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


Asturias Day One: An Utter Contrast: Getting off the Island

Perhaps the biggest downside of living on an island, any island, is the occasional (or frequent, depending on your personal circumstances) feeling of claustrophobia. However beguiling island life can be, there are times when you get a bit stir crazy. Much as I love it, I’d be in denial if I said it wasn’t so. I think it’s fair to say that all immigrants feel this way, and a fair few native sons too.

You may wonder how I could get tired of almost constant good weather, great wines, dramatic mountain scenery, and beach life? I love all of those things (and more – I’m not entirely stupid!) about Tenerife, but I was born curious, I guess. I fell in love with Tenerife a very long time ago, but I’m not rooted here, just anchored for now.

Cool mists, mountain meadows, delicious cider and waterfalls would provide a contrast, the change I crave, no? That’s exactly what I found in Asturias two weeks ago.

I’ve been wondering why I haven’t explored the north of Spain until now. I can only think that 40 years of living in England had numbed me  to the delights of  rolling, green hillsides, doe-eyed cattle and sloshing along in mud, all of which I rediscovered in Picos de Europa National Park.

picos de europa

Of course that contrast with my local landscape, which already bears the parched aspect of summer, might have a lot to do with it, but it wasn’t just the landscapes, it was the people too, so relaxed and welcoming.

It’s very much a luxury to have your own, personal guide to show you around too. It made me realize how much we miss when we trot from place to place, looking but not fully understanding what we see. I knew little about Asturias, and I was asked pretty last-minute if I wanted to do the trip, so I didn’t have time to check very much out. Perhaps that was a good thing, because perhaps the awe wouldn’t have been the same if I’d seen the magnificent pictures on Naranjo de Bulnes or the Cares Gorge on the internet before I went.

After dinner the first night I was raring to go early-ish next morning. The drive from the airport to Gijon had definitely wound me up on the greenery. When you come from a desert environment, which the south of Tenerife is, green fields as far as the eye can see is like taking a long, cool drink when you’re seriously thirsty. It’s a balm for the eyes.

Gijon, our destination, is the largest city in Asturias, but I saw nothing of the city outside of the hotel, being whisked away to the mountains each day.  The main thing I noted was how quiet the roads were compared to Tenerife. Perhaps it was just where I was, but noticeably more tranquil.

This is my first reason to go back – to see Gijon, which has a long history, Roman Ruins and An International Bagpipe Museum – now that I just have to see!

My second reason is to see Oviedo, because Woody Allen said if he ever left Manhattan, Oviedo is where he would choose to live. Of course he gave it a shout out in “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” and it looked pretty cool.

My third reason is to see the coastline! The glimpses I saw of the beaches were quite breathtaking, utterly different from Tenerife (not that there is anything wrong with beaches here, just that I love variety!) , but the beaches fell to someone else, and my “beat” was the mountains.

Tunnel covered with vegetation

Nothing could have been a better starting point for me. This spring on the island had kindled a yearning for greenery that hadn’t surfaced in a while. I even found myself giggling about how the road tunnels through which we passed were covered with grass and even trees. It seemed almost surreal.

Driving through forest and alongside churning rivers was a bit like being on another planet. Listening to my guide, Juanjo, was a revelation. It was hard to keep up with his commentary (I get carsick when I take my eyes off the road!), but I think I remember the important points!

First to Covadonga, the one place I had had time to read up on, but even so I was utterly unprepared for what was to come. Covadonga was the inspiration for, and the kernel of the Picos de Europa National Park in 1918. In 1995 the Park was extended to its present size, encompassing mountains in Castille & Leon and Canatabria as well as Asturias. I wrote about its champion Pedro Pidal y Bernaldo de Quiros, Marques de Villaviciosa here for The Spain Scoop, so I won’t repeat it……..just let me say he sounds like my ideal man!

la basilica de covadonga


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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!


Finding Autumn at last on Tenerife!

Okay – I can hear you saying, “If she misses Fall so much why doesn’t she just move?” – so this will be the last time I mention it for this year, and anyhow I can now tell you that I know just where to go to get my Autumnal fix next year.

