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Rare glimpses in out of the way places of the Canary Islands
Chirche barranco photosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Up the Tenerife barranco
I was delighted to receive my first fanmail letter via the office of the Tenerife Sun. It was from Graham who lives in Chirche and he wrote in to say how much he loves my column and how he wants to support my campaign to see more Monarch butterflies flying in Tenerife and he told me all about a barranco near where he lives that is full of wildlife. A barranco, by the way, is what we call ravines here in the Canary Islands.
He went on to invite me to visit and have a look at the place and seeing as Graham is also a musician we had plenty in common, and I was pleased to accept his invitation to have a look at some of the natural world and its wonders in the mountainous village of Chirche.
Graham lives with two huge but very friendly and cuddly looking Alsatian dogs and we took them out for a walk up the barranco, which is right by his house. And what a barranco it is - steep rocky cliffs, somehow terraced in parts by enterprising local farmers, almond trees in full bloom, masses of wild flowers, a little stream, caves and even a paddock with a horse.
I was in my element and was enthusing about all the wild flowers I could see like a species of Viper's Bugloss I had not seen before and a type of plantain and a tree sow-thistle, which I found out after is a the very rare species Sonchus canariensis. It is said in my plant book to grow in barrancos and here it was doing so, and it looked very rare because there was only one. My book was right!
Graham was saying how lucky he is to have this amazing place on his doorstep and I agreed. It was a real beauty spot, yet the sort of place you would easily pass by from a road if you didn't already know it was there.
There was a plant he called peppermint, and I had been eager to see this, seeing as I was puzzled as to how this plant, which likes water, would be growing in a rocky barranco. The plant has a distinct peppermint smell, so I could understand why my friend called it this, but what it was I really couldn't say, although I think it may be a species of verbena. It was too early for it to be in flower, so I will have to go back again later in the year to see if I can identify it then.
We got talking about all the fruit trees there, of which there was a mini-orchard. There were oranges and loquats, or nísperos, as they are known in Spanish - a delicious fruit that is one of the first to be ready in the Tenerife spring.
What I don't understand is how ownership is established and maintained over this type of crop plantation, that you so often see in seemingly public access wild places on Tenerife. It looks as if people just choose a bit of waste-ground or mountainside, or in this case, of a barranco, level it off and plant whatever they desire to grow.
On my travels I have seen oranges, figs, almonds and plums growing like this and often so many on the branches that they fall off on to the ground all around. And there they lie and rot and no one seems to care or want to collect them.
It's an open invitation to "scrumping" though I would have thought, and just like in the UK where apples and other fruit get taken by eager hands, what is to stop anyone helping themselves to fruit growing in such places?
At the end of the barranco there were caves and also a tunnel that had padlocked railings across it stopping anyone entering. A recent tragedy in the Los Silos area, where people died as a result of entering such a place and being overcome by poisonous gases that had accumulated underground, showed the value of this barrier to anyone getting inside.
A small stream was running downhill from there and Graham pointed out some old machinery that looked as if it had once been used as a pump and suggested I might like to get a picture. I normally take photos of flowers and wildlife not old machinery, but I took one all the same.
I clambered up the rocky cliff to have a look at the cave entrances but there wasn't time for any further investigating because we had to be getting back. Graham was taking me to the music session at El Risco in San José de los Llanos and we wanted to get going. El Risco is a bar in the woods and very different to anywhere else I know of, but more about that again.
Footnote: First published in the Tenerife Sun
© 2008 Steve Andrews