Monday, 17 September 2012

Facing El Teide

The Gran Hotel El Tope, Puerto de la Cruz
After our Tenerife flight had been delayed due to late arrivals we arrived at our gradely hotel in Puerto de la Cruz long after darkness had fallen, only just in time for a late dinner.  The charming receptionist allocated us what she considered a very special room on the 6th floor with a view mainly out to sea, but for people from remoter parts of Yorkshire the traffic noises from a busy road below were pretty unbearable.  After a mainly sleepless night we asked if we might change rooms for one on the other side of the hotel and they readily obliged. Facing south west we could still see the sea but our main view across a barranca was dominated by the towering volcanic cone of El Teide, Spain's highest mountain.
One of the barranca inhabitants
We were happy with that, and the fact our balcony caught the sun in the afternoon and evening, making it possible to dry clothes and towels in the 30º heat. However, what may have been annoying to city dwelling clientelle was the constant crowing of cockerels and clocking of hens that scratched a bare existence in the barranca immediately below us. Their raucous morning matins began at 5am. Some of the cocks resembled Old English Game, a type of jungle fowl used for fighting in days gone by. I've a sneaking suspicion such sport is still practiced in the Canary Islands for on La Palma we once came across such cocks dubbed and groomed for action strutting around in locked cages.
Hey, who's doing the talking around here??
Our hotel, the El Tope, stands at the top of a very steep hill, or 126 steps, whichever is preferred, so not the place for people with mobility problems or those with children in pushchairs. Street vendors take advantage of people resting on their way up the endless flight of steps to ply their trade. Those who deign to stop may be offered sunglasses, always 'at a very good price', or have the once in a lifetime opportunity of being photographed with a psuedo Guancho complete with a few authentic looking artefacts and a friendly wee dog to tug the heartstrings. Those who pause momentarily to admire the wonderfully coloured parrots strutting on a sunny white wall soon find themselves accosted by an opportunist gentleman who swiftly materializes from the shadows offering to take pictures of the bemused innocent with a bird on each shoulder - for a price, of course.  One up on Long John Silver!
Running happy - along the seafront
We avoided such obstacles by taking the slightly longer route up the lung-bursting hill, usually running, at the end of our three or four mile morning jaunts before it got too hot. We ran on six of our ten days clocking up a mere 22 miles mainly connecting the popular beaches along the waterfront as far as Playa Jardin, then back along the wave-splashed sea wall at a slightly faster pace. We'd intended to do more but due to densely populated thoroughfares, and the LIDL thermometer reaching 31º on some mornings, our ambitious plans got somewhat curtailed. Lounging by the hotel pool and periodically plunging into its cooling depths was more preferable than pattering around the sun traps of Puerto dodging all the sauntering gods and goddesses with far more attractive tans than ours.
Sunbathing terrapin and lily pads at the Botanic Gardens
In search of shade we strolled up the road to the Botanic Gardens with its tall Palms, Banyan trees, exotic shrubs, Birds of Paradise and other rare flowers, lily pads with resident terrapins and Koi Carp circling around. Enough to keep us occupied for a couple of cool hours - at least - and all for the cost of 3.00 €. Similarly, we nipped around to the nearby Orchid garden, a hidden gem just across the barranca, to be once again mesmerized by the vast variety of exotic multi-coloured plants, cacti, dancing butterflies, fish pond, dragonflies, bonsai trees, fountain and bird house - all grouped together in the most tranquil of settings.  The artist, Marianne North, whose collection of botanic paintings are displayed at Kew Gardens, spent some time in the big yellow house - which I believe was once a convent. Agatha Christie also stayed there and wrote a story based on the place - or so it said in the blurb.
Sock it to 'em - some of the Spanish Army on parade - La Laguna
On another day (Friday) we caught the 102 bus to La Laguna, a World Heritage site since 1999 and cultural capital of the island.  We wandered the streets, photographing baroque architecture, carved wooden balconies, churches, convents and towers, but all the while wondering why it was so quiet. Then we learned it was an official Bank Holiday so most places other than bars and restaurants were closed. Just our rotten luck. We'd chosen the wrong day. It wasn't all doom and gloom. The sound of bugles and drums led us to a packed square where a military parade was taking place following an inspection by a high ranking Officer. They paraded down the street to much applause from mainly Spanish onlookers. We never did find out what it was all in aid of. Perhaps they'd just returned from Afghanistan, or somewhere. Or maybe it was just something they did on Bank Holidays. I'll say one thing, they were all exceedingly smart and well drilled, a credit to their regiment.

