I have mixed feelings about what’s happening at the abandoned hamlet of Las Fuentes in the hills above the south west coast.
Up until the 1970s there were around one hundred people living in the hamlet, earning a crust from farming, not an easy task in the dry south west hills. Farmers had to employ ingenuity to retain any precious rainwater which fell, including using jable covered terraces, similar to the ones you can still see around Vilaflor. The growth of the tourism industry in the south led to the death of the hamlet, working in the tourist sector proving a more attractive prospect than tending stubborn lands.
Apart from one or two farmers still growing crops there, for decades most of the thirty or so buildings in the pretty hamlet have lain empty. A virtually impassable road linking Las Fuentes with the outside world has been somewhat of a double edged sword in some ways. It has restricted any attempts at breathing new agricultural life into a beauty spot which has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest, but that has kept it a bit special.
When we first walked the route, to reach Las Fuentes we had to ascend a ravine, pushing tall grasses aside as we walked. The same tall grasses acted like a curtain, hiding Las Fuentes until the very last second. We emerged onto a dirt track opposite neat rows of vines and a jable-covered terrace from which green potato plants sprouted; a sign someone was still keeping the place alive. Wandering the earthy tracks which wound past empty stone cottages with red-tiled roofs and a cave house felt as though we’d stumbled through a portal into Tenerife’s past. On the coast way below us were towns transformed by the construction of luxury hotels, whilst in this small valley in the hills existed another world altogether, a lost world.
That might be about to change. A complete reboot of the access road is almost complete. Soon (a relative Tenerife term) Las Fuentes won’t be cut off from the outside world. The Tenerife Government and a local association which is passionate about protecting and maintaining tradition hope the repairs to the road will be like a shot of adrenalin to Las Fuentes and life will return once again.
Walking the route in January 2018, to check our directions were still accurate, we already noticed some changes. Having endured months and months of little or no rain, the south west landscape wasn’t at its best, looking more like it does at the end of summer than in winter when there should have been a perky freshness to the scenery. Where our path briefly came close to the road leading to Las Fuentes we saw (and heard) heavy machinery working on the final curves which climb to the hamlet.
The authorities had also been busy ‘improving’ the final stretch of path just before it emerges at Los Fuentes. The long grasses had gone (possibly aided and abetted by the lack of rain). The going was easier, but it wasn’t half as satisfying as parting grasses to reveal a hidden valley.
Despite it being the height of the walking season on Tenerife, there was not one other person at Las Fuentes – no farmers, no fellow walkers. It was still a deserted hamlet.
So I have mixed feelings. The new road might bring about a revival as hoped, and possibly that will be for the better in terms of what it means to local life and tradition. On the other hand, if that happens it is inevitable it will lose some of its mystique.
For the time being though it remains a hidden valley.