Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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A Gentle Stroll in Hermigua

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I am still under the spell of this magic island of La Gomera. To say that it has surprised and enchanted me would be an understatement. Perhaps it was my luck in finding my way to this precise spot in which I’m living, because I can see that had I landed up in other parts of the island, although I would have enjoyed my time here, it wouldn’t have been as overwhelmingly captivating as Hermigua is for me.

It’s true to say that the ambience has had its affect. I’ve slowed down. I probably needed to, and before long I will need to speed up again. I haven’t, for instance, done the walking I intended to do, it’s been confined to rambles rather than serious walking, exploring paths, curiously.

roques san pedro

Before Christmas I did….. an afternoon stroll really…….. but an absolutely delightful one, with my friend, Colleen, who was visiting from Tenerife. It’s a walk my friends Michael and Marlys from Easyhiker would love…..guys, you really need to get yourselves over here!

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Hiking Surprises: San Miguel to La Centinela, Tenerife

Say the word “hike” to me and, after years of living on Tenerife, I conjure images of arid badlands, shady, mystical forests, volcanoes and other such exciting stuff, so a few weeks back,  hiking closer to home than usual,  I didn’t expect to find anything other than exercise to be honest because the hillsides of the south of Tenerife are barren at the best of times when compared to other parts of the island, and now, after around two years without any substantial rain, they are especially seared and tan, hence the low expectations……….but it proved to be a day of surprises

Pilar and I set off from the village of San Miguel de Abona around mid-morning, under one of those crystal clear, achingly-blue skies which make you double-check the contents of your daypack:  Sun cream? Check. Hat? Check. Plenty of water? Check. Ok to go then.

Daytime San Miguel perfectly fits the description “sleepy village.” Every time I visit, it has that siesta time air, as if the population are all whiling away the heat of the day behind closed shutters. It’s pretty, and well-maintained and restored.

We  sauntered out of the village. It almost felt like tip-toeing to avoid waking  residents.  The hillsides were parched, dusty and achingly dry, but within minutes we’d left all of that behind and  descended into greenery.  It was a revelation to find a certain lushness around us. Remember there are no rivers on Tenerife (many were already underground, and others were long ago diverted to take advantage of the natural, underground storage, to conserve water supplies). The reason soon became evident; along the way we passed places where water trickled  down the rock face, and in a couple of places we stepped into mud, clearly there was water underground, although the mud was the only evidence above, and there was the merest whisper of its running.

Pilar crosses a recently-installed bridge as we near Fuente de Tamaide

Probably that presence of water was the reason for all the other surprises that day.

One thing I miss  hiking here is birdsong. Summer hiking England and the air fairly vibrates with song. It isn’t as if there is nothing here for bird lovers, in recent weeks I’ve seen kestrals, buzzards, woodpeckers, hoopoes, great grey shrike, partridge, plovers, egret and a dove which is endemic to the island, as well as numerous gulls, blue tits and canaries, but there isn’t that  unseen pulsing  you feel  in England. Normally, that is – in this wee valley it seemed as if all the island’s missing birds were come together to celebrate spring, and the air was sweet with their chatter.

At some points we could look up and see the peaks of the caldera above us

Second surprise – we hadn’t been walking very long when we came across very visible water in the form of  La Fuente de Tamaide, a natural spring, like so many here, where water which has filtered underground in through the porous rocks of the mountains above eventually emerges into daylight. Even dew or light rain seeps through the this rock  and trickles downward, often finding its way out in scenes like this.

You can see how the basin of what is, really, a small waterfall when there is a lot of water, has been adapted to human needs.

Below a link to the past, and up above modern life intrudes.

Throughout history, and even before of course, water has always been important. The world over, byways and settlements sprang up close to water sources, and this, particular one, like others in this valley, served not only for practical purposes, like drinking water, washing, and watering of crops and animals, but also as a meeting place. There was a plaque explaining what it was we were looking at, with some old photographs. The photos didn’t tally exactly with what we saw, so I assumed that they were an illustration of how natural pools of water like these are adapted and harnessed by man to fit his needs.

The natural pools had a helping hand and you can see how it must have been a rendezvous for the village women. Can’t you just imagine them dishing the dirt as they beat and scrubbed their washing on the beveled sides of that  tank, or blushing as that handsome young man rode up on his horse? Beats hypnotizing yourself watching your machine’s wash cycle doesn’t it? Fresh air, a nice gossip with the girls, but then you have to remember that this is a valley, and they had to return with the wet washing uphill. They were made of strong stuff these country lasses.

Photo of the village washerwomen on the plaque.

There is no date for the photographs,  so I presume that they are intended as an example of how a pool like this fitted into daily life two or three centuries ago. There are, apparently, three such pools in the area, but we saw only two. It was noted that the first written record of this spring was in 1849, and it’s certain that it was used by man long before that, even by the aboriginal Guanches before the Spanish conquest. History hung in the air.

Sheltered in the barranco, it was easy to leave the modern world behind and imagine oneself back into history. We passed only one other couple until we got to the end, although, it’s for sure that it must have been busier back when than it is now. Abandoned cottages dot the landscape, as is common here, families long since absconded to the more profitable pursuits of the coast; the hillsides are swathed by barren, desolate terraces but here and there a green oasis, a terrace still cultivated. As we began to gently climb out of the barranco we had views right down to the coast. In Tenerife you are never out of sight of the ocean for very long.

