Archive for June, 2008

Playa Bollullo - one hot beachAfter our disastrous attempt to show Sue the best of the Anagas, a day of R&R was in order, so we headed along the coast from La Paz, through the banana plantations, to the beautiful black sand beach at Bollullo, hidden in the folds of the cliffs.
It’s popular with locals; however, as the only way to reach it is by a thirty minute trek across the cliffs, or by a single track road most visitors never get there.
After a cold beer and some tapas at the little beach bar, we headed onto the black sands for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Whilst we’d been quaffing our beers we’d noticed that, despite it being Sunday when all beaches are packed to capacity, nobody was sunbathing at the back of the beach; everyone was squeezed onto the darker sand near the shoreline. We didn’t really think anything of this; the Spanish aren’t the greatest of walkers, it’s normal for them to plonk themselves as close to the water as possible. But that wasn’t the reason today. As we walked across the empty black sand, some grains slipped into my flip flops and I discovered why nobody was on this part of the beach, the sand was unbearably hot. It felt as though somebody had just poured hot coals over my feet. I cried out loud (well screamed to be more accurate)at the level of the pain and tried to shake the sand out of my sandals, causing a landslide which engulfed my other foot in what I can only describe as molten lava.
It was like walking barefoot on a hot plate and from that point I yelped and hopped, making John Cleese’ ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ seem mundane, until we reached a darker and therefore in theory, cooler patch of sand amidst the other sunbathing victims trapped at the water’s edge.

We threw our sarongs hastily onto the sand and lay down hoping to escape the torture of the hot sands.
Sarongs may look like a ‘cooler’ alternative to beach towels, but as protection against searing hot sand they’re useless.
“I thought this was supposed to be relaxing and fun,” grimaced Andy piling a layer of clothing between her and the sand as protection.
I couldn’t answer, I was to busy trying to fit onto a copy of the Guardian; my saviour from scalded buttocks.
Unfortunately as we struggled to avoid being scalded, we didn’t notice the tsunami sized wave that was rushing toward us until the last moment. Just as it reached the edge of my sarong, I spotted it and grabbed the most important items, my camera bag and my clothes; gallantly leaving Andy and Sue to fend for themselves.

I only managed a few yards before the fierceness of the sand stopped me in my tracks and I threw my shorts and T-shirt onto the sand and jumped on to them to try to alleviate the agony in the soles on my feet. Devastation in the form of a line of sodden sarongs was strewn behind me. Andy perched on one clutching her bag and clothes, her bikini top half on, half off (a very classy look – NOT); on another Sue sat holding a rucksack which had transformed itself into a water container. We squatted there for what seemed like an eternity, unable to go forward or back due to the ferocity of the hot sand which surrounded us. Around us some people tried to make it to the top of the beach and the sanctuary of the beach bar. One bloke ran a few feet then dropped to the sand, holding his arms and legs in the air like a dying fly; his swimming shorts his only protection between him and the unforgiving sand. A young girl, one end of her towel between her hands, the other under her feet, shuffled up the beach using her towel as a variation on a Zimmer frame. Suddenly my silly walk onto the beach didn’t seem quite so out of place.

As we squatted on that beach, trying to work out a plan of escape that didn’t involve waiting until it fell dark and the sand cooled, I couldn’t help thinking about all those people who talk about the north of Tenerife as being ‘cold’.
Of course it’s all relative; the north is ‘cooler’ than the south, but this is in sub-tropical terms. In this case the ‘colder’ north was still hotter than the fires of hell.

My wife, Andy, has already posted a blog about this, but I felt I needed to tell my side of the story.

“We’re lost,”
I could hear irritation creeping into her voice.
“No, we’re not,” I checked the compass against the map. “We’re definitely going in the right direction…trust me.”
“Maybe we should have followed those other people, they seemed to know what they were doing.”
Ouch! That hurt.
Thirty seconds later I was facing a vertical rock face in front of me and two sheer drops into abyssal ravines on either side.
“Hmmm, I don’t think this is the right path,” I mumbled, coming to the same conclusion that both Andy and Sue had reached twenty minutes earlier.

