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Phespirit goes to Tenerife
El Médano     March 2008

Tenerife has long been one of the most popular holiday destinations for British tourists. No major tour operator would put out a glossy sunshine brochure without devoting a few pages to the largest Canary Island. More than a dozen airlines compete to carry thousands of passengers each day on the four-hour flight south from all corners of the country. On the island itself, perpetually expanding resort towns such as Playa de las Américas have been purpose-built to accommodate and entertain the heaving swell of mass tourism. And sometimes ..... it all seems just a tad off-putting.

Phespirit is a tourist - and that is all he is when he travels abroad - but he prefers to avoid the heaving swells. Not for this reason, however, did he shun the package option when he planned his visit to Tenerife. Rather, he found he could get more for less by making his own arrangements. He did well for himself by booking from Wednesday to Wednesday over the Easter weekend on half-board at the Hotel Medano, in the town of El Médano, flying in comfort with GB Airways who kept him well fed and watered (or wined, as was the case). All for under three hundred and forty pounds. Most reasonable.

El Médano suited Phespirit because it retains a sense of proportion. It has escaped being overwhelmed by countless hotels; the only old hotel is a settled centrepiece on the sea shore; the only new hotel squats unobtrusively on the western outskirts. It avoids being dominated by off-islanders; it seemed that most of the Easter visitors were Tenerifans - yes, they need their holidays too. And it has not entirely sold its soul for the tourist coin; it has its boardwalks and some beachfront cafés but is otherwise just an unruffled, modest little town.

Half of Phespirit's time was whiled away on morning walkabouts, followed by afternoons on the beach. The other half was spent travelling further afield around Tenerife and its neighbouring island, La Gomera. Transportes Interurbanos de Tenerife (TITSA) provides a modern, reliable bus service with an extensive network of lines. Unfortunately Phespirit could only make use of route 116, which takes an hour to shuttle between El Médano and the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. For visits to Parque Nacional de Teide, Icod de los Vinos, Garachico, Masca and Los Gigantes, practical constraints meant he had no choice but to buy onto an organised tourist excursion. Similarly for his day trip to La Gomera.

The pick of Tenerife's sights is, in Phespirit's opinion, the remote village of Masca. The road that links it with 'civilisation' loops over and around a wooded mountainside via a succession of tight hairpin bends. It ranks high up among the twistiest roads that Phespirit has ever encountered. Blocks of concrete line the roadside, regularly-spaced and painted yellowish-apricot, to protect vehicles against inadvertent drops. As these blocks can appear like battlements from a distance, the road itself becomes vaguely reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. Masca clings to its mountain with picturesque precariousness. A less likely location for a community to thrive and prosper over the centuries is hard to imagine. It must have been conceived by isolationist aesthetes rather than practical folk. Good luck to them.

Tenerife is not the first place one would think to go in search of isolation but, like so many destinations, it offers more than its popular image suggests. Phespirit would like to return one day and have a stab at hiking to the summit of Mount Teide, or maybe down from Masca to the coast. Until he does he will be happy with his memories from this little introduction.

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