The jet lag was so brutal my second day in the Canary Islands that I woke up at 12:30 pm. I had drunk a cup of coffee the night before. Big mistake! I couldn’t fall sleep until 7:30 am and when I forced myself to wake up, I felt like a zombie. But I went straight to work. I had a digital question and answer session over the internet which lasted over an hour. A few of the questions were unique. Somebody asked me if orangutans make good pets! Some of the session would be published the next day in the local newspaper.
Shortly afterwards, I was interviewed on local television. The big news concerning great apes that day in the Canaries was that a pet chimpanzee had been confiscated from a woman’s apartment. Thus, for the five minutes of the TV interview I was subjected to questions about chimpanzees. “No, it is a bad idea to keep a chimpanzee as a pet. They are very strong and they might not particularly care for captivity. Would you?” was my main message. “If you want a pet, get a dog or a cat!”
Lunch was a seemingly never ending series of vegetarian dishes. We must have tasted at least twelve, most of which were quite delicious; a few, however, I must admit, were not to my taste. On my left sat a scientist who had been studying Mediterranean tuna for the last seven years. He did not hold out much hope for the tuna. Part of the problem was “pee-rate” fishing boats, “rate” rhymning with “fate.” It took me about a minute to figure out he meant “pirate” fishing boats which left their country of origin and then returned bearing flags of convenience such as those of Panama or Senegal. They were just Spanish ships but now, with their new flags, they did not register their catches or report to anyone in Europe. The scientist suspected that the tuna catch in the Mediterranean was twice or even three times that reported. Further, due to climate change, fish were heading north, leaving warmer waters behind. Mackeral were now for the first time seen in waters near Iceland, something that had never been previously recorded. I asked the scientist about the presence of tuna in the Baltic Sea now that the world’s oceans were growing warmer, a question that seemingly startled him. They had never been known in the Baltic Sea, he told me. Even the concept seemed surprising to him.
The animal activist to the right of me related how the existence of bull-fighting was maintained not by Spanish tradition but by the massive profits pulled in by major players in the industry. Many Spaniards were opposed to bull fights. However, the people who bred the bulls, raised them, fed them, and the people who organized the fights, etc. fought the banning of bull fights tooth and nail because of all the profits that they would lose.
Lunch lasted two hours. It was a pleasant interlude. Afterwards, it was time to review my slides. After I had done so, I slipped into the auditorium and listened to the speaker just ahead of me. Luis Luque Polo was a tall, older gentleman with a deep voice that resonated across the auditorium. He was very eloquent, almost poetic. He had been fighting for animal rights since he was 15 and he had already been retired for a few years. It was the government pension that allowed him to continue his fight. He spoke about the “migratory” pigeons (clearly passenger pigeons) that had gone extinct and the bison that almost did as well. “Defense of animals meant defense of humans,” especially given processes such as climate change, thundered Luis, and I agreed with him. I cited him at least four times in my speech which might have accounted for the fact that, after my talk, he rushed up to me, kissed me on both cheeks, and heartily spoke in Spanish. It was exciting to listen to him but I didn’t understand a word he said. Rarely have I had such an enthusiastic reaction to one of my talks! Clearly, there was something about my speech he liked. I just didn’t know if it was the numerous references to himself and his eloquence.
The audience was so silent during my talk (no coughing or whispering) that it encouraged me to exceed my time limit. Normally when that happens, the question or answer period is either cut or totally eliminated. Not in Spain! People were very formal and polite, first congratulating me on my work before they asked their questions.
After my talk I was presented with five coffee table books, lavishly illustrated, about the Canary Islands, books that must have weighed 20 pounds. I tried to figure out how I would fit them all into my carry on luggage which is all that I had brought with me. At least, these books gave me a reason to learn Spanish.
By the time I returned to my hotel it was past 11 pm. The hotel restaurant had just closed. I was rescued by Frederico, the head of the Jane Goodall Institute in Spain, a most pleasant genteel man who had been a volunteer for Jane for a long time, and his friend who was an illustrator. We went to a local restaurant two blocks away. “All locals!” Frederico commented as we went inside. Indeed, there were several uniformed police officers sitting at the bar. Although it was half an hour before midnight, the restaurant was bustling and noisey. The food was excellent, a tuna salad (hopefully, not with a Mediterranean tuna), an absolutely delicious chicken garlic soup, a tasty legume dish, and some fried potatoes which I gobbled up like the proverbial hot cakes. We left an hour later. I was told the restaurant, still full, would stay open at least another two hours. The tip must have been good as the waiter insisted on shaking our hands as we left. Frederico said that it was just the normal courtesy and friendliness of Canary Islanders.
I like the Canary Islands and the laid back spirit that even the Spanish find mellow. We are less than a hundred miles from the African coast but at least several hundred miles from Spain. I like this tropical version of Europe.