It seems as if all I’ve written about of late has been walking and mountains and landscapes. That’s because it’s mostly how I’ve spent my leisure time the past few weeks – taking advantage of Austin’s presence until he moves to UK. The other day we took a hike that’s long been on my bucket list.
From almost everywhere in Los Cristianos or Playa de las Americas, you can spy a flat-topped mountain standing like a sentinel over the coast, frequently, its peak shrouded in low cloud, it exudes an air of mystery.
Roque del Conde seen from the entrance to Los Cristianos
This is Roque del Conde, towering over Barranco del Rey (King’s Canyon) where we went rappelling at the end of last year. Formerly it was known as Roque Ichasagua in memory of the Guanche ruler who, rather than face possible slavery, or worse, at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors, threw himself from its heights. Are you beginning to see a pattern to these legends, perhaps? Before that the Guanches knew it as Ahío o Hío.
The mountain lies in the municipality of Adeje, one of the oldest parts of the island, along with Teno and Anaga. It’s because Tenerife was formed gradually by volcanic eruptions millions of years apart that there is so much discussion still about its “age.” It’s something impossible to quantify in terms of the island we know today, and it’s one factor in the enormous variety of landscape to be found in something less than 800 square miles, but whatever type of landscape you are admiring, be it “lunar” or lush forest, I can guarantee one word they have in common – dramatic, and this day was to be no exception to that rule, despite the cloud, the views were breathtaking.
Although the mountain itself is in the municipality of Adeje, the walk begins in neighboring Arona. We set off from the hamlet of Vento, just as we had when we went rappelling. Passing the ramshackle outhouses and accompanied by the same tinkling of goats’ bells and barking of dogs, we stepped over the modern water pipe which lies alongside the old stone troughs which used to bring water down to irrigate these dry lands, and descended into Barranco del Rey.
This time, instead of turning left deeper into the canyon we crossed it, and once we began the climb up from there it was uphill all the way, at first up well-maintained steps and paths, and then onto rougher but much-used trails. It was a bank holiday and, going late morning, we passed several walkers of different ages and nationalities returning from a morning ramble, including a mutual friend neither of us had seen for some years – Tenerife is like that. Move through the busy streets of a resort and you don’t meet a soul you know, but take a wild mountain trail and you bump into someone.
Austin perched on the crumbling wall assessing the possibilities for a photo.
Around a third of the way into the climb, we passed a long-abandoned house, most of the timbers and all the roof tiles missing, just a rectangular, stone structure remained, with a sad hole where a door had once been. The views from here were magnificent, over the southern coast, and back in the day they must have been even more so, with less buildings and more countryside to admire. I have no idea why I am so drawn to these tumble-down old shells of homes. There have a mystery and sadness about them I can’t quite put my finger on. I vaguely mused about how severe life must have been, and how hardy the inhabitants of this small farm, trying to coax a living out of this arid dust, but I was in for a surprise which provoked more serious thoughts. Passing the house we came upon a threshing circle, just like the ones I had seen in El Tanque on El Día de la Trilla last year. It was even in decent condition, given the state of the house, but what intrigued me was what animals had been used to turn grind the crops, surely oxen or horses couldn’t have been used way up here. I’m presuming that donkeys were used, but I don’t know that for a fact. It’s one of those mysteries I would like to chase up sometime.
What’s for sure is that much of the land, even at this altitude had been terraced, and so had been cultivated, and I remembered a conversation I had with an elderly taxi driver years ago. He told me that when he was a boy the land around Adeje had been rich farmland, overflowing with corn and other crops. At the time I thought that he was probably exaggerating, and my Spanish wasn’t up to asking too many questions back then either. I’d love to have that same conversation today!
Note how parched the landscape looks – it’s been almost twelve months now without rain in this area.
Almost at the top!
My photo op taken full advantage of, we continued upwards, along narrow paths which dwindled to almost nothing in places, stopping now and then to take our bearings and watch what appeared to be a boat on fire just outside Los Cristianos’s harbour. We came to the conclusion it was a drill, since nothing seemed to be dashing to its aid. On the smudgy, blue horizon the island of La Gomera hovered like a purple shadow, and we could make out El Hierro and La Palma, although the visibility wasn’t too good. Above, however, the peak of Roque del Conde was clear and beckoned.
We scrapped around proud cardon, the multi-pronged cactus which thrives just about everywhere here, and thick clumps of tabaiba, the super-hardy endemic plant found even in the harshest and most arid island landscape. It’s been a long time without rainfall in the south, and most every other sign of flora looked pinched and forlorn. We scuffled on loose stones and clambered over rocks, and then we were almost there, and striding along the open path to the mountain’s flat summit.
It’s quite something to eat your lunch sitting on top of the world. At around 3,280 feet Roque del Conde is a fair bit lower than Alto de Guajara where we’d breakfasted the previous week, and the views were quite different. From Guajara we’d overlooked more or less east on the oceanside, seeing the airport and Grandadilla de Abona below, and a wide sweep of the caldera to the other side. From Roque del Conde we had a 360º view which swept the foothills purple and grey or hidden in cloud, a motorbike gang whining its way up from Arona towards Vilaflor could be heard quite clearly. Turning we could just make out Montaña Roja lying in the sunny space between the low cloud and the shadowy valleys and volcanic cones between us. The plastic-covered banana plantations around Costa del Silencio blotted our view, and immediately below Arona strung out, and even at this height the barking dogs intruded on the silence. The resorts cluttered the south western side of the island, and for a while we played at picking out familiar places. I’m told that on a clear day you can see the cliffs of Los Gigantes, but this day wasn’t that clear. In fact, those familiar mists were beginning to filter down from the mountains, and inch their cold fingers across the flat peak, making us shiver and pack up to make our way down.
Tabaiba in the foreground clinging to the hillside and to life, as the mists roll in from above.
I’ve always considered going down easier than ascending, and I merrily set off thinking it was going to be an easy and quick descent – silly me! Whilst it there was no puffing and panting, there was a bit of slipping and sliding, and it was much slower than I expected. Even so I wanted to linger a while in Barranco del Rey when we reached it, knowing that this is such an ancient slice of the earth, knowing that the Guanches inhabited caves here, and just the sheer beauty and loneliness of the place kind of seeps into your skin.
To my surprise I found the final climb back to Vento much easier than I had done last time – I must be getting used to this walking lark – my only problem is how do I follow the experiences I’ve had so far this year!