La Gomera

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(>Pictures at the bottom!)

The island rises out of the Atlantic like an impregnable fortress, and steep walls greet arrivals from afar. The traffic routes are narrow and wind along the rock faces, climbing steeply uphill or dropping almost in the fall line. The houses often cling to rocky peaks in the most impossible places, and the former volcanic activity is present everywhere.
As there is no infrastructure for mass tourism anywhere, there are also no masses of people looking for recreation, and life is approached very calmly by the local population. In addition to the laid-back population, more and more mainland Europeans are settling in La Gomera and enjoying the island’s unique climate. Sunshine can be followed by thick clouds within minutes, accompanied by a lot of wind and humidity; rain is usually followed by sunshine again. On the south side, the island is drier and irrigation systems provide enough water.
The island’s capital San Sebastián has the flair of a village, and people know each other. If you leave the town on one of the few arterial roads, it becomes even quieter and you can safely shift down a gear or two and relax.
In the heart of La Gomera lies the “Parque Nacional de Garajonay”, which covers around 10% of the island’s surface with an almost impenetrable laurel forest and rises to almost 2000 metres. Besides its important function in the ecosystem, this forest, or rather the whole island, is a true Eldorado for hikers.

We reached this fortress in the late afternoon after a stormy crossing and were glad to finally disembark. Hardly ashore, the next challenge followed: finding a quiet spot for our first night before nightfall. Almost like everywhere else on the Canary Islands, there is no tourist infrastructure on La Gomera for campers who are travelling with an off-roader and would be grateful for a toilet.

Whether it was coincidence or our experience in interpreting the map I can’t really say. The sun had already set behind the mountains when we found a bay north of San Sebastián where we were somewhat protected from the strong gusts. There we set up at the edge of the car park for our first night on La Gomera. The palm trees provided additional protection from the wind and so we survived the stormy night unmolested in the pop-up roof. But we had to park our jeep differently for breakfast, so that the wind didn’t constantly blow out the flame of the cooker.

The weather forecast announced strong winds from the northeast, and we immediately adjusted our itinerary to the upcoming conditions. So we went straight to the south coast, where we expected somewhat warmer temperatures and less wind. In Playa de Santiago we found our desired spot, where we were not immediately blown out of the car. The warmth even allowed us to take a dip in the sea.

The next day we set off again and climbed up the steep mountain flanks to the “Parque Nacional de Garajonay”. But already far down we reached the thick cloud cover, which pressed from the north over the island-spanning mountain ridge and accordingly brought down a lot of humidity. In addition to the drizzle, the temperatures were in the single digits, so we drove back to our starting point. Down in Playa de Santiago it was pleasantly warm and a refreshment in the sea took our minds off the cold in the mountains.

On the advice of other campers, we headed for another bay in the south-western part, where bananas are grown on the terraces above and we could set up camp in the lower bay next to an abandoned fish cannery. After the previous nights in the middle of a village, here we only heard the surf, were relatively well protected from the gusts of wind and, to top it all off, we experienced a starry sky. The nocturnal peace was only disturbed shortly after dark by the yellow-billed shearwaters (sepia shearwaters) returning from the sea with strange noises.

A visit to the Valle Gran Rey is almost obligatory on La Gomera, and we too meandered towards this valley for countless kilometres. Probably many others think so too, and the wonderful valley is almost drowned by tourist leisure traffic. At the very bottom by the surf, it was a bit too crowded for us, in the few places directly by the sea there was a lot going on, and on the beach there were sun-hungry tourists despite the fresh wind. In this narrowness we also found no place to stay for our mobile home and so our decision was soon made that we would drive back to La Rajita to enjoy another quiet night next to the fish factory. No sooner had we settled in for the second night than a Spanish camper wanted to hand us fresh (headless) sardines, which – in view of Chantal’s allergy – we unfortunately had to refuse.

On our map I discovered a special path through the side of the valley in which we were standing with our camper, and the plan for my (Tom’s) hike was already made. Chantal also had to withdraw for health reasons, but she let me do as I pleased and let me live out my hiking pleasure.

