A Deserter Abroad: Tenerife
‘You watching the game, Wednesday?’ I texted Half-life last week.
He responded with an array of football and beer-related emoji – a recent and very exciting discovery for him – which meant yes, but saved him having to type the word ‘yes’.
‘Elephant or Brixton?’ I asked.
‘Canary Islands,’ he replied, surprisingly, this time with a little pic of a beach and some dancing girls. Daft bugger, I thought, and left it at that. But an hour later he texted again. ‘You coming or wot? Flights 50 quid.’
It turned out the big man was in Tenerife, ostensibly preparing to cycle up Mt. Teide – ‘like Wiggo and Froomey’ – but doing it his way: By spending ten days in a seaside aparthotel complex drinking brandy and gorging on paella.
I checked my calendar for the coming days. Other than checking out a possible office space on the Friday, I had three appointments: One to play ping pong, one to buy some weed and the other to meet my accountant. Is that my life? I thought to myself. I need a holiday.
I knew little of Tenerife, other than the clichés of sun, sea, booze and elderly Brits living it up – all of which turned out to be true, at least in the part Half-life was staying. I recalled Spider telling me that his father had moved there some years ago and that he despised him for it, considering him to have ‘given up’. But maybe he wasn’t giving up. Maybe he’d had enough of freezing, grey days and was just looking for a new adventure.
And that was how I felt as I alighted from the Gatwick Express and boarded my plane in the icy fog at Gatwick the following morning. The flight itself was a comfortable and largely uneventful three and a half hours, other than one excitable young buck behind me announcing that he had just become a ‘solo member of the Mile High Club’. This put me right off my ham and cheese toastie, which was hard enough to eat anyway, the interior of it being hotter than magma.
Speaking of which, I was intrigued to learn that the mountain Half-life had mentioned was also an active volcano. That sounded worth investigating. But at a height of more than 3000m, I wished I’d brought something sturdier than sandals and a floppy hat.
At least I wasn’t wearing cycling shorts and a towel, which is how Half-life greeted me as I emerged from Arrivals into a balmy 24 degrees.
‘Gabriela Sabatini?’ I said, referring to the supposed provenance of his towel.
‘You got five euros for the bus?’ he replied.
The bus journey afforded a wonderful hour of seasonal adjustment and mental recalibration. The sun fizzed in an azure sky, dark fists of igneous rock punched the skyline and Half-life showed me his new baseball cap, which read, ‘I’m not gay but my boyfriend is’.
At the hotel Half-life showed me to his digs, a sparse two-roomed apartment which overlooked a car park on one side and the hotel pool on the other.
‘You’re on there,’ he said pointing to the sofa. ‘Sort yourself out, we’ve got lunch in ten and then tennis.’
‘But you hate tennis,’ I said.
‘You haven’t seen who we’re playing,’ he said with a twinkle. ‘Here, put this on,’ he added, handing me a blue plastic wristband.
‘What is it?’ I said.
‘It’s for the all-inclusive. Worth 150 Euros. To you, 50.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I think.’
Watching Half-life extract value from an all-you-can-eat buffet was to watch a master at work, as he flitted between food counters, chatted up chefs and circumvented queues of doe-eyed Euro-obese.
‘Energy equals mass times the speed of light,’ he explained, expertly compressing a chicken breast tower into a bocadillo bun.
‘Squared?’ I said.
‘Not yet, chumley,’ he replied, with his mouth full. ‘You still owe me for the room.’
After lunch we met two of the girls of the hotel’s ‘animación’ – the ebullient activity cheerleaders – on the tennis court for a two set doubles challenge.
‘How do you like your balls?’ asked one of them, holding two different containers aloft. ‘Old or new?’
‘Cupped,’ said Half-life.
After tennis came a game of boules, played in Half-life’s trademark style – a beer supply placed at each end. Then we strolled along the seafront to play two rounds of dinosaur-themed crazy golf beneath vibrant bougainvillea, where Half-life startled some local children by falling to his knees and crying ‘Cuntosaurus Rex!’ at a missed putt on the 12th.
