Thursday, 12 February 2009

Walking on Tenerife – the benefits of having a ‘Leatherman’

I always carry a Leatherman with me when I’m out. I don’t mean just out walking on Tenerife, I mean at all times; you never know when they’re going to come in handy. They’re like the Swiss Army Knife’s meaner big brother. As Billy Conolly says, you never know when you’re going to have to get a stone out of a horse’s hoof.

Even though it’s winter here and the temperatures are in the low 20s, making it an ideal time for walking, when there’s not a cloud in the sky, it can feel a hell of a lot hotter and you get through water supplies at a disturbing rate.

We always work out where we can fill up with water when we’re out walking, so we knew that as we glugged down the last of the drops in the bottle, there was a communal fountain in the village we were approaching. Normally there’s a queue of locals filling up 8 litre bottles, but as luck would have it there was no-one, so we were able to go straight to the fountain and replenish our supplies with some very welcome sweet spring water…in theory.

In reality, the fountain’s tap didn’t have a handle. I tried to turn it with my fingers, but it wouldn’t budge; I clearly haven't been eating enough porridge or, as this is Tenerife, gofio. Now you’re probably thinking at this point that I thought of the Leatherman in my bag…wrong. We’d just hiked 20 kilometres plus under an unforgiving sun and my mind wasn’t functioning as it should have been; I completely forgot about the multi-tool in my bag which by this point was probably screaming ‘use me, you idiot’.

Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers. An elderly Canarian man eased himself off the wall where he’d been sitting in the sunshine watching my puny efforts and sauntered across to us just as a car pulled up. He said something to the driver, who handed him a pair of pliers. Problem solved.
“Muchas gracias,” I gasped as he opened the faucet and the life giving liquid poured into the bottle. “Tenemos mucho sed.”

Whether I would have remembered the Leatherman before we expired from thirst we’ll never know, but the important point is this; it’s always useful to have a Leatherman, or something similar to hand when out and about the countryside, there’s not always a benevolent local at hand to help out.

Naked Rambling on Tenerife

I recently read a BBC report about the Swiss passing a law banning naked hiking. Apparently certain areas of Switzerland were inundated with hikers who liked to explore the countryside ‘au natural’. Personally I don’t have a problem with naked hikers. I mean the sight of people wearing hiking boots, thick socks, a rucksack and nothing else is just too good a photo opportunity to miss.

However, we weren’t expecting to almost literally bump into any of them when trudging along a goat path in the Valle de Santiago the other day. There are scores of paths across the valley and the signposting, when it makes a rare appearance, is simply not to be trusted (one of the reasons we’ve started producing walking guides). We knew that we were nearing a crucial point where a barely discernable path left the main track, but couldn’t remember exactly where. I was pretty sure it was at the end of the dry stone wall that ran parallel to us and sure enough as we reached the end of the wall, a faint track led to the right. We turned up it intending to check it out to make sure it was the right path and almost fell over a young naked couple sitting exactly where the path should be. When they saw us they grabbed for a couple of sarongs that were lying next to them and hastily tried to cover their ‘bits’.

What we really should have done at that point was ignore them (easier said than done) and have a good look around to see if it was the path we wanted. Being British, what we actually did was look quickly away (something on the horizon in the opposite direction became incredibly interesting), behave as though we hadn’t seen them and then continue walking on the path we’d originally been on.

It turned out that they had been blocking the path we’d wanted, but on the plus side we discovered another path which knocked 40 minutes off what had been a very rewarding, but also very long walk.

But here’s a tip: if you want to get your kit off in the countryside, but don’t want to become the main attraction, don’t sit smack bang in the middle of a relatively well used path.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an accompanying photo for this particular blog.

Good News at the Erjos pools

The last time I passed the Erjos pools was just before Christmas, the sight of them confirmed my worst fears about the consequences of the serious fires which devastated the area in 2007; all of them were completely dry.

