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Tenerife, February 2006

Forty Photographs of Tenerife & La Gomera

In February 2006 we make our first visit to Tenerife. The holiday is arranged by Access Travel of Manchester.

We book our transport to the airport with Airport Carz whom we used before on last year's cruise.

[update note: June 2006 — it seems Airport Carz in Manchester no longer accommodate electric wheelchairs]

Despite heavy traffic on the motorway we arrive at Manchester Airport in good time. It is a bit of a hunt to find the check-in desk for Thomas Cook Airlines but we are soon hustled to the front. We have to sit in the reception area for a while until someone comes with an airport wheelchair. Christine's chair is checked off and whisked away, but we keep hold of the cushions. We are wheeled to the departure lounge until it is time to be taken to the gate and on to the plane where we have seats at the front of the aircraft.

It is a fairly pleasant four hour flight. We have good views of the north-western tip of Spain with snow over the Cantabrian Mountains.

Try to get to the toilet in between the pre-meal drinks run and the delivery of the hot meal. Afterwards the queues can take an hour to clear!

Approaching Tenerife we see the spectacle of El Teide, Spain's highest mountain, peeping snow-covered above the white clouds, like a small island projecting from the sea. The plane flys past before descending through the cloud to the greater island below.

On arrival at Reina Sofia airport, Christine's own wheelchair is brought to the plane so she can transfer straight into it. We are met at the baggage-claim area by a girl from LeRo, the company that is providing our airport transfers and excursions. She tells us that the only two available excursions during our stay are the ones to La Gomera on Thursday and Loro Parque on Monday. The Wednesday El Teide trip is under-subscribed. With an early start on Thursday, it is perhaps as well since we need a more relaxing day to recharge ourselves after the outward journey.

We are soon transported to the Noelia Sur hotel in Playa de Las Americas. My report on the hotel and a few pictures can be viewed on the Trip Advisor website.

Wednesday morning we go down into Playa de Las Americas and onto the Playa Accessible. This is an area that stretches for several miles from Los Christianos past several bays composed of man-made beaches of imported sand. We join it at Playa del Camison, where we have an encounter with a ginger cat. The beach is very quiet and hardly any of the sunbeds are occupied. One of the beachside stallholders gives out a huge yawn as we pass by. We go past the rocks at El Guincho where there are surfers. Later we head away from the beach and back into town finding Daniel's Café where we have a drink. The rest of the day we relax in the hotel.

We are being collected at 7.30am for our trip to La Gomera. Reception gives us a wake-up call at 6 and we get down for when the breakfast opens at 7. We have a brief repast and are ready for when the minibus picks us up at 7.20. It takes us the Mar-y-sol Hotel in Los Christianos where LeRo are based. Here we pick up the rest of the party, all Germans, two in wheelchairs and four others. Our guide, Martina, gives a full commentary in both German and English.

We catch the Armas, the older and slower ferry that takes 90 minutes to cross to San Sebastián de La Gomera. The crew have some difficulty manhandling Christine's heavy chair over the ramps and into the small lift. They manage it with good grace and we all meet up in the top lounge. We have excellent views of El Teide rising above the morning clouds, and we also encounter a couple of dolphins.

La Gomera consists of high mountains and deep ravines. It has wild palm trees and cacti growing on the hillsides. In the valley bottoms are banana and avocado plantations. The roads are exceedingly twisty. We travel through Agulo to Las Rosas where we stop at the Juega de Bolas visitor centre. Here we watch a short film. The view of El Teide from the car park is quite enchanting.

We move on through the Garajonay National Park. Often the park is covered in a blanket of cloud but today we are blessed with sunshine. We stop for lunch near La Laguna Grande. The food is excellent. Christine has grilled prawns while I have some sausages. They are accompanied by delicious salty boiled potatoes in their skins and salad. We don't have huge appetites and so leave a lot on our plate. This appears to upset the waiters who assume we don't like the food. We assure them the food is fine and we mean no offense by not eating it all.

Further breathtaking scenery is shown to us before we arrive back in San Sebastián de La Gomera. We have about half an hour before needing to board the return ferry. We ask a policeman where we can find an accessible toilet and he kindly shows us into the Ayuntamiento. This exquisite building is the Spanish equivalent of a Town Hall.

