Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ups and downs.....

Stormy arrival at Los Cancajos....
     We didn't have the smoothest of starts to our La Palma holiday - though all ended well. After losing time with a slight navigational faux pas in darkness on our way to the airport parking lot, the automatic number plate recognition device was still asleep and incapable of lifting the barrier to allow us in.  Luckily, a lady's voice inside a metal box with buttons and flashing lights gave alternative means of gaining access so we were soon prowling round looking for an empty space among the thousands of occupied slots. We eventually found one and were soon aboard the shuttle bus bound for Terminal 2.  Our take-off was a bit behind schedule, then further delayed by 100mph headwinds on the flight south, so we arrived a little late.
      At Taburiente Playa in Los Cancajos we were allotted room number 438 which, we discovered, was
Hotel verandah awash with rain...
north facing and never got the faintest glimmer of sunlight. We were having none of that and were back down in Reception within minutes demanding a change. After a none too friendly exchange of words we were given room number 413 facing south and overlooking the swimming pools. Next morning we'd thunder and lightning with lashing rain and gale force wind that threatened to tear out surrounding trees by their roots. Our local Tourist Information Office, five minutes walk away, warned of severe weather with strong winds, snow on hills, and consequent closure of all high level footpaths.

Waves and white horses...
     Things improved a little next day with warm sunshine between showers, but still a raging wind that had an army of white horses galloping across the sea. Waves crashed against the rocks sending rainbow spray high into the air and flooding the promenade. High hills were indeed covered with snow but wild conditions made our morning run all the more spectacular and exhilerating. Our holiday had officially begun.....albeit a couple of days late.  So what were the highlights?
       PICO BEJENADO.  We set off to walk/jog
Mount Teide, miles away on Tenerife....
the classic Volcano Route, regarded by many as the finest day's walk in all the Canary Islands, but we alighted from the bus by the National Park Visitor Centre to see the whole of the Cumbrae Nueva ridge swathed in thick cloud. To the north Pico Bejenado's lofty tree-clad summit basked in glorious sunshine with nary a cloud to be seen. So, instead of making for El Pilar we climbed into a taxi and instructed the driver to head for El Barrial at the end of the tarmac road where a long trail begins its upward journey through a forest of Canary Pines to the 6,082ft summit. Out of the wind it was warm work but we made fast progress in lightweight gear - shorts, T-shirt and trail shoes - so we'd reached the summit cairn before noon.. Patches of snow still lingered on the rocky path whilst over on Tenerife Mount Teide, highest mountain in Spain, rose shining white above a sea of cloud.
Happy couple on summit of Pico Bejenado...note that sky.
      In spite of warm sunshine the local lizard population probably still regarded it as winter and were conspicuous by their absense. In summertime they're foraging for titbits around our feet and even probing into our rucksacks. Last year's friendly raven was missing too. It would perch at arms length and take food from our fingers. All we saw this time were two small brown birds we couldn't identify. We spent half an hour or so on the summit, enjoying the incredible views and breathing the clear air while eating lunch. There's a Visitors book in a metal box at the cairn but some thoughtless person had left the lid off and it had more or less disintegrated. A steady stream of walkers, mostly Germans, joined us at the cairn. Time to depart. It was a long walk back to the Visitor Centre where we'd catch a bus back.
       THE VOLCANO ROUTE.  Our alarm woke us at 06.30 so we'd breakfasted and quickly on our way
Standing by the Hoyo Negra, literally the black hole...
to catch the 08.00 Los Llanos bus as far as the National Park Visitor Centre. From there we climbed straight into a taxi bound for Refugio El Pilar, the start of our day's activities. The Sunflower Guide advises walkers to be well equipped with hiking boots, sun hat, sun glasses, sun cream, rain gear, warm cardigan, anorak, picnic and plenty of water. I was in my usual lightweight trail gear and never drank a drop of water throughout the 12 miles and 1,600ft of ascent, not until I got back to the hotel some six hours later.  I'll confess to sucking a couple of Polo mints en route but saved a muesli bar until the finish, before boarding the bus in Fuencaliente back to Cancajos. Having walked/jogged the Volcano Route four times previously it holds no fears for either of us. We've done much harder things on coast to coast jaunts over Scottish mountains.

