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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Discovering Tenerife's Secret Paths

One of my favourite pastimes when out walking is discovering new routes. Recently, I studied the 1:25,000 IGN map for the Adeje area to try and create a circular route above the Barranco del Infierno. This famous landmark in the south of the island is walked by thousands of tourists every year who follow the pathway to the waterfall at the head of the barranco and return by the same route. Lately, the authorities have restricted access to the walk, ostensibly to try and control erosion damage caused by the large numbers walking the route. While I can see some of the reason for the restrictions, it always makes me feel uneasy when routes such as this become 'pay as you walk' and I am glad that I walked the route before it became a paying attraction and too pedestrianised for my liking. Having said this, you can still walk the route for free on a Sunday. However, an excellent alternative to the crowded barranco are the many paths above, where you can roam at will to the numerous fantastic viewpoints looking down into it.
One of the problems with devising your own routes in Tenerife is that the maps, unlike UK Ordnance Survey maps, do not accurately record paths, so what appears on the map does not necessarily appear on the ground, and vice-versa. Checking mine, I noticed that there appeared to be paths allowing a circular route high above the barranco taking in all of the viewpoints along the way. After a number of false starts, I found the path on the map leading high up into the mountains before crossing the Barranco de la Fuente and circling round and back down towards the Barrranco del Infierno. As I skirted around the top, I succesfully found my way to the three stunning viewpoints, one on each side and one looking down the length of this impressive ravine, before returning to my start point. Although the latter section of the route followed a popular trail, I did not pass one other walker on the whole walk. I always get a special 'buzz' when I plan a route that starts as an idea on the map and then tranfers successfully to the ground. It is so much more satisfying than just following a route from a guidebook. The other bonus is that, because these paths do not appear in any guidebooks, you often have the place to yourself giving the walk a greater feeling of adventure.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Birthday Cake-walk

Last Thursday was my birthday. To celebrate this momentous event, I went to the Las Canadas National Park with my wife Ann for an easy stroll around the park in the shadow of the huge bulk of the volcano, Teide. Strolling from the Parador (state run hotel), we left the tourists behind and headed for the low, sandy coloured mound of Montana Majua, facing the cable-car station at the foot of the volcano. Thursday in Tenerife is a hunting day and as we wound our way through the harsh volcanic landscape, we spotted a number of hunters on top of a rocky ridge ahead. As we neared the ridge, we passed a pack of hunting dogs foraging in the shrubs and cacti looking for rabbits as the hunters looked on from above. Leaving the hunters to their search, we approached Montana Majua and climbed to the summit. From here we had a terrific 360 degree view of the huge volcanic crater we were walking through. The mountains on the southern wall of the crater created an impressive sight but the star of the show was Teide, filling the entire view to the north. We watched the cable-car taking another car-load of tourists to within a couple of hundred metres of the summit as we descended to a wide, dusty track below. We followed this back to the parador, passing the old sanitorium buildings nestled silently among the rocks as we headed for the ever-expanding view of Montana Guajara, Tenerife's fourth highest peak at around 9,000ft. Picking up the Siete Canadas trail at the base of the crater wall, we passed beneath this imposing mountain, admiring the rock formation of Piedras Amarillas as we completed the easy circuit back the the parador. The easy stroll through the stunning scenery of one of Spains most visited and unusual National Parks was a lovely way to spend three hours of my birthday. We finished the day off with a visit to one of our favourite restaurants in Los Cristianos.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Rain Forests and Ravines

