Los Cristianos, TenerifeTenerife is not a pretty place. The roads are busy, many drivers are inconsiderate, the traffic heavy, the road surface often rutted and pitted, the resorts are crowded and bloated, the beaches stony and the food bland. There is no culture, no history, no beauty, no style, no design, no interesting architecture, nothing twee, nothing cute. The land has been raped, deforested, ploughed and beaten, scratched and scarred like self-harmed arms. The roads go from A to B, the easiest and quickest route for the taxis to take the bargain loving Brits, Swedes, Germans and Russians to their little place in the sun. The weather is what brings everyone to Tenerife. The sun usually shines, and the sky is blue, the few clouds are white and fluffy, and at most times of the year pale western skin has a chance to burn and blister and crack. But Mt Teide is fabulous. Teide is Tenerife – a great volcanic, sprawling snow-capped mountain with flowing lower slopes. Escape the dreary, crowded seaside resorts (preferably by bicycle) and head up into the hills, away from the town, and everything changes. There is a kind of peace, although punctuated by tour buses, hire cars and quad bikes, but the air is clear and clean and sweet-smelling. On a bike you can climb from the seaside of Los Cristianos up, up and up to 7500 feet, through the remnants of the pine forests, above the clouds and around the lower slopes until you turn a corner and emerge into a bare volcanic landscape with the snow-capped majesty of the peak ahead of you. You can’t cycle all the way up to the peak – that is another 1000 feet higher but there is a cable-car, although it wasn’t running while we were there. Up here, alone with the stars and the wind in this bare brown lunar landscape is the Parador de Canadas where the pro cycling teams stay for their training. You can pause in their busy café and queue for cans of coke and ham and cheese baguettes which you will need after your climb. Then turn around and head into the buffeting, cruel, icy wind and down and down and down and down on sweeping fast-flowing roads with no need to stop until you reach the sea again. There is little attractive about the villages you ride through – San Miguel, Granadilla, Villaflor – no obvious historic heart, no pretty streets, no quaint shops selling perfume or local crafts. It is as though nothing existed on Tenerife until 60 years ago when Thomas Cook arrived to build the high-rises, the English pubs, the Highland Paddy karaoke bars, the Chinese with their emporiums of tat and the endless cafes and cheap restaurants selling full English breakfasts and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and chips with everything.
Outside most of the restaurants stands a hard-faced man or woman, outwardly friendly and inwardly resentful who tries to press-gang you into visiting their establishment. ‘Hypnotist tonight,’ said one. ‘Don’t worry, he won’t make you lay eggs.’ ‘Comedy drag queen on in 15 minutes,’ said another. ‘Free weather forecast with every drink,’ said another, desperate for customers to join the two people murdering Ring of Fire on the karaoke machine. In Los Cristianos practically everyone is cruelly elderly, happily overweight, with heavy red paunches that hang over their belts like window boxes, sunburnt to the point of no return and many are on mobility scooters, some through necessity, many through choice. When it rains, which isn’t often although it rained while we were there, the town wears a coat of sadness, tired and damp, all joy washed away, and the awnings hang limply in the wet air, while the sun loungers and beach umbrellas lie empty and lonely on the dark, wet, imported sand. Bad attitude is everywhere.
After one ride we returned along the coast through Playa Las Americas during rush-hour. The roads were packed with pushing, horn-sounding, hot, impatient sweaty commuters, and the diesel fumes mingled with the smell of frying chips in tired oil as we weaved through the traffic – it was like Elephant and Castle but without the charm. Go for the cycling on Mt Teide; leave everything else.
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