Off to the sun

One day I will get into the habit of writing things up soon after they’ve happened, but the last month or so has been so busy that I haven’t got round to it, and it’s only because I’ve got something else to write up that I’m getting round to it now! For the last few years Steve and I have had a short holiday in September, on our own. It gives us a chance to reconnect as a couple, not just parents, and we always wait until September so the kids are back in school, and don’t notice so much. In the past we’ve been to Barcelona, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, and Moscow (for my brother’s wedding). 3 years ago we went to Gran Canaria with my Mum- making use of her timeshare and giving her an opportunity to go somewhere hot for once!

We decided that it was probably about time to take mother abroad again, and so this year we toddled off to Tenerife. Having done two of the Canary Islands now, I’m not sure if we’ll work towards the whole set, but it was really interesting to see just how different the islands are. When we were in Gran Canaria we spent a lot of time on the beach (parascending and camel riding as you can see, but also snorkelling); as well as wandering around little towns and ports. We did venture into the mountains a little bit, but we mainly stayed near where we were based. This time we found that Tenerife is a bit smaller than Gran Canaria, and we ended up going over most of the island. Here are a few highlights from our week away:

Los Gigantes:
Our accommodation was in the town of Los Gigantes, named for the huge cliffs towering over the sea. We could look out at the ocean in the morning and watch the fishing boats going in and out, or the sun rise over the cliffs and Teno lighthouse at the end. The town itself is made up of a more urban area of shops, bars and restaurants, and a beach and harbour end where you can swim, watch the crabs scuttle around the rocks, or take one of the many boat tours that go out.

We ended up taking two boat tours from the harbour, one with Mum and one without. The first one, with Mum, was on the Flipper Uno, which is a pirate style boat that takes you out towards the cliffs. The main attraction was trying to spot dolphins- which we did, and were then given huge plates of paella with fresh local bananas, beer and wine to wash it down.

We then had the chance to swim off the boat. I had remembered the water in Gran Canaria being quite warm, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite as warm as I remembered it in Tenerife. To get it over with, we took advantage of the rope swing that was rigged up on the boat and jumped into the water. It was quite difficult to keep the water going up your nose, but also quite addictive so Steve and I both ended up jumping in a few times while Mum took photos.

On the way back one of the sailors fed the seagulls chips out of his mouth- not something we would recommend having met the seagulls in Aberystwyth! Then they came round with rum, but they seemed to have run out of cups as it was just squirted straight into your mouth!

The second tour we went out on, which Mum wasn’t feeling adventurous enough for, was with West Tenerife and was a bit more action based. We left the harbour on a small rig, along with another couple, where we were taken to the nearest cove and switched onto jet skis. I’ve never been on a jet ski before and found the bumpiness completely terrifying- I was convinced I was going to fall off the back into the water! We had originally been told we were going to ride out to Teno- the lighthouse at the end of the coast, but it was just too choppy for our little jet skis to cope. So instead we did a little loop round before coming back to the cove to move to a bigger boat for a break.

After some fruit and water we had a little swim, using the flippers, snorkels and underwater scooters that they provided for us. The scooters meant that we could go fast enough to have time to get towards the rocks at the shore, which was the only way to see any fish! Steve also tried his hand at paddle boarding, but wasn’t hugely successful!

After returning to the boat to dry off a bit, we clambered back on to the jet skis to go back to the harbour. If you do go to Tenerife and are thinking of taking this tour, it’s worth mentioning that they lend you a GoPro5 for while you’re out with them. It clips onto the front of the jet ski, underwater scooter, or onto a selfie stick so you can take photos or videos the whole time. You then keep the SD card at the end and just take the whole lot home with you. They take some photos of you as well, which they email to you at the end of the tour.

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Masca:
One of the attractions that you can book through resorts is a bus trip to the little village of Masca, way up in the mountains of Tenerife. The village itself isn’t that spectacular. One of the attractions is that you can hike from there, through the valley to the beach, about 5km. The choice then is either to get a boat there, hike and bus back; get a bus there, hike and catch a boat back; or bus or drive there, and hike both ways. In the end we didn’t take any of the hiking options and just drove. The village is nestled in quite a pretty valley, and there’s a little restaurant there to enjoy the view, with an interesting gift shop. We took a break from driving to have a cactus lemonade in this shop! There is also a nice little square that you can imagine may get quite busy at festivals, and some interesting little statues, but I can’t tell you who they were of as I don’t speak Spanish!

What was more interesting about Masca was the drive up- and down- to get there! The roads are very steep and windy- fortunately there are mainly 2 lanes- but that’s not much comfort when there’s a bus coming the other way. It can be quite a nerve wracking drive, with hair pin bends and huge drops on either side; but the views are spectacular, and there are lots of handy stopping places where you can get out to take photos or have some relief from the mental strain of trying to control a car!

