Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Windows of Guimar

The Mountains of the Guimar Valley
I have just returned from one of the most scenically awe-inspiring walks I have ever walked on the island and this despite the fact that a lot of the route is underground. I set off from a single track rural lane not far from the abandoned hotel on the Mirador de Don Martin , above the Ladera de Guimar.

The path alongside the channel near the beginning of the walk
After a fairly stiff climb of around 300mtrs/1,000ft, I left a track to follow an old abandoned water channel clinging precariously to the vertical cliff-face of the Ladera de Guimar. This old water channel is followed by walking occasionally on the top of it or by following the extremely narrow path alongside. Initially, the way was reasonably easy although those of a nervous disposition might disagree, as all that separated the walker from a drop of hundreds of feet to the valley floor below was a narrow earth path just a few inches wide.

Sheer drop into the valley below
After a short distance along the path, the water channel disappears into the first of a number of tunnels. The objective for the day was the Ventanas de Guimar (Windows of Guimar), which are basically holes in the walls of the tunnels giving dizzying views from the cliff-face into the valley below. 

The excavator near the first tunnel
Amazingly, the first obstacle to negotiate was an excavator laying upside down at the entrance to the tunnel, which fell from above in an accident in 2005. At this point, I met two Spanish women who appeared reluctant to enter the tunnel, so I entered alone and crouching low, headed into the gloomy tunnel following the path alongside the water channel.

The first tunnel
My headtorch lit the way but didn't cast much light outside of the main beam and I had to take care not to bang my head on the low, rough rock ceiling. Emerging from the tunnel, I was greeted by a spectacular view of the cliffs and dizzying drops into the valley below.

Inside the tunnel
The mountains of the Guimar Valley, along with the pine forest formed a beautiful backdrop and as I carried on, I could see a group of Spanish walkers ahead. As I stood with the camera working overtime, the two Spanish women caught up with me and we had a 'conversation' of sorts as I tried out my basic Spanish and they tried out their even more basic English. 

The Windows of Guimar
After introducing themselves as Mercedes and Eva, we plunged into the gloom of the next tunnel, taking care not to bang our heads on the roof and at the same time making sure we didn't trip over any rocks on the floor of the tunnel.  At times, the roof was so low I was crouching and leaning over to my left, which made for very uncomfortable walking.

The Windows of Guimar
There now followed a series of tunnels and I temporarily lost Mercedes and Eva as I stopped to take more photographs and they carried on walking, passing the Spanish group ahead. Soon, we came to the first of the 'windows', a large hole in the tunnel wall giving vertiginous views to the valley floor. After more, mostly enclosed tunnels, we now arrived at a valley where the underground gloom was relieved by numerous 'windows' making the tunnels lighter and more pleasant to walk in. It is from this section that the walk gets  it's name .

The Windows of Guimar
From across the valley, I could see a series of windows in the cliff-face of the far valley wall and the figures of walkers standing in them taking photographs and enjoying the spectacular views into the Guimar Valley hundreds of feet below. Emerging from another tunnel, I heard Eva calling and waving to me from across the valley and I passed the Spanish walking group to catch up with her and Mercedes, who seemed to have 'adopted' me as I think they could sense my unease of the tunnels, which are not high on my list of favourite places.

The view through one of the windows
Eventually, we sat at one of the windows and they generously offered me a bocadillo and we sat eating and enjoying the view. We then had a humorous 'conversation' with me trying my Spanish and they practising their English. I discovered that they were quite adventurous walkers from La Laguna and had done the classic walks such as Teide and Masca, among many others. After lunch, we did two more tunnels before it was time to part company. They were heading on down into the Guimar Valley with the other group of walkers, while I had to return the way I had come back to my car.

Keep Right!
Going back on my own through the tunnels was easier having already done them once and I didn't find them so daunting, although I did miss the chatter and laughter of Eva and Mercedes. In all, I counted ten tunnels on the return journey, one of which took around seven or eight minutes to pass through. Soon, I was back at the excavator and slightly relieved that I had now left the tunnels behind and I descended steeply to my car, reflecting on a walk that had been both awe-inspiring and uncomfortable at the same time.    

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Walking in the Barranco de la Mula & Barranco de Las Monjas

The 'Shark-Fin' of the bridge on the TF1
Yesterday, I started a walk in the south-east of the island from a car-park next to a Mercadona warehouse by the side of the TF1 motorway. This may not sound like the best area for a walk but although the terrain I walked through was desert-like and fairly barren, I really enjoyed what proved to be a fascinating route.


Entering the Barranco near the start of the Walk
I set off by crossing the TF1 over a motorway bridge that looks a lot like a shark-fin before heading into the Barranco de La Mula.
View towards Teide
As I left the motorway behind, silence descended and I was soon enjoying the stark volcanic pumice landscape, softened by balo bushes, tabaiba and cardon spurges. The walk initially followed a track into the barranco and I had good views to the summit cone of Teide, protruding just above the high mountains surrounding the National Park.
View from  Natura Park
As the track began to diminish, a number of low buildings appeared on the ridge on the left of the barranco and I climbed up to find an abandoned holiday village project called 'Natura Park'. The abandoned 'holiday villas' with unusually shaped windows stood looking forlorn around a large hole in the ground that was obviously intended to be a swimming pool.
Natura Park
The buildings were made from the same white, volcanic pumice of the surrounding landscape and as with all abandoned buildings, I found the atmosphere rather a melancholy one. Descending back into the barranco, I continued as the way now became a narrow path before disappearing altogether and I walked in the stream-bed until the path re-appeared further along the ravine.
Circular 'window' in the pumice cliffs

The path throughout the rest of the walk followed this pattern of changing from being a well defined route through the shrubs and spurges to converging with the stream-bed. Often on walks on the island I am confronted by many 'wow' moments and I didn't expect to be too impressed by the terrain on this walk.

Path through the spurges

However, although the walk passed through a very dry and barren, desert-like landscape, I found that the unique nature of my surroundings made this walk as interesting as any I had done recently.  At one point, I spotted a kestrel hovering just above a circular 'window' eroded into the pumice cliffs but by the time I had retrieved my camera, it had gone.
Stream-bed in the Barranco de La Monjas
After a while, I began to wonder if I had missed the way out of the barranco leading into the Barranco de Las Monjas but as the path was still well defined I continued through the spurges until eventually, I spotted another path ascending from the barranco to my left and follow it up to a track on the top of the barranco wall. From here, I had a good view down into the Barranco de Las Monjas and was surprised to see an isolated finca on the far wall of the ravine. I sat for a while for a break enjoying the sunshine before descending the narrow path to the stream-bed.
Pumice 'Statue'
Here, as in the Barranco de la Mula, the path was intermittent but where I lost the path, it soon re-appeared on the bank of the stream-bed and the going was quite easy apart from this. After walking along the stream-bed for some distance, the path now ascended a gentle incline up the barranco wall, eventually passing a number of bizarrely eroded pumice 'statues', which gave the impression they had been deliberately carved .
Pumice 'Statue'
Eventually, the 'sharks-fin' of the bridge came into view in the distance signalling that I was nearing the end of the walk and I followed the stream-bed towards it before passing through a tunnel under the motorway and returning to the start point after what had proved to be an unusual and  interesting walk.