Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spain: Days 7-9 - Granada

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Mom standing in courtyard below the Comaras Tower. You'll see later that the tower is quite remarkable in its own right as it casts reflections on the pool behind Mom.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

the We spent Saturday transiting from Tenerife to Granada. To get to Granada required we fly once again to Madrid, an airport we are getting to know pretty well by now. At least this time our layover  was only about an hour. The flight from Tenerife was on a wide body jet that should expend less space on the first class seating so those of us trapped in coach can have a little more leg room. There was no meal service; at least nothing for free (cheap airline). The final flight to Granada was quick and the small airport was easily dealt with. The taxi ride into the city did not inspire confidence. We could see snow on the distant mountains and as we entered the city itself the streets we were driving down in late afternoon did not look that pretty or interesting, but what can you really tell from within a taxi cab. Our hotel, the Maciaplaza, on Nueva Square is compact. The rooms are considerably smaller than what we had in Tenerife but although they lack decent natural light they felt nicer. This hotel even had WIFI which was a nice plus for us. However, we would learn of the limitations of our new abode fairly early on too. People talking, loudly, in the halls late at night was chief among the flaws of the hotel. I am sure many enjoyed a night out on the town before returning to their rooms to crash. They disturbed our sleep. The other major failing of the hotel is the substantially over priced breakfast. For 7.50 euros you should get much more than we did and the coffee that was exuded by the machine has to rank amongst the worst any of us have ever tasted. But the flaws of the hotel are secondary to the visit which would, for us, begin in earnest Sunday morning.

The sun was lightening the sky as we began to ascend the streets towards the Alhambra. It was a constant climb along cobblestone roads and up steps past small streams of water alongside tall walls with plants. We found our way to a large plaza and from there along a path that was lined with tall sculpted dense bushes. We picked up our tickets then began our stroll through the entire palace complex of the ancient moorish kings. If their are guided tours we never saw any sign of them except for what was clearly some sort of specialty tour for a large group of Japanese who were listening to their guide via some sort of closed-circuit radio system.

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I couldn't hold the camera steady enough to really show you the fantastic patterns that are here, and everywhere, on this wall. Detail work like this can be found throughout the rooms and upon the exterior walls of the buildings that comprise the Alhambra palace.

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Pools, fountains, and small aqueducts that run along the ground abound. Water plays an important role in the overall landscape architecture of the Alhambra. You hear it move, you see if flowing, and of course the light that bounces off the water creates scenes like this one here. Takes with my iPhone 4 using a technique generally referred to as high-dynamic range (HDR) photography (technically I think what is happening is more accurately called tone mapping). Multiple photos are taken at different exposure settings and fused together. Our eyes see something special without any help but most cameras need a little help. The courtyard is dominated by the 45 meter high Comaras tower. WIthin that tower is the, as I recall, Ambassador's Hall (or room) and it looked pretty grand too.

As you enter what may once have been an administrative section you are immediately struck by the quality and intricacy of the mosaic work you see on the marble paths and upon the walls. the patterns are rich and the colors varied.  I wonder how visible some of this work was centuries past as the lighting could not have been all that great. Where natural light fell things were bright enough but there must have been many very dim places. As we walked through the rooms we felt the chill of the morning air, still not much above freezing (it would warm into the 60s), pervade the marble walls and interior space. Dress warm here as I certainly never saw any signs of fireplaces.

Shot on a clear, crisp (though warming) morning of January, 2011. The Alhambra has many courtyards like the Golden Hall. The garden featured here is one of many and other courtyards are dominated by reflecting pools or fountains. The rooms we walked through are not to be outdone as they feature intricate designs in the walls as well as mosaics on the floors or ceilings. It is a feast for the eyes.

I think we were most taken with the outside appearance of the complex. For example, walking through the courtyard where the Comaras Tower is you see the detailed stonework on the stucco walls, the styled myrtle hedges, and the lovely reflecting pool that is home to goldfish. While the main room in the Comaras tower is impressive with its vaulted ceiling rising tens of meters above I think some of the other great rooms I have seen in the past left deeper impressions.

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This is a view from Torre Cubo (Cubo Tower) which is one of the highest towers of the Alhambra. We are gazing out to the northwest.

When we climbed the Cubo tower to peer down on the city below we found white rooftops spreading out to the north for quite a ways. From the nearby watchtower, the highest point on the hill, we could pick out our hotel down in the square. By this point the sun was high in the sky and the day was warming up quite nicely. I suspect the people that made the Alhambra home would try to spend time outside of their buildings to enjoy the breezes and the sight and sound of the ever present water. Water is a defining feature of the entire complex. Small fountains are everywhere fed by rivulets running through narrow troughs that also feed the many reflecting pools. I wonder if they had an abundance of wildlife visiting the complex to take advantage of the abundant water.

I think the walk to and through Generalife through the hedge-gardens and along the Water Stairs and through the Sultaness' courtyard with its many arching fountain jets was really quite special.   I wonder how crowded it gets during the high season because during our visit of several hours it never really felt crowded. Nor did the complex really feel like a castle. That is, it did not feel like it was meant to be a military strongpoint where people could shelter from invading armies with huge stores of food and other materiel. Perhaps though this is an illusion and points out my limited knowledge of such things instead of any real basis in fact because we know that there were granaries and other such storehouses aplenty.