‘So, fancy the volcano tomorrow?’ he said, when we were sitting on the covered terrace by the pool with a cold Dorada. ‘Longest continuous ascent in Europe.’
‘Cycling?’ I said.
‘Nah. Get a hire car, yeah?’ he said
‘So, you’re not here for cycling.’
‘I’ll be honest, I’m out here laying low for a while. Couple of boys off the market want a loud word with me.’
‘The ones you nicked that cheese from?’
‘I never nicked it. It just rolled into my life.’
That evening we watched Barrow v Lincoln in a local ‘British Bar’ where Half-life got infuriated that he was unable to place a bet via my phone due to my not being a Spanish resident.
‘Fucking joke,’ he said, as Barrow scored a third. ‘I was gonna lump on Barrow, too. Someone owes me two hundred quid.’
The average age of a tourist on Tenerife is apparently 47 (source: A woman we spoke to in a bar) and nowhere was this more apparent than in rock ’n’ blues themed bar, Route 66. The front tables were a sea of rockin’ grey-hairs and we took a seat out on the patio and listened to the covers of Thin Lizzy and Led Zep bangers.
‘You wouldn’t come to Tenerife looking for a rich husband, would you?’ I said, looking at some of the ruddy, swollen blokes around us. ‘You’d probably need to go to Mustique or somewhere like that.’
‘Who gives a fuck about girls who go to Mustique looking for millionaires?’ said Half-life. ‘I like girls from Rotterdam or Kettering who come to Route 66, smoke roll-ups, have a burger and beer for five euros and wear their hair in a side pony tail.’
I gave him an admiring look. Such wisdom. And yet less than 24 hours later I’d be calling him an idiot.
After another round of gaming (pool, darts and air hockey) we called it a night with a brandy on our balcony. Aglow from a day’s sun and with the cares of the world emptied from my psyche, I settled down on my sofa and would have been asleep immediately but for Half-life clanking around in the bathroom.
‘What are you doing in there?’ I called.
‘Shaving,’ he said, ‘Always shave at night. A sailor told me that.’
I was too tired to enquire further.
With breakfast available until a leisuresome 10.30am we were able to sleep in and still avail ourselves of a fine feast in order to give us the strength to drive a Dacia up Mt. Teide. As Half-life stockpiled boiled eggs and free water in his rucksuck, I flicked on the hotel wifi.
‘What’s the news?’ said Half-life.
‘Well, it’s zero degrees in London,’ I said
‘Go-od,’ said Half-life.
‘And chips are bad for you.’
‘Chips, toast and roast potatoes, apparently,’ I said. Half-life shook his head.
‘It’ll be fags next, you mark my words,’ he said.
Often in Tenerife, particularly in the west where we were staying, the mornings are overcast as the hill clouds roll down to the coast, and so it was when we set off in the hire car. But after 20 minutes ascending the winding mountain roads we emerged into bright sunlight, with the clouds now stretching below us, out to sea. A majestic view; one normally reserved for aircraft windows.
‘Can we pull over a minute?’ asked Half-life.
‘Sure. Photo opp?’
‘Need to take a leak,’ he replied. ‘And I’ve never pissed on a cloud.’
We stopped off at a view of the Old Peak (Pico Viejo), where we read about its last eruption in 1798, when torrents of molten lava emerged not from the crater above but from several vents in a fissure near where we were standing.
‘Fuck a duck,’ said Half-life. ‘Imagine that. You feel the rumble, yeah, and every cunt looks up at the crater, you turn around and there you are – surrounded by lager.’
A giggling fit at 3000m can be quite debilitating as you struggle to suck down enough air for another guffaw and we had to sit in the car for a bit to get ahold of ourselves, like a pair of naughty schoolboys.
