Roques de García

Jan 25, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

Roques de García

I reached the Roques de García in the middle of the afternoon. All across the caldera, the scenery was desert-like, and here, a small church amongst the yellow sands made it look like the set of a Western. The walk across had been quite quiet, but here there was a steady succession of cars and buses arriving, disgorging their contents of tourists who swarmed over the trails around the giant rock pillars, then got back into their transport and disappeared. I had seen pictures of these rocks before, but didn’t appreciate until now just how huge they were. Few pictures of them show that they are many times taller than a person. I took some photos that also failed to show their height well.

Eventually it was time for the bus back down to the south of the island. I headed down and flew home. Only a few hours separated my standing on top of a giant volcano off the coast of Africa with my being back in London, getting a night bus home. Every time I go back to the Canary Islands I like them more, and already I was wondering when I’d next get the chance to visit.

Across the caldera

Jan 25, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

Across the caldera

I headed back down. I had some time before the bus down was coming, so I decided to walk from the cable car station to the Roques de Garcia, a lava formation a couple of miles away. It was January, I was a couple of thousand metres above sea level, but still it was hot walking weather in the midday sun. The walk wasn’t too exciting but the views back up to the peak of the volcano were impressive. The cone had an obvious bulge on one side, and I could see why geologists think it might collapse next time there’s an eruption here.

Teide

Jan 25, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

Teide

But the next day, the storm had passed, and the day dawned clear and fresh. My target was Teide: the highest point in the Atlantic, a mountain I’d flown over a few times, and many times seen from the top of La Palma 90 miles away. It’s claimed that it’s one of the most visited national parks in the world, but I found that hard to believe as I got on the one bus a day that goes over the island to the mountain.

In the warm January sunshine we chugged up the road. Once we were up at high altitude the scenery was impressive, and we drove across a desert-like plain to get to the cable car station. I wanted to go to the top of the mountain; at 3,718m above sea level it was higher than anywhere I’d been since coming down from El Misti three years earlier. But I wasn’t planning to climb it. Time was limited and I took the easy route, getting the phenomenally expensive cable car to the summit area. I would have liked to go to the very top, but the bureaucracy involved in getting the necessary permit defeated me, and it turned out in any case that the trails were all closed due to ice.

So I was limited to the upper cable car station only. I breathed the cool thin air, and looked out over the caldera. Far below, a convoy of Hell’s Angels was chugging along the road, and the noise of their engines drifted up to the heights.

Puerto de la Cruz

Jan 24, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

Puerto de la Cruz

By coincidence, a friend of mine was on holiday nearby, and we met up in Puerto de la Cruz, on the coast below La Orotava. It’s a short distance but the bus journey was slow as it wound its way down the twisty roads.

Puerto de la Cruz was much more touristy than La Laguna or La Orotava. The weather was nicer, too, at first, and we got a meal on the main square. Here I had troubles, as I often do in Spain, as a result of being a vegetarian. As we looked at the menu, the waiter began to recommend dishes, all meaty. Wondering if they had anything good without flesh in it, I said “Soy vegetariano”. “Ah, Italiano!”, said the waiter, and brought me an Italian language menu.

As we ate, clouds were coming in. We walked down to the sea, watching legions of large dark crabs scuttling across the rocks on the foreshore. The waves rolled in off the Atlantic, and there was a mood of foreboding over Puerto de la Cruz. My friend had to drive back to the south coast of the island, so I said goodbye to her and caught a bus back to La Orotava. In the evening, rain battered down, the gutters filled with rushing streams, and the streets of La Orotava were empty.

La Orotava

Jan 24, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

La Orotava

On another grey misty morning in La Laguna, I walked to the bus station to ship out to warmer parts. I headed for La Orotava, on the west side of the island. The bus didn’t take long, and as we headed down the motorway the weather got a bit better. La Orotava is a hilly town, and the place I was staying was at the top of a very steep road. Once I’d recovered, I headed back down to have a look around. The views over the town’s colonial architecture to the sea were nicer than the views of La Laguna in the drizzle had been.

La Laguna

Jan 22, 2009 in Tenerife 2009

La Laguna

I’d passed through Tenerife a couple of times on my way to and from La Palma, and I’d often seen the peak of Teide from 90 miles away at the Roque. I finally got to stay on the island when there was a scientific meeting there that I needed to attend. For my first trip to La Palma in 2001, the flights had cost a staggering £600, and that was via Madrid and Tenerife. Since then, the budget flight revolution had taken place, and this time I got a direct flight to Tenerife for a sixth of that.

I made my way to La Laguna, in the north of the island, and spent three days there. Most of the time it was misty and cool. It had been 23°C in the south but La Laguna was uphill and inland, and this was typical January weather.

Boat back to Tenerife

Jun 25, 2007 in La Palma 2007

Boat back to Tenerife

Fearsomely early the next morning we headed to the port of Santa Cruz to get a boat back to Los Cristianos. The dawn views as we sped through the archipelago were pretty amazing, and sunbeams lit Los Cristianos as we approached.

At the airport we found that Thomas Cook could also be added to the Canary Islands transport blacklist, as they were running an extortionate excess luggage scam. Somehow their scales suggested that we’d acquired more than ten kilos of luggage since we had left London, and we had to pay some ridiculous fee. Next time I come to La Palma I’m getting the boat from Cádiz.

Up to the top

Jun 24, 2007 in La Palma 2007

Up to the top

I don’t think any visit to La Palma would be complete without a visit to the Roque de los Muchachos. I particularly like going there early in the morning after a long night at the telescope, when it’s always empty. We drove up there, via the steep and twisting back road.

It seemed strange to come up here and not check in at the Residencia, but we drove on past and headed to the top. Then we walked out onto the rocky ridge which juts out into the caldera. I took the same photos I take every time I’m up there. I think I’ve photographed every possible view, but it wouldn’t seem right to leave without some new versions of them.

We headed back down the road to Santa Cruz. We’d both been victims of the legendary Lionel, who always drives astronomers to the top, but who knows the roads far too well and sweeps around the hairpins like a Canarian Fangio. Trips to the top with him are all about trying not to throw up. Because of this, I drove down in at a sedate and non-chunder-inducing pace, but still just fast enough to get us back to our hotel in time for dinner.

Wild road

Jun 24, 2007 in La Palma 2007

Wild road

We drove north. Our plans were vague but involved following the coast road around the north end of the island, so we were quite surprised when the road swung far inland. We presumed we were still on the main road so we carried on, but it got narrower and narrower, and higher and higher. When we started to pass through tunnels which were just hewn from the bare rock, we decided we must have taken a wrong turning somewhere.

We guessed that if we carried on, we’d get back to the main road. After an hour or so we began descending again, and eventually we did reach the right road. As we rounded a turn to look south, we could suddenly see the Isaac Newton Telescope perched on the mountain top high above us. We decided to head up there.

Los Tilos

Jun 24, 2007 in La Palma 2007

Los Tilos

As we ate lunch in San Andrés, the sun came out, and the clouds quickly disappeared to leave behind a blazing hot day. We headed on to Los Tilos, a lush forest often described in guidebooks as a rainforest. I don’t think it is, really, but it was still pretty otherworldly, and very different from the rest of the island. We hiked up a trail to Los Brecitos, and in the heat of the afternoon it was a pretty tough hike. The views at the top over the forest were worth the effort though.