Our begging friends, the ravens at Vulcan Deseada...
    We'd the trail pretty much to ourselves for the first three to four miles. A couple who got out of a taxi at the same time as us, and a couple of heavily laden girls who'd probably spent a night in the Refuge, were soon behind us as we strolled uphill through the pines. There'd been a slight frost overnight, there was a nip in the air and the trail was crunchy underfoot. We crossed a wooden bridge and climbed out of the pines into an almost bare, but colourful, volcanic landscape. An impressive black crater, the Hoyo Negra, was well named and maybe it was coincidence that two great black birds, ravens, landed on the path beside us to say hello and pose for photographs. In reality, I suppose they were begging for food!
      The steepest part of the route was a sandy, slippery climb onto Pico Deseada which seemed longer than
The lighter coloured dwarf pines...
on previous occasions. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. We paused at the trig point to take photographs of the crater where, lo and behold, the friendly ravens flew down again and strutted in front of our cameras, determined to get in the picture. Leaving Deseada we could jog down the sandy slope, to where a minor path crosses our main highway, the GR 131. A runner caught up with us and showed us a water tap in a rock wall about 25m to our right that ran icy cold for anyone needing refreshment. That was new to us. Soon we were back into the pines, a low growing wonderfully light green variety dotting the landscape towards brightly coloured Vulcan St Martin.
      We detoured off the main trail onto the rim of the volcano to peer into its depths and photograph the striking colours before continuing on our way. We were well ahead of schedule for our 2 o'clock bus so had time to linger, revellimg in all the magic and mystery of that incredible ancient landscape. More runners past us, a group of three
Runners emerging from the misty forest...
who moved sure footedly across the rocky, uneven terrain. Most likely they were familiarising themselves with parts of the 53 mile long Transvulcania race that takes place every May and attracts top sky runners from all over the world. If only I'd my time to come over again! In younger years I'd never heard of such things. The Three Peaks of Yorkshire (24 miles/4,500ft ascent) was the only long distance event I knew of - and I couldn't wait to take part in it when I started running at the tender age of 54. It was an easy jog/walk through mist enshrouded forest to the tarmac streets of Fuencaliente and the end of another little adventure.
      ROQUE DE LOS MUCHACHOS TO MIRADOR EL TIME.  There was some slight indecision
Excited in the clear air at 8,000ft, but had to don a fleece.....
before embarking on this route. After an early breakfast we stuck our noses out to sniff the air and gauge the weather. It didn't look good. Thick clag, poor visibility and a stiff wind didn't bode well for a walk starting at almost 8,000ft with the prospect of snow on all high level trails. I disappeared into the loo telling my wonderful partner "I'll meditate on it". Five minutes later I re-appeared and said "Let's go" before shouldering our tiny rucksacks and ordering a taxi for 8am. It arrived, spot on time, though the driver could hardly believe that the couple stood outside dressed in shorts and carrying a minimum of gear were actually going to attempt such a high level route that wasn't even in our guide book.

Snow, cloud and telescopes....
     "Where are your trekking poles?" he inquired. "We don't use poles, we're runners" I explained, though in actual fact we hardly broke into a trot all day. We got stuck in a traffic jam at road works approaching Santa Cruz as the meter ticked over at a seemingly great rate of knots, racking up the Euros. We escaped and zoomed uphill rapidly round the myriad hairpin bends following four carloads of workers who reputedly make this nightmare journey every day to operate and service the huge telescopes at the Observatories. It rained, windscreen wipers were turned on and as we rose higher into the cold air our windows steamed up.  Then, all at once, we experienced a magical cloud inversion that even got our taxi driver excited and animated. We cringed as he turned to us with one hand on the wheel and pointed out different things of interest - mainly Mount Teide which he pronounced tay ee day. Snow was piled by the roadside and icicles hung from the rocks. The air was crystal clear (which is why all those telescopes are mounted up there) with not the faintest trace of mist or haze under a deep blue sky.
      The driver got out of his car with us to gaze for a wee while at the incredible sights - seeming as
Setting off down the snowy trail to Mirador El Time....
gobsmacked as we were. At 9.10am it was freezing cold and my wonderful partner feared we might suffer discomfort all the way down - a drop of over 6,000ft to the fleshpots of El Time - so was anxious to get under way pretty smartish. Snow lingered on the trail, making it understandable why our driver had questioned us about trekking poles, but there was nothing we ever considered dangerous or difficult to cope with. And as we dropped down the ridge the wind eased and warm sunshine made walking very pleasurable indeed as never ending exciting panoramas unfolded before us.

Pico Bejenado in a sea of cloud across the Caldera Taburiente....
     For me, this route far outshines the more popular Volcano route, though after walking the latter five times it's probably getting a wee bit boring... This one maintains interest all the way down, even on the steep and uneven rocky path over the latter stages where some astute balancing is required to remain upright. It didn't always work (!) but we finished unscathed. There are fantastic views into the cloudy depths of the Caldera while Pico Bejenado towers across the mile deep crater enticing photographers to take endless pictures. On a steeper, gravelly part of the path a German lady strode easily upwards in bare feet, carrying her boots. "It's good" she said, "It's nice". I couldn't have agreed less!
      After terraced vineyards and trees ladened with almond blossom we arrived somewhat wearily at
Down the rocky path where balance is required...
Mirador El Time after nearly six hours on the trail and deposited ourselves on the kerb to flag down the 4 o'clock bus. It connected with the 4.30 bus in Los Llanos for the journey back to our hotel. For me, this had been the walk that made all else seem anti-climax. It was time to relax by the pool, to swim, soak up the sun and hopefully acquire a semblance of a tan to ward off the winter blues before returning home in search of Spring.  Oh, I almost forgot. this being a running blog, we did in fact get out running on nine of our fourteen days over a regular four mile circuit round 'the ridge' with 380ft of ascent to strengthen the old legs. And after eating like kings (and queens) with an abundance of mouth watering dishes, we both managed to lose weight. I reckon we should go to La Palma more often.......


  1. Hi ... great to see you back ... and really enjoyed reading your post.

    Lovely photographs too and your post is aptly titled.

    Take Care

    All the best Jan

  2. Another holiday... and all this time I ave to work.. So as much as I wish I was older (retired) I don't want to get older, So I will play the Lotto and dream of winning so I can take holiday ofter holiday.
    Looks like you enjoyed your break.

  3. Another amazing adventure :) !

  4. Blimey. If this is what to look forward to in retirement I can't wait!!