Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Walking from Tenerife's National Park to it's highest village

Yesterday, I caught the once a day bus to the Las Cañadas National Park to the start of a walk from the Parador to Vilaflor, the island's highest village. The route involved a climb to the Ucanca Pass and then onto the summit of Montaña Guajara, from where I planned to descend on the GR131 to the Lunar Landscape and eventually onto Vilaflor to catch the return bus. It meant I had to keep up a good pace as I only had 5.75 hours to get back to Vilaflor to catch the bus.

The Parador with Tenerife's 2nd highest peak, Pico Viejo, in the background

Leaving the Parador, I headed towards Montaña Guajara, Tenerife's fourth highest peak at just under 9,000ft. .

After forty minutes of walking, I was on the summit of the pass, where I stopped briefly for a snack and to enjoy the stunning views of the National Park and the Parador below, now reduced to the size of a dolls house.

From the pass, the route tracked diagonally below cliffs towards the summit, although from here, the path was not immediately obvious. 

The climb involved some minor scrambling over boulders with sheer drops hundreds of feet to the caldera floor below.

After one hour thirty minutes of walking, I reached the summit of Montaña Guajara, where I stopped for a short break to enjoy the views of Teide and the National Park.

Gran Canaria apparently floating in the sky from the summit

The Ucanca Valley from the summit

The east coast and Gran Canaria from the GR131

The Barranco de Las Arenas from the GR131

Descending from the summit, I joined the European GR131 route and began descending towards Montaña Arena, a black sand volcanic cone below Montaña Guajara. Here, the path becomes a boulder-lined route across this surreal black 'beach'

Descending swiftly, I joined the path to the Lunar Landscape, a valley of wind and rain eroded pumice pinnacles.

After a steep descent, the outlying houses of Vilaflor, the highest village in Tenerife, came into view.

After just under five hours of walking and jogging, I arrived in the centre of the village and one of the most welcome views on the whole walk! 

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Walking Tenerife's Royal Roads

Ruins of San Jose Chapel
Before the arrival of the TF1 motorway and the TF28, the old high level road it replaced, travel across Tenerife was along the caminos reales, or royal ways. These old trade routes linked towns and villages across the island and many of them are still in existence today. Lately, tourist authorities on Tenerife appear to have realised that attracting walkers to the island is good for tourism and a comprehensive programme of path restoration and signposting has been undertaken in the last few years. One of the problems I have found however, much as I welcome this initiative, is that the authorities seem a little shy in promoting their work. It is often difficult to find any literature at all relating to the new network of paths and when I have found any, it is usually so poor that it is of limited use.

Today, I decided to walk a section of the southern camino real that extends from El Escobonal to Fasnia and passes through the Barranco De Herques, using directions taken from a website of footpaths in the area. I had printed off a short walk that utilises part of this five kilometre path between the villages with the intention of exploring the barranco.

The walk directions advise parking on or around the TF28 road bridge across the barranco, and although there are spaces on the bridge where it would be possible to leave a car, I felt uncomfortable with this idea so drove to La Escobonal where I located a camino real signpost. Parking nearby, I set off downhill on a narrow metalled lane following the green and white signposts and paint markings. The scenery in the Agache region is not the most picturesque, being a very arid, desert-like area but I was hoping that I would find something of interest to compensate for the lack of scenic splendour and I have to say that with the help of the superb waymarks and information boards, the walk proved to be a delight.

Initially, I descended on narrow, tarmac lanes and dirt tracks to the Casa Del Cura, an old 17th century house and birthplace of José Castro, founder of the San Joaquin church in Fasnía. From here, I followed more signposts to the wonderfully preserved ruins of the San José chapel, which has the partial remains of walls on three sides and a simple wooden altar and benches on a wooden floor. Mass is held here on the last Sunday of every month in spring and summer.

 Behind the altar, on one of the remaining wall sections, is a crude wooden cross and the whole 'building' is reached by steps leading up from the narrow camino real. The chapel, which is located in a lofty location with the sea forming an impressive backdrop, was destroyed by a storm in the Agache region in 1927 and a new church built in the higher part of El Escobonal
Montaña Beñamo
Close by is Montaña Béñamo, a sacred Guanche site where once existed a tagoror, or circle of stones on the peak, where the community leaders held meetings. The hill was also reputed to have had trees growing on the summit which were cut down and used in the building of the original chapel. From here, I followed a track passing terracing to arrive at the Barranco De Herques, an impressive example dividing the municipalities of Güimar and Fasnía.

Barranco de Herques

In 1770, naturalist José de Viera y Clavijo discovered a high ceilinged cave in the barranco and wrote that it was 'full of mummies, counting no less than one thousand'. The location of the cave appears to have since been lost in time once again, despite subsequent numerous attempts to re-locate it.

Path into the barranco

Descending steeply into the barranco, I reached the streambed and admired caves in the walls that now towered over me before climbing out and passing a small reservoir and an information board detailing past struggles to irrigate this arid region before the gallerias were drilled in the 1930's. 

Caves in the barranco
Reaching a rural road I followed it back up to the TF28, which I followed across the Barranco de Herques once again, before eventually arriving back in El Escobonal.

The camino real had been very easy to follow because of the excellent signposting and the information boards had made it an interesting walk but until I started investigating the purpose of the signposts, which I had seen from the TF28 while driving by, I had no idea of the walks existence. Surely, if money is going to be spent marking these walks and putting up information boards along the routes, it would make sense to produce proper guidebooks in various languages to promote them to walkers.
Bridge on the TF28 over the barranco
Once back in El Escobonal, the directions I had obtained from the internet advised me to pay a visit to the Archaeological and Ethnographic museum in San Jose plaza. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was closed for 'reformas' and I had to chuckle quietly to myself as the completion dates for these 'improvements' was February 2011! It seems that the somewhat haphazard approach to promoting tourism on the island extends beyond walking.