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Trip 29 -- Tenerife Walk

Day 11: Punta del Hidalgo to Taganana
Saturday, January 15, 2022

Yesterday: 36152 steps/23.11 km/14.36 mi/5h 58m
Total: 376053 steps/278.05 km/172.77 mi/56h 23m

Of all this trip's segments, the mental preparation for yesterday's made me the most nervous because of its first couple of hours: a steep trail from Punta del Hidalgo to the tiny hamlet of Chinamada.

I now hear "steep" and picture myself on the place known as White Cliffs just outside of Esso on Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. That is the most afraid I've ever been, climbing what felt like a nearly vertical slope where the trail fizzled out and became a scramble of loose rocks. I hadn't seen anyone else for hours. That is my benchmark for how scary a hiking experience can be. When a trail is described as steep, I believe there's the possibility it's going to be that bad.

Adding to my trepidation were the notions that the climb to Chinamada was the only sensible way to continue my walk (other than a long detour on highway TF-13) and that Google Maps didn't recognize it. If this was such a well-worn route, why didn't they know about it?

I had a quick early-morning stroll around Punta del Hidalgo. The last of the fishing boats was unloading near the fishermen's restaurant. A woman was brushing her golden retriever -- Punta del Hidalgo was the one place where people didn't have their dogs leashed, but they were all friendly dogs. Another woman was bathing in the natural swimming pool, an area of the ocean cordoned off to protect swimmers from the fierce waves. Inhabitants of camper vans were preparing breakfast. Campers are a popular way to see Tenerife, but I can't imagine driving one on the Masca highway.

I crossed through town to a lookout point next to Camino Final -- the last road. The trail started here, and I made the turn. Ahead of me were a woman and her dog; were they going my way?

No, they veered off toward the beach. I rounded what looked like an old bunker bearing the giant brown graffito "SURE" -- an inspiration of confidence. The trail went up some steps and then proceeded gently along a mountain.

It was a beautiful trail, well-maintained and usually wide. When it was particularly steep, steps had been built into the bedrock. At various places were cave-like overhangs where I could rest a moment and take in the view. Back down in Punta del Hidalgo I could see the town's giant modern white lighthouse, which resembled a bunch of organ pipes. It might have been a model for an apartment building in Dubai.

Across the gorge at my level was a lone house. The shrieks of a goat echoed across. The trail continued to climb along the edge. There was a sharp drop-off, but the trail remained wide and stable. By now I trusted the trail and never felt in danger. It was a windy day, though, and occasionally I'd stop and let the wind subside before I continued.

A guy with walking poles overtook me, and a jogger passed me in the other direction. Those were the only people I saw on the trail. The surface was firm but rocky and uneven, and it was hard to imagine running it. At one point I reached a clearing and there, suddenly in view, was the Atlantic Ocean, far below me.

Near the top the trail crossed between garden terraces, with a clear view of Roque de los Pinos, one of 17 volcanic domes in the Anaga massif. The barking of a dog nearby confirmed that I had reached Chinamada.

I turned onto a real road and suddenly it was extremely windy, the kind where you brace yourself for debris blowing into your eyes.

Chinamada's restaurant, La Cueva (The Cave), had outdoor seating, but it was far too windy for that. I took a seat inside beside some other hikers. I started with a salad containing avocado and corn and then had their goat meat in a kind of carrot stew, which John had recommended. Outside, the wind upturned a chair and had the wooden and metal fences rattling. Another party tried to sit out there, but they soon came in, three people and two dogs.

"The wind...is it because it's Chinamada or because it's today?" I asked the server.

"Today," she said. "Not every day is like this."

It must have been the calima, a cloud of sand and dust that blows from Africa with strong winds. On the radio program "English Time," Clio had mentioned that one was imminent. The forecast mentioned gusts of 70 kilometers an hour in the Anaga region. I was glad to have made it off the trail before the wind became so severe, though maybe it still wasn't bad a bit farther down.

It was time to proceed; I still had the bulk of the day's walk ahead of me: another five hours or so, along one zigzagging road and then, via a kind of thread-the-needle pattern, through a tunnel and onto the approach to Taganana.

I made my way along TF-145, a meandering road through forest. There was little traffic and what cars did come by I could hear well in advance -- manufacturers are trying to make vehicles quieter and I hope it doesn't happen, because the current volume cuing their approach is just right. Unlike the corkscrew ascent of the Masca road, this forest road had a gentle incline and was comfortable; I hardly noticed I was going up to over 800 meters.

I was now in the heart of the Anaga massif. Like Teno, it was created through volcanic activity around seven million years ago. While Teno seemed to have the steeper slopes, Anaga was more lush. Cones of various sizes poked through the countryside, as if part of a giant chess game in progress.

Near a cluster of buildings known as the Casas de la Cumbre (Houses of the Summit) a trail map indicated a walking path to Taganana. I hadn't heard of it and had therefore planned to follow the winding road; this path would shave a few kilometers off the trip.