Abandoned terraces

An oasis on the parched hillside.

As we emerged we came to a modern road and there was the next surprise. The odd-looking building by the roadside turned out to be another piece of history. It was an old tile kiln, built in the late 19th century, and restored for posterity, and once again a plaque explaining how it was used, and in English and German as well as Spanish too, another trip into history. The rest of our way took us past old houses,  an immaculate rural hotel and thirsty hillsides.

Tile Kiln La Hoya

Beautifully restored building which now houses a rural hotel.

This isn’t a difficult walk, looking back now I don’t remember puffing or panting at all until the last few yards of the outward journey, which took us to the mirador which clings to the rock just under the peak of the volcanic cone of  la Centinela. There there is a restaurant with an impressive view from its sweep of windows taking in much of the island’s south-east coast. The food is good there too, but this day we had to do a quick turn around back to San Miguel, so we lingered only long enough to take in the views, from the very peak, above the restaurant you have a 360º view, taking in mountains, ocean, agricultural fields, the resort areas of the coast and neighboring island, La Gomera, on a clear day you would be able to see Gran Canaria, La Palma and perhaps El Hierro too.

View from just outside the restaurant on La Centinela

We followed a slightly different path back, but its surprises were less evident, a mysterious door to nowhere; trying to catch a glimpse of the cackling we knew was a partridge hidden in the dusty scrub; climbing the side of a barranco and hearing that bucolic and satisfied clucking which indicates chickens laying eggs – it took us a while to identify from where the sounds came, then we realized that hidden under brush and branches in the dip below us was a row of chicken coops, hidden, we assumed, from aerial predators – we’d seen huge birds riding the thermals earlier, but were sure they’d come from a local zoo which specializes in bird life, whose eagles and vultures fly free for demonstrations during the day.

Chained and locked the door to nowhere, but it would be easy to hop over the wall. A mystery!

Almost back in San Miguel we turned to look back at La Centinela across the valley, and were surprised how far away it seemed to be. It hadn’t been a taxing walk, and we didn’t feel as if we had walked so far, but it had been something like time travel, a glimpse of other, earlier worlds, and we arrived back to find the village still snoozing in the mid-afternoon sun.

Close to where we parked in San Miguel this cave, clearly still in use for storage, may well have been inhabited in times past.


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Hiking Days of Innocence

My friend, Shelia, from Rambling On (a great blog, btw) recently posted a picture on her Flickr account of her younger self hiking. She commented on the clothing (including a very cute hat!), and the lack of technical gear……and whoosh! I was hurtling down memory lane as if it was a roller coaster.

You see, I can remember my first “proper hike” as if it was yesterday, which is odd in one way because there are others which I’m sure I should remember and don’t. Still…….

It was the summer of 1958, and I was eleven years old.  My life was about to take one of those sharp, unavoidable turns which seem, at that age, like jumping off a cliff. I’d passed my 11-plus, which was the exam we took at that age back then, which shunted us off into the educational direction the results indicated. I was headed for the exciting yet frightening road to grammar school. Maybe it’s because of the anticipation of the impending shift in my life, and resulting feelings of panic, that I recall this walk so clearly.

Until this point, my vacations had been passed in Halifax, Yorkshire  with my grandmother’s family. My vacation pattern was another part of my life on the cusp of change.  My next  summers would be spent in the English Lake District, since my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved there a short time before. Halifax, although surrounded by magnificent countryside, was then very industrial, whereas Bowness-on-Windermere, in the now defunct county of Westmorland,  was a quiet village, which attracted its share of Sunday afternoon drivers, but not the gridlock a 21st century bank holiday produces. My cousin went to the village school, where all the children of the community were accommodated in just one class, so few were there.

It must have been a weekend that we ventured forth, because my aunt and uncle both worked during the week, and it was still considered necessary that Glenn (two years younger than I) and I had my grandmother as a kind of nanny.  Looking back, she must have been younger than I thought at the time, but I guess at 11 it’s normal to think that one’s grandparents are older than the hills. I do remember that I was making life difficult for her. My rebel without a cause phase was about to begin, but all I knew then was that I was insulted by her presence.  I considered myself quite “grown up” and not in need of a babysitter. She wasn’t one of those “fun” grandmas, she appeared quite austere, not very communicative, and always looking for the danger in anything we wanted to do (she had her reasons I now know), so her negative pull felt like being trapped in a spider’s web.This made our weekend hike even more appealing – it was heaven to be outdoors with my aunt and uncle, both of whom I hero-worshiped in my way.

I remember parking the car by a stream near Rydal Water, and climbing over a stile into what seemed another world. Although Yorkshire’s wild scenery is stunning, I’d always seen it from a distance;   hilltops glimpsed from second-floor windows; vistas passed through and seen through the steamed-up windows of buses, and now here I was in the real heart of the English countryside- I already knew Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” by heart, and here I was, treading in his footsteps, even though it wasn’t, granted, daffodil season. Instead of daffodils there was knee-high bracken, and there was still enough of the child in me to know that under bracken leaves you may find fairies hiding.

This particular spot is less wild than many parts of the Lake District National Park, and it was a marked contrast for me after the desolate Yorkshire moors I’d seen before. The hills, tempered by the Ice Age, as I was soon to learn,  rolled off into the distance, and trees sauntered down their sides to the pretty lakes nestled in the gentle valleys.

This was the beginning of a love affair for me, with the Lake District, with Rydal and Grasmere especially. A bonus was that it brought alive  the Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth, I was to study in the year ahead.

