Tenerife: Miradors, Mountains and Many Microclimates

Tenerife

When I think of the word holiday, I kind of associate a lazy energy with it. I suppose that’s what a holiday should be really: a time to unwind, de-stress and relax. But I also feel like it means placing emphasis on the sunbed more so than the adventure.

When I think of the word trip, there’s a little fire that ignites in my belly. It feels like I’ll be pioneering, exploring and intertwined with the beautiful. Oh, and the epic – never forgetting the epic.

So a week off work to go on a ‘holiday’ I guess I did. Only, the way we did things was more trip than holiday. We flew across to the beautiful Canarian island of Tenerife and ventured far and wide.

Tenerife has always intrigued me. It’s got volcanic soil, it’s got the mighty Teide that can be seen from almost everywhere on the island it seems, great food and lots of outdoor pursuits. It is also incredibly relaxed once you get away from the swarms of tourists in the southwest.

I never did the whole package/all-inclusive thing growing up and I still don’t really understand the appeal. But hey, that’s probably just me being judgemental. If you like that kinda thing, go for it. I just never understood why people fly all over the world only to sit in a hotel and eat the same food they would at home, surrounded by people who probably don’t live very far away from them! But perhaps I’ve missed the point?

No, not my style. If I travel somewhere, I want to understand the way people do things there – in that part of the world. I want to eat what they eat. I want to live how they live. I want to at least try to understand what makes the people tick. Travel has taught me that it’s the best way to learn, about the world obviously but also yourself. There’s nothing that’ll make you feel grateful about being able to drink your tap water quicker than going somewhere where the only choice is bottled. There’s nothing that will make you more grateful for tarmac and pavement than shitty dirt roads with mega pot holes.

But it’s not really about going somewhere to suffer and thus look forward to going home (though, granted that’s one benefit). It’s about opening your eyes to how differently humans live around the planet. You might just learn a thing or two about life in the process.

For this trip, we Air BnB’d it up in Icod de los Vinos. Totally away from the tourists, our gracious host Andrés was a delight at the Finca de Bebedero. High on the clifftops overlooking the town and ocean below, we awoke each morning to orange trees, bird-of-paradise flowers and a happy purring resident kitty. It was truly paradise on earth.

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From there, with our trusty little hire car we had the perfect base to explore the entire island as we pleased. This included the lost villages of the northeast: El Benijo and Taganana, Teide, Masca, Los Gigantes, Puerto de la Cruz and Garachico.

The Northeast

The drive across the island from Icod to Anaga National Park is ridiculous. In a good way. As you whiz past Puerto de la Cruz you start heading up the mountains and into lush greenery. An island with 11 microclimates, Tenerife continues to surprise you as you explore further. Mirador Cruz del Carmen should not be missed for an incredible view of the towns below and right across the island to the mighty Teide in the distance. From there, the drive continues north east to the laid-back surf villages of Taganana and El Benijo. Think: long windy roads and Indiana Jones vibes. We’re talking off-grid terrain that screams to be photographed.

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From there we crossed to the south-coast where San Andrés meets you with its playfulness and Playa de las Teresitas wows with its imported white sand. Further down the coast Santa Cruz appears with its unexpected metropolitan sprawl as if out of nowhere.

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Teide

One cannot go to Tenerife and not either climb or cable-car up Mt. Teide. The highest point in Spain at 3,700 metres, this volcano truly is majestic. The drive through the national park up to either the starting route of the walk at Montaña Blanca or the lower cable-car station starts to look more and more like one would imagine Mars might look. Oh, and your ears will tell you you’re increasing in altitude, even if your eyes don’t.

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The cable-car takes you just shy of the top by a couple hundred metres. A permit is required to hike to the very summit during the hours the cable-car runs. These aren’t well advertised and a lot of people arrive disappointed that they can’t do this. You can apply here to avoid disappointment. They’re free but limited and often all reserved well in advance.

I was informed of this valuable piece of information too late for me to get my hands on one, however there was a way around it. The Refugio de Altavista is a hostel at 3,200 m where you can book yourself a night and get to the summit before the permits are required. So yes, at dawn.

