Tenerife – towns

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Tenerife doesn’t only have landscape, there’s also a few very pretty and not so pretty towns and cities on the island. Some of them are worth a visit, like the oldest town there: La Laguna. Others, like the conglomerate of Las Americas should be avoided at all costs unless you’re into the binge-drinking experience. La Laguna was actually the first stop in our Tenerife expedition.

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Mostly because it is easily reachable by bus and is only a half-day trip. However, after the somewhat drawn out bus travel there, we decided that it would be smarter to rent a car for the rest of the trip. La Laguna lies roughly 20min from the beach and was the first settlement of the Spaniards in Tenerife, after having beaten the indigenous people. It was the capital of Tenerife for a long time due to it’s convenient location close to farm land a drinkable water. It is over 500 years old and the city pattern still remains from this first building period, even if a lot of the buildings were renewed and altered over time. Most are over 300 years old though. Accordingly a lot of the sights are actually old churches, the cathedral and monasteries. But there are also quite a few m

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ansions from wealthy families that are open for visitation. Quite a few of them now contain one kind or museum or another that allow for deeper insight into the lives back in those days and you can easily spend a half day to a relaxed day there. The entire down town is actually considered part of the UNESCO world heritage and is mostly a car-free zone.

Not just La Laguna is worth a visit, in their own right every village is worth a visit and we did stop at a few more, in particular La Orotava planted onto the slope of a rather steep mountain side. Most of the city is from the 18th century and displays the typical houses of the Canary islands with the wooden balconies going out onto the streets.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I probably liked La Orotava better than La Laguna. It is less overrun and just seems brighter. A bright pink seems to be considered an adequate paint for houses there, the sun is usually shining and the gardens are a luscious green.  There are plenty of plazas, in front of the churches and elsewhere, nicely paved and pretty to see. Inside the churches i particularly liked the wooden ceilings, often covered in intricate geometric shapes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Moving away from the historical towns, there’s of course Santa Cruz, which we barely saw and the conglomerate of Los Cristianos, which we unfortunately had to cross to get to a whale watching expedition we wanted to do Los Cristianos is like a big blemish on the island, we drove past it on the highway for almost an hour, watching how the beautiful landscape was replaced by a concrete-wasteland.

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No more plants, no more ocean, just one skyscraper besides the other with fading colour, plaster falling off and all in all quite desolate.

Arriving at the harbour the beach was worse than expected and we just got happier and happier that this would be our only contact with this part of the island. The whale watching itself was quite fun, even if my sister considered the whales we saw as too small to qualify as whales. I hope she didn’t offend their feelings. Personally, I had issues with the lack of distance between us and the whales. This, for sure, wasn’t ecological in any way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

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The North of Tenerife

 

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Now that I finally conquered driving a car, I decided that the main roads where not enough and that I wanted to find the smallest and tiniest roads of Tenerife. Well, not really, but if you set out towards the north of the island into the famous laurel-forests of … you will end up on some very tiny roads. On the first day we set out to find the Punta de Hidalgo. This is a small village with some “natural tubs” on the north-western side of Tenerife. AS we were about to find out, natural tubs means concrete swimming pools that are being filled by ocean waves. They were apparently build back in the 70ies and never renovated. Most of these natural tubs were barred from access and half decayed when we saw them. The colour was peeling off and all in all it look very desolate. The view from the village away from the ocean was quite nice. Tenerife is anything if not dramatic, especially if the clouds are moving in and there’s mist moving all the mountains. Even though the visit was somewhat disappointing we had one definite highlight in the form of a small fish restaurant that had been recommended to us by a local. I would spent the rest of my holidays in Tenerife trying to find an equally awesome Pulpo for lunch or dinner.
Punta de Hidalgo had also been a choice of compromise, it was a short trip for the second half of our first day in Tenerife to test out the streets and the car.

