Behind me, the kaleidoscopic arcs of kites soar and dip in the wind, teased by the skilled hands of kite-boarders as they hurtle across the water’s surface.
The same wind is whistling around my ears and creating mad woman’s hair which whips into my eyes as I walk up the side of Bocinegro. Taking a less well trodden path I descend back to the shoreline on the far side of the little mountain where the landscape is transformed into a Salvador Dalí canvas. The rocks have been worn smooth by the action of the sea and have formed large, flat stepping stones. Lining the infinite blue of the horizon, small coves pepper the shoreline and above them the sand and salt has been eroded by the wind into a sculpted white wall of layer cake beyond which the burgundy sides of Montaña Roja rise.
Through my mad fringe I detect movement and turn to see a pair of buttocks moving off at some speed, scurrying across the rocks like the white rabbit in an adult version of Alice in Wonderland. Unperturbed, I continue along the rocks but quickly realise something’s amiss when naked buttocks, and more, begin to fill my every horizon. I’ve inadvertently stumbled into a male, gay naturist zone, and judging by the quantity of its occupants, a very popular one at that. Everywhere I look, it seems, my gaze is met by the Full Monty and any further attempt to explore is aborted amidst muttered “Ooops” and persistent thoughts of a classic line from the movie “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” …only without the frock.
Once part of one of the largest Guanche kingdoms, Abona, the areas of Granadilla and San Miguel are products of their environment. The distinctive white landscape of moisture retaining jablé (pumice) coated terraces is testament to the area’s lack of rainfall which, before the southern water canals were constructed, relied on cereal production to sustain subsistence farming.
Travel within the municipality before the southern road was constructed in the 1930s was on foot and by mule along mountain tracks, and the only way to travel to other municipalities was by sea from the ports of El Médano and Los Abrigos.
Ironically, where once travel was so limited, today is the site of the south airport and millions of visitors arrive here annually. But slip into walking sandals and you can quickly find the isolation that once characterised this area, a mere stone’s throw from the busy tourist resorts of the south.
As I walked out…from El Médano to Montaña Roja.
Leaving the naked men of Bocinegro behind, I take the path that winds up the side of Montaña Roja. The wind is now at my back, pushing me forward up the steady 173 metre climb and turning my water bottle into a flute every time I take the cap off to drink.
When I reach the summit there’s a couple sunbathing, half hidden by a rock. For a moment I think they’re naked and wonder if I’m the only person in El Médano who bothered to get dressed this morning, but as I get nearer I realise they’re just down to their underwear.
The red of the mountain grows deeper when viewed above the beige, arid plains of the south which stretch as far as Las Galletas in the west and back to the wind-catchers of El Médano in the east. Directly below lie the white sands of Playa La Tejita on which a turquoise tide is forming small semicircles along the shore, creating a scalloped edge to its perfection.
In the middle distance a plane is taking off from the south airport, the sun glinting off its wings as it climbs into blue.
Meanwhile, here on the summit, more walkers have appeared and I can’t help feeling sorry for a girl who seems to have hiked all the way up here for a bit of peace and quiet in which to read her book; it’s positively crowded up here. At the furthest edge of the summit where the wine coloured rocks jut out over a sheer drop to the ocean, the wind is strong enough to do a Kate Winslet ‘Titanic’ pose but I decide that’s probably not wise given the size of the drop and opt instead for the slower way down to the beach and lunch.
Playa la Tejita is behaving as if it’s in a Bacardi advert; a small wooden beach bar with a palm frond roof is serving up cold beers and snacks to smiling, bikini clad girls and sun tanned men. Straw umbrellas are throwing eclipsed circles of shade onto the white sand and golden bodies glisten on their blue sun-loungers.
Looking like the most un-cool person on the beach by, say a million miles, I have to play a one-woman game of Twister with my sarong which the wind is determined to steal from me before I flop in an ungainly sprawl across it, my mad woman hair going for the Oscar.
It’s a heavenly spot for lunch but the sun is proving too hot for the amount of flesh I have covered and, gathering up my sarong, I set off back, past the naked man on the sun-lounger, to the bohemian sanctuary of El Médano where there’s an ice cold Dorada with my name on it and at least the waiter’s wearing shorts.
The coastal landscape around Montaña Roja is quite unique, even on an island with such diverse landscapes as Tenerife; however heading into the hills brings a very different experience. The old Camino Real (Royal Road), which used to link the tiny communities of the south with the commercial centres in the north until as recently as the 1930s, still exists; although nowadays it’s somewhat hidden away. I struggled to find it, in the end resorting to asking a postman who shrugged.
“Sorry, I don’t know this area very well,” he answered rather disconcertingly.
