When you leave the repetitive and incongruous developments along the southern coast and especially when north of the TF-1 motorway, the character of Tenerife quickly changes; it becomes more verdant and rural. Small towns and villages are surrounded by terraced fields growing grapes, onions, cereals or citrus and the buildings, which rarely exceed two storeys outside town boundaries, sit more comfortably in the landscape. The smaller roads, bordered by stone-walled fields on one side and expansive views down to the coast and out to sea on the other, make the journey a pleasure. The route we took was ever upward but narrow and convoluted so progress was often slow. Nonetheless, one quickly gains a feeling that, road surfaces apart, this approaches what it was like on the island in the days before easyJet, Monarch and Ryanair.
The Islas Canarias are a volcanic group and on Tenerife the third largest volcano in the world – it’s also the highest point in Spain – towers to 3718m so getting from one side of the island to the other means either going around or over El Teide. Ever the adventurer, I wasn’t minded to take the advice of the concierge and rush headlong down the TF-1 motorway to Santa Cruz De Tenerife so that I could then zoom back along the northern coast on the TF-5. That would have been a doddle, he’d assured us, at just over two hours. The mountain road would be slow and, holding my gaze for emphasis, very dangerous. Mind you, he was from Morocco and had no interest in sharing with us what turned out to be the most beautiful part of the island. And for all I know anyone driving slowly was, in his view, wet. No, it was the mountain route for me and with it the anticipation of isolated populations of native Canarians, endemic birds and distant views over heart-stopping precipices. That aside, we had experienced the TF-1 several times since arriving and I’d gained the impression that the motorways had been built by the same guy who was fixing the lights at the Vincci hotel. Consequently, it was difficult to convince me that using them would improve my journey. Stocked with emergency supplies – water, oranges, almond and a wonderful local nougat-like confectionery called turrón de melaza – we headed north and upward.
Our banana plantation was located on the north coast near a town called Garachico and in order to see the pine forests along the way and lava fields at the foot of El Teide we had to follow a less than direct route through Vilaflor, on the south side of the volcano, across to Santiago Del Teide on the south-east side, north to El Tanque and down to Garachico. The roads weren’t that bad at all but were often narrow with numerous hairpin bends. As we climbed higher through the pine forests we increasingly encountered mist and cloud. It was a spectacular drive, bends and steep inclines, sudden bright sunshine and a momentary view of the Atlantic before plunging again plunging into mist and light rain. The vegetation suggested wetter and cooler conditions and it was much greener. The landscape was filled with birdsong; flocks of canaries seemed to be everywhere.
By the time we’d reached El Tanque the clouds had closed in and the light rain was persistent. Roadside verges on this northern side of the island have grass and scrub and the backdrop is woodland, reflecting a very different climate from the southern side. There’s also less intrusion from tourism so the towns feel altogether more ‘Canarian’. Any visitors to Tenerife not seeing this part will have missed something special. The national park with El Teide at its centre is apparently the most visited in Europe and I’ve read that it is the second most visited globally after Mount Fuji. I suspect, however, that the people at the Great Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon might question that. Whatever its status, it is spectacular.
The road really does reach the edge of the island; as you head for Garachico the start of a vertiginous road leads down the north-facing slope and provides panoramic views that stretch from Puerto De La Cruz in the east to La Palma, another of the Islas Canarias but still 90Km to the west. Out in front of you is the ocean but if you have a head for heights and look down, you’re peering right into the town square of Garachico, some 400m below.
From there it was a short hop to El Guincho and the bananas.