It is mid-January, 2011. The morning is all but spent and the sun is blazing forth in a clear blue sky. The gardens are beginning to show their flowers and the tress will be leafing out soon. Between the gardens, water, and all the patterns in the architecture of the Alhambra a visitor has no shortage of things to marvel at. Here we see portions of the Generalife which was the summer palace of the Nasrid Emirs of the Emirate of Granada. In our brief wandering through it did have a more open and airy feel than the rest of the Alhambra complex which would make sense for a summer estate. This should not be taken to mean the rest of the complex is closed as that is hardly the case.

Our next stop was St. Nicolas Square in the Albaicin. To get there from the Alhambra we boarded a well packed city bus that took us down the hill, through the busy and narrow streets of the central part of town, and up again into the neighborhood of the Albaicin. Buses seem to run frequently but take care as you will almost certainly get jostled about as you stand or sit. The Albaicin feels like an older section of the city full of narrow winding streets some with low steps. The square is at the high point and we found a nice outdoor cafe for a surprisingly tasty lunch (too bad the minstrels playing guitar and singing weren't quite as good). Walking down the hill we worked our way through cobbled streets lined with homes down towards the Darro river. At this point the river doesn't seem all that wide as it runs through the city. The far bank seemed sheer and up on the heights you can glimpse portions of the Alhambra. We strolled through blocks that had small plazas where people were out enjoying a drink and a bite to eat. The atmosphere of the whole area felt very nice. The sense we had had in the taxi ride into town was clearly an illusion as  we were finding the streets lively and clean (yes we did see some people who were begging and might have been homeless but it wasn't bad. Interestingly, many of them seemed to have a dog as a companion).

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The view from Nueva Square. to the left, unseen, is our hotel. To the right, dominating, is the hill upon which the Alhambra sits. You can see the bell tower on top in the distance. The square is pretty lively during the day lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants. Once you move off the square it is not hard to find yourself walking narrow streets in small neighborhoods. We found the more interesting places off the square.

Our second full day, our last day, we spent wandering the lowlands of Granada. The city is spread out around a couple rivers and across several hills of some considerable height. But I think the bulk of the town is in the river valleys. Certainly the bustling major avenues are down low. We walked along the mosaic covered sidewalks. We worked our way towards the train station but were in no particular hurry to get there. In fact we had hoped to join a walking tour that was supposed to start at the town hall but nothing came to pass.  Many people were out and about. I don't know if they were tourists out shopping or local city-folk; probably a mix of both. Certainly the little coffee place we stopped at for a mid-morning coffee and muffin  felt like a hangout for locals. It felt lively as we slowly moved along streets wide and narrow. Overall everything seemed clean and well maintained. It was an easy morning.

We worked our way back to the hotel past the Fuente del Triumph (sp?) and in and out of little twisting streets full of tiny tea shops and stores selling what looked like more exotic, or at least handmade, clothing owing at least something to a middle eastern heritage.  We would find our way back up to St. Nicolas Square, very quiet in late afternoon perhaps because people were on siesta. We saw people relaxing in the sun and others trying to earn a few Euros by performing on the street or selling their wares placed out on blankets that could be quickly rolled up should a police officer come into view.  While I feel sure we walked a fair ways it might be fair to say we never went that far as we spent a lot of time winding our way in and out of small neighborhoods.

I can't speak to the nightlife of the city. If we have a gap in our travels and experiences of places it is in the time we spend out at night. We get dinner somewhere or other, often one of the toughest decisions we have to make on any given day, and then return to our hotel for an early bedtime.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 6 - Anaga Peninsula

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I think we started the harder walk near the village of Cruz del Carmen (see map.) We were dropped off at a lonely, not open, cafe that sat amongst a couple other buildings. We would start the walk with a lengthy descent but after Sylvia's fall, not far into the walk, we had to hang out by the closed cafe waiting for the ambulance and coach to pick up Sylvia (and I think it was Karen who went with her) and the rest of us respectively (Vince stayed with us as he needed to make sure the rest of the group got to where it needed to get too).

The plan was to do the tougher walk today starting up high near Cruz del Carmen, head down the ridge line towards the village of Taborno, through more valleys into the hamlet of Las Carboneras (sp), and end up at the village at the end of the road called Chinamada which we were took had superior views of the Atlantic Ocean. That was the plan. The reality ended up being a bit different. We all rode in congenial silence most of the way along the narrow twisting roads into the Anaga Peninsula. This is the northeastern tip of Tenerife and as we drove on and up we came to realize that we were in for yet another treat. The valleys were deep and lush. More lush than we had seen thus far.It was clear we would be seeing different forests and terrain than we had seen on any of the previous walks. The walk that came closest to what we were now seeing was the second day's traverse along the escarpment above the organ pipes through the Canary Pine forest but that is only because it sported mountain vistas of a slightly similar nature.

