Just got home from a wonderful/terrible holiday on the Canary Island of La Palma, reputedly the most mountainous island in the world relevant to its size. It was our 5th visit to a place we've loved since first discovering it in 2010. For runners who love mountainous, volcanic trails and sunshine, this is a good place to go.
|The beach at Los Cancajos (Click to enlarge pictures)|
We'd two reasons for going there this year, first to celebrate my 84th birthday and secondly to watch the Transvulcania race
that takes place on the first Saturday each May. My birthday on May 6th was the day before the race, so a very subdued affair, a gentle 4 mile run in the morning, swimming and lying in the sun for most of the afternoon, very little to drink in the evening and early to bed.
Our strategy next morning was to hire a taxi to Roque de los Muchachos, the highest point of the race at around 8,000ft, watch the leaders come over the summit then jog down 6,000ft to Mirador El Time, all the time photographing fantastic scenery and the incredible runners as they tore past us. And that's what we did - sort of.
|At the windy summit we'd to put on jackets|
We arrived at the summit around 10.15am with time to spare before runners came through. We were above the usual cloud inversion, bathed in glorious sunshine but with a sneaky wind that forced us to don jackets.
|Astronomical telescopes along the ridge|
On a long ridge fourteen silvery astronomical telescopes glinted in the sun. Below us a mass of cloud swirled around in the huge crater of Caldera Taburiente. Way across the sea Mount Teide towered above the clouds on Tenerife. We were in our element.
|Sage Canaday was first to the summit|
Excitement grew as the first runners were spotted snaking along the rising trail, tiny dots still far below. First to reach the aid station was Sage Canaday, always brilliant on ascents, with a previous winner, Luis Alberto Hernando close on his heels. I suspect Luis was too close for Sage's comfort for the latter is an equally brilliant descender.
|First lady, Swedish runner Ida Nillson|
In the gap before the next runners came we began our 6,000ft descent, gently of course as befits a couple of old crocks boasting 154 years between them. It wasn't long before the first lady past us, Salomon runner Ida Nillson of Sweden, a comparative newcomer to the sport of Skyrunning, but way ahead of following ladies.
|Anna Frost tootling down into the misty forest section|
Some way behind her were two more Salomon team runners, previous winner Anna Frost of New Zealand and Mira Rai of Nepal, the pair subsequently finishing 7th and 8th.
|Jogging gently down at our own pace, enjoying the incredible scenery|
We were enjoying watching the race unfold and wallowing in that dramatic environment. I think I'd got to the singing stage. Until disaster struck. My Lt knee gave way on a particularly rocky section.
My leg somehow bent beneath me as I crashed to the ground letting out an almighty yell. It's not often I worry about anything but will admit to some negative thoughts passing through my head as I struggled to get up. My leg was completely dead, like I'd just had an epidural, and I couldn't even wriggle my toes. Furthermore, we still had five miles to go, over equally rough terrain with no escape routes, so hanging around was not an option.
|It does get a bit rocky!|
Eventually I forced myself upright, shouting "Come on you stupid leg", shaking it hither and thither, massaging it and telling it to get moving again. Life slowly returned and I hobbled off with a gnawing pain in my Lt foot. I'm not sure where the will power came from to cover those last few, rocky miles but a certain amount of prayer was involved. I fell time and again as my old legs gave way, once into a prickly pear cactus, and twice, at least, being helped up by passing runners. Very embarrassing..
|Getting going again - refusing an offer of wine or beer|
At an aid station I was offered wine, or a can of beer, but I declined. I could have murdered one but all I wanted to do was get to El Time to maybe phone a taxi for we were convinced the two hourly bus we'd planned to catch would have long since gone. But, miracle of miracles, on the final steep descent to the Mirador my wonderful partner spotted the bus, held up by runners crossing the road, and sprinted down to hold it up while shouting to me to get a move on. We reckoned it was running at least ½ hour late.
Truly, a Godsend.
|Runner high fiving at the Finish|
With ¾ hour to spare in Los Llanos before the next bus back to our hotel we wandered up to the Finish area to enjoy the incredible race day atmosphere. Runners were coming in thick and fast, high fiving the crowds lining the red carpet, and every one of them shouted home by the race commentator. In the background loud music, and drums, whipped up a tremendous atmosphere. The whole town had turned out. We learned that Luis Hernando had won, for the third time, and later that Ida Nillson had won the ladies race by 15 minutes.
|Lots of Physios working at the long line of massage tables|
Runners finished with glee on their faces though afterwards many had great difficulty making the few metres to the massage tables, many of them collapsing before they got there and having to be stretchered away. It brought tears to my eyes. The pain in my legs and Lt foot was really put into perspective by the tortures those runners had endured over 75km and 4,350m of ascent. They have my greatest respect, they really are incredible. Many of them stayed in our hotel. We reckoned that when they left the average age of people remaining went up by at least 15 years and weight by around a stone and a half!
|The painters have arrived|
That bit of an accident was a none too happy part of the holiday. But only one of them. A couple of days later we became aware of scaffolding poles being taken through the room next to ours with a certain amount of clunking and banging. Then the phone rang. It was Hotel Reception telling us painters had arrived to paint the exterior walls, so were moving us to a much better room that caught more sun. Like hell. It was a newly decorated room that faced south but an overhead balcony blocked out all overhead sunlight.
|A bit of demolition going on across the pool area|
There was worse. Not many metres away, just across the pool area, workmen were smashing slates off the roofs of Costa Salinas Apartment block and sweeping away the flying dust. A generator was put-putting all day long, until 8pm, possibly to drive the screaming masonry saws cutting away parts of the building. There was no escaping the hammering and banging, either on our balcony or anywhere by the pool. We had to go out. Most of the time.
