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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 2: El Rosario to Güímar
Monday, January 3, 2022

Today: 26453 steps/20.73 km/12.88 mi/3h 47m
Total: 36366 steps/28.89 km/17.95 mi/5h 9m

Today's directions were simple: Follow the old mountain road along Tenerife's east side for 14 kilometers, then take a brief shortcut up a steep rural road, then rejoin the main road and take it for five more kilometers to Güímar.

The mountain road, route TF-28, was the main way south from the capital of Santa Cruz until the fast Autopista Sur (TF-1) was built in the 1970s. TF-28 zigzags for about a hundred kilometers, linking communities partway up Tenerife's slopes. It's known as the road of a thousand bends, and the recurring signs promising two kilometers of curves at a time soon became pointless. There was no sizable area of the road without curves.

I saved a little time on the hairpin turns by taking the pedestrian pathways, only to lose the time back by misunderstanding which branch of a bent-pitchfork-shaped intersection was the continuation of TF-28.

Nearly half the traffic on the mountain road was bicycles -- great for zooming along the downward sections but a beast going uphill -- and with a community every few kilometers, the walk never seemed lonely. Cinder blocks ensured that I wouldn't plunge down the slope, and while there was no shoulder to walk on, traffic was light enough and sight lines good enough that I never felt in danger. The only time I was startled was when a jogger overtook me.

I stopped for lunch at the town of La Hidalga, opposite the road heading up to Mount Teide, Tenerife's (and Spain's) highest point at 3718 meters. Just two kilometers up the road, the signs told me, I could have had a steak, but it would have been another 49 to the summit. It'll have to wait for a future trip.

Instead, I had an ensaladilla or potato salad (perhaps now that it's 2022 I'll finally like mayonnaise, I mused -- but no change) and a sandwich of almogrote, the sour Canarian spread of hard cheese, peppers, and onions. Then it was on to the pyramids.


Yes, just outside Güímar are six (well, five and a half; one is considered unfinished) pyramids made of cut rocks and filled with stones and volcanic gravel. They were thought to be the clearance of farming terraces until about 32 years ago, when they were brought to the attention of the Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl. His investigations showed how the pyramids' stairs were positioned so as to face the sunrise on the summer solstice and how their flat tops echoed the designs of well-known temple complexes in Mexico and Peru.

These similarities, he theorized, were the result of links among civilizations on both sides of the Atlantic dating far earlier than was originally thought -- possibly the result of the trade winds. To test his idea -- and except for the choppy sea I would have loved to be part of the expedition -- he had a reed boat constructed that was similar to those used thousands of years ago and sailed westward from Morocco, carried by the trade winds. The boat, named Ra after the Egyptian sun god, suffered damage and the journey had to be aborted just before the Atlantic crossing was completed. Undeterred, he had the Ra II crafted and made it to Barbados in 1970, proving that ancient civilizations could have crossed the Atlantic. (His better-known Kon-Tiki expedition showed something similar in the Pacific in 1947.)

It's not just the form and celestial orientation that linked Güímar's pyramids with their larger counterparts, and it's not just the Canaries, the Americas, and Egypt that he considered. It seems to be no coincidence that civilizations that used reed boats -- in what are now the Americas, Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East -- also erected temples with deliberate solar alignment and stepped, precisely measured terraces. Thus there is evidence of trans-Atlantic communication long before Columbus, even long before the Guanche arrived in the Canaries.

The pyramid complex in Güímar is one of those places that suck you in and take you to unexpected places while the hours slip by. Near the entrance was extensive information on Heyerdahl, his theories, his boats, and his journeys; close by was a garden of Earth's poisonous plants; the pathway connected to a discussion of Tenerife's volcanic soil; then I was in the "sustainable" garden; then came links to Easter Island and the civilizations of Oceania, with displays on the Pacific Ocean's 25,000 islands and their types, and there I was thinking about my next walks without realizing that three hours had gone by and I hadn't even gone out to see the pyramids.

The pyramids themselves aren't nearly as old or as imposing as those in Mexico, Malta, or Egypt, but they do justice to Heyerdahl's theories, and the tidiness with which they were constructed shows an effort far beyond the preparation of earth for farming. Had I come on the summer solstice, I could have seen the phenomenon known as the double sunset -- the sun hides behind one of the volcanic cliffs, then swings around and reappears in a dip on the way to the cliff's mirror image.

From the pyramids I climbed up the final 15 minutes to the Villa Ariadna, a hotel run by a couple who met at a language school in Boston. Félix was jolly as he checked me in, and he directed me toward Güímar's main square for dinner. Not much is open on Mondays, but La Plaza served me aromatically sweet Güímar white wine and pork in a sauce made with palm sap (now usually extracted in neighboring La Gomera island, but that's close enough), accompanied by the main crops from the surrounding hills, tomatoes and potatoes.

A meal in a hillside main square backed by a church, with the residents meeting for late-night chats -- that always seems the perfect atmosphere.

Go on to day 3