It was also the beginning of a love affair with walking, though back then it seemed so much easier. You simply packed a picnic, shoved it into your duffle bag, piled into the car and parked (with ease) close to where you wanted to go, and set off.  Note our attire in the following photos – totally inadequate by today’s standards! My grandmother in what was her kind of “second best” clothes, a pleated skirt and sturdy shoes, and, believe it or not, stockings! The shoes not walking shoes, but sturdy because that’s what elderly women wore, and note the ever-present handbag by her side! Can you imagine going for a hike today with your handbag hooked over your elbow Queen-Liz style?! And there’s me in cotton skirt (it was red I recall) and, well, just normal kid’s shoes – this had been a parental reaction to the cut off jeans and scuffed sneakers I’d practically lived in during the previous months, to my mother’s alarm…..going to grammar school required that I ditch the tomboy stuff in favor of more ladylike things. Auntie Dot, however, striking just the right note for the day in her woolen, tartan trews (possibly MacArthur or just a generic pattern, but I remember the green and black with a faint yellow stripe). I so envied that she was able to wear trousers – it wasn’t just as common then as you might think – I was, in later years (1966), reprimanded for turning up to a college class in trousers on a day when there was snow and ice on the ground! Our picinic is all neatly packed into that duffle bag Uncle Jim carries – no backpacks, nor daypacks, nor fanny packs back then either….and as the other man in the group, it’s Glenn who carries the ssecond bag.

This day was significant in my life too because it marked not the beginning of, but the  understanding of another love – and that was photography. I’d had a little Kodak since the previous Christmas, but I had to be careful with my use because developing was expensive, but on this vacation I was free to be as creative as I wanted, and Uncle Jim, a talented amateur photographer was a great teacher. He supervised the grouping of the photo above for me.  I can’t help thinking, as the memories wash over me, how my life might have been different had I pursued the photography he encouraged and the writing which Auntie Dot encouraged back then, instead of waiting half a lifetime to indulge. Ah, well.

As I final note I tried to find a photo of that first, Kodak Brownie, and came across this video on YouTube to amuse you :=)

Yep my first photos had been taken with my parents’ box camera, just like that one. I guess I’d shown interest and that’s why they bought me the “all-singing, all-dancing” Kodak Brownie for Christmas!


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Roque del Conde: Tenerife’s Answer to Table Mountain

It seems as if all I’ve written about of late has been walking and mountains and landscapes. That’s because it’s mostly how I’ve spent my leisure time the past few weeks – taking advantage of Austin’s presence until he moves to UK. The other day we took a hike that’s long been on my bucket list.

From almost everywhere in Los Cristianos or Playa de las Americas, you can spy a flat-topped mountain standing like a sentinel over the coast, frequently, its peak shrouded in low cloud, it exudes an air of mystery.

Roque del Conde seen from the entrance to Los Cristianos

This is Roque del Conde, towering over Barranco del Rey (King’s Canyon) where we went rappelling at the end of last year. Formerly it was known as Roque Ichasagua in memory of the Guanche ruler who, rather than face possible slavery, or worse, at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors, threw himself from its heights. Are you beginning to see a pattern to these legends, perhaps? Before that the Guanches knew it as Ahío o Hío.

The mountain lies in the municipality of Adeje, one of the oldest parts of the island, along with Teno and Anaga. It’s because Tenerife was formed gradually by volcanic eruptions millions of years apart that there is so much discussion still about its “age.” It’s something impossible to quantify in terms of the island we know today, and it’s one factor in the enormous variety of landscape to be found in something less than 800 square miles, but whatever type of landscape you are admiring, be it “lunar” or lush forest, I can guarantee one word they have in common – dramatic, and this day was to be no exception to that rule, despite the cloud, the views were breathtaking.

Although the mountain itself is in the municipality of Adeje, the walk begins in neighboring Arona. We set off from the hamlet of Vento, just as we had when we went rappelling. Passing the ramshackle outhouses and accompanied by the same tinkling of goats’ bells and barking of dogs, we stepped over the modern water pipe which lies alongside the old stone troughs which used to bring water down to irrigate these dry lands, and descended into Barranco del Rey.

This time, instead of turning left deeper into the canyon we crossed it, and once we began the climb up from there it was uphill all the way, at first up well-maintained steps and paths, and then onto rougher but much-used trails. It was a bank holiday and, going late morning, we passed several walkers of different ages and nationalities returning from a morning ramble, including a mutual friend neither of us had seen for some years – Tenerife is like that. Move through the busy streets of a resort and you don’t meet a soul you know, but take a wild mountain trail and you bump into someone.

Austin perched on the crumbling wall assessing the possibilities for a photo.

Around a third of the way into the climb, we passed a long-abandoned house, most of the timbers and all the roof tiles missing, just a rectangular, stone structure remained, with a sad hole where a door had once been. The views from here were magnificent, over the southern coast, and back in the day they must have been even more so, with less buildings and more countryside to admire. I have no idea why I am so drawn to these tumble-down old shells of homes. There have a mystery and sadness about them I can’t quite put my finger on. I vaguely mused about how severe life must have been, and how hardy the inhabitants of this small farm, trying to coax a living out of this arid dust, but I was in for a surprise which provoked more serious thoughts. Passing the house we came upon a threshing circle, just like the ones I had seen in El Tanque on El Día de la Trilla last year. It was even in decent condition, given the state of the house, but what intrigued me was what animals had been used to turn grind the crops, surely oxen or horses couldn’t have been used way up here. I’m presuming that donkeys were used, but I don’t know that for a fact. It’s one of those mysteries I would like to chase up sometime.

