Posts Tagged ‘Masca’

Often it’s the little things that can seem the most different. Take the shot below. There are a number of things in it that speak of foreign lands and different cultures; the palm trees in the background, the wooden ‘home-made by Robinson Crusoe’ tables and stools, the similarly desert island-esque thatched straw roof. But most of all it’s the sign.

You might think that given the design of this terrace this occupied a prime location overlooking a dreamy beach. But if you fancy popping out for a quick dip from here, the beach is a three hour trek through a ravine. This is at Masca on Tenerife; quite a bit inland.

So by the time you’ve popped out for your swim and made your way back, you’ve worked up a serious thirst. What better to quench it than with some cactus lemonade?

The prickly plants are abundant in these parts and apart from adding a touch of sub-tropical exoticism to the landscape, you can eat their ‘pears’ and, as the sign says, make lemonade from them.

I tried it once – you’ve got to really – and it didn’t really have any distinctive flavours. It certainly wasn’t unpleasant. But these days I tend to be boringly conventional and go for the seductively icy friendship of a cerveza after a strenuous hike.

Sadly the bar no longer looks like this… but the cactus lemonade is still there.

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A while ago I wrote a blog titled The British are the Curse of Tenerife. It was basically about how the impressions that others have of Tenerife might have been formed as much by the people who visit the island and never step foot outside their resorts as much as by media coverage.

Recently I’ve read quite a few blogs and professionally written articles about Tenerife that have had me wondering how much people actually know about this island and how on earth they can get their facts so wrong. After spending a wonderful leisurely afternoon in Santa Cruz with Andy and friends Sarah and Denise, who’d won a holiday in Golf del Sur, I think I may have the answer.

First of all here are some things I’ve read about Tenerife recently which had me raising my eyebrows.

“It’s not a cultural centre, but who really wants culture on a family holiday? I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t mind not being dragged to a museum…”

Err, Santa Cruz, La Orotava, La Laguna? I think the author of that one will find more than enough museums, art galleries, theatres etc. to bore the pants off her children if she looked beyond the resort she stayed in.

No Culture in Tenerife?

Another spoke of visiting the Tenerife most tourists never see – they were referring to Masca, the second most visited location on Tenerife after Mount Teide.

The next wrote of catching a bus from Santa Cruz to a little known beach – Las Teresitas, the secret beach used by the greatest concentration of residents on Tenerife i.e. Santa Cruceros and Laguneros.

Apart from the first example, two of these are just writers’ spin designed to make their travels sound more exotic and adventurous. It’s a commonly used device and there’s nothing wrong with it, but sometimes poetic licence is stretched to breaking point.

The place that most tourists actually do see!

At least these were in positive articles about Tenerife. The worst piece of misinformation I read was from a supposed Eco warrior website and we used it as TIT of the week in Tenerife Magazine last week. The eco warrior was calling for the closure of Loro Parque because it imprisoned whales and dolphins. Nothing wrong with that point of view, plenty of people don’t approve of keeping creatures like that in captivity and no pool can replace the sea.

However, the eco warrior suggested that people should go on whale watching trips instead and recounted how a friend of hers had taken her out in a boat to see whales and dolphins in their natural environment. An environmentalist recommending unregulated boat trips…a sure fire way of disrupting animals’ behavioural patterns right where they live and a massive environmental NO-NO.

What a dork – she certainly hadn’t done her research.

Anyway these are all cases of people getting the facts slightly wrong and, apart from the dangerous environmentalist, they’re not serious. But it all adds up to a slightly off centre picture of Tenerife. I read much worse fictions all the time and friends Sarah and Denise provided a clue as to why.

They had asked a bar owner in Golf del Sur about some unfinished building work in the resort – you know the thing; great unsightly breeze block construction left to blot the landscape for years. They were curious as to why nobody seemed to have been working on it for some time. His explanation was classic.

It was because of 9/11.

After 9/11 it seems, tourists stopped coming to Tenerife and the building work stopped.

I’m still laughing about that one. But what other absolute nonsense are visitors being fed? No wonder we read so much fantasy about Tenerife when some people are filling tourists’ heads with this sort of guff.

Recently we went on Tenerife’s version of a white knuckle ride a.k.a the road to Masca. Actually now I don’t think of it as a white knuckle ride at all, I think of it as one of the most amazing drives I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Coming across the brow of the hill at the Cherfe mirador is one of Tenerife’s ‘must do’ experiences. As the road twists and turns in tight loops downwards through an ancient landscape the views are epic to say the least. This is a high definition landscape.

