Tag Archives: Canary Islands

Spanish Islands, Tenerife and Mount Teide

Parque Santiago, Los Christianos, Tenerife

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.

Mount Teide Tenerife

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.

Mount Teide Certificate

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.

Cable Car Mount Teide

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 unpleasant tasting 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…

McDonalds Los Christianos Tenerife 1989

The fact that there was a McDonalds there was one of the things that put me off ever going back to Tenerife.

Spanish Islands, Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria Postcard Geography

Having visited Lanzarote in December 1983 I declared the Canary Islands my number one place to go on holiday and so the next time I was booking a summer vacation I choose the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria.

It was May 1986 and this was a special holiday because since the last time that I had been away I had become a father and so this was to be the first of a sequence of holidays to Spanish islands in search of a beach, a swimming pool and a kids’ club.

Unlike Lanzarote, Gran Canaria had been quicker off the mark in terms of developing and encouraging tourism and hadn’t had the benefit of a famous architect like Cesar Manrique to protect it against unsuitable development so here were all of the things that I expected of a Spanish seaside holiday and we were staying in the tourist developed south of the island at the resort of San Agustin, part of the Maspolomas conurbation.

Gran Canaria was formed by a volcano that grew out of the sea and continued to spew enough lava onto the surface to break through the ocean and form an island.  It is circular in shape with a mountain peak in the middle which separates the island into two distinct sectors, north and south.  Viewed from above it looks rather like a beached starfish. In the north is the capital Las Palmas and there is a wet tropical climate but in the south it is dry, arid and desert like.  I didn’t get to visit Las Palmas and I regret that now.

Gran Canaria Canary Islands Spain

To be honest, it seems to me that there isn’t an awful lot to do in Gran Canaria (except go to Las Palmas) except lie around the pool, occasionally swim in the sea or find a bar or a restaurant for evening meal but perhaps I am being a little unfair.

Mid way through the holiday we did hire a car, a little blue Seat with an open top and on the first day set off into the mountains in the interior.  This turned out to be rather hard work as the road swept in extravagant loops around deep valleys and gorges and followed a precarious route to the top.  Actually, we didn’t get to the top because after an hour or so we got a puncture and I had to change the wheel at the roadside.  We were high up and close to the edge and part way through the process the car started to slide off the jack and I wondered how I was going to explain to the hire company just how the car had fallen off the road and disappeared into a ravine.

That rather put me off driving in Gran Canaria and we sensibly abandoned the journey and returned carefully to the Montenego Apartments with its attractive little garden and swimming pool and we didn’t attempt anything so adventurous again that week and there were places to visit close by so we concentrated on these instead.

Maspolomas Gran Canaria

Next to San Agustin was the noisy 18-30 holidays resort of Playa del Ingles which was a bit too boisterous for us but just beyond that were the sand dunes of Maspolomas which, although not all that large provide a spacious and, despite the crowds an almost solitary contrast to the over developed promenades of the town and we used to like walking there and watching the camel trains taking people from the town to the lighthouse and return but mindful of how uncomfortable the camel ride had been in Lanzarote we declined to repeat the experience here.

Just around the coast a little, heading west, there was a new purpose built resort of Puerto Rico where layers of concrete rising up the sides of the cliffs like artificial geological strata have permanently disfigured what I imagine was once an attractive landscape.

Back towards the mountains of the centre there was a wildlife and bird park called Palmitos Park and we drove there one day to see the exotic gardens, the birds and the afternoon performing dolphin show but I don’t remember it being especially memorable.  A few years ago the park was destroyed by forest fires on the island and a lot of the birds had to be released but I think it has reopened against since.

After the car had been returned without them noticing the punctured tyre in the boot we were once more confined to the resort area but there was one last attraction to go and visit which was quite close to our apartments so one day towards the end of the holiday I walked to Sioux City (not Sioux City in Iowa USA but Sioux City at Canon del Aquila in Gran Canaria) which is an old movie set from the days of the spaghetti westerns which had been transformed into a western theme park with cowboys and Indians, US cavalry and show girls in a succession of staged events and shows that were performed throughout the afternoon.  It was entertaining enough but seemed curiously out of place it seemed to me.

And so the holiday came to an end and my assessment at the time was quite firmly that  I didn’t like it as much as Lanzarote but having said that it didn’t stop me going back a couple of years later for a week away with my brother.