For the second time in two weeks we had ventured into the Anaga’s, this time to show our friend Sue, on holiday from the big smoke, the splendours of Tenerife’s most remote landscapes and a village with no roads. It was a folly. We’d walked the route to the very eastern tip of Tenerife once previously and had nearly expired that time due to misjudging water supplies and a barranco that never ended, but the scenery is stunning and we wanted Sue to see a Tenerife that very few visitors experience.

The lush and wild Anaga Mountains

It all started pleasantly enough. The sound of Santana drifting up from Chamorga, a village at the end of Tenerife’s eastern road, added a suitably Latino soundtrack to the swathes of sugar cane and steep narrow terraces that lined the path, lending the countryside a South America aspect. The start of the trail was clearly signed and our directions seemed relatively straightforward…until we reached the first junction. Sure there was a sign, but it was completely rusted over and the barely legible name on it didn’t match the one on my map. However, the path we were on was the only decent one we’d seen, so we decided to continue onwards and upwards through the musty laurisilva forest.
Fifteen minutes later and an alarm bell went off in my head; we seemed to be heading away from the coast rather than towards it. However we always carry a compass, just for moments such as these. I lined up north with the compass printed on the map and set the reading to east, the direction we should have been travelling. The path we were on was heading in the opposite direction.
With much mumbling and grumbling and Andy and Sue behaving like a couple of ‘doubting Thomasinas’, muttering things like ‘this doesn’t look like a real path’, to which I retorted, under my breath of course, ‘this is the great outdoors my friends…it doesn’t have pavements’, we retraced our steps and took a much smaller path which led due east (the right way).

An hour and a half, having fought our way along numerous paths, all of which started promisingly and ended suddenly, we emerged at a clearing – right above the village where we’d started. An hour and a half of walking and we’d travelled a big fat zero miles in terms of distance.
There was only one thing for it. We abandoned the walk, returned to the car and drove to the troglodyte hamlet of Chinamada instead. My reputation as walking guide, tracker and expert map reader in tatters.

As navigator and map holder, I was held responsible for the debacle which I felt was a tad unfair for two, no three reasons:

  • We were using an officially produced walking map. These are nearly always almost useless. Directions are more guidelines, the author clearly never having actually completed the walk.
  • The route on the map clearly didn’t exist anymore, despite the map being less than two years old (see above).
  • This is the killer. There was a compass on the map, but get this, the cardinal direction of the compass bearing which pointed to the top of the page was not the usual north, but east so, not having noticed this, my readings had been wrong from the off.

Needless to say, I was not the most popular person in the Anaga Mountains that day. Thank you very much map makers of Tenerife.

In the last post I mentioned that the Anaga Mountains don’t receive as many visitors as they should, but that’s in relative terms. The more intrepid travellers make their way there as do some coach excursions, but the coaches are restricted to the wider roads which they can navigate, which means some of the most stunning spots are missed.

I’m not a fan of coach excursions; I hate the herd of animal aspect to them and the whistle-stop approach that many adopt. It’s like having a plate of garlic chicken placed under your nose and being told you can smell it, but you can’t actually eat it.

On Tripadvisor this week, someone was advising a first time visitor to the island of places where to go. It was good advice and included Masca, Garachico, Mount Teide and the Anagas, but there was one little comment that irked me. It was simply a reference to  Almaciga (a small coastal village) as “the most remote village on Tenerife”. Almaciga is a nice little village for sure, but the most remote on Tenerife – give me a break. It’s where many of the coaches that visit the Anagas stop for lunch; hardly remote. There are many far more remote places, but the coaches can’t get to them so they don’t exist. I’m sure the woman who was giving the advice gave it in good faith, but I’m equally sure that it was a piece of ‘misinformation’ fed to her by a tour guide and that’s another reason I’m not a fan of excursions.

