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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 7: Puerto de Santiago to Buenavista del Norte
Monday, January 10, 2022

Yesterday: 45638 steps/31.20 km/19.39 mi/7h 14m
(including 1423 meters' ascent and almost the same back down)
Total: 236569 steps/177.89 km/110.54 mi/35h 2m

Barceló Santiago included in its rates a buffet breakfast offering 13 kinds of deli meats, at least four cheeses, and everything one needed to assemble a full English breakfast.

I found a table at the corner overlooking Los Gigantes, a name that applies to the giant cliffs next to Puerto de Santiago and the town being built ever higher up the slopes. The Gigantes are on the fringes of the Teno mountains, dramatic protrusions resultant from volcanic activity seven million years ago. The Teno separated my current position from the day's destination.

The table was next to the quiet baby and far away from the noisy one. I was midway through when a server approached.

"Buenos días," I said.

His response was to flip the printed card inserted into a holder toward my face. It read "HAB 821 A.I.P" in big letters on top and, partially obscured by the holder, "HASTA 15/01/2022 TERRAZA 2." For all I knew, it was a code for the staff to communicate orders. "Hey, table HAB821AIP wants more peach juice, because like almost everywhere our juice glasses are way too small."

"I don't know what that means," I said, lapsing into English as I tend to do when people get snarky.

"I know," he said, returning the attitude. "It means the table is reserved."

Every other restaurant in Spain has "Reservado" signs to mark tables that are being held. I'd seen the signs on a few other tables, but with no time or other indication printed on them, the thought that they might signify a reserved spot never entered my mind. "HAB" must mean "habitación," the word for a guest room, but in capital letters it didn't look like an abbreviation.

"I didn't know that," I said.

"I can move you to another table," he said.

"I'll be done in five minutes," I said. He went away. I inserted the remaining meats onto a minimum of forksful and devoured it. The policy was of course ludicrous -- no one room should be able to reserve a specific table for the entirety of the breakfast service -- but it did get me on my way by 9:30.

I knew it was going to be an exhausting day of steep, albeit safe, ascents and descents, but I had no idea how exhausting. TF-454 curled around uphill, passing banana and fig plantations. In Tamaimo, halfway up my ascent at about 500 meters, the barking of dogs reverberated down the mountain. Shortcuts appeared, some fully marked with the trails' destinations and distances, some cryptically shown with blazes and arrows. But I did not know how narrow and steep the pathways might be, so I was content to follow the road, even if it meant more distance -- a rule I obeyed for the whole walk unless I could see that the paths were manageable.

Just above Tamaimo was one of those times, where a gentle path cut across the switchbacks of TF-82. It was lined with verol plants, a knobby and neatly radial specimen often incorporated into houses' roofs, as well as tabaiba and prickly pear. I emerged near the village of El Molledo, where I paused in front of its church to gape at the distance I'd climbed. This is near where the autopista ends, having looped around the east and south from Santa Cruz for 103 kilometers.

Santiago del Teide was the next stop up, at about 750 meters; holes in the mountains suggested that perhaps the autopista was being extended. I replenished my water and turned onto TF-436 to begin the corkscrew walk up to the Cherfe viewpoint at around 1000 meters. Along this stretch I finally got a good look at the Teide volcano in the far distance.

The progress was slow; the day's 31 kilometers were among my slowest of all my walking days. Wolfing down the breakfast meats had been a bad idea. I felt uncomfortably full and a little dizzy from the climb, even slightly nauseated. I kept waiting for that one magic burp to restore my equilibrium, but it never came. I plodded on, half-afraid I might vomit, half-afraid I might not.

A zillion downward switchbacks brought me to Masca, with the protrusions of Teno ever more awesome. Mountains poked at the sky in all directions, with craggy, looming slopes. I was grateful for the presence of other visitors; there were bikers and even a few other walkers. To have been alone in this expanse would have been unsettling.

There were plenty of cars, too, of course; it's among Tenerife's most-visited areas. One white tour bus was having trouble getting down all the switchbacks. It had a particularly vocal set of brakes, whose complaints alerted the whole ridge every time it rounded a curve. Some of the switchbacks were so severe that the bus had to inch back and forth a few times in order to proceed. The effect was to hold the rest of the traffic coming down the mountain, so I was free from the responsibility of looking for cars approaching behind me. Eventually the brakes' squeals caught up, but it was a lovely 20 minutes of calm.

Masca is a little settlement with some of the best views of Teno; "The Real Tenerife" promised a "Wow" and it got it. It is perched in the middle of all those protrusions and is the start of a precipitous walk to a beach -- it was hard to imagine a beach anywhere in the vicinity. We were practically in the clouds. Were we? The weather was perfect for hiking, cool and overcast.

I wasn't at all hungry -- I was nearly gagging at the mere thought of food -- but I needed a break and Masca was home to a highly regarded vegetarian restaurant, El Guanche, which occupied the old schoolhouse. Some mountain vegetables would be good for me, I thought. It didn't have many tables, and I gave them credit for offering me one of the ones on the edge of the gorge, under the ficus tree, and not saving it for a larger party.

I ordered a liter of their homemade lemonade, which refreshed my energy somewhat and soothed my body, as lemonade always does. Then a salad of tomatoes and avocadoes grown on the premises, followed by vegetable soup.

"What vegetables are in the soup?"


Onions, lentils, potatoes, carrots -- it was full of hearty vegetables without being heavy. It arrived with a container of gofio, a Canarian additive made from toasted grains traditionally mashed into a powder by hand. I spooned it into the soup and it solidified into little circles. If it were to have been a branded cereal I'd have named it Toasted Bubbles of Oats.

