Hairy Picnic

"Anywhere as long as it's away from the beach and the Big British Breakfast."

"OK my petal. Let's park up behind the Oasis, firmly ignore the garlic chicken and boogie along the Barranco del Infierno with our cheese and pickle sandwiches. We've had a drop of rain so maybe there'll be a decent waterfall and water to paddle in."

A bad week; late arrivals, a soaked mattress, and Mrs Mouthpiece's pretty but silent daughter who didn't get back to Parke Margarita 609 until very early in the morning when we were treated to a heated telephone call which, after ten minutes discourse on kids these days, suddenly faded yelling at what we hoped was her daughter's sudden arrival at which point I took the phone from tight-lipped Lizzie and put it down rather swiftly.


So here we are on a bright sunny morning, a touch fractious and beady-eyed and needing escape. Something a bit physical, a climb, a scramble, in company - say Barrie and Joan, big people who love nature without the trimmings, but today we will insist on the trimmings. Great idea - but alas, Barrie, who sells insurance when he isn't in the naturist habit, can't make it so we settle for Joan alone.

The best thing about El Barranco del Infierno is its closeness to the Oasis where you get the best garlic chicken in Adeje and excellent parking just behind the restaurant. And there below you is the descent into the Barranco. The walk to the far end is about two and a half miles along mostly gentle slopes, but the track is narrow and rough and it is not safe to stray from it. The current tale in 1990 is of a German walker who disappeared and was never found again, self-generating like most rumours to add starkness to the journey. One keeps the tale in mind while negotiating the boulders and loose stones that run scree-like across the path which is signposted - and yes, somehow we've missed it. Marvellous! Our route is no longer dry and dusty but a wet and muddy downward slide, through boscage too dense to see through and too high to see over, to where we cross the rapidly flowing stream stepping on boulders too rounded and dangerous to be described as stepping stones, a stream not big enough to carry you away but enough to make life difficult if you fall in. We make the crossing with outstretched hands for support.

"Good sign," states Joan. "Plenty of water in the stream must mean a decent waterfall. Last time I could've pee'd faster!"

With so few birds the silence is quite appalling. The thought of falling and twisting an ankle with no help at hand, and that mythical German hiker skidding off the path and plunging several hundred feet to the bottom of the barranco, there to die in solitude - while Joan and my Lizzie chat away seemingly cautiousless. "Don't ever do it on your tod," warned Dick way back. "Take somebody with you."

Out of the stream bed and back on the dusty trail, then it happens: Joan's long legs stride ahead, she skids, falls plonk on her bum, smashes her vacuum flask. "Silly cow!­ yells Lizzie, then helps the shaken Joan to her feet and hugs her better. "Don't fall down there, sweetie. We'll never find you."

Like the stretch of desert between Los Cristianos and Las Americas, the Barranco del Infierno should never be attempted without water; we will share between us what we have left. I am tempted to fill my half empty bottle from this clear stream but caution stays my hand. Maybe the Guanches drank from it, but they were cave dwellers and knew no better; they enjoyed lives of simple sophistication... "Just a minute! Lizzie, simple sophistication is a contradiction - an oxymoron innit?" ... But what the hell! I'm going to use it anyway - the Guanche was not your average cave-dweller who dragged his women by the hair, but a cave dweller who had a well-established society with strict rules of conduct. Even the Spanish captain who courted the Princesa Dacil was not allowed to visit her without witnesses. But nowadays we have chemical pollution that makes some surface water unsuitable for any other use except agriculture. They call the stuff black water. No matter how inviting the water may look, Peter warned us about taking 'natural' water from the troughs that flow down the slopes from the high water galleries. In a few years time the pollution will reach the water table which is way way way down. But when that happens Tenerife will have a new set of problems... We shall miss Peter and wee Shirley.

"I reckon they came here to bathe," states Joan. "Hell of a long walk back."

"They were used to walking. They didn't even have horses."

"I know all that. What I mean is they would be just as dirty going home as starting out! So why bother? All this dust! Or did the royals have sedan chairs? I mean I can't see this Spanish captain wanting to marry the Princess Dacil unless she'd washed behind her ears. I mean, can you? The Druids had groves to worship in, I bet this place was a holy place for the Guanche gods - with its built-in shower! I wonder if they had mixed bathing. I picture the local mencey marching his people along to clean up!"

Very strong on female ascendancy is Joan, not in a political sense, rather in the romantic power of the goddess figures of ancient times, a romance that uncovers her mystical Welsh ancestry. Flaxen-haired and blue-eyed, she fits the much vaunted description of the Guanche: 'a highly beautiful white race, tall, muscular, and with a great many fair-haired people amongst their numbers.' But the Welsh are Celts, in classical history, tall, muscular and fair in feature and not connected with the Guanche race, though the trace of mysticism persists and the sorrowful tales of the Guanches seem to meet the Celtic sorrow of story telling. So what's pure in this day and age? The Celts just got mixed, as the Guanches did according to Father Espinosa, only a hundred years following the Spanish conquest they were mixed and lost. Other priests following Jean Bethencourt wrote of the Guanches 'Go through the world and nowhere will you find a finer and better formed people with high moral standards, they are noble, compassionate and true to their word...' Noble savages. Fine! But where did they come from? Nobody knows.

