Our casa rural 'Bentayga' in the mountains in the centre of Gran Canaria

Canary Island Hopping

November 29th to December 5th 2006 La Culata Gran Canaria to Santa Cruz Tenerife

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Day 22 29th November at La Culata, Gran Canaria

We have three days to explore the area around Tejeda and enjoy the warm sunshine. Tejeda is our nearest place for supplies and about 200 metres lower than our lovely casa rural. We can see the village from our terrace. It looks so close in the clear Canarian atmosphere that we can almost touch it.

At this time of year the sun does not reach our terrace until about 10am. The management has found the exact spot for his chair where the sun hits first. It is not exactly cold even in the shade but we have become used to the 23 degree daytime temperature

The management's main task today is to try to work out a better way to Tejeda. Armed with a map, binoculars, and a need to look busy in the sun he reckoned he had solved the problem. Off we went, uphill, as that is what cyclists do even on foot.

We soon found a footpath signed to Tejeda and set off steeply downhill. At its best the path resembled a pack horse trail. At its frequent worst it was just a very rough stony water course. The views as always in this green valley are superb and we also took the opportunity to explore the many ruined casas. These houses were very like ours. Like many of the more modern houses hereabouts it was almost impossible to see how the residents gain access from the steep mountainside.

We eventually emerged into the village just before siesta. We managed food shopping but failed to find the post office in time. It is the only place in the village which sells stamps. We also failed to find the pharmacy which is the only place hereabouts which sells meths for our trangia cooker.

Having done the best with shopping we had a pleasant kind of ethnic lunch at one of the pavement cafés. We then decided to get the bus back. Despite much animated discussion between various people who may or may not have had anything to do with the bus company we failed. In the interests of maintaining the stoker's legs in peak cycling condition the management phoned for a taxi. The stoker thinks that having enjoyed a good lunch he just could not be bothered to walk back up the stony trail. She may have been right.

The taxi turned up and immediately set off in exactly the wrong direction. The management had to be his worst assertive self to persuade the idiot to turn round. Even then he needed detailed directions. He was either high on drink or drugs or more likely upset about being disturbed during siesta.

The management decided that he never did trust public transport and in future would take the tandem wherever possible. For the next two days that is what we did.

Day 23 30th November at La Culata, Gran Canaria

Our casa rural is called Bentayga because from the terrace it looks directly towards a mountain of that name which obviously needed to be visited. Going as lightly loaded as we could we set off down the valley just as the morning sun reached the house.

We were pleased that we had no ill effects from the long hard ride we suffered to get here a couple of days ago. Once through Tejeda we had a long mountain ascent. The road is, however, well graded and there was no pressure on us to go fast. We maintained a steady speed up the zigzags and eventually arrived at an exhibition centre and view point.

Bentayga is called a 'rock' on the map. It has a spectacular rocky top which resembles a Captain Pugwash type ship. It has caves, known as troglodytes. There is cave painting and other evidence of habitation by the Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canaries who almost certainly came from North Africa.

We followed the path up the mountain to view the caves. It was certainly a case of our safety 'being their concern but our responsibility'. It was steep and involved some scrambling with no protection from direct drops.

Fortunately the Canaries don't seem to have been affected by the nanny state and silly litigation. We got where we wanted to go and had some wonderful views. It was risky but no more so than many of the things most of us do in our daily lives. We returned to Casa Bentayga just as the sun was leaving the terrace. We could see that it would stay on Mount Bentayga until it set.

 This is the 'Roque' Bentayga, a high mountain after which our casa rural is named and looks towards

Day 24 1st December at La Culata, Gran Canaria

An easy day was called for in view of a longer moving on day to follow. We thought if we mainly pedalled up from the casa we would be back home in no time. The idea was to see some of the sites we had missed on the ride here because it was dark.

We climbed gradually. With no particular need to get anywhere we enjoyed the regular pace in a low gear. We were able to enjoy the ever changing views and carry on pleasant conversation.

As we neared the first summit at the Cruz de Tejeda we had great views of Mount Teidi on Tenerife. We can see the very top from the casa but from higher up we could see the peak surrounded by the vast crater.

At Cruz de Tejeda, which is said to be the centre of the island, we had something of a culture shock. With the exception of the odd hire car we had seen few tourists for days. As we reached the cross roads there were a couple of cafés and one of those tatty markets which sells rubbish to the gullible. There was even a man offering to take people on donkey rides.

Every now and then a new coach came with its batch of people and another left for who knows where or cares. We left, though not without being surrounded by watchers hoping we would fall off as we started. We seldom do and they were unlucky on this occasion.

Onwards and upwards we went only to be confronted by about 20 people on bikes followed by a support bus. They looked very unsteady, unused to being on bikes. We think they were probably bussed to the top and mainly freewheeled to the bottom. Still, it is better than just riding on the saga bus.

After a little way peace returned and we found a pleasant place for a picnic in a pine wood. We were now within about 30 minutes of climb from the highest point on the island. The management reckoned that, including time spent wandering about, it would add an hour to the ride. That hour he felt could be better spent snoozing in a deck chair in the sun on our terrace. We therefore made a rapid descent and did just that.