They always dried up in summer, but to see them like this in winter, especially when there had been plenty of rain throughout November and December, was tragic.

So it came as a complete surprise on Tuesday when we left the car at the Fleytas Bar, crossed the road and descended the dirt track to find that nearly all the pools were full of water and the frogs were making a right old racket.

I realise that this doesn’t mean that the pools are out of the proverbial woods yet, but maybe, just maybe means that there is some hope for their survival.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Sole-full Tenerife Walks

You should have brought the small notebook” said Jack in that annoying wisdom-with-the-benefit-of-hindsight way.
I deliberately brought this one, I prefer it” I lied, trying to squeeze the A5 sized book into a pocket 3mm smaller than A5 size as spits of rain tried to run away with the ink from my words.

When, 20 or so minutes later, the exertion of walking worked up a sweat, the waterproof became too much and I stripped down to my fleece. Now there was nowhere to put the notebook.
I told you you should have brought the smaller one” said Jack.
It’s not a problem” I said smugly, tucking the book into the waistband of my trousers and under my fleece so that it was both safe and dry.

The path that skirted the barranco was churned up into a slimy quagmire which sucked our boots into its deep, squelchy grasp and held them tight. Mounds of droppings betrayed the party responsible for this mess; goats, and lots of them.
As I struggled to pull each foot from the mire without falling over, the heavens suddenly opened and in that moment there was a splat as the notebook slipped from my waistband and plopped, writing side down, into the mud and the rain.
I swear, if he says one word…

We hadn’t been on a decent Tenerife walk for months. Deadlines, visitors, the impending festive season and an annoyingly debilitating bout of flu had all taken their toll on our walking quotient. So we decided last week that it was high time for some soul replenishing contact with Tenerife’s abundant walking trails and there’s nowhere quite so spectacular as the Anaga Mountains for reminding the hiking boots what they were made for.

Wednesday dawned a bit overcast but with plenty of blue patches emerging and a quick check of the web-cams showed some promising cloud breaks over the Anagas so we made up the butties, packed the waterproofs and headed off.

It’s not unusual for Cruz Del Carmen to be in cloud. At this height (920 metres above sea level) the sea of clouds are a frequent visitor and the life force of the Monteverde or laurisilva forests of Mercedes which are some of the few remaining on the planet following the Ice Age. But you can’t help but smile at a ‘mirador’ (viewpoint) where it’s sometimes difficult to see your hand in front of your face. And with the cloud comes low temperatures; the moment I got out of the car I was wondering how the Ice Age hadn’t actually made it this far.

Unfazed, I put on my waterproof jacket for the extra warmth and we set off into the forest. It had poured with rain over the weekend and the red earth was churned up nicely and sticking so that our boots got heavier with every step. But it was fantastic to be out in the dense, ancient forest listening to the silence and breathing the musty, earthy air rich with the smell of fern spores and wet lichen.

We descended through the forest and emerged, as so often happens, beneath the clouds to a much brighter day. Looking across to the Barranco de Batán, the rain was evaporating into thin wisps of cloud which rose from the forest like the spirits of those recently departed, creating a landscape that could just as easily be the Amazon rain forest as northern Tenerife.

By the time we reached the troglodyte village of Chinamada where the thirty or so residents live in houses cut into the rocks, just as their ancestors did 500 years ago, the sun had broken through the clouds. It graced our picnic lunch with its presence and walked with us all the way to Las Carboneras before once again disappearing behind the clouds as we made the ascent back to Cruz Del Carmen and a well deserved Dorada at the bar/restaurant.
The next day our legs ached with the satisfaction of physical exertion and our heads were clearer than they’d been for weeks. Tenerife is such a fantastic island for hiking; it’s nothing short of a sin not to traverse its incredibly varied terrain on at least a monthly basis.

Now if I can just prize the pages of my notebook apart and decipher the mud script, I’ll be able to share the delights of this particular beautiful Tenerife walk with other hikers.