Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Look on the bright side (Tenerife part 3)

After a few days on the island, we began the hike that had convinced us to pick this island out of all the Canary Islands - Mount Teide.  Tenerife was so named by the inhabitants of the nearby island La Palma.  In thier language, tiner meant mountain and ife was how they said white - so in the end, they called the island, White Mountain basically.  Why would you name an island with the Sahara wind blowing over it a White Island?  Because of this mountain!  Even at the end of April, as we were laying on the black sandy beaches (thanks again to this volcano), we could make out little bits of snow atop the peak!  It's an unreal feeling to be burning up on the beach and see snow in the distance.

We woke up at 5am and were out the door around 6am to start the hike in the dark.  With the winding road up the steep mountain, I would have loved to have seen all the flora and fauna in the daylight, but as we strapped our hiking lights on our heads and hit the ground walking, the excitment made it worth it.  With our lights angled towards our feet, like total professionals haha.  We were able to see the rocky path in front of
us until we made it far enough from the road and the sun started to peek out from the eastern clouds.  We see a lot of sunsets together, but not so many sunrises, so the fact that we were there, hiking up Spain's highest mountain, at the break of dawn was
incredibly romantic.  Our quick pace stalled quite a bit as we couldn't avoid sunrise kisses and tons of photos of the stunning oranges and deep reds reflecting off the clouds.  On top of everything, we were completely alone.  Not many people start the hike so early, so the silence was deafening and the view astounding - one of those magical moments where you inhale deeply to take in the whole scene, and if it's really good, you close your eyes and capture that split second in your heart forever.  For me, that's how this dawn felt - unforgettable in every way. 

As we all know though, sunrises only last a short time and then they are gone in a jiffy.  We admired the sunrise as it climbed above the clouds, but then it started beating down on us and we decided that we needed to get a move on if we wanted to make it to the summit
in our pre-reserved time range.  Being a National Park, Teide's peak, the last 20 minutes of the walk after you pass through a check-point station where you have to show your printed reservation and identification - but the catch is you only have a 2 hour window to enter that last part.  So, we lathered on the sun screen because this Equator sun is harsh and started some real hiking.  The landscape was quite barren with only a few green plants managing to pop up here and there.  Then strangely, huge boulders started to appear.  Called 'huevos de Teide', or Teide Eggs, they are massive rocks ejected from past volcanic eruptions and seem so out of place on the barren rolling hills.  As we trekked higher, the sandy colored pebbles transformed into dark and
jagged rocks.  After about a 45 minute walk along the wide path, we started what seemed like an un-ending ascent, in which each step was like walking on stairs, except that each 'stair' was a new rock.  So, not only was it a good workout for the bum, but great overall because we had to pay so much attention to stepping on sturdy rocks.  This extreme stair-stepping went on for what to me seemed like forever.  I mastered the art of only picking up my foot as high as I had to before setting it down again.  Some times little rocks tumbled behind me due to a misstep, so luckily Joseba was leading.  We took a little break for a banana munchfest to to quench our thirst, but I didn't dare sit down.  If you are walking up stairs for about an hour, the last thing you should do before you finish is sit down - no siree!  If I would have sat down, I might not be able to tell you about reaching the peak right now haha. 