Those of us doing the tougher walk were dropped off first. We had a sizable group  were ready for a fine 8 mile trek. The walk would have considerably more descent than ascent. We were expecting around 2,800 feet of descent and about 1,600 feet of ascent. The people doing the "easier" walk of 5.5 miles would have about 1,380 feet of descent and 1,180 feet ascent. Our walk would merge with the easier route when we passed the town of Taborno. But circumstances intervened before we got more than 50 meters. The walk started out on descending, slippery, trail and Sylvia slipped and fell badly. Badly enough that she could not go on. Badly enough that her wrist began to swell noticeably straight away. VInce, the HF leader today, sprang into action and with some help of others (I hope they were not in the way) he got things sorted out as best as could be managed. An ambulance was called and the waiting began. For us the waiting would end up being about 90 minutes with the ambulance arriving perhaps an hour into that period. Vince had managed to get in touch with the bus company and through them the driver so the coach was able to come back and pick us up and ferry us down the mountain. After all it was obvious we were not going to do the entire walk anymore. Sylvia's waiting is, sadly, perhaps still going on as I type this entry this evening but when she left us she was in good spirits and I suspect she still is though maybe a bit bored and put out by now. The group pulled together wonderfully and the things that we could control and handle I think we did pretty well. Kudos.

As we rode in the coach down the mountain heading to the village of Las Carboneras where we hoped to link up with Cathy's group of "easier" walkers we were surprised to see them not far along a mountain trail just off the road. It turned out they had spent a fair bit of time in Taborno before heading out and we were catching up to them on the bus. We pulled over and soon joined our group to their group (with a couple exceptions). By now it was a little after 12:00. The trail at this point is mostly hard packed dirt with a few steps thrown in. It is a reasonably wide path and when not slippery with mud provides solid footing but the valleys that open out to one side do create vertiginous views and if you do not have a head for heights they can be a bit overwhelming. Linda found them so (perhaps she was shaken by Sylvia''s fall too but she never did like descents) so we ended up dividing the group of everyone up into those that would rather walk the quiet road to Las Carboneras and those who preferred to hike the mountain path.

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Taken at a turning point along the twisting steep trail not far from the place we were dropped off at by the bus (see map.) It is just after noon and the groups have merged though Linda, Vince, and I think one other ended up walking the quiet tree lined and twisting road to Carboneras. The trail though steep allowed for pretty sure footing and it was quite enjoyable walking down into the lush forested valleys. We did not see the ocean all that much.

The path was lovely to walk. This area of the island is definitely the richest in flora and perhaps fauna we have walked through. Not only did we see a perfusion of wildflowers, succulents, ferns, and trees we also heard quite an assortment of birdsong. The views down into the valleys were wide and impressive. Even more impressive when you noticed the terraced slopes being cultivated with who-knows-what. Despite the problems we had encountered earlier in the day this not-so-easy walk (recall we are now doing the portion of the walk that was called the "easier walk") was turning out to be quite special.

I believe we dropped down into two distinct valleys before climbing out to Las Carboneras. The few damp and muddy spots reminded one to take care as he or she trod the dirt trail but in general the footing was quite good. But this was far from a simple stroll. At about 13:35 we climbed the last rock step past cultivated terraces (and at least one fellow working them) into the village. Lunch was had along the side of the road; definitely not one of our better lunch spots except that we could gaze back across the valleys we had crossed and marvel.

At 14:00 we shouldered our day packs for the last few kilometers walk to Chinamada. Those people taking the road went one way while the bulk of the group went the other. We were going to climb over the mountains, march along a ridge line, and drop down the other side into the village. I suspect the distance for this leg of the hike is about 4.5 to 5.0km. I expect that total distance we walked today is somewhere between 7 and 8km. The climb was moderately steep and steady along good path. We met two people who I feel certain must be a local older couple. They wished us well as we passed them heading in the opposite direction. The sun beat down upon us as we climbed to the top of the mountainside and then we began our descent with a bit of extra up thrown in for good measure. The views opened up and we enjoyed the simple pleasure of gazing out on verdant valleys below. Then we heard the bleating of goats.

We were approaching a hillside homestead with a sheep fold. The animals looked to be in superb shape and given their reaction to us, very curious and friendly, I am sure they see many walkers pass by their enclosure. We left them to their devices and soon after began the last drop down into Chinamada. By now we had caught several glimpses of the brilliantly blue-green Atlantic and much nearer to hand the bulk of our blue sided bus loomed in our view. The walk was completed not long after 15:15 which gave those folks who wanted to plenty of time to make the 20-30 minute hike out to a viewing point on a spit of land. For my part, and quite a few others too, I was happy to settle down in the courtyard of the tan cafe and have an ice cream and a beer. The view from this very well kept collection of buildings may not have been quite as wide as what the people who did the final extra bit of walking saw but it was enough for me. This day, that started so roughly, ended for most of us I think exceptionally well. That is a credit to the HF leaders and the island of Tenerife.

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The view from just outside of the cafe we ended our hike at. Their are a few houses here too but overall it is a pretty small village at the end of the road. However, there were other people in the cafe besides us so life does thrive around here. For those of you who are curious the picture was taken in this area (see map.) Some people would take a 20 minute, roundtrip, walk to the tip of the peninsula to get a better view but like my parents and a few others I was happy to hang out at the cafe and have ice cream and a beer.

A hike on the north eastern tip of Tenerife in the Anaga Peninsula region. We were going to start up the mountains somewhat closer to Cruz del Carmen but had to change our plans after an injury was sustained by a hiker near the start of the hike. Instead we started just a few kilometers east of Carboneras having joined the folks doing the "easier" walk. We strolled through laurel forests full of flowers and other plants, into valleys, and across mountains ranges to reach the village of Chinamada and a fine view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 5 - Las Cañadas

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While we did see some other types of foliage along the way this is the pant we saw the most. It looks as you pass by pretty dense as if you could lean against it and not much would happen but though the leaves are close to each other you wouldn't want to lean upon it like it were a hedge.

The crater is some 17 kilometers across and surrounded by mountains that rise, in some cases, several thousand feet above the rim. While Mount Teide is clearly the most prominent it is hardly alone though I think it was the only one to be capped by snow. There is a cable-car that you can take and get much nearer the summit of Mount Teide but getting a permit to do so is, if I understand correctly, a challenge. The caldera, which we would walk a portion of, is crisscrossed by many two-tracks and in some places actual trails. It is easy going.

We decided not to chance the potentially steep and scree lined path that would take the harder walk up to the third highest peak of Tenerife. Instead we elected to walk across the Las Cañadas crater and then do an extra couple of miles around a mini-crater. We would miss out on a chance to gaze out from real high but we still ended up doing a very fine walk at about 6,600 feet above sea level under completely clear blue skies.

To reach this place required us to take take a bus ride that was about 80 minutes long. It follows the same twisty road that took us to La CaCaldera a few days before but continued to climb past the tree line into terrain that reminds one a bit of some of the mountainous desert around Palm Springs or perhaps a bit like Sedona though the rock formations here are brown and black and aren't, for the most part, quite as interesting to look upon. When we disembarked the bus along with the other folks who had decided not to do the tougher walk (about 9 of us in all) it was edging past 10:40 and the sun was beaming down on us raising the temperature easily past 60 degrees. We struck out south-south-east across the 17 kilometer wide crater with Mount Teide at our backs and the mountain the people doing the other walk would be scaling off in the distance looming large and steep on one side and somewhat less so on the other. We walked along the dirt two-track past what looked a lot like sage brush but surely are something else: big bushy plants that sport long leaves and look dense but aren't. There was not much other sign of life but I expect life abounds because spots of damp sand existed all over the place and you did not have to dig down far to find much damper ground. Where there is water life is almost certain to follow. Other than our own conversation I did not really notice any sounds about us. But having said this I suspect that the silence that would appear if we had been quiet would feel different than the silences you encounter in the deep desert of the American southwest or the quieter places of the Grand Canyon.

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Looking back along the two-track towards Mount Teide which dominates the northern edge of the crater. As you can see it is a rocky and rough seeming area. Even though we found damp patches of sand now and then I don't think I ever saw anything even remotely resembling an oasis of green.

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Not long before we would stop for lunch we worked our way around this rock formation. Things like this helped make the otherwise flat walk along the two-track interesting.

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Our lunch spot. The group consists of (left to right): unsure of name, Heather, Vince, Judy, Jonathan, Janet, Graham, Linda.

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Look in the right direction from pretty much anywhere and you can find Mount Teide rising up on the northern edge of this greater crater.

This was an easy walk along two-tracks that gained about 100 feet and in the last stretch lost 600 feet as it worked its way across the crater towards the Parador hotel and visitor center. As we walked we gazed out across the crater to the highlights that are the mountains upon the rim. Key amongst them is Teide.

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Our walk into the mini-crater, using route #3, would take us past this interestingly curved rock formation. We would see it from a view vantage points as we walked the 2.5 mile loop. If you have limited time and don't mind steady climbing and descending on sometimes gravel-based trail then do this walk. It's not far from the Parador cafe. There are many such walks in this area and some are, I have no doubt, quite a bit more challenging than this one.

Until we began the descending portion of the 2.5 loop I don't think we realized the Moon was out. Had it not been pointed out to me I am certain I would not have seen it.

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This walk would take us approximately 6 miles across the Las Canadas crater which is in the National Park of Mount Teide, Tenerife, Spain. We would also do an extra 2.5 mile walk through a subsidiary crater which featured many more rock formations and considerably more ascent and descent. All done on a glorious January day.

When we reached the visitor center after a nice three hours of walking and a few enjoyable breaks we arrived at Parador. The line for coffee seemed a bit too daunting to me so I gave up and  joined the rest of the group for a sit in the sun at a picnic table. We had a couple hours to kill before the scheduled departure so Vince took some of us (me, my parents, Graham, Linda) on a loop hike that would take us down around several grand rock formations into a small subsidiary crater. This would turn out to be about a 2.5 mile trek featuring about 520 feet of descent and perhaps just a little less ascent most of which would happen in the last 1.25 miles of the loop. We wound our way around the base of one great tower, past a curved formation that if you looked at it right could be seen as a peculiar drinking horn or maybe a rough hewn seat for a titan, and towards the mini-crater. We worked our way along the level ground along the first portion of route 3 moving counter-clockwise like everyone else we saw doing the same route. At the halfway point Graham decided to turn back and the rest of us began working our way down the rocky, but still good footing, twisting trail down and down and down. It was nice to be walking along a true trail instead of a two-track. Sure it was slower going for me but the scenery certainly made up for it. We even had a glimpse of a near-full (maybe full) Moon just above a two-pronged rock formation. The ascent, when it came, took considerably less time even when you consider that it probably was only about 75% of the descent. We followed switchbacks that were generally built upon excellent tread-way of either hard-packed dirt or rock. It was definitely easier going than the mixed bag of the descent. We ended up walking through this intricate mini-crater in a little more than an hour but when you add in time for breaks we were probably away closer to 90 minutes. It was a great way to extend what we really up to the start of this loop merely a gentle stroll. I would recommend visiting this area to anyone who enjoys walking even though getting to this area is a bit of a schlep.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 4 - Free Day

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Walking through this park is a pleasant experience. This section of the park which includes a pond, fountains, and a playground covers 40,000 square meters. We always saw people strolling or jogging along the wide paths.

Besides being quite large the park is well maintained and that comes through straight off when you see signs like this one.

Today is our free day and we could not ask for better weather. Perhaps inland and up high it is cloudy and damp again (like yesterday was with mists shrouding our hike around Mount Negras and her lava fields) but down on the coast at Puerto de la Cruz it is clear, sunny, and warm.

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We enjoyed walking through the park with the views of Mount Teide way off in the distance. While we saw some people para-glding, more on that later, I don't think we saw anywhere near the number we had seen soaring on our first day.

Water features prominently in the park's design. Besides the pond and fountains there is this fantastic set of waterfalls cascading down by the 186 steps.

We spent the day strolling through the bustling streets of Puerto de la Cruz. This is a substantial town and it seems prosperous. The streets are clean, there are numerous shops of all types, and overall things seem very well put together. Leaving our hotel we walked once again through Taoro Park (not the official name but the name I am using) and down the 186 steps past the falling water feature (see the photo with Mom and Dad) and from there down into the heart of the town.

The highlight of the town has to be the sea wall that restrains the frothing surf of the aquamarine Atlantic Ocean. Today as we walked along the seawall we saw a couple people swimming in the clear, probably chilly, water. We also saw some people practicing with their paragliders in a parking lot. I suppose they were learning how to control them in a somewhat controlled environment (i.e., on the ground). When we left the seaside for the streets we found them full of shops of al types, cafes and other eateries, and plenty of people that seemed, overall, well off. It is clearly a thriving town.

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The surf of the Atlantic Ocean pounds agains a seawall that is I think made of lava rocks. It has a worn look but a solid one too. At times, though not this time, a wave will crash and boom as it strikes the wall sending spray high enough that it can mist over the wall itself and drench anyone passing by on the top of the sea wall. I believe a lot of the coastline of Tenerife is either cliffs, sea walls like this, or rocky beaches. There are a few sandy beaches, we saw a couple small black sand ones, but they're few and far between. Tenerife is not, I think, the island you would pick if you want a classic beach vacation.

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On the first day we saw numerous people flying their paragliders. Today we saw a couple people, like this fellow, practicing in the parking lot by the seaside carnival (I think that is what it was though everything was taken down at this point). There are quite a few lines that the person controlling the wing has to know how to use so practicing on the ground certainly makes sense.

Tenerife, Spain: Day 3 - Mount Negras and the Canal

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In 1706 Garachico was a thriving port town. An eruption of a nearby volcano buried much of the town and today it is now the much smaller town that you can see off in the distance. We stopped at this overlook to peer down on the town. If we had time perhaps we would have paid a visit to the cafe that nestled into the cliff but limited time prevented that.

We decided to do the easier walk today. This walk would be about 6.5 miles long, ascend some 1,000 feet, and descend about 1,900 feet. Our reasoning behind this change was that we did not want to feel rushed doing the longer 10 mile walk that would have to be done in six hours. The walks were taking place on the western edge of the island looking out over a peninsula. One walk would climb a volcano while the easier one would just meander around affording views of Mount Negras and the volcano that last erupted in 1706 destroying most of Garachico. To get to this area requires a long bus ride of nearly 90 minutes so we did not start walking until just about 11:00 (the longer walkers started about 10:30). The bus ride was certainly scenic enough as it climbed up away from the coast and the views of lava fields and regular fields were striking. We stopped briefly at an overlook to look out on the peninsula and see the now much smaller town of Garachico. You could see the old lava that had buried the town back in 1706. Fortunately for them not many people died as they had plenty of warning and the lava was slow moving. We dropped the harder walkers off while the skies were still pretty clear and they struck out on their assault of a nearby volcanic peak. We then drove on another 20-25 minutes to a spot by an open air chapel (name unknown) and began our walk form there. By this time the clouds were moving in, a high overcast. We began our gradual ascent along a trail that struck Mom and me as if it could have once been a streamed. It was the most "trail like" trail we had seen so far. The forest here feels more open and perhaps a bit more lush than what we had traversed the day before (the elevation is about the same). We walked amongst Canary Pine (they look a lot like bristlecone pine; with their needles hugging close to the trunk branches. They resemble bottle brushes).  40 minutes into the walk we would get our first look at a major enclosed canal. We were done with the bulk of the climbing by this time too. The canals distribute the water that is gathered from the mist that the trees harvest (4 times as much water as just rainfall) and distribute it around Tenerife. By now the light overcast had grown somewhat heavier and it was spitting rain at us. The air was damp making the low-mid 50s temperature feel much colder than it had any right to feel. Not the nicest weather.

Leaving the forest

After leaving the lush forests we would walk along a barren road. Soon we would leave the majority of trees behind. We could gaze out on lava fields and just see mountains rising in the distance but as the afternoon wore on the overcast turned into a dense mist and mild drizzle.

We soon would leave the forest for more open expanses. Following a black lava road we walked along a ridge that sported lava cliffs nearby and off in the distance gave us mist shrouded views of volcano whose name I'm not sure of and later Mount Negras. Now and then we would spot orange lichen growing on the lava; the first steps to breaking down the lava into the rich fertile soil that volcanic slopes are known for. I suppose it will take a few hundred years more. When you look out across the older lava fields you do feel like you are looking at something you would see on the moon. In the distance you can see greener slopes, no doubt on much older lava gone to soil, but nearby the black rock was still young. It was too bad that most of this was shrouded in cloud and with the wind blowing around no one was really inclined to stop much.

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We had lunch in this spot. There was a dip and some rocks that sheltered us from the breeze. By this time, about 13:20, it was spiting with a  bit more vigor. Sometimes in conditions like this you get a magical sense of the world around you but I don't think anyone felt that ethereal sense on this damp afternoon.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

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The hike today was in the vicinity of Mt. Negras. We would end at a small village with a lovely cafe which was made all the nicer because, as you can see, the weather was rather misty. A large part of the hike was on what we would call forest service road that wound through centuries-old lava fields. You can see one of the volcanos in the video.

We continued down the lava road (barred by barriers at two points and eventually left the open terrain for forests once more as we began to descend the 1,900 feet down to the endpoint of the walk in town X (at a little cafe where we would have wonderful coffee and pastries). The descent was on forest road and easy enough going though relentless. We were surprised at 14:30 to come upon the folks doing the tougher walk. They still must have had 4 or so miles to go. They had experienced much better views than we had as they had been higher than the cloud layer. Lucky them. I figure we still had somewhat less than 2 miles to go to get to our endpoint and we said goodbye to the others and continued on down and out of the woods into fields of grasses dotted with a tree now and then. It must be good habitat as folks saw many birds. One final very steep descent down a cement walk into a valley and we were pretty much at the end of the walk. We reached the cafe at 15:20 and it was a great way to end the walk. especially since we still had a 90 minute bus ride back to the hotel. interestingly the ride from the cafe to where our walk started and the harder walk would end took just ten minutes (leaving us about 20 minutes to wait for them to arrive).

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We would leave the lava road and surrounding fields to drop back into the forests which would, in time, yield to farm fields. The weather never really would improve that much so everyone kept at least some wind and/or rain gear on. A little while after this photo was taken we came upon a crossroads and met the people doing the tougher walk coming up from the village below (probably about 2-2.5km away). They still had quite a ways to go and just a couple of hours to do the walking in (covering much the same route we had just done though they did have some shortcuts to use). We would leave the dirt roads eventually, walk along a paved road for a bit, and finally descend very steeply down a cement walk that would pop us out just below the cafe and bus.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

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The walk down the rather steep cement path. I think this stretch took us 15 minutes and as noted above we popped out just below the bus and cafe. The folks who did the tougher walk had to ascend this steep path: ugh.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 2 - Above Aguamansa

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On the way along the long, slightly hilly, traverse that would take us over the organ pipe escarpment. The trail is superb and although there is a drop off it isn't too vertigo inducing.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

The day dawned seemingly overcast but that was an illusion of the dawn light. As the sun rose it became clear that there was not a cloud in the sky and we were going to at least start the day with fine clear weather. Everyone piled into the bus and we spent the next 40 minutes winding our way into the island uplands to the village of Aguamansa (about 3,500 feet above sea level) where the people doing the easier walk disembarked. The bus continued on for a few more kilometers and a couple hundred feet of additional ascent to drop those of us doing the harder walk off at La Caldera. It was just before 10:00 and the air was brisk and the temperature in the shade had a decided nip to it. Still considering we were going to be climbing a cooler start is hardly a bad thing.

Cathy led our group of a dozen hikers and we first took a quick glimpse into the forest sloped La Caldera which is a small crater now covered in grass and sporting picnic tables around the edge. It's not particularly deep and I expect it is quite old. If you did not know it was a crater you might just think it some depression in the ground. I wonder if it was ever used for outdoor events like sports or maybe an impromptu amphitheater. We began our climb along a mountain road (think forest service road if you are from the States and you'll have a good sense of what we were walking along) and soon we were climbing steadily and warming right up. We ascended through forests of Canary Pine and once in a while a view of the organ pipe cliff face of the escarpment we were going to traverse presented itself for inspection. Perhaps if the sun had been in a different location the cliff face would look more organ pipe like but to my eye it was certainly nothing terribly obvious. We passed by a quarry that was extracting water and continued up the mountain road. Cathy told us that the forests manage to gather in about 2,000 liters of water per square meter per year just by pulling the mist condensation from the air (four times the amount gathered by just rain). The water that is gathered is shipped all over the island via aqueducts. I've no real sense of just how much water that is.  We soon came to what could charitably be called a trail shelter (a roof sitting atop a few big posts) where we took a break from our steady, though reasonably gradual, ascent, for a quick bite before we set out on what would turn out to be the real meat of the hike.

We stepped on to a pine needle covered forest trail that would rise and fall, sometimes steeply, along the cliffs eventually taking us to easily over 5,000 feet above sea level. The trail is excellent and barring a few spots very well maintained. The vertiginous drops that we had been told about really weren't that big (OK, a fall could really hurt you but they weren't the stomach clenching drops I think some of us were imagining, just your average drop into a valley below). To be sure if you stepped off the edge you would fall a long long way but the trail was easily a meter wide and footing was never a problem. In a few places there was stout 4x4 wooden fencing on the outer edge and sometimes even heavy cable or pipe embedded in the rock of the cliff. I don't think the heights bothered anyone.

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In early afternoon clouds started to roll in from the coast. They formed an impenetrable layer several hundred feet below us obscuring the village from our view. We could hear sounds of village life, dogs barking and a rooster crowing now and then, but nothing was visible below the cloud floor. The clouds hit the rock face and stayed there. They never rose to meet up and did not dissipate. When we reached the village the clouds became much less interesting to look at: a solid light gray overcast.

Photo by Jonathan Knight

One standout feature of the traverse was glimpsing Mount Teide off in the distance. Today we could easily see this 13,000 foot mountain rising into the blue sky. Nothing obscured the view today. In fact , the clouds that were present were below us presenting us a view of their puffy pillow soft seeming tops as we worked our way along the traverse above the organ pipe cliffs and beyond. That traverse did take us quite some time and it certainly felt like we climbed more than the expected 2,100 feet (to say nothing of the 2,500 feet we would descend). But I think that can be put down to the fact that often it was a bit steep in spots. When you consider that the vast bulk of the climbing and descending was probably done in far less than the 7.5 mile total length of the walk this is no surprise.

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Mount Teide is a volcano that rises over 13,000 feet. We saw it often today as we worked our way along the traverse. The day before it had been shrouded in clouds (as I suspect it often is).

At the start of the hike the temperature was perhaps about 50 degrees. As we gained altitude the temperature dropped some so that even when the sun was high in the sky it was probably still only about 50 degrees in the shade. But though we were tromping through forest of pine with splashes of ground cover thrown in here and there we were often in sunshine so it was hardly chilly.  We took our lunch breaks on rock outcrops that not only afforded us fine views but let most of us soak in some of the warmth from the sun. By 14:00 we had reached the trail junction that would take us down to the village of Aguamansa where we would meet the people who were doing the easier walk. The notes suggested that the trek would take about 90 minutes. As we began the descent I lagged behind with Dad as the rest of the group pulled ahead moving down the pine needle covered trail down some steep bits that gave me a bit of pause. But I don't think they were ever too far ahead of us. Far enough that they could take rest breaks, but only short ones. We had a couple points where Cathy had to take a few minutes to figure out exactly which way we needed to go but she did that without any fuss and we never went the wrong way. At some point as we dropped down the last 1,200 feet of elevation we walked thorough the cloud layer (you never would have noticed except for the fact that all of a sudden the sun was gone) and the scenery changed markedly. It became cooler and grayer but hardly unpleasant.  In due time we reached the first of the dirt roads below where the long heard sounds of dogs barking and roosters crowing was considerably more noticeable and then further down (at our low point) we came to paved roads that would lead us back uphill into Aguamansa proper. That last mile (maybe a bit less) felt like a slog because though it was generally a gentle climb in a few places, especially as we entered the village  proper, the climb became quite steep indeed. It was a reprise of the final climb of the hike from the day before. We reached the bus, sitting outside a cafe that had just closed for the day, right at 16:00. Had we not had the bits of confusion about which way to go I expect the harder walk could have finished with just enough time to get a coffee at the cafe. Instead we piled into the bus for the fast drive down the curving roads back to the hotel.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tenerife, Spain: Day 1 - Coastal Walk from Puerto de la Cruz

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The hotel we are staying at sits about 100 meters above the coast and a few hundred meters inland. The town mostly spreads out below us though it also sprawls further inland. The grounds are lovely.

I woke up too early for my own good and Mom and Dad probably woke up too late. Pulling all-nighters across an ocean and two continents on 3 airplanes with nearly 10 hours of layovers in uncomfortable airport seating is not conducive to a good night's rest. But we went down to breakfast with brave faces and fairly awake. The clearing skies certainly helped lighten our moods as the morning air was warm and the sun becoming bright. We found others of our group enjoying the buffet style breakfast and we settled in to eat and chat. All meals are going to be buffet style here and while the choices are varied the food so far does seem a bit bland. But I've no doubt it will suffice.

At 09:30 our group of 13 hikers plus the HF leader, Vince, gathered and we struck out across the fine grounds of the hotel to the back entrance. We were leaving the remaining 5 or so (plus Cathy, the other HF leader) to do the easier walk. By now the sun had chased most of the low clouds away though clouds were hanging around the 13,000 foot peak of the high mountain. A fine first day and a surprisingly warm one we soon found out. We strolled through park Taoro which is nicely laid out as it overlooks the Atlantic and lower portions of Puerto de la Cruz which seems to be built into the cliffs around the rocky beaches that sometimes interrupt the sheer cliffs that drop down to the sea. We dropped down towards the ocean ourselves passing through what, to us, seemed to be a prosperous and large town. It seems clean and people were out and about on this early Sunday morning. It was quite pleasant and a notable change from the far smaller town of Plaia de X where we stayed in Portugal last year.

