I wonder where else in the world you could spend a New Year’s Day in a bikini top and shorts, lying on a blanket, after stuffing yourself with barbeque, and the next year spend the same day in a parka, wrapping your fingers around a hot chocolate to keep warm, after having a snowball fight with the kids a bit higher up the mountain? Welcome to, as I keep saying, the diversity that is Tenerife.
The specific place in question was a barbeque area called Las Lajas, which is a click above Vilaflor. Now, when I tell you that Vilaflor is the highest village in Spain it might clarify things. Were we further North, then Vilaflor would spend the Winter under snow, but in the subtropics, well, let’s just say, it can vary, but, of course it doesn’t have to be Winter! In fact, people don’t tend to go there in winter. Last time I was there was mid-March, and there were only a couple of groups barbequing. It was a pleasant day, it had been warm on the coast, but when we arrived at Las Lajas we’d donned sweaters or light jackets, nothing heavy. During the time we were there mist rolled in from time to time, hiding the surrounding hills from view, and playing amongst the trees.
Las Lajas is set on the edge of the forest, just as the trees begin to thin out, and the road climbs up to the stark landscape of the caldera. The most frequent similarity I’ve heard when taking visiting friends up there is that it’s like Canada. That’s a comparison I have yet to draw – Canada being high on my list of places still to visit, well, other than a day spent at Niagra Falls! The forests on this side of the island are dominated by the Canarian pine (Pinus canariensis), but in the North, where it is more humid, you will find eucalyptus and laurel. To be honest, given the reason you’re going this day, i.e. to barbeque, you’re not likely to see an awful lot in the way of exotic fauna, but if it is quiet enough, and if you listen and keep your eyes open, then probably you’ll spot some woodpeckers flitting about the trees.
This particular area, and 18 others, were created by the Environmental Ministry of the Canarian Government. You will find a map, showing where they are all sited here:
I still haven’t visited them all, even after all these years. For residents of, or visitors to, the South of the island, Las Lajas or Chio are the nearest. Everyone I’ve visited has running water, barbeques, and natural, wooden tables and benches. After that, facilities vary. In Las Lajas in high season, for instance, there is a bar/café. It used to open in Winter too, serving delicious lumumbas on a chilly day. Lumumbas are a marvellous concoction of hot chocolate liberally laced with rum, so not to be indulged in if you are designated driver, I’m afraid! You can click on the map in the link to find out if you want to know more about the sites and the facilities at each one.
The barbeques are attractive, built from volcanic stone, they blend into the landscape perfectly, and are large, so if you are a big group, no worries, you’ll all be able to sit down together to share the feast. In Las Lajas they are dotted around the area, back-to-back, so that when you are cooking, you’re facing the “chef” of another group opposite to you. In this one, below, in the Mercedes Mountains they are sited in a long line.
The terrain is different here, less flat space to dot them around. Whichever setup you find, there is no doubt that you will be exchanging cooking tips and a beer with your neighbor.
In Summer, to be sure of securing the table and the space you need for your group, get there by midday at the latest and stake your claim, by mid-afternoon people will be queuing for the barbeques, but always with good humor, when someone sees that yours is free, they will ask if they can use it now, and if they don’t have a table, they will picnic close by. Select your table with care, remember the position of the sun will change, and whilst you don’t want to be eating with the sun baking the back of your neck, neither do you want to be in too much shade, where it can get surprisingly chilly, even on a sunny day, except in high summer.
Get as big a group together as you can, and if there are any musicians amongst your friends, and they play a portable instrument, persuade them to take it. One guitarist can set the scene for everyone. People take radios and stereos, and no-one seems to object to the noise. Leisure and social activities in the Canary Islands generally are noisy affairs, whatever you’re doing or wherever you are. The only time tranquillity descends is during the hours of siesta. It goes without saying, too – take the dog. It will love the food and the freedom to root about the forest, if you are on vacation, borrow one, so you won’t feel so much like a tourist!