I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t go back again now.

Sioux City Gran Canaria, Spain

Spanish Islands, Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde and Jameos del Aqua

Jameos del Aqua Lanzarote Canary Islands

Even in 1983 Puerto del Carmen was the busiest tourist resort on the island but in December it was rather quiet and at that time hadn’t really begun to attract the rowdy visitors that have subsequently discovered the island.  Consequently evenings were relatively quiet and relaxed in the bars and the restaurants of the resort without the excesses that have led some to refer to the island these days as Lanzagrotty!

After the drive to the west of the island to Timanfaya we had the knackered jeep at our disposal for another day and this time travelled north along the eastern coast to visit the volcanic caves just north of Arrecife.

It is a rather odd thing but people seem to like to go below the surface of the earth and go down caves and caverns, grottoes and mines and I have to say that I am no exception.  I used to live near the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire (UK) and would go down the Blue John mines near Buxton pretty much every year.  Well the guide book pointed out some caves in Lanzarote so that is where we made for today.

La Cueva de los Verdes is what is known as a lava tube and was created around three thousand years ago by lava flows from the nearby volcano Monte Corona, flowing across the Malpaís de la Corona toward the sea. The lava streams cooled on top, developing a solid crust, before the lava drained away leaving the top part as the roof of a cave. In a number of places along the tube the roof of the cave collapsed, forming a cavern known locally as a jameo.

The cave system at Cueva de los Verdes is around six kilometres long and claimed to be the longest lava tube in the World but I am willing to wager that somewhere else in the World will be making exactly the same claim!

Visitors can take a tour along about a kilometre of illuminated path and so we handed over our money and prepared to leave the sunshine and like Otto Lidenbrock in ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ * descend below the surface.

We followed our guide through an intriguing maze of gigantic caves, carved by lava and gnawed by erosion, through a succession of caverns and galleries with lighting displays arranged to illuminate the colours of the rocks and the eerie shadows that they cast.  As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.

After an hour or so we returned blinking to the surface and drove the short distance to nearby Jameos del Agua and prepared to go straight underground again.

This time we descended steeply down a flight of steps and arrived in a rather gloomy café area where we stopped for a drink and an overpriced bocadillo before continuing into the cave.  There was a walk now along a narrow path on one side of a flooded cavern where in the water the main attraction were hundreds of blind albino crabs, apparently the only ones like it in the World, which is another claim that I am unable to confirm.

Jameos del Agua Admission Ticket Lanzarote

Jameos del aqua Lanzarote Canary Islands

We didn’t spend nearly as much time underground at this cave because it opened out quite quickly into the collapsed cavern where the afternoon sunshine was pouring into a luxurious tropical garden with exotic plants and scarlet flowers, fish ponds with turtles posing obligingly for photographs and a brilliant turquoise swimming pool and recreational area.  Today this is claimed to be the number one visitor attraction on the island and visitors are pre warned about long queues but once again it was quiet enough when we were there.

At the end of the day we drove back to Puerto del Carmen and as we were running low on fuel we were forced to find a garage so we pulled into a filling station where the smiling attendant approached probably in expectation of filling the tank and a big sale:

‘Si Seňor?’ he beamed,

‘two hundred por favor’ , we said calculating that this would be enough to see us through until we returned the vehicle to the car hire office.

‘two hondred?’  ‘two hondred?’  the man pushed his black beret up over his forehead scratched his head in that puzzled sort of way, twisted his face into a squint, wrinkled his walnut sunburned face and looked thoroughly confused as he searched for clarification, finally he just said – ‘not enough room in tank!’

We looked confused and then we realised what he meant and were more specific, ‘no, not litres – pesetas!’

Now, this was the equivalent of about seventy-five pence so this required great precision on his part to deliver only just the required miniscule amount into the tank.  We handed him two one hundred peseta notes and he walked away shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself ‘two hondred, two hondred…’

And this wasn’t the end to Richard’s meanness and on the last night we finally found out why he always found an excuse to go back into a restaurant after we had paid and left.  He would claim that he had left his jacket or needed the gents or some other quite plausible reason but then we caught him going back inside and scooping up the change that we had left for a gratuity because he didn’t agree with the principle of tipping.

Having caught him we made him buy the next few rounds of drinks!