We sail leisurely back to Los Christianos and are then returned to our hotel, having had a grand introduction to a lovely island.

We are having problems with Christine's chair. Not so much the chair as the charger. We aren't sure if is a fault with the charger or the electric supply [220 volt similar to the UK] but certainly it isn't charging the chair up the way it should. We'd mentioned the problem to Martina the day before and so LeRo were expecting our call. They collect the charger and chair at 11am. They bring them back at 3pm having fitted a replacement regulator.

While out on Wednesday, we'd seen a vehicle belonging to Orange Badge Tenerife. The driver gave us some leaflets with information about their services. Like LeRo they also offer trips using accessible vehicles. We ring them up and arrange for a driver to take us on a tour to El Teide and the West of the island on Sunday.

That sorted, we get out and visit a nearby café for some delicious ice-cream. Christine also buys herself a necklace and some long-shorts.

On Saturday morning we make our way down to the beach. This time we head in the direction of Playa Honda. Here some of the shops stock pricey designer-label clothes, while others seem rather tawdry. We are pestered by salesmen trying to interest us in videocameras, but they are not over-persistent. We reach an area called Veronicas. It seems pretty seedy and there is a lack of dropped pavements. We cut through a carpark and down some back alleys. We find ourselves again at the welcome Daniel's Café. After tea for me and orange juice for Christine we wander along to a nearby bureau de change.

Don't change all your money before you leave the UK. You can get a better exchange rate on the island.

On our way back to the hotel we pass the burnt-out remains of a country-music club and what seems to have been some sort of leisure park including mini-golf and an aviary. Opposite is a lovely hedge with deep purple flowers. Later, from the roof, I notice the area behind the hotel. At first sight it looks quite charming with palm trees dotted among an array of single-storied blue-washed square houses. Looking closely though, the buildings appear uninhabited and slightly derelict. An area ripe for development I suspect, or perhaps it is one of those notorious failed time-share ventures one hears so much about!

Whilst Christine rests, I go out and buy some T-shirts as souvenirs. I also pick up a copy of the local English-language newspaper The Fortnightly Tenerife News. It makes good reading with a variety of news and articles giving a glimpse into life on the island. It seems to be aimed at residents rather than tourists which makes it that more interesting to a visitor like me.

Jose picks us up at 9.30am on Sunday morning. He drives out of town and stops. Soon a lady appears in a taxi. Jose shows her how to operate the ramps and where the wheelchair clamps fit. He drives off in the taxi. She takes us through Arona and La Escalona to Vilaflor and Montańa de Chasna, stopping at all the viewpoints. Here we are in a forest and already looking down at the top of white clouds.

We enter the Parque Nacional del Teide and stop at Boca Tauce, a major road junction. From here until we leave the park at El Portillo the landscape is extraordinary. There are fantastic jagged rock formations. Inside the caldera — a volcanic crater — are dunes. The contours of the raised edges are accentuated by the lying snow. Small bushes and plants grow around the strewn stones. Some people have described the area as Martian-like.

We decide against stopping at the cable-car station that leads to near the summit of El Teide. We make brief stops at each of the two visitor centres. After leaving the park we descend through the cloud and pause at Mirador. Here there is a strange geological formation, a stone that his splintered into the shape of rose. It is embedded inside a small ravine.

It is a slow winding descent in heavy traffic to the old town of La Orotava. We drive up a narrow cobble-stoned street through the centre past the Ayuntamiento and round into Calle Colegio. Here are some of the oldest buildings we've seen on the island. They date back to the 16th century. The houses have timber balconies, which is a rarity in these parts.

Our driver takes us then in and around Puetro de la Cruz. On the outskirts we pass an interesting looking pottery, Ceramica La Calera. I look out for it the next day and manage to take some photographs of the colourful display. Instead of stopping in the town for refreshments at somewhere accessible, our driver takes us down the coast to a cliffside restaurant. We use the toilets there but it is a slight struggle as they don't have ramped access. We feel obliged to order something; have a drink but then cancel the food order as we aren't really hungry and want to get on.

Our journey continues past Icod, Garachico and Buenavista where we turn inland through El Palmar towards Las Portelas. A large cone-shaped hill, La Montañeta, has three huge gashes in it. They look like relatively recent landslips, but are in fact man-made. A big earth-moving vehicle is to be seen at the base of one. There are some terraces at the bottom between two of them.