After a few false starts I eventually stumbled across it. Starting at the Iglesia de San Miguel in the town of the same name, the route runs alongside the town houses on Calle General Franco until it reaches the barrio of Tamaide. At Calle de la Cruz a left, followed by a right turn leads to the cobbled old road. From this point walkers enter a different world. Accompanied by the cries of kestrels circling the cliffs that rise above the path, the trail meanders past jablé terraces, old farmsteads and through arid ravines. It’s a route which provides an insight into rural life in the south before tourism brought its riches. This is especially evident at the tiny hamlet of La Hoya with its traditional agricultural architecture. Here there’s also an old tile oven used for making the red tiles which are predominant on the roofs of the older houses. It’s possible to imagine chattering farmer’s wives, their goods piled high on their heads, passing on their way to market. The path ends at the Mirador de La Centinela and incredible views of the volcano pockmarked landscape of the south of Tenerife (return 10km, approx 3-4h).
If it’s views you’re after, then the paths around the Mirador de La Centinela have expansive ones along the south coast which can be enjoyed with the minimum of effort. A panorama setting on the camera is essential to capture them.
At El Médano, the bleached wooden boardwalk which leads from the town towards Montaña Roja, passing kite-boarders’ and windsurfers’ multicoloured canopies, makes for very pleasant and easy strolling, but once it ends you’re in Lawrence of Arabia territory. Negotiating the stretch of sand dunes which lie between the end of the boardwalk and the paths around the ‘Red Mountain’ can feel as though somebody’s tied lead weights to your feet. The trails around the mountain are generally quite flat and suitable for casual exploration, if discovering ‘nature in the raw’ isn’t a bit too avant-garde for some tastes.
The ‘WOW’ factor
Stunning vistas always impress; however, they’re pretty much an essential of any decent walk. The real ‘well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs’ moments are the unexpected surprises, especially when they’re to be found only a hop, skip and a jump away from Tenerife’s main tourist spots. La Centinela Mirador is impressive, but the treasures around Montaña Roja are quite unique; the salt crusted lagoon behind the dunes; a small cove of deep red sand at the base of the mountain – the sort of place where you could imagine Martians sunbathing; and quite literally, to top it all, the views of Playa La Tejita’s golden sand and turquoise seas from Montaña Roja’s summit rival those of the tropical paradise of Las Teresitas beyond Santa Cruz.
The great thing about bohemian towns like El Médano is that they also have bohemian bars; laid back affairs perfect for chilling out at the end of a hot walk. Along the boardwalk places like the ultra surf-dude haunt, Flashpoint are great watering holes to sink a ‘cool one’ and watch the rainbow coloured displays in the sea. An even more casual affair is the beach bar at the foot of Montaña Roja on Playa La Tejita. Part shack, part WWII bunker it’s in a beautiful location and popular with…err, beach bums.
In the hills, the La Centinela restaurant may be more formal, but for anyone who wants views with their lunch, it’s hard to beat. For some top notch Canarian cuisine head into one of San Miguel’s wonderful restaurants such as La Tasquita de Nino.
The paths around Montaña Roja are quite well signposted with plenty of information boards full of interesting snippets. The old road which links San Miguel and La Centinela is a different prospect altogether. Unlike most other Caminos Reales on Tenerife, this one doesn’t have a single signpost to inform you that you’re on the right track. Where the cobbled path crosses an asphalt road it takes a bit of searching to rejoin the trail. Starting from La Centinela, it’s very unclear where the path begins as some smart soul has built a rock border across it.
A word of warning if carrying a packed lunch; the stone bench below La Centinela is a wonderful spot to enjoy a snack with a view, but the second you unwrap those bocadillos, the place turns into a lizard version of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.
Living Tenerife’s Star Rating for Tenerife’s Best Walking Locations: Abona
Views: 4 stars – Awesome. La Centinela offers a very different visual perspective of the south coast as a landscape filled with volcanic cones. However, the number one vista has to be from the summit of the ‘Red Mountain’. Beautifully blue seas, golden sand stretching into the distance and secret coves; it’s a fitting reward for those who make the effort.
Interest: 4 stars – Man and nature have collaborated to provide a mixed bag of goodies in this area; from partly abandoned rural hamlets on the Camino Real to the eclectic mix of sights, shapes and colours of the landscape, and the people who frequent it, around the coast.
Variety of Terrain: 3 stars – The cobbled paths through the arid lands in the hills and rocky paths along the coast are good, level walking surfaces; however, ultimately, this is walking in the dry, open desert landscapes of the south; variation isn’t its USP.
Watering Holes: 5 stars – You’re never far from a welcoming bar. Plenty of choice from cosy cantinas by the sea, tascas where the views are as cool as the beer, or atmospheric restaurants in charming old houses.
Get-lost-ability: 3 stars– On the coast it really is impossible. You see there’s this big red hill…enough said. In the hills, while it’s unlikely that anyone could get lost in the wilderness, the lack of signage is frustrating when trying to find starting points either in San Miguel or at La Centinela.
And the downside…
All joking aside, if turning a corner to find yourself faced by a naked man is likely to cause offence, or embarrassment, avoid the area at the base of Montaña Roja. On the other hand there are others who might consider the prospect as a definite plus point and possibly even think it should be included as a ‘WOW’ factor – not on the day I was there, I can assure you.