What’s for sure is that much of the land, even at this altitude had been terraced, and so had been cultivated, and I remembered a conversation I had with an elderly taxi driver years ago. He told me that when he was a boy the land around Adeje had been rich farmland, overflowing with corn and other crops. At the time I thought that he was probably exaggerating, and my Spanish wasn’t up to asking too many questions back then either. I’d love to have that same conversation today!

Note how parched the landscape looks – it’s been almost twelve months now without rain in this area.

Almost at the top!

My photo op taken full advantage of, we continued upwards, along narrow paths which dwindled to almost nothing in places, stopping now and then to take our bearings and watch what appeared to be a boat on fire just outside Los Cristianos’s harbour. We came to the conclusion it was a drill, since nothing seemed to be dashing to its aid. On the smudgy, blue horizon the island of La Gomera hovered like a purple shadow, and we could make out El Hierro and La Palma, although the visibility wasn’t too good. Above, however, the peak of Roque del Conde was clear and beckoned.

We scrapped around proud cardon, the multi-pronged cactus which thrives just about everywhere here, and thick clumps of tabaiba, the super-hardy endemic plant found even in the harshest and most arid island landscape. It’s been a long time without rainfall in the south, and most every other sign of flora looked pinched and forlorn. We scuffled on loose stones and clambered over rocks, and then we were almost there, and striding along the open path to the mountain’s flat summit.

It’s quite something to eat your lunch sitting on top of the world. At around 3,280 feet Roque del Conde is a fair bit lower than Alto de Guajara where we’d breakfasted the previous week, and the views were quite different. From Guajara we’d overlooked more or less east on the oceanside, seeing the airport and Grandadilla de Abona below, and a wide sweep of the caldera to the other side. From Roque del Conde we had a 360º view which swept the foothills purple and grey or hidden in cloud, a motorbike gang whining its way up from Arona towards Vilaflor could be heard quite clearly. Turning we could just make out Montaña Roja lying in the sunny space between the low cloud and the shadowy valleys and volcanic cones between us. The plastic-covered banana plantations around Costa del Silencio blotted our view, and immediately below Arona strung out, and even at this height the barking dogs intruded on the silence. The resorts cluttered the south western side of the island, and for a while we played at picking out familiar places. I’m told that on a clear day you can see the cliffs of Los Gigantes, but this day wasn’t that clear. In fact, those familiar mists were beginning to filter down from the mountains, and inch their cold fingers across the flat peak, making us shiver and pack up to make our way down.

Tabaiba in the foreground clinging to the hillside and to life, as the mists roll in from above.

I’ve always considered going down easier than ascending, and I merrily set off thinking it was going to be an easy and quick descent – silly me! Whilst it there was no puffing and panting, there was a bit of slipping and sliding, and it was much slower than I expected. Even so I wanted to linger a while in Barranco del Rey when we reached it, knowing that this is such an ancient slice of the earth, knowing that the Guanches inhabited caves here, and just the sheer beauty and loneliness of the place kind of seeps into your skin.

To my surprise I found the final climb back to Vento much easier than I had done last time – I must be getting used to this walking lark – my only problem is how do I follow the experiences I’ve had so far this year!


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Of Mountain Tops and Sunrises: My Best Hike Ever: Part Deux

Instantly awake, I was aware of a faint light and a rustling sound. Surprisingly, my body kicked in more quickly than it usually does in the comfort of a bed. I was in a cave, and it was pitch black except for the point of Austin’s head torch, as he wriggled free of his sleeping bag. I’d gone to sleep with my own torch still over my beanie, but it wasn’t there now, and I fumbled around where my head had lain on a jacket stuffed into the bag for my sleeping bag. I clicked it on and began my own wriggling. A true gentleman, Austin had given me his bivvy bag as well as a sleeping bag, so it was a bit more complicated.

I freed myself and ducked outside the shelter of dead branches under which we’d slept, and stretched. Austin already had the camping stove going, and the gas hissed, filling the stillness. He handed me an energy bar and a warming cup of cappuccino, as he began to stuff things back into his backpack. Once everything was packed up, we double checked, and then treble checked to make sure that all we were leaving behind were our footprints, and paused to adjust our head torches.

In the silence I was aware that even the tiny stream which we had discovered the previous evening was still, no doubt it was frozen by now, we’d found ice all around it at dusk. There was no other sound, and the quiet was, quite simply, overwhelming. Overhead, stars and planets filled the heavens, so that the sky was more shining jewels than darkness, and the light pollution from Santa Cruz, which  had framed the hills opposite, was less evident than at night. For anyone who hasn’t seen this kind of clear night sky, so overwhelmingly full of pin points of brightness, it’s impossible to convey either the beauty or the feeling of one’s own insignificance in the universe that it sparks.

We clambered down to the path below, guided only by the pools of light afforded by our head torches, found the path and set off upwards, me all excitement because I was promised another surprise. You can get an idea of just how dark it was at this stage in the short video below, which Austin made.

With thanks to Dido & Lynard Skinnard for the music!

We quickly reached the point at which the path up to the peak of Guajara crosses another which we later found goes to Granadilla de Abona. We turned right and upwards, me thankful that I was following Austin, who from time to time called out a warning about loose rocks or advice about where to place my poles. Other than our own footfalls and the faint thump as pole hit earth, utter silence followed us.