Guanche maidens

"So far as I know the Druids didn't wash, Joan bach. Was there a Guanche god of Hygiene - how about Kicksiwixi way down in Candelaria?" The relaxing delight of the picnic brings forth silly visions of queues of Guanches waiting to use the shower. I see well-guarded Guanche maidens frolicking beneath the falling water.

"You mean Chaxiraxi the mother goddess. You shouldn't mock the gods, Alan, or they may strike at you!" She continues, "Yes I can feel it. There's power in this place."

The clattering sound of falling water reaches us. We are at the end. The high but rather puny waterfall deposits into a pool, shallow enough to wade in. I have seen it once before on a bird bash with Peter when the waterfall was a roaring torrent and the flat stones around the pool where we shall lay our picnic were under water.

The Mencey

Lizzie withdraws her foot - "Eek! Bloody cold!" Now stepping from stone to stone she stares, caught by the magic of the waterfall. To this isolated spot, so difficult to reach, did the Guanche come for trysting, for worship, for communion with the gods? Did the mighty Mencey Tinerfe the Great abide here, for this was part of his kingdom at Adeje? You don't find these things on a roadmap or in the handbooks of the vacation business, only in community memory; in Basy's recollection of her aunt; in Josef's adoration of Chaxiraxi who is really a representation of Mary the mother of Jesus brought by the holy fathers to Candelaria in the sixteenth century; even now, towards the end of the twentieth century, Josef will not sail without her blessing. And how about Lori's old mum? She must know oodles of historical stuff!

I see an empty drinks can crushed flat, the remains of someone else's picnic, the start of an avalanche of spoilation. There should be land stewards to protect this place before it is trashed completely.

Joan bravely wades in, "They didn't know hot water, only in their cooking pots, and without ever experiencing a hot shower they didn't know what they were missing, did they. And they must have ponged pretty bloody awful."

"Privation rather than deprivation. Yes Joan, quite right. But I'm not sure where they fit on the grime scale. I mean, if they all smelled alike who would notice what they were missing? Sally in the general office could smell Mrs - Thingy - sorry - waiting in the interview room. I bet a bunch of Guanches on the march would be pretty high on the grime scale."

"So would the Spanish who conquered them in God's name in the fifteenth century. I bet they didn't wash too often."

"I wonder if there are any published papers on fifteenth century personal hygiene."

Lizzie and falling water

Lizzie with gritted teeth wades further into cold water, needing to be touched by falling spray, shouts back over the clatter, "Our cats used to do this. They'd sit on the draining board and watch the tap running a trickle and take licks, Tosca would sit for an hour with wet feet. Are there any other places like this?"

"Know what, we've been here five years, birded here there every where, never seen another waterfall on Tenerife. Manfred may know."

"I thought Manfred was like Peter, into rocks."

"Well, yes. But he's a zoologist, into bugs and beetles, ponds and pools and tumbling streams - which isn't exactly rocket science, so it's got to be earth science, right! Besides, all things are secondary to birding. We've got all sorts - even an alien."

"From Mars?"

"No, Australia."

"Near enough."

"You mean far enough! Ever tried flying there?"

"Be serious, you two!. This has just got to be a holy place," says Joan with finality. "We'd better mind our pees and queues."

As if chased by a crocodile Lizzie plunges back, rummages around, tutting her exasperation, "Alan! Where's our stuff?"

Rather vacantly we look at each other. Then revelation falls like thunder: I discarded the bag when I helped Joan to her feet and, in a moment of stupidity, I forgot to pick it up... "Oh my God! And the sandwiches!"

"I have a few," puts in Joan helpfully.

A hot dry day and we are gasping. No water. Just a few ham and cress sandwiches cut cornerwise which is a daft way to cut sandwiches anyway. "Thanks Joan duck but it's down to me. OK I'll go."

"Who's a silly boy then!" Lizzie's voice floats down the trail.

I'm lucky. I can stand lack of water fairly well, and though constantly demonised for taking too much salt I bear in mind it was a need for salt, not water alone, that sustained Thor Heyerdahl's team as they crossed the Pacific aboard Kon Tiki.

Let's see. We'd crossed the water so it can't be that far away. Plod on. The trail along which we have come shimmers in the heat. We must have been bloody mad! This isn't the way to run a picnic. Picnics should have some degree of quiet gentility, an air of collective repose, with a bit of penetrative thought and a touch of poetry to decorate the occasion. Aha! Triumph! I see the skid marks where Joan fell, the spill of water dried into baked earth. Yes... so where's the bloody bag?