Day 25 2nd December La Culata to San Nicolas de Tolentino, Gran Canaria

For the next eleven days we are on a proper moving on cycle tour. We know that we want to reach the island of La Gomera, and we have a sort of idea of how to get there. The management in particular has been looking forward to this part of the tour. It was not however without a little regret that we left the comfort of Casa Rural Bentayga.

After the unladen rides of the last couple of days the tandem felt something of a cumbersome machine. We wound our way up to Artenara, the highest village in Gran Canaria, before starting our descent to the coast.

We suppose that one has the idea that going from about 1400 metres of altitude to sea level in about 40km should involve mainly pleasant freewheeling. If only that were the case. We were mostly descending steep hair pin bend roads with massive drops at the side before climbing half the way back up the other side of the mountain.

The views were spectacular and other vehicles a rarity. Having passed through hamlets of troglodyte dwellings we suddenly emerged at the rear of Mount Bentayga. It seemed we had been cycling all morning and got nowhere.

The road builders or was it the Guanches eventually found a valley which led to the coast near San Nicolas. For most of the way we could see the original road clinging to the rock walls high above us. Our road was a more modern affair built when the valley had been dammed to provide water and the main function of the road was to serve the dam. It is narrow and the gradients in both directions violent.

A minor problem which had the potential to be serious happened to the front drag brake. On quality bikes like the tandem the 531 front forks flex like mad and do their job better than high tech suspension jobs. However they also have the effect of shaking the reactor arm loose. Applying the brake on a steep hill would cause it to fly round like a propeller doing all sorts of damage. Also the bike might not stop, throwing us off a precipice.

We came into the back of San Nicolas during siesta. We had phoned the only hotel to book but he denied it claiming to be full. He directed us to the only other place which turned out to be a youth hostel. It is cheap, clean and we had our own ensuite room. Better than his scruffy looking doss house and only a couple of km further down the road.

Days like today are rare. Most mountains in Western Europe are just too busy and the roads 'improved' to the point of boredom. Not so here and it is hard to see how even the superb Spanish road engineers could do it here.

 This zig zag road is typical of the many we rode both up and down in the high mountains

Day 26 3rd December San Nicolas de Tolentino, Gran Canaria to Santa Cruz, Tenerife

Any one reading this who is aware of how the UK YHA operates will be shocked to read that we were allowed to stay in the same hostel as children. It may come as a great surprise to the board of the UK YHA that all adult members are not paedophiles.

Not only were we welcomed with enthusiasm but before we were allowed to leave we had to be much photographed, both with and without the children.

We left with a final wave and after a short freewheel to the Playa started a long long climb. Much of it was visible from the hostel and we wondered if the kids were watching our slow but steady progress.

By very late morning we reached the first and highest summit at just under 600 metres. From this dizzy height there is an almost sheer drop into the sea. Even the management who has a reasonable head for heights flinched at getting close to the edge. Even West Donegal which we love and claims to have the highest sea cliffs in Europe is not as spectacular as this.

A hair raising twisting descent brought us down to the little village of Risco for lunch. It was fun sitting in the village watching the world go by. There is little traffic on this road and only a few tourist hire cars. But on this Sunday there were many motor bikers and also car clubs riding the road in procession. They gave us many friendly waves and toots and sometimes shouts of encouragement.

Three more climbs and descents finally got us to Agaete and the port for Santa Cruz, Tenerife. We were in very good time for the 5pm ferry which was nice. It is just not possible for us to rush on these roads. We would need to be a lot fitter.

We loaded the bike onto the Condor type fast ferry. Fred Olsen run several a day on this popular route and the crossing takes an hour. Unlike Condor they seem to be able to make all their engines run. Clever these Spanish, at least at running ferries. As for publishing timetables on the web they are non starters.

We arrived into Santa Cruz just as the sun was going down and made the serious mistake of booking into the two star Hotel Anaga. If you are in Santa Cruz take our advice and avoid it. You would only be marginally worse sleeping on the street. It is generally run down with broken beds and no hot water and that is just for starters.

Days 27 and 28 4th and 5th December in Santa Cruz, Tenerife

We normally avoid staying in cities like the plague. They are over priced, noisy and anonymous. Unfortunately we had little choice. We have jobs to do.

Obviously we had to move hotels which was a pain but essential. We are not very critical when it comes to accommodation. Often we pitch up where there is just one place to stay. Whether it is a hostel with dorms or a five star hotel we live with it. We are far more often pleased that disappointed. This is a measure of how bad the hotel Anaga is. And in the true tradition of TICs all over, when told they did not care. The management gave the hotel pimp the cyclists' curse which he is sure the non English speaker understood. May the sun and the wind always be in your face.

The main job for these two days was to get the management some new specs. His broke in half, probably caused by frowning while climbing 1 in 5 mountains in the dark.

We also obtained a permit to climb to the summit of Mount Teidi in January, weather permitting. In order to restrict numbers they cleverly put the permit office, which has to be visited in person, as far away from the mountain as possible. They then make the office difficult to find.

We were also at long last able to replace the tandem chainset. We went to two cycle shops and eventually got exactly the right part. The management fitted it there and then in a plaza in the sunshine. He was able to see to do this. Our personal and now rich Spanish optician, Antonio, phoned to say the new glasses were ready. This was much to our surprise and pleasure as they were ready a whole siesta early.

We even felt a little homesick when Hilary sent us a photo of all the management's family enjoying two year old Holly's birthday party.

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