“It’s as if the circle of light in front of you is your entire world, and you can just forget everything else, and just concentrate on that,” commented Austin.

It seemed to me that it was just as well that it was dark and progress was, necessarily, slower than in daylight because I was feeling the effects of the climb, combined with too little sleep and food, and I would best describe my pace as a trudge, speeded up in spurts by Austin’s urging to speed up in case I missed my surprise. Second by second the skies were lightening though, and when turned off our torches I was surprised that it was, actually, easier to spy what lay ahead than with the false light.

Looking back, I could see that what we had already traversed was mainly scrub, as Austin pointed out really it’s high altitude desert. We were well passed the really rocky parts, though the path had narrowed to almost nothing in a couple of places. Looking way down, the lights of the airport and coastal villages glowed, and now, just as we turned upwards again, and into a field of broom, the horizon began to glow with intense purple light. Looking back again after a few more steps and it was turning orange and scarlet, like the colors of some exotic bird.

Ahead I could hear Austin urging me on, even though this sight was mesmerizing, apparently there was something more in store. I admit freely the last few feet were hard, but I began to understand, as I saw the warm alpen glow on the mountain peaks, and then, suddenly we were atop Alto de Guajara, and El Teide rose before us, bathed in the sun’s first light. Guajara’s peak is 1,000 meters lower, but we seemed to be on top of the world.

Then I saw my surprise – for just a short time at sunrise, the shadow of Mt Teide is cast over the Atlantic Ocean. I’d read about it, and seen photos, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I would see it this day. The scene had an almost mystical quality – no wonder that the Guanches apparently worshipped this imposing mountain. We watched, in awe as the sun rose, and the colors of the landscape changed, basking now in the new day, as we picked out places we knew in the caldera far below.

Once we our senses were saturated, Austin lit the little stove, and made hot chocolate and biscuits for breakfast. Yet again, I wouldn’t have swapped places within anyone brunching in the poshest restaurant in London or even Paris. Right on the top of the mountain there is a rough shelter, a square-ish kind of pen which gives you some respite from the icy morning wind, and I suppose you can bivvy there too, but it would have been mighty cold! Once we’d eaten and warmed up, we set off back, meeting only two other walkers on the section of the route, a local father and son.

We crossed the desert again, turned at the point where the routes meet and descended to where, the day before, the mists had been creeping up the hillsides, now the valley was clear, the scrubby mountainsides, the pine forest and right down to the coast.

We didn’t meet other folk until we got down to the final downhill section, where a couple of trail runners huffed passed, and a handful of German tourists wound their ways up, then we were back on the almost level Siete Cañadas trail and homeward bound, still marveling at the bizarre rock formations, casting off layers as we went and looking forward to getting our boots off!

Things sometimes happen which make you feel truly alive, which alert all your senses, which have become deadened by the comforts of modern life, which cut us off from reality, and allows us to live in what is almost a virtual world. For me this was one of those times. I’d like to think I’ll be able to do something like this again, right now I don’t know, but the memory will definitely motivate me on several levels for a while yet.

And just to reiterate: Camping as such is strictly prohibited in the National Park, what we did was bivvy, nothing was driven into the ground or otherwise disturbed. We left, hopefully, only footprints.


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On Sleeping in a Cave: or A Childhood Dream Comes True!

There is the scrapping sound of small rocks falling.  I lie still, and wait for another sound, holding my breath, then, Austin’s voice from the darkness;

“Was that you?”

“Nope, it wasn’t you either then?”

“No.”

“What was it then?”

“Just some stones falling. Rocks fall.”

The same sound again, as stone dislodges from the rock face, perhaps disturbed by a small animal.  I know already that we are sharing this cave with a mouse and two spiders, any of which might have dislodged small stones to make the noise we heard. I wrap my arms around my body to fend off the 1º below temperature, and relax again.  My nest in this cave is really quite comfortable, and apparently I drift off to sleep.

This day began sunny and bright in El Médano.  We drove up the twisting road from Granadilla de Abona, on Tenerife’s south east coast, through Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor de Chasna, and into the Teide National Park to the familiar sight of the bizarre and preternatural landscape that is the caldera at the Park’s center. Along the way, the atmosphere had changed from sunny to chill as we passed Granadilla, then to shifting mists as we drove through the pine forest above Vilaflor, to emerge into the sunshine again as we entered the crater.

The landscape had alternated from parched near the coast, where we have had little rain over the last year; to verdant in the forests, where the mists, captured by the trees, are fed to the earth below; and back again to arid as we neared the National Park. The flora had reflected the climate, the pines and eucalyptus on the roadsides lower down were wilting and dusty, and at the top were only dry skeletons of the broom, tajinaste and rosalillo that had flowered last summer, but in between almond blossom flourished, we saw trees were laden with lemons and oranges, and the first California poppies were hiding in sheltered spots.

We had donned light jackets quickly on arriving – although the sun was bright there was a wind chill factor bringing down the temperature. Austin had promised me this hike for my birthday, but we hadn’t been able to do it at the time, and I was looking forward to it tremendously, especially after the theft of my Blackberry (see previous post) which had upset me more than I liked to admit.  It had been a bleak kind of week up to Thursday, but it was all set to change beyond my expectations.

