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The Mountains of Tenerife

Wednesday, June 14, 2017   (3 Comments)
Posted by: Brian Rathjen #210553

"The roads can be very narrow and feature many incredibly tight, blind corners. Some are carved into the sheer rock and can induce vertigo. Oncoming vehicles, especially big ones like buses, are a hazard and can easily end your trip in a split-second. You need to be focused constantly! Welcome to motorcycle heaven!"

Thus were the words of the Edelweiss guidebook for our weeklong romp around Tenerife and the Canary Islands. Although the first 50 deserved serious consideration, the last four made the paragraph perfect.

The Canary Islands, though politically belonging to Spain, are every much African and unlike any destination we had been to before. The name Islas Canarias is derived from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, meaning "Islands of the Dogs" as packs of wild and dangerous animals were found on the island when discovered. Today it is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world.

We arrived in Santiago just after sunset and were beat from the long trip. Despite the town in Saturday night party mode, were asleep as we hit the pillows.

I was up as the sun began to paint the Atlantic to the west, and sliding open a large paned door offered a view of the black volcanic rocks that so dominate the shoreline of Tenerife.

It would be a few hours before the sun rose above the massive Teide volcano that gave birth to this island eons ago. We weren't scheduled to officially begin our tour until an early afternoon meeting with our tour guide Peter, so we spent the day strolling the town's waterfront, shops and sights before ending up at the hotel's pool which offered us a grand view of the Los Gigantes cliffs north of the town.

As is custom with Edelweiss, there was a meeting to go over the planned highlights of the tour along with some common sense discussion on navigation and safety while riding the three islands we would explore on this week-long journey: La Gomera, Grand Canarias and Tenerife itself. That evening, we took possession of the BMW R 1200 GS that my wife Shira and I would be riding. Joining us for the ride were a few other BMWs, a couple of Ducatis and a new Honda Africa Twin.

After breakfast the next morning, we followed our guide Peter out of town and immediately began a twisty, snake-like ascent up the side of the Teide National Park, named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 2007. The road wound through rough black rock, all left over from Teide's last eruption more than 100 years ago. This massive park of more than 47,000 acres rules the center of Tenerife. Teide, the volcano the park surrounds stands 12,198 feet tall and is the largest peak in Spain, as well as the highest mountain on an island in the Atlantic. Only the two Hawaiian volcanoes are larger. As we rode higher the temperatures dropped nearly 30 degrees from Puerto Santiago to Teide. Shadows on the roadway were ringed with frost that quickly disappeared at the kiss of the chilly sun at this altitude.

The topography of Tenerife is quite fickle and the early part of the morning was dominated by black volcanic terrain that looked like it had its birth in hell. To the north the road wound down and into some dark clouds that began an annoying, misty rain. After a few miles of rain and through a pine forest that created a canopy above us, before long we were in bright sunshine once again. The road was sweepy and fun, and it seemed that everyone in our group was an experienced rider, courteous and professional in manner. What a treat.

Near the coast we rode through a town called Güímar, and once through, we broke free from the group to be on our own for the rest of the day. The Pyramids of Güímar are six rectangular, pyramid-shaped structures built from lava stone without the use of mortar. They have a mixed history, as some say they were built for agricultural reasons in the 1800s, while others say they are far, far older.

In the 1990s, Thor Heyerdahl proposed that these Canarian Pyramids showed a link between ancient Egypt and Pre-Colombian Meso-America, as all three have similar structures built, and that the islands were a stopping point for sailors traveling between the continents thousands of years ago.

This is not a place for the meek or mild weekend rider. It is a serious ride and should be approached in this manner. Tight and twisty, with the occasional truck or bus appearing as if by magic in the middle of some turns, left, right, left, right was the constant dance with a demanding partner.

We made good time around the island and rejoined our group as they were returning to the hotel amid a setting sun. It was a successful and dynamic first day riding the mountains of Tenerife.

We had an early start the next day, leaving just before dawn and riding to the city of Cristianos where we'd board the ferry, curiously named Fred Olsen and make the early crossing to the island of La Gomera.

Where the previous days romp around Tenerife was a grand mix with a lot of volcanic tundra, Gomera is its warmer and wetter sister. La Gomero is relatively small and more or less a large circle of volcanic rock that sits just west of Tenerife. But, where Tenerife has recently seen eruptions, what gave birth to La Gomera has been extinct for thousands of years. The ancient mountains here are lush with vegetation, banana trees and rain forest and the entire island is sprinkled with ravines and gorges called barrancos.

