Canary Islands 2019

   September 2019

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Montaña Roja

Sunday September 15th 2019

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I flew to Tenerife late on a Friday evening, arriving after midnight. I had the weekend to spare before I needed to be in La Laguna. Because of the late arrival, I stayed near the airport, and thought there might not be a lot to do, but all of Tenerife is volcanic and spectacular. I climbed the nearby Montaña Roja, an old volcanic cone, and enjoyed the views.

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Back in La Laguna

Thursday September 19th 2019

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I got a series of buses from La Mareta where I was staying, to Los Cristianos, Santa Cruz, and finally La Laguna. It's nine years since I was last there, but it felt amazingly familiar. I was here for a week-long meeting at the university, and so I started my days with a coffee in the fresh morning air before walking down the hill from the old town to the university area.

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Ferry to La Palma

Friday September 20th 2019

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The meeting was an intense and productive week. After it was over, I was glad to be heading off for a few days of holiday on La Palma.

The trip did not start very relaxingly, though. I got a bus from La Laguna down to Santa Cruz, from where a Fred Olsen bus was supposed to connect with the ferry. There was no sign of the Fred Olsen bus and in all their information there was no hint of where it was supposed to go from. A regular bus would not get me there in time. Angrily, I realised my only choice was a taxi, which would cost something appalling.

But the taxi ride was fine. We sped along the motorway and it looked like I would get there in plenty of time. I mentioned to the driver that I'd need to stop at a cash point as I didn't have enough cash on me. He turned out to have a card machine. Great, I thought - everything sorted, no need to find a cash machine.

But the machine wasn't up to the task. It recognised that my cards were foreign, but bizarrely printed out a receipt with a message asking what currency I wanted to pay in. There was no way to tell the machine and we could not get either card to work.

At that point the taxi driver jumped to wild conclusions and decided I was trying to rip him off. He became extremely unpleasant, threatening to call the police. I told him not to be ridiculous and that all we had to do was find a cash point. He was absolutely unconvinced, and we drove the rest of the way in stony silence.

Meanwhile, an accident on the motorway was causing delays. It was beginning to look like a close call for the ferry.

We got to Los Cristianos with 10 minutes to spare, though, and found a cash machine. I got the money out to pay the 90 Euro fare. The taxi driver, on receiving his cash, became very apologetic. In fact he rounded the fare down from 92 EUR to 90. I was pretty annoyed with him but we parted with a handshake. I boarded the ferry and breathed deeply.

As we powered out of Los Cristianos, I could see a few oily smooth patches of water. They'd told me in Tonga that patches like this are whale footprints - they leave a greasy slick when they surface. I knew there were whales off Tenerife, so I looked out. And sure enough, I spotted one, surfacing three times a way off to port. With the whale as a reference point I could see that the relative speed of the boat was huge. Any whale strikes would obliterate the whale. So I hoped the whales knew to stay out of the way.

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Puerto Naos to Santa Cruz

Saturday September 21st 2019

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My weekend plan was to do epic bike rides on La Palma. I arrived late on a Friday, and early on the Saturday I was up early to get over to Puerto Naos, where there was a bike shop with a carbon-framed bike available to rent.

The shop was closing at midday and the bus timetable was unclear. So I ended up needing to get a taxi to be sure of making it. After the travails of the previous day I was not keen on that, but luckily this taxi driver was very friendly and we had a good conversation on the way over.

Then I picked up the bike and headed off. The ride started with a long and brutal climb from the coast up to nearly 800m above sea level. The bike was beautiful to ride, though, and I rode without stopping until I got to Mirador de Las Indias, just after the highest point on the road.

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To the Roque

Sunday September 22nd 2019

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After a nearly 60km ride with more than a kilometre of height gained, I was reasonably tired, and if I'd had more time I might have taken a day to recover. But I didn't have time and today was the only day available for a long-held dream - to cycle from sea level to Roque de los Muchachos, 2426m above sea level. I've wanted to do it for at least a decade, so despite slight tiredness from the day before, and a grey drizzly morning, I set off at 8.30am.

I was staying right at the start of the road up to the summit, so the gradient was instantly punishing. It was very humid, and very tiring, but the bike was fantastic to ride and I could maintain a steady pace. The views were great but infrequent as I climbed, as I soon reached the cloud layer and worked my way up in a kind of grey cocoon. Being able to see nothing except the road ahead of me definitely helped my concentration.

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Nearing the summit

Sunday September 22nd 2019

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The scenery changed very suddenly. I emerged from misty forest to sunny barren rocks, and found a sign saying I was 2150m above sea level. The upsetting thing here was that after climbing to nearly 2300m, the road then dropped back down to 2150m. Free-wheeling for a bit was very nice, but then I would have to regain the lost altitude, and crest this rise again on the way back down.

But still, having felt unsure for a lot of the ride if I would actually make it, I knew from here on that I would. My main worry was the altitude - at 2000m, there is already 20% less oxygen than at sea level. But I felt absolutely fine. I pushed on.

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Success

Sunday September 22nd 2019

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After the downhill stretch, the last couple of kilometres up to the Roque was pretty brutal. My moving time was approaching four hours and I wanted to get there before that if possible. I couldn't believe how steep the road seemed, and my pace dipped to the lowest it had been, but eventually, finally, I reached the summit. A long-held ambition fulfilled, and it was a beautiful warm sunny day. I looked around contemptuously at everyone who had driven up. I felt supreme.

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Back down into the clouds

Sunday September 22nd 2019

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The ride down was pretty awesome, though not quite as awesome as I'd hoped, because I was soon back into thick cloud and unless I was careful, there was a significant possibility of encountering a car unexpectedly. So I didn't let go completely. It took me about 1h45m to cover the 38km back to sea level. I was back in Santa Cruz in the early afternoon, and having got savagely sunburnt both on yesterday's ride and today's, I was glad it was cool and rainy.

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Back to Puerto Naos

Monday September 23rd 2019

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The day after the bike ride of my life, I had to be back in the saddle. I needed to drop the bike off back in Puerto Naos, and I needed to get there before midday. So just after 8am, I got back in the saddle and headed off south once again.

I considered taking a more direct route over the spine of the island to get to Puerto Naos. But it looked like the gradient would be near-lethal, shorter in distance but potentially much longer in time. So I took the easy option and just went back the same way I'd come, via Los Canarios.

The first part was really nice, a long steady gradient that was quite bearable. It seemed very quick to get to the southernmost point of the road. But when I turned around onto the west side, the weather was incredibly different. Hot sun was replaced by cloud so thick that the visibility was almost zero. It was a bit scary really, and I felt very vulnerable. Luckily, there were also major roadworks going on, and traffic was very light. The few cars that passed me were driving sensibly.

I got back to Puerto Naos ten minutes before the shop closed. 200km of riding with 5.5km altitude gained in three days had been epic, and a wild descent down 10% gradients back to Puerto Naos was a fun way finish.

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Back to Tenerife

Saturday September 28th 2019

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After my bike rides, I spent a few more days on La Palma, working, before I got the ferry back to Tenerife for my flight home. It had been my sixth visit to La Palma, and every time I come here I like it more.

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Passing La Gomera

Saturday September 28th 2019

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The ferry went via La Gomera. I've only spent time on La Palma and Tenerife in my many visits to the islands, but the glimpses I've had of the other islands from passing boats make me want to spend a long time here working my way around them all.

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