My throat is parched and my mouth feels as if it’s full of straw. The sun is merciless, an excruciating glare in a barren, blue sky. The altitude is playing havoc with my sinuses and I can’t breathe properly through my nose, making my mouth drier with each breath of hot air I inhale. We’re climbing sharply and my Gortex walking shoes, so useful in the damp, squeeze my feet. There’s no shade, and my water is almost all gone.
One, final burst of effort and at last I see tarmac. It’s still a few minutes to the village, but at least I can walk in the shade of the towering wall of rock alongside the road. Its layers of rock reveal its age, scarily fragile, as the loose rocks which have fallen and litter the roadside attest. We reach the village of Taborno which totters almost at the tip of the island, spectacular views falling away to either side, to where the Atlantic swirls along the rocky coastline. By now I urgently need water, but the one and only bar is closed. It’s Monday in Tenerife.
Of course it’s my own fault. Last time I was in these mountains it was cool, and mists played hide and seek between the trees. That was August. This is October, so it should be cooler, no? No. The micro-climate of this island is nothing if not unpredictable, and I was far too lax. I forgot my hat, I didn’t apply enough sun cream and I didn’t take enough water. All really stupid errors and I should have known so much better. The result is dehydration and a slight sun stroke.
The day begins quite differently; Austin parks the car in Cruz de Carmen, in the Anaga region, at the very tip of Tenerife, as it tapers off into the pointy bit of its triangular shape, and which I can only describe as a blip on the map. Disturbingly for such an isolated place there are signs that several cars have been broken into recently. Glass fragments litter the car park. It’s sad to realize that crime has intruded even in a beauty spot like this.
Gloomy thoughts soon disperse as we set off along a narrow path and into the forest, enjoying the coolness and the birdsong, the moss and the fungus clinging to steps. I love this woodland. It’s so different from the pine forests of other parts of the island, there the trees are green, proud and resilient, but under foot the pine needles crackle as you walk on them, tinder-dry for most of the year, and a constant fire hazard. Here, in Anaga, the trees are lush and diverse, often overflowing with lichen, their roots extend generously along the pathways, and their branches spread above, protecting both undergrowth and passers by from the heat of the sun. Instead of the uniform pine there is laurel and the sharp, fresh scent of eucalyptus fills the air.
Even here, though, it’s dry. It’s comparative – streams and little waterfalls are dried-up and silent, and the leaf-strewn pathways aren’t muddy. The walking is easy. From time to time we emerge from the trees into farmland, sweet potatoes, marrows and potatoes are planted in straggling rows, and we pass houses where dogs bark, but we see no-one. It’s almost ghostly. It must have looked just like this a century or more ago. It’s like stepping back in time – a feeling I’ve had before hiking this island. It’s getting hot, and doors and windows are shut fast against the heat. We cross country roads and plunge back into woodland.
Now we are climbing, and we begin to catch glimpses of neighboring mountain peaks and the ocean far below, including Anambro, last seen from a very different view point a few weeks back. We come to a crossroads, although the word “road” is possibly an overstatement, but there is a very picturesque signpost. We stop to reapply sun cream, drink water and nibble banana bread.
Austin is becoming a fountain of knowledge about this countryside he loves so much, and I only wish I could remember everything he said, or that I could have recorded it to remind me. In so many ways it seems as if time has stood still here. A primitive but perfectly functional water catcher has been erected in one field, using a plastic 5 liter water bottle – recycling! Further on we see a zip wire. When Austin explains to me what it is, my first thought is that the area caters to extreme sports fans, but, no, it is used by farmers to transport produce or equipment down the hillside, and into the valley.
The air is perfumed, now with eucalyptus; now with wild fennel, cloying and sweet; and now with incenso….like Sunday morning in church, heady and exotic. There are brambles and blackberries, which we pick. They are warm from the sun, and sweeter than any I’ve ever had before.
We come to the picture-book village of Las Carboneras, perched comfortably on a mountainside. We will see it again from the other side of the valley, when I, even if not Austin, will marvel at how far we have come. The road approaching the village is perfectly groomed, planted with palms and oleander, and threaded with bright orange nasturtiums and regal deep purple convolvulus. It looks idyllic and I find myself wondering if they have internet there. My first question when I find a place I like too much. Today there is no time to explore, my snapping takes far too much walking time, and at the end of this walk, there is, extraordinarily, the promise of a French restaurant.
We turn down into the valley at the quaintly marked spot.
Soon we are ploughing through hillsides thick with ferns which grow ever higher and deeper. We are knee high, then we are waist high, and finally walking through ferns which come up to our shoulders. Throughout this walk we are accompanied by butterflies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one, single day, and I’m especially curious about the bright yellow ones I’ve never seen before. It strikes me that most animals are at their cutest when they’re babies, but not butterflies, caterpillars are mostly ugly things, and they save their glory for their final days. Though we have heard blackbirds and pigeons we haven’t seen birds until we reach this valley, where Austin spots a buzzard circling in search of prey and uttering am eerie cry.
Now we are climbing up the opposite hillside, and this is when my breathing becomes a problem. My sinuses fill with gunk, and when I try to speak my ears block up, echoing my words back at me. For the last part of the walk there is no shade, and the heat of this particularly sultry day begins to dog me. I’m angry at myself. I should have brought more water. I’ve always been able to walk or work in the heat without resorting to drinking too much, but today it’s a problem, and my walking becomes labored as my feet swell too. Austin has some saline solution and I rinse out my sinuses which helps for a while. With his encouragement we reach the road which is just a few short steps to the hamlet of Taborno, and where I can walk in that shade.
The views from this hamlet-promontory are breathtaking. It feels like being on top of the world, despite the slight calmina which fuzzes the shapes a little, the views are dramatic. Below, on either side, we see waves caressing the coasts. In the distance mountain peaks drift. The island suddenly seems much bigger. I didn’t think that there could be so many mountains on 700+ square miles. They fade into the distance like the Windows wallpaper, peak after peak. Later I am depressed to realize that I didn’t take any pictures because I was feeling queasy.
Austin shoots off to see if there is anywhere to buy water, and I sit in the shade at the bottom of a flight of steps. An old lady is walking down the street in the noonday sun. The scene becomes almost like a movie, the heat and the sun like a spaghetti western. The little, old lady dressed in black with a scarf tied over her hair is another ghost from the past. I hope my voice hasn’t completely dried up as she approaches and smiles “Buenos tardes.” We despair of the heat, and she asks if I am waiting for the bus. I tell her yes, but according to the timetable we double-checked this morning we have over an hour to wait. “No way,” is what her reply amounts to. “There’s one due at 2 o’clock. I’m going to wait for it now.” Austin returns. We hear the bus chugging around the bend and then it appears, a mini bus in the familiar TITSA green, which whisks us down the mountain side to the car and water and food and shade. As I gulp water and Coca Cola my brain begins to engage again, and I begin to feel normal.
It’s been a memorable walk; a glimpse into other lives; almost a step back in time; a lesson sorely learned. My problems no way spoiled my enjoyment but they did lessen it somewhat at the end. I will always go with more water than I think I need in the future….and saline solution!