“D’y think we’ve been walking for more than 15 minutes yet?” asks Jack, re-reading the scant directions in his hand.
“More like 40 minutes” Sue and I agree.
We’d been hiking steadily uphill through the forest and, according to the ‘map’, should have taken a right turn 25 minutes ago.
“Compass!” Jack was like a surgeon calling for a scalpel.
He laid the compass on the map in what, to my mind, was a series of indecipherable, coded movements.
Directions have always been a mystery to me. Maps are a foreign country. I have no in-built compass or sense of direction whatsoever and could, were it not for the landmark of the house, get lost in my own back yard.
“We’re on the wrong path” came the diagnosis, “we need to re-trace our steps and take a left turn”, the prescription.
It was Sue’s second day and first hike with us. We’d been enthusing about this walk ever since she arrived; about the beauty of the Anagas, the difficulty of the terrain, the need to be properly prepared with adequate water supplies, good boots, a hat and of course experienced hiking companions who knew the lay of the land and the language of the forest.
“This way!” shouts Jack, “there are stairs to the path.”
Sue and I had resolved to stop walking until satisfactory evidence that we were on the right path had been brought to our attention.
Having hiked all the way back down the forest trail and taken the allegedly ‘correct’ path to the left, the trail had petered out and Jack had gone on ahead to see if it re-emerged further on.
The ‘stairs’ turned out to be two boulders stepped into the gorse covered slope followed by a series of laddered indents in the sheer rock face of whatever else it was, was not a path.
“Ha! A regular staircase!” said Sue, the sarcasm barely masking her fading confidence in her hiking guides.
“It’s okay, it gets better up here” says Jack “trust me, it’s the right path.”
I wonder how many times in the history of the universe those words “trust me” have come back to haunt whoever uttered them.
We climb the non-existent path for 15 or so sweaty, scratchy minutes, the views opening up around us to reveal a plunging barranco to our right and Tenerife’s equivalent of the north face of the Eiger to our left.
“I really don’t think this is a path” says Sue, the red wheals beginning to raise around her ankles and calves. “Andy, do you think this is a path?” she asks, not unreasonably.
“Well no, I don’t” I have to confess. “On the other hand, in my experience, Jack always gets us back to the path eventually, even though it can be by unorthodox routes.”
“Er, this isn’t right.” Jack eventually concedes that, without the aid of crampons, ropes and harnesses, there’s no way through.
However difficult the uphill trek was, going back down was worse. Sue and I inch our way over the dry dust and loose stones, grabbing handfuls of sharp gorse to steady us as we puff and grunt our way back down the ancient slope.
“Okay, then it has to be this way” Jack’s boots raise a small cloud of dust as he heads off again in the direction of the barranco. Sue and I follow. Ten minutes later, we’re re-tracing our steps again, back up the slope towards what is now becoming a familiar crossroads of goat trails.
A further attempt to reach the far side of the barranco is aborted before finally beginning a desultory return to where the so-called ‘stairs’ had first taken us in what was now indisputably known as the wrong direction and agreement was generally reached that we should have stayed on the original path up through the forest.
Two hours had passed during which we were all pretty much exhausted and we hadn’t moved more than 500 metres away from our starting point of Chamorga.
It now being 1.30 pm and far too late to begin the hike again, we head back to the little church plaza in Chamorga and eat our packed lunch in quiet contemplation; Sue admires the beautiful yellow butterfly that’s flitting through the bamboo…or is it sugar cane? Jack mutters to himself over the map and the words ‘typical’ and ‘mas o menos’ are heard repeatedly; I slip the compass out of the rucksack and into the pocket of my shorts; it seems to me that sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.