Winding spectacularly through breathtaking mountain scenery, the little TF 436 road in the north-west of Tenerife is one of the most beautiful routes in Europe it is possible to travel by bus – even if only with a minibus or midibus. The Sprinter Travel driven by Orlando Santos González couldn’t be an inch longer or wider: the third hairpin bend we encounter is already so tight that the experienced driver has to stop and reverse the 19-seater bus to avoid scraping the rock wall. Orlando and his colleague “Tito” Acosta Hernández in the luxury minibus just behind us are old hands at manoeuvring along the winding road; they exude that sense of calm you only ever get from bus drivers with decades of experience.
Gradients up to 20 per cent.
“This road wasn’t even built yet when I started driving buses 39 years ago,” Orlando tells us. Up until 1960 the farming village of Masca, which nestles between the sea and the rugged peaks of the 1,300-metre-high Teno range, was only connected to the outside world via a donkey track. The road now covers a distance of 22 kilometres, leading all the way through the mountains to Buenavista del Norte in the far north-west of the island.
Pérez y Cairós.
This family business was founded in 1969 and is now in its second generation, managed by José Pérez (50). It is one of the biggest coach operators in Tenerife with 60 coaches, 50 minibuses and around 800,000 passengers a year. Pérez values quality, environmental compatibility and socially responsible behaviour, and this is reflected in his fleet, which is comprised predominately of environmentally friendly Euro V and Euro VI vehicles. Most of his vehicles are also equipped with lifts and have wheelchair spaces for passengers with restricted mobility. Pérez y Cairós operates a large number of buses built on a Mercedes-Benz base, and is also the only bus company in Spain to have three German-made Sprinter Travel models. According to Pérez, this is because of their efficiency: “Mercedes-Benz buses are so much more cost-effective than ones made by Spanish body-builders.” For this reason Pérez also intends to add more Tourismo coaches to his fleet in the near future.
An hour for a five-kilometre journey.
The most beautiful and spectacular part of the route is along the original stretch that connects the villages of Santiago del Teide and Masca. This section is only five kilometres long, but it can easily take an hour to cover. The stretch is so demanding on drivers and so exciting, breath-taking even, for the passengers that it is actually one of the most popular destinations for an outing in Tenerife. Tito, Orlando and the other drivers at Pérez y Cairós, one of Tenerife’s top bus and coach companies, drive through the mountain pass to Masca almost every day.
Their passengers, mainly tourists and day-trippers, witness one incredible view after another over bizarre rock formations, the sea 1,000 metres below and the spectacular winding route the road takes along the steep lava slopes, with 13 hairpins and almost 100 other bends along the way. The longest straight is barely over 50 metres long on this part of the route. The road is mostly less than four metres wide and safe passing places for buses are few and far between.
“Every trip we make has at least one moment which really makes the passengers gasp,” says Orlando with a grin. It’s always when another bus comes in the opposite direction and he has to manoeuvre his Sprinter Travel a hair’s breadth away from the rock face or the chasm below. Although there is no official speed limit on the TF 436, hardly anyone dares go over 30 km/h here, and so we progress round one bend after another at a sedate speed. We never get out of second gear – not when the 95 kW (129 PS) Euro VI four-cylinder engine powers the Sprinter Travel up gradients reaching 20 per cent, nor on the way down, when Orlando skilfully applies the retarder lever to regulate our speed.
A view that’s worth it.
Suddenly we experience another phenomenon that adds to the fascinating appeal of the road to Masca whilst simultaneously presenting the drivers with a further challenge: where moments ago the sun had bathed the rocky landscape in its glaring light, within minutes our view is marred by dense misty clouds. “It won’t last long,” Orlando assures us. “There’s always a strong wind here on the island and it will blow the clouds away just as quickly as they came.” He’s right: in a short while we are enjoying the view from up on the pass across Masca to the snow-covered Teide volcano, the highest mountain in Spain at 3,718 metres. The breath-taking ride along the TF 436 to Masca was worth it for that view alone.