Daytime. The Corona Forestal. Rays of afternoon sunshine breaking through the trees. Sunbeams like torches, flashing into my eyes and then off again with every step. The comforting fragrance of pine. The sign at La Caldera said that a hike to the mountain peak at Las Crucitas and then on to the town of Pinolere would take eight hours. I don’t want to go that far. If I go up to the mountain top and back again, it should only take four hours.
A couple have pitched their tent just off the path. I stop to pee and eat a nectarine. I only brought 500ml of water. It doesn’t seem enough, now. I remember something Rayco said about the Bedouin – he said they take no water on a two-day trek through the desert. Just two dates. First they eat the skin of the date; then the meat, slowly; then they suck the stone all day long. This keeps the saliva flowing in their mouths. Apparently, this is all that is needed, as the body has enough water to survive, even in the desert. So maybe the nectarine stone will do. I keep it in my mouth and suck on it.
Silence. Sometimes, a gentle gust of wind or a bird song. The path bends round the mountain-side. What are these bushes to the left? Their berries are gone to seed; their leaves are sticky. I take a sample to look at, later. Suddenly, the path changes shape. It seems to continue, but much less wide. From the size of a road, it narrows to the size of a track and winds onwards on a tricky path through trees, following the contour of the mountainside. It is much more dangerous. I have to lean to my right, against the mountain slope and sometimes use my hands. A fallen tree blocks my way. And afterwards a huge rock, crumbled from the mountainside. I look down into the barranco, the ravine below me. It is steep, and falls down hundred of metres below. Here, a slip could be fatal. The trees thicken and the narrow path ends. There is no clear way forward. Well I will try to go back, and find a wider path again. Maybe this was not even a real path at all. I turn back. It feels more dangerous! I gulp and suck hard on the nectarine stone. Now I lean to my left, but my balance feels not so good on this side. Very scary. I am not enjoying this at all. I know the way back, but do not trust myself so much now. I look up. Above me, trees thin. I see sky. There is the top! My intuition says go up rather than back. On all fours, using my fingers spread like cat claws, digging into the soft, carpet of pine needles, I scramble up the slope. I call on all the forces of good that I know of to help me. It is demanding work; very tiring. The gradient must be 1:1, mostly 45 degree slopes of shifting earth that moves underfoot. I do not look down into the barranco. My heart is pumping so hard I can hear it. I grab hold of trees when I can. Every ten metres, I take a break, resting up-slope of a pine tree, leaning into the slope to catch my breath. After a hundred-metre scramble, I see two giant eucalyptus trees. There is something reassuring about them. I sit here on the slope, on pine needles, for a tea break. I look up and up; they go on and on. Tall, straight and enormous. The two trees are shedding their skin. The ground is covered in old brown eucalyptus bark, rolled tight like parchment scrolls. The tree’s new skin is like that of an elephant.
I take souvenirs of pine needles and eucalyptus to remind me of my deadly scramble. I promise myself that after I find the real path and safety, I will meditate to say thank you and burn them like incense later. Another twenty metres of scrambling up, and I find the path again. Relief. I am safe. Here, the forest floor is like gravel; red like clay. Crunching along, I walk on, above 1,500 metres. There are trees and herbs here that I have never seen before. A pale green herb, with a leaf shaped like a heart, so pale it is almost grey. Coro said it was good for regulating the blood sugar. So great news for diabetics, or those with heart problems! Only a two-hour demanding hike uphill, on dangerous 45-degree slopes and you can find a natural cure for your ailments.
Hunger comes. “I’ll eat at the top,” I tell myself. Looking up, I’m nearly at the top! The path curves gently this way and that and cuts down into the rock, created by water maybe, maybe from streams that runs down the mountain after the ice has melted in Spring. Ten minutes pass. I’m nearly at the top. Small birds chirp from the top of a tall pine. I stop to watch them; two tiny finches, like green finches but perhaps no bigger than my thumb. One chirps. Does she chirp at me? She looks elsewhere. No – she chirps at her mate. There he is. He hops towards her and chirps back. They hop together and fondly cock their heads. A couple. I enjoy watching them. Well, I’m nearly at the top. So I continue. I am tired now. I use my yogic breathing. The smell of pine eases my tiredness. I am still sucking on the nectarine stone.
The trees thin. What a view! All across the valley and over to Mount Teide. Two thousand square miles of scenery. Ravines and miles of forest. The Atlantic ocean ahead. Blue skies all above. The mountainside dark green and undulating, rippling rock made by run-off and lava and landslides. I’m nearly at the top.