Some days here, October through May, dawn is so incandescently clear it simply makes me want to cry.  The heat haze of summer gone for a few months, no Sahara dust hovering in the air, and early enough so that the clouds which encircle the mountains later in the day are still abed. Yesterday was one of those days.

Cristina and I, for different reasons,  had missed hiking on Sunday with  friends, and since it was her day off yesterday, and I badly needed some fresh air, my sinuses filled with dust from all the pre-removal packing, we decided to head up to Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor (roughly 4,590 ft above sea level), for some fresh, mountain air. We left the south coast as the sun’s rays began to warm the skin, passed through Vilaflor and left the car by the roadside a little higher, at the beginning of the entry road to the Madre de Agua recreational area.

Just stepping out of the car the atmosphere felt different  – sights, sounds and the feel of cool air on the face are all a world away from the beaches. Though on the first steps of the walk we could see a landscape still in need of rain, it was nowhere near as parched as the coast. Vilaflor is an agricultural area, and soon we were looking down onto cultivated terraces, and over the tops of pines and hillsides to the ocean.  Montaña Roja, which I always think of as marking my home, was clearly visible, and though the countryside was dappled with shadows from passing clouds, the ocean still sparkled way below.

This route would take us through the municipalities of both Granadilla de Abona and Vilaflor, land which is the source of the bottled waters of Tenerife. Right now dried-up streams and water courses mark the route.  When the rains come, any time now, they will be in full flow again, and the detritus of summer will be washed away.

What I hadn’t expected was to turn a corner and see Fall colors, yellows and golds clinging to the black skeletons of chestnut trees.  I really hadn’t realized that they grew over this side of the mountains.  We noted that they aren’t the tall, leafy trees of the northern slopes, but seem stunted, as if deprived of some ingredient to make them grow.  Nevertheless, broken shells of chestnuts littered the ground along with the fallen leaves.  Clearly there had been fruit, and folk had been here to collect the bounty.




We walked for a couple of tranquil hours, occasionally greeting other walkers, returning or overtaking us.  It was good to see that people now realize just how rich this island is in walking routes as well as beaches. We breathed that fresh, energizing scent of pine trees.  We stopped and perched in a wee, stone circle to lunch, the sort of place I would have thought of as a fairy meeting place when I was little. I’d made sandwiches of  turkey mortadella – well, it was Thanksgiving!

When turning to return, we met the mists which we’d seen drifting through the tall pines, vistas which had been clear were now hazy, and the graceful needles of the Canary pines were strung with droplets of brume, and looked like delicate Christmas decorations.  The air now was perfumed with the smell of wild fennel, which reminded me of summer. It must have been aroused by the damp.


The colors of the  bare rock faces, which had appeared dry, now glowed, their reds and ochres enriched by the moisture, and I found the last flower in this autumnal scene amongst the dead leaves and grasses.

Now I know where to come when my homesickness for Autumn kicks in.


The Tenerife of Mountains, Mists and Magical Forests

This time yesterday I was on the brink of a new island experience.  Despite the length of time I’ve lived here now, there was one part of the island which was a mystery for me – The Mountains of Anaga.

I’d been there, but only by car, and only to the outskirts of the area.  I knew it is considered to be the most beautiful part of the island.  It was almost as if I was saving it up for a time when I needed the effect I thought it might have on me, and part of me is slightly disgusted that I’ve spent so long here and not walked these velvet hillsides. Maybe it was that, as long as I hadn’t been there, I still had something new to discover.  Will I now think I’ve seen it all?  Will the urge to move on snowball now, I wonder?

I’d actually set off to walk there a couple of weeks ago, but was defeated by the weather, and ended up walking somewhere so utterly different that I still can’t take in that these totally contrasting landscapes are contained within the same 786 sq miles of island.

That day had dawned balmy and brilliant in El Médano, and it wasn’t until La Laguna that it was obvious that the weather was going to make a walk unpleasant.  There had been one of those steady drizzles which, over a time, saturate through your clothes to your skin.  Yesterday dawned equally pleasantly in El Médano, but the local tv station carried reports of a village in the mountains which had been cut off my heavy rains, which had blocked the road into the village with debris, including rocks and trees, so I was hoping that Austin had Plan B again, in case it turned out to be the same.  I arrived in La Laguna to find it bathed in the same sunshine I’d left in the south, and Austin explained that the village was on an exceptionally difficult part of road, which is often cut off, so we set off with great hopes.