After we successfully managed this test we took on bigger tours  before finally returning to the north at the end of our trip. The original plan was to stop shortly at the old town of Santa Cruz and stroll through the historical center and then drive down to another village on the north-west side of the island. We followed the same road and shortly before Punta de Hidalgo we took a turn and went up into the mountains.

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Behind Santa Cruz lucious green forest greeted us very soon and the roads started getting smaller and smaller. Long before we reached the natural park of … we (again) started stopping at every view point displayed and some that weren’t labelled as such. For the first hour we still had a view onto the cliffs on the coasts and could see the water smashing against them. The further in we drove, the more the cliffs were hidden away by green walls of forest.

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We felt at the end of the world, when the forest opened up and revealed views onto the stretched out mountain backs covered in green forest we could not see our street or any other street for that matter. Every single car we crossed was a large SUV or, much to my distress, on the small roads large tourist buses. We drove on and after a while started recognising the other tourists as we would overtake each other in regular intervals or meet at the view points, while the locals were much to fast to be overtaken and never stopped at the view points. At the highest point of the road we expected to come onto the street that would take us down to the western village,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhowever there was no such street. Somewhat confused we continued on on our street and watched the road get slimmer and slimmer until it reached a width that was more or less equal to our tiny car. At that point I decided to give up and turn around. On our way back we stopped when we spotted one of the cars that had been overtaking us in regular intervals.

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It turned out to be a great decision. We ran into a different couple of tourists that told us of a short hike to a small hill from which you could still see the ocean. The path already was lovely. It looked like an enchanted forest. Lots of moss and green on curly branches and trees left and right and a tiny path leading through it always upwards. The 20 minutes turned out to be very accurate. We reached a large rock from which you could see far out onto the sea. There we stayed until the clouds moved in again and everything was covered in mist. Then we stayed some more to see the mist move over the mountains.
Back at the car, we gave up on our original plan to visit the western village and decided to simply drive down to (new) Santa Cruz and back home as it was already getting late. Shortly after we would come onto a large road and very clear street signs towards …. A bit more persistence and we would have found the road we were originally looking for.

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By the time we found the large, newly tarred and two-way street it was getting late. So we decided against driving down and circled back to our hotel coming down in Santa Cruz and stopping at the only white sand beach in Tenerife. Carried there, entirely, from the Sahara as there is no white sand in the Canaries.

Tenerife – Masca

     Tenerife has a very versatile countryside from desert like in the south to luscious forests in the north. One thing that is present everywhere, though, are the steep cliffs and deep gorges, known as barrancos, leading towards the ocean. We decided to walk down one of those starting in Masca, a small and picturesque village high up in the mountains. The nice thing about this hike is that it can be combined with a boat ride. There are actually two things that make this nice: a) The cliffs around Masca are called Los Gigantos and merit a visit by boat in its own right and b) you won’t have to track back on your own steps. Depending on your inclination you can choose to only walk the path down or up. There is a bus and taxis connecting the next harbour with Masca. Since we missed the one possible daily bus connection we ended up taking a taxi. But with about 25 Euros for the hour-long trip, we really couldn’t complain about prices. Thus we arrived in Masca in the late morning just when the first drizzle of rain set in. The village turned out to be somewhat of a death trap in rain. All roads are paved with insanely slippery stones and most of them are also very steep.. I think as a kid this would be great fun.. The worlds most complex system of intersecting slides.. As adults you spend your time imaging exactly how many bones the human body has and estimating how many will break when you slip.
Needless to say that while we did slip occasionally, we didn’t quite manage to kill ourselves and once we reached the hiking trail there were fewer stones and it became easier to walk and while we complained about the fog encompassing us in the beginning, I grew quite thankful of it over the day when the sun came out and I realised that there was not an ounce of shadow to be had on the entire path. The further we descended into the gorge, the higher the clouds were above us and while we started out in the fog we soon left that behind us and could see the cliffs reaching up high above us in all their glory.
p2014_10_07_15h02_37We had been told that the most dangerous thing about the hike was the slippery stones closely followed by the most evil of all predators: The mountain goat.. Rumor has it that this animal will feast on up to 20 humans per day during mating season to impress the other sex.. or so a local told us while desperately trying  (and failing) to keep a straight face. Nevertheless the girl from the tourist info next to him felt compelled to point out that a mountain goat is first and foremost a goat and therefore eats grass. Goat or no goat, this is about the most exotic animal you can meet in Teneriffe (outside of LunaPark) and we were quite happy to spot one on our way down. Roughly at the half way point of our hike it looked out over us from a ledge. It reminded me of a yeti with it’s long and fuzzy hair, but with the common sense to live somewhere where the environment isn’t trying to freeze you to death.
Only an hour later we started hearing the waves from the ocean. However we were still quite far from the beach, the waves are quite high and make a lot of noise. This, in addition to the gorge creating impressive echoes means you can hear the ocean quite far away from the beach itself. The sun had come out and it was getting hot. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were ready to reach the end of the hike and with every turn we hoped to finally see the water. When we finally reached it, it was a lovely little bay with a beach that was threatened by land slides and fenced off.
Since this happened a platform was built into the water, from which one can get in the water without risking anything and we had a nice and relaxing bath before the boat arrived to carry us back.

