Say the word “hike” to me and, after years of living on Tenerife, I conjure images of arid badlands, shady, mystical forests, volcanoes and other such exciting stuff, so a few weeks back, hiking closer to home than usual, I didn’t expect to find anything other than exercise to be honest because the hillsides of the south of Tenerife are barren at the best of times when compared to other parts of the island, and now, after around two years without any substantial rain, they are especially seared and tan, hence the low expectations……….but it proved to be a day of surprises
Pilar and I set off from the village of San Miguel de Abona around mid-morning, under one of those crystal clear, achingly-blue skies which make you double-check the contents of your daypack: Sun cream? Check. Hat? Check. Plenty of water? Check. Ok to go then.
Daytime San Miguel perfectly fits the description “sleepy village.” Every time I visit, it has that siesta time air, as if the population are all whiling away the heat of the day behind closed shutters. It’s pretty, and well-maintained and restored.
We sauntered out of the village. It almost felt like tip-toeing to avoid waking residents. The hillsides were parched, dusty and achingly dry, but within minutes we’d left all of that behind and descended into greenery. It was a revelation to find a certain lushness around us. Remember there are no rivers on Tenerife (many were already underground, and others were long ago diverted to take advantage of the natural, underground storage, to conserve water supplies). The reason soon became evident; along the way we passed places where water trickled down the rock face, and in a couple of places we stepped into mud, clearly there was water underground, although the mud was the only evidence above, and there was the merest whisper of its running.
Probably that presence of water was the reason for all the other surprises that day.
One thing I miss hiking here is birdsong. Summer hiking England and the air fairly vibrates with song. It isn’t as if there is nothing here for bird lovers, in recent weeks I’ve seen kestrals, buzzards, woodpeckers, hoopoes, great grey shrike, partridge, plovers, egret and a dove which is endemic to the island, as well as numerous gulls, blue tits and canaries, but there isn’t that unseen pulsing you feel in England. Normally, that is – in this wee valley it seemed as if all the island’s missing birds were come together to celebrate spring, and the air was sweet with their chatter.
Second surprise – we hadn’t been walking very long when we came across very visible water in the form of La Fuente de Tamaide, a natural spring, like so many here, where water which has filtered underground in through the porous rocks of the mountains above eventually emerges into daylight. Even dew or light rain seeps through the this rock and trickles downward, often finding its way out in scenes like this.
Throughout history, and even before of course, water has always been important. The world over, byways and settlements sprang up close to water sources, and this, particular one, like others in this valley, served not only for practical purposes, like drinking water, washing, and watering of crops and animals, but also as a meeting place. There was a plaque explaining what it was we were looking at, with some old photographs. The photos didn’t tally exactly with what we saw, so I assumed that they were an illustration of how natural pools of water like these are adapted and harnessed by man to fit his needs.
The natural pools had a helping hand and you can see how it must have been a rendezvous for the village women. Can’t you just imagine them dishing the dirt as they beat and scrubbed their washing on the beveled sides of that tank, or blushing as that handsome young man rode up on his horse? Beats hypnotizing yourself watching your machine’s wash cycle doesn’t it? Fresh air, a nice gossip with the girls, but then you have to remember that this is a valley, and they had to return with the wet washing uphill. They were made of strong stuff these country lasses.
There is no date for the photographs, so I presume that they are intended as an example of how a pool like this fitted into daily life two or three centuries ago. There are, apparently, three such pools in the area, but we saw only two. It was noted that the first written record of this spring was in 1849, and it’s certain that it was used by man long before that, even by the aboriginal Guanches before the Spanish conquest. History hung in the air.
Sheltered in the barranco, it was easy to leave the modern world behind and imagine oneself back into history. We passed only one other couple until we got to the end, although, it’s for sure that it must have been busier back when than it is now. Abandoned cottages dot the landscape, as is common here, families long since absconded to the more profitable pursuits of the coast; the hillsides are swathed by barren, desolate terraces but here and there a green oasis, a terrace still cultivated. As we began to gently climb out of the barranco we had views right down to the coast. In Tenerife you are never out of sight of the ocean for very long.
As we emerged we came to a modern road and there was the next surprise. The odd-looking building by the roadside turned out to be another piece of history. It was an old tile kiln, built in the late 19th century, and restored for posterity, and once again a plaque explaining how it was used, and in English and German as well as Spanish too, another trip into history. The rest of our way took us past old houses, an immaculate rural hotel and thirsty hillsides.
This isn’t a difficult walk, looking back now I don’t remember puffing or panting at all until the last few yards of the outward journey, which took us to the mirador which clings to the rock just under the peak of the volcanic cone of la Centinela. There there is a restaurant with an impressive view from its sweep of windows taking in much of the island’s south-east coast. The food is good there too, but this day we had to do a quick turn around back to San Miguel, so we lingered only long enough to take in the views, from the very peak, above the restaurant you have a 360º view, taking in mountains, ocean, agricultural fields, the resort areas of the coast and neighboring island, La Gomera, on a clear day you would be able to see Gran Canaria, La Palma and perhaps El Hierro too.
We followed a slightly different path back, but its surprises were less evident, a mysterious door to nowhere; trying to catch a glimpse of the cackling we knew was a partridge hidden in the dusty scrub; climbing the side of a barranco and hearing that bucolic and satisfied clucking which indicates chickens laying eggs – it took us a while to identify from where the sounds came, then we realized that hidden under brush and branches in the dip below us was a row of chicken coops, hidden, we assumed, from aerial predators – we’d seen huge birds riding the thermals earlier, but were sure they’d come from a local zoo which specializes in bird life, whose eagles and vultures fly free for demonstrations during the day.
Almost back in San Miguel we turned to look back at La Centinela across the valley, and were surprised how far away it seemed to be. It hadn’t been a taxing walk, and we didn’t feel as if we had walked so far, but it had been something like time travel, a glimpse of other, earlier worlds, and we arrived back to find the village still snoozing in the mid-afternoon sun.