DANGLING from a polyester canopy, my pal Peter spirals down from the dizzying height of 1,300 metres.
I landed just three minutes ago myself, skimming the heads of sozzled holidaymakers sipping cocktails at a beach bar.
Even on the ground, I can hear Peter’s paragliding instructor shouting, “Run, run, run!” as they make their final approach.
Peter is so pumped with adrenaline, though, and so lost in the majestic scenery that he is paying no attention to his instructor.
He makes no effort to run and lands on his backside, skidding across the black volcanic sand to rest beside a table of drinkers with a daft grin on his face.
No wonder Tenerife is so popular. Expect sunny days and temperatures of 20C even in December, making it a top spot to work on your tan when the leaves turn brown at home.
While many might want to spend days stretched out on a lounger, some of us shudder at the thought of spending a week by the pool.
Unlike Gran Canaria or Lanzarote — neighbouring islands which locals here dismiss as “just rocks” — Tenerife is home to five distinct microclimates and is blessed with trade winds, volcanic peaks, desert parks and lush forests.
Factor in those clear, warm seas — still 21C in December — and Tenerife is a perfect place for hiking, cycling, mountain biking, snorkelling, scuba diving, kite surfing, kayaking and, of course, paragliding.
Our flights had started with the same instruction: “Run, run, run!”
Our instructors — strapped to the back of us, like the tail end of a pantomime Pegasus — urged us to pump our quads and take a leap of faith off the side of a long-dormant volcano while huge fabric wings inflated behind us.
Up here, the landscape is a world away from the beaches, broad highways and luxury resorts.
Small farms are dotted along winding mountain roads and remote trails dive off through green national parks relished by hikers and mountain bikers.
My instructor is a master of his craft and it is more than 40 minutes before my feet next touch the ground. Instead of floating down towards the beach, we catch thermal winds that push us towards the stratosphere.
As I scan the rocky spires and volcanic peaks below, I realise we have climbed at least 300ft above our jumping-off point in a few minutes.
We are not just gliding. We’re flying.
This is not the first time I have experienced the stress-melting sensation of weightlessness during my brief trip.
While others have spent their days catching rays of sunshine, I have been sea-kayaking and diving with giant stingrays.
“Neutral buoyancy” is the scuba term for what happens when you pack the right amount of weights to your diving gear and become immune to both gravity and our natural tendency to float upwards.
The sea is so clear that I almost forget I am beneath the waves. It is like drifting in space.
It certainly feels otherworldly as I explore hidden underwater cliffs, caves and shipwrecks around the coast.
You don’t need to be a qualified diver, as scuba instructors can accompany you to witness marvels that seem to come from another planet.
As I descend beneath the sea, I’m immediately greeted by a fever of stingrays.
The largest I have ever seen, these giant rays are twice as long as my instructor — and very curious.
They swim right up to us and reach out to be touched with their wing-like pectoral fins as we scour the seabed.
There we find sharp-toothed moray eels — freaky flatfish that have both eyes on one side of their pancaked heads — and schools of fish that, ironically, have made their homes in the sunken remains of fishing vessels.
Spying a very small cave at the foot of an underwater precipice, I swim down to the seabed to find the three-foot hole has been made a subaquatic Catholic shrine, with a statue of the Virgin Mary standing at its entrance.
Just as I am marvelling at this underwater altar, I glimpse a flash of bright white — a ghost-shaped spectre that appears from behind the statue.
Darting to the back wall of the tiny cave, it cycles rapidly through several colours before disappearing completely against the craggy rock.
I have dived in the Red Sea, off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and around the Maldives . . . but I’ve never before been lucky enough to spot an incredible, chameleon-like, shape-shifting octopus in the wild.
My octopus teacher friend could certainly give lessons in camouflage because I can’t find him, even in such a small space, from a few feet away.
Fortunately, just minutes later, I glimpse another, its eyes protruding from between rocks on the seabed.
This time I wait and watch. Eventually, the octopus becomes curious, darting around from one hiding place to the next before cautiously coming over to get a better look at me.
As I fumble for my camera, my octopus pal grows weary of my attentions and, with a quick squirt of ink, she sends me spinning away, 20 metres back up to the surface and on to fresh adventures.
COVID: All UK travellers to Spain over the age of 12 must now be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to arrival.
Children under 12 are exempt if travelling with an adult. Current rules require pre-departure test before returning to the UK and a PCR test on or before day 2.
GETTING/STAYING THERE: Seven nights’ half-board at the 4H Spring Arona Gran Hotel & Spa in Los Cristianos is from £723pp including flights from Stansted in January, 22kg hold luggage and transfers. See jet2holidays.com
OUT & ABOUT: James went paragliding with Parapente Canarias (parapentecanarias.com), hiking with Teno Activo (tenoactivo.com), kayaking with Adventoure (adventoure.com), and scuba diving with Ocean Friends Diving (oceanfriendsdiving.com).
PRE-TRAVEL: Airport Parking and Hotels (aph.com) offers one week of Meet & Greet airport parking at Heathrow from £53.
MORE INFO: Visit webtenerife.co.uk
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