Tenerife – Teide

On the way to La Palma once again, I decided to make a detour and stopped in Tenerife – finally making true on my plans to visit another Canarian island besides La Palma. Of course, when that plan had first formed we had been talking about Lanzarote and La Gomera.. But it’s not a good plan if you’re not ready to completely throw it over board and go with something else. Looking at the possible sights in Teneriffe you quickly become aware that you can’t possibly do it all… Of course there are a few that you can’t and won’t want to escape. Such as the Teide.
The Teide is Europe’s highest volcano and Spain’s highest mountain. Since this was to be the first holiday in which I was actually driving by myself, we decided to start with a bang and take the long and very pretty panoramic route taking us over the mountains, rather than driving up directly to the Teide. We first set out towards the North of the island, before turning into the mountains and driving up. The sky was covered in clouds and I was less than optimistic about the view we would be having. But I was wrong (and my sister right all along, although it pains me to admit such things ;)), less than half on hour later we broke through the clouds and only a little later we caught our first glimpse of the Teide itself, completely free of clouds! Even though the Teide was our designated goal that day, we had to stop frequently to take a closer look at the countryside which changed dramatically from densely populated forests to something looking a lot like wastelands over the turn of the day. This led to the fact that we reached the bottom station of the cable car up the Teide at about 3pm. We didn’t have the necessary permit to walk the final few meters all the way to the mountain top. The access is restricted and only a certain number of those permits are handed out for each time slot each day (but they’re free, it’s just the question of reserving them in time), there are several other routes one can take without the need of this permit, so we decided to go up anyway. We waited almost an hour in line, because people with pre-booked tickets had priority over anyone currently queuing. We were a bit annoyed that the idea to buy the tickets online ahead of time hadn’t crossed our mind but in the end we made it up. By that time I had started regretting the good weather. The sun was shining relentlessly and at these heights it is quickly noticed, especially by fair-skinned people like us. The views turned out to be well worth the wait and the suffering. There was quite a bit of suffering since one step up there tends to feel like a Marathon at normal heights.
From the top of the Teide one can clearly see the lava flows from the last few eruptions, layered over each other and on such a clear day you could easily make out the sea and the neighbouring islands. These neighbouring islands kept confusing us. We knew that there were three islands that are visible from Tenerife but somehow the shapes and numbers of islands we saw in a day never added up. We ended up calling almost any island we saw “La Gomera”.. I’m sure we got it right occasionally!