I want to say that my soul soared with each kilometre we covered, but it sounds a bit over-poetic….heck, I’ll say it anyway – because that’s just how I felt, as we left behind the charismatic little city of La Laguna and familiar places like Las Mercedes and Tegueste and meandered upwards. We stopped briefly to drink in the beauty and the stretch of the valleys spread out before us – emerald-green agricultural terraces, country houses and bucolic peace. I was so captivated by this new vista that I entirely forgot to whip out my camera.  I simply drank it all in.

Once you leave behind that rich, rustic landscape it’s a typical, mountain road.  It weaves along the hillsides.  It’s narrow, with passing places and sensational views, until you get into the forest, where the views are only to be glimpsed, between the trees, and the mists drift across the road, like emaciated phantoms.

Eventually, we parked in a layby, where a couple of other cars were also parked, so reminiscent of days hiking in the English Lake District. We checked our packs, it verged on chilly and was obviously going to be damp.  Although it wasn’t raining we could see the brume hovering amongst the green.  Here cold Atlantic breezes collide with the high mountains at the tip of the island, and turn to vapour, which drifts constantly amongst the foliage providing an endless source of moisture.  The forests are lush and lichen coats the timber like green frost, hanging in picturesque clumps. Unlike the pine forests of other parts of the island, underfoot is damp and not tinder-dry.

Our path was narrow.  We walked in single file for most of it. Fallen trunks blocked our way, some had to be climbed over, and others we ducked under.  Brambles snatched at our arms and hair.  When we stopped, there was almost complete silence. You could hear a leaf fall or the drip of moisture from the waxy leaves onto the ground.  There was (for me) a surprising lack of birdsong.  It’s the biggest difference I can name between this type of countryside and similar ones in my own country, where in summer the air vibrates with the musical calling of countless winged species.

In parts, where we climbed quite steeply, steps have been cut into the pathway to make it easier, but otherwise it was easy to pretend that no-one had passed this way perhaps even forever. This is one of the oldest parts of the island, which rose gradually from the ocean.  Millions of years ago it wasn’t one island, but three, what are now Anaga, Teno and Adeje, which is why the age of the island is sometimes disputed – over the centuries other eruptions formed the island we now know.  In other parts of our path we were up to the tops of our shoes in rich, gooey mud, and I relished the squelchy sounds of childhood …….no-one to tell me “nay”!

It was fairly dark under the canopy of which is, essentially, rainforest and the camera, which, as you might guess, I was using frequently, needed to be adjusted for almost every shot. Suddenly, from out of the overhang and without warning, an enormous pinnacle rose, a solid tower of rock, soaring to the heavens.

This was Roque Anambro.  At the time of the Spanish Conquest Tenerife was divided into kingdoms or Menceys.  Legend has it that Guanche ruler of this area of Anaga,  Beneharo, escaped to this high point after the conquistadores had finally triumphed and taken the island for Spain.  There he pondered whether to surrender or die.  He decided to die as a free man, and leapt to his death from its peak. True or not, there was without doubt a palpable atmosphere of sehnsucht, that longing for…..something which cannot be.

Austin shuffled on his climbing shoes to explore it a bit, and see if he can get a view from higher up, and I shuffled around it carefully, snapping him and the views which tantalizingly peeped from the fog from time to time. Austin decided his climb would take too long.

We didn’t linger, the weather was kind but unpredictable, and every now and then a strong gust rattled the branches around, making the older ones creak like sound effects from some horror movie. After a short time we emerged at the Mirador Cabezo de Tejo, which is constructed on a natural platform overlooking the north-east coastline. There, the ocean broke against the jagged shoreline and flirted with rocks offshore which mark the tips of underwater mountains.  We were almost as far as one can go on the narrow tip of the island. Forests and mountain peaks lay before us, the mountain sides bare in parts where timber was culled following the Spanish invasion, in the case of this part of the island for construction of the money-spinning sugar plantations, which are now a part of history.  Soil erosion followed, just as it did on the hillsides of the south-east where the pines were burned for their resin.

