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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tenerife's Split Personality

I was recently reminded on two walks in the Anaga Mountains in the north of the island of the extremely diverse nature of the islands scenery and climate. The mountains form a long, irregular ridge of steep, heavily wooded & sharply pinnacled mountains rising to a little over 3,000ft. The woods comprise of some of the only surviving laurel forests in Europe and provide a contrast to the usual Canary pine trees found in the rest of the island. The rich soil is a another contrast with the south of the island and local people working in the fields growing potatoes and other crops is a common sight. On these walks, I led two groups of walkers along the same route within the space of a week and the two trips could not have been more different. The objective of both walks was the troglodyte village of Chinamada, which is a tiny hamlet of houses built directly into the rocky hillsides. These cave houses were common at one time in the Canaries as they remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so suit the more variable temperatures of the mountainous regions. The route took us through the laurel forests and along paths giving us spectacular views into the nearby valleys and down to the northern coast at Punta del Hidalgo. On the first of these trips, we walked in beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine with views across the Barranco de Tomadero to the tiny village of El Batan, clinging to the steep-sided valley. In the background, just visible through the haze, the towering peak of Teide watched over us as we admired the bellflowers and lillies adorning the paths and terraces along the way. In Chinamada, the quaint old cave houses (photo) set into the rocky hillsides looked a little like a scene fron the hobbit village in Lord of the Rings. Leaving the village, we followed a path out to the spectacular viewpoint of Mirador de Aguaide with it's dizzying views down to the sea almost 2,000ft below and watched walkers toiling up the steep path from the coast on their way to the village. The second trip, just one week later, showed the darker side of the islands personality as we set off from the Cruz del Carmen carpark in heavy rain, blustery wind and fog. Descending into the laurel forest, we encountered paths running with water and strewn with fallen trees and rocks, which we carefully picked our way around. Descending into a steep ravine, we crossed a fast flowing stream below a waterfall. Normally, this ravine is dry so it was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to hear the sound of water rushing down through the woods to the sea. Crossing the stream, we descended to Chinamada and were grateful as the weather slowly improved and the skies cleared. One of the things that made these walks special for me, even though I have walked the route a number of times, was the reaction to the Anaga scenery from both groups of walkers, which is completely different from any they had witnessed on previous visits to the island. They all found it difficult to believe that they were only an hour or so away from the south coast resorts. Another big difference noted by all was the abundant flora along the walk. Besides the obvious difference in the laurel trees, they were surprised by the varied amount of plant species never seen in the south.
On both walks, we sat in the square by the little church in Chinamada for a break and a rest before passing through the attractive mountain village of Las Carboneras on the long climb back to the car-park at Cruz del Carmen. At the end of both walks, it was very satisfying for me to listen to the appreciative comments as we drove back from the lush greenery to the more desert-like scenery of the south. Tenerife had proved, to these walkers at least, that it is definitely an island with a split personality.