The lush and very beautiful Hermigua valley in La Gomera
I’d long been aware that I had the good fortune to live somewhere so easy to enjoy both ocean and mountain scenery. Running through my list of pros and cons of continuing to use Tenerife as a base (and there hasn’t been one year in the 27 I’ve spent here that I have not done that), it ties for first place with the pleasant climate. But now I have that same certainty about the seas that Juanjo has about the mountains. I’m lucky I don’t have to choose, but if I ever did, I know which one makes my heart beat that bit faster.
This isn’t the piece I intended to post today. You could say this is spontaneous. Spontaneous is what I did today. Spontaneous is probably the biggest difference between a blog and, say, a magazine article, at least if one’s own blog. Sponteous probably describes my current lifestyle….at least it should do.
I should be better-organized, but a glimpse of sunshine and I felt like a kid on vacation! After sitting at my dining table, which doubles as my desk, for two hours, watching the day brighten outside my window, I couldn’t take it any longer. Afterall, hadn’t I spent hours when I was tied to boring jobs wishing I could be outdoors and longing for the freedom to improvise my life?
So I bundled Trixy into the van and set off, with no plan whatsoever. My direction was dictated only by the need to put gas in the car. Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I needed to seize this glorious day.
The sun doesn’t warm the valley until late these winter mornings. It highlights the hillsides, teases through the gaps between the mountains, but doesn’t rise high enough to reach all the nooks until mid-morning. As we left the gas station it seemed that the last chill was evaporating, and the day began to glow.
This post is simply the story of me playing hooky. There is no deep meaning to it. It’s a photo essay of a crystal clear, blue/green day.
Yesterday I fell down the rabbit hole. As I fell, I turned and twisted in slow motion, so that the world became unreal, and I wondered about White Rabbits and Mad Hatters at the end of my plunge. Of course, it was my over-active imagination, returning from the south of the island, leaving behind blue skies and sunshine, the final tunnel of the five which scythe through the mountains felt like the rabbit hole, but when I emerged it was to a changed world; it was to ghostly brume wandering the perpendicular landscape. Again I had the feeling that I’d arrived in an alternative universe.
Two months have gone by already. Whilst I am aware of the slower pace, the relaxed mindset, the tranquillity, it still seems impossible that I’ve been here for two months.
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.
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.
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!
“Face your fear!” “Do one thing each day which scares you!” “Take the road less traveled!”
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.”
About to enter a “Lost World”
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. Continue reading →
I had to laugh this week when I read a “review” of a restaurant situated on the boardwalk in “my town”, El Médano. It claimed that it was the perfect place to enjoy a tipple whilst watching the sun go down over the horizon. Now, there are many fine and even wonderful views from the boardwalk, and even better ones from other parts of the coast, but to see a decent sunset there is nowhere you can sit in comfort and sip your wine at the same time, while someone whips up a tasty meal for you – unless you take a picnic to the beach perhaps – haven’t tried that, so I can’t say for sure.
The picture above is about as much as we see of a sunset in summer, over the mountains and far away, in other words the reflection of the glory on the clouds. Granted, in winter I’ve snapped some pretty nice sunsets, but not whilst sitting in a bar. Although, come to think of it, probably there’s a nice winter sunset from Manfred’s Bar, but I can’t think of anywhere else. Although sometimes what happens is that clouds echo the sunset; catching the colors, turning them candy stripe pink and puffing them along the horizon like so many rosy cottonwool balls.
That pink sometimes shades into lavender and melts along the horizon right around the island, it’s a pretty sight, but not the evening we took our walk, and granted, if I hadn’t stopped to snap so often we might not have been slopping around in tidal pools as we made our way back for tapas. When Guy was visiting, we decided to walk one evening, before eating, to Bocinegro, that’s the smaller of the two volcanoes which mark the perimeter of the beach.
Bocinegro is an after thought, a punctuation mark at the foot of the iconic Montaña Roja. It’s an easy walk, almost a stroll – unless you forget about the time and have to clamber over wet rocks in the dark, as we did that night!
The sky was darkening over the foothills even as we circled the beach, the sun just tinting the underbelly of the cloud mass behind us.
The sun was sinking fast. Coastal sunsets at this latitude don’t linger long. They are often dazzling, but over quite soon, and night descends fairly quickly.
Nevertheless we made it to the top of Bocinegro’s 118 feet in good time. It’s just about the right length of walk to work up an appetite, but not overdo it. Guy was in training and I had a wonky knee. Being so familiar with the area I didn’t worry too much about losing the light, but as we reached the beach I had to fumble for my torch (always useful to keep a torch with your camera bag I’ve learned!) The night had turned to pitch black, and the moon wasn’t up yet. We skidded on the loose stones as we neared the beach, and then picked our way between damp sand and rock pools, as tiny fish skittered to hide from the torchlight, but it was worth the slithering and sliding for the views of nighttime El Médano from a different angle to usual, as the lights flickered on along the bay.
I don’t need another reason to be thankful for living here ….. as you might have gathered from my previous post!……but this did give me another, I have to admit. Being such a lover of early mornings, I often find it hard to burn the candle at both ends, so I’m not that much of a night owl, but I’m thinking that from time to time I should break my habits, take a siesta and go out late with the camera again!
Life is a constant learning curve, no doubt about it. If you allow it to be of course.
Last Friday I was in the Teide National Park (and World Heritage Site), proudly showing visiting friends what is probably the most dramatic scenery of my island home. The sun shone, the sky was bluer than blue, and we strolled around comfortably without jackets or sweaters. Though I heard later that the coastal weather had been a bit less sunny, we had driven through the mists, which writhed through the forests as we drove up from La Laguna, and emerged into crystal clear air and warmth. Looking down, over those clouds, is akin to the view you get from an airplane, acres of cottonwool and an endless, azure horizon. But, up here, the difference is that from all that fluffy white, tree-lined mountain flanks, strangulated rock formations and volcanoes rise.
