“Piece of piss!”
I’d just been reading a few of the blogs on TripAdvisor about a walk that The Pilgrim had spotted earlier in the week. They varied from the opinion above which was shared by the Pilgrim to dire warnings from others who thought it was very challenging and tough.
It’s a gorge walk from a little village named Masca about 6 km from Santiago del Teide which is in turn about 6 km from Los Gigantes at the south western end of Tenerife.
I went to reccie the walk the day before and was astonished at the beauty of this little village. I’ve been to Tenerife so many times I felt a little cheated that I’d never found it before but in fairness it is seriously off the beaten track. Santiago del Teide sits at about 1800 feet and the road to Masca rises to about 3000 feet, all single track with passing places, then plunges in a series of zigs and zags back down to 2000 feet to this beautiful little village.
I’d completed about 4 km and was approaching one of the hairpins when a bus appeared taking up the whole of the road. There is a small castellated wall that helpfully enables you to see the 1000 feet that you’ll drop should you decide on a quick exit whilst reversing. The bus was followed by three others which in turn were followed by at least a dozen cars. My IBS was fine and stoicism was just a word until this point. So, I adjusted the side mirrors so that I could see the deep ditch that needed to be avoided on the right and the mini wall that was best left intact on the left then I selected reverse ready for a three hundred metre backward manoeuvre to the passing point that I’d observed just a few minutes earlier and off I went. It went well and I was so pleased, not because of the drop on the left or the potential to make a complete arse of myself by putting a wheel or two into the deep ditch on the right but because there were 56 pairs of eyes all trained on me and would have seen me cock it up had it not gone so well. As it happened they all applauded and gave me the thumbs up as the bus went by and I waved and smiled back as the adrenalin began to subside and the Imodium took effect.
It took about four or five minutes for the procession of vehicles to pass and I felt I should have a flag so that they could salute but as the last little car, smoke and steam rising from its bonnet, disappeared around the hairpin behind me I peered over the wall and made a note of where other vehicles were on the zigzag road that was clinging to this wonderful volcanic rock. I tried to record a mental image so that I could decide on which passing place I needed to scurry into to avoid this kind of reversing adventure further down the road and it paid off.
So that was Wednesday and today is Thursday. We’re heading to Los Gigantes to park the car. We’re then booking a ferry from Masca Cove and taking a taxi to Masca in the mountains. I can recommend Masca Trekking, they’re the company who are at pains to explain that if we don’t turn up by the last ferry then they’ll call the rescue services and the helicopter which will cost six thousand euros. I’m reassured by all this and even think that if the chips are down and we really are in the shit then 6k is not a bad bill for sending a helicopter to pick us up.
The taxi is with us within ten minutes and although it does encounter the odd vehicle coming the other way the flow of traffic seems more towards the village than yesterday so there’s no chance of reliving the experience in front of The Pilgrim who is sitting quietly watching the scenery and taking the odd photograph.
In Masca we pay the driver and make our way for a coffee in a cafe that sits on a huge rock with a tiny church adjacent. It seems to be offering divine protection to the village that has quite humble dwellings on various rocky outcrops at different levels together with a village square shaded by an impressive tree. All this is interconnected by narrow paths overhung with bougainvillea. It’s glorious and I could stay here for a while but we have a ferry to catch.
The walk begins with a sign that tells you in three languages that the walk is not well signed, is prone to rock falls, is uneven and not suitable for anyone who suffers from vertigo; otherwise, have a nice day!
The exit from the village is down some very steep steps that are maintained a little bit i.e. they are discernible steps, they’re also covered in loose ash and stones. We’re wearing good quality trainers which are adequate but we both feel we would be more comfortable with our boots and to prove this The Pilgrims slips and in a flurry of windmill arms regains her footing and balance and glances around to see if anyone witnessed it.
I remember falling off my bike when I was about ten and in the tiny part of a second between me realising I was falling and the point at which I would hit the ground I remember looking around and thinking that the impending pain from the contact with the road would pale into insignificance to the pain of the embarrassment if someone was watching so I know how she feels.
We descend some five hundred feet on steps then a path followed by more steps and a bridge. The scenery is spectacular and way beyond what I thought it would be. When I looked at Google Earth it looked like a rocky, barren moonscape and, in reality, it’s green and very much like a botanical garden but this is not contrived or planted, it’s natural and beautiful, its got rocks and cliffs too but the stand out feature for me is that it is colourful with all kinds of different plants and flowers.
We continue the ‘down’ along a path that varies in both width and also the angle of decline but nothing dramatic for the next kilometre or so when the gorge becomes a little narrower and the cliffs more steep and rocky.
The Pilgrim gives me bursts of information about strata and colour which injects even more interest into the walk especially when I see what is the rock equivalent of a sandwich filling that is so symmetrical and constant that I think it’s man-made. She explains what she thinks it is and how it was formed but it’s another hour before I get to see it close up and stand incredulous that anything this perfect could be natural. It’s good having your own geography/geology expert!
Another kilometre goes by and we’re walking on some ledges, the highest is about two hundred feet but this is the exception, they’re mostly around twenty feet and the actual drop is disguised by the fact that the bottom is littered with ground plants of all varieties, bamboo canes and some quite tall palms.
The path is very poorly signed but this is no surprise although someone has put crosses on rocks to suggest that this really isn’t the best way to go and occasionally there is a dot with a circle that we eventually decide is a recommended route. We do; however, have to make a couple of short reccies to identify the main, or at least, the actual route we take. We’ll never know if it’s the main route but it works.
As we begin the final three or four kilometres it does get a bit tough. The gorge bottom is strewn with rocks that vary in size. Some are the size of a football whilst others would dwarf a double decker bus. We walk on them, around them and clamber over them and the hardest bit is finding our footing when sliding down some of the bigger ones. The front muscles above our knees are really getting a work out as most of the work is down and we’re used to walking up with only occasional relatively leisurely descents. Our arms are getting similar treatment as we grip the rocks to slide our backsides down some of the cracks between rocks with our feet shuffling about to find a footing.
I find my foot ‘going over’ occasionally, it’s partly lack of support that I would normally get from my boots and each time it happens I pray that it’s not going to be strain – and I’m lucky, it’s not. The boots will be coming with me on the next holiday though, I wouldn’t miss this for the world but I’d be happier with appropriate gear.
I do expect this period of rocks, scrambling and clambering to reduce as we approach the cove and the sea but it doesn’t and it is quite wearing. The Pilgrim has a minor fall but manages to steady herself with some superficial damage to her hand. We’re both making the odd mistake now probably out of tiredness but also the tricky terrain.
We can smell the ocean now and there’s a minor sea fret that can be seen drifting around the tops of the cliffs that really dwarfs us now. I’m not sure of their actual height but I’m guessing at about a thousand feet and it hurts my neck to watch the seabirds above.
There are smiles all around as we emerge to the rocky shore and The Pilgrim makes her way to wash the grazes on the palms of her hands which are quite unpleasant but not deep which means they’ll be stinging like hell but she doesn’t complain.
Masca Trekking have a reassuring little stall here. They tick us off their list and offer us the next ferry back to Los Gigantes which we gratefully accept. I’m looking forward to a beer and a sit under an umbrella with a view of the harbour, The Pilgrim is looking forward to something similar but involves full sun.