Wednesday, 16 February 2011

VAGABONDRUNNING GRAN CANARIA. PART TWO: Presa le las ninas.

Photo: Presa Le Las Ninas


Photo:Soria


Photo:Roque Nublo


Despite the unwelcome intrusion to my nights sleep by the frisky young lovers,I awoke at about 6 a.m next morning feeling refreshed and optimistic.It was still dark and I had no idea when the sun would start to rise.I packed away my sleeping equipment,had a breakfast of pasta,threw on my pack and went in search of a bus stop.As luck would have it I found one literally 100m from the beach.Within 30 minutes I was hot footing it to Las Palmas.The bus soon pulled into the bus station,and from previously consulting a road map of the city streets,I knew that the Government offices were a mere short walk away.The offices opened at 8.30 a.m and I was first in the queue to get served.I told the female advisor the campsites I wanted to stop at and how long I wanted to stay at each.She checked my passport for identification purposes and issued me with a permission letter for each site.It really was that easy.

Out of the 14 sites listed,I had narrowed down the choice to 4.As my predominant activity would be running I knew that access to a water source was vital.I would need to keep hydrated in the heat of the day and also need water for cooking.Transporting bottled water was logistically impossible and, although some people are wary of drinking tap water in foreign climbs,after drinking untreated water in Mexico the previous year and suffering no ill effects,I knew I would be fine.The sites which fitted the bill were Presa Le Las Ninas,Morro de Santiago,Llanos De La Pez and Tamadaba.I knew,through research on the web and youtube that Presa Le Las Ninas was one of the bigger sites and very popular with the locals,so choose that as my first port of call.Morro De Santiago was chosen as next,due to its proximity to Las Ninas,and Tamadaba was chosen as the choice for my third week.Although the website stated that the maximum duration of stay at each site was 7 days,and that's what I asked for,the advisor wrote out permission to camp for 8 days at each.My original plan was to stay for six weeks,but not wanting to push my luck,told the lady three sites would do-I would make another trip to the office in a few weeks time and sort out the rest of the trip.


My map told me that the nearest village to Las Ninas was Ayacata,situated at the base of Roque Nublo(1803m / 5915 ft),the second highest point on the island.After enquires at the bus station I found that I could get a bus to the town of San Mateo,then catch a connection to Ayacata.The remaining,what looked between 10 and 15 km on the map would have to be on foot.I noticed that Las Ninas was situated at 932m/ 3057 ft,so as least the hike would be downhill.During the one hour wait at San Mateo I stocked up on supplies at the local Spar shop-more pasta,sardines,porridge and jam,adding considerable weight to my pack.I had considered waiting and buying food from a shop in Ayacata.As I got off the bus a couple of hours later,I discovered that Ayacata consisted of three restaurant/bars,and that was it.No shops.I had envisaged a pilgrimage up and down the hill to Ayacata every morning to stock up on supplies,but as I commenced the walk down the hill,knew I would have to study the map and find an alternative place to purchase food.

A large brown sign pointed the direction of the campsite,and gave the distant to travel as 10 km.I considered attempting to hitch,but noticed that the majority of cars which passed me were small cars,obviously hire cars,driven by predominantly aging ,graying couples-not a good combination for attempting to gain a ride.I decided to keep my thumb down,and slowly walked,visions of John Rambo strolling into town at the start of First Blood going through my head.

The first sight of Presa Le Las Ninas was stunning.A large reservoir surrounded by lush,green mountains.After pitching my tent and checking out the basic,but entirely adequate facilities,I cooked tea,and retired to bed at the first sign of darkness.

After two days of no running,the next morning I was eager to finally get some miles in my legs.The weather was glorious and later that morning the temperature would be well into the 20's.At around 9 a. m I set off with the intention of running around the lake,what I considered to be a nice gentle introduction to my trail running holiday.I set off in a counter clockwise direction,and after an initial start on the road,quickly found a path which took me half way round.At that point the path stopped.My map was not detailed with any off road paths and shortly I found myself on top of a mountain,peering down at what I presumed was the town of Soria,about 400m below me.From this height I could clearly see a dirt path which would have easily taken me to the village had I set off in the opposite direction.I was now faced with a decision-turn back and retrace my steps or descend the mountain,which would involve a little climbing and alot of scrambling.At that point I heard a noise,looked up into the sky and saw a helicopter approaching.The thought of my brothers words on the way to the train station several days earlier resonated in my head,that ,on trips such as these,if anything could go wrong it would.I imagined reports of an inexperienced Brit tourist falling to his death in the mountains of central Gran Canaria and the reaction of the folks back home-typical Dennis,we always told him to get prepared!