This had been my first time visiting the Canary Islands and I liked Lanzarote even though I have never been back but for the next few years I did make it an annual event to visit some of the others…

Puerto Del Carmen Lanzarote 1983 

* Rather interestingly in the book the Professor and his assistant search for the Centre of the Earth by entering a lava tube at Snæfellsjökull glacier in Iceland and eventually comes back to the surface through another one on the slopes of Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Cueva del Aguila, Spain

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

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Spanish Islands, Lanzarote

Lanzarote Postcard Multi Picture

What now seems an awful long time ago I used to like going on holiday to the Canary Islands, that agreeable part of Spain which is located just off the north-western African coast and in December 1983, before I was even thirty years old, I flew to Lanzarote with a group of friends with the intention of having a pre-Christmas party week in the sun.

We landed at a sunny but windy Arrecife airport around about mid-morning and the Cosmos holiday transport then drove us the short distance to our accommodation in the resort of Puerto del Carmen.  I liked it immediately with its low level construction, natural building materials and the paintwork everywhere a uniform green, in complimentary harmony with the environment and the landscape.  At this point my only previous visit to Spain had been to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca and this place was in total contrast to the high rise world that I was to a certain extent anticipating.

The explanation for this building restraint is the achievement of the artist and architect Cesar Manrique who was born in Arrecife in 1919.  He was passionate about his island and successfully lobbied the local authorities to introduce building controls which prevented the excesses of neighbouring Gran Canaria and Tenerife which from the 1960s on were busy trying to emulate the costas of the mainland in an orgy of high rise concrete and steel construction.  Manrique had a major influence on the planning regulations in Lanzarote, when he recognised its tourist potential and lobbied successfully to encourage sympathetic development of tourism.

Lanzarote Postcard 1983

As a result of this sustainable development, ten years or so after my visit, Lanzarote was named a UNESCO biosphere site which is a status that is awarded in recognition that a place can demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature and of the 621 biosphere sites around the world, Lanzarote is the only entire island to win the prestigious classification.

The UNESCO website praises the island’s ecological charms, including a profusion of unique and endangered species and it praises the way that “…the idea of mass tourism was rejected and, under the influence of the celebrated local artist César Manrique, priority has been given to blend tourist infrastructure with the beautiful but inhospitable environment.”

I am going to fast-forward now for a short while because sadly there are always corrupt people who are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities and recently Lanzarote has been rocked by building scandals and corruption and since May 2009, police have arrested at least twenty-four politicians and businessmen, including the former president of the Lanzarote provincial government and the former mayor of Arrecife in connection with illegal building permits that have led UNESCO to threaten withdrawal of the status if the concept has been compromised.  The Canary Island Supreme Court has declared that twenty-four hotels have been illegally built in coastal resorts such as Playa Blanca, eight of which are modern luxury hotels that qualified for a total of €23.6m in EU grants, partly thanks to the biosphere status. The EU anti-corruption office has demanded the money be returned.

Anyway, back now to 1983 and after we had settled into our first floor apartment we wasted no time in getting familiar with the bars of Puerto del Carmen and we took a stroll along the rather untidy promenade behind the black sand beach and found somewhere for lunch and in the afternoon, encouraged by the fine weather we made our way to the sand and spent some time swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.  I expect Puerto del Carmen has changed rather a lot in thirty years but then it was small and friendly and we enjoyed ourselves there.

 

After a couple of days of visiting the beach and sitting around in bars we decided to do some sightseeing around the island so we walked into the commercial area of Puerto Del Carmen and found a car hire office with the sort of prices that suited our budget – cheap – and you only get what you pay for of course because being at the lower end of the scale we were allocated a clapped out old grey/blue Daihatsu Jeep which regardless of the fact that it was completely worn out seemed perfect for what we had in mind.

First things first though and after taking possession of the rattling bone shaker we had to quickly find a garage because the fuel indicator needle was hovering menacingly somewhere just below empty!  This seemed to irritate my brother Richard more than the rest of us and he immediately declared an intention to take it back in the same state.  We found a petrol station put a small amount of fuel in the tank and drove out of the town towards the arid stretch of black lava fields, glittering salt marshes and sweeping coastal mountains beyond.

Lanzarote island map postcard

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Cofete Beach, Fuerteventura

Cofete Beach Fuerteventura

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.