Not a mile from the port and we were slowed by the traffic and a local National Policeman who signaled us to stop and then to pull over. He asked where we were from, where we were going and why.

Perhaps it was the Spanish to English translation here, but he seemed to ask us if we had alcohol.

No. But then I spotted the television camera and he held up a plastic tube and asked if I would take a blood alcohol test. I am pretty sure "no" was not an acceptable answer in the middle of the town with cameras rolling.

I blew a zero on the booze-o-meter, and the officer and the camera people seemed very happy with that. Smiles all around and he gave me the blow tube as a memento and they moved on to the next test subject.

We gathered it was all part of a local "Don't Drink and Drive" campaign, and we'd probably make it into the next La Gomero Public Service announcement. Happy to help.

We had gone ahead of our friends to do a little photography of them riding up the mountains, but our mission got sidetracked by the police. We caught up to them at a pullout further up in the mountains with a Godly view of the road winding through the valley and peaks.

La Gomera was simply stunning! We followed along at a swift and talented pace on roads that were, for the most part, a bit more open than Tenerife's. We rode down though the Barranco de Gran Rey gorge to the sea and the tiny town of Valle Gran Rey.

We parked at a tiny corner restaurant, across from the mighty statue of Hautacuperche, a native Guanache who led a rebellion against the Spanish in 1488. Like many places, it is a story of a princess and her lover, but this is a true tale and ended very, very badly for the local native peoples.

Hautacuperche would not let his love for the Guanache Princess Iballa go unanswered, and he killed a local Spanish leader who also wanted the girl. In response, the Spanish ordered that all men above the age of 15 must be killed. Women and children were also enslaved. Strange as it seems, and even with the tragic ending, Hautacuperche is celebrated as a hero, thus the giant statue of him facing towards the island and away from the sea and Spain.

The story was sad to hear, but this day the best fish was spectacular, and the playa was peaceful and is a haven for the modern-day bohemian and leftover hippie.

I spoke to some of the locals about another local attraction that is unlike anything else. On the island of La Gomera you will find something very special; so distinct, so different that you cannot find it anywhere else on the planet. The whistle language called Silbo. Found only here, this unique form of communication has been used for thousands of years by the indigenous people and was most likely created out of necessity. La Gomera is made up of deep and cavernous volcanic ravines. Spoken and written communication might take a very long time to get from one place to another, but a whistle seems to travel for a long, long way.

As La Gomera entered into modern times with communication, internet and cellphone the wonderful Silbo was in danger of being lost in time. So the local government stepped in and now requires that all school children learn this wonderful talk so that it would it would not be something some of the elders once, eventually to disappear. And we thought we were the first to tweet?

This day's ride was spectacular, fun and a place like this could be habit forming. They should rename the island La Go Gomera! We rode down the massive Barranco Juan de Vera ravine, stopping for coffee, before heading back to the ferry and a sunset sail back to Tenerife. The sun dropping down below the Atlantic's horizon was as good as it gets, and there was a "Green Flash," the first time I have seen one in 58 years. We rode back to Santiago in the dark, another awesome days ride in our books.

Our third island of the Canaries would be Gran Canarias, another ferry ride this time to the east. We started our day off by another run up to Tiede, this time from a completely different direction, but soon had snaked our way up through the pine forests and then onto the volcanic plain that runs around the mountain.

We stopped for coffee at the same place we had lunch a few days back, only to discover that it was the Tenerife version of the Rock Store and had a great deal of local riders parked there as well.

We followed Peter, with our long, but well-spaced line of a dozen machines and headed into a forested region of Tenerife with a road that followed along the crest of the cliffs that ring this part of the island.

Each island so far had been different and the same would be found on this island as well. Joni Mitchel has a song called "Twisted"—I could not get it out of my head. By far Gran Canarias was the most technical of the riding we had done so far. Heading up and over Pico de las Nieves was as crafty as any mountain goat trail—we were sure it was at one time.

The large gorges dominated the regions between the peaks, and our customary stop was made near Tejeda. We parked the bikes in a town square in front of the castle-like Parador and left the bikes with an old man and his burrow under the watchful eye of an odd looking Christ on a cross. The remainder of the day was much the same with a good amount of tight-forested roads that headed down towards the sea.

