Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Le magasin iPommeIt is quite strange to be English and in Montreal. No, I’m not getting exclusive – it’s simply the mélange of Frankish obstinacy, American loud and a medieval flag. It almost seems like it’s a place trying not to be where it is. If it was a Hispanic enclave it would have had to have been created by Borges…

Montréal is in Quebec, where Québécois French is the first language and legions of signs are not bilingual. So airport is aérogare (not aéroport), le wifi is actually le sans fil, and Montreal is Montréal. The irony of all this – though Quebec is an irony-free enclave – is that Quebec itself is based on an Algonquin word, kepék, meaning "(it) narrows." The topographic reference curiously reflects its cultural exclusivity.

But all is not exclusif! The local culinary highlight is not some heavenly soufflé of rare freshwater fish – it’s Poutine – rather wonderfully, chips (fries), curd cheese (stringier than Mozzarella), and gravy (sauce). Yup, cheesy chips with gravy. Yummy lining for a cold day...

Et voila, Le Magasin Apple Store, qui s'appelle "iPomme"!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

the other Cañadas photographs

The real reason for the visit to Tenerife and the Caldera de las Cañadas in particular was to take another sort of photograph from those travel snaps previously posted. Images of less obvious subject matter, in many instances with no inherent scale.

This first images comes from the Minas de San José - wonderful, coloured picon landscapes that straddle the TF-21 midway between Los Roques and Portillo. Picon is composed of small rounded pumice up to 20mm across. the San José picon ranges in colour from green-greys, through yellow-greys to red-greys. And in spite of the numbers of visitors they maintain their dune-like forms and discrete swirling colour bands. And there's very little litter around the place.

This second image comes from the very top of the huge gash in the landscape between Montaña El Cerrillar and Montaña de Arenas Negras. This shows a slab of lava resting on top of layers of pumice. As the pumice is granular it is subject to wind and water erosion, causing collapses in the lava slab.

While these are fairly intelligible images, there is no positivel sense of scale here. Other images of rubble, scrub, and rock have no palpable scale.

There's something worrying about the colouration here that I'm going to have to deal with. It's just a little anachronistic from a technical photographic perspective (think C19th landscape photographs).

Friday, September 12, 2008

three walks in the Caldera de Las Cañadas

Los Roques de García: This is probably the best introduction to the Caldera, and to get away and see what the folk in whistle-stop coaches and cars can’t see from the Mirador de la Ruleta. It’s an easy 4km hill-walk, with less than 150m combined ascent. As Sendero 3 it is an ‘official’ footpath, but do not rely on signage or waypoints, especially on the descent. The path starts impressively wide and manicured by the vehicle turning circle at the Mirador car park, thinning off in inverse proportion to the number of the ill-shod who give up. You get full-on views of the volcano and all the Roques as the path winds its way up to the high point of the walk – and you’ll know when you are there…

You’ll appreciate good footwear on the descent. There’s little path as such, just a wear marks on the rocks and screes which may be less easy to follow in wet weather. But there should be no problem as, assuming you can see it, basically you need to be aiming for the large rock appropriately named La Catedral. The right fork there takes you to the Mirador del Llano de Ucanca on TF-21, the left fork returns to where you started. The first part of the climb back up is well-trodden, and on an obvious ridge there’s a spur which gives the best view of the plain below (and you’ll be in all the photographs taken from the coach parties above). The last section up to the viewing platform places you in front of a full audience, the problem of actually finding a path, and avoiding any embarrassing slips…

The best map I’ve found for exploring the Caldera is the IGN Map and Guide to the Teide National Park, published by the Spanish Ministerio de Fomento (ISBN 8-423434-180254) available online from Stanfords (they also have shops in London and Bristol).

Montaña de Arenas Negras: A good introduction to the rim of the Caldera with a total ascent of around 300m in around 9km. The trail (as Sendero 4, “Las Siete Cañadas”) starts near the El Portillo Visitor Centre on TF-21. There’s a large Park notice board marking the start of the walk which follows the wide track for around 500m before forking to the left and becoming Sendero 2. After some time you’ll come across warnings about bees! Hives are brought up here during the flowering season. It’s rather worrying to be warned about the local bees if you are used to well-behaved English bees. According to the Park map (see note below) the trail skirts gently around Montaña El Cerrillar, giving views over the north coast clouds. Sendero 2 is well signed up to the highest point on the walk, but the path is never difficult to follow. There are some wonderful visual surprises after the high point (around 2300m)… Then Sendero 2 signs kick-in again after the exhilarating slide down the picon screes of Montaña de las Arenas Negras, meeting up with the painfully obvious Sendero 4 and the stroll back up to the car park.

(The Austrian ‘Kompass’ map and the Walk Tenerife guide both list El Cerrillar as Montaña de las Arenas Negras. The Park guide seems more sensible, labelling only the steep black picon hill as Montaña de Las Arenas Negras.)

Guajara: The highest point (2718m) on the Caldera rim, and with over 700m of ascent in 10km, a bit of a challenge for me. The trail starts at the far end of the Visitor Centre car park over the road from the Mirador de la Ruleta, striking off into lava scrub, but soon joining the obvious Sendero 4, (“Las Siete Cañadas”) near Las Piedras Amarillas. It skirts around overhangs and cliffs, flattening out, eventually forking off as Sendero 5 (the “Degollada de Guajara”) at the customary Park notice board, which rates the trail as difficult. It’s a slog all the way up from here, made more trying by the thin air. The pass (
“Degollada") is about a third of the way up Guajara from the valley plain, affording dizzy views to the coast over 2370m below – and there’s another 340m up to the summit…

The trail is not too hard nor too difficult to follow from here, and on a clear day, the summit gives amazing views of Teide and the full sweep of the Caldera walls. The rubble/ruins up here are what’s left of an observatory built in 1856, replaced by the Izana observatory in the distance to the north. Now you are presented with two options for the return. The easy recommended version is backtracking down the way you came up. The more difficult - which carries warnings about danger, “everything you do not want in a descent”, and “nur für Geübte” (“only for the experienced”) – goes straight down the face of Guajara! It was a real hoot. The top third is one exhilarating scramble through boulders and under an enormous overhang, never more than a couple of steps away from a very steep fall. There was not a cloud in the sky when I took this route, but it would be tragically easy to lose one’s way or footing in low cloud or wet weather, and a definite "no no" in snow and ice. But the sting in the tail for me came on the lower half of the route which is hideously uncomfortable, eventually joining up with Sendero 4 under Las Piedras Amarillas, and an easy stroll back.

The view of El Teide from the summit of Guajara (2718m) at 13.30 on 3rd September 2008. Teide is another 1000m higher, the highest point in Spain, and the third highest island volcano on the planet (the others are in Hawaii). It was well worth the slog up Guajara just for the views, better still, at this point in time I had no idea how much fun the way down was going to be. And the silence - in the six hours I spent on the mountain, I only saw 4 other people – two Germans who met me on the summit, and two Spanish who were about an hour behind me on the way up. On the Los Roques trail, once past the half-hearted, I only saw 4 people. And on the Arenas Negras route, I saw nobody until I met up with guided group of around 15 puffing, mixed and ill-dressed folk at the base of the picon scree. I toyed with the idea of seeing whether they’d make it up the hill, but my interest in belated lunch was greater...