By Lara Pysden (BA Geography 2013-2016, Mansfield) – text and photos
It definitely was not a school trip. It was so much more. Although the coach to Gatwick was filled with the same buzz that I’ve experienced many times on school visits abroad, I soon realised that there was a lot more freedom to be had in Tenerife. The geography department made sure that we were well looked after, but we were trusted to get on with everything ourselves. In my case, this even meant designing our weathering project pretty much from scratch. This prospect was a little daunting at first, due to the wide range of equipment we had access to, but I soon learned the immense value of a pilot study. Furthermore, the tutors were always there to answer the little or big questions we had, or, in the case of Richard Washington, offer a game of rugby as a well-deserved break from fieldwork.
The first full day in Tenerife gave us the chance to take in the stunning and surprising scenery, showing us that there is so much more to the island than the tourist resorts. Tenerife has an extreme climatic altitudinal variation, creating a multitude of different landscapes: from the warm and sunny beaches at the coast, to the humid laurel forests and up to the arid, desert landscape found in the crater beneath the summit of El Teide. At a mere 2300km above sea level, it was this desert landscape that I enjoyed most. Although my first experience of it felt a bit like doing altitude training in sandals, not a wise choice on my part, this other-worldly environment was captivating. (It’s not so surprising why Planet of the Apes was filmed here!).
Just beneath the crater you are above the clouds! The cloud layer in Tenerife is about halfway up the mountain and is where the most luscious vegetation is found. Including the curious variant of heather that is found in a tree-like form on the island. Although I didn’t spend much time in this humid climate, we all had a little taste of Wytham Woods-like data collection, measuring tree diameter at breast height using a bag strap and finger width. Without a doubt, resourcefulness is one of a geographer’s key skills for field research.
Güimar, on the south of the island, was the site where our weathering group spent the other half of our time, and was also the location of choice for the winds project. The only downside was the 6am start to get there for the winds researchers to catch the first breeze. Luckily for us weatherers, we got an hour nap in the minivan before it was light enough to head to our coastal site, located on the remnants of an old basaltic lava flow. Although the wasps often pestered us during our research and we encountered a surprising amount of runners on the rocky terrain, Güimar’s beaches and gelato were excellent compensation. Another great addition was the fun we had playing games with the local Spanish children on the weekend during our lunch break, who had the largest smiles on their faces in spite of the language barrier.
The days of research were intense, especially working in the harsh crater environment devoid of shade, with the winds leaving me with a salty taste in my mouth, and always finished by the ‘long and winding road’ home down the mountain, which was less than enjoyable whilst typing up the data collected from the day. However, if the breath-taking scenery and plentiful tanning opportunities weren’t enough, the knowledge that we would be returning to the hotel where we danced salsa with the locals, sipped sangria and even got a conga line going one night absolutely was. I didn’t care about my tiredness; I wanted to make the most of every experience in Tenerife, so much so that I couldn’t even sleep on the way home to the airport. I just had to take in the last of the fascinating place we had spent the last week becoming independent researchers and making lasting ties with the other geographers in our year.