Hiking under the Volcano
You know a trip is going to start well when you are met at the airport by a man called Ruben, who greets you with an appreciative, “Encantado (enchanted to meet you)”, kisses your hand and later offers you a slice of pizza. I had just arrived in Tenerife for a week of hiking with Whereabouts Holidays. I am their Ambassador and they wanted me to try our their Walking Paradise Tenerife trip. As it turned out, I was glad I politely declined Ruben’s kind offer of pizza because the road from the airport to Garachico was a dizzying spin of las culvas – my first new Spanish word – hairpin bends. I was also very glad I didn’t have to use my next new Spanish words, “Para el auto! Voy a vomitar!!” (stop the car, I am going to be sick) although it was a close-run thing.
Walking Paradise Tenerife is a week-long, self-guided hiking trip through the mountains of Tenerife. Your bags get transferred for you every day to the hotel you are in that night, and at the beginning of the trip you get a booklet with all the maps and directions for the route for that day. You can also ask for the GPS information and download it. What I like about this kind of trip is that you are completely free to walk at your own pace, go longer or shorter, start and finish when you want, but someone else has done all the hard work of researching routes and decent places to stay.
The first few hours of the first day set the tone. Up, up, up, up on a clearly-marked path through rocky, wooded terrain, looking out on to a dazzling blue sea. The weather was ideal; clear, sunny and warm but not hot enough to get badly burnt. Hot enough to get very sweaty, though, and I smelt gratifyingly goat-like by the time I got in every evening – always the sign of a proper day’s walking.
Every day was different and the landscape was interestingly varied. That first day, I walked up the side of the mountain with the sea down below and the bays of the island unfolding before me the higher I got. On the second day, I started in a lush banana plantation before a really steep uphill into the laurel forests, then through and out with clear views to the volcano, Mount Teide ahead of me.
It was very tantalising being within sight of the volcano, which was always sheathed in mist at the top. I kept fantasising that it was steam and that the volcano was stirring into life. The Daily Express actually ran a headline a couple of weeks ago, Mount Teide will have a MEGA eruption and talked of a “swarm of tremors hitting the island.” But while I was there it all seemed pretty calm. On the trail, I met a Spanish guy who was walking up it the next day. He told me that it was a two-day job, with a refuge at 3260m where you can set off for the last 500 metres of the climb – the top is at 3718m. Apparently you need a permit if you are going to be up there after 9am and you have to get that a couple of months in advance as they book out. He was setting off at 5am to get there for sunrise and be down again before the cut off. Good plan! And another one for a lengthening bucket list.
The third day of hiking offered the best views. The middle section was on a high ridge looking down to the sea and then ahead to the mountain range. The earth changed from red to green to black within a few paces and the hillsides were dotted with architectural cacti silhouetted against the sky. Watching the mist roll in from the sea and cover the path behind me in seconds was a stark reminder of how careful you need to be in the mountains, any mountains, where things can change so quickly. This whole day (Circular walk Teno – Mountain Range) is right up there amongst my favourite single day walks. It also offered me one of those totally random experiences. I had got to the highest point of the day, and had climbed about 990m, so it was time for a sit down and my butty, made up surreptitiously at breakfast that morning. I was munching away and looking out over the cliffs to the sea, when suddenly a big, ginger cat wandered past and sat down in front of me, also admiring the view. We were miles from the nearest habitation, in fact I hadn’t seen another person for at least two hours, so what on earth was it doing there? After a companionable 10 minutes together, it got up, stretched and headed down the mountain.
There was only one day where we even brushed with “tourist” Tenerife, which seems to be restricted mainly to the beach. It was after a morning’s hike through the Masca Gorge, which was quite a laugh as you had to scramble up and over boulders, at the end of which we got to take a boat ride to the resort we were staying at. An eat-all-you-can buffet is certainly an enticement and my room was right over the sea, so I could hear the waves all night but I definitely preferred the wild, lonely places.
My favourite day was the penultimate one. After the inevitable steep start it was undulating through the forest with a thick carpet of pine needles and I was feeling in fine fettle so took to my heels and ran like the wind, well like a stiff breeze. I was wearing Meindl walking shoes, but they are actually really nice to run in for a few miles, and I had my MDS backpack on. I did look a bit like a loony, tearing through the trees, but that trail was just irresistible.
I will definitely be back to The Canaries. I feel like people have been keeping them a secret from me. When I posted on Facebook, everyone was, “Yes, great place. We love it there.” But no-one had ever told me before. Whereabouts had planned the holiday really well: easy directions, perfect amount of kms and up (14km 900m up average) to make you work without killing you, and well thought-out routes that showed you a big variety of country in a relatively short space of time. I think that Volcano is calling me….
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