The Forbidden Country

Posted: October 30, 2007 in Life, Spain, Tenerife, Travel
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We’ve lived on Tenerife for four years and despite having walked all over the island, we’d never explored the dramatically monickered ‘Barranco del Infierno’ (Hell’s Ravine). As we’re currently writing features about the best places for hiking on Tenerife, it seemed an opportune time to discover whether the ‘Barranco del Infierno’ deserved its status as one of Tenerife’s most popular walking trails.

The mistake we made when Andy phoned to make a reservation (they only allow 200 hundred people a day) she told them that we were planning to write a feature about it.
The man on the phone’s attitude immediately changed and suddenly he started behaving as though he was in danger of catching leprosy from us.

Voice on phone: (Hesitation) Err, you can’t, it’s not possible.
Andy: Why?
Voice: You need permission.
Andy: To walk in the country and take some photographs?
Voice: Exactly, this is a conservation area and we have to be careful.
Andy: But isn’t the countryside open to everyone?
Voice: I’m sorry, but you need permission.
Andy: From whom?
Voice: The medio ambiente office.
He read out the number.
Andy: Okay I’ll do that, but can I make an appointment with you now.
Voice. There’s no point until you have permission.
Andy (exasperated): Didn’t you used to work for NCP car parks in Stockport.

Andy duly phoned the medio ambiente office (the environmental department) and a similar conversation took place with a girl who was very pleasant about it, but confirmed that we needed to send a fax for them to be able to grant permission. Apparently an email was no good; permission had to be given on paper (considering this was the environmental dept you might have thought they’d be keen to reduce the use of paper). The problem was that she didn’t have the authority to give permission; that was town hall’s responsibility. She gave us a name and another number to call.

Call number three. Of course, the person we needed to speak to had left for the day. The girl on the other end of the phone took our details and told us someone would phone back, but it would probably take a couple of days for permission to be granted. 

What had started out as what we thought was a simple task had taken us half the morning and we hadn’t progressed one iota. Because of deadlines, we were committed to travelling to the south of the island the following day, which left us with two options:

  1. Forget about the ‘Barranco del Infierno’ for now and write about the neighbouring municipality instead.
  2. Turn up at the Barranco and, if it wasn’t fully booked, pay our money like everybody else.

Sometimes common sense has to triumph over officialdom.

We’re still waiting for the call back.

A university student in India half-jokingly once told me, “The British might have introduced bureaucracy to India, but we perfected it.”
I know of a couple of Spanish town councils who could challenge that claim.

  1. Joe Cawley says:

    Nice article, Jack. Made me laugh, and very reminiscent of my own experiences with the tourism suits, especially when you tell them it’s for a feature:
    Them: Writing about it!!
    Me: Yes.
    Them: In a newspaper!
    Me: Yes.
    Them: Oh, no. Can’t be done. You need permission if you’re a journalist.
    Me: Ok, I’m not a journalist, then. I’m just a member of the public.
    Them: Ok, but if you want to write about it you’ll need special permission.
    Me: Don’t worry. I wouldn’t want to risk promoting Tenerife to the outside world or anything silly like that.

  2. dragojac says:

    Thanks Joe.

    Funnily enough, after it happened I remembered a story that you told me about a photographer making the mistake of asking if he could take photos of the Botanical Gardens in Puerto for Living Tenerife with similar results.

    I’m starting to think there’s been a mistranslation somewhere along the line and that old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” has been interpreted on Tenerife as “There’s no such thing as good publicity”.

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