Once recovered, we drove on into the vast plain between the escarpment of Las Cañadas and the snow capped Mt. Teide, past outcrops of rocks of red and blue and cooled lakes of phonolite, pumice, obsidian and other things I had to look up on the Internet. It’s been referred to as ‘miniature Arizona’ but I was reminded of a lunar or even Martian landscape, though just to be clear, I’ve never visited any of these places.
We parked near the cable car that takes you within striking distance of the summit, but Half-life preferred, with good reason, a flatter trail that led out between the petrified rivers of lava. At least it was flat for a while, before deep ridges appeared and the path petered out. After an hour of rapidly losing and regaining altitude I was ready to about turn and get back to the car but Half-life took that idea as a defeat and was determined to find a path round or through the lava flows in order to circle back.
‘I’m not sure, mate,’ I said, looking how far it was round the flows.
‘Don’t be a wuss,’ he said. For a hard-living sot, he’s got some stamina, I thought to myself as I watched his legs pounding the dusty ground in front of me. I’ll give him that. Must be all that cycling, delivering pick-me-ups across South London.
‘OK, let’s at least stop for a break, then,’ I said and we leant for a bit on the shady side of some monstrous extrusion. I rummaged in Half-life’s rucksack.
‘Where’s the water?’ I said.
‘I left it in the car.’
‘Too heavy, man.’
‘But I’m dying of thirst here.’
‘I’ve got brandy.’
‘Brandy’s no good for quenching your thirst, you idiot!’ I cried.
‘Whatever,’ said Half-life. ‘I suppose you don’t want your boiled egg, either.’
‘No, I don’t want my fucking boiled egg!’
‘That’s good,’ he said, ‘’Cos I’ve eaten it. Now let’s get cracking, Liverpool are on in four hours.’
90 hard minutes later, and after what I understand climbers call a ‘scramble’ – in which the use of all four limbs is the minimum requirement in order to progress – we managed to climb up onto a man-made road and follow it back round to where, by some miracle, our car was parked. By now, even Half-life was pooped.
‘Can’t fucking breathe properly up here,’ he said, lighting a joint. I pointed out that the smoking probably wasn’t helping. ‘Train low, sleep high,’ he said, providing a novel interpretation of the professional cyclist’s mantra. Or perhaps not. Maybe they all sleep high now. High on ox blood or something.
On the way back to our hotel we stopped off in Playa de Arena to watch the sun set over La Gomera and have one of the most welcome beers it’s ever been my pleasure to neck. A man at the adjoining table was gently strumming a guitar while his girlfriend hummed a mournful tune.
‘Do you mind?’ said Half-life, turning to them, ‘I’m trying to listen to the fucking sunset.’
After dinner back at the hotel, at which Half-life ate the flesh of seven different beasts, we returned to our British bar for the main event, Liverpool versus Southampton in the Cup.
It wasn’t to be Liverpool’s night and Half-life got, as he would say, a bit of a gob on. I tested the waters on the way round to Route 66.
‘Oh, well. It’s only the League Cup,’ I said, and he looked at me like I’d shot him.
‘Semi bloody final,’ he countered. ‘Still, saved a mint by not betting on them. Let’s celebrate. You got any euros left?’
I slept alone that night. Half-life was invited to the room of Aneta, a Polish woman he’d met in the queue for the lavs. Which goes to show that just when you’re at your lowest ebb, something will crop up.
My poor body ached, but it was a good ache, the ache of exertion rather than that of damp bones and frozen joints. And my cough had cleared up. In fact, now I thought about it, I was feeling magnificent.
As I sat on the bus to the airport the following morning, letting the ocean and the dark escarpments sear onto my retinae for one final time, I received a text from Half-life filled with emojis of graphs, computers, and paper clips. ‘Office wnaker,’ it read. A typo, though I was able to pick up the gist.
And he had a point. Tenerife – the Florida of Europe – may occasionally have the whiff of Blackpool del Sol but there’s plenty more to it than that and, compared to offices in midwinter London, it’s paradise. While Half-life lolled at the pool bar with Aneta, I was heading back to the wind and the clouds and the rain. What a wnaker.
More Tenerife in this podcast:
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