In Summer the fire risk is high, and in an especially dry one, the areas will be closed and barbeques banned for the duration. To prevent willy nilly, and illegal, cutting and pruning of trees the forestry service cuts and stacks logs ready for you to use. Not a bad idea to take an axe, though, as sometimes the logs can be a bit unwieldy. For kindling you have tons of pine needles in the woods around you. Smoking is not recommended, by the way, because of the fire risk (not to mention the health risk, but that’s another story, eh?). If you must, please, please, please make sure you put them out properly or throw them onto the fire.
Things you need to remember: cooking utensils – the barbeques are large and wide, so a big pair of tongs/other utensils to reach across; if you don’t smoke don’t forget the matches or lighter to get it going; crockery and cutlery – you don’t have to be environmentally unfriendly or go to the expense of buying plastic versions, check that the place you choose has running water, most, if not all, do, so you can rinse off your plates and dishes before packing them up to take home; sun cream – the air is crystal clear and the sun can be fierce, just because you aren’t going specifically to sunbathe doesn’t mean you can’t burn; and our running joke for years used to be “who remembered the toothpicks?”
Other than that, the ideas are yours, anything that can be cooked on a barbeque at home, and more, can be cooked here. I’ve seen paellas, soups and stews bubbling away, as well as Western barbeque dishes, and your near neighbors will most certainly offer you a taste of whatever they are cooking, whether it’s spicy, local sausages or lomo, fish or sweet black puddings, so make sure you have enough to return the favour. For fun we used to take something English too, so that we could have our very own inter- cultural exchange. Cumberland sausages always go down a treat, and an Egyptian friend used to make kofta kebabs on the spot, mixing in all the spices at the table, and arousing much curiosity. It goes without saying that anything cooked and eaten outdoors tastes SO much better than stuck under the grill at home!
After eating what to do next is a hard decision (note the smile). You can simply spread out a blanket under a tree and read or snooze, or you can spread it in the sun, at the right time of year, and snooze and toast. If you have small children, choose a site which has a playground, with slides and swings made from natural wood. If the kids are a bit older then there are pitches on some sites, where you can organize a game of football, cricket, baseball, or whatever….you can challenge another group, or take enough people to make up a game! There are walks through the surrounding woodland on all the sites I think, so that’s always a pleasant alternative, especially if you’ve taken the dog and/or the camera.
Mental snapshots from the years include a huge family group, carrying a frail granny, or probably great-granny, to sit under the shade of a tree, where she smilingly watched the family cooking, playing and interacting, and each of them taking time to spend with her; groups of old timers playing cards and other games, as they swig local wine from flasks; some best memories of my kids’ childhoods, exciting games of “A Team”, hiding behind trees and hillocks and lobbing “grenades” (pine cones) at the approaching enemy; and one of the best school sports’ days ever, when the boys were little, was held at Las Lajas. I think I have somewhere a picture of me wobbling to first base in a game of rounders…happily before digital days, so you won’t be seeing it here!
End of the day, the rule is leave behind only footprints and take with you only memories, although I’m reasonably sure it’s ok to take a few pine cones to use as weather indicators or to jazz up for your Thanksgiving or Christmas table centrepiece. For sure everyone does it. There are ample rubbish bins, so there is no excuse for leaving behind trash, and it is amazing how people do respect that. I’ve often been amongst the last to leave a place, and no garbage in sight at all. Whilst I’ve seen recycling bins in the National Park in places, so far I haven’t spotted any in these recreation areas, but how difficult is it to bag it and pop it in the bins when you get back?
Don’t drink and drive, of course, the road down is winding, it might be misty (I’ve driven on these roads when you couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead, and the mist can close in in the time it takes to snap your fingers), and if you have a carful you have precious cargo. Wait for the well-earned sundowner when you get back to the coast.
As well as these wonderfully organized places run by the Environmental Agency many local municipalities have their own versions, which are in regular use year round, and often the scene of children’s birthday parties. Off the top of my head, within a bit over a half hour at most from where I sit in El Médano, I could find one in San Miguel de Abona, in Granadilla, in La Camella, in Santiago del Teide, and I am sure there are more.
Where you won’t find them is in tourist resorts, and you will rarely hear anything other than Spanish spoken when you do venture up to one. Thankfully, so far, they remain a very local experience, which makes it all the nicer – so please be careful with whom you share this information ;=)
This post was part of a series, here are the others: