Friday, 12 June 2015


In the UK, at least, if you say Canary Islands, folks will try to give you the idea that only past-it old couples or gauche sunseekers who want the all-inclusive deals so they can drink from dawn to dusk head there. The truth is, there's another, altogether more interesting side to each one, as I'm discovering, as I slowly (as in, one every year or two) make my way around them.

This time, it was Tenerife's turn. Of course, there is a slash of modern development in the form of high-rise hotels and sprawling resorts that run up the south-western coast from the airport. But, as is so often the case, you only need to go a few klicks inland or up island and, boom, you might as well be somewhere else entirely.

As well as Masca, which takes a lot of clutch control getting up and around those hairpin bends to get to, but is, of course, worth it for the incredible volcanic ravine you finally find yourself in, Mount Teide and the national park surrounding it rewards plenty more than the faint effort it takes to visit.

As we drove up, the first thing we noticed was all the churned up black earth. "What's going on here? Do you think they're going to build something?" we asked each other, because it looks exactly as if the bulldozers have been in, moving the earth about. Uh, no, actually, this is what lava looks like roughtly 100 years after it's been spewed out of the middle of the earth and come crashing down to rest. Other bits look as if they must be muddy, though they're not, because they look shiny and mashed about; still others look like – OK, I'm going to say it – mouldy dog poo. I know, not a nice picture, you'd think, but that's what came to mind!

Then there's the green rock, with a very polite sign saying the park loses several hundred kilos of the stuff every year, but to please remember there will be many generations coming after you who also deserve to enjoy it...

We were rather lucky and got to eavesdrop on a tour guide, who was saying how many films and commercials get shot in this landscape, including one of our favs, Star Wars. Yep, looks like Tatooine to me!

I've decided that volcanoes are kind of a thing of mine. I just really, really like them. And I'd really, really hoped we were going to go up to the top of Mount Teide via the cable car and then use the permits I'd applied for that would allow us to walk to the crater's edge and look in... Alas, every day we got the disappointing news that the cable car was closed due to high winds. But, my number one tip is, even if this happens to you: go anyway. There is plenty to see and learn and the information plaques are the best I've ever seen. Like, we absolutely wanted to know that the third-largest volcano on Earth (Mount Teide) is 8km high, compared to the highest volcano in our Solar System (Olympus Mons) on Mars, which is 25km high.

Here's tip two: book your cable car trip online in advance. For a start, you'll save about €3 per person and, also, it will save you having to line up to buy a ticket when you get there. Also, if the trip gets cancelled, you'll get sent a text message or an email (depending on which you opt for) letting you know in the morning. While you're at it, you should also book a permit to walk to the crater at the top. This is free, but you have to have one and it will only be issued in advance, not on the day.

If you don't get to go up, you can still do lots of walking, if that's your thing; stop for lunch at one of the two cafés; or just enjoy the incredible scenery, which is rather Martian-like itself.

We stopped at the café by the parador, where you can stay the night, and got to meet a number of Gallotai galloti galloti – or Tenerife lizard, for short. You could almost mistake them for the geckos all over the Meditarranean, except these guys have blue heads and are a bit bigger. They're also considerably friendlier: the ones we met were being fed bits of someone's lunch and were in no hurry to run away.

We had a great drive down too. First we got to look out over the Sea of Clouds – very cool – and then we got to drive into it – also very fun.

And then back to sea level and Playa Paraíso, which is, of course, a black-sand beach. I have to admit I kind of liked that too. Tenerife, you're full of natural wonders.

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