CANARIES GR131

GRAN CANARIA 7th FEB

The journey ended, as it began, at a lighthouse in a desert.
I was glad I hadn’t gone last night down the prescribed route of avenues, roundabouts, shopping centres, hotels bars and restaurants to finish but had instead run the gauntlet of all of the above from my room in San Fernando to the sea but then had walked across the Dunes de Maspalomas for the last few kms of my journey to the Faro.

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It seemed fitting to finish as I had begun, with sand in my boots and to end at the beginning.
Although more tame and controlled and busy with tourists than the desert surrounding the Faro at El Puertito on Fuerteventura but it took me back to hiking on the soft yellow sand there and to muse on all the other surfaces my boots have been over on all the seven islands of the Canaries I have experienced since.
Sand in all its forms, from soft and deep to solidified and calcified, lava of every type, colour and contortion. Black ash, red and grey pumice, pine needles, lush grass, dirt track, fertile earth, moss mud and lichen. Pebbles, cobbles and boulders, concrete, tarmac and the finest of stone paved mule tracks.
But the shifting sands of Maspalomas were a fitting finish representing the final result of the process of erosion of the mountains, born of eruptions beneath the sea, eventually returning to it.

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With the lighthouse in the distance I came upon a little mock up of what could have been a Guache ceremonial site or settlement. Just a play thing in the midst of the tourist trappings but their lives on these islands should be remembered.

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On past the empty loungers on this grey day to the finish.

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One million, twenty nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty five steps later.
Six hundred and fifty one kilometres.
Five metres short of twenty thousand metres of ascent.
I’ve noticed that most travel- hiking etc bloggers include kit reviews where the latest high tec , high spec, high price gear is given the once over.
My approach is somewhat different. I wanted to show you don’t have to spend a fortune to have adventures in the wilds.
I set off with bargain basement equipment and was wondering about approaching one of my main suppliers, Lidle for sponsorship ( not really but not a bad idea).
My 15€ Lidle tent, although not tested in extreme conditions has done its job well as has my cheap Alpkit bivvy bag.
30€ worth of sale priced Hi Tec boots have lasted better than top brand Brashers I used on the Camino.
The Lidle supplied hiking poles have saved many a fall and fitted into my hand luggage that the Leki never would.
Socks, shorts and bamboo t shirt, all Clivit brand from Lidle are as good as you need.
The Eurohike sleeping bag could have been warmer but I was using it at nearly 2000mt and it was ultra light.
In fact the equipment that let me down the most was the Berghaus rucksack and the IPhone.
So don’t let a lack of top of the range gear stop you getting out there- remember the stuff out celebrated explorers had, and I’m not talking about the ones with teams of porters carrying the champagne and truffles.
This Ramble is over now and I have a few weeks R and R before the next one begins.
At the beginning of March I’ll be starting off on the Camino Mozarabe from Malaga, joining up with the Via de la Plata, and hopefully making it to Santiago de Compostella about 6 weeks later.
If you have enjoyed reading any of these ramblings it would be nice if you left a comment because I have no idea who is out there, apart from my much appreciated faithfulls.
Buen Camino

GRAN CANARIA 6th FEB

I must have walked about 30km which wasn’t what I had planned when I left my stony bedroom. I had planned to get to Ayaguares only about 4 hours away, have a leisurely lunch then carry on for an hour or so and find somewhere nice to camp before the final leg.
Didn’t work out like that.
After a pretty good night with the cloud briefly touching every now and again I could see my surroundings for the first time. I looked back down the path I’d climbed the night before.

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With the “fingers of God” feeling their way around the valley below I made my way over the pass to enter an uninhabited wilderness of mountain rock and pine.

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This was the Degollada de la Manzanilla where a sign informed me that I had made my bed at 1190mt.
Even though the vastness ahead seemed devoid of any signs of human life there were tracks winding through it and I could make out some mysterious complex miles into the empty quater. And hear the sound of a digger working somewhere.
A while later I may have come across the explanation of the mechanical noises when my planned route was interrupted by this sign.

