The fascinating visit of Benito Pérez Galdós to Santa Cruz de Tenerife

This is the account of the great Canarian novelist Benito Pérez Galdós during a brief stay in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the year 1864.

“I left Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, bound for Cádiz, at midnight on September 13, 1864. Our spirits were filled with gloom because saying goodbye for a long journey is the most unpleasant and tedious thing you can imagine.”

The sea was swollen, tumultuous, and as restless as those of us who were about to surrender to it. If the cruel steps of the dock were climbed instead of descended, it would seem like they were leading me to the gallows, as the guillotine does not horrify me more than a rough sea. Sitting on the bench of the boat that was taking me to the ship, I felt like a condemned man. As we passed the dock’s bar, the movements were so repeated and abrupt that I couldn’t see the white handkerchiefs that friendly hands were waving on the dock. I had no hands but to grip tightly to the boat’s rail, no mouth but to spit out a bitter and sticky saliva, no eyes but to measure the distance separating me from the ship.

Finally, we reached the steamship, climbed the gangplank with difficulty, and headed in search of our cabin, where we stowed our luggage and went up on deck. Then a terrible struggle began between the stomach and imagination, as the stomach wanted to revolt and the imagination insisted on calming it. I gathered my strength, sat up, and tried to engage in conversation with a friendly and lovely young lady from Tenerife; one of those spiritual, simple, full of innocence and coquetry people. The conversation revolved around music and, as this silly person insisted that she sing a Malagueña for me, the poor girl was preparing to please us when the ship tossed like a baton in the hands of a conductor, and our ears began to hear the thunderous symphony coming from the engine room. The wind, the steam, the engine, everything adhered to a mysterious rhythm producing the strangest of harmonies.

We went down to the cabins, true dungeons destined to be a theatre of our suffering, with the intention to sleep and a firm resolve not to get seasick. Packed in that kind of unhealthy, narrow coffin, on that hard pallet, I tossed and turned unable to find the desired sleep, sweating drops as big as hazelnuts.

In such situations, I tend to bring to my imagination the most beautiful, picturesque, most incompatible according to my view with the sea and its painful vicissitudes. For me, the delights of the countryside are diametrically opposed to the spectacle of the sea, however poetic it may appear at times. So, I would close my eyes and create a delightful picture where I considered myself a resident of a paradise formed by a country house, a lush tree, a few flowers, a cow, a dog, etc. I tried to deceive my senses with imagined aromas, with sounds produced in my brain. All the efforts of my imagination were in vain because a deafening noise made the drowsiness I was beginning to sink into disappear before a floor that seemed to flee from beneath our feet.

Benito Pérez Galdós. | | ED

Benito Pérez Galdós. | | ED / José Manuel Ledesma Alonso

It is commonly believed that a book is the best companion and that there is nothing better to dispel the boredom that a journey brings than to successively leaf through the pages of paper where authors have poured out their thoughts to enslave ours and entangle them in the labyrinth of their ideas. From such entertainment, I can say that every time I have taken a book with me to follow the advice, I could barely hold my imagination to strange ideas, and when I mechanically read half a dozen pages, I found myself as far from the book as if I were plunged into it.

At last, that disastrous night passed, and in the early hours of the next day, we made a stop at the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where the steamer Almogóvar would pick up passengers, replenish coal, and take on fresh water. We jumped ashore, joyful but thinking that within nine hours we would have to embark on a longer and more arduous voyage.

Santa Cruz, the capital of the Canary Islands, with its spacious streets and numerous crowds, completely absorbed our attention.

Its port is nothing more than an open roadstead to all winds except the North and West, which are the prevailing winds in such latitudes. The Punta de Anaga, an elevated range of volcanic rocks, extends from the island in a northeast direction, holding back the clouds on its rugged peak, which is the reason that the sky is almost constantly clear, the atmosphere transparent, and the sun radiant in the calm months of summer.

Those wild rocks, where only a few wild plants with stunted vegetation grow, descend steeply into the sea to create a fairly respectable anchorage due to its depth, where ships need many fathoms to secure their anchors without danger. This, along with the obliquity of the lava layers that in many visible parts show the rocks of Anaga, have led to the idea that the port of Santa Cruz is nothing but the crater of a volcano, whose antiquity is lost in the night of the ages. An opinion supported by the multitude of craters that are encountered at every step in the Canary Islands, and whose traces appear on the surfaces and in the

Exploring the depths of all terrains, with more or less signs of antiquity.

To the south of this mountain range, right by the water’s edge, a village is nestled surrounded by some orchards. In a terrain of calcareous nature, a few poor trees strive unsuccessfully to offer gratitude to their caring owner, providing him with the scant shade of their withered leaves through luxurious artifice.

A pier extending bravely into the depths invites the weary traveller to set foot on land and venture into the welcoming village with the openness that characterises the people of the Canary Islands.

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Accompanied by seven friends, we crossed the pier and the spacious Plaza de la Constitución, where stands the Triumph to La Candelaria, a trophy of white marble that commemorates the surrender of Tenerife island and its four Menceys to the valour of Spanish arms. We proceeded to the Fonda del Inglés on 11 San Francisco Street, where we enjoyed a meal of eggs, fish, meat, and fruit, accompanied by a fine local wine and a good coffee. Our poor stomachs, famished from the journey, devoured the feast hastily.

As soon as we finished lunch, I asked my companions where we were going next, for surely you don’t intend to idle away these hours before our embarkation. No, they unanimously replied, I am going to shop for trinkets, I am making two visits, and I am going to see some friends. Well, I recommend the three of you accompany me to the Casino, where this illustrious Tenerife Society will welcome us, providing a place to rest, have coffee, and catch up on the latest news.

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