Right off the west coast of Africa, about 100 km from Morocco is an underrated nature experience waiting for you if you like hiking. When most people think of the Canary Islands they think of the hotel resorts I guess. But these Islands have so much more to offer in terms of wildlife experiences.
The Canary Islands are of volcanic origin. 80% of the volume of Gran Canaria was formed between 14 to 9 million years ago. And the last 20% was formed between 4.5 to 3.4 million years ago. The climate is subtropical.
My first experience with hiking Gran Canaria was in 2010 when I hiked to Pico de Las Nieves (1949 meters) – the highest point of Gran Canaria with Rocky Adventure. This year we came back to the island for our holidays and I didn’t want to miss hiking there. Unfortunately August is the hottest month of the year and no guides take people into the mountains at this time of year because of the heat.
I tried hooking up with a local hiker who I was told went up into the mountains every morning, but without any luck. She was on vacation just like me. So I figured I had to plan my own hike.
Somewhat concerned about the heat being a light skinned norse, I decided to get up early the next morning and aim for the nearest top. My 8 year old son asked me if he could come with me which was great. So we went to check out the direction in which to walk the next morning. We had to cross two highways before seeing any terrain. The first one had a pedestrian bridge over it and the second one had a tunnel under it as far as we could see. That was as much planning as we did except pointing out our destination and telling my wife when we planned to be back.
6 o’clock the next morning I was awaken by my phone. I woke up my son, got dressed and packed my backpack with the lunch pack we had made the night before as well as some water. My son got dressed and we were on our way. It was pitch black outside as we left our hotel. I was quite alert walking with my son near a highway in a strange place this time in the morning. So when a car pulled in right next to us I told my son to keep walking away with me. It was just a guy dropping off some workers but at that time of the day you’re always prepared for the worst I guess. We had passed the first highway as well as a small barren area before looking into a long dark tunnel under the next highway. I was a bit worried that it might serve as a shelter for homeless people or the like. So I told my son to stay put as I went to check it out. I turned on my iPhone’s flashlight and went in there. It looked completely safe so I went back to get my son.
The only thing ahead of us now was the mountains. So we started walking towards them, still in darkness. Our eyes had gotten a bit more used to it now however so we dived in to the terrain with excitement. Walking in barren rocky terrain like that is a bit difficult when you can’t properly see where you step, but we just took it one step at the time.
As we had climbed the first hill we were met by a small surprise. On a small hill above us there were about 500 goats looking down at us. We walked past them noticing that the sky had brightened up a bit. And when we reached the next top we had our first panoramic view. Out there in the horizon we could see the coast of Western Sahara in Africa and clouds forming over the Atlantic Ocean. Sunrise was near. If it wasn’t for the cloud cover the sun would have probably already shed it’s light on us. We stood there for a moment in the quiet of the morning looking at it all. We could also see the highways we had crossed.
As we continued we could see that we had to either walk around a mountain top or jump a small fence similar to the one used to keep the goats in place. We decided to jump the fence anticipating that we might end up in the middle of a big goat herd, which we didn’t though. From here the terrain became more interesting. We now began moving into real mountain terrain. The whole place was rather barren but the rock is reddish and really beautiful. The interesting thing about Gran Canaria is that there are no real trees until you get to an altitude of about 1000 m. This is because the Canary Island Pine (Pinus canariensis) which is a special species of pine with very long needles gets its moisture from the air humidity from the fog and clouds that roll in over the island. The humidity that these long needles pick up then drops to the grown and is picked up by the tree.
We didn’t see any of these trees though but we quickly became familiar with another of Gran Canaria’s specialties. Caves. The first one we saw was just a small hole in a beautiful rock. It was big enough to easily fit the both of us had it been a survival situation however. In Gran Canaria there are still a lot of people who live in caves. We’re not talking about cavemen in the original meaning however. There are some very luxuries homes built into the mountains.
As we walked on we stumbled across quite a lot of goat remains. My son brought back a horn from one. But we also saw craniums and even a leg lying around. I’m not sure whether they were from goats who had strayed off and died or whether they were killed by some kind of predator, a dog or maybe hunters? I’m not aware of any predator that could kill a goat on Gran Canaria though.
We had our first break right after hitting the first top on our route. As we sat there we watched the sun come up through the clouds in the horizon. It was magical to sit in the quiet mountains and watch it.
Seeing the rocks turn bright red as the sunlight hit them was a beautiful sight but also a reminder that it would soon get warm. So after a sip of water we moved on.
Not knowing what had killed the goats we soon encountered a real predator however. The first sign of it was flocks of pigeons flying frantically over our heads. They were flying so low over the mountain that sometimes they had to make evasive maneuvers to avoid flying into us. The next sign was a scream surrounding the mountain. The scream of a hawk. I never heard it in real life before actually. I only recognised it from an outro to a song. I probably couldn’t have identified which bird of prey we saw had I not recognised its scream. Being out there in the middle of it all and watch it happen right in front of you makes you feel so tied to nature though.
The sun had really started to come up now and we aimed for the top we had set out to reach. We passed some more caves on our way that were bigger than the first one we had seen. It looked like someone had stayed there for hunting. At least we found quite a few shotgun shells lying around.
When we finally reached the top we had set as our destination we realized that a few hundred meters away there was another top which was a bit higher. So we decided that we wanted to go there too. It was a short and stress free walk and after 10 minutes we were finally happy with our achievement. We sat down in the shade for some food and water before heading back down the mountain.
My son suggested that we took a different route back down the mountain which meant we could walk on the shade side of the mountain most of the way. We were starting to really feel the heat of the sun now so I thought it was a brilliant idea. Also because it would give us a chance to experience some more of the area.
Even though it wasn’t a steep descend it was fairly difficult to walk downwards since most of the surface consisted of loose rocks. Further down it looked like someone had prepared the mountain side with a snow groomer. When we came closer I realised that the striped structure was in fact goat tracks though.
A bit further down we came across a strange looking green rock which we would probably have brought along had it been smaller. It looked like it consisted of copper but it’s structure was more like chalk.
After we had come all the way down to the valley we walked along a dried out riverbed. There were some big cactuses growing there (Opuntia dillenii). Their fruits are edible and turn maroon-purple when ripe. These were still green. Be careful if you ever plan on eating their fruits though. They have some areoles on them with tiny barbed spikes that you don’t want to touch.
The last part of the trip we walked along a small dirt road and as we came out of the mountains right before we hit the tunnel back under the highway we were overflown by another bird of prey. Most likely a common buzzard. By then it was getting really warm too so it was a perfect time to get back to our hotel and take dip in pool. My son had done so well and I was really proud of him. And happy that I was lucky enough to share this experience with him.