The helicopter slowed and hoovered above me.It looked like some sort of military craft and I later found out that I was on protected land,where access was forbidden.The side door of the helicopter was open and someone was sat in the entrance.I considered waving,but thought this may be taken as a distress signal and prompt a rescue.I ,therefore,decided to act nonchalantly.There I was on top of a mountain,clad only in shorts,my white torso betraying the fact I was obviously a tourist,carrying a coke bottle of water,basic map in my hand,whistling and smiling,totally ignoring the helicopter.Eventually it moved off.I started to climb down the hardest section of the descent,a drop of perhaps 20m of rock face,until some greenery started where I would be able to walk.With map stuffed in my shorts waist band and the coke bottle between my teeth ,I had got half way down the sheer descent when the helicopter reappeared and resumed its position above me.I tried to maintain my relaxed nonchalant disposition and look as if I knew what I was doing,despite the fact that my entire life's climbing experience was limited to a handful of days in the Peak District whilst at university 25 years previous.I reached the bottom of the face and obviously realizing I was not going to be another statistic,the helicopter again disappeared.30 minutes later I was jogging into the quaint village of Soria on the banks of the equally stunning Soria Reservoir,covered in scratches and blood.At least I was still alive!

Over the next few days I quickly developed a routine.The morning run would be along the dirt path into Soria,roughly 10 kms each way,the outward leg predominantly downhill,the return predominantly uphill.There I would buy my food for the day,typically two 500g bags of pasta,which I would run back to camp with,one in each hand.I liked the fact that this felt almost primal.I had to make the journey every morning.It was a necessity,or else I would be without food for the day.I would return by midday,have some pasta for dinner,brew up some coffee and have a quick snooze.At around 3 p.m I would get up again and set off to the rear of the campsite and run for up to 3 hours on beautiful pine needle covered dirt tracks.

The next few days were bliss,constantly clad in shorts,running free as I had dreamt I would be.The arrival of the weekend brought a flurry of activity with locals descending for a weekend of camping.The camp in the week was virtually deserted-a German couple mountain biking around the island,Micheal,a Dutch guy doing the same and a handful of local fisherman.The noise and exuberance of the predominantly young locals,made a welcome change.

As the weekend passed the weather began to turn.Although still hot in the day and mild at night,the cloud level began to drop and come Monday I experienced my first taste of rain.My 7 day stay was to end on the Tuesday,but due to the office girls mistake,I was not booked onto the next site until Wednesday.I decided that on the Tuesday I would therefore clear off the site all day on a long run-if the Rangers couldn't find me,they couldn't do anything.I decided to head towards the south coast to the town of Mogan,a round trip of approximately 30 kms.As I sat off that morning the rain was steady,but i noticed that the wind was picking up.Not expecting any rain on the trip I had taken my tent purchased for the Mexico trip for £15 from Home Bargains.I was not entirely sure that it was up to the job of eliminating the effects of adverse weather.

The road down to Mogan was like one of those alpine roads that you see in the movies.The actual town didn't look far away as I began the descent,but the road was constantly switching back and forth,meandering in a seemingly haphazard fashion.I presumed as I went down the hill the weather would improve.I was wrong.The lower I got,the more the cloud closed in,the harder the wind blew and the harder the rain started to fall.I began to get concerned that if the weather was getting worse on the way down,what would be happening at the campsite....and what was happening to my tent!After running for around 10 kms I made the decision to turn back.

Arriving back at camp I was initially relieved to see the tent still standing.A closer inspection left me deflated.I had pitched the tent on a slight slope descending towards the water.This slope was now a little stream,going straight under the tent.The trickle of water at the side of my pitch was obviously the main inlet for the water from higher in the mountains and had now turned into a raging torrent.I looked inside the tent.The groundsheet was soaked,but luckily,as I had placed my rucksack on top of my self inflating sleeping mat,my clothing was still relatively dry.I knew I had no choice,but to move the tent.The tent had a double covering and to move it I would have to take off the outer water proof cover,resulting in the non water proof inner shell letting in water and soaking my stuff.I was wet through,tired from running and cold,but knew I would have to wait until the rain eased.

Firstly I had to get warm.I stripped down to bare feet,and shorts,searching for dry gear in the tent when I heard a voice behind me.'Permiso,permiso.' It was the Park Ranger wanting to see my permission letter.He continued ,'Permiso,permiso.' I was shivering and my mood was rapidly deteriorating.If I heard his voice again I was torn between turning around and knocking him out,or sitting down on the soaked ground and crying.I felt a fool,unprepared and stupid.I showed him my letter,fully expecting him to pick up on the fact that I should be moving that day.He inspected it,handed it back and smiled.He pointed to the torrent at the side of the tent and muttered in broken English,'You better move tent.You get washed away!'

The rain eased temporarily,I moved the tent and hunkered down,abandoning thoughts of a second run that day.I thought of polar explorers and alpine mountaineers,who could be tent bound by bad weather for days on end and developed a new found respect for them.The next 12 hours resulted in gale force winds and driving rain.The tent just managed to keep standing and eventually,as the storm passed,I feel into a deep,tired sleep.

The next day,as I packed up my tent,the glorious weather was back.It had been a great first week or so of running.My aching legs had found new strength after three or four days,finally getting used to the the relentless incline/decline nature of the trails.I headed back up the 10km climb to Ayacata, once again feeling positive.I felt that I had earned myself a treat and resolved to spend around 20 euros on some decent food at the summit cafe.It would be more than the cost of the food which I had purchased for the entire week.

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