I visited Tenerife in 1989 and stayed in the tourist resort of Los Christianos near Playa de Los Americas in a hotel complex called the Parque Santiago. One day I took a coach tour to the Teide National Park. It wasn’t a long trip in terms of kilometres but the bus left early because it happens to be an awfully long way to climb to the top.
The summit of Mount Teide at just over three thousand, seven hundred metres is the highest point in Spain and the highest point above sea level in the islands of the Atlantic. At 7,500 m from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (but do bear in mind that half of it is underwater) and its altitude makes Tenerife the tenth highest island in the world (although to be fair this is another of those biggest, largest, highest statistics to be wary of). It remains active and its most recent eruption occurred in 1909. The United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Teide what they call a Decade Volcano because of its history of destructive eruptions and its proximity to several large towns.
The coach entered the national park with its eerie moon like landscape of twisted rocks and strange formations (so eerie that they shot some scenes for the film ‘Planet of the Apes’ here) and growled and wheezed its way up the narrow road towards the summit as the overworked engine and gearbox complained noisily all the way to the top.
About two-thirds of the way up we entered the clouds and a thick fog clung to the sides of the coach like a damp dish-cloth, the windows clouded over on the inside and ran with water on the outside and I began to wonder if I might have wasted my money because there was nothing to see but through an impenetrable mist that hung like grey shrouds on the windows.
Luckily the driver seemed to know where he was going and negotiated his way around the hairpin bends on the way to the summit to a coach park about three hundred metres from the top of the one thousand, three hundred metre high crater. This was as far as it could go but there was still a considerable way to walk up a dusty path of loose volcanic ash and clinker so it was a good job that we had taken the pre-excursion advice to wear stout shoes and suitable clothing.
Even the climb didn’t get us to the very top but only as far as a cable-car station because the only way to the summit was by mechanical means. While I waited my turn to be ushered into the gondola I had my photograph taken with a girl in local costume who, after a full morning shift, looked suitably bored and uninterested and then I was inside the red and cream cab which left the station and immediately started to sway in the stiff wind as it began the final ascent over the yawing black crater below.
Several people couldn’t bear to look because it was indeed a long way down into the black void of the massive jagged crater and the cable car creaked and groaned as it made its agonising ten minute journey. Eventually we could see the top but there was one last panic as the car passed over the final pylon and swung dramatically back and forth before it steadied itself again and came to rest at the summit station. I understand that the cable car and the gondolas have since been overhauled and replaced and that it is a lot less scary now.
Apart from the great views there wasn’t really a great deal to see at the top except for the great yawning crater and a big hole full of rocks waiting to blow up again sometime soon. I suppose the point of going to the top of Teide is simply to say you have been there and not because there is anything special to see. In the sunshine the colours however were fascinating, the rocks were black, brown, purple and umber and all over there was scraggy green vegetation stubbornly clinging on to life in a highly improbable location.
There were little wisps of smoke and every so often a smell of sulphur and a little bit of steam drifting across the path just to remind us that this was a living and active volcano. At the top an old man demonstrated how hot the rocks were by lighting a cigarette by bending down and igniting it on the rocks. I think he must have got through a lot of cigarettes in a day and we were all impressed with this and left a small contribution in his collection pot but I have always wondered subsequently if it was some sort of trick.
Eventually it was time to return and after I had collected my certificate and photograph with the girl who couldn’t smile to confirm that I had been to the top of the volcano the coach made its way back down the mountain, wearing out a set of brake pads on the way and after a stop at a banana plantation to buy some rather disgusting liqueur concoction I was back in Los Christianos with tales of my volcano adventure which were of secondary importance to my travelling companions holiday early evening dining preference…
The fact that there was a McDonalds there was one of the things that put me off ever going back to Tenerife.