Yesterday was a day of quite different hue, however. Fellow blogger RunawayBrit has been wintering in Tenerife, and we’d spoken a couple of weeks ago about making a photo trip one day. So inspired by the rainbow colors of my daytrip, I asked her if she wanted to do a similar one yesterday, but with the focus on taking photos and seeing parts of the island which she had not yet visited. Remarkable, ain’t it, how, on an island which boasts around 350 days of sunshine per year, and which is currently suffering drought conditions, I could pick a rainy, cloudy day for a photo excursion…but pick it I did.
It’s odd, but, living here for so long, I sometimes feel responsible if some aspect of the island or island life doesn’t live up to the picture I, or others, have painted, and so I found myself apologizing for the gloom which was obscuring views I knew to be quite amazing on a clear day, as we left the coast behind and meandered up the backbone of the island. Even so, there were photo ops. The clouds are never still, they shift constantly, crossing paths, hiding mountains only to reveal their grandeur for seconds before drawing a veil across the scene again, and we stopped a lot, sometimes waiting patiently for the wind to speed the cloud cover on its way.
Friday, by the way, is always a good day for a trip to the National Park. It remains the busiest arrival/departure day, so there are less visitors everywhere. A few coaches passed as we hovered around waiting for scenes to unfurl, and it was hard not to smile, noting how glum the faces peering from the steamed up windows were. I’m a big “lemonade” ** fan personally, and yesterday was just proof of the saying. Looking back at my pictures this morning, I can see elements and colors that the brightness had hidden the previous week.
It was my decision to make our way back via the Orotava Valley, thinking to hanger left to Garachico and over the hills to Santiago del Teide by way of return. I should have known better. Although we’d seen some drizzle and lots of cloud, the weather hadn’t seemed too threatening, but we weren’t too far down the mountainside when those clouds truly closed around us, visibility was severely reduced, and we joined a line of traffic inching its way coastwards behind one of those tour buses. We stopped off for warming soups, local cheese and papas arrugadas, but when we emerged the rain was almost as full on, and had found its way into the car even, forming a puddle on the passenger side floor, so when we eventually found ourselves near the autopista the wiser decision was to go for Plan B and wend our way southwards, leaving the lush but damp north, and trusting that the south would live up to its dry reputation. With frightening predictability, within a kilometer of Santa Cruz, the rain began to ease, the visibility increased and by the time we joined the southern autopista, although the clouds looked grim, the way ahead was dry.
And so it was that we detoured to Candelaria, the island’s spiritual home. I have stacks of photos of this town. It’s center, around the basilica, which is home to the statue of Tenerife’s patron, the Virgin of Candelaria, is small but photogenic. The main square is bordered on one side by the church, and on another by some impressive statues of the Guanche Menceys, who were the rulers of Tenerife’s nine kingdoms before the Conquest. They line the promenade, guarding the black sands of the beach.
I’ve never been especially happy with any of the photographs I’ve taken of these statues, even when not surrounded by other happy snappers, the sun always seemed to be in the wrong place to get the shot I wanted. Yesterday, however, with those moody storm clouds overhead I really liked the way they came out.
This morning, at least here on the south east coast, the sun is bright, the sky blue and the clouds white and fluffy. At dawn, however, those somber and heavy clouds still dominated the horizon when I walked along the seashore, lending drama to the sunrise.
So – I can say that I am thankful for clouds; for the variety and drama, color and interest they bring to familiar scenes, and, in the words of the song, I think I can say:
“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, and still, somehow,
It’s clouds illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.”
And so, here’s to the next time there are clouds on my normally blue horizon :=)
** Just in case there is anyone who has never heard the saying: If life hands you lemons, make lemonade!
Possibly for the first time in my life I understand why Browning wrote that.
I am definitely an Autumn person. I’ve always thought Spring a bit over-rated, even when I lived in England. It seemed so drawn out, and usually very wet. I suppose that I expected everything to bloom at once, rather than over the three months of the Season. Going in April two years ago I found the best of the blossom over, though there were some stunning scenes in London’s parks. To be honest I was there this year at the end of March, rather than the beginning of April. I got home early this morning, hence the dearth of posts of late. My internet access was woeful most of the time I was there, but more of that another time.
This Spring, which began the day I arrived, was sunny and balmy. Girls were striding out in summer dresses, daffodils were making the most of their last days and birds of all kinds were rushing around all over the place with twigs, bits of paper and all manner of stuff for their nests. Even in the North the sun-god smiled on me. Often I find that whilst the London area might be mild, further north can still chill the bones this early in the year.
Last Sunday Austin and I hiked from Rydal Water to the head of Grasmere, but then turned back and upwards returning to Ambleside, a beautiful walk, taking in the Lake District’s famous daffodils dotted around the edges of the lakes, and landscapes of morning mists and mirror-like reflections on still waters, all enough to inspire the most jaded of poets.
This evening finds me tired after dozing last night away on a bench in Stansted Airport, but more of that another time, for today, photos of a lovely hike.
And, just to remind you how Browning put it so eloquently:
Oh, to be in EnglandNow that April’s there,And whoever wakes in EnglandSees, some morning, unaware,That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheafRound the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,While the chaffinch sings on the orchard boughIn England – now!And after April, when May follows,And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallowsHark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedgeLeans to the field and scatters on the cloverBlossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edgeThat’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,Lest you should think he never could recaptureThe first fine careless rapture!And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,All will be gay when noontide wakes anewThe buttercups, the little children’s dower, –Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
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!
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?”
“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.