This view from the Anagas was much easier on the eyes than some others

Anyway, after our walk to Taganana we stopped at a little mirador (viewpoint) where there are wonderful views of both the east coast and the north. It’s an incredible spot; on one side of the road, the landscape is barren and dry; on the other it’s lush and velvety green. However, there was one view which was as unexpected as it was unwelcome. There was a minibus parked beside the mirador and outside it was a British woman in her early fifties with short blond hair and even shorter shorts. Whilst everyone else was enjoying the scenery, she was enjoying a cigarette. Nothing wrong with that, I can remember the need for a nicotine hit from the days when I used smoke, but when she turned her back to us she revealed that she was committing a crime against fashion and common decency that should have resulted in her being summarily executed on the spot. Her cut off shorts weren’t actually long enough to cover her buttocks. Daisy Duke she certainly wasn’t (dated cultural reference), but if that wasn’t bad enough, she was wearing a pair of big, black knickers which protruded a couple of inches below the hem of her shorts.
“OH MY GOD,” Andy gasped, absolutely horrified. “Doesn’t she have any friends?”

Clearly not, or they would never have let her leave her apartment. So here’s a tip, before you go out anywhere, always get someone to check how you look from the back; you just never know.

Q: What’s the difference between walking in the Anaga Mountains and going fifteen rounds with Rocky Balboa?

A: There isn’t one!

The lush Anaga Mountains

My favourite place for walking on Tenerife is in the Anaga Mountains. The Anagas occupy a large chunk of the north east of Tenerife and are characterised by ancient ravines, forests and tiny villages perched in places that no sane person would consider suitable for setting up home. This is a landscape which kicks ass and it’s absolutely beautiful.
La Gomera is known for its great walking, but for me the Anagas can match anything that Tenerife’s neighbour has to offer and raise it some. The fact that they are about as far away from Tenerife’s southern tourist resorts as you can get means that they’re not as popular with visitors as they deserve to be, but it does mean that when you explore them, you feel like you are witnessing a way of life on Tenerife which hasn’t changed for centuries.
This week Andy and I were exploring an old merchant’s trail for a series about walking on the island which we’re doing for Living Tenerife magazine. It wasn’t a long walk; only about 3.5 kilometres each way, but as the route twisted and turned from the Anaga’s spine down to a village, Taganana, near the coast and back again, it did involve a steep descent and a lung testing ascent. There is no such thing as easy walking in the Anagas; their very design makes you work your proverbial socks off to enjoy their treasures. On the way down we passed a German couple who were on the way back up. They weren’t that far from the village and from their dress they obviously weren’t strangers to serious walking, but both had flushed faces and were panting quite heavily.
After a lunch break in Taganana, a picturesque village which is a non-touristy version of Masca, we made our return along Calle Portugal and discovered why the Germans were already ‘done in’ before they’d even started. Calle Portugal is a joke of a street. It isn’t a street; it’s a vertical cliff which just happens to have houses on it. I’m sure the locals need ropes and crampons to get in their front doors. There was one car parked on the cobbles; boulders had been piled against its back wheel to stop it toppling over – no joke. By the time we reached the end of the street, passing a group of Sherpas setting up base camp on the way, we were fully paid up members of the ‘beetroot face’ club and some centenarian thief had nicked my left knee and replaced it with his aged, worn out one. And that, my friends, was 0.1 kilometres completed.

I love walking in the Anagas; it’s always an experience which stays with me for days afterwards…every time I walk down steps, stand up, bend down, move…

I greeted the arrival of Euro2008 with the mental equivalent of a stretch and a yawn. The absence of England (well done to the alchemist Steve McClaren for his unique talent in being able to turn gold into shite) and Scotland had taken the gloss off the tournament for me, but one week in to the tournament and I’m completely hooked and enjoying every moment.