We didn’t have it entirely to ourselves, but the family already there were quiet and moved off soon after.  We had passed one couple on the way, and on the return would pass two more families.  This is not a tourist hotbed. It’s hypnotic and peaceful, and we were reluctant to move on.  We lingered for a while.

Arriving, we had taken the route less travelled, but returning we took the wider pathway, the one which the forest agencies and environmental department use……which explains how the mirador was created and is maintained. These routes once connected outlying villages and hamlets.  It must have taken hours and hours just to travel to buy supplies or sell produce.   It’s vehicle-worthy now if you have a 4 x 4 or something rugged, so we walked side-by-side and chatted for most of it.

There, where the rock face lines the road, it is covered by moss so bright and intensely green that it looks unreal. In places shelters have been carved out of the rock face, like these, two caves, or this seat.  Apparently, all over Anaga refuges like these have been created where travellers can duck away from the changeable elements.

Giant bracken line the route.  Not for the first time living here I thought of Alice’s “Drink me,” bottle.  These huge plants must be related to their smaller relatives in European forests and gardens, and made me feel as if I’d shrunk. In places the path looked like an Autumn painting, where fallen leaves lay in gold and red patches.

We were lucky with the weather.  It was perfect for walking, neither hot nor cold, and for me a very welcome respite from the dust and winds I’d experienced in the south of late.  We emerged onto a road and then dove back into the forest to climb more steps, eroded by water, slippery with wet leaves and mud, and pretty soon (too soon for me, except that hunger was setting in) we were back at the beginning.

I’m happy to say “too soon” because it means I want to go back, I need to go back to what is like a magic forest from a children’s story, a whole other reality. Austin had warned me that it was one of the most beautiful walks he’d ever done, and he has walked in places I’m still dreaming about, like the Blue Mountains in Australia, the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean.  It was every bit as much of a journey to the new and unknown as if I’d stepped onto a plane and taken off for new shores.  My experience with Tenerife is far from over.  I know now it may never be.

The photos of the coastline weren’t, of course, too good, hampered by the mist. However, there will be more photos on my Flickr page as soon as I get a moment to sort them out. If anyone wants to see more of this relatively unknown side of Tenerife.


Subtropical Snow

There’s no doubt about it, the sight of snow on the mountaintops whilst you’re strolling along a sunny, palm-lined street, or even floating in the ocean is almost surreal, and  it still gives me a thrill.  I was both born and bred in a flat and damp English landscape, and the vista from my roof terrace yesterday morning was so very different from those lingering winter memories! I just had to get up there!

So I seized the chance to take some time off to take a closer look. A few weeks back when it snowed, I wasn’t able to get up into the mountains for 3 days, and by that time much of the snow had melted away. It was cold too, with a keen windchill factor. Yesterday, however, was different, it was only 24 hours since the last snow had fallen, and it was a morning of halcyon purity, with a sapphire  sky straight out of a glossy travel magazine to offset the shimmering white,  and bone-warming sunshine.

I was stoked, as my sons would say, to be up in the mountains again. The drive was easy, through the first stirrings of spring; some lingering almond blossoms, a few adventurous California poppies and evident, fresh, green growth on the pines. When you drive up from the Vilaflor road it’s a mellow ride, taking you to another season, through those first glimpses of springtime, into pine forests and snow-lined roads, then into the barren rockery on the outskirts of the crater, until El Teide rises before you, lord of all he surveys, and in his winter coat, more awe-inspiring and imposing than ever. If you live in the north, the omnipresence of  Teide is perhaps not so much of a surprise when you arrive, but from the southern coast he rises tall but distant, and arriving you marvel at his domination of the scene.

Traffic was light enough, though it was obvious that locals as well as tourists were heading upwards to admire the winter landscape.  It’s not uncommon, it snows up here most years, but it doesn’t last long under the sun’s fierce glow, and there isn’t always chance to come see it, nor mornings like this to see it at its most breathtaking.  I overheard people talking about taking their kids out of school for the outing.  By weekend when they have no school it will mostly be melted away.

At the first  stop I looked back, and could see that mountain mists were following us. We must have been driving just ahead of them as they wound through the trees and rocks, and now they were beginning to finger their way across the crater, but for the meantime we were well ahead, and the road in front was clear and quiet enough.

