After our experience last Saturday in Vilaflor, and seeing so many wonderful photos of the star-filled Tenerife skies on the internet, Maria and I decided it was time to explore night-time photography. I didn’t feel ready, but as always, one should take the plunge, go for it, just do it. Procrastination gets us, precisely, nowhere, nothing, zilch, and it’s in the making of mistakes that we learn.
We assumed that it’s better to go on a moonless night (information which the internet has subsequently confirmed – I found this marvelous site recently, and now I simply hang on every word!), but thought it best to go when there is some moonlight to suss out the best places when it would be easier than with no light…….and we had NO idea what we were letting ourselves in for, nor what a learning curve it would be!
We set off around 8pm from the coast, and by my favorite route from the south, via Granadilla de Abona and Cruz de Tea, a quieter route, though it can be a bit scary when the mists shroud the road. This night we were just ahead of the mists, snippets of cloud spied on us through the trees, but never impeded our travel. It’s so quiet, in fact, at this hour at least, that you can stop, as we did, without fear, on a curve to let a momma partridge herd her two babies across our path.
After that delightful moment we meandered up to Vilaflor, where we stopped to snap Mr Potato Man (and, in fact, Mrs Potato Woman too) which we hadn’t been able to stop for on Saturday night. Nice emblems of that quirky festival.
We were also enchanted by the view down to the coast. The route up which we’d just driven was now hidden by the Mar de Nubes (Sea of Clouds) a regular and impressive feature of the island landscape. You have the same sensation of being above the clouds that you have whilst flying, but with mountains and islands emerging from the mass, and that uneasy feeling that the fog is following you as it slithers its way upwards. Those terraces below are where we stood on Saturday night to open our minds to what was in store. The horizon was just beginning to turn pink as the sun was sinking. Although we were facing, more or less, east at this point, when you are up high you can see the colors of the sunset leaking all along the horizon. It’s beautiful and slightly disorienting.
Onwards and upwards; we cleared the forests, but stopped on the first bend. By now the sunset had deepened and was casting a rosy glow across the clouds beneath us. We couldn’t wait for a better vantage point, we thought, because sunsets and sunrises wait for no man.
The warm glow of having experienced Nature’s wonderful display in our hearts and minds, we set off again, only to find……..and this is where words fail me………that Earth’s kaleidoscope had shifted, changing those gentle shades of rose and lavender to jewel-bright reds, oranges and deep purples. The was no prescribed stopping place, but once again, you can’t wait, we pulled over on the opposite side of the road at the first opportunity and pulled out our cameras.
I tried lighting the foreground with flash to see how they would look, because the foregrounds on the others weren’t actually as dark as they appear to be in the photos, neither, or course, were they are bright as they appear to be here. Part of the amazing learning curve that this night was turning out to be.
As we wandered around the ridge on which we had stopped a little the colors changed, the sky darkened and night fell, bit by bit, not with the same suddenness as on the coast. Even so I find my photos puny in comparison with reality. I’m not sure if it can ever be captured, though I’ve seen some very impressive attempts. Certainly, I have much to learn, but I hope these photos give you some idea of the awe we felt, since both words and my photographic ability fail me utterly.
Concentrated as we were on the scene before us, the vibrant sunset colors, the sea of clouds hanging like a night-time blanket over the hillsides and spotting the lights twinkling on other islands, we didn’t quite realize just how dark it had become until we turned around, only to be met by another, equally breathtaking sight – the blue-velvet night display of a million, million stars, suspended in space. I drew breath and cursed. The little I knew about night photography told me that I needed a tripod, and I didn’t have one. Maria did, clever girl. I’d thought of this drive only as a rekkie, not as an opportunity like this, but the moon wasn’t up, and the sky was achingly clear, and it felt as if we were looking into the future. I only had one good photo, which you see here, by dint of putting the camera upside down on the top of the car, so that it was stable, everything else I tried was a huge fail, but I include the only other one I’ve kept. The line of light from center to left of the photo is a passing car – another lesson learned, although because this is such an awful photo I think it gives it interest. After a while I gave up and just drank in the experience. It isn’t my first time, seeing this, though it’s a sight I’d never seen until I came to live here, but it was somehow very special, maybe because of the chat we’d had on Saturday, knowing just a bit more about what it was I was seeing. Slowly, as dark overtook the scene the Milky Way was clearer than I’ve ever seen it, making us feel small but at the same time connected to all this. It would be a good thing if everyone could experience that, maybe it would give us a sense of our place in the universe.
The next day began to intrude on our thoughts after a while. I had a ton of stuff to do, and Maria had to be at work at 8am, so we began our roll down the hill, and I remarked that the only thing to complete our experience would be the rising moon…….when we turned a corner, and………… there it was, bright as a billion, billion rubies, rising over the mountains and through the trees. The first place we could stop was at the same place we’d stopped before, and within that few minutes the shades had changed from ruby to diamond, as she took her place in the night sky. Before us, the clouds now partly receded, lay the lights of the village of Vilaflor (the highest in Spain, remember) and further lights we knew were coastal towns and villages, and the lights from those and others hidden under the clouds lit the scene from below, giving it a surreal glow. More curses about the tripod …….. I will never, ever be without one again, OK!
We thought we were done. We thought Nature couldn’t possibly have more in store for us after all this, but after all the majesty of the going down of the sun, the vastness of space, and the grandeur of the landscape around us, she had one, final message. As we followed the country road home, as happens on country roads, a rabbit suddenly froze in our headlights, and we slowly stopped. She hopped out of our path fairly quickly, only to reveal a tiny baby which had been hiding behind her. As he hopped off into the forest it was just a reminder that despite the mind-blowing scenes we’d seen these small and more common moments have their beauty too.