We gathered up the dead pine needles into a thick square onto the hard baked earth. The needles pricked my fingers and sent clouds of dust into my nose causing an avalanche of sneezes. There were sharp stones, large boulders, tree roots and suspicious looking tissues dotted around the forest floor. We cleared a space as best we could and placed the groundsheet onto the pine needles, attempting to correct a 15° slope by the addition of further needles and creating an echo avalanche of sneezes.
By the time the fly sheet was on and the tent pegs were being hammered into the earth, we were both covered in dust and I had the equivalent of a bad head cold. Hmm, the benefits of fresh air and ‘back to nature’ pursuits.
We’d decided on a hike to Paisajes Lunar near Vilaflor and needed an early start so it was the perfect excuse to enjoy a Tenerife drive up into the pine forests around Teide National Park and try out one of the free campsites that Tenerife has to offer.
Further along the ‘zona de acampada’ or camping area, were two small and one medium sized tent occupied by five boys and two men; presumably a ‘boys and dads’ camping weekend. Other than that, the zone was empty.
It was difficult to see what had determined this area as the camping zone. The ground was exactly the same hard, uneven, stone strewn pine forest as the rest of the park and there were no facilities of any kind.
The only reason we had chosen our spot was because the car couldn’t go any further on the jagged terrain and the ground disappeared on either side into steep barrancos. The amount of space where it was actually possible to pitch a tent at all was minimal and the only nod to the needs of campers was the proximity of the toilet block which, on closer inspection, turned out to be a hole in the ground with a flush pipe and a sink with no water. That explained the tissues.
When the tent was pitched and the guy ropes taut, we cracked a couple of beers and sat in quiet (apart from my sneezing) contemplation of the warm solitude of the pine forest. Three more sets of campers arrived before dusk and there was a flurry of activity as tents were pitched, suppers were prepared and eaten and lamps were lit as the darkness crept like a silent thief amongst us and stole every last vestige of light.
This is Teide National Park, over 2000 metres above sea level in an area of forbidden light pollution; when darkness comes, it’s complete.
Little by little stars began to appear above us and instinctively, one by one, we extinguished our lamps and torches until there was nothing but the night’s canvas to fill our vision. Familiar constellations like the plough and Orion were lost in the multitude of tiny lights that penetrated the black. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, more and more stars appeared until it seemed like the entire sky was one vast Milky Way intermittently slashed with the fiery trails of shooting stars which appeared, streaked and faded before I could even raise a finger to pinpoint their location.
By the time we came back from our hike the following day, all the other campers had packed up and left, leaving the forest and the star studded cosmos to just us; the last two people on earth.