A Serious Case of the Bends

However, quite a number of people are put off by the idea of driving on such a road – in fact I regularly read stories about people being nervous about driving on Tenerife’s roads in general, especially the ones through the hills. There’s really no need. I love driving on Tenerife’s roads (well apart from the motorway which just bores me) – it feels like real driving. Twisting roads which demand your full attention and inclines on switchbacks which have you going through the gears like Colin Montgomerie (no relation – different spelling). And therein possibly lays the issue. A lot of driving in Britain now can almost be done on autopilot; there are numerous occasions I arrived home in Stockport at the end of the working day without remembering driving all the way from Salford Quays.
A friend recently compared driving on Tenerife to driving between Manchester and Liverpool.
‘I think I only had to make about two turns in the whole journey,” he commented.

A couple of years ago I watched another friend play eenie meenie mo with the gears as he struggled to pick the right one. His driving in Britain was mainly town and motorway. Tenerife’s multitudinous corners and tight turns were an unfamiliar novelty.

Driving up from Puerto de la Cruz to Mount Teide last Monday we encountered a few people who were clearly similar. They’d floor the pedal to the metal on the straights (not that there are many) but when they reached a corner (of which there are lots) they’d nearly come to a complete stop to negotiate it. It’s quite a common occurrence; some people have a problem with left handed corners, some with right and some both. I think this is as a result of being used to mainly town driving. Having driven in the highlands of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall and the Brecon Beacons I personally don’t think that there’s a great deal of difference between driving in those places and driving on Tenerife – in fact I can still remember one corner in Wales where I had to do a three point turn to get around it.

So what I’m saying is that stories regarding the difficulty of driving on Tenerife’s roads can be a bit overplayed. In reality the older roads through the hills are usually quiet and you’re more likely to encounter locals driving ridiculously slowly (it’s mostly older guys on these roads who aren’t in a hurry to go anywhere) than speed freaks. If you enjoy driving, you should find them a joy – once you get to grips with driving on the right.

Admittedly though the Masca is a bit different; a bit special. I can recall exactly what I said the first time I came over that brow at Cherfe. It was “Oh shit!”

The other night we were watching an episode of The West Wing where Jed Bartlet met up with his opposite number in the Republican Party, Governor Robert Ritchie.
Ritchie told Jed Bartlet he didn’t like him because he was a ‘superior sumbitch’ a reference to Bartlet being an elitist snob whereas Ritchie was an ordinary ‘good ol’ boy’. The fact that one had just been to a classical rendition of ‘Wars of the Roses’ and the other had been to an American football game seemed to highlight the gulf between the two. It was a discourse which made me think of Tenerife.

From a potential British holidaymaker’s point of view (and that’s an important distinction – for some British visitors, tourism on Tenerife means only them; every other nationality is invisible) Tenerife has long held an image of attracting ‘good ol’ boys’. People who like doing things like spending their time between lying on a beach, or beside their resort pool and chewing the fat in the local, usually British, bars. A statement I hear often is a variation of this:
“I’ve worked hard and I’ve come on holiday to relax, not to wander around old churches or immerse myself in local culture.”

You could call this immersing yourself in the local culture...not quite as dull as some would have you believe

You could call this immersing yourself in the local culture...not quite as dull as some would have you believe

I suspect these people consider themselves as ordinary folks. Sometimes I feel there’s an inference that people who actually enjoy doing other things than lying on a beach and knocking back the pints in a bar haven’t actually worked hard otherwise why would they want to ‘waste’ their time doing boring things like visiting museums/old towns/fiestas/going walking. Many have a Governor Ritchie attitude and their approach to being on holiday is that of ‘good ol’ boys’ doing what ‘ordinary’ people do and anyone who thinks different is a ‘superior sumbitch’ to be treated with suspicion.

What really gets my goat though is the idea that people who find it relaxing and mentally stimulating to stroll around a lovely old town or to join in with local fiestas don’t also  enjoy beach time or sinking a few jars in an inviting tasca.

I read a hilarious blog recently from a couple of gay Australians who spent their holiday drinking too much at night and singing bad karaoke (I Will Survive of course), lounging about on the island’s beaches as well as hiring a car and having adventures around the island; visiting Mount Teide, Puerto de la Cruz, Los Gigantes, Masca and Santa Cruz in the process.

