Friday 15 May 2009

Voyage to the land of the friendly volcano

Tenerife Classica

Yesterday, I went on my third tour to the Canarian island of Tenerife but I wanted to do something different.

In my previous visits, I had gone to Loro Parque, known for its parrots, penguins, dolphins, seals, orca whales and orchids, I had done the general tour and the behind-the-scenes tour, but I felt there was more to Tenerife than that attraction.

A day trip to Tenerife from Gran Canaria is as easy and as difficult as it might seem but it could easily be a 20-hour day from when you are picked up from the hotel in the morning until when you are dropped off at night.

This tour was called Tenerife Classica and supposedly was to take you on a tour of Tenerife and up the Mount Teide which peaks at 3,717 metres above sea level.

Earlier or worse

The hotel had prepared an early breakfast for my wakeup call at 05:45 hrs and the bus pickup at 06:30, there were a few more pickups around our area of the island till we got to a rendezvous point at San Agustin where other tourists joined us and we had the first change of guides.

For the trip, I did not think the bus was that comfortable, I had the feeling it was going to be the main vehicle throughout the whole journey as was the arrangement for the Loro Parque tours I had been on before.

At Las Palmas we picked another guide who saw us to the port at Agaete where we boarded the catamaran ferry to Santa Cruz de Tenerife which takes 70 minutes.

Sea me or see food again

Honestly, I would make the worst deck hand, I have no sea legs, I dosed up on mints, closed my eyes and listened to classical music as the vessel rock to a rhythm that kept my stomach in churn of butterflies and moths for hours after.

How I had the constitution not to see my breakfast or last night’s dinner escapes me, but I was so glad that it was over when we finally arrived, I think many others fared a lot less than I did, my sympathies went to them – it was the roughest of all the journeys I had made to Tenerife ever.

Amen to the tour guide

We boarded another more comfortable tour bus and had another tour guide, we were changing guides like the changing of the guard, only we were not royalty.

We were told Tenerife was the largest of the Canarian Islands and as he switched between German, English, French and Spanish the musicality of his diatribes are nigh on a Latin mass without the incense.

In fact, each language was delivered with the rapidity and intonation of Spanish, he was well into the third language before I realized he had finished the first – no pauses whatsoever between the languages.

The Spanish have invaded

German is typically the first foreign language on Gran Canaria and Tenerife because the German are always invading these islands, it does not appear anyone is complaining, but the way the tour guide went on about the Spanish conquerors of the 14th Century, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it happened yesterday.

Somehow, I have the feeling that Canarians still carry a sense of loss of pride and independence because of that and it have seeped down through the generations as a angst ridden association with mainland Spain which is some 2,000 kms up North.

In all we heard that Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the capital and Tenerife was the largest island, with the highest mountain, it became the refrain to the canticles of the tour narrative.

Mounting expectations

And so we made for Mount Teide, in fact, I thought we were going to climb it after a point, but the first realisation was that the mountain we used to see our drive-bys towards Loro Parque was not in the back yard, it was a good 54 kilometers into the hinterland land through forests to a moonscape terrain that fills you with bewilderment.

The first stop for coffee and conveniences was in the large humidifier, I correct myself, we were in the clouds which had a constant wetness as if it was continuous rain, no dehumidifier could survive an hour sucking the moisture out of the air, we were at just about 1,000 metres up and we all thought that was how it would be until we go to the top of the mountain.

About 200 metres above that we are in the pine and eucalyptus forests where we learnt that eucalyptus trees grow so far and that is why the bark gets naturally stripped off and they are a menace because they suck up so much water from the soil.

Unending sunshine

Soon we were in the glow of the sunshine, see Mt Teide from afar in its glory but without the winter snow cap, to one end we could also see the IzaƱa Astrophysical Observatory – Tenerife above the clouds boasts over 300 days of clear skies and sunshine – between Tenerife and La Palma they have the most concentration of observatories.

We never got to summit Mt Teide, it does have a cable car that can take you to the top but I suppose that comes as part of a tour for guests holidaying on the island itself, but we heard enough about Father Teide waiting to regale us, succour us and give us the pleasure of its beauty, to have gone to the summit would have belittled its mystique and been an anticlimax

Geology 101

But there was a moonscape around the mountain with lava flows stopped and recorded in time – my geology knowledge was updated as I realised that lava might flow like liquid and present a deceptively smooth looking surface, no could be further from the truth when it all solidifies, it is lots of rocks and big ones at that.

The Canarian islands are extrusions from volcanic activity that have occurred over millions of years and there are been more recent volcanic erupts, we were told the black looking lava flows were young at just under a thousand years and we could not for certain say the volcanoes were extinct – we were at that point introduced to the friendly volcanoes that have not erupted and disrupted lives for centuries.

I could not say I know the difference between calderas or craters, they all belong to the same kind of volcanic landscape but we go to the highest point we would at the cathedral and that was a view to behold – it was breathtaking as it was wonderful.

And the rest of the day

It leaves one amazed that people could visit the islands and be stuck between the beach, the hotel and the bar that shows familiar stuff one is used to at home when the beach is hardly the best expression of the beauty of the island.

I have gotten my dose of the sun already and would have to apply some suntan lotion to my bald head, it has so seriously been sunburnt I look like a character off Star Trek and I am moulting – Bah!

By the time we were back through the clouds to the South of the Tenerife where we were let loose in the tourist shops for 75 minutes, the day was far gone.

A stop over at the cartel restaurant offering Canarian fayre and cheap plonk was good enough, I swore off the plonk and did end up scoffing so much ice cream in one day, I’ll have to do purgatory.

The journey back was better, the sea was calmer and my stomach did not churn at all, I was dropped off at my hotel at 21:27 hrs and the dinner left in my room did not once appeal to me.

Pictures will be published in earnest.

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