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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The Lighthouse at the End of the World



Eucalyptus and almond blossom. The church square and picnic zone look and smell wonderful in the bright morning sun. The square is dotted with tourists taking photos and enjoying the quiet of the simple but attractive church and the trees bedecked in the pink of the blossom. I do the same as I take my photos and enjoy the ambience but this is probably my only connection with these holidaymakers. I look at my watch, it is 10.50 am and I turn and leave the square and the idyllic scene and take the first steps towards my destination. 


The initial part of the walk follows a newly created path alongside a busy road and soon deposits me at the foot of a 900ft climb to a mountain pass. I start climbing, conscious of the heavy weight on my back as I pass through a grove of eucalyptus and eye the summit of the climb high above me. I cross a stream-bed, a thin trickle of water still tumbling down the hillsides after the recent heavy rain in parts of the island and know that soon it will be dry again. Despite the weight in my pack, I climb fairly comfortably, only stopping occasionally. 


Soon, I reach the forestry track that signals I am close to the pass and I stop to look back to the village, now hundreds of feet below me. Another ten minutes and I am on the pass, the biggest climb of the day behind me. A landscape unfolds. A stormy sea of rock stretching into the distance, frozen in time. Vast, gaping valleys, soaring peaks standing silently, almost mocking, challenging those who dare attempt to scale them. Ravens croak above, swooping, tumbling, as they display their mastery of the air. In the background, the Atlantic provides a beautiful backwash to this natural masterpiece. I turn and continue on my way, passing a few large groups of walkers before reaching the forest. 


The comfortable path enters a green tunnel in the laurels and heathers, the edges of the path bedecked in huge, yellow sow-thistles', like giant flowers from some horticultural 'Jurassic Park'. 


Massive agave line the paths and small but vivid cineraria and wild marigolds embroider the spaces in between with an intricate web of colour. I reach a crossroads in the path and sit some distance away to escape the large group of walkers that arrive and shatter the peace. 


After a while, I realise that they are not going to leave anytime soon so I flee along the path, back into the trees where I continue my reverie as the silence returns once again. The ridge I am walking along delights with a kaleidoscope of scenes passing in front of my eyes, like a slide show of my favourite pictures. With my camera clicking furiously, I cross the valley road by a small car park. Tourists, reluctant to stray too far from the sanctuary of their cars, watch as I head back into the mountains, climbing towards a prominent peak. I reach a stone bench at the side of the path and take a break. Sitting in the sun, the lizards tentatively poke their heads from underneath the rocks and plants at the side of the path. I drop pieces of banana and flapjack and suddenly, there are dozens of them rushing from all directions, their desire for the tasty treats overcoming their natural shyness. A group of walkers pass me and the last of these wishes me 'buen provecho' and, my appetite sated, I continue along the path, which is now just a narrow, rocky ledge, high above the valley below. 


As I round a corner, the terrain changes slightly to a more open, moor-like scene. Forests give way to a vast sweeping plateau, riven with terraces and dotted with occasional lonely farmsteads. A goatherd shouts as he drives his large flock up a steep terraced hillside, a scene that probably hasn't changed for hundreds of years


Up here is like being alone on top of the world. The land falling away to the bright sparkling ocean below. Ancient tracks and paths lead ever downwards towards the cliff edge and suddenly, there it is!


On a rocky promontory, far, far below, lashed by the waves and the wind, stands the lighthouse that marks the end of the world. I stand and stare, my feelings ebbing and flowing like the waves crashing on the rocks around the lighthouse. Here, I feel small and insignificant, like a small boat bobbing in a stormy sea, searching for a light to guide it home.


The walk back is long and arduous. I am tired after my earlier exertions but my body takes over and the hills are defeated one after another. I know that I do not have enough daylight to complete the return walk but this does not concern me. I watch the sun slowly sink behind the islands in the west as the day draws to a close. 


Soon, I am utterly alone. All of the day walkers have long gone and as the shadows lengthen, I take ownership of the day. This is my time. I have earned the right to be here in the dark of these magnificent mountains. I switch on my head-torch, a small puddle of light engulfs me. I have found a light to guide me and I turn the bow of my boat and head for home.

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A Walk Through Tenerife's Past

El Roque at the start of the walk

The south of Tenerife is often dismissed by many walkers in preference for the more traditionally 'pretty' areas of the island. This walk however, despite rarely being far from towns and villages, has just about everything you could ask for in a walk, mountain views, impressive barrancos, ancient trails, miradors, and many historic examples of a past way of life. The walk begins from the stunning Mirador de La Centinela above Valle San Lorenzo and descends on the old camino real to San Miguel below the slopes of the imposing Roque de Jama.

Descending to La Hoya


Roque de Jama

The whole walk is punctuated with useful information boards giving details of various facets of a past way of life in the south of the island. In the early part of the walk, on the ascent to La Hoya, the camino passes the Fuente de La Hoya, a spring at the side of the trail. The spring, along with two others, was the reason for the choice of location for the first country house, the Caserio de La Hoya, in the San Miguel region. This impressive building, which is now a casa rural, is passed just after the spring and shortly after this, along the road from the house, you will find a well preserved tile-kiln.