I did a little Internet research before committing to it. Signed as PR-TF-8 on the map, it was known popularly as the more poetic Camino de las Vueltas, Road of Curves. It was formerly the link between Taganana and the cities of La Laguna and Santa Cruz, the kind of road where people would lead their animals and women would carry goods on their heads ever since the sugarcane days of the 1500s.

The description indicated an exposed and dangerous section, but only past Taganana. After the Chinamada trail I had good faith in the condition and suitability of Tenerife's pathways, and I decided to go for it. A three-kilometer steep route to Taganana was undoubtedly more appealing than a ten-kilometer walk along a highway.

It began next to a hut built into the mountainside and led gently through laurisilva (laurel forest), dense and brilliantly green from warmth and humidity. There were many more people on this trail, at least a dozen in groups of two or three, all coming in the other direction...though that is, I suppose, the only direction I'd have seen people unless we were traveling at much different speeds.

The laurisilva was exceptionally lovely and often sweet-smelling. There were no acrophobia-inducing drop-offs. The descent was continuous and manageable, and the path seemed to turn every few steps; according to the legend, there were as many vueltas as days in a year. After an hour I glimpsed the houses of Taganana, nestled in a ravine among a few of Anaga's giant chess pieces. Beyond that, the ocean, merging into the sky an hour before dusk.

Via Airbnb, I'd booked into Casa Nieves, conveniently located just off the path near the upper part of Taganana and with a superb view of the town. Nieves and two friendly cats welcomed me. It was windy here, too, but at least the calima had not sent dust this way. The sky remained clear.

With a two-night stay, I stocked up at the town's one market and hauled bananas, chocolate, beer, juice, and water up the extremely steep walkway back to Casa Nieves. Had I known about the 90-year-old public fountain known as La Pianola, I might have brought my previous water bottle to refill instead. The fountain was near the Cruz Limera, a cross that marked the main crossroads for travelers' orientation and protection near the old Portugal district, which dates from the 1500s.

With a clientele made up of Canarians and visitors, Bar Picar seemed the place for dinner. It didn't disappoint, with excellent churros de pescado (essentially fish fingers) and more goat meat. After the meal I happened into a conversation with a very drunk Pedro, a maintenance worker for one of the beaches, until he was called into an important foosball game at the adjacent bar. I followed him in and had a nightcap of Martini (that bottled cocktail so prevalent in Europe) before hoisting myself up the walkway to Casa Nieves.

The wind remained fierce today, apparently trying to assist me in my descent to the ocean.

"I work alone," I shouted at it.

Pedro had invited me to his station at Playa de Benijo, but I was content to stop just after the road curved out of Taganana and reached the sea at Roque de las Bodegas, Rock of the Wineries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, much of Taganana's wine was pressed at stone houses along this stretch. The barrels would be tied up with rope and floated out to merchant ships. Here rocks breaking the surface assumed various compelling forms -- one a basking seal, I thought.

What better place to have lunch than near the Rock of the Wineries? There were a few options, of which the most promising seemed to be Casa Africa. Getting there at noon meant I had my choice of indoor seats by the window (a few hardy souls sat outside). This may be my last chance for a while to have those wonderful limpets, I thought, as well as stewed octopus, looking like a hand with giant fingers. I wondered whether it had been caught as Ron experienced in "Fortunate Isle," by a diver who extended an arm, waited for the animal to shake hands, and then slashed it with a knife before it pulled him under. By the time I left, there was a long wait to be seated.

I headed back up to Taganana and around the Portugal area before resting a bit with the television on -- they were showing food markets in Beijing -- and the second beer from yesterday. This wouldn't be a bad place to set up for a while, I thought, if I ever wanted a unique break from New York.

It's also nice to become a regular somewhere, or at least something of a regular. I headed back to Bar Picar for dinner, starting with their escaldón, a kind of paste formed from a mixture of gofio (that toasted grain that shows up in many Tenerife dishes) and a meat or fish stock. It has a texture similar to that of Mexican refried beans and similarly can be augmented with a liberal variety of other ingredients. In the case of Bar Picar, it was topped with onions, cheese, and green and red mojos (sauces) and contained bits of meat.

Then it was on to sardines followed by tuna cooked in an onion-based sauce. One of many wonderful things about Tenerife is that most restaurant items are available as half-portions, so it's possible to try a variety of dishes even as a solo diner.

I popped in next door after dinner.

"Hi, Pedro!"

"How do you know me?"

"We met last night."

"Ah, yes...I'm done..." He had made it through the workday but it hadn't been easy.

He was markedly less drunk. Tonight the game was darts (the kids were on the foosball table) and he was playing with a couple. They finished their game of 301, played one more, and then invited me to join. It came down to the wire: I needed just a one to win, but Stéfano hit his 19. Still, Team America made an honorable showing.

Now, if the bar had had Scrabble...

Go on to day 12