Travel blog by a global nomad

09 Apr

Lush laurel forests of La Gomera, Canary Islands

laurelApparently we didn’t set sail until nearly 4am in the morning… I know I was delayed going to bed with the engineer deciding to talk to me as I slipped up to my room…. I was most relieved that the fuel truck arrived while he was talking as I wanted to get to bed! Still, always puzzled by how much the ship crew know about the expedition team! They obviously talk!

But it was testimony to how tired I must have been that I slept through the engines starting up as we sailed off to La Gomera Island, a scant 60 or nautical miles away…

After breakfast, we were still making the crossing and despite the wind, people were up on deck. Just as well… Hannah soon made the call that there were some dolphins slinking around  in the water – more preoccupied with fish than surfing our bow wave, but it got many others out on deck. And as they looked, we sailed past a small pod of pilot whales resting on the water surface!

I then stayed up on deck talking to a couple of people at the bow, and suddenly one of them saw a splash, peered over and we discovered a small pod of common dolphins were surfing our bow wave! Huh…

We came into San Sebastian, the port on the eastern side of La Gomera Island around 11ish and managed to tie up right at the end of a surprisingly long and built up harbour for such a small town. Of course.. its been built up in part because Fred Olssen, some Norwegian business magnate saw a business opportunity on La Gomera and built himself a hotel, got water rights, put in plantations etc and then put some big car ferries between Tenerife and La Gomera on the route… Only 40 mintues now from Tenerife whereas prior to Fred Olssen, it was apparently an 8 hour trip on the postal boat.

La Gomera is a very fertile island – a perfect shield volcano and apparently, the only Canary Is which has not suffered a landslide… It has the last preserved laurel forest not destroyed as the last ice age advanced over Europe and it was this that we were heading up to see today.

It was a pretty late start, some of it due to the wildlife delay en route and some of it because we hadn’t taken into account the extra hour ahead for the Canary Islands… But our British transplant guide, Diana, gamely took it in stride, although concerned that the driver had to be back by 6.30pm due to some EU rules about the amount of time such people can drive…

We set off in a normal bus which carried 55 passengers on an ordinary sealed road, ‘the south road’ of the La Gomera road network… gone were the mini buses on cobbled roads with limited English-speaking guides of Cape Verde!

We snaked up the ‘southern’ road – moving up steep terraced and partially cultivated lands until finally we got above about 1100m where we seemed to leave the agricultural areas behind and entered the border of the Garajonay National Park. Our first stop (outside the park) was Los Roques – three volcanic ‘chimney’s’ – places where the lava had frozen inside the volcano but the outside of it had now weathered away. It was somewhat dramatic with the steep rock plunging into the equally steep slopes below which were quite well vegetated. The sun was now behind the clouds which seemed to nearly constantly drift over the high peaks of La Gomera.

After a brief stop fighting for a decent picture amongst all the Canary Island tourists all jetting around in their little cars, we were bundled back into the bus and off to the National Park itself.

Somewhere amongst the peaks and forests of the National Park, the bus pulled over and we all got out to go for a ‘short walk’ along a trail through the natural laurel forests – the last completely untouched laurel forest preserved since the last ice age and as such, a UNESCO heritage site.

The start of the trail seemed to be right at the top of a ridge and the bush was sparten,  but moss draped the twiggy trees (which I was to learn was one of the 5 species of laurel that grew in the park). Little droplets of moisture from the sweeping clouds created little silver droplets which were quite nice – but hard to photograph!

The trail itself was relatively mild – to me and the fitter ones… – but quite an ordeal for some others who didn’t like walking amongst the roots and down hewn steps of dirt and mud! It was also one person wide so if one person had trouble or someone stopped for a photograph, everyone behind was unable to move forward.

The trail eventually descended gently (…) down a little way into the laurel forest itself, a lush green affair filled with these twiggy trees and ferns in the undergrowth. A cool mist blew constantly. We slowly made progress. I imagine this walk was no more than about a kilometre or so, but it took nearly 90 minutes to do (the guide had been estimating 30-45 minutes…) so we were drastically behind by the time we finished it and met up with the bus! Then the guide was panicking furiously about the book keeping times of the driver…

Ah well. We hastily drove onto Laguna Grande, our lunch stop, nearly have a nasty collision with a yellow rental car going waaaaayyyy too fast on the tight, narrow roads! This led to our guide muttering a lot about tourists coming to the island and not driving appropriate for the conditions.

At Laguna Grande we all had to walk to a little café/restaurant and get a drink. The entrance was small and the line was long. The people inside worked quite enough, but some other stragglers slipped into our line of 50 people and man oh man did this elderly British lady behind me complain loudly and bitterly about having to wait and constantly stand aside to let people out the door!

Everyone hastily downed their lunch and we dashed back to the bus – to get back on time… As to where Laguna Grande was, I don’t know! All I saw was a vast grassy picnic field!

From the lunch stop we drove to the Garajonay National Park visitor Centre (for some odd reason on the northern entrance to the park despite the fact most people enter from the south). We had 20 minutes here (time folks… time!) and oddly enough, it was one of those decent visitor centres where a bit more time would have been appreciated! A garden outside identified all the plants over the island, and with it being spring, everything was in full bloom (another thing our guide kept muttering – kept scolding us for only having one day here and we should have more so we could have seen the flowers in the meadows surrounding the national park…).

I ended up in a recreation of the house of the original inhabitants of the island (well, original Spanish inhabitants – the guanche seem to have been persecuted somewhat!). A video was playing showing the unique cultural things of La Gomera. We all waited with baited breath and with fearful glances at our watches to see if they would demonstrate the ‘whistling language’ of the locals – a language that was nearly extinct until some old fellow decided to teach some kids in the early 90s after school, and fame came their way and now its back in vogue…

Finally an example of “El Silbo” came on – and we got to watch 2 shepherds whistle a message about looking for a goat a neighbour had lost… I can’t claim to quite understand it other than it apparently follows the lilting way we speak and it can just as easily convey English words as Spanish… Once we were back on the bus the guide told us how she had obtained a recipe from a friend once by El Silbo – the neighbour said her mother had a better recipe, and rather than phone or run down the street, she whistled for her mother. And the mother came out and whistled the recipe to her daughter! Its that comprehensive!

From our hasty visitor centre stop, we drove down the northern road through the village of Agulo to some little artisano centre – the absolute heights of tacky souvenirdom, but increasingly looking like our only chance for a souvenir on the Canary Islands owing to the following day being Good Friday and our late arrival in La Gomera today! Can’t be too sure what the name of this stop was, but I am going to hazard a guess (from looking at the map) it was Agulo – a small village complete with banana plantation.

We then drove back to San Sebastien, stopping at some lookout where we could see Teide rising up above the nearly cleared away clouds of Tenerife. (can’t be sure where – very confusing looking on the map, but it looks like it was just past Agulo).

Then it was up and over a hill and we could see San Sebastian at the bottom. We snaked back down through more grassy terraced steep hills, pausing at one lookout to take some pictures of the valley (not good ones as it was a case of shooting into the sun…) before being dropped off at the bus at 6.30pm!

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