Super Mini Adventure

Things aren't exactly going to plan. Time for blogging is minimal. It's taken me close to three months to write a piece on a little walk I did on my summer hollidays. Still, better late than never:

We’ve been here for close to two weeks. An appartment complex, fifty meters from the beach, all inclusive. Beach Hollidays are not realy our thing but the formula had seemed so simple. Emily likes the beach. The only difficult thing about a day at the beach is getting Emily to leave. Benjamin, easy by comparison, still sleeps for much of the day. If Emily is happy and occupied, and Benjamin asleep, then mum and dad may get chance to breath. Perhaps even to take turns to read a book. The intention had been to amble down to the beach every morning after breakfast, bag a parasol and relax. Our kids, however, even at this tender age, have mastered the art of complicating the simple. The rules change at the drop of a hat.

Emily has decided, all of a sudden, that the beach is last season. The pool is where a descerning two year old hangs out. Since we can’t get to the beach without passing a pool of some description any attempt to reach the beach ends with a stubborn tantrum, some sprawling on the floor and repetition of the staccato mantra “WANT TO GO TO POOL!”. This is all very well but the pool is less fun than it at first seems. Although the sun beats down, here on Fuerte Ventura, the wind always blows. Great for surfing but wind over wet skin is cold even on a hot day. Add that to the fact that, when you’re two, the water is realy a bit scary and “wanna go to pool” is followed by “wanna get out” in a continuous loop right up until lunchtime. Mum or dad or both are consequently on permanent pool duty. For good measure, Just as Emily went off the beach, Benjamin went off sleeping at night. The heat, the disruption to the routine or some such has thrown a spanner into the cogs of our holiday. Next to no sleep at night followed by toddler intensive days is taking all the fun out of things. That´s not to say there havn´t been moments. Three wide-eyed visits to the zoo. The sealion show. Emily, do you want butter or Aioli on your bread? No, aioli want butter. The toddler chaos of the daily super mini disco (pronounced Soup- Pair-Meany-Dees-Co in fast show spanish). We’ll take each of these things home as cherished memories.

This morning, however, I will break out of my ground hog day. My good wife has given me the keys to the car and some time off. As I sit behind the wheel of the little Skoda, my equaly little North-Face travel rucksack packed up with water, snacks smuggled out of the breakfast buffet, a light fleece and my camera gear on the passenger seat next to me, I dither over the map once more. I´m still not certain what to do. There are plenty of fine looking tops on this little Island. Some, have been looking down on me as I sat toddler bound in Costa Calma. Cardon in particular, visible from every corner of the hotel complex, even though I’ve been doing my best to keep my eyes on the floor, has been taunting me with its jagged profile and fine ridgeline. However, I´m poorly equiped. The map in my hand can barely be described as a map. Although the best they could conjure up at the tourist information office (what you want to go up a MOUNTAIN?) it’s severely lacking in detail and I wonder how much artistic liscence has been lavished on its creation. It provides a few spot heights and shaded topography, shodowy suggestions of peaks and valleys, but that´s about it. There’s also the issue of my footwear. Although Merrels, the only thing truely outdoors about them is that, after a year of use, they are too dirty to consider wearing indoors. Alan Slomans dancing shoes look like lead divers boots by comparison. I own socks that provide more ankle support. I wonder just how much I can seriously expect to do.

