The longer I live on this island, the more I understand our connection to the earth. It isn’t simply the connection of someone who lives off the land, like a farmer, it’s also a connection to the places where nothing of any apparent use can possibly grow, the badlands, or malpaís. There is something about touching rocks which were spewed out of volcanoes millions of years ago that gives you a sense of place, and of being a part of it all, and not only the land itself, but to the people, back in history, who had to overcome the difficulties of these forsaken places. Modern life seems to trivialize them, but if you stop and listen you can feel the ghosts.
There are several of these places called Malpaís on the island, the most spectacular being on the western slopes of Mount Teide. Stopping to photograph there last winter, with a tidal wave of white fog bearing down on us, gave me a spooky sense of desolation and loneliness, even though I knew there were folk only ten minutes away. When the disgorged rocks are sinister, dark and jagged shapes it seems even more unsettling – as if it wasn’t that long ago that nature flung them from the bowels of the earth.
I walked one of these landscapes a few days ago. The walk, a circular one, beginning in Puerto de Güimar and back, has been somewhat tamed by man. Paths are unobtrusively but helpfully laid out, and maybe even follow paths taken hundreds of years ago by the Guanches.
Guanches were the island’s first inhabitants, who valiantly resisted the forces ofSpain, making Tenerife the last island of the archipelago to fall to the Conquistadors in 1496. They were an interesting race, who mummified their dead and who used the cosmic spiral symbol, though no-one is absolutely sure what it represented to them, as once the Conquistadors were finished, there were few of them left to explain.
These inhabitants of the archipelago were curiously not seafarers, as if, having arrived in a place, often described as paradise, from the deserts of North Africa, they intentionally forgot how to leave. This walk is coastal, and standing on black, hardened lava overlooking where it stopped in its tracks as it met the ocean, and watching the waves, even after all these years, still hurling themselves at the land, it’s easy to imagine a goatskin-clad youth standing in the same spot, staff in hand, wondering if anything lay beyond the blue.
This landscape is its own storyteller, with pre-historic tales of hot lava which curved, and must have hissed and steamed as it met the cold Atlantic waters, and of small volcanic tubes forming, some of which, after the ages, have collapsed like this one, or formed caves and crevices on the shoreline, like the one you can glimpse under this natural “bridge”.
Modern Canarian history can be found amongst this rocky crust of the earth too. This old water pump must have tapped into an underground stream at one time, though there were no signs that anyone had lived close enough to it to not make carrying water a hard chore each day, just as it still is in parts of Africa. However, I couldn’t get out of my mind an image of R2D2 lost in the desert and rusting away waiting for Luke to come find him!
These salinas, or salt pans, weren’t that easy to reach either. On high tides, when the sea crashed further over onto the shore, water was left in these manmade pools, and as it dried salt was left behind, which was then collected, and had to be humped over to the village, or up to the main village in the foothills.
Close to the shoreline, we came across this very touching memorial, though the lettering was faded, and covered by that buoy, which I was reluctant to move so that I could read better. It seemed, somehow, disrespectful. So we could only guess that a boat from Puerto de Güimar had possibly been lost, probably within living memory, as there were flowers around it, which had clearly been left quite recently.
Adding our own thoughts or prayers that the folk memorialized Descansan en Paz, or Rest in Peace, we moved on. Close by the beach was littered with debris, not the rubbish left behind by weekenders, but washed down the gullies and dry river beds during the torrential rains of winter, and out to sea, only to be returned to land by the incoming tides. The driftwood you could even call picturesque, but the plastic bottles and tin cans so apparently essential to our modern life were ugly and out-of-place amongst the old rocks, likewise the shards of wood, once probably fencing, and the rags which had been fishing nets. I was remembered reading that Chay Blyth once reported finding floating rubbish on even the most remote legs of his sailing adventures.
Desert, for sure, this terrain is, but not, by any means devoid of life, although the closer to the sea we got the less we found. We shared our apples and some water with this guy and at least a dozen of his friends and family, as swifts circled overhead on their endless quest for food, and the star of the ant’s life photo I posted the other day was also working busily away with his mates. We also saw rabbit droppings too, but where in the world don’t you, though it was really hard to imagine what food they found around there.
This barren scenery was an utter contrast to what I’d intended to see on this day. Our goal had been a favorite walk in the Anaga Mountains in the far tip of the island, and I was anticipating it hugely, but when we left La Laguna at around 9am the fine chirimiri quickly turned into a heavy drizzle as we ascended. I’m not at all averse to walking in rain (I am English after all), but when the swirling mists obscured what are amazing views there didn’t seem to be much point, so we re-thought and headed for the coast. With images of the lush laurel forests I’d been expecting still in my brain, I think I appreciated the starkness of this scenery even more. I was left wondered if there is anywhere else on earth where you can drive from a misty forest and only twenty minutes later be chucking waterproofs and sweaters out of your pack to begin a desert walk.
The walk should have taken around two hours, but with plenty of photo stops, and one other stop to nibble some delicious, Canarian goat’s cheese together with crispy apples…..and feed the local wildlife as a result, it took us three on a hot day, but it wasn’t that hard. Steps have been cut into the steeper parts of the walk, to make it more accessible. The rugged terrain means you are far better with a thick-soled boot or shoe. As one of us found out – you feel every, unyielding and sharp stone underfoot if you don’t!
And – at the end of the walk, you return to the village of Puerto de Güimar, where good food is abundant I am very happy to report. This dish (photographed by Austin to give him full credit, because normally I only post my own photos!) was lapas, or limpets, which were divine, tasting of the ocean and garlic and olive oil, and a royal feast to crown the day, along with tuna in mojo, fried eel, a melt-in-the-mouth pulpo gallego (and that is saying something!) together with salad, and a plate of the very, very best papas arrugadas, the real, creamy papas negras and not the white potatoes so often used in tourist areas…….thank god I’d walked off enough calories not to feel any guilt!