Category Archives: Cycling Tenerife
As I was making my second ascent of El Teide, from the north of the island, I passed through extensive woodland called Esperanza Forest. I had heard rumour that, hidden in the forest in a remote spot, there was still a monument (an obelisk, in fact) commemorating the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Not only was it a memorial of that tragic war, but it also honoured the role played by Francisco Franco as the leader of the rebel forces. I simply could not believe that 36 years after the death of Franco, such monuments were still allowed to stand.
I sought assistance from several locals to find the spot, none of them ecstatic about answering my questions, and this is what I found (see photos). In an age when dictators around the world are tumbling like ninepins, I gazed upon this cruelly majestic memorial that marked the spot where the rebels had held the fateful meeting that sparked the movement of troops from north Africa into Spain, unleashing a three-year bloodbath that claimed over 1 million lives. As I drew closer, I saw that it was not wreaths, bouquets and candles that honoured the space around the obelisk, but broadly-painted graffiti and slogans that shouted to the world “Death to Fascism”, “Canary Islands Free & Independent”,”Out with Spaniards” “They will not pass” (a Republican slogan during the war). And I noted around the base of the monument that visitors had relieved themselves copiously as a mark of ‘respect’………………
A local website tells me that the Canarian government had made a unanimous decision to erase this monument from the face of the earth…………….. but that was nearly 4 years ago :0(
Is it madness, stupidity or both that entices a seemingly sane human being to spend a week pedalling the contours of Tenerife? Now, those of you who have been to Tenerife probably remember the nice cosy things about the island: warmth, sunshine, pleasant sea temperatures, good food and wine, nice drive to the top of the
volcano El Teide…….. To appreciate the sinister side, however, you really need to scale the top of El Teide (the highest mountain on Spanish territory) on a pair of wheels.
I mean, how do you explain to normal human beings that some cyclists love to feel gut-wrenching pain? And for it to go on continuously for 4 or 5 hours at a time? To experience ascents that take you into ever-thinning oxygen levels, but the effort required to continue climbing remains the same? Then, when you are looking forward to the 30 mile downhill from 10,000 ft, your whole body freezes with the inactivity of the descent and the wind-chill, and your hands seize up applying the brakes to prevent yourself going into a head-spin over the side of the mountain? When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you are so chilled to the bone (even though it’s 25C at the bottom) that you struggle to dismount from the bike. You go into the nearest café and order a glass of very hot milk spiked with a large shot of brandy. And when you have thawed out……….. well, of course, as to be expected in a masochist, you begin planning your next ascent from a different side of the mountain ;0) Does this make any sense to anyone?
During the quiet week before Christmas, when prices were cheap and the numbers of tourist low, I ‘snuck in’ a week before the onset of the festivities. But instead of laboriously packing one of my own bikes, I decided to hire one from a dealer on the island, which actually cost about the same as freight prices for sports equipment. I had ordered an aluminium-framed road bike (for 90 euros) but ‘sadly’ they had to upgrade me to full carbon for the same price. I said to the German dealer: “What a pain!” and he replied “Are you complaining?”. I said “No, it’s just British humour”, to which he retorted “And my reply was just German humour!”
(game, set and match to him……..). If you ever hire a bike on Tenerife, I would highly recommend Bike Point in Playa de las Americas.
My week consisted of 6 full days on the bike, nearly 400 miles and over 40,000 feet of climbing. There are very few flat areas on the island, so be warned. Of the 36 hours I spent on the bike, I reckon at least 30 were spent ascending, sometimes continuously for 4-5 hours. Your overall average speed will be low (mine was only 11mph). But whether it is for base training for the coming racing season or simply for the pleasure of scaling the heights, Tenerife is a great place for getting a good dose of ‘winter pain’!
I need to make these observations before Christmas is upon us. I have just come back from a week cycling the volcanic contours of Tenerife and, one day, as I was wending my way through a series of villages perched on the slopes of the volcano, I chanced upon a remarkable scene. Here in the UK, representations of the infant birth are encapsulated by a crib scene, large or small, the focus of which is the birth of the child Jesus. In Spain, they are much more elaborate affairs. Many families and community associations spend months building a whole Bethlehem scene, that can take up a whole room of the house or, as in this case, the whole parking area at the front of the house.
Here, they have used a lot of re-cycled material. Car tyres, painted green, represent the Christmas tree. Plastic containers have been used for houses and buildings. If you study the detail, you will find carpenters and blacksmiths in their workshops, farmers ploughing their fields, millers carrying sacks of grain, women about their domestic chores, children playing in a field. And if you look harder still, you will eventually find the stable with the new-born child and his parents, Mary and Joseph, and somewhere in the distance the Three Kings will be spied making their way to the Bethlehem, following the star. The whole effect of this representational art-form is to remind us that Jesus was born into an environment that was filled with the normal workings of a busy community, and none of this came to a standstill simply because a child was born. It all seems to further reinforce the humanity of the Christ child.