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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 4: La Cisnera to El Médano via the unfinished leper colony
Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Today: 40606 steps/31.15 km/19.36 mi/5h 55m
Total: 122360 steps/95.19 km/59.15 mi/17h 38m

I'd planned a straightforward 21-kilometer walk from La Cisnera down to Tenerife's southeastern point at El Médano until two pages of my guidebook caught my eye: an explanation of an unfinished leper colony next to the purpose-built resort community of Abades. That was worth adding a couple of hours to the walk.

I wasn't sure exactly how many hours, as I couldn't tell whether the site could be accessed directly from Abades. The map showed a stream separating them. The surer access would be a hilly road of a few more kilometers coming around from the roundabout near the autopista. If I couldn't get to the site from Abades, I'd have to backtrack to that roundabout. But I decided it was worth risking 20 minutes to save more than an hour.

It was cloudy and cool, the first significant cloud cover I'd seen on Tenerife. I walked the kilometer back from La Cisnera to Villa de Arico and headed the six kilometers down TF-629. It was a windy road; the breeze blows strong here, and dozens -- maybe more than a hundred -- wind turbines harness its power in the area. It was also a windy road -- not as curvy as TF-28 but with enough bends to prevent drivers from heading to and from the autopista too quickly.

Abades's map is shaped like a fish spine with vertebrae. All the town's houses are white, two stories, and identically shaped. There are a few restaurants, lots of cars, and a couple of beaches, one of which is nudist. I walked down the "spine" to the center of town and found that there was indeed a way over the dried-up riverbed and up to the church of the unfinished leper colony.

The church had been taken over by pigeons but remained structurally sound, and its looming stone façade could be recognized for miles. Inside, under the large cross, a graffito referred to "psychoudini" and, as I interpreted it without due pondering, society's indifference to one's pain.

Colorful graffiti abounded in all of the complex's 30 or so buildings. Much of it was vulgar or political, but most of it was artistic, often brilliantly colorful and with optimistic thoughts such as "Open mind" or "Love." Perhaps more of our institutions and facilities should be so bright.

The church, dormitories, and other buildings date from the early 1940s. By 1945 a treatment for leprosy, dapsone, had been developed, the complex was no longer necessary, and construction stopped.

I walked back through Abades and followed a hilly rural road with the same heading as the straighter autopista. After an hour and a half I was on the approach to Las Arenas, where I expected to have a good seafood lunch. The road curved up sharply to the right and I prepared for a tiring ascent, but then I noticed a couple of people up to my left, on a rocky ledge.

They were headed toward the Arco de Tajao, a beautiful natural arch that bends gracefully and tenderly. Could I find a shortcut around the arch?

I climbed up the rocks; it wasn't difficult. But to go around the arch, I realized, would be impossible; it abutted a steep drop-off. Then I realized the couple had stepped through the arch. I could reach the point where they had admired it. I went up farther. From my side the arch wasn't so impressive, as giant blocks tempered the natural formation. But from the south, the open window, shaped like an eyelid, was clear and dramatic.

And I was elated at what I'd discovered: The direct route from Abades to my destination for the day took me through the arch!

Lunch was at one of those places where you pick out your fish and seafood from the counter and they grill it for you. I always end up spending a fortune. Most items are sold by the kilogram, I want a whole fish and some seafood, and of course I have to try the most exotic things.

Here the fish were all too big for one person, but the guy was willing to split one for me lengthwise and give me half. He picked one before I had a chance to choose, but it didn't matter; they all looked so fresh. He said it was called abadejo. And I had to try some of the crinkled mollusks in the display: lapa.

The lapa came first: limpets. They were magnificently plump and firm and tasted like a combination of scallop and octopus. Abadejo is translated as haddock or pollack, not the most exotic of fishes, but this wasn't the most everyday specimen. It was meaty and flaked perfectly and was heavenly with the restaurant's green sauce. To my surprise, all the food, including a tomato-avocado salad and two Cokes, came to less than €40.

I descended toward La Mareta and found I was sweating and a little dizzy. Had I eaten too much? I paused, had some water, and proceeded more slowly than usual. From here I'd be on a lonely road; it would be at least an hour until the next cluster of buildings.

I reached the autopista, crossed over it, and followed a dirt track. I was feeling much better. The path had some sightly steep patches but nothing to make me fearful. It led me to the next autopista exit, where I crossed over again.

A sign indicated that I was entering such-and-such an industrial site protected by such-and-such a security force. I wondered whether this area was open to the public, but no one stopped me; the road was wide and even had a sidewalk. Every five minutes or so I'd come to a roundabout. After a few roundabouts, the map said, I'd reach the autopista again, follow yet another little road for a while, then descend to El Médano.

Except the penultimate roundabout was closed at the opposite side for construction.

There was a way around, if I backtracked to the previous roundabout and took the loop toward the sea. Then I'd emerge at the roundabout near the autopista, where I wanted to be all along.

But what if that were closed as well? I suppose I'd take my chances and walk along the autopista for a few kilometers. Either that or I'd have to go all the way back to...perhaps all the way back up to TF-28.

The industrial area, according to the map, included such entities as Tenerife Shipyards, Alfametal International, and a storage facility for Mercadona supermarkets. Giant trucks pulled into and out of driveways, and people were fixing or otherwise attending to them on the main road. Cylinders poked up at the sky, and the wind turbines hummed. "The Real Tenerife" had called the leper colony eerie, but belittled by all that machinery, I found this place far eerier.

I was able to proceed as planned through the final roundabout. I was on the day's final stretch, not so much a road as a dirt path that went up and down over the little barrancos, roughly following the autopista. It led me to a service station by the autopista, where I replenished my water before descending to El Médano.

With all the wind in this part of Tenerife, El Médano is a haven for water sports. As I approached the sea I saw before me a scene peppered with happy people in and above the waves, windjamming, paraschlooping, kitebreaking -- those are probably not the names but I don't know much about water sports -- and the sea and the air were a flurry of color.

And then the glorious vista was broken by the most ludicrous parking lot I'd ever seen. Where there should have been a beach, or a row of seafood stalls, or a park, or a hotel, or absolutely anything else, there was instead an elevated area occupied by camping vans and the sort of cars that require a stepladder and can accommodate the entire von Trapp family at once. It was the ugliest waste of seaside space I'd ever seen that wasn't a maritime need -- shipping ports obviously have to be by the sea, for instance -- and it made me angry. I'd finally reached what should be a beautiful ocean, only to have the view blocked by a hundred outsized vans.

I checked in to the Hotel Ventus and did my laundry at one of those unattended self-service places like I used in Malta. As in Malta, the machines added soap automatically, so I didn't have to hunt for detergent. But as in Malta, the machines only accepted coins. This is such an obvious place for tap-and-go credit-card technology. Nothing should require coins these days. Nothing should require cash of any kind. But unlike in Malta, there was a working change machine here.

I had dinner on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the sea. I started with fried moray eel -- tasty for a while, but a little unrelenting with lots of mushy cartilage -- and then had a Canarian specialty called cherne, translated as wreckfish. It was wonderful, but sometimes I think they make these names up at will (wreckfish sounds as believable to me as paraschlooping), and while I love adding to my roster of ingested animals, if you put a wreckfish, a pollack, and a bream in front of me, I doubt I could distinguish them by appearance or taste.

El Médano's main square is a focus for families and musicians; its bars and restaurants are inviting, casual, and varied; it has attractive buildings and good walking streets; it's a compact town with excellent weather; and in such a windswept place most people rightfully dispense with Spain's outdoor mask mandate. They just need to tear down that parking lot.

Go on to day 5