A day at the summit of Teide

We take the cable car up the volcano. As we rise, the slopes below us sprawl into blackened, frozen thunder. ‘Papi Teide’, as the locals know him, is the legendary demon that lives under the mountain of el Teide in Tenerife. He appears to have been cooking: made a delicious stew of molten rock, and in a temper upended it everywhere. The colours show the ingredients that he used: here a sun-dried and rubbled ochre lava flow, there a piquant sprinkle of scoria, over there a smooth lick of obsidian. Everywhere the melange is garnished with vegetation that crackles in the polished blue bowl of the caldera.

In ten minutes we reach the cable car’s exit, and the air is noticeably thinner. We wheeze like smokers up the last two hundred metres towards the summit. Natural levees of petrified rock direct our route at every turn. They hint of the awesome power of past eruptions, when Teide overflowed its top and lava ran down its sides to form these banks and flows. Our journey is otherworldly, surreal; in this land of legends I feel as though I could be struck down by lightning, or petrified in salt from the errant volcano.

Inside the crater it’s quite fantastic. As we zig-zag across the surface, a landscape of chemical foliage blooms under our feet. Puckered whorls of carbonates frost the ground in spirals and loops. Fist-sized vents can be seen here and there, the entrance into the underworld, and each opening is kissed by splinters of acid-yellow sulphur needles that glint under the sunlight; a sun that spins in the spotless blue bowl like a golden coin. We are at the highest point in the Atlantic, and the stars feel closer here.

Perhaps you would expect an active volcano to feel more alive: despite the otherworldly shapes there is no lava. But the mountain is still restless. I sit back against one of the walls (coloured a curious shade of pink; the colour of a baby’s cheek, unblemished) and spring up: it’s like sitting on a radiator. People laugh – that’s the volcano! 5 kilometres below us, a room of molten rock churns. If you look around, the steam rising in curlicues and cidillas from the vents whisper the secret of the magma chamber.

We rest in a shadow in the southern wall, backs warmed from the geothermal heat. A buzzing rises on the breeze. The noise drones on, and rises in pitch. What is it – have we awoken Papi Teide? But no: above us, in the sun, a few ink dots hum and flitter. These are bees that live by the crater. They are endemic to Teide and come for the heat that rises from the deep. They call this place home. Unbelievable!

Later, Davíd regales us with tales of his travels. He’s been to 15 of the 17 Decade Volcanoes. I ask him what his favourite one was, and he recalls the roiling lava lake at Nyiragongo. This is my first and, honestly, I can’t imagine another surpassing it.

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