What do most wives get their husbands for their birthday: watches, golf clubs, possibly a motorcycle if they’re going through a midlife crisis? Well, what if you don’t wear watches, don’t golf and already own a moped (I call it my European motorcycle)? My wife knows me too well because she bought me an adventure.
The island of Tenerife belongs to the Canary Islands, the most southern part of Spain and just off the west coast of Africa. They’re kind of like the Hawaiian islands of Europe, except they speak Spanish instead of English or Hawaiian. They even have their own volcanoes, which throughout centuries of eruptions have physically transformed the character of the island forever. The largest volcano, El Teide, is considered dormant at present, although the last minor eruption did occur in 1909 when one of El Teide’s vents erupted from his side resulting in lava charring the earth while burning and twisting rock into grotesque sculptures. And there is a gondola that you can take to nearly the top his crater, some 12,200 feet of near vertical rock. You must obtain a special permit in advance to ascend the last 200-300 meters, however, we were not able to secure one ourselves beforehand. Nonetheless, we were able to hike to Pico Viejo, essentially the older smaller crater that still belongs to the overall volcano complex, and an awesome subject for photos. Basically, the entire island is just one massive volcano with multiple eruption sights, but hey, how do you think the Hawaiian Islands were formed and still forming today?
Most people never ascend to an altitude above 10,000 feet, unless of course they’re flying on an airplane. And why would they? Most people choose beaches over mountain peaks most days of the week. But for those of you have gone above the 10,000-foot mark (hiking) then you’ve probably experienced some symptoms of acute mountain sickness or even high altitude cerebral edema: including, headaches, shortness of breathe, nausea, limited mental function, impaired speech and/or motor functions, the list goes on. And the higher you go the worse it gets. Essentially, due to the lack of oxygen your body begins increasing blood flow to the brain, which also has a tendency to make the brain swell and thus causing such symptoms. If it goes untreated – essentially descending to lower altitudes – or if your body is unable to acclimate to the elevation, then the result can ultimately be fatal, just look at the fatality list of Everest every year. If the alpinists didn’t perish from freezing or falling then they most certainly did from their brain swelling. And I don’t mean for this part to come off lighthearted either, high altitudes are no laughing matter. If you don’t know the signs or what to look for then you might want to go to the beach instead.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to hike in the Andes and knew far too well the effects of altitude sickness. Nothing as extreme as climbers of Everest, but we had our fair share of headaches, zero appetite and gasping for air at the slightest of ascents. The altitude of El Teide was similar to our Andes adventure in that although a gondola took us to the top, getting around was another matter. Walking along the volcanic contours of the path, our lungs grasped at the little oxygen the air held and our hearts pounded in our chests like drums on a war march. We panted as if we were sprinting, although our speed exclaimed otherwise. It was a very contradictory feeling, the effort your body was exerting versus the actuality of your movements. But in the end it was worth it. The terrain of El Teide was so unworldly it was like walking on some bizarre lunar landscape. It also kind of reminded me of the planet Vulcan from Star Trek, but that reference doesn’t truly justify the scenery and only solidifies my nerdiness. That’s okay I’ll own it. After ascending and descending the volcano we retired to one of the many beaches Tenerife offers, but with a twist, they’re all black sand beaches (well, in the south part of the island anyways). Because the Island is relatively small – to drive from the north of the island to the south only takes 45 minutes – and a volcano that seems to erupt every century or so and geographically sits in the middle of the island, through the process of erosion all that black volcanic glass (obsidian) slowly breaks down into fine particles and works its way down to the islands coastlines, and thus forming stretches of sparkling black havens that sing out like a siren’s song to the two-toned bodies of northern European tourists.
Another hike of a completely different nature is from Masca – the self proclaimed Shangri-la of Spain – to a black beach that splits the cliff face of Los Gigantes. We did this hike the next day and started out by driving to the city of Los Gigantes and then parked our car and took a cab up the narrow, winding roads to Masca – a small picturesque mountain town with under a hundred inhabitants. From here we began descending rapidly into a lush bamboo jungle and some mega-flora we discovered later. The trail ran the course of a ravine with towering cliffs on both sides, so there was no issue getting lost as all trails eventually led to the beach. The trail, however, was more than obvious and only a few times did we have to rely on any technical climbing skills to descend a few precipitous drop-offs. Nonetheless, if you have hiked before you can do this trail. The beauty of the hike was baffling. We initially began above the cloud line only to descend through the billowy mantle as it retracted slowly back to the sea. The cliff face often broke off from itself forming separate towering formations and inhabited by all kinds of birds and plants in the waning crevasses. The hike takes about 3 hours in all, but depending on how often you stop to take pictures, you can easily knock off a half an hour. We made it to the beach with time to spare and so soaked our feet in the Atlantic. Black specks of sand emerge from between our toes, while we drank a refreshing can of beer locally purchased from a guy with a cooler. Our water taxi (hired boat) eventually showed up and gave us a ride back the city of Los Gigantes effectively ending our excursion. We spent the rest of our day and the rest of our trip sprawled out under the sun on Monkeys’ Beach, just another beautiful black beach of Tenerife. How could you not want to hang out on a beach called Monkeys’ Beach?
All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend my birthday. Thank you to the love my life for this adventure, you often know me better than I know myself.