Tile Kiln at La Hoya

Dropping down into the scenic Barranco del Drago, the Fuente del Drago is found beneath the towering rocks. Here, there are well preserved remnants of the past in the form of a water cistern, which was sadly mostly dry when I passed by but the water channels feeding it could be clearly seen carved into the rock as could a number of stone sinks, once used as a public laundry for washing clothes. This spring was a very important resource for the local population who used it for obtaining water for drinking as well as washing clothes and irrigating crops.

La Fuente de Tamaide in the Barranco del Drago

In this area, the rock was quarried for use in the building of terracing walls as well as paving the caminos. On the approach to Tamaide, an old 'tuff' quarry is encountered. This light-coloured volcanic rock was quarried for building, including the construction of the water channels that criss-crossed the countryside carrying water to irrigate the terracing.

Giant Houseleek


Climbing out of the Barranco del Drago


Looking into the Barranco del Drago

 San Miguel is the next stop along the way and it is worth leaving the walk for a short detour around the town. The camino real parallels the current main road and is lined with simple but attractive Canarian houses and would have at one time been a busy thoroughfare with merchants transporting and selling their wares as they travelled across the island. The camino real was part a the Camino Real de Chasna, an important artery connecting the south of the island via Vilaflor and the Las Cañadas National Park with La Orotava in the north.

Roque de Jama from Tamaide

My White Bicycle, Tamaide


Ornate garden near Tamaide

Just before the walk turns right following a sign for Aldea Blanca, the 18th Century Casa del Capitan is passed. This traditional old Canarian house belonged to the Alfonso family until the end of the nineteenth century and Miguel Alfonso Martinez achieved the highest military rank in the municipality, which is where the house gets it's name. After the house was devastated by fire, it was purchased and restored by the town and now houses an historical and ethnographic museum.

Camino de Las Lajas corpse road

San Miguel was also the first location in the south to receive electricity and the remains of the generating station are still visible from the camino, here known as the Calle de La Iglesia., which eventually arrives at the church in the quiet shady square where you will also find the old biblioteca. This is a good spot for a break in the walk or if you prefer, you can head up to the centre of the village to avail yourself of one of the cafes in the high street.

Descending to Aldea Blanca

Returning to the walk by the Casa del Capitan, the route now descends to Aldea Blanca, initially on tarmac, following an old corpse road before arriving after a steep descent in the middle of the village. For some reason, the information boards along this trail, which up until now have been in three languages, suddenly revert to 'Spanish only' but if you have a smattering of the language, it is still possible to glean some information. 

Vineyards & volcanoes

After passing through a cultivated area on the valley floor, close to riding stables, the long climb back to the Mirador La Centinela begins. Part way up the climb, there is another information board detailing the recent volcanic activity in the south of the island and the viewpoint highlights just how many volcanoes litter this part of the coastal plain.

Climbing to the Mirador La Centinela

After a fairly stiff climb, the refreshments on offer at the mirador restaurant are too tempting to resist and it is worth relaxing with something cold and refreshing as the huge 'picture window' allows you to observe much of the route you have just walked from the comfort of a welcoming chair.

The GPS track for the walk can be downloaded by clicking on the Wikiloc symbol in the top right hand corner of the map below.

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Montaña Sámara & the Las Cuevas Negras

View from the summit of Montaña Sámara

This walk was a new route in an area that I had intended investigating for some time so I was pleased to find details on the web about a new path leading from Montaña Sámara to the Cuevas Negras, a series of lava tubes just off of the path in the volcanic landscape below the slopes of Pico Viejo. There is a convenient car park just below the Montaña Sámara cone and after parking the car I was soon climbing up the cinder path to the summit. The views from the top were simply stupendous and far-reaching to the summits of Pico Verde and Pico de Gala in the Teno range with the twin summits of the island of La Palma in the clouds beyond providing a fitting backdrop. 

View from the summit of Montaña de La Botija

Descending from the summit, I followed a path up Montaña de La Botija, another volcanic cone from where I had views across the lava fields to the towering peak of Pico Viejo, the second highest summit on the island. In the other direction, I had further views to the harbour at Playa San Juan and the prominent bulk of Montaña Tejina. Descending once more, I continued as the path wound a tortuous course through the volcanic landscape, passing large 'standing stones' of lava at the side of the path. 

Collapsed lava tube or 'jameo'

As the path turned downhill, I suddenly realised that I had passed the Cuevas Negras lava tubes and back-tracked a little until I located the first of these, which was a large opening in the ground with a 'lava bridge' across the centre. This type of tube is called an 'jameo' and is formed when the roof of a lava tub collapses, leaving an opening in the ground. 

Entrance to a lava tube

I continued to backtrack and located all five of the tubes, one of which, as with the first, had collapsed. The others were still intact and had cave-like openings, all of which had metal gates blocking entry into them. Lava tubes are formed when slow a moving lava flow solidifies on the surface but this then insulates the lava below, which continues to flow beneath the solidified surface, leaving a tube when the flow ceases.

