biosphere offers lunar-like landscapes, while La Palma retains a colonial-era charm. El Hierro is famous for its deep waters and volcanic pools, and La Gomera preserves misty cloud forests and ancient cultural traditions. La Graciosa, the newest Canary Island, remains unspoiled with pristine beaches.

What is the significance of the Canary Islands being a UNESCO-recognized Cultural Heritage of Humanity?

The text mentions that Silbo Gomero, the native “whistling language” of La Gomera, is recognized by UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition highlights the cultural significance and historical importance of this unique form of communication in the Canary Islands.

How have conservation efforts impacted the Canary Islands?

Conservation efforts in the Canary Islands have led to the establishment of national parks and nature reserves covering over 50 percent of the islands. These efforts have resulted in the regeneration of ancient laurel forests, the reintroduction of nearly extinct species, and the protection of the islands’ fragile biodiversity.

More about paradise islands Canaries

  • Canary Islands – UNESCO World Heritage Centre – Learn more about the UNESCO recognition of Silbo Gomero, the whistling language of La Gomera, as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

  • Tenerife Tourism – Explore the largest Canary Island, Tenerife, with its diverse landscapes and Mount Teide.

  • Gran Canaria Tourism – Discover Gran Canaria’s dynamic topography, volcanic crags, and sandy beaches.

  • Lanzarote Tourism – Explore Lanzarote’s UNESCO-protected biosphere and its lunar-like landscapes.

  • Fuerteventura Tourism – Learn about Fuerteventura’s golden beaches, water sports, and conservation areas.

  • La Palma Tourism – Discover La Palma’s colonial charm and natural wonders, including Caldera de Taburiente National Park.

  • El Hierro Tourism – Explore the primordial landscapes and dive spots of El Hierro.

  • La Gomera Tourism – Learn about the smallest Canary Island, La Gomera, its misty cloud forests, and cultural heritage.

  • La Graciosa Tourism – Discover Europe’s last outpost, La Graciosa, with its untouched beauty and virgin sands.

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