I pick up litter dropped by others. Mostly sweet wrappers and lollipop sticks. Who eats Bounty bars on a hike? Plenty of toilet tissue too, but I don’t pick that up. No thanks. And anyway, it will biodegrade. I rub my hands on pine needles to clean them – that’s a disinfectant, right? I’m sure Domestos made a bleach with pine.
Chunks of grey granite are sticking out from a black mountainside. Underfoot are pebbles of cold lava, like gravel. I stop to take a photo as the light lengthens, grey blocks of stone against a blue sky. White clouds criss-crossed onto the blue like a Scottish flag. Hungry but determined not to rest until the top. I’m nearly there. Another two hundred metres up. On I go.
Eventually I see that the actual summit is unreachable; too dense with trees and foliage. The path starts to head somewhere else, downwards. Oh well. It is only the sense of achievement that summits satisfy, and covered in trees, with no clear view – well, that doesn’t seem like a proper mountain-top so much. I content myself with sitting against slabs of granite with a spectacular view of the mountain and the ocean and the sky. What a view. Eagles have the life! The rocks are still warm, having soaked up the sun all day. I drink the best-tasting tea I have had all day, washing my fingers in tea too. I’m sure this isn’t up to NHS hygiene standards. Oh well. I don’t have a UV light, so I can’t see the bacteria. If I have been struck down by violent food-poisoning by the time you read this, you know why! Must remember to pick up litter on the way back down next time, after I eat. Oh well. If the worst happens, and I die, I hope I have picked up enough litter to get me to the place that the good girls go.
The sunset will not be visible. It will be behind the clouds. I pull on my jumper. It is getting cool now. A hawk flies only a few metres overhead, sees me, swerves away and continues on a new flightpath. Was it scared of me, or can it smell the garlic from my houmous? My sandwich tastes amazing.
I meditate, but just for a few minutes as I feel cold. I burn the pine needles, the eucalyptus scroll and some incense I brought with me. I say some prayers for a friend who is having a hard time and leave a crystal for him on the mountain. It is 8pm. It will be dark soon. I did not mean to have a night hike. I meant to hike for just a few hours and get the bus back before dark. Oh well. It seems I have no choice. I wanted to reach the top! Luckily, I have a torch. One of those ones that fits on your head. It is called a headlamp? I begin my descent. The light from the torch is necessary. Darkness falls as I enter the forest. Something beautiful… shiny… like purple and green glitter… I look closer. It is a kind of spider. In the night, it sparkles. Beautiful. A big flying creature buzzes into my face; not a moth, I don’t know what it is! It wants the light. Or me. It buzzes into my face again. I wave it away in a girly panic, and take off the light. I hold the light in my hand for a few minutes. I don’t know what that creature was but I didn’t like it. It was much bigger than a fly or a bee. This light-in-my-hand idea is a crap one. I replace it on my head. Moths come; I don’t mind them so much. I shine the light on the floor, it is slippery. I nearly fall several times on the sliding gravel. I don’t look up too much. The torchlight through the trees is too eery, and my imagination too vivid. What if there are mad murderers in the forest? Wow! My own mind is the maniac. My own thoughts are probably more scary that what’s out there. Even if there are murderers, will I leave this life petrified? Or try to go in peace? I empty my mind. I listen to my breathing. And the silence. No birds sing at night. No-one else is walking. Anyway, the probability of murderers here is very low. They would get very bored, waiting for their victims. My mind seems very keen to return to the murderers story!
I sing a mantra silently. The forces of good will protect me, or at least come to my aid if it is my time to go, I think. I hope. What if the batteries in my torch expire and leave me to find my way through the trees in total darkness? And then I fall off the edge into the barranco? I could fall and break my ankle any time. Then what would I do? Goddamn my mind, again! Up ahead – what’s that? Something moving! A silver cat-like creature morphing, arching its back in the night? It stops moving. My eyes adjust. It is a small bush. It is not moving and never did. Hallucinations? My eyes now are tricksters too! I breathe. I concentrate on the floor, on not falling. The path winds down, deeper and deeper into the forest. The trees become thicker and thicker. I become more and more scared. I was not so fearful higher up, where there was still sky and the trees were thinner. Here, the woods are dense. Many things are hiding here, creatures… werewolves! Imagine being ripped apart by a hungry beast, its teeth ripping into my neck. Eeewww. And how silly. There are no werewolves. Okay, something practical. I estimate the phases of my journey. Fifteen more minutes and I should be at the signpost. Thirty minutes afterwards, I should see the couple camping again. Are there wolves in Tenerife? Or wild boars? I keep going.