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One can hike or cable-car it to the top, taking all food and water needed for a night there (though they do have vending machines that sell bottled water, coffee and a few snacks if you’re mega desperate). You’re plonked in the hostel with a bunch of other mountaineering enthusiasts (capacity is 54 people) and left to cook your dinner, chat with whoever speaks your language and watch the best sunset you’ve ever seen in your life. This is followed by the clearest night sky you’ve ever seen too.

After broken sleep, you’ll force yourself awake around 4:30 or 5:00am and prepare for the 500m hike in the dark to the summit, making sure to be there in time for the sunrise. You’ll be exhausted and struggle a bit due to the altitude and lack of sleep, but you’ll have never felt so happy as you reach the warm and smelly sulphur vents of the top. You’ll perch to watch the night sky be replaced by bands of red, orange and pink as the sun rises over the island. Slowly all the islands of the Canaries will be visible and you’ll warm up a bit and feel utterly high on life. It’ll be one of those moments you know you’ll always remember – ‘nowstalgia‘ if you like.

Masca & Los Gigantes

My friend Matt recommended Masca as a must for our trip. I did some research and it seemed that many people rated this as their favourite part of Tenerife travels. We got there and it wasn’t difficult to see why.

Masca

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Masca is an almost tropical park in the north-west of the island. It is rich in biological diversity, mesmerising and boats an awesome hike through the river canyon down to a private beach that can only be accessed by said hike or a water taxi from nearby town Los Gigantes.

Jonny and I parked our car in Los Gigantes after reading that the roads were pretty gnarly up to Masca. Boy were we glad we did. I thoroughly recommend doing this! We parked up and got a taxi to the start of the hiking trail for about 25 euros. Los Gigantes is pretty touristy and there’s a taxi rank right outside the main hotel, so you’ll have no problem reserving one. I would also recommend parking further up in the more residential area rather than trying to battle with the busy harbour.

We hiked the 2-3 hour trail down the canyon. It’s a really varied, picturesque hike that I can describe quite simply as fun. Teide was endurance, this one was fun. You get to do some river-crossing, rock climbing, scrambling through bamboo tunnels and eventually end up on a secluded beach with a perfect pier to cannon-ball off of.

We decided to kayak back along the coast to Los Gigantes rather than taxi boat it. I would recommend Teno Activo if you’re fairly confident with your Spanish. The guide speaks a few words of English though, so as long as you know how to operate a paddle, I can’t see it going too wrong. We spent a couple hours kayaking the coast, stopping for a snorkel along the way and it was sublime.

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Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz was our nearest major town, so we used it for the supermarkets and some good local food. Upon our host’s recommendation for great tapas, we ate as La Tasquita de Min and were blown away. Go there, please. Do yourself a favour and try the hot peppers!

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Icod de los Vinos & Garachico

This was home for the week and despite getting lost on the side roads of Icod numerous times, the place still captured our hearts with  its laid-back vibes and great views. Garachico was the choice for our last night. It’s a small town just along the coast to the west. It’s really scenic, has a great sea-front where you can wander all along the rocks amongst the crashing waves and has probably the best seafood restaurant I’ve ever been to: Casa Gaspar. It serves great local catches from the harbour and the service was exceptional.

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Tenerife is an island that has captured my heart and one that I cannot wait to return to. If you’re hesitant that its simply a resort-island, I encourage you to challenge that opinion and venture over there. You’ll be blown away.

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Bristol International Balloon Fiesta: Colour in the Sky

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A lot goes on in Bristol all day every day, but perhaps one of the most anticipated visual events of the year is the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and it’s epic mass ascents. At roughly 6am and 6pm for 3 days each year in August, over 100 hot air balloons take to the sky in a dazzling flight of colour.

My favourite place to sit and take them all in is from the Observatory atop the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Two iconic sights melted together is a photographer’s dream.

The wind had been blowing strong and much to the disappointment of the masses, the ascents had been called off as obviously pilot safety is the first priority. But finally, last night around 7pm they took to the air in style and blew everyone away, as per usual.

