This time yesterday I was on the brink of a new island experience. Despite the length of time I’ve lived here now, there was one part of the island which was a mystery for me – The Mountains of Anaga.
I’d been there, but only by car, and only to the outskirts of the area. I knew it is considered to be the most beautiful part of the island. It was almost as if I was saving it up for a time when I needed the effect I thought it might have on me, and part of me is slightly disgusted that I’ve spent so long here and not walked these velvet hillsides. Maybe it was that, as long as I hadn’t been there, I still had something new to discover. Will I now think I’ve seen it all? Will the urge to move on snowball now, I wonder?
I’d actually set off to walk there a couple of weeks ago, but was defeated by the weather, and ended up walking somewhere so utterly different that I still can’t take in that these totally contrasting landscapes are contained within the same 786 sq miles of island.
That day had dawned balmy and brilliant in El Médano, and it wasn’t until La Laguna that it was obvious that the weather was going to make a walk unpleasant. There had been one of those steady drizzles which, over a time, saturate through your clothes to your skin. Yesterday dawned equally pleasantly in El Médano, but the local tv station carried reports of a village in the mountains which had been cut off my heavy rains, which had blocked the road into the village with debris, including rocks and trees, so I was hoping that Austin had Plan B again, in case it turned out to be the same. I arrived in La Laguna to find it bathed in the same sunshine I’d left in the south, and Austin explained that the village was on an exceptionally difficult part of road, which is often cut off, so we set off with great hopes.
I want to say that my soul soared with each kilometre we covered, but it sounds a bit over-poetic….heck, I’ll say it anyway – because that’s just how I felt, as we left behind the charismatic little city of La Laguna and familiar places like Las Mercedes and Tegueste and meandered upwards. We stopped briefly to drink in the beauty and the stretch of the valleys spread out before us – emerald-green agricultural terraces, country houses and bucolic peace. I was so captivated by this new vista that I entirely forgot to whip out my camera. I simply drank it all in.
Once you leave behind that rich, rustic landscape it’s a typical, mountain road. It weaves along the hillsides. It’s narrow, with passing places and sensational views, until you get into the forest, where the views are only to be glimpsed, between the trees, and the mists drift across the road, like emaciated phantoms.
Eventually, we parked in a layby, where a couple of other cars were also parked, so reminiscent of days hiking in the English Lake District. We checked our packs, it verged on chilly and was obviously going to be damp. Although it wasn’t raining we could see the brume hovering amongst the green. Here cold Atlantic breezes collide with the high mountains at the tip of the island, and turn to vapour, which drifts constantly amongst the foliage providing an endless source of moisture. The forests are lush and lichen coats the timber like green frost, hanging in picturesque clumps. Unlike the pine forests of other parts of the island, underfoot is damp and not tinder-dry.
Our path was narrow. We walked in single file for most of it. Fallen trunks blocked our way, some had to be climbed over, and others we ducked under. Brambles snatched at our arms and hair. When we stopped, there was almost complete silence. You could hear a leaf fall or the drip of moisture from the waxy leaves onto the ground. There was (for me) a surprising lack of birdsong. It’s the biggest difference I can name between this type of countryside and similar ones in my own country, where in summer the air vibrates with the musical calling of countless winged species.
In parts, where we climbed quite steeply, steps have been cut into the pathway to make it easier, but otherwise it was easy to pretend that no-one had passed this way perhaps even forever. This is one of the oldest parts of the island, which rose gradually from the ocean. Millions of years ago it wasn’t one island, but three, what are now Anaga, Teno and Adeje, which is why the age of the island is sometimes disputed – over the centuries other eruptions formed the island we now know. In other parts of our path we were up to the tops of our shoes in rich, gooey mud, and I relished the squelchy sounds of childhood …….no-one to tell me “nay”!
It was fairly dark under the canopy of which is, essentially, rainforest and the camera, which, as you might guess, I was using frequently, needed to be adjusted for almost every shot. Suddenly, from out of the overhang and without warning, an enormous pinnacle rose, a solid tower of rock, soaring to the heavens.
This was Roque Anambro. At the time of the Spanish Conquest Tenerife was divided into kingdoms or Menceys. Legend has it that Guanche ruler of this area of Anaga, Beneharo, escaped to this high point after the conquistadores had finally triumphed and taken the island for Spain. There he pondered whether to surrender or die. He decided to die as a free man, and leapt to his death from its peak. True or not, there was without doubt a palpable atmosphere of sehnsucht, that longing for…..something which cannot be.
Austin shuffled on his climbing shoes to explore it a bit, and see if he can get a view from higher up, and I shuffled around it carefully, snapping him and the views which tantalizingly peeped from the fog from time to time. Austin decided his climb would take too long.
We didn’t linger, the weather was kind but unpredictable, and every now and then a strong gust rattled the branches around, making the older ones creak like sound effects from some horror movie. After a short time we emerged at the Mirador Cabezo de Tejo, which is constructed on a natural platform overlooking the north-east coastline. There, the ocean broke against the jagged shoreline and flirted with rocks offshore which mark the tips of underwater mountains. We were almost as far as one can go on the narrow tip of the island. Forests and mountain peaks lay before us, the mountain sides bare in parts where timber was culled following the Spanish invasion, in the case of this part of the island for construction of the money-spinning sugar plantations, which are now a part of history. Soil erosion followed, just as it did on the hillsides of the south-east where the pines were burned for their resin.
We didn’t have it entirely to ourselves, but the family already there were quiet and moved off soon after. We had passed one couple on the way, and on the return would pass two more families. This is not a tourist hotbed. It’s hypnotic and peaceful, and we were reluctant to move on. We lingered for a while.
Arriving, we had taken the route less travelled, but returning we took the wider pathway, the one which the forest agencies and environmental department use……which explains how the mirador was created and is maintained. These routes once connected outlying villages and hamlets. It must have taken hours and hours just to travel to buy supplies or sell produce. It’s vehicle-worthy now if you have a 4 x 4 or something rugged, so we walked side-by-side and chatted for most of it.
There, where the rock face lines the road, it is covered by moss so bright and intensely green that it looks unreal. In places shelters have been carved out of the rock face, like these, two caves, or this seat. Apparently, all over Anaga refuges like these have been created where travellers can duck away from the changeable elements.
Giant bracken line the route. Not for the first time living here I thought of Alice’s “Drink me,” bottle. These huge plants must be related to their smaller relatives in European forests and gardens, and made me feel as if I’d shrunk. In places the path looked like an Autumn painting, where fallen leaves lay in gold and red patches.
We were lucky with the weather. It was perfect for walking, neither hot nor cold, and for me a very welcome respite from the dust and winds I’d experienced in the south of late. We emerged onto a road and then dove back into the forest to climb more steps, eroded by water, slippery with wet leaves and mud, and pretty soon (too soon for me, except that hunger was setting in) we were back at the beginning.
I’m happy to say “too soon” because it means I want to go back, I need to go back to what is like a magic forest from a children’s story, a whole other reality. Austin had warned me that it was one of the most beautiful walks he’d ever done, and he has walked in places I’m still dreaming about, like the Blue Mountains in Australia, the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean. It was every bit as much of a journey to the new and unknown as if I’d stepped onto a plane and taken off for new shores. My experience with Tenerife is far from over. I know now it may never be.
The photos of the coastline weren’t, of course, too good, hampered by the mist. However, there will be more photos on my Flickr page as soon as I get a moment to sort them out. If anyone wants to see more of this relatively unknown side of Tenerife.