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A pretty permanent looking sign which led me to believe that this wasn’t some minor rockfall like the ones I’d come across so far. Maybe I could skirt around it or climb over it but I didn’t want to get to the bottom of the valley to find I couldn’t and have to come all the way back again. So I followed the sign for the S57 pointing me towards Ayaguares. And very nice it was too. It slowly gently descended across the dry rocky landscape under towering pinnacles and around great boulders. First through thinly scattered pine and then scrub which on closer inspection contained a wealth of colour.

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The reservoir or Embalse de Ayaguares grew closer until I could look down on a higher one the Embalse de Gambuesa which had a lovely looking collection of houses and gardens drawing sustenance from is waters.

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As I walked passed the mountains reflected in the water I noticed a little group practising some kind of wholistic healing. It was that kind of place.

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The bar in the village was not the kind of place for a leisurely lunch however with no food on offer, so after a cafe con leche and a look at their photos of guys using the vaulting poles I’d seen on La Palma, it was back on track.

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As I started my climb out of the village I stopped for a chat with a fella sat outside a roadside house advertising his massage services. Phill from Gloucester, whose been coming to the canaries during the winter for 20 hrs. He told me bad weather was forecast so it was just as well I was coming to the finish. He also asked if I’d like to talk on his internet radio show next Tuesday,broadcast on fm in the uk, radio winchcombe. If I’m here I will.
I knew there was a long steep climb ahead so I somewhat reluctantly pulled myself away and carried on towards La Montana in search of food and rest. A tough climb it was.

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At last I came to the top of the switchback road at the gap of Cima Pedro Gonzalez but I was too tired to stop and admire the view. The whole way was now on road which I find harder going and I was aware of tender feet for the first time. Walking along the ridge top I looked down upon Palmitos Park, a very popular tourist attraction set deep at the back of a ravine. A “wildlife” park it had a range of animals in captivity including 4 or more Dolphins in these pools.

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The next disturbing sights were the over the top opulence of the villas of Montana Alta, an area Phill had described as the Beverly Hills of Gran Canaria. These pictures cannot convey the scale of the wealth on show, or perhaps debt, because there were a lot of for sale signs.

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The Palm tree lined avenues, all named after composers, had broad pavement, there were no pedestrians, and scores of parking spaces for car that weren’t there.
A glorious folly of an urbanization that now has a large ugly unfinished concrete housing complex fenced off at its entrance.
By the time I got to La Montana lower, a real village, it was obvious I had run out of camping options. So after stocking up on some food and water it was a dash to the finish. It was road and suburbs and camel ranches and go cart track and Aqualand all the way.

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It wasn’t really the relaxed and victorious end to my trail across the Canaries I had hoped for so I put off the last few km to the Maspalomas faro for a day and headed straight for the hostel I had just booked on line. Phill had told me about it and about a great tapas bar next door.
The tapas were excellent, the best i shad this trip. The accommodation is awful, the worst I’ve had this trip.
So my next post will be the last of this trip and I must include my kit review. Speaking of views, here’s mine.

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GRAN CANARIA 5th FEB

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Stony ground was my bed last night and rock was my pillow too.
A morning wasted trying to sort out why I had no phone credit or cellular data allowance. I had to go to the very up market Parador hotel who let me use their internet and after hours of frustration was able to get communication going again.
So I didn’t head off from Cruz de Tejeda until nearly midday with a white mist around and a red mist of anger within.
But as the external cloud rose and dissipated so did the internal and I settled down to enjoy the unfolding views.

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As usual there was a steep climb to start with, back up above the lingering cloud with great panoramas opening up to the west and the Roque Nublo. I climbed through now dry pine woods and crossed mountainsides scattered with abandoned fincas any one of which would be a handsome addition to my remote property portfolio.
Gran Canaria is the only Canary Island which hasn't adopted the signage for the GR131 and at times it was confusing as the path numbers seemed to change frequently.