So I had a wonderful day on special footpaths, which used to serve the population as connecting paths and sometimes lead adventurously through the steepest rock faces. I enjoyed the ascent on a “well-trodden path”, where many hikers take the circumnavigation of the island under their feet. For the descent from Arguayoda, I chose the path that leads from the village 500 metres down to the Barranco de la Rajita (river course), where there is still a used garden of the village. There is no other access than this steep descent! Wow, what people used to achieve and do for a living with the simplest of means.

Together we continued our journey the next day and as it was Saturday, we needed to replenish our supplies for the next few days. So we climbed back up to the mountain ridge, where another short detour to the highest mountain on the island was planned. But from 1000 metres upwards, the landscape was shrouded in thick clouds and I didn’t want to wander around in the fog. The car park at the starting point was, despite the fog, overcrowded and many cars were already parked along the narrow road, so that even the public bus had to meander around the cars.

Without further ado, we changed our plans and drove down to Alojera on the west coast, where the centre of palm honey production* on La Gomera is located. Unfortunately, the information centre was closed and we could only get a rough idea of the production of the delicious juice from the internet information. But the palm trees in the whole region left us with a very pathetic impression. We strongly suspect that a little too much juice is extracted from the young shoots here and that the palms did not make a particularly vital impression on us.
(* Honey is a protected term and may actually only be used for bee honey. Palm honey is a kind of thickened plant sap and has nothing at all to do with honey).

Instead of the hike and the in-depth information about palm honey, we had a shopping tour in Vallehermoso, followed by a sniff of the fresh sea breeze at Playa de Santa Catalina, before heading back up into the mountains. Somewhere, just before the national park, we spotted a campsite on the map, which we assumed might be a private site and certainly not closed because of the Corona pandemic. As expected, the site was open, but it had no parking facilities for vehicles, as everything was steeply sloped and the individual tent sites were only accessible by footpaths.

Time was pressing and we had to find a suitable place for the night before dark. The dense laurel forest did not leave many options, or the ground was so wet that we would have been submerged in mud until the early hours of the morning. A car park at an unoccupied holiday camp, which was not immediately a mud bath, allowed us to spend the night at an altitude of over 1000 metres. As the thermometer dropped into the single digits shortly afterwards, our heater was soon humming in the back of the vehicle and didn’t let us freeze to death right away in the Canary Islands 😉

After the fresh night, the weather calmed down, but the clouds still hung low in the mountains above us. Our decision to go back to the south coast was made in a few words. We were convinced that it would be much more pleasant there. Soon our things were stowed in the jeep and we scrambled up to the ridge road, which we reached in the afternoon. To our surprise, the weather improved and longer and longer sunny stretches accompanied us on the journey. The change in weather was probably too short notice for the tourists and hikers. Thus, despite Sunday, the traffic was very quiet and only a few vehicles were parked at the starting points of hikes. It was also my chance to climb the highest mountain of La Gomera after all, and so I (Tom) rushed in record-breaking time along the hiking trail to the summit, where there are usually a lot of people in good weather conditions.

In the evening, we were again in Playa de Santiago and had to prepare for another somewhat noisy night; there was a lot going on in the car park and on the adjacent road. On the other hand, we had all the comforts of the modern world and were able to book our next ferry crossing to La Palma.

In the north-eastern part of the island there is a gravel road through the “Parque Natural de Majona”, which leads far up into the mountains and was on my wish list. So we climbed a but from the south coast, crossed the east-west ridge and followed the side road down to the north coast. In the nature park, we meandered for many kilometres along the steep rock faces, and every dip in the valley made us marvel again at this unique world. Before the big climb, however, there was an information board saying that the crossing was closed due to construction work, and grudgingly we turned our jeep around. So we had to bump all the way back and take a long diversions towards San Sebastián. But we knew in advance where we could spend the last night on La Gomera: We headed for the same bay where we had already spent the first night. Apart from the surf and clear starry sky, it was again a very quiet night.

When booking the ferry to La Palma, we were “ragheads” and chose the cheapest evening connection, which was about 50 euros cheaper. So we had to or were allowed to spend the day walking San Sebastián with its alleys and squares, which was done relatively quickly given its size. A swim at the city beach shortened the wait and soon it was time to settle in at the harbour.

With much anticipation we continued; long live island hopping!
La Palma, we are coming.

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