Since the idea of this trip took root I´ve been toying with three basic options. One to head south-west to the Jandia Peninsula and tackle Pico de la Zara, the islands highest peak at 807m. Another to head North-East and take on Cardon. The third simply to sample some of the landscape in the immediate area. As I work through the options again I conclude that, even if I´d have been properly equipped for a big hill day the first option is out of the question. The hire car is not insured on gravel roads and the nearest parking opportunity on tarmac appears to be at at sea level . I have to be back by the time the kids wake up from their afternoon nap and 800m up and down doesn´t fit the space in between. It’s a pitty. I’ve stolen glimpses of the long mountain valleys running up from the main highway and I’d like to see them close up. On the other hand a fair portion of the climb to the top of Cardon, can be achieved with the help of an internal combustion engine. Abondoning the car high on the nearest road would put me at the foot of the steep eastern slopes. My best guess is that the remaining rise and run could be readily covered by lunchtime. I´m not sure how best to tackle those slopes though. I have scant information to go on. A line of text in a guide book claims that the inhabitanbts of the village of the same name run up their mountain once a year carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary. Logic dictates therefore that there be a straightforeward way up. However, a quick scan whilst driving slowly past the beast several days earlier didn´t reveal an obvious ballet-shoe freindly route and left me wondering if the villagers would dare take it on without the divine presense of our lady.
The final option seems to me to be the most suitable. Besides, the Pared Isthmus looks interesting. The ground between where I now sit and the west coast is a complex of the biggest dunes I´ve ever seen. My map suggests they may be 200m or higher. Sand from the opposite shore, carried on the unnabaiting trade winds, has burried the underlying volcanic relief to create this incredible landscape, described locally as a Jable. So out of keeping with the rest of the island,It´s silicate white totally at odds with the basalt black to it´s north and it´s south. I decide to waste no more time, fire up the engine and set off for la Pared. The small village of La Pared sits smack bang on the northern edge of the Isthmus and, once there, I´ll choose a slope that takes my fancy, be it black or white, and get on with it. Today, I ´ll let my nose choose the route and will follow unquestioningly.

After a short drive I ditch the and after tightening up my laces, more ritual than necessity on this occasion, sling my day sack over my shoulder and set off aiming for the lower slopes of the nearest hill. Although not one of those big dunes this black volcanic hill crowds over the rooves of la Pared and dominates the village. Within a few steps I leave the concrete order of the village and find myself crossing waste land. As seams to be the case with these small developments of neat houses and well layed roads the boundary is abrubt. Cross the kerb stone and you find yourself in what was there before the first foundation was poured but with a layer of human detritus strewn across its surface. I pick my way up to the main road, step over the barrier and stride across. In front of me is a steep slope. From my primitive map I guess that once atop this slope I’ll find a long ridge which I can follow some way to the North-West. If I’m wrong, the elevation gained should at least give me a better feeling for the lie of the land and a view of the rugged North-West coast. It should also give me a feeling for the ground under my shoes. A rule of thumb I can apply when deciding what to do and what to leave alone. I take a minute to assess the slope and pick a route but as ever my “go straight up it” instict kicks in and, inspite having consumed twelve English breakfasts in a row (well they have real sausages), I take a line directly up the nose. The slope is dry and loose and it takes some effort to keep moving forwards. For much of the way it’s a case of two steps up and one step down. Before long steep scree gives way to steeper rock and a short scramble brings me over the crest and onto a long flat summit. A good start, hands and feet have already seen action and the view is a nice one. Looking out over the rooves of la Parad, far below, I can see the Atlantic rollers, intended for Africa, breaking instead onto the long line of the west coast. I can also see the white sand of the Jable stretching southwards along the isthmus. There are mountains in view too. To the north the Montane Cardones jagged and threatening. To the south the Jandia Peninsula, it’s big tops shrouded in mist. I’m glad to be here under clear skys and not there in the clag that so defines my typical mountain day.

All very nice but the day doesn’t end here. There’s more to be done and I’m not far enough away from the world. I’m ceratinly not the first to stand on this ridge. Several names are written in meter long rock letters across the summit. I turn my face to the North-East and step out along the line of the ridge, wondering what I’ll find at the other end. I don’t have to walk far to find out. The ridge runs out quickly. At the other end I find a fine view across to the looming Cardon but a steep drop under my feet. It’s clear that, whichever direction I choose to go in next, I’ll have to cash in the height I’ve gained. I pause to think. To follow my current line of travel involves a steep drop but what looks like an even steeper climb. More of that scrambling I’ve just had. Much more. Gnarly and sustained. On my right hand I see a wide dry valley rising on the opposite side to a ridge higher than the one I’m now on. Not only higher but longer. It looks to run, with a little rise and fall, much further to the North. I conclude I’m on the wrong ridge and decide to pick my way across the valley.

