My friend, Cristina, and I had been in a meeting for over an hour, and as we stepped out into the sunshine, we had an almost unobstructed view of the mountains from the office in Las Galletas, and the breathtaking sight of Mt Teide as he rose triumphantly over the island in his winter coat. Down here on the coast we’d had high winds and heavy rain, but up there, at over 12,000 ft, the precipitation fell frozen and glistening white. El Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, if I failed to mention that before. We were seized by the impulse to drive straight up there to see it up close, but it took only a few minutes to realize that between us we had too many commitments and plans to change at such short notice, and knowing that the forecast was for more bad weather over the weekend we planned to go this week, when there would be even more snow.
As it happened, even though the weather had been a bit rough over the following days, we could see, as we set off from La Camella at a very chilly 8.30am, that there wasn’t as much snow as there had been exactly a week before. In the meantime, roads had been closed and access restricted for hours and even days, to protect both people and the National Park over which Teide reigns, as fierce sleet and winds battered the peaks. Our intention was to take a leisurely drive, stop for me to snap, go our separate ways for a while once we got down to La Laguna, and perhaps take in the movie which was showing in the Caja Canarias season of movies on the photojournalism theme, and so we snaked up the mountain roads in the cool early morning, under an impossibly blue sky. Though we didn’t lose sight of the sapphire skies, the clouds were closing in behind us, and forming the famous Mar de Nubes (Sea of Clouds). The effect is like that you have when flying, high above the clouds, so that you look down on a fleecy blanket of white, and can’t see the land below.
The roads were fairly quiet. It was the day after a holiday, and maybe the forecast had been too iffy for tourists to bother. They missed a treat if that was the case. We found ourselves in the caldera in no time, and cruising through a landscape, which is for me, after 20-odd years of living here, both familiar and yet strange. I do not exaggerate when I say that it never, ever fails to awe me. These rocks, this pre-historic landscape, the sense of the power of nature, and the stark contrasts between the somber crags and that indigo sky, all conspire to suspend the current reality and allow the imagination to run riot. Let’s be honest here, Mother Nature is nothing if not a drama queen.
Magnificent and unspoiled though the landscape was, first impressions were of a distinct lack of snow. Pockets could be seen in shady nooks, where the sun had little power in winter, but not what you’d call even a “covering”. That said, since the area became not only a National Park, but a World Heritage Site in 2007, there are far more restrictions and regulations aimed at limiting damage to the natural and unavoidable rather than the disrespect of man, and it was very likely that, had we made it a week before, we would have found roads closed and access to the caldera cut off. There were days, years ago, when, at the first sign of snow, we would rush on up with sleds or plastic bin liners, hot chocolate and ski gear, but earlier this week access from the north was one way, via the village of La Esperanza and down via the Orotava Valley, and if you climbed the way we did, from the south, then the road was blocked roughly half way across the vast volcanic crater, and you had to return the way you came, via Vilaflor or via Chio. Those are the four main routes up and down the mountain.
As we were going north in any event, we continued, knowing, as any fan of adventure movies will tell you, that there was more chance of snow on the north-facing slopes, and we were not disappointed, as we drew closer and began to circle El Teide, and the car’s thermometer registered 5ºC, we saw more and more, until, leaving El Portillo behind and beginning the at first gradual descent we discovered enough of the wet and white stuff, as Cristina said, to make snowballs.
I put a couple of these pictures on my Facebook page earlier, and received some nice compliments, but, honestly, with these colors, these contrasts, with the snow and the sky, and that majestic mountain – how can you go wrong?
So, I happily snapped away, and Cristina made snowballs and had an abortive attempt at a snow angel, but it was too hardpacked for that. It was after this that she put down the roof on the car, we bundled up against the cold even more, and began to mosey down , past the observatory, in the direction of La Laguna, reminding me of the days back when I was young and had my much-loved MG Midget, and had the top down in all but serious weather.
Cristina and her talking car
We had only been going for a few minutes, however, when I had to call another stop. The extraordinary Mar de Nubes, which was now masking the northern coast from view, was on the move, stealthily slithering its way up the mountainside, creeping between tree and rock in a surreal and measured glide, and it had changed from the fluffy, white clouds of the southern slopes to grey and forboding, with different colored layers.
I’ve seen this before, it’s eerie and other-worldly, and I could sit and watch it for hours, but the real world, down below was calling, and we resumed our journey.
It was about halfway down that we caught up with the clouds, as they sneaked their way amongst the trunks of Canarian pines, blackened by forest fires, but with defiant new growth emerging on their tops. I swear, Hollywood couldn’t have set a scene more perfectly, and up went the top of the car, as the icy haze surrounded us.
It was just after this that I began to wonder if perhaps it really all was a dream, as outside it fell to 4ºC, and an alarm went off as the car actually warned us of the fall in the temperature. Cristina, I should add, was delighted that her car was communicating with her – this wasn’t a feature she’d actually ever expected to function on this sub-tropical island!
Following the curves from that point down was entering yet another world, where, leaving the forest behind, lush and green fields and yellow flowers bordered the road, until the clatter of motorway traffic could be heard, and we crossed into the outskirts of the city, and then back out into the country villages for lunch……..but that is another story, for another day. This morning belonged to the mists and the mountains and the snow, the coast, the city, bright lights and shopping malls belong to a different world entirely…….or at least they seem to…….and that, as you know, is what I keep harping on about – the variety to be found in less than 800sq miles.