Today I am recovering from yesterday's strenuous hike, which I did with Alan, a friend of mine. The walk was in the north-west of the island in the Teno mountains and involved conditions I have rarely experienced on the island, walking in pouring rain! The walk began on a cool ,overcast day from the tiny village of Erjos with a steep descent through the beautiful Barranco de Cuevas Negras (Black Cave Ravine). As we descended into this steep ravine, there were constant reminders that we were on the opposite side of the island, confirmed by the presence everywhere of lush, green vegetation. Laurel trees and ferns had replaced the the prickly pear and candelabra spurge so common in the south. As we left the last of the gardens of Erjos behind we descended rapidly with the green walls of the barranco towering over us, occasionally passing a solitary old house half-buried in the undergrowth. After passing an abandoned village, the barranco took on an even more dramatic appearance as the green gave way to formidible cliff and mountain scenery and the village of Los Silos put in an appearance far below towards the sea. As we reached the floor of the barranco, a few outlying buildings of Los Silos came into view as well as numerous banana plantations. Eventually, we reached a lane that led through the village and across the main road and into the main square. This proved to be a delight with an attractive kiosk in the centre and many locals sitting and chatting or drinking coffee at the kiosk cafe. On one of the benches an old man sat selling lottery tickets and playing a whistle. Unfortunately, he only seemed to know about five notes, which he repeated constantly. Besides the kiosk, there were a number of attractive buildings including a pretty church with a striking spire.
After a break in the square, we set-off back up the lane to start the return trek. As the first half of the walk had been all downhill, we were now faced with an uphill return journey that included 3,000ft of ascent. The path climbed steeply after leaving the village, above the Barranco de los Cochinos giving spectacular views into the barranco and back down to Los Silos. High above, we could see cloud on the summits and soon we were walking in light rain. As we climbed higher and closer to the cloud covered summits so the rain got steadily heavier. The surrounding scenery however was ample compensation for this minor inconvenience as the barranco scenery took on epic proportions, with green, tree clad peaks soaring into the sodden clouds. I remarked to Alan that it reminded me of a scene from a documentary on the Borneo rain forest! As we continued, the rain became very heavy and we finally admitted defeat and stopped to put on our anoraks. This was only the second or third time I had been forced to do this since moving to Tenerife in January, not bad when considering that I walk here regularly! Eventually, after a long, tiring climb through the forest, we reached a level forestry track and strolled back into Erjos and the car, six hours after setting off. We were tired and wet but happy to have spent the day in one of Tenerife's most spectacular corners.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Guimar Valley & The Candelaria Trail

I have long had a fascination with the Guimar Valley from a walkers viewpoint for a couple of reasons. One is that it doesn't feature very much in walking guidebooks, and two, because I always think it's one of the most spectacular sights on the island when viewed from the TF1. One walk that does feature in the guidebooks is the Candelaria Trail, an old pilgrims route from La Orotava to Candelaria, over the top of the island. Nowadays, because of building development, it is usually started from Aguamansa and finished in Arafo, which is where I decided to start the walk from. The plan was to climb to the cumbre road between La Esperanza and El Portillo at La Crucita and then turn round and walk back to Arafo. This involved about six hours of walking and around 5,000ft of ascent and descent. A tough sounding walk, which it was, but what a walk!Climbing out of Arafo was hard enough on the seemingly vertical tarmac lanes but after leaving the roads, the climbing just went on and on and on, seemingly never ending and very steep. After leaving the tarmac, the path snaked uphill through pine forest, past an old water channel. Eventually, the route broke free of the pines and the views were simply stupendous, along the coast to Guimar, Candelaria and Santa Cruz below but up ahead, the most amazing sight of a mountain boiling away like an old kettle, as cloud swirled around the summit in an otherwise blue sky. Upon reaching an old stone shelter, I came across a rather incongruous bath-tub sitting by a huge mound of spiky chestnut casings as the huge black sand mound of Las Arenas came into view ahead. I have to say that by this time I was really feeling the climb. The relentless steepness was taking it's toll and I was still around and hour and a half to the cumbre road. I was now totally enclosed by mountains and plodding at a very slow pace. My resolve nearly gave out when the path became much steeper and covered in loose red picon. Eventually, after much puffing and blowing, I reached the cumbre road and had a break for lunch with fantastic views of Teide.Setting off back downhill, I slithered back down the slippery path and as I neared Las Arenas mountain for the second time, I had the strange experience of being under clear blue, sunny skies with rain blowing into my back. Looking back, I could see that the cumbre was now invisible, covered in a grey blanket of cloud. I assumed that it must be raining high up and the strong winds on the top were blowing it downhill, into the valley. As I descended further, I realised that the rain was following me down the valley but I seemed to be staying just ahead of it in the sunshine. As I passed the the black cone of Las Arenas, I suddenly became aware of a rainbow in a shallow valley about 150 metres to my left. I could actually see where it touched the ground at both ends! As I rounded a bend in the track, one end of the rainbow was actually touching the track a few yards in front of me!I continued past the chestnut trees I had seen earlier to the stone shelter and the source of the empty shells became apparent as an old man sat in front of the shelter, removing the casings from them and adding to the enormous mound in front of him. I descended the last section back into Arafo fairly rapidly, observing another rainbow off in the distance as I went. I have to say that I have done some spectacular walking both here and in other locations but this walk was one of the most stunning but exhausting I have ever done. Photo album can be found on the right.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

