Tenerife, and the volcano that almost killed me

Mount Teide at dawn

I have to be honest, before I went to Tenerife, I did hold a particular view of the island as being a tourist hell hole that served up English food, to English people who only spoke English and would never make the effort to speak any other nations language, but thankfully, as I found out this was only in the plastic Disneyworldesque cultural low points of the island know as Playa de las Americas and a few others where you can sunbathe on the fake imported sand from the Sahara and order your food in the ‘propa langwij’. If you so choose, you can have a completely English holiday in a completely foreign land. Ah what it is to experience the culture of others.

But no, as my incredibly patient partner knows only too well, my oikaphobia: dislike of one’s own country or compatriots, would never allow it. Why travel hundreds, or thousands of miles to be surrounded by people from your country, I don’t even want to be around them in my own country! That’s a little joke, but at times there is an element of truth in my thoughts on the British indigene, particularly in the deep south of England, Folkestone twinned with Alabama where I currently live, where the immigrant/refugee/asylum seeker hysteria is turning some of the locals into gingham wearing, pitchfork holding, raging racists. Farage’s fascist little army.

The reason for the little trip to the ‘rife was to climb Mount Teide and for my inamorata to enjoy the sun. Our relationship is predicated on my obsessive and non-stop extreme need to be creative and her relaxed disposition and easy-going outlook on life which balances us out nicely. Ever since my brother inspired me to start hiking up mountains: Snowdonia, Scafell Pike and Pen y fan to date, Teide, the centre piece of the island became a slight obsession. 

A quick pointer, if you are planning on climbing Mount Teide make sure you book a permit for ‘Pico del Teide’, the peak, otherwise you could climb the volcano on the day and then not be able to get to the summit.  https://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/usu/html/detalle-actividad-oapn.aspx?ii=6ENG&cen=2&act=1

Mount Teide is 3715 metres above sea level, but it is a relatively easy climb compared to Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn. I say relatively because you can simply hike up it, with a little crag hopping in the mix, you don’t need ropes and harnesses etc compared to bigger mountains. 

As I opined earlier, I’m not a fan of hyper tourism, so after much research my muse found a stunning beach apartment in Abades found on the southeast coast of Tenerife called ‘Nivaria Beach Apartments’. Interested? You can view their website here: https://www.nivariabeach.com/ Abades is small with just one supermarket, a beach of black sand, not imported, 5 or 6 restaurants with a beautiful graffiti desecrated church positioned up on an adjacent hill overlooking the sea. 

Nivaria Beach Apartments in Abades
Nivaria Beach Apartments in Abades
Nivaria Beach Apartments in Abades
Nivaria Beach Apartments in Abades

While waiting to check in as we had arrived early after our taxi driver who was clearly heavily influenced by formula 1 driving raced along the ring road that circumnavigates the whole island while explaining to us about the clouds huddling around the peak of Teide known in Spanish as ‘Calima’ translated in English to mean ‘haze’, we decided to stroll about and explore our new environ for the week. After sloshing our feet in the Atlantic on the black sand we finally ambled up the sandy climb to the church that so clearly dominated the left-hand view of the horizon. Positioned on the front of the religious edifice stood a huge cross almost a third of the height while below a set of steps invited visitors to explore the body of the church decorated in spray can art and pigeon shit with walkways leading to smaller rooms and inner sanctums now bereft of their sacredness and covered in aerosol art and more pigeon shit. Outside of the church a series of smaller buildings could be found leading down to the Atlantic Ocean, all now covered in hip hop artistry too, and of course, you guessed it, pigeon shit.

Leper church in Abades
Leper church in Abades
Leper church in Abades
Leper church in Abades

We wondered out aloud what this church had been for. Had it been to stop attackers onto the island at some point? Had this been an area of devout Catholic worship? But after consulting Google we found it was an abandoned site for quarantining lepers! Built in the 1940s by Franco’s military it was going to be used to host a rising leprosy problem on the island, but a cure was found before the site was completed and now it lay waste to graf murals and party animals. We laughed. We truly were as far away from the English enclaves of tourist hell I hated so much, praise the lord for the lepers!

The Nivaria Beach apartments, although in close proximity to the never completed leper colony, were stunning. No noise, nice views, beautifully though simply designed with utilitarianism in mind enabled us to relax, read and savour the quietude. I was very impressed with their attention to detail and how the bathroom designers had managed to position the shower screen with the ceiling lights to cast a shadow that cut perfectly, diagonally from corner to corner across the plughole in the shower. It displayed a punctiliousness, a workmanship that I keenly admired which added to the overall holiday experience. I’ve never desired a holiday with party bars and endless nights of reckless inebriation and abandonment, I like to either getaway and read or explore and experience. Ideally a mixture of both, with a nice wine in the eve. And a well-defined shadow across the shower water waste drainage cover. This isn’t sarcasm, I was honestly impressed.