The thing which struck me about this depth of snow cover was that it highlighted the ebbs and flows of lava, so that you could see how it had inched its way down the mountains, and where and how, at some point, it had halted, sometimes producing lacey effects, like festooned curtains, with the weird shapes and boulders, randomly spewed out from the earth, stark against the white.

Drawing level with the parador, we turned into the viewing area opposite, where the vista is unfailingly jaw-dropping in any kind of weather or time of day, but it was chock-a-block with cars, buses and tourists. I have nothing against them. We need them – just not in my photos! So it was back into the car. I wanted to see what the view was like from where I taken these photos a few weeks back. However, it wasn’t to be. Just past the cable car the road was still closed off. I learned later that roads from La Orotava in the north, and la Esperanza just above La Laguna were still closed. We’d only seen one snow plough on our journey, and though there had been some light rockfalls, the road had seemed quite safe, but as always here, life on the other side of the mountain is a different story, so we turned back, to see the mist now approaching fast, an over-powering, immense wall of dense white, shifting shape as it flowed over hilltops and crater. We took the road down to the west coast and Chio, partly because it’s wider with smoother bends than the Vilaflor road, and partly for the change, Mother Nature and the Enviromental Service having spoiled my plans.

The lava beds through which this road winds are sombre black and rich brown, contrasting with the snow, and resilient to whatever kind of weather Nature hurls at them, be it a temperature of 5ºC or searing heat in August. We’d lost the sun’s warmth to that mist now, and the day was chilling fast.

Stopping to try to capture the diversity of landscape between the snow covered forest floor and the sight of the island of La Gomera seemingly floating on that sub-tropical ocean (It didn’t turn out that well. The camera doesn’t see what the eye does – or is it time to try out HDR I mused – that stain of a darker blue in the top right is La Gomera), I turned around to see, on the other side of the road, a bleak and colorless scene, as the clouds bore down on us. Thank goodness this was a drive and not a hike, though hiking in those conditions wouldn’t have fazed me at one time! But I’d seen the desolate scenes on morning tv the day before, and I hadn’t expected to be able to walk very far, so I wasn’t entirley euqipped, plus lunch was calling too!

There was even less traffic on this road, and as we descended and, as the temperature rose, the road was adorned for springtime again.  These bonnie flowers are lotus campylocladus, and were so prolific in places that they carpeted the floor of the forest which was getting sparser as we drove down.  By now, however, the light had gone, despite heading west, it was too gloomy to get a decent snap.

And so we returned to the coast, casting aside layers of clothing until the normal jeans and T-shirt remained, and marvelling at how we’d seen at least three out of four seasons in something short of one day. I know I keep saying it, but diversity is what keeps me here. At the end of the day, this is an island, it’s small, there are constrictions which come with that, however beautiful it might be, but it does feed my need for variety very well.


Visiting the Snowclad Volcano

My friend, Cristina, and I had been in a meeting for over an hour, and as we stepped out into the sunshine, we had an almost unobstructed view of the mountains from the office in Las Galletas, and the breathtaking sight of Mt Teide as he rose triumphantly over the island in his winter coat.  Down here on the coast we’d had high winds and heavy rain, but up there, at over 12,000 ft, the precipitation fell frozen and glistening white.  El Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, if I failed to mention that before.   We were seized by the impulse to drive straight up there to see it up close, but it took only a few minutes to realize that between us we had too many commitments and plans to change at such short notice, and knowing that the forecast was for more bad weather over the weekend we planned to go this week, when there would be even more snow.

As it happened, even though the weather had been a bit rough over the following days, we could see, as we set off from La Camella at a very chilly 8.30am, that there wasn’t as much snow as there had been exactly a week before.  In the meantime, roads had been closed and access restricted for hours and even days, to protect both people and the National Park over which Teide reigns, as fierce sleet and winds battered the peaks.   Our intention was to take a leisurely drive, stop for me to snap, go our separate ways for a while once we got down to La Laguna, and perhaps take in the movie which was showing in the Caja Canarias season of movies on the photojournalism theme, and so we snaked up the mountain roads in the cool early morning, under an impossibly blue sky.  Though we didn’t lose sight of the sapphire skies, the clouds were closing in behind us, and forming the famous Mar de Nubes (Sea of Clouds).  The effect is like that you have when flying, high above the clouds, so that you look down on a fleecy blanket of white, and can’t see the land below.

