El Hierro

This year we decided to head to the Canary Islands again to soak up the sun and go hiking. Our first stop was the smallest and youngest in the archipelago, El Hierro. Three years ago we visited La Palma, the greenest island of the Canaries. This time we wanted to visit two other islands, El Hierro, the smallest and youngest of the Canary Islands and La Gomera, the second smallest island. We flew to Tenerife and from there took the evening ferry to El Hierro. About an hour into the ride, I looked out the window and thought I saw something jump in the water. When I looked again there were more splashes and I noticed a swarm of dolphins jumping and swimming next to the ferry. What a sight! Our first view of the island was the sun setting behind it and we looked forward to exploring it the next day.

After a good night’s sleep in our lovely little house and breakfast out on the patio we were ready to explore and headed down to the southern tip of the island for our first little hike along the coast where we saw amazing lava formations which we nicked named “cow patties” (the technical term is pāhoehoe). El Hierro supposedly has 1000 volcanic cones and everywhere we turned we saw them. The island is a very young island, about 1.2 Million years old and by looking at the vegetation and the forms on the island it is easy to see this.

We also walked up to the ridge dividing the island in two to look out over the moister, fertile northern side of the island. From our lookout point we were able to look over to Malpaso, the highest peak at 1501 m above sea level, where we would hike up to the next day.

We got up early the next morning to drive to the northern side of the island to summit the peak from that side. We staredt hiking up through the laurel forest (cloud forest), but didn’t reach the fog until we left the forest and rounded the ridge. It was mystical walking through it. Sometimes the fog was thick and it was hard to see anything at all and then there would be a quick window and the wind blew the fog up and away. And as quickly as it arrived, it left and we had views of the southern side of the island.

Once we were out of the fog, we had clear views around us all the way to the ocean and these followed us all the way up the highest peak at 1501 m. The exciting thing about this hike was being able to walk through the different kinds of vegetation El Hierro has: laurel forests, pastures, desert and pine forests.

El Hierro is a special island, not only because it’s so young but also because long ago it was considered the westernmost point in the world and Potolomy placed the prime meridian where that known place was: El Hierro. Until recent history the Ferro meridian was used as a reference point in several European countries. Of course we had to walk out to that point on the island!

Another interesting fact about El Hierro is it’s name which is not derived from the Spanish word for iron. Due to this confusion, old maps labeled the island “Iron” in the language the map was made in, eg. Île de Fer on French maps. It’s not entirely clear where the name comes from and there are several theories which take the language of the pre-Hispanic inhabitants into consideration and could mean “strong” or “cistern”.

Sometimes also called the “lost island”, El Hierro has plans to become the first island to be self-sufficient for electrical energy. Many homes sport solar panels to heat water and a hydroelectric plant with wind turbines was built on the island. There is room for improvement but they are on the right track.

The lava forms change constantly and sometimes you come across spectacular formations like an arch over the ocean. The chunky lava came out as a solid and clumped together to create things we now find spectacular. Along with the wild waves pounding the coast line, it’s unworldly. Swimming in winter isn’t really an option due to the rough sea and currents. In summer the sea is calmer but it’s still recommended to pick places that are either naturally protected or where protection has been made. Charco Azul is one of these places, a turquoise pool which even shimmers blue-green in winter when the sun is hiding behind clouds. It must be amazing on a sunny day. How I wished we had been able to go for a dip. But with the wind and chilly air it wasn’t possible.

Many years ago, I spent a week on Lanzarote, the northern and easternmost Canary Island. There, I become acquainted with César Manrique an artist from the island. His sculptures remind me of some of the things Pablo Picasso did. But what I admire most is his architectural work and the buildings I saw many years ago have stayed with me ever since. It was important for Manrique to integrate his work into the landscape, in the same way Frank Lloyd Wright did, another architect I admire. He designed a structure for each of the Canary Islands and we visited the Mirador de La Peña where we also had dinner. When we arrived there was no view whatsoever due to the fog and clouds, but we were patient and were granted an amazing sunset. No so much color-wise, but in the way the the clouds moved back and forth like curtains letting the rays in and blocking them out again. I almost couldn’t concentrate on my dinner as we watched the sun set.

Our last long hike on the island was a bit of a dud. Although the vegetation at the beginning and end of the hike was very interesting and lush, the rest of the hike was a matter of hiking straight down and then straight back up again. At least the views made up for part of it and it was right next to our house so we didn’t have far to go. And yes, it was down to the Parador on the coast and back up again.

Before we said goodbye to the island, we strolled through the capital city Valverde and visited its church. The palm tree was a sign of what was to come on the island La Gomera.

We were sad to leave as the island was quiet and almost void of tourists. We enjoyed being out on the trails by ourselves and only very rarely seeing anyone else. Out on those old volcanoes it was almost like being the only people on earth. The landscape is special, and I can highly recommend the island to anyone who wants a quite time away.

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