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I kept bumping into hikers some of them repeatedly as they tried to find their trail amongst the mass of signage.
After a disappointment at Llanos de Garanon where I discovered my hoped for bar restaurant was closed I headed on over yet another high pass to new vistas.

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A bare rock path across the ancient volcanic rock led me towards a sublime walking experience.

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After reaching an altitude of about 1700 mt I started to go down the most beautifully constructed path it has ever been my pleasure and privilege to have contact with. My phone camera could not possibly do it justice as its scale was overwhelming. It wound its cobbled way down and around the sheer face of the mountain like a scaly clinging snake and brought joy and respect for the artistry and engineering craftsmanship of the souls who had constructed it.

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When I passed some resting hikers I had to share my passionate feelings towards the pieces of stone we were walking on. They weren’t alarmed and seemed to agree.
Under the cliffs and down across a ridge we went but sadly the original construction team had done their bit and it became rough and ready. The plant life made up for the lack of human achievement.

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Eventually I came down to a road and then a modern version of the sublime trail above. No buttressing needed a simple downward path but paved with stone into the village of San Bartolome where I needed some water and food.

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Unfortunately this meant a steep descent into the heart of the village and an equally steep return before i could be on my way again. This was supposed to be the end of the days stage but I had planned to travel on and find somewhere to camp. I hadn’t planned to start at 12 o’clock though so leaving at 6 didn’t give me long before darkness crept in.
Out on a dirt track leading passed fincas with savage barking dogs and then up an increasingly steep and rugged trail with no possibility of camping anywhere to be seen.
It got steeper and more rugged and the surrounding cliffs became taller and more ominous with rockfalls and land slides everywhere. It looked like the only place I could sleep was on the track itself but the rockfalls put me off that. There were a couple of big overhangs I could have crawled into but I had a fear of a million tons of mountain crushing me in the night so I staggered on and on up and up as the darkness increased. I had to zig zag up a seemingly endless stretch of lumpy bumpy track to reach the Coll and flat ground at last. I found a little niche of shelter just before darkness closed in and with a weary eye on the cloud hovering just above called it a day.

GRAN CANARIA 4th FEB

After last nights pretty miserable conditions and wet start again this morning I’m treating myself to a stay at El Refugio at the end of the day’s stage, about 18 km and 1000 mt of climbing later.
I’m right at the cusp of cloud and clear here at Cruz de Tejeda, a col or slightly lower gap in the mountains which encourages the mist to spill over through it from the north and east.
My back is turned away from a greyed out mass of nothingness while I face a hazy sun towards the west with vague outlines of fantastical pinnacles or Roques as they are called here.
A hazy start and finish then but the haze has transformed from wet cloud to dryish mist and in between were truly beautiful sunlit vistas.
I’m still at 5000ft so it’s going to be cold later and if I needed another excuse for a night in a soft warm bed my phone is eating batteries and needs to be fed.
And the luxury of electricity means I don’t have to go to bed at 8 o clock.
This morning I abandoned my damp and run down quarters as soon as it was light and headed back into the murky misty forest with its festoons of green lichen.

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As I made my way along the road a taxi van stopped and asked if I needed a ride to Artenara, the next town on route.
It was tempting but already I could sense the cloud thinning as I climbed so proudly explained I was a rambling man and would get there by foot.
My boasts were justified soon enough as I climbed a stairway to heaven

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And the views started to appear.

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Artenara came in sight sitting on the right side of the mountain with the cloud struggling to reach it over the ridge.

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With one more climb the vistas to the west opened up.

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And soon enough I was basking in sunshine in the attractive village having a cafe con leche on the plaza and marvelling at the diverse climates on the islands. They call Gran Canaria a mini continent because of its micro climates and they are a phenomena. You can nearly strand astride two completely different weather worlds, one damp and cold and the other dry and sunny.
So with a weary eye on the bank of cloud I headed off and up, past some of the cave houses which are plentiful.