Included in the winning list was a beach – La Concha in the Basque city of San Sebastián in Northern Spain.  As I said before this surprised me because even though I am not really a beach person, I get quickly bored –  in selecting a favourite beach in Spain this would not be it!

I have narrowed my personal favourites down to a top five – first, Benidorm with its wonderful three blue flag beaches, Mal Pas, Levante and Poniente, second the endless windswept sand dunes of Maspolomas on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria and then another island, Menorca in the Balearic Islands although I’m afraid that I can’t be specific.  Second in my list would be the wide-open Atlantic beach at  Corrubedu in Galicia but for my very favourite I am back to the Canary Islands  and Cofete beach on Fuerteventura.

Cofete is a small village in the south-western part of the Jandia peninsula in Fuerteventura and nearby it has a sandy windswept Atlantic facing beach that is about five kilometers long so gloriously empty that every person on it gets about a thousand square metres of  space all to themselves.  The relentless surf pounds the beach and smashes the sand and the place is not really suitable for safe bathing and the advice is that you shouldn’t really swim here unless you are Sharon Davis or Mark Phelps because of the high waves and the strong current and the danger of being swept out to sea with nowhere to go but North America!

Cofete Beach

There is something curiously mysterious about it, deserted, solitary and lonely and brooding away in the background are the eight-hundred metre high wilderness mountains of Jandia that seem to separate it from the inhabited holiday side half of the island with its safer but busier tourist beaches.  The weather is almost constantly breezy, the waves are always mountainous and the beach appears breathtakingly eerie but nevertheless beautiful.  There are never many people on the beach because it is so inaccessible and there are no lifeguards to rely on in an emergency.

To get there it is necessary to drive over twenty kilometres of exhausting pot-holed track that in some places only allows for single file traffic.  Some of the passing places have steep drops to the side, and the journey can only realistically be tackled in a jeep or four-wheel drive vehicle and believe me it is a really uncomfortable journey, but one worth making nevertheless.  The route there goes through the very pretty Punta Pesebre, the Playa de los Ojos (Eyes beach), which is difficult to access, and the fishing port of Puerto de la Cruz before the lovely Playa de las Pilas.

At the end of the unmade road the little village of Cofete is a collection of shacks built from driftwood and materials washed up by the waves and most are only lived in at the weekend.  At the end of the long ash choked track there is a simple but welcome bar where a cold beer cuts through the dust in the back of the throat and prepares you well before going to the sea to wash off the dirt from the journey.

In a separate poll the travel website TripAdvisor has compiled a list of the top ten beaches in Spain for 2013 and both the beach of La Concha in San Sebastián and Cofete beach on Fuerteventura are included although neither of them make the top spot.  La Concha is third and Cofete makes sixth place.  The winner in this poll was Playa de las Catedrales at Ribadeo in the Northern Province of Galicia.

Fueteventura

Twelve Treasures of Spain – Mount Teide

Mount Teide Tenerife

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Sixth in the competition and the first of two natural landscape finalists was Mount Teide on the Atlantic Ocean island of Tenerife.

I visited Tenerife in 1989 and stayed in the tourist resort of Los Christianos near Playa de Los Americas and one day 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 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: its most recent eruption occurred in 1909 from the El Chinyero vent on the north-western Santiago rift. 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.

Mount Teide Tenerife

The coach entered the national park with its eerie moon like landscape of twisted rocks and strange formations and wheezed its way up the narrow road towards the summit as the engine complained 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.

The track would almost certainly not have met current health and safety regulations because there was very little to stop careless people slipping and falling over the edge and tumbling down the mountain because every so often the track had slipped away down a massive vertical drop and occasionally had been propped up with a few bits of insufficient wood held together with scraps of string.  I understand that it is a lot safer now however.

Mount Teide Certificate

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 blue and white 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 departure point.

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 clinging on to life in a highly improbable location.

Mount Teide Cable Car tenerife

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 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…

McDonalds Tenerife

Cofete Beach

Cofete Beach

Cofete is a small village in the south-western part of the Jandia peninsula in Fuerteventura and nearby it has a sandy windswept Atlantic facing beach that is about five kilometers long so gloriously empty that every person on it gets about a thousand square metres of  space all to themselves.  The beach is not really suitable for safe bathing and the advice is that you shouldn’t swim here unless you are Sharon Davis or Duncan Goodhew because of the high waves and the strong current.

Read the full story…