Day 154 (6.16.17): A Volcano, Stars, and Satellites

Our first few days in Tenerife were relatively quiet.  Our friends Teresa, Diego, Catalina, and Guille generously gave us their apartment for our stay, relocating down the street to Diego’s parents’ apartment.  We spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday catching up on school, work, and laundry.  The girls and I finished their math class back in Cornwall, but the ladies were still hard at work with the remaining subjects.  On Wednesday, we worked for part of the day at Teresa’s and Deigo’s laboratories, which was super cool.    Teresa gave us a fascinating tour, showing us complicated microscopes and a large collection of cute but doomed mice.

On Friday, it was time for something more exciting.  Teresa and Diego had arranged for us to stay in a cabin high on El Teide, the volcano at the heart of the island.

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The volcano is surrounded by a massive national park, so that it is normally difficult to stay near the peak of the volcano.  At the time the park was established in the 1950s, however, a small collection of dwellings had already been built high on the volcano, and Teresa and Diego arranged for us to stay in one these rustic houses for a few nights.

The island of Tenerife is shaped like a duck, and we started our volcanic adventure like a swallowed fish, driving down the duck’s neck to its belly along a winding road that passed through pine forests.  After about 45 minutes the road rose up into the clouds, cutting our visibility dramatically.  Soon though, we drove out of the clouds, and enjoyed our first views of the volcano.  After another 20 minutes, we found our way to our house, where the kids got a little silly.

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This part of the park is almost always above the clouds, so that there is very little moisture.   In fact, even the small trees you see in the background in the picture above would die without regular watering.  Our house had a large cistern for water, but it wasn’t potable so we brought plenty of drinking water.

After settling in, we took a quick hike through the alpine desert.

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You can see the giant volcano of El Teide in the background.  It was extremely dry and dusty, with few plants of any size so that it was easy to continue our brief hike even when we lost the trail, which happened a few times.   One of the few plants that thrives in this area is known as the “tajinaste,” which has a tall stalk filled with tiny red flowers.  (There are blue ones, too, but they are less common.)

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We were starting to get hungry, so we headed back to the house for dinner.

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The house had solar panels, which in theory meant that we would have light at night (sort of) and hot water in the morning (nada drop).

As the sun was going down, we turned our focus to the sky.

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Our cabin was well above the clouds, which you can see in the background of this photo.  We were also far away from cities, so that it is extremely dark on the volcano.  In the thin, dry air, the stargazing is phenomenal.  We started at dusk by watching the International Space Station fly over, shining orange in the setting sun.  We waved, of course.  Next was Jupiter and Saturn.  From there, we watched satellites and parts of old rockets fly over, some of which date back to the Apollo program of the 1960s.  We also saw shooting stars, and by the end of the night, we could see the Milky Way.  The kids were delighted with all that we could see.  Cassie wanted to remember it, so she took my phone and wrote a note for me to send to her.  (She wrote the note at midnight, but my phone got confused because of the difference in time zones.)

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It was a great end to the day and a great start to our weekend on the volcano.

-Will

 

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