Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hiking in La Gomera

Our first day, when we woke up to the sun climbing over the ridge, we explored our temporary home. Later in the day, we set off to walk down to the ocean, about a 45-minute journey along a dirt track that weaved its way through terraced fields that were mostly ragged and worn looking. January passes for winter in the Canary Islands and the fields were resting, or so we would learn. The track paralleled the main paved road that ran down and ended at a narrow piece of sandy beach. Waves crashed against the steep cliffs that bordered the beach. There is a bright pale blue pool, drained for the winter. The concession stand locked tight.

It was a glorious evening, so when we came to a sign post for a trail, we decided to follow it up and see where it went. We found ourselves ascending a steep trail that climbed the ridge you see across the valley above. You can make out the trail that starts at the houses to the left of the sign, crossing behind the sign and reappearing at the point of the Playa de Vallehermoso 2.2km sign. When we arrived at the lookout where I’ve photographed Alex, we decided it was enough for our first day on La Gomera. Beyond Alex, you can see the beach and empty swimming pool. It was amazing how quickly we rose to this great viewpoint.

The next day, we woke to overcast skies and howling winds. Not the warm sunshine we'd hoped for, but by comparison to the cold snowy conditions back home, we could hardly complain. Our pattern of working for the better part of the day and setting out later in the afternoon for about a two-hour “walk” began. We had no internet in our apartment, so I’d get up meander into the village central – a downhill walk that took less than five minutes, stop in at one of two cafes open at that time with my coffee cup in hand.

They’d fill it up with thick black espresso and hot milk, cover my cup with a piece of tinfoil as I downloaded my emails. Cup and computer in hand, I’d climb to our apartment up some stairs steep enough to get the morning’s lactic acid racing. The man who ran the tiny place above was open seven days a week starting at 5am. Except for Sundays, when he closed mid-afternoon, he remained open until about 7pm. When I was buying my cafe con leche, most people were sipping espresso. But many people began the day with a small glass of La Gomeria’s famous white, really pink, wine.

I’d read that experts had discovered that the most effective people only check their emails twice a day. Until I was in Vallehermoso, where that was exactly how often I checked my emails, I didn’t realize how true this bit of advice was. I could do my work without being tempted to check emails that would invariably distract me from what I was working on. Whereas without internet access, I focussed totally on the work before me.

Despite inclement weather, we set off the next day back down to the beach. At the bottom, we picked up a trail behind the small church seen above. You can make out the trail zigzagging up the hillside, complete with steps and a wooden railing. You can also see the red and white trail markers. We only climbed up to a shoulder ridge. It had been blowing hard as we began climbing, but we were in the lea of the worst of it at the top so we sat and enjoyed the view on the other side of the ridge, keen to complete this hike at a later date.

Along this and other hikes on La Gomera, we saw some fabulous vegetation.

The flowers and flowering shrubs were amazing, while the trees were spectacular too.

And we were especially fond of this enormous palm.

Just kidding!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

La Gomera -- La GoWherea?

When we arrived in La Gomera on January 5, it was about 10pm and we’d been up since 3:45am. We’d caught a cab in London to take us to the train station. Then the express train took us to Gatwick Airport where we caught a 4-hour non-stop BA flight to Tenerife, the most popular of the Canary Islands. We took a bus from the airport into Tenerife’s main town where we had a fabulous lunch. Then we caught the ferry, which took about an hour to get from Tenerife to little La Gomera, the second smallest Canary Island. Then we caught our second cab for the day for the 40-minute drive from La Gomera’s main town called San Sebastian to the small village of Valleheroso (beautiful valley), our final destination. Incredibly all of our connections connected.

It was dark by the time we arrived. I snapped this shot from the door of our apartment looking across our “street” down over the main town below before we headed out for dinner and a glass – or two – of wine.

This was the view that greeted us the next morning when we woke up.  Our “street,” La Palmar doesn’t accommodate cars so we have to walk up from the village for about 3 minutes. All would be silent except for the chorus of dogs that echoes across the valley. Not that I’m complaining given the troops of motorcycles that blunder at home through little Belfountain.

The Canary Islands form an archipelago about 200k west of the Sahara Desert. The climate is spring-like year round never getting warmer than about 28 degrees or cooler than about 13 or 14. They are part of Spain. While tourists crowd the beaches on Tenerife, only a few hikers come to La Gomera since the few beaches that exist aren’t sensational. Arriving mostly from Germany and England, La Gomera’s tourists are clad in quick-drying trousers and shirts, and sport hiking poles and boots so we pretty much fit right in except for my accent. Our Gomerian neighbour told us we’re the first Canadians he’s every met. Then he gave a bottle of his very good homemade wine.

We booked our apartment through Airbnb and it’s been absolutely wonderful. Not very expensive (about 25 euros/night), it’s really well laid out with two-bedrooms, a bathroom, well-equipped kitchen, dining and living room. Nonetheless, on a sunny day, the front step is my favourite spot. Our upstairs neighbour Ellia left half a dozen avocados on our front step one afternoon. They grow everywhere and in all different sizes.

Roque El Cano is that big spaceship-like rock behind Alex. It dominates the view from Vallehermoso and is the result of erosion in these volcanic islands. It’s enormous. The gash running below it is one of the many roads that crisscross the island.

The highway below, all built with European Union money, is part of an incredible network that goes all the way around the island. Since La Gomera is only about 25 kilometres wide, about half the width of Caledon, you’d think that wouldn’t require much highway. But radiating out from the high point in the centre of La Gomera, there are 50 slices that open into narrow valleys, many of which go all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the highways turn and turn and double back before turning and doubling back again and again. There are few guardrails and the drop off from the edge of the road is precipitous.

 The hiking is beyond good. There are trails everywhere. Mind you the trails go straight up and straight down. There is no flat land anywhere around Vallehermoso. My legs get stronger by the day. We think nothing now of heading out for a two-hour walk in the afternoon that involves climbing up a 400m or 500m “hill.”

  This is the view from one of our favourite walks.

The tree I’m staring at is just below that big rocketship rock. We did this hike early on one, unfortunately, of only two clear-blue-sky days in the last month. It’s been unusually cold here with daytime highs around 15 and nighttime lows about 13. Great hiking temperatures but the sun has been shy. The flowers love the weather and the palm, orange and banana trees don’t seem put out. The locals complain of the cold and some days we have to leave the window closed! In truth, we have to bundle up to keep warm, but there is no snow, no ice and I hardly ever have to wear mitts.

This photo is from one of the hikes we’ll have to do again since the views are supposed to be incredible. There was sunshine when we began but ended it up looking like the picture above by the time we’d climbed up. The rain started not long after I took this shot.

It was a beautiful walk nonetheless, but believe it or not, there is the whole Atlantic Ocean out there with nothing between us and North America. There are two hiking routes that go all the way around the island. This one has red and white markers. The other has green and white. Then there are secondary trails galore.

Before the fog obscured everything, we had a lovely view down to the sea. 

On another hike, this one 5 hours and about 16 kilometres long, we caught this view, with the peak of Tenerife in the distance.

As we walked down from the view of Tenerife, we looked out over this fabulous field of palm trees. There are gorgeous palm trees everywhere and one La Gomera’s prize products is Miel de Palma or Palm Honey. It tastes more honey-like than our maple syrup, but is made in a similar manner.

There’s lots more to tell, so I’ll continue later.