Perfectly designed shower screen shadow across plug hole in shower
Perfectly designed shower screen shadow across plug hole in shower

We researched the climb up Mount Teide. There were a few approaches. You could travel up it by cable car or drive near to the bottom of the volcano to Montana Blanca which puts you pretty much at the foot or as we decided to park at the El Portillo Visitor Centre and trek 8k to the volcano. We would live to regret this!

To climb Mount Teide, you definitely need a car unless you want to trek for about 2 days from the coast of Tenerife. Starting at 6:30am we drove for an hour and a half mostly at gradual and sharp inclines first through small towns and then into leafy tunnels shrouded in matutinal mist with the sun intermittently bursting through the botanical explosions of verdant growth. From the shore where we began only the peak of Teide was visible, hidden by other mountains, but due to a parallax perspective it quickly disappeared as we started the journey. From the minute we left the ring road and began our automotive ascent we found ourselves alone 95% of the journey. It was beautiful, coupled with the Sun rising, the commencement of the day, the mist slowly dispelling. When we reached 2500 feet above sea level we pulled into a lay by and gazed at Mount Teide in all its majesty with the clouds now gently hovering below our feet and a blue azure firmament to frame the day. 

We carried on gently moving, in no rush, along the one road that had been cut into the landscape past the Teide Observatory until we finally reached the El Portillo Visitor Centre. Although it was only 5 degrees, we could feel the sun rising above us dominating the sky as we left the car to begin the 13k trek to the summit of Mount Teide. The centre was closed but access to the trail leading to the volcano was open to anyone ready to hike, which happened to be at this time of the morning myself, my partner and a guy who parked some distance away but had started jogging in another direction. Being alone has a dual effect, where it is nice to enjoy your own company, be away from the multitudes, spend time sans interruption, it can also bring with it danger, an element of fear, uncertainty, and vulnerability. One can understand the feeling of being safe in a crowd. Personally, I like the aloneness, the fending for oneself and the excitement of something new.

The trail leading trekkers to Teide is barely visible, laid out with rocks positioned prominently enough to guide you. Rather than head straight, the paths weave, which from my understanding was to prevent visitors climbing all over the environment and try to keep it untrodden, unblemished, and natural. It reminded me of the opening of Breaking Bad where Walter White is cooking his narcotics in the desert. It also had the strange eeriness of the Moon. Surrounding us was a sandy reptilian landscape, huge volcanic rocks and patches of snow interspersed with green desert flora. On my back I carried a rucksack with two large bottles of water, food provisions, clothes, printed permit for the peak and a portable charger for our phones. And so, we hiked along laughing and taking in the impressive sights surrounding us. It is something to be witnessed when you are above the clouds, with the Sun above and the Moon also sharing the empyrean, alone with nothing else around you, miles away from your quotidian existence, essentially, in another time, in another place.

It takes about 2 hours to reach the foot of Teide. As you get closer its magnificence is truly engulfing. To the left the cable cars smoothly climb the volcano from the lower station positioned below in the distance. Ahead of us lay the real climb up the La Rambleta path to the highest point in Spain. 

We stopped. Drank water. Assessed the groove crisscrossing its way up the volcano. There were others climbing it. We had already spoken to a few fellow hikers before reaching Teide who expressed amazement and humour over the fact that we had started at El Portillo 2 hours away when we could have parked literally at the foot in the Montana Blanca car park, but we liked a challenge, not realising the biggest challenge had to yet to begin.

Hiking up Teide isn’t a simple clear-cut path, although there is a path, you are essentially crag hopping, climbing over obstacles, and weaving around rocks. Add to this altitude sickness and you can see how different it is from climbing Snowdonia for instance. For the first two hours we hiked along, stopping at times to drink water, wiping the sweat off our faces and gazing across the impressive panorama. And then suddenly we couldn’t walk more than 8 steps without sitting down and struggling to catch our breath. The rucksack, once easy to carry, now a burden, weighed me down, refused to allow me to stand up straight, kept my knees bent and applied added pressure. Pulling myself up rocks to get to the next level now required a huge amount of effort. Was this my age? Was I unfit? Younger adults seem to be flying past us while other older folk were also sitting down and catching their breath. But of course, it was the altitude sickness. It was a strange feeling. A sensation of having all your power removed and making the simplest of movements a huge exertion of effort. We were zapped, most onomatopoeically, of energy. Every 8-10 steps we collapsed exhausted. I looked up to the peak and wondered how the hell we would make it. It didn’t seem to be getting any nearer. I voiced my concern to my muse who responded that we have to do it, it’s the sole reason of the holiday! She was right, I couldn’t capitulate now and picked myself up and clambered up the path. 

Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide
Above the clouds trekking to Teide

A sea of young vibrant happy faces came sailing down the mountain towards us. 6 youthful upbeat countenances almost skipping over the rocks back to the base. Happy for the break we engaged in conversation and learned they had climbed up the night before and camped outside the hostel as it was currently closed. They had wanted to watch the sun rise and explained how amazing it had been. I could imagine. Sitting up there close to the stars and then seeing the sky transform as the Sun gently filtered in must have been magnificent. As we spoke, I looked at the peak and posed the question of how much further, it looked close, and I ventured the idea of about 20 more minutes. They laughed, exchanging words in French and then told me it was another 2 hours. 2 hours! Really?! 2 fucking hours!! I laughed with them at my miscalculation and the struggle that lay ahead. This must have been how Shackleton felt! Well, not quite… Knowing we had to get moving, though our bodies internally were frantically resisting we gave our valedictions and pressed on.

We looked up. 2 hours. Really? I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life. This was possibly the hardest hike, the most strenuous ‘anything’ I had ever attempted before. It hadn’t helped that we had decided to start 8k away rather than at the bottom of the volcano like every other hiker today we had met. Every time we mentioned where we had started from as we conversed with fellow hikers on their descent we were met with ‘are you mad?’ responses. It seemed to be a common theme. We soldiered on dog tired. A sprightly elder gent dressed in orange came bouncing down the rocks with sticks in hand and what look to be ski boots ricocheting perfectly off the sides of boulders along to an internal rhythm, dancing to his own incredibly dangerous yet highly wild tune. He stopped in front of me, and I begged the question, please how long to the peak? He responded in his Spanish tongue. I had no idea what he said so I replied by pointing to the top. He returned with ‘cinco’. ‘5?’ I said. ‘5 minutes?!’ I held my hand up and replied ‘five’ and then counted on my fingers ‘uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, five, five?’ ‘Yes five’ he replied. I wanted to kiss him and seeing the happiness in both our faces he bounced off down the volcano dancing away.  

As he promised, 5 minutes later we reached the top. We sat down, actually we slumped, by the ‘Refugio Altavista’, the hostel at the summit of Teide. We were dead. Exhausted. How anyone could do this in the summer I couldn’t imagine. It was 6 degrees, clearly cold, but after the climb we were still incredibly hot, the hike had been calescent. The views from the hostel were obviously stunning overlooking the national park with the clouds resting at its feet. We were now 1000 metres above the Calima. I decided to have a look around while my inamorata relaxed and drank water, soaking in the views. As I walked around the side of the hostel, I saw a sign pointing to the peak with the time estimation of 1 hour on it. We were still 1 fucking hour away from the summit! I brought the bad news home and we both decided we just couldn’t do it. We simply just didn’t have it in us, and furthermore we still had a 13k hike back to the car. Given that we had begun this quest a considerable jaunt away, we decided to let ourselves off. It’s not often I give myself a break, but survival also played a part in this and the lengthy journey back to the car had yet to be traversed. 

By the time we reached the car we had been hiking for 11 hours and were truly worn out. We had covered 26k and we had the muscle aches, the sun burns and altitude sickness to prove it. We were so exhausted that the small hill with a long incline, no higher than a T4 campervan, that led us into the car park of the El Portillo Visitor Centre was a struggle. Would we have changed a thing? No! It was an excellent adventure.

Me being a fool above the clouds on the way back from Teide
Me being a fool above the clouds on the way back from Teide

Outside of Mount Teide and the tourist hell of Playa de las Americas, Tenerife has some beautiful areas to visit, and I highly recommend spending a bit of time there if you visit. 3 distinct places for us were ‘Puerto De La Cruz’ with its huge surf beaches and nice restaurants, ‘Los Gigantes’ which requires an elongated vertiginous drive to reach sea level so you can appreciate the gigantic rock formations alongside the beach and lastly ‘El Medano’ a small town near the airport that we strolled about on our last morning before flying home, a bit touristy, but bearable. 

Life outside the UK is certainly different if you look in the right places that haven’t been super westernised. You could say the Tinerfenos on the global stage where economy and technology are concerned are running behind the UK, but I think it’s to their advantage. Yes, there are the ubiquitous smartphones in the hands of every human around, but the die-hard capitalism that runs rampant through the streets of corporate blighty hasn’t quite covered every angle in Tenerife yet. I don’t think the Tinerfenos are indoctrinated enough to think money is the ultimate pursuit in life. This I noticed by the simple fact you could pretty much park anywhere on the island for free. In the UK this would be unheard of as governments and councils look to add a tax or charge to anything they can be possibly use to produce a revenue. 

There were some afternoons that were spent in the sun virtually naked relaxed and reading. Reposed, I read ‘Running Wild’ by J.G. Ballard, ‘Feeding Frenzy’ by Will Self, ‘The Veiled Woman’ by Anais Nin and ‘The Big Picture, on the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself’ by Sean Carroll. I recommend all these books too.

Motta’s novels Celebrity Rape and VIR(US) are available from Amazon.

Puerto De La Cruz
Puerto De La Cruz
Puerto De La Cruz
Puerto De La Cruz
El Medano
El Medano
El Medano
El Gigantes
El Gigantes

About Kai Motta

Kai Motta is a British born author with two self-published novels available on Amazon. Influences include Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Will Self, Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. He also writes articles and blogs on a regular basis.
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