Holland have been scintillating to watch; by far the best team in the competition. They made the Italians look old and tired (which they are) and the French as easy to cut through as brie (never been ones to put up much of a resistance when under the cosh though, have they). To be fair to the French, they played a lot better than the 4-1 drubbing suggested and may still be a team to be reckoned with a bit of ‘bonne chance’. The Italians usually start slow in tournaments, but this time they haven’t even reached the starting block; arrividerci Switzerland methinks.

Spanish TV’s catchphrase for Euro2008 is “Podemas” (we can) and having watched the Spanish team destroy Russia and show grit and determination (not qualities normally associated with the Spanish national side who usually suffer from perennial stage fright at major tournaments) to beat a decent Swedish team, I reckon it’s a claim that’s not without merit. Spanish commentators are already talking about a Spain – Holland final (although I didn’t think that was actually possible), completely ignoring the other form team, Portugal of course, but that’s a given. During the Holland – Italy game, the Spanish commentators were cooing over Holland’s football when one of them asked the other if they thought the Dutch team’s performance was as good as Portugal’s a few days previous. Roughly translated, the other replied:
“There’s no comparison. Holland are playing the champions of the world, Portugal were only playing Turkey”
God forbid that they’d actually compliment their neighbours and rivals.

I haven’t seen Portugal play yet, so I don’t know if they’re as good as Holland, or Spain, but all of them have that perfect mix of youth and experience in their squads which could bring them glory in a couple of weeks time. Of course, you can’t write off the Germans; you can never write off the Germans.

Quarter Finals Forecast
Portugal v Germany; Croatia v Czech Rep; Holland v Sweden; Spain v France

Sunday morning, up late to find someone had left a wee gift at the gate. Our neighbour, Marlene, bless her, keeps us supplied with a never ending stock of fresh lemons. These are the juiciest lemons in the universe and make the ones from the supermarket taste positively bland by comparison.

Simply Lemons

Yesterday I couldn’t help but think of that episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’ where Terry and Bob try to avoid finding out the score of a football match until they watch it on ‘Match of the Day’.

Our neighbour had invited us to go to a Peruvian restaurant that wasn’t a restaurant and I have to admit to thinking twice because I was worried that I might miss the Spain v Sweden match. I know that the idea of giving up the chance to try some Peruvian nosh to watch a football match sounds quite pathetic, but the Spanish are passionate about football, Euro 2008 is an important tournament and as I live in Spain, it’s only polite to show some support for the local lads.

As it turned out, it was an afternoon meal, so the conflict of interests wasn’t as much of an issue as it could have been.

The meal was great; a selection of Peruvian dishes served in an oversized shed, come monthly makeshift restaurant in the middle of some huertos (vegetable allotments). Being a Spanish, or in this case South American, lunch it lasted all afternoon from 14.00 to near 17.00, so by the time we were leaving the restaurant that wasn’t a restaurant, the teams were already taking to the pitch. Although we were only a ten minute drive away, I realised that we were going to miss the first few minutes of the match, but with uncharacteristic foresight I’d set the videoplayer to record the game.
When we arrived home, we decided to not watch any of it and opted instead to have a post meal siesta then watch the football, as if live, later.

Decent enough plan except for one thing; we live next to a small golf course which has a little bar. They’d obviously set up a telly for their clients to watch the football because at around 18.45 there was a loud roar from the direction of the bar.

“Ah,” said Andy. “I think we know the result.”
“You never know,” I replied. “They’ve had a golf tournament today, maybe it was that and remember they’re Canarios; they might have been cheering for Sweden.”

And at 22.30 on Saturday night as play entered injury time with the score at 1-1, I started to think that maybe the cheers had been for their own tournament. Then along came little David Villa, god bless him, to send Spain into the quarter finals.

I should have known it was going to be impossible to avoid knowing the score, even if I’d have been on the summit of Mount Teide, I would have heard the cheer when Villa slotted home.