First I need to get back down. I can’t see the slope below me and start down wondering If I’m going to have to down-climb the strata I scrambled up a few minutes earlier. My aim is to go carefuly but the loose rock combined with my flimsy footwear has me skating downhill. I put on the breaks as best I can until I can see the slope clearly enough to know I’m not heading for a cliff and then let gravity do it’s thing as I zig zag letting first my left then my right leg do the heavy work in turn. Progress is a little uncontrolled for my taste but quick enough and before long the slope eases off and I make for the opposite side of the valley cursing my footwear as I go. Is it me or do I spend much of my time cursing my footwear? I make the high ground close to the road. Very close in fact to where I’d set off. I’m getting nowhere slowly but they say its about the going not the getting there.
The trade winds a constant companion I make my way along the second ridgeline of the day. It undulates, sometimes sharply, sometimes gently. I get some more of that two steps forewards one step backwards but no more scrambling. It’s nice. Easy and relaxed. I can walk freely, and appart from the loose stones underfoot, there’s little that forces me to take my eyes off the long view. Chance to walk unencumbered and think is a rare commodity.

I don’t know what to make of this landscape. It’s not gripping me like others do. I’m definately in the hills. The terrain has all the right attributes. I can see ridges, gullies, scree slopes watercourses, the works but it’s not quite right. I finaly realise It’s to do with colour. There’s apparently no colour. I’m walking through an arid, dusty, seemingly barren, landscape. The watercourses testament to wetter days but today, this month, this season, redundant. I stumble on the skull of a goat. Blanched white and, litteraly, bone dry. Crows, wing feathers spalyed like fingers as they circle high in the distance take on the appearance of vultures. Suddenly I’m in cowboy country. The badlands. Neil Young lyrics start doing rounds of my head.

As is often the case, as I walk further, as I get into a rythym, I start to see more. I realise, that even here, even in this dust-dry country, even on this newest of land surfaces, there are things to see. There is colour. Just no green. Scrubby, dry vegetation suggests that that colour is reserved for another season. Instead there are blacks, reds and browns in the rock and earth. Reds and yellows in the lichen covering the rocks. The hand of man is also aparent. At first I’d thought I was following a use track but now I see something else. The path is constructed. The stones covering the path are smaller than those to either side of it and there appears to be a line of larger stones forming loose boundaries to either side. Who would go to such effort and why?
Just as I’m warming to the place I drop down to a widening, featurless plateau overlooked by a seriously steep slope decorated, as everything here seems to be, with loose rock. I’m at the bottom of something big. Something close to, perhaps even attached to, Cardon. Whats more, it also looks like a ridge runs off to the right paralleling the one I’ve just traversed. If I could just make the ridge I could shuffle off back towards the road and my out and back would become a loop. Better still it looks higher than the one I’m on. I’m tempted. If only I had a proper map. A glance at my watch, however, tells me that it’s time to turn around. A glance at my feet tells me it would be folly anyway. So once again I find myself at the bottom of a hill looking up. This time though, as I turn on my heels and walk away, I don’t utter a promise to come back.
As is the way of things the walk back to the car seems to take half the time it took to walk out. The view now of the vast dune complex of the Jable and the wind whistling in my right rather than left ear but the ground under my feet otherwise the same. I try taking a couple more photos, this time to capture the sharp edge of the Jable, but the haze is hard to manage. I think to myself that I should’ve got up earlier but then snigger to myself. Since when has four AM not been early enough? Truth is I need to get more sleep.

As I approach the road, before dropping back down to the car, I take a second to look back across the valley to where I started. That first little hill, just a few strides and a short scramble above la Pared, looks quite duanting from here. A gnarly looking steep sided little affair that wasn’t at all difficult in reality. For a second, no a milisecond, I wonder if I should have tackled that last slope up to the third ridge after all. Putting the thought to the back of my mind I skip down the last kilometer into the village with a feeling of satisfaction. Not because I’ve had some time off, I’m actualy looking forward to getting back to the family, and not just because I’ve had a dose of the outdoors,whilst it’s always good to be outI feel good about myself because I’ve left the poolside and taken a look at whats behind the strip. Now all thats left is to get back in time for another afternoon at the paddling pool and, if I’m realy lucky the Super Mini Disco.


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