La Palma – Night time

La Palma, and the canaries in general, offer some of the best locations to do astronomical observations or to have a look at the gorgeous night sky. So when you’re on the island and you’re into taking pictures, there’s nothing more logical than to try and capture the amazing night sky available to you.
This is a small selection of images I’ve taken over the last visit. They’re a work in progress, as I’m learning how to better handle my camera and what equipment to use. I had the (mis)fortune of running into a thunderstorm while I was up in the mountains. Obviously it gave way to some quite awesome pictures, on the other hand it also caused the clouds that hid the stars from us. The green line visible in one of the pictures is a laser beacon used by one of the telescopes (The William Herschel telescope).

 

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La Palma – Daytime

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALa Palma offers plenty of activities, but the one it is most famous for is probably hiking. Therefore when I was visiting this time, I made sure to devote a few days to hiking and I was amply rewarded. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first hike I did was a hike through the Caldera, the cauldron. It is a narrow, and almost round, valley wedged in between three old volcanoes. I decided to take the “easy way” and have myself dropped off at the upper end of the valley and follow the (then empty) river bed down and back to civilization. It was a clear and sunny day, and the views were truly stunning. Luscious forests in front of steep cliffs with occasional views of the ocean in the distance and the exuberant vegetation in all shades of green around us.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor almost 5 hours we walked through forests and valleys and the occasional clearings and enjoyed it tremendously. Luckily for us, it was a  very cold day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The caldera, otherwise known as a giant melting pot did not really heat up and the temperatures did not exceed 30 degrees. In summer, when the sun is strong, temperatures in the caldera can easily exceed 40 degrees making any kind of physical effort a veritably pain to deal with. This wasn’t the first time I had attempted to do the hike in the caldera, the last time I had been on La Palma, I had already wanted to do the hike, but the weather had been too bed.. Given that you walk inside the empty river bed for quite a part of the way, any time that there have been strong rainfalls it is absolutely impossible to do the hike. Knowing this, I consider myself quite lucky to have been able to make the hike on the second attempt.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other hike I did was the path from the Pico de la nieve up to the Roque de los muchachos.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Completely different from the Caldera, but at least as awesome! The Pico de la nieve and the Roque de los muchachos both lie on the ridge enclosing the Caldera and walking from on to the other offers magnificent views inside the Caldera as well as down onto the ocean in the opposite direction. Again we had awesome weather and we had picked a great time of the year too. Early June/End of may everything in La Palma seems to be blossoming, there is a myriad of different colors covering every possible spot on the ground until you reach the top. Then suddenly the countryside is absolutely barren. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut not without charm. At the Pico de la nieve an old friend was waiting for me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe raven seem to be sitting there, just waiting to freak a random hiker out by closing in on him while intently staring at you. Probably in the hope of either eating your food or you..  It’s not entirely clear.

The hike is about 5-6h ours long and this time we picked the “hard way”… Afterwards we asked us why.. surely the views would’ve been equally stunning if we had walked from the Roque de los Muchachos down to the Pico de la nieve. Either way though, we enjoyed ourselves, only the complete lack of shade had us worried after a while. But we made it back without being completely baked, just a little charred. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

El roque de los muchachos

This is where I was staying until last week, next to the beautiful MAGIC telescopes. They are a pair, and you can see both in the picture. Even though one of them is just visible as a reflection in the mirrors of the other telescope! Most of the time the weather was to bad for the telescopes to operate, but on a few occasions  we were able to see the telescopes in action and to see them move through the night sky. Quite the impressive sight! Continue reading

Los Cancajos

Here we are now, finally caught up with my summer vacation.  (Yes I cheated and moved the posts back in time to roughly the time we were there)

So let’s get to where I’m currently at:  La Palma. I arrived with a couple of spare days to spend at the beach. I had booked a place in a hotel in Los Cancajos, as it was the closest place to the airport where we could stay. As it turns out this was lucky, since Los Cancajos has a beach, while there is no beach in Santa Cruz de La Palma, the island’s capital city. They are building one, but it won’t be ready for a few years. Continue reading