|At the Mirador del Barandas|
We walked into Santa Cruz and caught a bus for an airy ride to Los Sauces from where we'd planned a walk to Mirador del Barandas. The guide book had a picture of the fantastic view from the mirador. The 3,000ft climb was good exercise for my old legs but when we got there the viewpoint had become so overgrown with trees and shrubbery we could see little beyond. A con.
|Looking down to Puerto Tazacorte from the cliff path|
On another day we revisited El Time specifically because I wanted to experience the sensational 2,000ft drop of a winding path down an almost vertical cliff to Puerto Tazacorte.
|There were some little moany songs on the way down|
There were some little moany songs from my wonderful partner whom I captured on video making her way down ever so carefully, clearly not enjoying the tremendous exposure or the sight of dinky restaurants and buildings hundreds of feet immediately below her.
|Had we really just come down there?|
We were hungry after that and chose a restaurant with wonderful grilled fish on a menu that included wine. After the trauma of her descent my wonderful partner had most need of the latter! Behind the restaurant was a great tank of huge terrapins (?) resembling aquatic tortoises and we wondered if these were on the menu. Are they edible?
|Some of those 'aquatic tortoises'|
I didn't mention it but my eye was playing up badly on a morning we'd planned to do the classic Volcano route and I wasn't seeing very clearly at all. However, when we reached the taxi stand it appeared like the whole route was in thick cloud whereas on the opposite side Pico Bejenado rose majestically into a clear blue sky. We opted for the latter.
|Tree-covered Pico Bejenado bathed in sunshine|
At a height well over 6,000ft the trail goes on a bit to the lofty summit. With limited vision I could cope with narrow, rocky paths, tree roots etc. on the way up but I wasn't looking forward to the descent when my knees have a nasty habit of giving way unexpectedly - as on the day of the Transvulcania race.
|Summit of Pico Bejenado|
It was another day of cloud inversions with a view to die for from the airy sunlit summit. A lone swift darted around at great speed - catching butterflies. Lizards scuttered away, which is odd as they usually arrive on the scene when there's biscuits around.
|A Bejenado lizard. It ran away...|
After a ½ hour or so, savouring the situation, we carefully made our way down passing lots of walkers labouring upwards in the increasing heat of the day. At the end of the forest we were lucky enough to thumb a lift down the long stretch of road back to the Visitor Centre - and the bus stop.
|Setting off down - "mind that hole on your left"|
My eye was aching and somewhat bloodshot next day giving me cause for concern. We located an optician who referred us to the local medical centre (Centro de Salud) where I was examined by a doctor and given a presciption for dispensing at a local chemist (Farmacia). Using my EHIC card (for the first time ever) it cost me the grand sum of 2.06 euros.
|Strange structure near the beginning of the Volcano route|
The penultimate day of our holiday was our last chance to do the classic Volcano Route (Ruta de los Volcanes), the island's most renowned walk and one of the most popular in all the Canaries. We took a taxi, driving through swirling mist and clag as we gained height to the start point at El Pilar. A cold wind greeted us as we stepped from the car prompting a quick donning of fleeces and jackets before starting my Garmin and setting off into the gloom.
|A natural rock garden on the way to Hoya Negra|
We passed a dithering couple who seemed undecided about going further,
then another couple who trailed us for a short while before disappearing
from the radar. In 20 minutes we rose above the clouds into glorious
sunshine with extensive views of all the wonderful sights unfolding
before our eyes.
|At the Hoya Negra|
With only 500m of ascent and 1,600m descent (according to the guide book) the route is not so strenuous as the guide book would have people believe. C'est un bleedin' doddle is a phrase I'd have used in younger days and, compared to some Scottish mountain routes I've done, I reckon it is. Good walking boots are recommended and plenty of water. We set off in running shoes, just one small bottle of juice and food we never ate. But we did carry emergancy gear and first aid, just in case.
|Holding on to my hat for a photo on Volcan Deseada|
The hardest part was the steep, sandy and loose ascent onto the rim of Volcan Deseada, the highest point that had us struggling in a fierce wind. It was gale force on the tiny summit with a terrifying drop on one side. We'd great difficulty standing up and balancing to take photographs while holding on to our hats!
|Starting a run from the summit to escape the wind|
It was such a relief to leave there that we began to run, and me to sing, all the way down to the crossed trails where, amazingly, there's a water tap. An appropriate place for a swig of juice and to top up our bottle.
|Here she comes....|
When setting off to do the 11 mile route at 10am from El Pilar we'd planned to take it easy and finish at Los Canarios in time to catch the 16.50 bus back to our hotel. But more and more I was enjoying the running and inevitably it became a race against time to catch a bus two hours earlier - at 14.50.
Once a runner.......
|...and there she goes|
There were a few rocky bits through the wood but mainly a sandy path led gently downward to a short tarmac section, then more woodland before crossing a road and down steep cobbles to the fleshpots of Los Canarios. A signpost said 0.8km and we'd exactly 4 minutes left to catch the bus. We almost sprinted along the main street to arrive at the bus stop just as the bus appeared. Mission accomplished......
My Garmin recorded 11.01 miles, 2,284ft of ascent, 4,724ft of descent in 4 hours 45 minutes. Quite a difference to figures given in the guide book......
|Cheers! It wasn't all bad...|
We were back in our hotel by 4pm with filthy legs and shoes full of enough black sand to grow potatoes. The chambermaid wouldn't appreciate the state of our balcony when she arrived to clean the place next day. But we'd never know. We were leaving after something of a Curate's egg experience - good parts which will ever remain in our memories and bad parts I for one will be happy to forget.