The roads were fairly quiet.  It was the day after a holiday, and maybe the forecast had been too iffy for tourists to bother.  They missed a treat if that was the case.  We found ourselves in the caldera in no time, and cruising through a landscape, which is for me, after 20-odd years of living here, both familiar and yet strange.  I do not exaggerate when I say that it never, ever fails to awe me.  These rocks, this pre-historic landscape, the sense of the power of nature, and the stark contrasts between the somber crags and  that indigo sky, all conspire to suspend the current reality and allow the imagination to run riot.  Let’s be honest here, Mother Nature is nothing if not a drama queen.

Magnificent and unspoiled though the landscape was, first impressions were of a distinct lack of snow.  Pockets could be seen in shady nooks, where the sun had little power in winter, but not what you’d call even a “covering”.  That said, since the area became not only a National Park, but a World Heritage Site in 2007, there are far more restrictions and regulations aimed at  limiting  damage to the natural and unavoidable rather than the disrespect of man, and it was very likely that, had we made it a week before, we would have found roads closed and access to the caldera cut off.  There were days, years ago, when, at the first sign of snow, we would rush on up with sleds or plastic bin liners, hot chocolate and ski gear, but earlier this week access from the north was one way, via the village of La Esperanza and down via the Orotava Valley, and if you climbed the way we did, from the south, then the road was blocked roughly half way across the vast volcanic crater, and you had to return the way you came, via Vilaflor or via Chio.   Those are the four main routes up and down the mountain.

As we were going north in any event, we continued, knowing, as any fan of adventure movies will tell you, that there was more chance of snow on the north-facing slopes, and we were not disappointed, as we drew closer and began to circle El Teide, and the car’s thermometer registered 5ºC,  we saw more and more, until, leaving El Portillo behind and beginning the at first gradual descent we discovered enough of the wet and white stuff, as Cristina said, to make snowballs.

I put a couple of these pictures on my Facebook page earlier, and received some nice compliments, but, honestly, with these colors, these contrasts, with the snow and the sky, and that majestic mountain – how can you go wrong?

So, I happily snapped away, and Cristina made snowballs and had an abortive attempt at a snow angel, but it was too hardpacked for that.  It was after this that she put down the roof on the car, we bundled up against the cold even more, and  began to mosey down , past the observatory, in the direction of La Laguna, reminding me of the days back when I was young and had my much-loved MG Midget, and had the top down in all but serious weather.

Cristina and her talking car

We had only been going for a few minutes, however, when I had to call another stop.  The extraordinary Mar de Nubes, which was now masking the northern coast from view, was on the move, stealthily slithering its way up the mountainside, creeping between tree and rock in a surreal and measured glide, and it had changed from the fluffy, white clouds of the southern slopes to grey and forboding, with different colored layers.

I’ve seen this before, it’s eerie and other-worldly, and I could sit and watch it for hours, but the real world, down below was calling, and we resumed our journey.

It was about halfway down that we caught up with the clouds, as they sneaked their way amongst the trunks of Canarian pines, blackened by forest fires, but with defiant new growth emerging on their tops.  I swear, Hollywood couldn’t have set a scene more perfectly, and up went the top of the car, as the icy haze surrounded us.

It was just after this that I began to wonder if perhaps it really all was a dream, as outside it fell to 4ºC, and an alarm went off as the car actually warned us of the fall in the temperature.  Cristina, I should add, was delighted that her car was communicating with her – this wasn’t a feature she’d actually ever expected to function on this sub-tropical island!

Following the curves from that point down was entering yet another world, where, leaving the forest behind, lush and green fields and yellow flowers bordered the road, until the clatter of motorway traffic could be heard, and we crossed into the outskirts of the city, and then back out into the country villages for lunch……..but that is another story, for another day.  This morning belonged to the mists and the mountains and the snow, the coast, the city, bright lights and shopping malls belong to a different world entirely…….or at least they seem to…….and that, as you know, is what I keep harping on about – the variety to be found in less than 800sq miles.