Not here. Got to be. It can't just disappear! Well it has! How am I going to explain this? Somehow we've got to get back. Going to the waterfall is optional. Getting back is vital. There are two and a half miles of dry dust and hot rocks before we make Adeje. Somebody must have followed us, walkers on their lawful pursuits who came without water and found ours, or birders from the north side stealing a march. No, we would have been aware of people following us. Local beekeepers maybe, there are hives set up well above the track, but the hives are way back and somehow I can't picture a sandwich-stealing bee-keeper. There are faint footprints in the dust. Ours. What the hell is going on? Here are dwarf trees. Did I hang the bag on a branch? Stark and bare the trees mock my searching eye. Reluctantly, aware of the girls' anxiety-driven concern, I return looking back at every flaunting branch hoping for reprieve.

"Took you long enough. Thought you'd been kidnapped by Australians!"

Normal conversation is quite impossible. Disbelief confounds the stoic mind. It could have been kids. Local kids are like goats. Get everywhere. So we settle with some reluctance for mischievous children in hiding and watching me with glee, just waiting to impound my bag. Little sods!

Joan takes a firm stance. "OK. The gods don't want us here, but we've come all this way and I'm not going home without a paddle. I wonder what the Guanches called this place?"

We are spared the midday sun. Very little sunlight penetrates the narrow end of this horrendous barranco. Only on our route back to Adeje where the gorge opens up do we get the scorching heat. We could wait until the sun gets lower but there will still be residual heat from the rocks and dusty earth. And to wait for three hours without food or water in this natural cul de sac will be no pleasure. Definitely we are determined. Totally agreed. Out we go. I advise the gods in the words of Captain Oates that we may be gone some time.

"It was the gods," Joan insists, "nothing to do with kids."

"How can you be sure?"

"Kids would have given the game away by now."

Truly it is strange, though I don't believe any of this god stuff. Once away from the sound of falling water there is not a squeak apart from the odd bird. We pause at the place where Joan fell, but the gods have not relented, the bag has been taken as a sacrifice so, we press on with an air of indifference in case they are watching.

"They'll get us when we cross the stream,"

The crossing place

We manage the crossing place with one wet foot. There are numerous gods in the Guanche pantheon. And there are secret places where these ancient people placed offerings. "Petal, I hope they are not squabbling over your best British cheddar and pickle sandwiches!"

"It was finest matured. Be quite a treat for them."

Joan warns, "You shouldn't mock the gods, Lizzie dear."

Conversation grows tight and slowly dies as we plod on. The day is in league with the gods for the heat is quite punishing. Then we see coming towards us a youngish couple; both are hatless, he wears trainers, she wears lightweight sandals with heels.

"Look at this lot!" gasps Lizzie. "They've got kids!"

Hairy picnic

Exactly as Peter described to me in those early days of our acquaintance, these people are not quite halfway. Rather rudely we question them, yes he had a lager at the Oasis, she has four soft drinks and four bananas in a bag and a packet of straws and some tissues. Clearly they cannot understand our concern. A good scare that really sticks is worth a damn sight more than kind words that don't. So we tell of the German walker who vanished, we tell of our disappearing water and sandwiches, we stress the distance involved in strong sun without shade. "And then you've got to get back!"

So much for my good scare: they greet my words with smiling nonchalance, their attention principally on the two children, so better leave them to perish, for our own fate is our first priority and it is getting close to the holy hour. Ahead and above us on the right we see the bee hives. "How on earth do they get up there?" squeaks Lizzie, repeating her incredulous cry on the way out.

Fresh thought in this heat is impossible, so I repeat my previous answer which is easier. "People in these parts are like bloody mountain goats. They get everywhere," and that is exactly what Peter said to me on our first birding expedition five years ago. The pratincoles - will I ever forget the pratincoles or his description of the couple entering this barranco without suitable gear. He also said something about 'hairy' walks over rocky parts in our search for Bonelli's eagle. And now a lurking scientific back-thought breaks through the lethargy, something else he said about these bees, not benign British bees but African bees noted for their savagery. "These bees can kill people and animals as large as young elephants," I tell them. "Let's just creep past quietly."

"Why are you laughing, my man?"

"History resembling itself. Something Peter said about brainless visitors and hairy walks."

"I hear he's leaving us," says Joan. "I never liked him very much. He always seemed so damned superior. Tried to lecture me once on my forehand drive and volleying. Said I was too wristy. What the heck does he know about tennis?"

"Peter is a pragmatist. He doesn't believe in gods." He also said "The only excuse for gods is that they don't exist," but this is risky ground with Joan around, for hasn't a local god stolen our picnic?

"Well, that's just Peter! Gods don't need to be pragmatists. They just do things."

I'm too weary to resolve this argument. Peter played tennis whilst part of the Army of Occupation. He was amazed how quickly the war had disappeared from people's minds - but discussion is not worth getting into. I see the steps leading out of this hell bent barranco. The car is still where we left it, thank God! But our fate is sealed. The little Oasis is closed for siesta. One bar further down the street is preparing to close. Madly we scramble in and get one large bottle of very cold water sin gas between us before the shutters come down. El proprietario viewing our depleted state, sympathetically places a small tapa of chorizo in front of us.

"Enjoyment persists!" I suggest in a voice laden with false optimism.

"Speak for yourself," says Joan sourly. "If there's one thing I can't stand, it's Canarian sausage!"

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