The soup tasted heartwarmingly of the mountains. I wanted to eat it all, but my stomach simply wasn't in the mood for much food. I got through most of it and the salad and then had a quick look from Masca's viewpoint near its iconic massif stub.

I thought it would be all downhill from Masca, but the road went up again, then down, then up and down again. Past Masca there was little traffic, and there was still the occasional biker or walker. Around Las Portelas a farm road allowed me to bypass some of the switchbacks of TF-436. It was steep and longer than I expected. When I rejoined the highway, I sat down at a park next to a bus stop for a long rest.

Dogs in the village were barking for their evening meal, and I echoed their rhythms in tired grunts. Across the street from the park a family was going about its business. The woman eyed me suspiciously every few moments and one point crossed the street briefly.

"Buenas tardes," I said.

"Buenas," she replied, remaining wary. The sight of a weary walker curled up on a park bench across from her house was unnerving.

I went on, took another shortcut, and eventually heard the repeated bells of Buenavista's church announce the evening prayer. It was twilight, almost seven, when I finally limped my way into town.

I wanted to go straight to my room at the Tabaiba Guesthouse, but I needed to stop briefly at Bar Pilón at the edge of the main square. This yellow building is where Ronald Mackay lived for almost a year starting in 1960, working in the nearby banana plantations, as he wrote in his memoir "Fortunate Isle." Ron had included his e-mail address in the dedications of the book and I'd made the leap to consider that an invitation to message him and offer to pass on greetings to any contacts he still had in the town.

The Bar Pilón building is no longer a guesthouse, but the bar is run by MariCarmen and her husband, Mingo, a grandson of Doña Lutgarda, who owned the pension back in 1960.

"Oh, yes! Ronald said you'd be coming," MariCarmen said, welcoming me as if I were a personal friend.

"I see you're busy, but I'll come see you tomorrow, OK?" I wanted to make sure the bar wasn't closed on Mondays.

"Yes, see you tomorrow."

It was 7:15 when I was settled in at the Tabaiba Guesthouse. I got into bed and, except for a trip to the communal bathroom, stayed there for 12 hours.

Life in Buenavista is centered on the town square. Bar Pilón is always busy with people checking in on each other. Ron had given me the phone number of his foreman from the banana plantations, Juan, and advised me to call him.

"You have to tell him in advance exactly how much time you have with him as he tends to take over," Ron had included in his message.

Juan -- who still refers to Ron as "the Englishman" despite Ron's attempts to educate the people of Buenavista that his native Scotland is not the same as England -- lives in the neighboring town of Los Silos. Juan spoke quickly in a Canarian accent and I had trouble comprehending him, but I understood that he would meet me at Bar Pilón at 11:30.

I soon received a call from Alfonso, another of Ron's contacts. He lived slightly farther away, in Icod de los Vinos. He's a photographer for this western half of the northern coast. He also said he would meet me at Bar Pilón at 11:30.

The two knew each other and most of the people in town; we never walked more than a few steps without talking to someone. We had a stroll around and into the church, which was damaged by a fire in 1996. Only the tower, one arch, and the image of Santa Cecilia with her harp survived. Alfonso soon left but invited me to meet him tomorrow when I walk through Icod de los Vinos.

Juan invited me into his car -- I wasn't about to turn down whatever excursion he had on offer. As with our walk, we never made it more than a few moments before he'd see an acquaintance and say hello, usually stopping the car without regard for the presence of other traffic.

We drove to the edge of town, where there is now a high-end golf course near one of the banana plantations he and Ron had built. Beyond was a hole in the mountain to accommodate the new highway to the western tip of Tenerife at Punta de Teno. When Ron lived here, access was by an arduous path over the mountain or an equally arduous boat ride through the confluence of tides. Back then, a single family tended the Teno lighthouse, virtually cut off from the rest of the island.

Juan then took me out to Los Silos, where we admired more of his plantations. He has five children and five grandchildren.

"The plantations didn't bring in much money," he said. "But for me, wealth is in family. They all come to visit."

Ron had mentioned that Juan always has lunch with his wife at two, and like clockwork, he had me back in the square in Buenavista at 1:45. We parted, and I headed to Bar Pilón.

"I'll call Manolo!" MariCarmen said. Another friend of Ron, Manolo helped Ron in confirming the details for his memoir. "He's coming," she said a moment later.

I'm used to making social plans by text message for days in the future and then rescheduling a few times before the meeting ever happens. Here was a place where people phoned each other and met within the hour.

Manolo appeared and then Mingo, Doña Lutgarda's grandson. I finally had something of an appetite and asked for a ham-and-cheese bocadillo and mango juice. MariCarmen had invited me to dine and I tried to leave a €5 note as a tip, but her coworker refused. "No, no, no," he said gravely, pushing the money back at me.

I took a brief walk around town -- mainly to see the statue of a locust, a tribute to the plagues that brought down much of Buenavista's economy in the 18th and 19th centuries -- and then spent some time back in the square, taking in the atmosphere, before heading to the Tabaiba Guesthouse's rooftop around sunset.

Of course Ron had contacts for dinner as well: Another of Doña Lutgarda's grandsons, Fonfo, died a while ago, but his wife and their three daughters still run the La Cabaña restaurant. Here I was able to try the vieja (parrotfish) and admire a newspaper article about Doña Lutgarda, published the day before her 97th birthday, in which she was revered as the "grandmother of the village."

"Ron" is the Spanish word for rum, and the meal ended with the traditional ron miel -- honey rum.

Ron has served me well in this town, in more ways than one.

Go on to day 8