Austin hoisted his heavy pack onto his back.  He was carrying everything except for my sleeping bag, and other than that, I had only my extra clothes (though plenty of them), camera equipment and some odds and ends, like binoculars, in my own pack.  Still, it was heavier than I am used to carrying when hiking.

We set off along the trail known as Siete Cañadas which is a hikers’ favorite, being well- laid and easy. It begins by the Parador and emerges at the crossroads of El Portillo, on the other side of the crater, from where roads descend to La Orotava, or along the backbone of the island to La Laguna, either way a stunning drive. The air was so clear that the colors of the landscape seemed almost unbelievable, they were so bright and vibrant, and turning back to look at this mighty mountain, El Teide,  which dominates the vista on just about every inch of the island, I was already beginning to get a sense of the surreal.

We had only been walking for about twenty minutes or so, when Austin veered off the path and motioned me to follow. Two minutes later we were inside the heart of the rock formation you can see below, which had been making my imagination work overtime as we approached it. Even after living close to this landscape for so long, its eccentricities never fail to amaze me.  These rocks look far more like something from a science fiction movie than anything which belongs on this earth.

Inside the formation was even more like being in another world.  We perched on rocks and ate lunch, the spiralling, volcanic pikes rising around us like guardians, protecting us from the fierce sunlight.  We could only wonder at the forces which had created these shapes, as Nature threw them up from her soul millions of years ago, crenated, twisted, their layers reflecting the origins of the planet.

Collecting all our rubbish, we set out once more. For me this was destination unknown, a birthday surprise, but it turned out to be surprise upon surprise. As we blinked again in the sunlight Austin gestured upwards with his hiking pole:

“That’s where we’re going,” he grinned.

I swear I caught my breath. Behind the rocks rose Alto de Guajara, at 8,917 ft (2,718 meters) one of the highest peaks in the National Park. I’ve seen it described as the third highest, but a marker along the route seemed to indicate otherwise, it might be fourth or even fifth, still, it was high and craggy and, well, er, very high, no matter its credentials in comparison to the surrounding mountains.

More interesting than the height is the legend.  Guajara was a Guanche princess, daughter of  Beneharo, ruler of one of the kingdoms into which the island was divided, and wife of  Tinguaro, the brother (or possibly half-brother) of Benecomo, the ruler of another kingdom. The Guanches were the original inhabitants of Tenerife, a stone-age culture when the Spanish Conquistadors finally took the island for the crown of Spain after fierce fighting.  The Guanches fought hard and long, andTenerife was the last island of the Canarian archipelago to fall. One of the heroes of the battles was Tinguaro, who was slain, after ferocious fighting, at the battle of Aguere (the present-day La Laguna) in 1495. Heartbroken, Guajara withdrew inland, and finally, in her despair, threw herself from the peak of the mountain which now bears her name. That she met her end in that way can never be confirmed, but the story is in keeping with others relating to the time following the Conquest. Were we, perhaps, about to meet the ghost of a Guanche princess?

We turned off the Siete Cañadas trail and began to hike upwards on what is designated as Hiking Route 15. It took us higher and higher along a narrow pathway marked by stones through scrubland dominated by broom.  When we met a few walkers returning along the same path we had to stand to one side to allow them to pass. I began to slow down, constant climbing always takes its toll on me, and, as always, I vowed to get fitter before the next hike. Austin’s fitness level is amazing. He takes part in triathlons and trail running, and he forged way ahead at times, despite carrying most of our overnight gear.

Eventually, we reached a crossing of pathways, affording us a stunning view of mists creeping up a valley. Hemmed on each side by rock face and crags, the mists would advance, fingering their way along the mountainside, and then just as quickly withdraw as if stung by some unseen presence.  We knew that below the mist and cloud lay the south east coast, Granadilla and El Médano.  We stopped to put on warmer clothes. It wouldn’t be long until dusk, and already it was getting cooler. It was then that I cursed not bringing an extra camera battery.  I’ve never needed to carry one for the amount of photos I expected to take on this trip, and I’d tried to keep baggage to a minimum, but the cold air was already having an effect, and I stopped snapping, aware that I would regret not having enough battery for the surprises which were promised ahead.

“We’re almost there,”Austinsaid cheerfully, and we moved on and upwards at a fairly leisurely pace.  It wasn’t long before he darted off into the broom, and I assumed that he was answering a call of nature, and plodded on, but, from waist-high in bush, he called me over to follow him. We scrambled over rocks under an over-hang which formed a shallow cave, and onto a natural platform of rock.  There two enormous rocks almost formed another, smaller cave, and the shelter had been extended by previous visitors with rocks, branches and dead grasses to roof it in and shield it from the biting winds which sweep across the hillside.  It was a scene straight out of my childhood dreams.  People had also strewn dried grasses on the stone to make a natural sleeping place.  It was so perfect I wanted to cry (as you will see in the video which will be in the next post!).

Austin got busy right away, placing ground sheets over the dried grasses, and stowing our packs as we staked our claim to our resting place for the night. First, another treat in store, everything stowed, we donned yet more warm clothing, and walked on a bit further around the mountainside to catch the sunset. It was so much easier to walk without packs, and at one stage I actually ran to make sure I didn’t miss the scene.

As the sun dipped behind the mountain to our right, its last rays lingered on the hillside across the valley, and way around over the heart of the island it dappled the dark volcanic cones and sands. Cursing my lack of sense in not bringing a spare battery, I snapped what was, essentially, the reflection of the sunset, because we were facing south east, and the lavender hue was bleeding along the horizon above the mist and tinting the low cloud below us.