A view from our hotel balcony
But the most exciting day, one I'll remember most, was a cloudless Monday when we ascended 5,000ft up El Teide from El Portillo. We called at the Information Centre, thinking we might need a map to guide us over the eight miles of inhospitable terrain. Typically, all the English ones had gone so we'd a choice of German or Spanish. We chose the latter and were urged to be on our way by the slightly bemused gentleman who plainly thought we were attempting something quite beyond our means. He was very nearly right!  It was 10.45am when we set out along the narrow Sendero No 1 with the faraway top cone of El Teide beckoning us along through the arid, desert-like sandy terrain. The temperature was in the 30's, the sky cloudless, and there was little or no shelter along the whole of the route. Our schedule was to reach the base of that top cone, then descend by the Teleferique to catch the only bus back to Puerto at 16.05.
Our objective - that wee nipple on the huge breast of El Teide
Flowerless brushwood dotted the landscape of the initial stages, unidentified birds flitted hither and thither while scores of grass-hoppers leapt over our feet as we set a cracking pace along the boulder lined track.  Sendero No ! merged into Sendero No 6 the latter of which ended at a large notice board we couldn't understand a word of. From here on the track became wider as it snaked along for almost two miles with not a sign of bird, plant, lizard or beast. It ended abruptly at a circle of stones with a large flat one in the middle that could be used as a picnic table - by those who could spare the time. Beyond that point it became the realm of the mountaineer as the rocky, sometimes indiscernable path ascended steeply through lava flows sculpted into grotesque shapes, jagged pinnacles and huge blocks (Eggs of Teide) until a building came into view - the Refugio Alta Vista, an overnight stop for weary travellers at 10,825ft. 
Getting towards the rough bit
Beyond the Refuge the climb continued relentlessly, twisting and turning, taking the line of least resistance through jutting rocks and up exposed little steps. I don't mind admitting I felt absolutely knackered. I'd not climbed to that height before, ever, not even in the Swiss Alps, and I was really beginning to suffer from the altitude. I'd be moving along quite well when all at once I'd run out of breath, as if my lungs had suddenly stopped working, or collapsed, and I'd come to an involuntary halt panting like a dog - only a lot faster. Maybe that's what they call hyperventilating. After a short rest my breathing would stabilize and I'd be able to continue until it happened again. Trouble was, we were on a very tight schedule and it was imperative to keep going in order to catch that 16.05 bus at the bottom of the Teleferique. By the time we reached the end of Sendero 7 I felt to be on my very last legs. 

At 11,708ft, at the base of that 'wee nipple'.
But there was yet another path to negotiate, Sendero No 11 which, although short, seemed to take an eternity to traverse. I shuffled along on automatic pilot as if in a trance, sub-consciously using inate fell-running skills to negotiate the rocky path until the Teleferique station came into view.  It was 15.45 and we'd just missed a descending cable car. The chap who sold us tickets could scarcely believe we'd climbed to 11,708ft in those shimmering hot conditions wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and Trail shoes. In order to keep on schedule we'd had no lunch stop and drunk hardly any water. According to Tranter's walking tables a very fit person would cover 8 miles and 5,000ft of ascent in 5.5 hours. We'd done it in five! The cable car hurtled us down to the car park with a few minutes to spare, time to stagger to the loo and back before negotiating those ruddy great steps into the bus. It had been a long, hard day, and I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, there will never be a repeat!


  1. Once while in switzerland I raced Dawn down the mountain... I took the path we had walk up and she took the train and funicular. I might have beaten her is I hadn't run a marathon the day before and if her first train wasn't leaving as I started my run back!!!

    Looks like you are having a great holiday.

    1. After running the Eiger Trail from Alpiglen in Switzerland, we'd run all the way back down to Grund from Kleine Scheidegg following the train. We never beat it - not that we were trying with nearly 140 years between the two of us!

  2. Your volcanic trek was amazing. Glad to hear you made it in one piece:) we once ran a half marathon at altitude ... I think it was about 9000 feet and it was pretty rough too. My husband was having similar breathing issues.
    Your holiday looks fabulous!
    My Running Shortz

    1. I'm OK at 9,000ft - just - but I've felt a bit woozy in the Alps at 10,000. It's old age and decrepitude setting in. Well, that's my excuse!

  3. Altitude and dehydration can be a killer combination, glad you made it safely down again. I climbed El Teide a couple of winter's ago...but to reach the actual summit without a permit, I started at 4 am to beat the 8 am cutoff. It was a fun climb seeing the sunrise, but boy did I have a headache by the time I ran down back to the car and drove down to the hotel. Climbing to that height from sea level just isn't a great idea.

  4. you never cease to amaze me ;) What a holiday!!!

  5. Climbing the Teide was quite the fitness test. I'm 44 and I doubt I could do that in the time you did.

    The noisy cocks reminded me of how my friend used to complain that there isn't a moment of silence in Shanghai because the creickets are so noisy.. That is a good thing abut living in Norhern latituteds: no noisy animals esp. in winter time.

    1. We were stretched to the limit on Teide but it was a wonderful experience in that surreal volcanic landscape.
      Highly recommended for anyone fit enough to do it.