Aside from Albuquerque, New Mexico, this is the only other place on earth that you can see so many balloons take to the sky at once. It’s a truly surreal sight that captures for me the magic in life.

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Paradise in Perranporth

It has been sun and sea and sky and sand and surf these past few days in Perranporth, Cornwall. A pocket of glory with turquoise shores, perfect waves and a bar on the beach, Perranporth is an awesome getaway spot for anyone looking for a break in the UK.

The Watering Hole is a must – Britain’s only beach bar. It serves as an epic ocean-side venue for a variety of well-known musicians and serves the best coffee to ease you into your day after an early morning stroll along the beach.

Sticking on the theme of refreshments, Good2Go is an epic vegan food cart on the main street in town that offers falafel wraps, mezze boxes, chilli, hot dogs and delicious treats for the vegan beach bum looking for sustenance other than chips.

Thousands of moon jellies were washed up on shore this past week, harmlessly splatting us in the face as we paddled out to the surf, but nothing could top the Mediterranean heat we had, which brought with it the most breathtaking of sunsets. A walk up and over the cliffs to some old tin mines also revealed stunning turquoise shores.

I long for my return, sweet Perranporth.

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All in a day. Or two.

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This weekend confirmed two profound beliefs for me:

  1. The thoughts we think manifest in our reality
  2. Time and space are not what they seem

Jonny and I decided to keep this weekend free and commit to venturing somewhere in nature that could allow us to relax and enjoy the scenery and stillness. Getting out of the city is a must from time to time, if only to inhale the freshness of unpolluted air and see the stars. Parallel to this, all week I had been feeling the overwhelming desire to be on or in or near water. Water, to me, has this way of cleansing the mind of its worries, putting things into perspective and – I guess – soothing the soul. We didn’t have a specific location in mind for said adventure, but were going to make a decision on the day and head west.

I had been searching for campsites along the coast before being drawn to the Brecon Beacons. That’s not the coast, I thought! However, I was drawn to Lakeside, a beautiful campsite adjacent to Llangorse Lake. I instantly knew I had made the right decision by going there. The reception staff were warm and kind when we approached them, encouraging us to go and find our favourite spot to pitch the tent in the beautiful meadow tucked away from the sounds of the boat engines, before reappearing to start exploring the waterside.

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We entered the quiet meadow; 40 pitches claimed only by 5 of us in total. We listened to the birdsong – the first thing I notice when I’m somewhere new. We listened to the way they called to and played with each other high in the treetops and bouncing around on the dewy grass. The tent was up in 10 and we were heading back down to the lake before we knew it. Two kayaks were calling our names, so we hopped on top and set out amongst the swans and worked our muscles as we paddled around, cruising behind the speedboats and feeling the waves in their wake bouncing us up and down.

Half an hour in, I was almost in the middle of the lake, looking around me at the abundance of insects festering in the small pools of water that had splashed into my kayak, looking at the swans with their heads in the water and tails bobbing around amusingly in the air, looking at the mountains in the distance and collections of trees scattered over the horizon and I felt the miracle of being in such a place, when only several hours earlier I was at home in Bristol.

The thoughts we think create our reality. I had been determined to find the stillness and serenity of water and I had indeed captured it. It was one of those ‘nowstalgic’ moments that I knew I was going to remember always.

Something I struggle with is missing the United States. I lived there as a teenager and often miss the epic landscapes that America is known for. One of these places that I pine for is Minocqua, Wisconsin. I spent my summers there as a kid, fishing on the lake, spotting eagles in the trees and lapping up the loon call at dusk and dawn. Lake life is the thing there and I miss it dearly. This kayak around Llangorse was particularly special to me because it showed me that there are beautiful bodies of water that can offer me the same feeling signature even though I’m halfway across the world now.

I watched the water-skiers and children tubing on the back of speedboats; I watched the couples rowing gently along the perimeter of the reed beds, I saw the bird-watchers gazing quietly from their lookouts and I was in a parallel universe to Minocqua. We were all the same people, enjoying the same things, thousands of miles apart. It was connection and it was comforting.

