I spent last weekend on a two-day trek, hiking from Las Cañadas national park down to the north side of island and camping at the Barranco de Fuente Pedro camp site in the pine forests above San Juan de la Rambla. Before hiking out the next day to Los Realejos.
My route took me alongside Montaña Blanca (White Mountain) and through the desert-like flats of Cañada de los Guancherros. The sun was beating down and it was only the cool breeze and ambient air temperature, cooled by the altitude, which made this walk bearable. My rucksack, laden with my tent, sleeping bag and provisions, weighed in at 13.5Kg (30lbs) and wasn’t making my journey any easier.
After about two hours I began my climb up the “La Fortaleza” pass, a spectacular set of cliffs rising up in this end-of-the-earth landscape. There’s a chapel at the head of the pass where I stopped for lunch and a rest under the pine trees which offered the first shade I’d had since I’d started my trek. At this point I was cursing the weather forecast which had promised a “partly cloudy” day looking up all I could see was clear blue skies and a fierce sun. However from my vantage point at the top of the pass looking down the north side of the island I realised the forecast hadn’t been entirely wrong. There, 1200 metres beneath my feet, was a blanket of white fluffy clouds. Typical! They’d offer me no shade whatsoever and worse still, largely ruin any views I was going to be offered of the north coast. Still, at least the next part of the descent would be in the shade (and relative cool of the pine forests) or so I thought.
WRONG! As I set of down the forestry route, I realised I was walking through the parts of the forest worst hit by last year’s forest fire. 12 month’s earlier this whole area had been devastated by one of the fiercest fires ever to rage through the island’s forests. The pine trees were still standing but the foliage hadn’t had time to grow back. The laurel trees faired much worse, for the most part all that remained was acres of twisted burn out branches. This was the first time I’d seen the results of the forest fire first hand and I felt dismayed that anyone could be so careless – or worse deliberately start a forest fire.
I left the main forestry route and followed the path down the fire-breaks. The surface of these paths is more uneven and they are steeper than the forestry tracks but they are straighter and can shave several Kilometres off the length of your journey if you can make use of them.
By 15:00 and 3.5 hours into my journey I arrive at “Piedra de los Pastores”, a small picnic area high the pine forests and overlooking the La Orotava Valley. Here I meet a couple of firemen maintaining the forestry installations. Unlike most the mountain picnic areas, there is no tap or spring in Piedra de los Pasfores so the fireman offer to let me refill my canteen from their fire truck, they confirm my directions to the camp site and warn me that I have at least another 10Km to go.
This came as somewhat of a shock as I’d measured this leg on my map and judged just 4Km, but my 1:75000 scale map did not show quite how many twists and turns around deep valleys that the forestry track actually made. It took me another 1hr 40mins to arrive at the camp site so I’m guessing it was more like 6.5Km.
Campamento Bco. de Fuente Pedro is actually one of the best camp sites on the island. In the borough of San Juan de la Ramba and some 1250 metres up in the pine forests, it boasts some really excellent facilities including showers, toilets, drinking water and barbecue areas. However, this meant I wasn’t alone, I had a entire Scout troop and a British family for company. Still I pitched my tent, took a cold shower and set about cooking some dinner on my gas stove.
Dusk fell about 21:00 and I gave up trying to read by torch-light as I was just attracting moths and midges, but the scout troop wasn’t about to let me turn in for an early night, so instead I rocked out to some music from my MP3 player. At about 23:00 I finally turned in.
It wasn’t a comfortable night, I was stiff and sore from the hike which had turned out to be about 5Km longer than I’d expected. (21Km rather than 16Km). Still I slept until about 08:00 and had a slow breakfast before packing my kit and setting out on my walk out.
The objective for day two was to hike back to Los Realejos from where I’d catch a bus home to the south. I set back out along another forestry track which ran parallel, to the track I used yesterday from Piedra de los Pastores. I was heading towards Mirador el Asomadero (a viewpoint) and just above there I met a local guy called Fran who had just hiked up to Chanajiga and who like me was heading down to Los Realejos, he offered to show me the best route down.
Fran led me down through the fire-breaks and we weaved along parts of the main forestry track effectively cutting the journey time in half were I to have stayed on the forestry track alone. We’re making towards La Corona, giving the Mirador a miss as we were descending through thick cloud. It was here that Fran rather casually asked, “Did you know there was an apparition of the Virgin Mary near here?”
“Frankly Fran I didn’t, but tell me more.”
Fran went into tour guide mode, he showed me a small gap in the hedge-row marked only by two huge Hydrangeas. We entered this wooded depression, which housed the entrance to a galleria and a spring co-incidentally called “Fuente Pedro”. It was here where the virgin had alleged appeared, a small statute of the Madonna a little shrine mark the areas and pilgrims regularly come to lay flowers, pray or just drink from a spring which the Madonna has seemingly decided to bless with her presence. The whole area is just covered with Hydrangeas and the humidity is intense, my dusty map starts to disintegrate like soggy toilet paper and its easy to see how someone could have a spiritual experience in this very special place.
We strike on again, reaching La Corona in record time, there’s time for a quick photo at the view point now we are finally below the cloud base, before we march on down a steep cobbled track towards Los Realejos. Although this track is mercilessly steep it shaves miles off the walk along the main road from La Corona to Los Realejos and Fran reliably informs me that they run a mountain bike race down this track each year. This strikes me as nuts, as one one move and your cyclist is careering off into the abyss, but hey each to their own.
Fran has one more prize for me at the end of this path, another fresh water spring from which we both take a long drink. Thanks to my impromptu guide I’ve managed to hike out in just 2 hours and discovered some fantastic secrets which I’d have otherwise walked past in complete ignorance. Fran showed me where the bus stop was and we swapped details so he could email me some photos of his previous trips, I hope he gets in touch as I’d love to walk with him again. Anyway a big thank you to Fran for making day two the highlight of the trip.
Three buses and 2.5 hours later, I’m back home in Los Cristianos taking a well earned hot shower.