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Up through lovely verdant terraces almost alpine in looks.

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Reaching ever greater heights and views of the classic pinnacle Roque Nublo.

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With dramatic drops into the caldera 1000’s of mt below I was impressed by the nerve and speed of the mountain biker who came bouncing past.

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I went past the caves, Cuervas de Los Candiles, a sight of pre Hispanic ritual and with a fine collection of cave art.
The ancient Canarians had etched into the Rock with stone picks over 300 symbols of the female pubis and vulva. I thought it fitting that I should discover such a place around St Bridgits day and when a little while later I came to a collection of similar caves one of which was open, I thought about spending the night there overlooking the Tejeda caldera but thought the powers may not approve.

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I have no idea how old this rock carving is outside the caves

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And the maker of this little trail side cairn had put in more effort than usual.

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One more steep climb and a glorious traverse across Degollada de las Palomas with stunning views west to Mt Teide on Tenerife still with me across an ocean of cloud.

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Till finally I was down in the mist again at Cruz de Tejeda, happy to have a room and admire the white out without having to sleep in it.

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GRAN CANARIA 3rd FEB

The day started soft and ended hard. There was a fine drizzle whilst waiting for the ferry and by the time we got to Gran Canaria there was thick cloud on the mountain tops.

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On the hike out of Puerto de las Nieves I overtook a couple of well ladened backpackers and when we all met whilst getting supplies soon after we had a chat. They had been camping and hiking around the island for 10 days and were about to do the same 1400 mt climb as me. The difference was one had a pack weighing 22kg and the other 18kg!!
They said they were very slow and stopped often. They carried 4 or 5 litres of water each and had numerous items they admitted were a luxury. Like books and a mat just for sitting on. But how they struggled up those mountains was beyond me and helped my relationship with the monkey on my back. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my trail brother”
It’s a pity it was so dull because the trail was spectacular. One of the Germans took this of me as we rose up above the indented coastline.

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Then I left them behind as i climbed on a lovely old road/trail/track/path up past an old era and remains of a limekiln and onto the flank of a 800mt mountain.

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Luckily the gusty wind was blowing me against the slope because the path was like a thin line drawn across the mountain with a very big drop to the left and nothing to stop you till you hit the bottom.
After awhile I heard shouts and roars and saw a fella peering over a cliff edge and hurling rocks and abuse to something way down below. Sure enough a shepherd who had an errant flock. I came upon them in a bit grazing by a WATERFALL!

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I hadn’t seen one of them in awhile but was to see plenty more and cross plenty of streams as I was climbing into the cloud again. Up more Tolkeinesque stone steps.

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The track zig zagged up and up towards sheer looking cliffs but eventually found a way through to the high wet forest above dotted with eucalyptus trees and strange round hollow boulders ( a volcanic bomb perhaps).

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And so I returned to the cold and wet I’ve been attempting to escape. All the now familiar signs were there the wet brown pine needles, the moss and the hanging threads of lichen now joined by the ghostly pale trunks of eucalyptus.

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The visibility disappeared along with everything else into thickening cloud and heavier rain and it was with relief that I eventually reached the zona recreativa de Tamadada.
But it was too exposed without the shelters I had been hoping for so I carried on a km or so to the basic forest campsite where there were toilets but nothing else.
Apart from a deserted and crumbling youth camping complex where I found an open room in which to hide from the elements and hope for better conditions tomorrow.

TENERIFE 2nd FEB

The ferry timetable to Gran Canaria didn’t work out for me as I had some shopping to do to keep this blog up and running ( plug adapter and data credit etc) and the later crossings wouldn’t have given me time to complete the first stage. So I had another city day here in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
A big seemingly prosperous city it is too. I had found a cheap room between the bus station and the ferry port in an area near the cultural hotspots.
The first thing that I saw, and heard, was a gleaming red Ferrari throttling past as I stepped out to explore.
Just across the road from the hotel was T.E.A. Tenerife Exposition de Artes a huge modern building housing galleries theatre cinema cafe and the finest 24ht library I’ve ever come across with 1000’s of books, periodicals, movies and music and acres of desked study space.

