When it comes to organised walking groups I can see the attraction of heading into the great outdoors with a guide. Especially as the great outdoors can also be the great unknown.
I’ve always felt that exploring the countryside with someone who knows the lay of the land, as well as having a rucksack packed with humorous and interesting anecdotes, is a good way to get to know a new hiking destination… if you don’t prefer exploring on your own.
There’s no real difference between lone hikers and organised groups; we all have the same ethos, a love of the countryside and, importantly, respect for other walkers.
Or so I thought until the last time I hiked the Masca Barranco.
Walkers are nice people – they stand aside to let each other pass by and they smile a hello (hola here).
Not so some of the organised groups in the Masca Barranco.
Our first clue that all was not as it should be was when we stopped early in the walk to let a few people in a walking group pass us. The group turned out to number around thirty people. Not one smiled or said ‘thank you’ or ‘gracias’ or even ‘danke’ as they trundled past. We were two, they were thirty. Had they done the math, they would have realised that had they stood aside, all of us would have been able to move on a lot quicker.
By the time this happened with another couple of groups we were getting mightily hacked off with the rudeness displayed by these organised groups.
We’d never experienced this before in eight years of hiking in the Canary Islands.
However, what really had the steam coming out of the ears was when rude behaviour became dangerous behaviour. After we’d reached the beach, eaten lunch and had a bit of a rest, we made our way back up the barranco (the masochistic leg). At one point an organised group had stopped to rest on a rocky section with drops on both sides of the path. The group completely blocked the way ahead and, as we tried to manoeuvre around them, not one of them budged to let us actually use the path. It meant we would have had to scrabble around the edge to proceed. As none of the people in the group seemed to understand English or Spanish, I resorted to communicating in Anglo-Saxon as I barged through.
I was furious that they were so clueless that they’d force people off the path at such a dangerous section. And I was even more furious that they had a so-called experienced guide who allowed them to do so.
Unfortunately this sort of behaviour is clearly not uncommon. There was a thread on TripAdvisor not so long ago from a woman who broke her ankle because of having to detour from the path due to a group who wouldn’t budge to let her past.
Having traversed the barranco both ways, passing hundreds of walkers, gave us some clues as to why there is a lack of walking ethics and savvy in that wonderful place that you simply don’t encounter anywhere else walking on Tenerife.
Like the Barranco del Infierno in Adeje, the Masca walk attracts people who aren’t used to walking in the countryside. They simply don’t know how to conduct themselves and many are not in a suitable condition physically to undertake the walk. It is not easy terrain and to make matters worse, there is a race against time to catch the boats at Playa de Masca that transport walkers back to Los Gigantes.
The group that blocked our way had stopped because one elderly man had fallen and cut himself badly. Whilst we were in the barranco, a Guardia Civil helicopter flew through the ravine on its way to rescue another walker. This happens time and time again. There are people who simply should not be attempting this walk.
That they are in this position begs the question, why are walking companies allowing people who clearly aren’t capable of a hike of this level to join their groups? And also why aren’t they giving more guidance about ethics and common sense when walking the barranco?
In the midst of a seemingly never-ending crisis, there would appear to be an obvious answer.
An inexperienced walker forcing other walkers onto dangerous ground is down to ignorance; an experienced guide allowing them to do so is simply not acceptable.
Here’s our message to any walking company guilty of the things I’ve mentioned. You’re responsible for the people you take out on hikes. Don’t cut corners and take risks with people who lack the necessary fitness levels. We don’t want to be victims of your sloppiness.
Note: Most walking companies on Tenerife are reputable and behave in a responsible manner. The Masca Barranco is unique. As the most popular walk on Tenerife it could be seen to be a bit of a money-spinner and subsequently might attract businesses who don’t always adhere to the same code of ethics as is found elsewhere walking on Tenerife.