Of Flowers, Mists and Mountains

I corrected a huge ommission in my island experience today.  I confess that I’ve never spent more than ten minutes in the stunningly beautiful, little town of La Orotava in the north of the island.  I’ve passed through it countless times on journeys from the south to other parts of the north, but never stopped. Partly that’s been circumstances, and partly because parking looks like a nightmare.

You know how there are always places you mean to visit, but they are so close (in this case a little over an hour) that you put it off?  Well, I’ve been doing that for at least 14 years now in the case of La Orotava, and especially for the Corpus Crisit celebration, but, today, at last I made it……and how was I rewarded?  It poured with rain all morning!  Still, it was worth it, and left me itching to get back as soon as this awful weather lets up.  The north of the island has far more rain than we do in the south, hence it’s pretty and green and bountiful, but, apparently, even by standards there,  today was a huge bummer, but I get ahead of myself.

The reason to go today, specifically, was to see the amazing sand and floral carpets which are produced in celebration of Corpus Cristi.  I can’t see any reason to wax lyrical when someone else has done it far better than I, so if you want a great description of the event, check out this link, which was written recently by an excellent local writer, in anticipation :

As well as in La Orotava, which is by far the most famous venue, carpets are laid in La Laguna and in Adeje, and certainly in other parts of Spain and the rest of the world.  I actually thought this happened in San Antonio, Texas, a town which has many cultural links to the Canary Islands, but I can’t find any reference to it online.

So – Colleen and I set off at, well, not the crack of dawn, but early enough, hoping to at least get decent parking.  There was a quite spectacular sunrise over the ocean as I walked poor Trixy, way earlier than the hour to which she has been accustomed of late, and I should have been warned then, as the brilliant, scarlet ball of  sun rose into heavy and ominous clouds.  The thing is that here, in the south, the day often starts with clouds, which disperse in the sun’s warmth,  so it didn’t register.  However, as we reached the outskirts of La Laguna Colleen puzzled over what was going on with her windscreen…..that’s how rare summer rain is to us “southerners”!  Drizzle it was, and it became steadily heavier as we got closer to La Orotava.  Colleen, like me, being a hardy northerner (of England) we decided not to be nesh, grabbed the first parking space we saw (happily Colleen was driving, because she obviously has the parking karma which I lack), and strode off up the hill, following the trail laid by the soggy ribbons and bunting which lined the streets, defying the elements.

Lovely gazebo decked out for the holiday, and flanked by jacaranda, still in bloom here.

We found a town decked out and waiting for the high point of its year, but oddly subdued.  A lady watching the downpour from her shop doorway told us that it had been hot only yesterday.  This kind of weather would be normal here in winter, but is most strange for June.  As we got nearer to the town hall, where the main “carpet” of colored sand is located in the town square, the streets were closed off, and heaps of pine branches and cartons of petals waited to be used.  Normally, work on the carpets would have been well under way by that time.  We headed for the first floor balcony of the town hall, from where we could snap the main display, not to mention shelter from the rain for a while!

We elbowed our way through, and tried not to take too much time, the crowds were already building up, despite the rain.

Over the rooftops we could see the dome and towers of the church, looking more Moorish than Canarian, but then, so much Spanish architecture was influenced by the Moorish occupation.  The bells rang out constantly as we surveyed the scene, and we could see the  ringers in the bell tower (oops no close up lens again!).  Beyond the church towers is only mist, no sky, no vista, just a weirdly light grey mist.  Compare my picture to the one on the article above.  We wandered around the nearby streets, where people were beginning to work on the carpets at last, and local dignitaries were being interviewed by tv and radio, but that “atmosphere of joy” which Andy Montgomery describes in the article was definitely missing.  I suppose disappointment and frustration were more the order of the day, although there was a group of good old boys sitting on one street corner serenading San Isidro to put a stop to the rain.  I hope he did, but I have a feeling not, from the way the rest of our day went.

