Standing on the Slopes of Teide

IMG_5290The adventure that capped off our weekend in the Canary Islands was a visit to the Parque Nacional del Teide (Teide National Park), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the gargantuan Teide, an active volcano measuring 3,718 meters (12,198 feet). It is not only the highest peak in Spain, but also the third highest volcano in the world, after Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

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A combination of two bus rides through Tenerife’s city bus company, Titsa, plus the Teleférico del Teide (cable car), took us from sea level in our home-base, el Médano, up to about 3,550 meters (11,647 feet), all in a matter of hours. I realized that my ascent of this volcano would mark the second-highest altitude I’d ever reached, the highest being at Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, measuring approximately 3,750 meters (12,300 feet).

In the end, it didn’t matter that we were unable to hike the final 500 feet or so to Teide’s summit, due to the fact that the 150 permits for that day had sold out weeks in advance. The very fact that we were both standing on the slope of a volcano, quite literally above the clouds that had enveloped the rest of the island, and witnessing the outstanding vistas afforded by such an altitude, was a wonder enough in itself.

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No picture can really capture the immensity nor the impressiveness of the Teide volcanic complex, from the peak itself, to the Las Cañadas caldera or crater before it, measuring 10 kilometers in diameter, to Pico Viejo, the second highest volcano on Tenerife.

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There was something so liberating about that hour we spent at 11,647 feet. The moment we stepped out of the cable car and began to clamber along one of the rocky pathways traversing Teide’s precipitous slopes, we became acutely aware of just how serene it was up there.

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The air was thinner, colder, and crisper, but pure, fresh, and surprisingly invigorating. Besides our increasingly labored breathing and the padding of our careful footsteps on the rocks, there was virtually no sound. We’d stop to catch our breath and marvel at the panorama before us, and our ears would hear nothing but utter silence.

It’s a type of tranquility that’s hard to find, but one that is exceptionally calming, one that markedly augments our awareness and sense of presence, facilitating our entry into that state we all struggle to find in our every-day lives, that of living and being in the moment. I can’t find words to describe it other than these, but suffice it to say that the experience of standing on the slopes of Teide was a transcendent one.

When you find that moment of repose, when you take in a breath and the stunning scenery around you, you find it’s just you, the volcano, and the oceans and skies beyond.

And to think we almost didn’t make it there…how different our last day in Tenerife would have been.

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