The road climbs to a viewpoint and then descends into a valley. About two-thirds of the way down we come to the quaint village of Masca. The road out climbs and twists higher and higher around some twenty-seven hairpin bends before descending slightly more gently to Santiago del Teide.

We follow the coast through Los Gigantes and Playa de San Juan and finally arrive back at our hotel around 5.30pm. It has been an exhausting long day but throroughly enjoyable. I'm glad we didn't miss La Orotava and wish we could have stopped briefly in Masca.

On Monday we are picked up at 9.45am in a large coach belonging to Orobus which is on lease to LeRo. The coach has a hydraulic lift for wheelchairs. Being first on we are seated at the front over the driver so have an excellent view. At Mar-y-sol we are joined by five or six other wheelchairs plus ambulents. Martina, who guided us around La Gomera is here again.

Our route to Puerto de la Cruz this time is all the way round the island on the motorway. The motorway is quite busy. Up the east coast and across through La Laguna we pass lots of industrial units, car showrooms, wind farms and several McDonalds. There are bus-stops in little laybys at the side. The landscape is arid. Past La Laguna and the northern airport the motorway heads south again down the west coast. We get many sightings of El Teide on this stretch. Eventually we turn off and head through Puerto de la Cruz to Loro Parque.

We have four and a half hours in which to explore the park. My photographs from inside can be found in my Natural Images album. At €24 each, entrance isn't cheap. It is typical of most such places. They compulsorily take your picture as you enter and then try to sell you a copy at the exit for an outrageous €6! There are lots to see if you enjoy this sort of location. In Planet Penguin the humans stand on a slowing moving conveyor belt, watching the penguins on their artificial iceberg, or maybe it is they who are watching us in wonderment.

We want to see the dolphin show but the signposting is such that you have to go round through many other areas to get there. The direct route is either unsigned or blocked. It takes us twenty exhausting minutes to push our way through the crowds. When we do get there, it is certainly worth it. Dolphins are natural performers and the show is very enjoyable.

We have some burgers at one of the cafés. These are not over-expensive compared to the rates at similar establishments elsewhere. We get lost in and around a forest walk with raucous caged parrots. Although the paths allow wheelchair access everywhere, they go up and down and around, often bending at an angle. Christine skids on one particularly steepish adverse camber. We are quite tired and so don't get to see too much of what is on offer.

For the return journey we are seated towards the back of the coach, as we are the first to be dropped off. I spend most the time chatting with a German lady from Dusseldorf who is staying at Mar-y-sol and two Scotsmen who work for a travel agency and have been checking out accessible hotels in Puerto de la Cruz. We get back about 6pm.

It rains heavily in the morning but soon clears. We don't need to vacant our rooms until midday. After breakfast we finish off our packing. I borrow a trolley and transport our cases and coats down to the lobby. I settle our bill and then go out to a local supermarket coming back with a small bottle of coke and two ice-creams. The ice-creams are €0.90 each compared with the €1.50 each they cost in Loro Parque. We spend a little time sitting by the pool.

The minibus from LeRo picks us up at 1.50 and we are off to the airport. We are twenty-five minutes queuing up at the check-in desk, but then we are on are way towards the departure lounge. Christine is able to take her chair right up to the aircraft, before it is taken off to be put in the hold. Again we keep hold of the cushions. For most of the flight there is quite a bit of turbulance, but it settles down in due course. It gets quite cold, but the steward helps us retrieve Christine's overcoat from the lockers.

We land in Manchester at 8.30pm. After a while someone comes with an airport wheelchair for Christine and takes us to the baggage collection area. There is a delay with the bags and they haven't started coming through. People are starting to get impatient as just a few cases come through in dribs and drabs. Christine tackles the first airport personel who emerges from outside and asks about her wheelchair. A woman says she'll check and later comes back with it. It is wet through having been sat out on the tarmac in the pouring rain. At least we have the dry cushions. I wipe the controls dry, reconnect the batteries and everything is in order. It is almost 10pm though before our cases arrive.

We go through customs and on to the Information Desk. We contact Airportcarz and shortly a driver meets us. The rain has eased off and before long we arrive home. My first decent cup of tea for a week. We are glad to have been but happy to be home.

First photograph