Walking along the top of a well maintained seawall path watching the surf boom against the cliffs and rocky (and Sometimes black sand) beaches we made quick time. Now and then an especially great wave would crash against the shore sending spray billowing up over the sea wall and misting us in the process. It was quite clear why the rock and gravel-like path was damp underfoot. We scampered across a small lava field and continued trending westward either directly above the surf line or winding our way through narrow streets lined with sometimes colorful small buildings and, I suppose, apartments and such like. A very nice feel existed about the whole area.


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Looking back towards the heart of the town. We would eventually reach a coastal path called Rambla de Castro which is best thought of as a nature path along the coast.

In due course we reached the Rambla de Castro, the coast path, leaving behind the side streets of the town. This dirt and stone path is very well maintained and clearly meant to promote walking by tourists and locals alike. In places where drops are precipitous stout 4x4 wood fencing has been erected to add a sense of security to the path. The footing is excellent even on the descents. We wound our way westward along the coast sometimes dipping into small ravines that surely sometimes must have water sluicing down their bottoms but today all seemed dry. Numerous small bushes festooned with flowers that looked like daisy but seem to grow more like heather dotted the sounds of the path especially when it seemed to spend time crawling up hillsides. Some of those steep hills were terraced though I am not sure anyone was growing anything on those terraces of green grass and ground cover. By this time the air temperature had risen to around 70 degrees and the sun beamed down upon us in a fairly cloud free sky. We couldn't see the peak of the big mountain always but we could see the numerous paragliders that were flying off its flanks. They wheeled about up in the clouds looking so peaceful. I cannot imagine ever trying that sport.

We encountered a few people as we walked. We encountered at least as many cats. To be sure their numbers dropped off some as we continued down the Rambla de Castro but they did not vanish. Given the number of birds you could hear I expect the outdoor cats do well enough. I wonder if they use the occasional lava tube caves for rain shelter when the storms come as they surely must.
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Three hours into the hike we reached the point where we would leave the coast path, in a small village whose name I do not know (28.3958N, 16.5941W). We had hiked about 5 miles of the 8 miles planned and ascended all tolled perhaps 1,000 feet of the planned 2,600 we expected to do. In other words we had covered two thirds of the distance and a bit more than one thirds of the elevation gain. We had some serious climbing to do and when the bus we caught near our lunch spot dropped us off (28.3918N, 16.6265W) and we had all taken advantage of the restroom at the playground by the snack bar we were able to then gaze up into the steep sided ravine that sported many paths that climbed inland (south). We began to climb. Once again the trail was superb and sported more of that excellent, and seemingly quite new, wooden fencing along the edge. Our group slowly spread out as people are wont to do when climbing a fairly steep slope. The sound of the surf diminished as we climbed up the switchbacks into the lush greenery of the ravine. The temperature had dropped by this time as clouds had drifted in to cover the sky. We even had a smattering of drizzle though it was nowhere near enough to make me want to put on my rain jacket (Derek did pull out his umbrella). Up and up we went. Though the sound of the surf was decreasing other sounds remained present: a rooster crowed now and then, dogs that must belong to the houses upon the ridge top barked (the couple we encountered, off leash, coming down the path were quiet though perhaps a bit friendlier than some would have liked). Some people carried on conversations as we ascended. Not I. I just climbed at my slow steady pace enjoying the nice afternoon though I did wish for a bit more light so I could snap better photos (I didn't want to fiddle with the Canon so I stuck with the iPhone which while good in many ways is still no true dedicated camera).

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Looking back towards the Atlantic from the ravine we are ascending. The trail is hard packed ground and stone steps. It reminded us a bit of the Vernal Falls trail in Yosemite as far as footing goes though here the scenery is quite a bit different.

It would take us about 45 minutes to reach the top of this first big leg of the last two thirds of the hike. We still had a couple hundred meters (600 feet) of ascent to do with about a quarter of that much descent thrown in for good measure.  The notes for the walk suggested that this final bit would take just under an hour and it would turn out that we would do it a little more quickly than that. I think the last bit was actually considerably easier than the 250-300 meter climb we just did. Sure it was a few tens of meters less climbing but it felt like it was a lot less than that. Perhaps it was because this last stretch wound through rich green forests full of lush low growing plants and ferns along with the tall dense trees that sometimes blocked out the sky almost completely. Perhaps it was because the path didn't always just climb or descend but had more of a mixture. The worst portion of this last section was the final slog up a paved road that would take us the last quarter hour rising some 270 feet as it climbing into a hamlet that probably had little more than a gas station, bar, and a hotel (I think) with a few residential homes thrown in for good measure.  We would have about 40 minutes to kill before the local bus would come and we would ride back to Puerto de la Cruz (about 40 minutes of driving which surprised me).

This was a tough first walk because the bulk of the climbing was done in the last 3 miles of the hike.  But it felt good to do the trek and we got to see a nice slice of what I expect the island has to offer. My only real complaint is that from where the bus dropped us off in town we still had a 20 minute walk along the busy streets to return to our hotel.