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On my way to the port to get my ticket for tomorrow I admired the amount of space given over to undisturbed street art and graffiti. Just a small selection here.

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Even the municipal hoarding around building work at the port was covered in colourful artistic expression.

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A very enlightened approach that other cities should adopt. In the book shop at the TEA there had been lots of books on street art, the bulk of it Spanish.
On my return I visited the Museo de La Naturaleza y El Hombre set in 3 stories of a fine old building with a contemporary remodelling. The geographical displays really helped me put my experiences of the different islands into perspective and to understand why they are so varied. A lot of it is to do with their vastly different ages as they erupted into existence from the Canaries hot spot beneath the sea floor. From Fuerteventura in the east 20 million yrs ago to El Hierro in the west only 1.2 million yrs ago they have been weathering and there age accounts for the widening of the ravines.
I learnt how the trade winds bring the low lying humid clouds between 500 and 1500 mt and deposit about 700 litres a square mt. I’m not sure how that compared with western Ireland but I can attest to its wetness. I was able to identify more of the trees I’d been hiking through in that damp cloud forest. Hollies, arbutus,viburnum,prunus Lusitanica, wild olive, tamarix, willows and others.
There was also a vast collection of animal exhibits and although not a huge variety of mammals have made it out here, butterflies and moths have.

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One of the things that struck me in the Hombre sections was the connections between the Guanche , the Berber related original inhabitants, and the ancient Irish.
They lived in ,and built for spiritual purposes , similar circular stone constructions and along with Galicia, Portugal and the Moroccan high atlas used similar decorative symbols.

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There were some fairly macabre displays of Guanche skulls that looked a bit like a Damien Hirst piece

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And some mummies

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After all of that it was time for some refreshment at the cafe in the Tenerife Auditorium, another presumably very expensive project designed by … Oops what’s his name… Calatrava ? He has a trademark arch thing going on and I think he did a bridge over the Liffey in Dublin.

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So hopefully I’m all set for my final island tomorrow at 8.30.
And in the meantime I have about half a GB of data credit that runs out at midnight so I might try watching a bit of TV.

TENERIFE 1st FEB

After my epic sleep and with no damage by falling trees I broke camp. I’ve been using pine needles to make a deep soft bed, Ray Mears would be proud, and I haven’t slept that long in any pension bed.
The days hike,20km or so, consisted of a lot more ups and downs nearly all of it in pine or laurel forest, the last half in the cloud, so views were limited.
There was a lot more wooden steps, it seemed at times like job creation, and a lot of zig zagging across debris strewn forest slopes.

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Being out of touch I had forgotten it was a Sunday so was slightly surprised to be sharing the forest with so many mountain bikes, hikers, trails bikes and runners hurtling past me down the steep drops. And I often heard gunshot off in the distance although I haven't seen anything to shoot.
I think it's brilliant that all these ancient paths, and there are tens of thousands of kms of them across Spain, used for centuries, probably with a fair bit of drudgery involved, should be kept open and repaired for recreational use.

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At the supposedly “well equipped” rest area of Siete Fuentes , where there were no Fuentes let alone Siete, and the table and benches had disappeared, I was joined by a middle aged couple of likely lads with big staffs out on a hike who insisted I shared their vino and some dry powder(?) with them. I shared my La PALMA fig cake and they then produced more vino and sweet cakes. I had only been hoping for some water. Water to wine– must be some kind of divine intervention.
I certainly needed it to deal with the next few hours of life in the wet mist,trudging along the muddy trails.

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I past a wayside shrine, of which there have been many.

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And eventually made it to LA Esperanza where the end of the GR131 on Tenerife was marked by a headless statue.

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I was lucky enough to get a bus straight away to LA Laguna and another down to Santa Cruz where I catch my ferry tomorrow to Gran Canaria.