Returning to our cave (do you know how incredible it feels to say that?!), Austin produced vacuum-packed dinners, which he heated up with water boiled on a small burner.  My first taste of real camping food! Better than I expected, plentiful and hot, it was good and warming as the temperature inside the cave fell to minus 1ºC.  Followed by bananas and hot chocolate, I really wouldn’t have changed places with anyone in the swankiest restaurant in the world, as overhead the heavens began to shine with the achingly endless display of stars which the clear skies of the Canary Islands yield up at night. To make my night complete a bright shooting star crossed above us.

As we put on so many layers I now lost track, and zipped into our sleeping bags I felt like a child at Christmas, albeit a very chunky one! I’d dreamed of camping since I was a small child, and this kind of camping really was a dream come true, to be almost out in the open, to have only rock and dry grass between me and the night sky, and to experience not another sound in all the universe, just utter silence……. except for the soft rock fall, that is.

Not only all of this, but promise of something even more wonderful the next morning. Sleep didn’t come easily, but it seems at last that I did doze off, because, apparently I snored something rotten!  For the rest, well, that’s enough writing for today, but soon, very soon, and, what’s more, with video!

Please note that camping, as such, is strictly forbidden in the National Park. What we did is bivvying – not using tents, nor driving anything into earth or rock, but simply sleeping under natural cover, and of course, we took all our rubbish home with us.


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How My World Rocked : Rappelling and Rage against Ageism.

 The Prologue

Austin to me: “So, when are you going to coming rappelling, mom?”  as he dumps a very heavy bag by my door.

Me:  “Hmm. When I feel a bit fitter,”  all the while thinking, “And put that on the list – along with travelling around the world, writing a best seller and learning Wolof.”…….. That would be the list of things I really want to do, but never did or will.

A few weeks later – the same question, and a similar answer, “Weeeell, I don’t really feel ready to tackle something like that yet.” I’d lost five kilos, but wasn’t/am not satisfied.

We go on in this vein for a few weeks. Me ducking the question, scared, and thinking he will drop the subject but he’s very persistent. It’s not that I don’t dream of doing this – I do, with all my heart. I’m big on dreams and not acting on them you see.

Towards the end of last week – He  has a few days vacation left over after returning from England; I have my head full of moving house and other projects, and I hear myself replying to the question yet again:

“OK, next week, then.  It will give me a break from all this stuff I have on right now,” and all the while thinking – well, actually, er …… not thinking, really, because my head was full of all that stuff………..except that I knew I had a huge need to step out of my comfort zone.

I’d come back from my trip to Mainland Spain and England energized and enthusiastic, but ennui was fast setting in. We settle on Monday, even though I am expecting to have a late night on Tuesday at Las Tablas de San Andres, and I am still barely packed for the coming weekend’s move – well, isn’t life always like this, all or nothing?

The Doing It

All that stuff manages to keep the nerves at bay until Sunday night, when, predictably, I can’t sleep.  I’m like a kid on the night before Christmas, and in the morning worry that I will be too tired to be able to throw myself over a hillside on a rope, which is how I see it.

No worries, the adrenaline kicks in on cue, and by the time we park up in Vento, Arona, I am ready, or at least as ready as I ever will be.

We turn out of the pueblo and we’re in hillbilly country, a tangle of corrugated roofs on tottering beams, where goats bleat and pigs snuffle in the dust, and indolent youths swing lazy legs as they sit on rocks watching them, and us. The skeletons of cars and vans, and other junk, litter yards.  We follow the route  as far as where most folk branch off right to walk up Roque del Conde, a very popular, though steep, walk up the distinctive hill which watches protectively over the resort coast.

We turn left instead, and quickly reach our first objective, a rocky ledge……that in layman’s terms because I don’t know if it was a small cliff or what.  We are in  Barranco del Rey, and what lies before us is beautiful, with dramatic walls of rock, and the only way to see more is to get down this ledge.  It’s good for me it comes so soon, because I don’t have time to get cold feet, instead I feel a sort of calm excitement, or is that an oxymoron?  Having confidence in my instructor/son is crucial.

Austin is very good at explaining things as he goes along, and my mind is more receptive if I understand why I am doing a thing, and how it works.  I’d like to say that I remember all the names he tells me for all the technical stuff, but I don’t, although I do understand perfectly how they work, and now it’s time to squeeze into the harness.  For a brief moment I think it’s too small and I get a “pass”, but no, it’s supposed to be really tight of course, and here I am all trussed up, helmeted and feeling distinctly unglamorous, but honestly, who’s going to see me?

Now I’m attached to the line which Austin has secured, and I’m shuffling as un-timidly as I can to the edge of the, well, the only word which comes to mind is precipice!  I don’t look directly down. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, and Austin doesn’t even mention it, so perhaps he noticed.  “Sit into the harness,” he says, and now my bum is hanging over the edge. Inelegant, but definitely exciting!

This reminds me of scuba diving in that having confidence in both your colleague/s and your equipment is key.  In the same way I knew my tank was full, and knew what to do if I lost my mask, now I know that all the bits and pieces attached to this rope from which I am suspended are fine, and I put my full weight onto it. And here I am walking backwards into thin air, or so it seems, Austin talking me through it all, “Legs a bit wider apart,” “Keep that right arm behind you.”