Garachico:
Another destination that requires travelling on terrifying roads is the town of Garachico, where you can visit Las Piscinas Naturales El Caleton– a series of rock pools with steps and ladders leading down where you can go swimming. Again, the water is quick cold, so it took a little while to get in, but it was definitely a good place for snorkelling. There are a series of channels and pools with walk ways between them, that we spent ages just swimming around in, but there were also people jumping in from the sides- it is deep enough- or just sunbathing from the rocks.

We spent ages in the channels that come in from the sea, but with the tide you do get pushed and pulled around a bit. As they are tidal it was much deeper when we left than when we arrived! The best snorkelling was in a pool to the side of the channels, which still had pipes to let the water in, but was a lot calmer. In that pool there were the most, and the most interesting fish, and we even found an octopus hiding on the rocks, by almost stepping on him!

This photo is taken by WIMIUS's Q1

The town of Garachico is also worth a visit though. Most importantly because it is where we discovered banana wine, at a food gift shop where they were very generous with samples! Secondly because Restaurante La Almena de San Miguel does an amazing seafood paella with local fresh fish. And thirdly, because the town is a really pretty one to wander around. There are a lot of pedestrianised streets and little squares. There is a little park that’s full of anchors and has the original gates to the town. There are some interesting churches and convents, even a castle. And there are chickens just wandering around aimlessly.

Icod de los Vinos:
On the way back from Garachico we were recommended (by the man who sold us the banana wine) to visit Icod de los Vinos to find the Parque del Drago, home of the dragon tree. We got a little bit lost in the one way system and steep roads, but eventually found  a car park and went to find the tree. We first came to a square with a concert being set up, which had quite a big tree, but we decided it probably wasn’t big enough to warrant being called a dragon so we carried on looking. Eventually we came to a little park, of which the tree was the central attraction. They do charge for you to get in, but they also have clean toilets and a cafe and gift shop. It was a nice park just to wander around and look at other plants, birds, lizards, and the odd duck and cat; but the tree definitely stood out. There are only three of them on the island that are that size, and it is over 1,000 years old, so it has seen quite a lot. There is also an old cave that you can go into, but if you don’t like spiders then you might want to give it a miss as it is full of cobwebs!

Teno:
Also on that side of the island is Punta de Teno– the lighthouse. This one is actually even more difficult to get to because the road isn’t always open. The first time we tried to visit we made it to 5km away, and the barrier was closed so we couldn’t go all the way up. The cliffs above the road to Teno are quite dangerous with falling rocks, so they restrict how many cars are allowed to drive down. We made up for it by getting lost on the way back and stopping for a swim in the sea in a random town!

We did make a return journey to Teno though, and it was well worth it. You can’t get in to the lighthouse itself, but you can climb the cliffs around it to get a good view back towards Los Gigantes, and there is a little harbour there that people were swimming from. We were there as it was getting towards sunset so we had the beauty of the light turning orange behind the lighthouse. There was also a little walkway where you can sit with your feet dangling over the edge to watch the waves lap in and out.

El Teide:
The reason that the roads around Tenerife are so mountainous is because it is a volcanic island. The volcano in the middle is called El Teide, and although it’s not technically dormant, it hasn’t erupted for over 100 years. I expected that driving up the volcano would be even more windy than the roads around the outskirts of the island, but it turned out to be largely straight, wider, and better maintained. It was fascinating driving around the island and seeing the landscape change dramatically. You went from the rocky shrubland like that around Masca, to lush forests, up to pine forests like you would expect to find in Finland, and then to such barren terrain that you could mistake yourself being in the middle of a desert or on the moon! In fact, several films and TV series that have needed an extra-terrestrial landscape have filmed in Tenerife. We had hoped to do an evening cable car ride up to the top of the mountain, but unfortunately it was too windy while we were there so it wasn’t running. That meant that although we could drive most of the way up, we couldn’t make it right to the peak. On the drive up the weather echoed the changing terrain as you would go through beautifully sunny areas, to heavy cloud, and then to dry dust storms. The higher up you went though, the colder and windier it became. No matter how hot it is at the coast, don’t let the mountain fool you!

It’s difficult to tell from the pictures the sheer scale of El Teide- it really is huge! You don’t realise quite how high up you are until you compare it to the surrounding mountains, and remember how long you’ve been driving for! On one of our earlier drives, we’d spotted this impressive cloud formation over the top of the mountain, and spent the rest of the week teasing Mum as it was the only day she didn’t take her camera with her!