After the 7 bazillion steps, the landscape changed a bit more - it became a patchwork of old lava rocks and snow.  The normally well-marked path was definitley more difficult to follow when the snow covered it, and sometimes we lost track and did some crazy rock-climbing stunts, but a nice man (who was fully equipped with ski clothes and professional walking poles) directed us back to the trail.  After a little sandwich we again got lost and started attempted to climb to the summit on an impossibly steep hill.  But really, it would have been impossible.  Luckily, that man saw us again, from the park station, and the park ranger shouted at us to head to the station and summit from there.  Then in the late part of our 3rd hour, we were quiet tired but made it to the park station.  The park ranger was very friendly and explained we were WAY off course.  Quite an adventure!  We handed him our printed pass to enter the designated path to the top when we saw the friendly man again.  He was so disappointed because he didn't know he needed to make a reservation before reaching the station, and after 3 hours of hiking, he
wasn't able to climb to the summit without the paper.  We bid him farewell and although we were worn down, we excitedly started the last leg of the trip.  The drive to the starting point dropped us off at about 6,500 feet above sea level.  The elevation change in the first hour was only about 1,600 feet ascent.  The stair-part about 3,000 feet, which put us at about 1,000 feet away from the 12,188 foot peak.  Those 1,000 feet though, were incredibily tough.  A massively steep staircase fashioned out of the mountains own rocks led us on a intense 20 minute last push, when again I perfected my foot-lifting or lack thereof technique.  When we finally made it, we had to catch our breath before we could actually take it all in.  And as we sucked in the fresh air, we were a bit thrown off by the odor.  Turns out, Teide, as it is still an active volcano, spews hot steamy sulphur.

The Guanches, the original inhabitants, called this mountain Echeyde and to them it had the same significance as Mount Olympus did to the Greeks.  The legend goes that Guayota, their Devil, kidnapped thier God of Sun and Light, Magec and locked him in the volcano, which covered the Earth in darkness.  The Guanches prayed to thier supreme God, Achamán, for help, and so Achamán fought Guayota and Magec was freed.  Achamán plugged up the volcano Echeyde wtih Guayota, and that he is locked inside.  When the mountain would erupt, the Guanches would light fires to scare Guayota away, thinking the eruption was him trying to escape or fuming with anger.

As we stood atop and gazed out over the island, it made sense to me that this volcano would be such a powerful force in thier lives.  Massive and dangerous in the past (as it will be when it erupts again), the Guanches respected the moutain and so I too, tried to gain that respect for the volcano that had just given me an amazing 4-hour work out.  We sat on the large gray rocks and took a moment to take it all in.  Above the clouds with a light breeze blowing our faces, we again were alone for a few minutes and able to savor the taste of what we had just accomplished together.

With time on our reservation window running out, we headed back down the steep walk-way to the park station.  Along the way, we spotted a lot of the famed Tenerife Lizard, which sports a blue torso as it scurries in and out of the rocks.  Instead of descending another 4 hours, we decided to take the cable cars back down to our car.  What seemed like a great idea and time-saver, in the end we regretted.  Having had so much altitude change in one day (0ft above sea leavel - 6,500 drive up - about 5,000 feet hike and then the 1,000 final push - 6,000 feet drop with the cable car - then another 6,000 drop back to sea level) made for big headaches.  We headed to the south of the island to try and sleep it away in the sun but it was cloudy and just made our way back to the hotel where we vegged out the rest of the day - well-earned.

For our 3 remaining days we were only trapped inside with one day of rain.  The other two we escaped the northern clouds and headed to the southwestern part of the island where we found a little beach called Playa de las Arenas ( The Sands Beach).  One day, on the way down we stopped off at a little town called Garachico to poke around.  Once a lively port town, exporting fruit and local wine, the eruption of 1706 ruined it's gusto.  Now, it is making a comeback as a beautiful spot, with its rugged volanic rock coastline, its warm-colored buildings each flauting a gorgeous wooden balcony, and the cobble streets that wind from the airy plaza to the small shops that fill
the streets.  We also managed to visit a small little village nestled in the mountains named Masca.  With only 150 residents, this village defies gravity, as it sits on hills at 70º-75º steep! Spilling over every wall it seemed there was a gorgeous bright magenta flowering bush that completed the red poppies and blooming prickly pear's orange flowers.

With such a wealth of stunning flowers and strange cacti covering the island, to the rocky paths of Teide to the black sandy (and hot) beaches of the south, to the singing locals in Taganaga and the hand-carved balconies in Garachico, this little island offered us a very memorable stay.  So, while we didn't hit the jackpot on the weather, I kind of look back on the clouds as a blessing - as it made us visit so many hidden places that we wouldn't have thought to venture to.


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