The next day we decided to head to the coast and what better place to explore than the Gower Peninsula – offering some of the most awesome beaches in the UK. We drove one of the most beautiful road trips we could imagine, through the Brecon Beacons and towards Swansea. As we journeyed past Swansea and The Mumbles and further west to the shore, the ocean opened out in a great expanse and I felt that familiar feeling I get whenever I’m by the sea that makes me feel small, that makes me feel like there is something greater than all of us.

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Further and further west until we arrived at our destination, Rhossili Bay, the ocean covered more and more of our peripheral. We parked the van and took in the panoramic view of blue. If I describe Rhossili Bay in one word, it would be sweeping.  It looked vast and from the clifftop coastal path where I stood; before me I saw an epic landscape. I felt the awe and the beauty.

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Jonny and I walked this path to the curiously-named Worm’s Head; a peninsula on the peninsula that is accessible at low tide. We scrambled around the rock pools, exploring the many alcoves and watching the birds of flight above us.

After a time here, we eventually began the journey home. This passed by in the blink of an eye and before we knew it we were unpacking the van and tucking into our dinner. It had felt as though a lifetime had passed. It had felt a long time since we were last in our home, sat at our dining table. Reality would tell us that it had only been a day; one night sleeping in a different place, but the truth is that reality warps when you are utterly present wherever you have travelled to. The time-space continuum is not a constant and I felt alleviated of the worry that life is flying by too fast, going to sleep that Sunday night. The more I immerse myself in my current activity, the slower time becomes. I have the power to alter my reality and so do you.

 

Live a little

At the start of 2013 I was stuck in a bit of a rut; I felt as though I had very little sense of purpose or direction. It had been about 6 months since cutting ties with University and I was asking the universe with an anticlimactic sigh, ‘what now?’ I guess I had this idea that going to University was a sure fire route to greatness and that somehow those three years would culminate in a dream career. It’s not until you start cruising through your twenties that you realise that life doesn’t work that way.

University teaches you many things, but what you choose to study does not define who you are as an individual and certainly does not chain you to one path in life. Of course it’s a beautiful thing if you’re a switched on teenager and pick a course that benefits you in a long and fulfilling career afterwards, but for many of us, things don’t work out that way. The person you are when you walk away with your degree is very different to the person you were when you skipped in fresh-faced with eyes wide and dreamy. And again, the person you are after a couple years of employment  – or whatever else – post-university is vastly different again.

We are always growing and learning and finding new interests and paths we would like to pursue. And we are only inspired by these things as we gain experience in them. We must stop guilt-tripping ourselves for taking a path that is seemingly ‘completely unrelated’ to whatever degree we have. Whilst the subject material may not be the same, everything you do is related to that degree because you wouldn’t be the person you are now had you not studied it. So even if you feel frustrated that you are thousands of pounds in debt for studying something that it turns out a few years later isn’t your true calling, that’s OK. Unfortunately it is one of those things that you simply don’t learn until you’ve been through it. And this is why I am so against students having to pay for their education; you shouldn’t have that burden to carry around with you for years afterwards. You should feel free and weightless to pursue new things, should you want to.

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So when I was plodding along in that period of my life, feeling defeated and confused, I decided to take a pledge to do something new every day. It started out small, like cooking a new recipe or visiting somewhere that I’d not been before, but slowly built into bigger and bolder challenges like quitting my job and flying out to the United States. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that your thoughts completely determine what is next for you in life. If you play victim to your current situation because you despise it, you will inevitably get more of the same, because what you focus on grows. If you put every waking thought into the place you want to be, however, you will move through the bad and into the good.

This process became a kind of addiction; never in a dangerous way of course, but rather an exhilarating one. I saw how much fun I was having experiencing all these new things and knew that it fuelled me. I thrive off of new sensory experiences of all kinds and love the process of learning about something new. Somewhere along the way in the past couple years I forgot about how much joy this challenge brought me, so I’ve decided to start Round 2. Today marks the 30 day countdown to my 25th birthday and so what better time to start? It’s healthy to scare yourself a little and edge out of that comfort zone that we too easily settle ourselves into. I dare you to join me; you might be surprised at the outcome.

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