We arrived at a small hotel, right along a giant caldera that had exploded a few million years back. The place was built right on the edge of the cliffs, and I was surprised to see it also had a well-groomed golf course on the grounds as well. The Caldera de Bandama is massive, some 3,000 feet long and nearly 700 feet deep. It was most impressive in the setting sun's light.

Dinner was found a short walk towards town and once again, we found that best meals come from small and tiny restaurants full of locals wondering who the heck we were and what were we doing in "their" place.

After dinner, a few of us went on our own and followed along (more or less) the Edelweiss' route to an archeological site that would give us a long look back into the history of these islands.

Along a steep barranco, called Guayadeque, the many caves were found to have been shelter for people for hundreds of years in the past. Today the caves are limited in visitations, but the museum has some wonderful artifacts that were found in them, along with the mummified remains of a man that was buried high along the cliffside caverns, a true and rare find and certainly one of the most important for the Canarian people.

We toured the museum and rode up along Guayadeque to the town at the end, also built around a cave system—complete with hotel and restaurant—and then doubled back, got lost, and made multiple U-turns and inquires before we turned to Plan B, C and D, finally setting our course up and over the peaks heading towards the town of Tejede, which sits right on the threshold of the caldera de Tejeda. Once again the volcanic past of the island shows itself, as it seems to do everywhere you go on the Canary Islands.

The ride into this center part of the Gran Canarias was even more technical than previous romps, and finally getting to the town and the superbly delicious lunch of black pork knuckles was worth each of mountainous, twisty and snake-like miles.

At lunch the entire group was reunited, and from there we rode back to the port, bordered the ferry back to Tenerife and then looped around the island with the sun setting to our left and blasting its light across the many barrancos that run down from the mountains and to the sea. Any one of these would be a major natural wonder in the USA, and you'd have to pay to enjoy it. Here in Tenerife they are just there and part of the landscape. Magnificent.

We had one more day of riding with Edelweiss Bike Travel, and this day would be to explore the northwest part of the island and seek out some of the culture and natural beauty that we had already found in abundance.

We headed above the Los Gigantes cliffs and along the Corona Forest that lies like a necklace around the peaks. Even with the abundance of pine needle forests, there was another tree we would search for this day. Here on Tenerife they have a tree that is called "The Dragon." Its name comes from the fact that its limbs grow in a twisted dragon-like manner and its sap is red, like the blood of a Dragon. The huge Dragon Tree in the town center of Icod is thought to be thousands of years old. It is a cultural icon and landmark, and it was very impressive.

A light lunch was had at a small restaurant that could barely hold us all but served a great meal of paella, soups and salads and had friendly staff that made up for its lack of size.

For our last jaunt before finishing the tour and handing the GS back to Edelweiss, Peter the Guide (we called him that so as not to confuse him with Peter of the Poconos) told us the next stretch would be like a "Go Cart Track," passing up into the mountains that make up Los Gigantes.

He said, "The roads can be very narrow and feature many incredibly tight, blind corners. Some are carved into the sheer rock and can induce vertigo. Oncoming vehicles, especially big ones like buses, are a hazard and can easily end your trip in a split-second. You need to be focused constantly! Welcome to motorcycle heaven!"

He was more than right, and the Road to Masca could have been right up there with Romania's Trans Alpina as the most technical road I have ever ridden. Throw into this mix the incredible views, the cliffs and gorges, the incoming mist and rain clouds parted by bolts of bright sunlight, the occasional tour bus, and the more occasional clueless tourist in a rental car, and we had one hell of a final ride on our journey through the mountains of Tenerife!

The Canary Islands—Tenerife, La Gomera and Gran Canarias—were never on our bucket list of places we needed to ride while on the planet. But, now that we have, we can fervently tell you to consider adding them to your own must-ride list.

Comments...

Amy Phinney says...
Posted Sunday, November 12, 2017
Great article, thanks for sharing your adventure!
Gerard Gatineau says...
Posted Friday, June 16, 2017
Hats off to your wife for riding all that you described on the BACK of a GS! Although I would love to pilot a GS on that tour, I could never do it as a passenger!
Roger R. Mullins says...
Posted Thursday, June 15, 2017
Very nice... well written Brian. Thanks for taking the time an effort as a member to contribute a quality piece.

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