My descent is much faster. Seems easier on the legs, going downhill. Sure enough, my timings are right. I see the light from the torch of the couple inside their tent. They are talking. They hear my footfall and go quiet. They are probably thinking I am some mad murderer too. What is it about the forest and the dark that makes us think like this?
I continue. What should I expect next? Well, thirty minutes more and I will reach the bus stop. The bus will not come to La Caldera this late, but I can carry on to Aguamansa and try to catch the last bus from there. Actually, the forest in the dark is not so bad. If someone asked me if I wanted a trip into the forest by myself, at night, I would have said no. But now I have no choice, I don’t mind so much. There’s one thing worse that walking in a pitch-black forest, and that’s spending the night in a pitch-black forest. Much better to carry on. I tell myself the trees are my friends. Then, I hear something. It sounds like heavy breathing. I clench my right fist. It sounds like someone breathing close to a tree, or a fence. Is it a man, a rapist? It sounds bigger than a man. It is a stag? I picture a huge stag, angry that I have entered its territory, ready to defend its young fauns, ready to charge towards me and buck me with its sharp horns. The breathing gets louder. I am very scared. I keep walking and brace myself. Then, I hear water running. It is a water pipe. The breathing sound is coming from there! It is not breathing at all! Whoosh, whoosh, it goes. Funny! The water flow is not continuous and sounds like whoosh, whoosh – like heavy breathing! There is no rapist and no charging stag. I breathe more deeply but my heart takes several minutes to calm. Two more water pipes and then I will reach La Caldera. Maybe twenty minutes more. I hear men laughing in the distance and dogs barking. For the first time, I am frightened of something that actually exists. I do not like the energy in their voices. It sounds cruel; like they enjoy hunting, baiting, raping… I walk on and hope they do not hear or see me. They don’t sound so close. Maybe they are busy hunting rabbits. The dogs bark as if they have heard me. What if they are hunters? What if they shoot me? They could take my money, my i-phone and just tell the authorities it was an accident, that they thought I was a big rabbit! I continue. I cannot see their torches; maybe they cannot see mine. I continue.
La Caldera approaches. Now I must walk along the road in the blackness. It feels slightly safer. But there are no street lights. I will feel happier on the main road. A big dog barks to the right of me; maybe an Alsatian. I continue. Please do not let wild dogs ravage me! I feel weak now, my legs ache and I do not have the strength to be ravaged.
On I go. And there, to my comfort, is the main road. Phew! Now a new danger: there is no footpath and cars drive fast here in the dark. I continue with caution. When I hear a car I step right off the road and wait.
My legs are hurting now. Kilometre 16. I live at kilometre 10. I do not feel I have six more kilometres left in me, but I have no choice either. Aguamansa arrives. Kilometre 15. The road widens. There are houses and some lights. Can I maybe get some chips? I would love a plate of patatas fritas right now. With some mayonnaise and a Coke. Maybe even ask a local to drop me home for five euros. But all of the restaurants and bars are closed.
The cat’s eyes set into the road here are different to the UK. They dance like fireflies, like a disco in the road. I turn off my torchlight and enjoy the disco. Kilometre 14. A real footpath. I feel safer now. The night though is still very dark. There are no streetlights here, but there are some stars, some I can see from behind thick clouds. Not the moon though. A shame as she is quite full these days and would give me a lot of light. Kilometre 13. Ahead I see the neon lights of the guagua, the bus, the 345. It is coming up the hill. In a few minutes it will go back down the mountain. Hooray! I stop at the next bus stop. Two men are laughing there, coarsely. One spits on the floor. They are smoking and both wear black leather jackets. I do not feel safe around them. I sit on the other side of the road and wait for the bus. After a few minutes I realise I am on the wrong side of the road! Actually, the bus is on the wrong side. If only they would use the ‘right’ side, like in the UK! I cross back over to the coarse men. I stand and get ready to ask them a question, thinking of the Spanish for “Is there another bus?” or “What time is the next bus?” but they are busy laughing and anyway, before I have their attention, the bus arrives. The men, coarse as they may be, gesture to let me get onto the bus first. They might be coarse, but gentlemanly and coarse at least. Sitting down… what a joy! My body, my legs are very thankful that I did not have to walk another three kilometres. Oh, what a trip. What an adventure.
Soon the bus stops at Caneno. Kilometre 10. A short walk downhill and then up the steep slope of our driveway. Nearly there. And suddenly I see my little casita, my room. I am so pleased to see her! What a night. What an adventure! I am happy that it happened. I take off my boots, wash my dusty legs and change into my pyjamas. They feel so good. I eat a plate of salted corn and stew some fruit; apples with cinnamon, yoghurt and chocolate sauce. And a few hazelnuts. I drink a hot chocolate. It feels good to be home again.