La Orotava’s other claim to fame is La Casa de los Balcones.  The most famous feature of Canarian architecture is the wooden balconies on many of the old houses, some beautifully carved, and exquisite examples can be seen in this old building, which also serves as a handicraft exhibit and shop.  It used to be that you could see the wonderful tablecloths for which the island is also famous, being made here.  Whether you still can I don’t know, because today it resembled a Disney World store in a thunderstorm, and as soon as we got in we looked for the exit!  Maybe it isn’t always so busy and commercialized, they must be feeling the recession as we all do, and they have every right to take advantage of whatever business they can drum up.  I will definitely try it again some day.

You can see examples of the beautiful hand made tablecloths on display on one of the windows here.

The rain was getting heavier, and we knew the time had come to go.  Lucky for us there is always the thought that we could come again another year, but you had to feel sorry for the tourists, for whom it was maybe a once in a lifetime visit.  We took refuge in a little bar and ordered delicious, thick hot chocolate and slices of fresh cake before we set off though.  I took off my sodden cardigan and used it to dry off my hair, but although we were almost soaked to the skin we weren’t all that cold, the hot chocolate took care of any chills.

We had seen horrendous holdups on the autopista going in the other direction as we arrived, and since we were leaving far earlier than expected, we decided to drive back over the mountains, instead of using the main road, which snakes around the coast.  It wasn’t long before we emerged from the clouds into bright sunshine.  This place never fails to amaze me in this.  I swear there is always somewhere on the island that the sun is shining!

As we climbed, Colleen pulled over, to show me a sight of which I’d heard, but never seen before, the famous Rosa de Piedra, or Stone Rose.

These stunning, flower-shaped rock patterns are formed as cooling, volcanic lava sets and cracks, and there are several throughout the island.  I’d been told about them, but never seen one before, although, to be sure, this one is right alongside the road.  What the authorities have done in recent years, though, is create pathways and access so that you can see sights like this in pleasant safety.

We set forth once more, welcoming the sun’s heat as it streamed through the car windows, but not before walking back a few feet to snap our first view of Mount Teide, as the mist swirled up through the forests and threatened still to spoil the vista.

The white mass on the right of the photo is the mist rising up again.

As we drove, we swapped stories and experiences of the island and of Gran Canaria, where Colleen used to live.  It made me realize what a whole lifetime of memories I have here, and how good the time has been. Colleen mentioned the Visitors’ Center, in the National Park, which I hadn’t visited in years and years, and supposed was the same as it was back then, when the kids were fairly young, so we decided to make a stop there too.  How wrong I was!  It is a modern, well cared for unit, with interactive information for children about volcanos, rock structures, flora and fauna, and an excellent video describing how the island rose from the Atlantic seabed, and subsequently was molded by more volcanic activity. … least one of the theories, because there is stilll some debate about it.  Surrounding the Center is a really nicely laid out walk, immaculately pathed and stocked with local flora.  This used to be a rugged, little walk, more natural to be sure, but now it is accessible to people who are not so spry, which is nice.

I have to say that I had to resist the urge to whoop when I saw these:

In the bright light they didn’t photograph too well, but these are the famous, blue tajinastes.  I have understood them to be rare, and I’ve never seen them before, so I am assuming that they have been placed here specifically by the Cabildo as a showpiece of the gardens around the walk.  The caldera and the roadsides were heavily laden with the more common, red variety, most of which have just about finished blooming now.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but when the tajinaste are finished I think summer has really come, the heat, the dryness and the parched landscapes we are more familiar with in the south.  Mind you, you would have laughed at that statement had you been on our downward journey, which took us back into thick mist, where headlights loomed with scary suddeness out of a gloom, which resembled The Twilight Zone.  It enveloped us all the way down the mountain, well past the point at which we would normally have emerged from it, and when we did, it was to leaden skies even down here on the coast.

It might sound odd to keep harping on about the variety you find in this archipelago, let alone on this one island, and all are so very different in landscape, weather and traditions,  but even after so many years, that it still never fails to engage me always surprises me.  Scorching sun in the caldera of a volcano, colorful traditions in one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever seen, the best hot chocolate in the world, mist rising through forests and a white knuckle drive back to the coast where I watched a stunning sunrise this morning, all this is just, well, normal here.

Like I keep saying, nowhere’s perfect, but it will do for now…….to go on observing, to go on seeking new experiences enjoying the journey.