Needing to get out of a rut, into which I’d inadvertently slipped the last, few, post-Christmas weeks, I take out each of my secret anxieties, and examine them, trying to find one within my budget (zero) and timeframe (a free half day); something which will challenge me even just a little, and get the juices flowing again. Is there one of my vast collection of hidden angsts which fits the bill?
I lie in bed, waiting for the alarm, and mull them over, camping solo in the mountains is out because I have work to finish by the end of the day, and anyway it requires gas, and my budget is zero. That’s the killer for almost every idea I drag out. I could just go down to the beach and swim, swim further out than my comfort zone, but the wind is rattling the shutters, which tells me that wouldn’t be facing a fear, it would plain foolish.
I close my eyes and take an imaginary flight over El Médano, since there is no money for gas meaning further afield not an option, and as I hover at the end of the beach, where the windsurfers play, I spy it – what I’ve thought of as a “hidden valley.”
So many times, curving the coast road home I’ve glanced over to admire raw, volcanic forms. A few weeks back my son, Austin, came back from trail running there, waxing quite poetic about the scenery. I mentioned I’d always meant to go take a look at it, and he replied that there were folk down there, living in caves, and I shouldn’t go without him. We never made it before he went away, and I’d been wary since on account of what he said. Today I would face my fear of wild men jumping out from behind tabaiba bushes, and go see the splendors for myself. I remember that the light there will be best in the early morning, so I jump out of bed quite sharpish and get myself ready.
A quick walk with Trix (who is too old now for the walk ahead), a strong coffee, slip a canister of pepper spray into my pack – you know, just in case my fears are justified – and I sally forth.
I amble, drinking in the way the sun scintillates off the ruffled sea; the virgin-white waves crashing along the harbor wall; the contentment of the folk taking early coffee in the street-bars, and the kind of relaxed bustle of the folk setting up the market, fighting against the stiff breeze to put up their awnings and set out their goods.
It takes me ten to fifteen minutes at that pace to reach that part of the beach which is claimed by the windsurfers and kite boarders. Unlike surfers, these guys aren’t such early risers, and it’s quiet. I hanger right under the bridge which carries the main coast road across the end of a barranco, and pause. The landscape before me is exactly as expected. “A mini Arizona,” had been Austin’s words (he’s been there, I haven’t). It’s that sort of arid, weird-shaped scenery which begs for Apaches to come cantering around the bend, whooping and in full war paint.
Once past the heap of rubbish under the bridge, there is, at first glance, no sign of humans. Of course, even without Austin’s warning I know this can’t be true. As I pad down the trail, other paths open up before me, they criss-cross the area; certainly worn by modern feet, and also used for hundreds of years, if not more. The main trail leads to a cave where the goat-herd/saint Hermano Pedro dwelt (more of him another time), so we know that the trails were in use in the 17th Century, and probably by the aboriginal Guanche before that. Again I get that little shiver I’ve had before walking this island, the palpable connections with the past are everywhere. Ghosts walk the pathways, but this surreal landscape was created millions of years before man ever set eyes on it; layer upon layer of history lies here.
My intention to walk to Hermano Pedro’s cave and back wanes. My mind slows down, and I scramble into crevices, wonder at the intense variety of colors and strata of rock, and bask in the early sunshine. From time to time a plane taking off from the nearby airport reminds me of how close to the modern world I am, but otherwise the stillness amazes me.
At one point I clamber up a pathway and around a huge rock to discover the ugly side of this landscape the nearby banana plantation, not the pleasant, intense greenery of the plantations in the north or west, but covered with shoddy, dust-covered plastic against the coast’s sometimes fierce winds, and alongside, an abandoned truck, left to rust. Over the opposite side of the gully a cascade of rubbish, clearly tossed from the finca. It defies my understanding that locals can abuse their own landscape this way on an island which purports to be close to God’s earth. I think of those quite romantic pictures I’ve seen of abandoned vehicles in Death Valley or somewhere, but it’s not the same. This isn’t miles from anywhere, and, in fact, there is a junk yard very close. I know, it’s where they towed my car a few years back when it was totalled on the autopista.
I turn away, and direct my attention back to ridges and buttes which are kinder on the eyes and heart. One I’d spied from a distance and right away the lyrics to McArthur Park drifted into my head.
“All the sweet (green) icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain.”
Careless of how I’ll get back down I climb to the top of it. The icing isn’t, actually, green, of course, it’s lava, its flow halted, millions of years ago, so that now it looks like icing dripping around the edges of a muffin. I’m tempted to do my James Cagney impersonation, which is what usually comes to mind when I’m atop something, be it a skyscraper or a hillside – “I’m on top of the world, Ma!” – but a sudden gust of wind takes me by surprise and the better part of valor seems to be to sit down.
Queen of my castle, my view takes in the ocean, where the kite surfers are stirring; Montaña Roja, the volcanic cone which juts out into the Atlantic, and usually symbolizes my homecomings, positioned, as it is, opposite the airport; the encroaching housing, which edges its way ever further into the landscape, and El Teide, the volcanic heart of the island, watching over us all. I sit for a long time, feeling the wind and sun on my skin, the dust in my eyes (not knowing whether it’s been blown up from below or is riding the wind from Africa), and thinking about nothing more than how utterly beautiful this all is, and wondering why I never came here before. Isn’t it typical that you can travel for thousands of miles, and yet miss what is on your very doorstep.
I can also spot from here which, of the many, caves are inhabited. Matting or some sort of material covers the entrance to some, backpacks sit outside others, and all look tidy and in good order. There is non of the disarray one would associate with good-for-nothings. I smile at my previous misgivings, and cautiously scramble down, and set off back.
I haven’t gone far when the smell of barbecue assails my nostrils. A cheery wave from a cave set into the hillside above my head, the height of the roof of a normal house, and I easily fall into conversation with the occupant, who is neither crazy nor frightening, but friendly and chatty.
The question is, if I faced a fear which turned out to be utterly unfounded, have I still face a fear? And now that I’ve discovered this stunning, new place, how many folk are going to tell me, “Yes, of course, we often go walking there?” Well, to heck with all of that, in my own head this was an adventure, a wee one, but it was an adventure.