“Okay, hold it there,” I look up and there he is taking photos.  I try to smile. Actually it isn’t hard.  I am beginning to feel a bit euphoric, but it wouldn’t really do to whoop it up until my feet are on the ground I think.

“I think she’s got it. I think she’s got it,” keeps running through my head, then, without apparent warning the rope shifts, and I swing around, dangling for seconds, until I reconnect my feet to the face of the rock wall.  I didn’t have my legs far enough apart, and the weight wasn’t distributed quite right, but no harm is done, and I get praise for not panicking.  That’s where the understanding the equipment came in. I just did what I was supposed to do.

We continue down, and, frankly, it’s all over too soon!  I want to keep on going, but at least now it is time for a short “Whoot!”  I get a camera break too, because Austin has to go back up, and then come back down again to recover the ropes.  Looking back I am amazed.  It seems so much higher than it seemed to be whilst coming down.

It’s not a long walk to the next descent.  The way is stunning in its rawness.  I know people have been here before, but it doesn’t feel like it.  I feel as if ours might be the first footfalls in this gorge.  Enormous boulders litter the ground, spewed millennia ago from some volcano or toppled from above by wind or storms or erosion?  I don’t know nearly enough about this land it seems to me.

The next descent is not so steep, but crosses a ledge with stagnant water, the remnant of the last rains, months ago.  I manage to keep my feet out of it, and sway on down.  At the bottom there is a slight overhang, and I misjudge what to do, but no harm done.  I am on terra firma again, and crestfallen to realize that there is no more rappelling. Afterwards, I say that at this point I understand the expression “stoked”, because that’s how I feel.  Ecstatic. Thrilled.  However, more challenges and treats are in store.  I just don’t know it yet.

 

We walk some more,  marvelling at the colors in the rocks, the way the layers upon layers are so different from each other, the caves formed above us, just out of reach, the fact that so much vegetation can survive with so little water, and we come to an aqueduct.  How on earth they managed to construct this, spanning the gorge, I can’t fathom, but it’s a natural point at which to turn around.

As we clamber over slabs of rock and huge boulders I wonder what this is like when the rains come.  Is it a raging torrent just for a short span, or is it something more gentle?  We see so little rainfall in the south, and are so accustomed to the desert scenery that it’s hard to visualize.

We get back to the second descent, where we’d left the ropes in preparation for our return, and I stare up.  I was so excited about the getting down bit, that I hadn’t given a thought to how we would get back!

This is where I get a baptism in climbing techniques – only a baptism, mind you, but in the end it is a thrilling for me as the rappelling was.  I’m introduced to the jumar. It resembles a stapler with a handle.  You slide it up the rope as far as you can, and it grips like a vice and won’t slide back.  My first movement is a bit hesitant, but once I feel its strength I’m away, giddy with excitement again.

When we reach the top, Austin collects all his gear, taking care, as he always does, to make sure that the only thing we might leave behind is footprints in this pristine environment.  Sadly, even though not too many folk must come here, there is rubbish here and there they’ve left behind.

The next bit might just be my greatest triumph of the day, although I’m not sure.  We’re faced with a short but steep rock face, which Austin easily scales, pointing out hand and foot holds as he goes. I begin to follow, but there is a part which requires a stretch I just can’t see my legs making.  I retreat and look up.  It doesn’t occur to me that I’m stuck in a ravine, I’m just thinking how do I get out of this!  The answer is mind over matter, as it so often is in life!  With a rope secured to my harness I clamber up, maybe not withAustin’s grace, but without much hesitation or any mishap, Austin all the while telling me that I can do it, that I’m doing ok.  I’m stoked again. Mainly because I just didn’t think I could do anything like that.

The rest is a slightly uphill ramble back to the road and the car, where I sit on the wall, and simply let the feelings of triumph and happiness wash over me.  I’m too euphoric yet to feel tired!

These steps, carved into the rock, as Austin said, weren’t put there for hikers and climbers.  They were made years ago by folk who needed to access this area for work or food or water. Such was daily life once upon a time.

The Aftermath

 

I wake the next morning with a bubbly sense of well-being.  I am more aware of my body in which I have new-found confidence. I am more aware of the mental stretch it took too.  I am more aware of having stretched my comfort zone by a long way.  I have the feeling that life is just full of possibilities, and that I should be off looking for them. I feel as if there is no limit to what I can do if I have the confidence.

When I began this blog, or more precisely, around two years ago, when it became a more important part of my life I imagined that it would be half and half;  half travel/Tenerife stuff and half about defying age.  The latter is a topic dear to my heart, that’s for sure, but I don’t think I’ve written about it nearly as much as I thought I would, since I became so absorbed in various projects.

I’m a baby boomer.  All through my life my generation has set the pace, not just by the sheer volume of our numbers. We defied conventions in music, fashion and politics. Sure, we weren’t the first generation to do that, but we did a job of historic proportions.

In equally defiant mood, after all these years, and approaching my 65th birthday this month, I intend to use this blog to address this issue of ageism more than I have so far.  I am infuriated by the perception that life is over at 65, and I accuse my peers of fostering this idea just as much as younger folk, but right now, although my personal triumph was a little over a week ago (I survived the night of Las Tablas, and am still in the process of moving house – well, there is just too much else going on to waste time in putting all my books on the shelf!)  I still want to wallow in my joy, but……look out world, here I come! Oh, and I began the novel – thanks to Guy……..I am blessed with sons who believe in me!

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