I would like to share our experience of "trekking" in La Gomera, the smallest – bar one- of the Canary Islands. The islands, about 100 kms from the African coast, belong to Spain.
In the days before our ultimate "trek" experience we had been taking strolls around whatever village we were staying in. For hour after calm, unhurried hour we walked through banana plantations, along dry river beds, up mountains, explored churches, looked at views, sat on the beach. 'So that's trekking – most relaxing,' I thought.
On this particular day, however, things were different. The sun looked like it might be setting soon, and the mountain we were climbing/slipping down still stretched endlessly below us. No sign of a road – all we could see were rocks, thick clusters of trees and bushes and no defined paths. We could go off the trail in dozens of different ways, and in fact this happened a few times. We would eventually turn back, after reaching an uncrossable chasm or a mountain path which stopped at the peak or was blocked by large boulders.
Occasionally we came across the trail marks – two strips of color painted on a rock – which assured us we weren't hopelessly lost. But I was more than a little upset as I remembered how quickly darkness came to the island. "This is the first and last time I go trekking," I swore to myself.
We were lucky. The mountain village we had set out from, Vallehermoso, is more to the west. When we started out that afternoon, innocently thinking about "another stroll", we also didn't know that we had gained some extra daylight time.
After some four hours of climbing up ridges and slipping down sandy slopes, and another hour's walk along a tarred road (and crossing the wall of a large dam, home to a clan of ducks), we returned thankfully to "our" neat little village nestling on the slopes of a large mountain.
We relaxed at the bar/café/restaurant/pension in the village square and drank coffee. Idly sitting on chairs under a large sun umbrella we looked across the "empty" space of the valley and saw a great mountain peak covered with tropical foliage and pitted with caves. It was almost 10 kilometers away, but every detail was so clear that it could have been 10 meters.
We breathed the wonderful mountain air, made our decision – and booked an extra night at the pension.
The next day we went on another trek, but this time made sure to set off earlier – much earlier. This trek was even longer and more arduous that the first, but most of the paths were clearly marked. And even where they weren't, so what? And if the mountains never seemed to end, so nu, we were supremely confident – we were proven trekkers.
Not bad going for people in their 70s.
Besides it being green, mountainous and thickly covered with banana plantations, La Gomera is known as the trekking island. Thousands of people, many of them young couples from Germany, come back year after year, outfitted in special boots and pointed alpenstocks (good for slippery descents), to walk the mountains, valleys and deep ravines.
The tourist offices in the villages provide detailed hiking maps with splendid photographs, plus instructions written in Spanish, German and English. The latest and largest map details about 30 routes and well over 300 kilometers of marked trails, all this on a more or less circular 20-kilometer-wide island rearing up out of the Atlantic Ocean.
From the sea one can make out rock walls and mountains. Once past the shoreline we find a monumental clutter formed by mother-nature – the island breaks up into hundreds upon hundreds of deep valleys, ravines and mountains. Small bays, villages and a few harbor towns manage to find a foothold here and there. Tropical growth (much of it cactus and the occasional palm tree set amidst the greenery) climbs up the slopes of rolling mountains, some of whose peaks reach to 1400 meters.
Unfortunately, with our limited time, we missed La Gomera's other great attraction – the enormous Garajonay National Park in the center of the island, more than 1000 meters up. This is the only place where one still finds the primeval laurisilva woods, the last survivors of this plant from the Tertiary period. The constant mist hovering over the peculiarly-shaped trees, which are covered in long tendrils of trailing green moss, gives the forest the look of something from another world. In a vast circle around the perimeter of the ark are many villages which cater to tourists and trekkers.
With all this we got good food (lots of fish), great accommodation, low prices and a good bus and ferry service. The ferries between the harbors do the journey in about 15 minutes, while the bus journeys – along winding, narrow roads – can take hours, but this is the best way to see the island.
The beaches could be a drawback – most of them are stony (except for a few fine black-sanded beaches – notably in Valle Gran Rey, where backpackers gather for swimming and surfing). This didn't discourage visitors staying at the quiet harbor villages – we often saw them sunbathing on towels spread on top of the stones.
I hope that the quiet and easy pace of La Gomera doesn't speed up too much, now that the island has gained an airport (there is also an excellent ferry service from Tenerife – it takes less than half an hour).
For most of the year the weather is mild to sunny. Although it is in the Atlantic Ocean, the island is advertised as having a Mediterranean-type climate. Summers are long and dry, with short, wet winters. We went in mid-November – occasionally we were rained upon, but it was usually light and didn't last for very long.
Today we are back at work, and dream about our next trip. This time we'll also take a look at Hera, the smallest of the Canaries, as well as La Palma – this last being listed as one of the three most beautiful islands in the world.