This week Pauline, a senior member of our products team and a hiking enthusiast, shares her experience of walking in Gran Canaria.
The Canary Islands are in Europe off the coast of Africa. The plane flies along Africa without us being able to see it, to the port side only a persistent haze makes us guess the presence of the continent. Suddenly to starboard, the volcanic island of Gran Canaria emerges from nowhere, like a huge mountain out of waves.
The plains surrounding this impressive volcanic massif are dotted with a patchwork of beige canvases. When I ask José, our very friendly driver, what it is, he tells me that they are greenhouses. I am surprised, given the local climate, that the banana and tomato plantations need to be in a greenhouse, but José explains that it is only to protect the crops from the hot desert wind, the “Calima”, who carries with him the sand of the Sahara, ready to damage the tender flesh of local fruits and vegetables.
If the Canaries are above all known for being a seaside tourist destination, we have come for everything else: hiking.
Gradually, we climb in altitude, on a winding road that turns constantly, and the temperature suddenly goes from 21⁰C on the tarmac of the airport to 16⁰C, as if each turn made us lose a degree. We arrive at nightfall to a charming rural cottage, completely ignoring the landscape that surrounds us. We only discover it at daybreak and the view amazes us.
Walking in Gran Canaria: Day 1
In the distance we can see Las Palmas, the capital of the island, which seems to be sleeping under its cloud, while the celestial vault which covers us is of a brilliant blue.
We start to attack the volcanic foothills, following the ridge of a mountain, lined with pines. As we look back, we realize that the cloud that had dominated the north coast of the island all morning is catching up with us, driven by the trade winds. Suddenly the mist surrounds us, then evaporates as quickly.
As always in the mountains, the weather can change very quickly. We can continue our path, following a track that winds through a real bush, whose vegetation, mostly ferns, is sometimes higher than me, and often dominated by eucalyptus. I regret a little bit not to have carried my walking sticks, if only to remove the spider webs: July is the low season, no one has taken that path before us.
At the top, we pass a small cone bristling with pines, before the path opens onto a vast panorama overlooking the east coast of the island, overflown by a cloud band. We are above the cloud, with the feeling of enjoying the same view as the angels from paradise. The descent offers us the sight of a mountain flank completely levelled, the dark and red volcanic rock is offered to us, completely naked.
The dust that rises, when our feet tread on the ground, has volcanic scents of pumice stone. To return to our casa rural, where the pool awaits us, the path passes through the fields: that is to say, vineyards, but also fields of Aloe Vera, immense. Be careful, their ends are sharper than a sword, I tested it!
Walking in Gran Canaria: Day 2
For our second day of hiking, our goal is to join the caldera of Tejeda. For this, we must first climb its flanks. The path goes through a place called “La Siberia”, which amuses me a lot, because the surrounding landscape is more like the African savannah. We walk through tall dry grass, dazzling straw yellow under the stifling midday sun, and whipping my legs so much that I do not know if they are red because of the sun or the grass.
We pass under columns of basalt, while skirting a stone wall bordering a ravine, with here and there abandoned dwellings. Suddenly, I see a hole in the wall, which emits a strange noise, living like a breath or a heartbeat. For me, it’s the sound of the earth that breathes, like the breath of the volcano (Gran Canaria has no active volcano) while my partner says it’s more like a sound of water, to reassure!
We reach finally the ridge which borders the caldera of Tejeda, the effort of the ascent is largely rewarded, so much so, we are breathless in front of the panorama that we discover: the European Grand Canyon!
The caldera seems disembowelled towards the sea in the direction of the South-East, thus opening towards the neighbouring island of Tenerife, of which we make out the summit with the very recognizable conical Mount Teide.
The southern flank is dominated by the monolithic silhouette of Roque Nublo, while in the middle of the canyon stands another monolith, Roque Bentayga.
We go along the northern ridge of the caldera as far as Cruz de Tejeda, where we find the only Parador on the island, before descending into the valley to reach Tejeda, by a small path that cuts the laces of the road. Tejeda is a charming little village built on a terrace, on the mountainside, with bright white facades under the afternoon sun, which contrasts with the deep blue sky.
The effort of the walk deserves to sit on the terrace to afford a very fresh ice-cream, while admiring the panorama. Or a delicious dinner to savour the local cuisine, ending with a glass of Canarian wine, while the sun disappears by igniting the peaks of the surrounding mountains.
The sun sets on a flamboyant Roque Nublo, and it rises by illuminating it with a soft, pale light, as if its celestial race were only running around this monolith, a real needle of a solar framing. This rock catches the eye like a magnet, a real landmark in the caldera.
Walking in Gran Canaria: Day 3
So, we kept the best for our last day of walking: the Roque Nublo climb. We left at dawn, to enjoy maximum freshness. The path crosses small dry steams in this season, before becoming a real mountain hiking trail just after La Culata (a village that is aptly named because it is a cul de sac).
But the climb is incredibly pleasant: the trail is well maintained, easy to follow without the need to refer to a map every 5 min, and the higher we go, the more spectacular the view. While the slope on which we walk has remained natural and wild, the northern slope on the other side reveals carved terraces.
We progress in the shade of pine trees, so heated by the burning sun that emits scents that remind me of that of a sauna. We move towards an invisible point between the Roque Nublo on the right, and another rock that looks like the statue of a saint on the left. I did not fall very far in its resemblance, since I finally discover on the map that the rock is called “El Monje”: the monk.
From there, a path joins the parking from where tourists can reach the Roque Nublo. We are no longer alone, no longer the tranquillity of the walk, where the only sound we could hear was the very soothing sound of the wind spinning through the pine needles.
Finally, we are there, at the foot of this giant stone, which dominates the caldera from the top of its 1813m. The closer you get, going up an esplanade that looks like a very eroded lava field, plus its imposing silhouette impresses (80m high). As I carefully go around it, brushing against the void, a huge joy comes over me, a mixture of pride of effort and happiness to be able to look at the huge panorama of the caldera. The kind of satisfaction that only summits can provide.
Then we descend gradually through the pine forest of Parque Natural del Roque Nublo, part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve. We are alone in the world, if we omit a herd of misplaced goats perched on a rock.
The forest ends with a glimpse of the southern part of the island, which seems completely desert compared to the northern part, greener because more it is more weathered by the trade winds.
As we cautiously returned to Tejeda, I failed in my mission: from the beginning I went ahead, as a scout, warning my partner of small difficulties on the ground, which is often summed up to shout “Rolling stones”.
There, probably because of tiredness, I forgot to tell him that he had to be careful. Unfortunately, 5min before arriving at the village, he stepped on the bad pebble, which rolled, and it is a huge cactus that welcomed my partner, with open arms. Ah yes, I did not specify: the landscape is dotted with huge figs of barbarism. Be careful, they sting!
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