These were exactly my sort of people. They knew how to have fun, but they were also really interested in discovering Tenerife and they loved what they found. When I read blogs from visitors of this ilk after ploughing through reams from people only interested in where they can get a pint for a euro, it reminds me that there are thousands of visitors to Tenerife who don’t fit the ‘beer and burger’ profile and that their numbers seem to be increasing each year. These are the people that Real Tenerife Island Drives and Going native in Tenerife are aimed at.

In ‘The West Wing’, when Ritchie claimed that he was one of the ordinary people because he was the one who’d gone to the football match rather than a classical concert, Jed Bartlet responded by pointing out that one of the football players Ritchie was watching had a degree and another played a classical instrument.

I don’t know what being ‘ordinary’ means, but I do know it doesn’t have to mean being dull and disinterested.

Tenerife’s had more than its fair share of Governor Ritchies for a long time; it’s good to see some more Jed Bartlets on the scene.

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…

Tenerife Fire

Woke up on Monday of last week to see a massive smoke cloud billowing into the sky from what looked like the side of the volcano.  First thoughts were, ‘shit, the volcano’s gone up’.However, it turned out to be a massive forest fire in the upper reaches of Los Realejos, a municipality that lies on the other side of the valley from us. It was obvious from the smoke cloud that this fire wasn’t the norm and with temperatures pushing 40 degrees and the Sorroco wind fanning the flames the situation was likely to get worse before it got better. To make matters worse, fires had broken out on three of the surrounding islands and our copters were absent, fighting a blaze on La Palma. 

Fires aren’t strangers to these islands, especially during dry summers, so I expected there were emergency plans ready to be put in place when, rather than if, a ‘big one’ occurred.TV coverage didn’t fill me with faith though, throughout the day images were screened of bushes spontaneously combusting next to yellow uniformed fire-fighters, who seemed to be staring at the flames, unsure of what to do next, but as camera work here can be unbelievably frustrating, it’s possible that the cameraman didn’t figure that shots of fire-fighters actually tackling the fires would be reassuring to viewers. 

As the afternoon progressed, the fire spread despite the return of the helicopters which tried to douse the affected areas by dropping gigantic buckets of water, but by nightfall darkness revealed how terrifying the situation had become. From our terrace, we could see two large areas of the ridge above the valley in flames, the sky a deep orange. The TV reported that the helicopters were unable to continue working after dark, but then came rumours that seem too incredulous to be true, that the fire-fighters on the ground had also ceased fighting the fires after dark. Whatever the truth, by morning the fire was pretty much out of control and had spread westwards, destroying farmland, houses and livestock. A friend in a remote agricultural valley was awakened at four in the morning and told she would have to evacuate as the fire was almost at the head of the valley where she lived.

We put her up for the night and together we spent much of the day watching with dismay as the blaze continued to rage, destroying some of the most beautiful countryside on the island as well as many people’s homes and livelihoods despite the best attempts of fire-fighters, volunteers and helicopters.

By Wednesday the wind subsided, the weather cooled and the fire changed course and headed south west, thankfully for our friend bypassing her valley by a few kilometres, but unfortunately devastating the beauty spot of Masca. As the day progressed it was finally brought under control, or had run its course, depending on who you talk to. 

Local news reported that up to 13,000 people had been evacuated, and up to 15,000 hectares of land destroyed in what was turning out to be the worst ecological disaster to hit these islands for years. As we scoured the internet for some accurate and objective reports about the extent of the fire, we were horrified, but not surprised, by some British press stories which, completely ignoring those who were actually affected by the fires and had turned them into sensational reports about tourism. Headlines such as ‘Tourists Flee Tenerife fires’ conjured up images of tourist grabbing their beach towels and fleeing across the sand with the fire snapping at their feet.  

If you happen to be planning on visiting Tenerife soon and are having second thoughts because of the stories about the fires, don’t worry, no tourist was ever in danger, if they had been, the outcome might have been a bit different; at worse they were merely inconvenienced by not being able to visit some popular beauty spots. The truth is many tourists in major resorts in the south of the island probably didn’t know much about what was happening on the other side of the island, but then reports about the destruction of farmland, ancient forests and livestock wouldn’t sell as many papers.