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As well as visiting some of the natural sites of the island, we did also go to some of the other attractions. The most widely advertised were the twin parks of Loro Parque and Siam Park- a zoo and a water park, both highly rated within Europe. Mum was happy to come with us to Loro Parque- so that she could spend the day taking photos of animals, and we were impressed with it. There were a lot of conservation projects going on, and several of the animal enclosures were very good compared to others we’ve seen- we were particularly impressed with the penguins. They have a few animal shows- one with the birds, which is why the park originally started; as well as dolphin, whale and sea lion shows; and the regularly animal feeding. We didn’t see the dolphins as they are currently refurbishing their enclosure, but the whales were comparable to SeaWorld Florida, and the sea lion show very similar to things we’ve seen before. Both enjoyable though if you’re into that kind of thing. There was also a captivating wall of fish in the aquarium section of the park, which I’ve not seen elsewhere. As always, some of the animals are inevitably sleepy- the big cats seem to be whenever and wherever you go- and sadly I never found the sloth, but we did really enjoy the park and would recommend going. Mum also particularly enjoyed the walk through aviary and probably would have spent all day there if we’d have let her!

The following day Steve and I also visited Siam Park, which is a huge water park on the island. In case you’re worrying about the use of so much water in such a hot country, they do recycle a lot of it and source their own energy so they’re pretty biologically friendly. I’m not normally a huge fan of water parks because I don’t really like the slides where you go down on your own, without a tube or anything, but fortunately there weren’t many of those at Siam. Most of the slides were 2 person, and a few were 4 or 6 so we joined up with other couples. The queues were still quite long when we went so we invested in the fairly cheap fast passes, which let you go on each ride once- and which were definitely worth it as hardly anyone seemed to have them, and it meant that we could go on every ride within a few hours. One of my favourite rides was The Volcano, which is in the dark and includes a laser light show as you slide around a huge basin. Steve also really enjoyed Singha, which is a slide but also blasts you around with water jets so it goes faster than normal. Somehow I managed to fall out at the end so, although I didn’t hurt myself, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about going on again! We also both enjoyed the lazy river- Mai Thai River. Although you can chose the slow option, there is also a part where the river splits, and if you go in the left hand lane you end up on another water slide in your tube. It’s very confusing if you don’t know it’s coming! The most famous ride at Siam in the Tower of Power, which is a drop slide that goes through a shark tank. Neither of us ended up going on it in the end though as I didn’t want to, and the queue was too long for Steve to want to go on his own. People were coming off pulling their swimming shorts back into a comfortable zone though!

I think our absolute favourite place on the island was one that we went to fairly early on, and liked so much that we actually went back on our final day. We found the Monkey Park at Los Cristianos on Trip Advisor, and it had fairly mixed reviews, but we decided to give it a go anyway. We read the advise to take your own fruit in rather than buy it there, so that the animals are more interested, and came loaded with grapes and tomatoes. You have to show them what you’re bringing in, but as long as it’s not food the animals can’t eat then they let you. We walked past some crocodiles and tortoises on the way in, and then to some enclosure with lemurs, parrots, iguanas, and lots and lots of guinea pigs. If you like guinea pigs then this is definitely the place for you as they are everywhere. We tried to coax the lemurs down but they were sleeping and not really interested. Moving through we found that there were two aviaries, so that kept Mum busy for a while, but that wasn’t the highlight.

The excitement came when we found the squirrel monkeys were happy to take food out of your hand, as long as you stood still long enough. It didn’t take long to work out that when there were no noisy kids around, you could also coax them to walk up your arm and around your shoulders to get food. Just to point out, they also had food in their enclosures so they weren’t being starved to make them perform, and at no point did we try and hold onto them or stroke them- if they didn’t want to get it, they didn’t. The first time we worked it out Mum was with the birds, and was pretty jealous when she found out. So we ended up going back so that she would have a chance as well! I’ve never been so close to a monkey before, and I was amazed at how soft their little hands are, and how gentle they were with them.

There were also some much bigger monkeys in enclosures that you couldn’t walk through. Some of them were on their own, and some in small family groups. But there was also quite a large colony of monkeys living together, and watching them interact and try and work out the monkey hierarchy was quite funny. The other monkeys were also quite keen to supplement their diets and would quite happily take food off you through the bars. We got drawn in a bit by animal cuteness and tried to prioritise little ones and mums, but unfortunately the monkey hierarchy doesn’t work like that so they were quite often chased away, or had to climb higher out of reach! The gibbons however, were quite happy to share food with each other- not sure why they felt so differently but it paid off for them! It did take them a little while to figure out how to get their hands back through the bars while holding a tomato though…

We had a lovely week, catching up on the last bit of sun for the year. Although we spent a lot of time driving around the island in the day, we made up for it in the evening by eating good food- tapas, calamari and canarian potatoes being the most popular; and drinking large amounts of sangria, mojitos and caipirinhas! Maybe we will visit more Canary Islands after all…

 

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