Gomera - barrancos, bosque and black sand beaches
Trip Start Dec 22, 2006
4Trip End Dec 28, 2006
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Well, for exactly that reason - because it's cheap. And because, after seven months back at the grindstone in Edinburgh, we figured we needed a holiday. Cautiously optimistic about our financial recovery after the wallet-draining gap year, we decided to book a week away over Christmas... well, last year we spent Christmas in Ecuador, and this year the Canaries would have to do.
But no, we weren't headed for the crowded beaches and drink-all-you-like bars of southern Tenerife. We'd been told many times by like-minded travellers that the Canaries have so much more to offer, that the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the islands offered plenty of opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities..
A little research threw up the name La Gomera - the second-smallest island in the archipelago, and a mere 45-minute ferry ride to the west of Tenerife. There are only two large 'international' hotels on the island (most of the accomodation is self-catering, in small cottages and apartments), so not a package tourist in sight. It all sounded very enchanting, just the place to relax and do a little light hiking and diving. And the island is beloved of outdoorish German hippies - a shrewd bunch to track if you're looking for a quieter, more interesting destination within easy reach of Europe.
On Friday 22 December we took an early-morning Globespan flight from Glasgow, and arrived around 2pm at Tenerife South airport. After killing a few hours in the package-holiday-hell town of Los Christianos, at sunset we boarded the Garajonay Express ferry, which hops from Tenerife to San Sebastian, the main on La Gomera, and from there to Playa Santiago and finally Valle Gran Rey, our destination.
Quite unusually for us, we'd booked a one-bedroomed apartment via email before leaving, and boy, were we grateful we'd done so - unlike everywhere else we've been, there were no accommodation touts hanging around the harbour
On Saturday, a two-hour walk up valley wall behind La Caleta, towards the village of Arure, revealed the breathtaking topography of the area. From the ridge above Valle Gran Rey, a wide valley, we looked down upon scattered white hamlets and endless green terraces dotted with palm trees, all nestled in the folds of steep mountainsides. While the valley below was green with fertile, spring-fed terraces, the arid, windblown ridges around us were strewn with rock and home only to tough scrub and succulents, including graceful euphorbias.
On that first walk we met the Gomerans' livestock of choice, the hardy goat. The large bells around their necks clang constantly as they graze the arid mountainsides, so it's hard to miss these jaunty animals. I spent a good few minutes sneaking up to the old lady pictured here while she stood quietly in the shade of a euphorbia bush.
Over the next few days, our ramblings left us in awe of the immense variety of landscapes packed onto such a small island
At the heart of the island, its highest peak, Alto de Garajonay (1,487m), rises from a central plateau covered by the largest remaining patch of relic laurel forest, called laurisilva. Before the last ice age, such forests once covered much of the Mediterranean. Today, La Gomera's laurisilva is protected in a national park which covers around 10% of the island.
A marathon hike on Sunday the 24th brought us face to face with astonishing contrasts - between the cultivated terraces of the valley floors, the arid, rocky mountainsides, and the tangled green soup of the dense laurisilva forest. In the early morning, we took a local bus up and out of the valley to Chipude, at the edge of the national park. After getting a little lost while looking for the right footpath, we tackled the gentle ascent of Alto de Garajonay. Though it was a cloudy day, the view out over the laurisilva towards Tenerife was stunning.
From the summit, we set off in the northerly direction towards Laguna Grande, a good two-hour walk through the enchanting laurisilva
After a lunch stop at Laguna Grande, we headed back south through the forest and left the national park near El Cercado, where we picked up a path down into Valle Gran Rey. That steep downhill into the gorge was probably the longest, toughest leg of the hike, but very rewarding for the superb views of the distinct layers of volcanic rock that make up the mountainsides.
After eight hours of hiking through the most splendid, diverse scenery, we hobbled into La Caleta at sunset. After taking showers and relaxing with a beer on the balcony, it took some mustering to drag our aching limbs down into the village for a meal!
Read on in the next entries for more about our La Gomera experience...