New Routes

During the summer months, the weather can be a little hot for walking so I have not had many bookings in this period. The summer is when the sun-worshippers head for the island and moving from the beach or the pool usually involves the odd coach-trip to Teide or Masca, or for the particularly laid-back, the bar. I took the opportunity during this period of relative inactivity to explore more walking routes to add more choice to my website. I found a number of routes in the Ifonche and Vilaflor area including one that is virtually all downhill and ends at a spectacularly sited restaurant and another one that starts in the huge crater at the top of the island and finishes in Vilaflor, Spains highest village. Probably my favourite of all of the new routes is the one to Montana Negra (pictured) in the west of the island. This is a trip to the site of the eruption in 1706 that destroyed Garachico on the north-west coast and is an amazing black-sand desert with fantastic views of Teide and Pico Viejo. The black ash and sand contrasts sharply with the pine trees and other greenery and the whole area is an amazing sight. Certainly a route not to be missed by the keen walker. I have added photo albums of shots taken on each of the new walks.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Going Native in Tenerife

I have recently been asked to write a piece for a 'Native Spain' guide called 'Going Native in Tenerife' by Tenerife photographer/writer Jack Montgomery. He has asked me to write a short piece about walking and hiking on the island. I recently submitted a short account of a hike I recently undertook with a client who asked me to find him a 'walk that hurts'. I did not have anything strenuous enough for him in my programme of walks, so I took one that was mostly downhill and reversed it. This meant that we spent most of the walk climbing uphill up to an altitude of around 8,000ft. It was certainly a pretty tough walk and the client seemed to be satisfied at the end of the walk.

Jack made some very kind comments about my item and I hope that it will be published in the guide in the near future.

The Deserted Village of Las Fuentes

I have recently been exploring the area around Montana Tejina. This is a rounded hill on the side of the road heading west from Adeje towards Playa san Juan. Despite looking like a green hill from the road, at over 1,000mtrs high, it qualifies as a mountain. A friend had alerted me to the fact that hidden directly behind Mt. Tejina are the remains of the old village of Las Fuentes. Unable to resist the temptation to investigate, I set off from the village of Vera De Erques and climbed steeply into the hills on a route running roughly parallel with the Barranco de Erques. My intention was to climb to a height above that of Mt.Tejina and then circle around and down into the village. In the event, I climbed much higher than intended, above the cloudline in fact, before locating a route that led me back down the hills and through the cloud. As I emerged from the mist, I was faced by a fantastic view of Mt.Tejina and Las Fuentes below. Descending into the village, it appeared that most of the houses were long deserted, although one or two appeared to be in good condition. One even had a television aerial! Mostly though, the buildings were in a poor condition and a melancholy atmosphere prevailed. Some of the terracing appeared to be still in cultivation and I guessed that the cottages in good condition were perhaps used by whoever farmed them, possibly as holiday homes or weekend getaways. I found an old stone camino and followed it back to Vera de Erques .
A week later I returned along the camino from Vera de Erques to Las Fuentes. Passing an old wine press, I followed a signpost to the village of Acojeja across the impressively deep Barranco de Guaria, from where Mt. Tejina took on the more rocky aspect of a mountain. The path descended steeply into the village, passing another path into the village of El Jaral. Returning from Acojeja, I took a short walk into the Barranco del Pozo below El Jaral to check the route before returning steeply to Las Fuentes. One theory is that the village was built behind Mt. Tejina to conceal it from passing pirates but a more likely explanation for the location is probably to be found in the name, which literally means 'springs'. I returned along the old camino to Vera de Erques, planning to add this very interesting route to my website. A slideshow of the walk led by myself for a group of walkers on Sunday 20th October can be found on the right.