Lava stalactites on the roof of the lava tube

Looking through the gates I could see lava stalactites on the ceiling of the caves in various shades of reddish brown. Despite not be able to access the tubes, it was still interesting to see into them and I thought it was odd that, although the path is signposted as the Cuevas Negras path, the location of the lava tubes is not signposted from the path as they are very easily missed if you don't know where to look for them. After leaving the lava tubes, I followed a return route to my car at Montaña Sámara as I enjoyed excellent views to the island of La Gomera hanging in the clouds ahead and to Pico Viejo behind.

Looking back to Pico Viejo & Teide


Video of the walk

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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Las Cañadas to Poris de Abona - A walk from Summit to Sea


The 'El Filo' path is a route in the Las Canadas National Park that starts from the TF24 road close to El Portillo and initially follows a broad track through the desert scenery of the park as it weaves through the Tiede Broom and heads towards the parador. I recently set off on a two day hike following the path as it wound it's way through the parched landscape typically found in this part of the park. Being summer, the weather was very hot and as I could not be sure that I would be able to replenish my water supplies, I carried around 7.5 litres in my pack, which made it quite heavy when combined with my camping gear.



In the early part of the walk, there were superb views of Teide and I took numerous photos of the imposing cone, which dominated the scenery. Eventually, the broad, dusty path veered away to the left and began to ascend the rim of the vast caldera and, once on the top, the scenery became even more impressive as the route crossed and re-crossed the ridge, giving views both to the south-eastern parts of the island to the coast and also to the northern side of the ridge, affording excellent views into Las Canadas. 


Roque de La Grieta
Ahead, the views of the ridge were punctuated by the peaks of Roque de La Grieta, Montaña Pasajiron and in the distance to Montaña Guajara, Tenerife's third highest peak which towers over the parador. After around three and a half hours, I dropped off of the ridge into the pine forest above Arico before heading to El Contador, a recreation/camping/BBQ area high in the pine forest. 


Los Roques de Tamadaya
As I approached El Contador, I discovered a camping area above it called Fuente del Llanos and veered off towards it. Here, I found some fairly level ground and pitched my tent. I spent a peaceful evening watching the sun go down and enjoyed the silence as I sat outside my tent stargazing. The following morning, I was up early and drank coffee as the sunrise bathed the high mountains I had descended from the day before in a soft, pink light. 


Camping at Fuente del Llanos
After packing up my campsite, I began my descent to El Contador and the Barranco de Tamadaya. Reaching the El Contador recreation zone, I replenished my water supplies from a tap in the barbecue area and passed the Casas del Contador and climbed into the forest towards the Barranco de Tamadaya.

Arico Nuevo
The views into the barranco to the pine-clad Roques de Tamadaya formation were particularly impressive. Eventually, I reached the pretty village of Arico de Nuevo from where I followed a path past wind turbines to El Poris on the coast.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Walking through the Island's Volcanic Past

Montana Samara

I have recently been exploring the area between Montana Samara and Montana Chinyero, site of the island's last eruption. The north-west Santiago rift is littered with many volcanic cones and makes the area a fascinating one for observing the recent volcanic history of the island. I parked at the Montana Samara car-park and followed the obvious path to the summit where I had fantastic views towards the Teno Mountains, Teide and even down towards the south-west coast. 

Views from the summit

The surrounding countryside was a fascinating mix of cinder cones, frozen seas of lava and pine trees, all set to a backdrop of the Teno mountains and nearby islands of La Gomera and La Palma. I stood for some time on the summit absorbing this amazing scene while to my right lay the harsh volcanic hollow of the volcano's crater. Descending, I crossed the road and followed a forest path downhill towards Montana Chinyero, although today, this very familiar cinder-cone volcano was not my objective as I was heading for Montana del Cascajo, another volcanic cone, which lies at a higher altitude. 

Montana del Cascajo

Montana Chinyero erupted in May 1909 and for ten days spewed lava into the surrounding countryside. The lava flowed down into the Santiago valley and threatened the village of Santiago del Teide and neighbouring villages before coming to a halt without causing any damage. 


Views from the summit of Montana del Cascajo

Having reached the start of the path to the summit of Montana del Cascajo , I began the climb to the top, which was quite difficult as the path was almost vertical and the surface was comprised of very deep volcanic soil, which made progress very slow. Once on the top, I skirted around the cone to the highest point where I enjoyed more excellent views over the volcanic terrain and also to Santiago del Teide. 

Volcanic Landscape around Montana del Cascajo


Path through the forest

Montana Chinyero

 Having descended, I followed the easy track through the forest for a while until it became more indistinct before disappearing altogether in an area strewn with yellow birds foot trefoil flowers. Picking my way through this was slow and difficult as I climbed steadily uphill. Crossing a volcanic ridge, I was suddenly confronted by a very rough, frozen sea of Aa lava. 


Malpais

Areas of land such as this in the Canaries are usually called 'malpais' and the literal translation 'badlands' was certainly appropriate in this instance. Fortunately, there was a path, albeit fairly rough and rocky, skirting around the edge of the lava and I picked my way very carefully along this as it headed uphill. Soon, I arrived at a waymarked 'sendero' onto which I turned right and followed it very easily downhill back to Montana Samara and my car.


Teide & Pico Viejo