La Gomera Misadventure

20 Jan

It’s been an eventful few days. Left to our own devices we’ve continued to explore La Gomera island on foot and on two wheels, this time with a 125cc motor.

It was luck rather than good management our second Saturday here coincided with San Sebastian’s festival day. We took an early morning taxi up to Degollada de Peraza cafe and lookout, familiar to us from last week’s walking with Andy and Paddy. Our plan was to hike a new route (for us) that drops off the south-east incline of the ridge and down a 12k trail all the way to San Sebastian on the coast via La Laja.

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A cold, blustery start with a rocky, steep descent, followed by a brief uphill turned into a long, warm slog downhill but the views were worth it. For the first time we saw clearly the cone-shaped peak of Teide Mountain on Tenerife island poking up through the cloud line.

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We saw no other hikers, only goats, sheep and farmers tilling tiny terraced fields. We figured most locals would have already travelled to San Sebastian for the festival.

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We made one brief stop to purchase aloe vera-based moisturizer produced locally by two entrepreneurial Germans who’d set up a tiny, wooden self service vending kiosk at the last signpost into La Laja.

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The valley is one of the greenest we’ve seen, with three tiers of reservoirs, terraced agriculture and tidy white washed houses with orange tiled roofs. Many have postboxes with foreign names – German, English and Norwegian.

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At one stage we stumbled into the largest herd of goats we’ve ever seen being escorted by a female goatherd along a precipitous track. The startled goats took off at a canter with their hugely engorged udders waggling between their hind legs, neck bells clanging.

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The next strange sight was a stout, elderly woman walking towards us embracing a huge, live turkey. She’d pinned the bird to her chest by gripping it at the base of its wings and was striding down the road. The turkey didn’t seem distressed, but then it probably didn’t realise it was dinner.

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Eight kilometers into the walk we were sorely in need of a break. Atoja roadside tavern and a cold Dorada beer in the sunshine put some pep back into our legs.

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After five hours we entered the deserted outskirts of San Sebastian. The only people around were a few bus drivers taking coffee in their depot bar. It wasn’t until a road block at the entrance to the main street of San Sebastian that we could see and hear signs of a celebration.

The first people we came across comprised the very tail end of the street parade. A family group dressed in traditional costume pushed a decorated cart laden with home-cooked food and wine that everyone helped themselves to, a mobile picnic. In front other members of the group were tuning stringed instruments, a mixture of guitars and a mandolin-like instrument. They offered us goat cheese and fried snacks while they posed smiling for my camera. Once the music was underway some dancers stepped forward and led the group down the street with a polka type step. Now that’s the way to party!

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As we strolled down the street we noticed discrete community groups with slightly different versions of similar attire, many of the women wearing a colourful headscarf with a tiny straw hat securely attached at a rakish angle. The tight bodices of their dresses were often lavishly embroidered and petticoats and white bloomers flashed as they twirled. Most wore fawn suede laced ankle boots. Men seemed to favour black gaucho tailored trousers and jackets with red piping with muskateer-style white shirts and black hats, while others wore high-waisted brown or grey wool trousers that stopped above the ankle, topped by a white shirt, plain vest and a rounded grey felt hat fitting snugly on their head.

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Each group did their own thing but all moved slowly towards the main plaza. Songs were often sung in three part harmonies, though some were solos by both men and women. Strong, emotional and melodic it was an absolute delight to walk beside them.

When we reached the cathedral everyone halted momentarily as barricades had been set up to section off a performance area. The Rociero (street procession of the effigy of San Sebastian) had finished and the statue took pride of place in front of the main cathedral door. Each group waited their turn to perform one song and dance in front of the statue. A single nun stood beside the statue enthusiastically applauding each group as they finished.

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We were ready for lunch and found Restaurant Salamandra with its wooden balconies overlooking the street. We ate, drank and enjoyed watching the parade as it continued on down to the harbourside where a main stage was set up in front of open air tables and chairs. More groups of traditionally dressed folk had settled in for an afternoon of feasting and entertainment.

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The objective of our Sunday walk was to revisit Clemente Restaurant in Alojera for a long lunch. Belen happened to be first in the taxi rank queue. She dropped us by the airport at the start of the trail so it was an easy 7k walk rising 700 metres to Alojera. But for three savage dogs guarding a remote house and Stuart’s close encounter with an aloe vera plant (well, he was bare chested at the time) it was entirely uneventful.

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We did justice to Clemente’s menu and a bottle of white wine.

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Chatting with a Welsh couple who’d finished their walk for the day too we discovered they were also staying in Playa Santiago. A quick call to Belen and by the time the meal was over she’d arrived to drive us all back to Playa Santiago. Couldn’t have planned it better if we’d tried!

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A rainbow started our penultimate day off well. Yesterday we attempted to ride to the north of the island by scooter to see the visitor centre near Agulo and the famous glass viewing platform over a 500 metre drop. Tried but failed. The weather forecast of sunshine and 19mph winds mentioned nothing about 50mph gusts sweeping over the tops of the mountains and barreling down the barrancas.

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Trying to keep the scooter upright around the hairpin bends was tough for Stuart and twice I felt us almost go over. Wind and rain the night before had loosened rocks and there were several rock falls across the road. 19 degrees celsius by the seaside dropped to 6 with wind chill on the mountain ridges. We were both shivering uncontrollably by the time we decided to abort the mission and bolted into Bar Sonia in Chipude. Bless the waiter who greeted us with a ‘¡Mal dia!’ (‘Horrible day!’). He knew instantly what we needed. Hot vegetable soup with lots of crusty bread and hot, sweet tea at a table by a sunny window. We watched moisture laden clouds race overhead and waited for a gap in the weather.

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A careful, slow retreat down the mountain and half an hour later we were back at Restaurant Clemente on the sun terrace with another warm drink thanking our lucky stars we’d averted disaster.

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Our final day was blessedly less blustery. We had yet to try a coastal walk so took the opportunity to hike up past Hotel Jardin Tecina along the trail to Las Casas Contreras dipping down into three stony beaches before a volte face at Chinguarime Beach.

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On the return I passed a middle-aged German hippy we’d greeted earlier on the track (Stu was resting his knees by taking the cliffside elevator down to Playa Santiago). The fellow was carrying a five litre bottle of water and resting part way on his ascent. I commented that it looked heavy. He replied, ‘It’s worth it!’ and we got chatting. He told me he came to the south of the island back in November (we were now in the final week of January). At first he thought he would stay a few days but he found a cave on Chinguarime Beach and fell in love with ‘the nothingness’ of the place. ‘The sea, rocks, a few trees, sunshine, sometimes more, sometimes less, that’s enough’. He looked the picture of health and contentment. Something to ponder as we prepare to leave La Gomera.

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