La Gomera

Our second week on the Canary Islands was spent on the second smallest island of La Gomera. Just as when we arrived in El Hierro several days earlier, it was dark when the ferry docked in San Sebastiàn. We drove along winding roads and through thick fog until we reached where we were staying on the northern side of the island. The drive up to the house was not for the faint hearted. But the views of the valley the next morning were worth it. We started our visit to the island by checking out the national park visitor center and a nearby lookout point Mirador de Abrante. Apart from the view of the village of Agulo, we were excited to see such red soil paired with lush green of plants such as cacti, palm trees and aloe-like plants.

But before we drove down to Agulo, we detoured to a nearby dam, hidden in the forest. This is where La Gomera showed us or the first time how different it is from El Hierro. La Gomera is about 20 million years older then El Hierro and has a many deep ravines, or barrancos. Not only because the island is older is the vegetation different, but also because the clouds often get stuck in the higher parts of the island resulting in thick and lush laurel forests. On one of our later hikes we hiked through a foggy forest and it was very mystical.

Before we walked through Agulo and down to the coast, we had a delicious lunch at La Molina where we were the only guests. I started with the traditional almogrote, a dip made out of sheep’s cheese, garlic, paprika and olive oil followed by grilled fish with ratatouille and fried potatoes. Agulo used to export bananas and while bananas are still cultivated there, they aren’t exported anymore and all that is left of the business are ruins. Still, Agulo was the village that we thought prettiest of all the ones we visited. As we walked down past the terraces, most of them unused, and some with bananas, I marveled at the blue ocean and the palm trees. Little did I know that I would see many more of said palm trees.

The next day we set of to hike to the top of the highest peak, Alto de Garajonay at 1487m, 14 m lower than El Hierro’s highest peak. We combined the hike to the highest peak with a detour to the top of La Fortaleza, the islands sacred mountain. Here, burial mounds from the indigenous inhabitants have been found. When standing in front of it, it’s easy to see why. La Fortaleza rises up without any other mountains around it and even though I knew there was a trail and I was standing in front of it, I still couldn’t figure out where how we’d be getting to the top.

Once back down, we made our way to the Alto de Garajonay. The trail led us through pine forests with and without fog. As we walked along the base of the Garajonay, the sun shone brightly but as soon as we were at the top, it was windy and foggy and there was absolutely no view. So we spent at the most two minutes there before heading back down and followed the trail through pastures and palm trees.

Palm trees play an important role in La Gomera as they are used to make miel de palma or palm syrup. Not unlike maple syrup, the the sap of palm trees is collected and boiled down. Only 700 trees are allowed to be used per harvesting season and they are easy to spot with hanging buckets, metal bands around the base to prevent animals from climbing up and enjoying the syrup and a “bald head” where the top fronds have been removed to access the top of the tree where the sap is collected.

The following day we headed down to the famous Valle Gran Rey where during the 1970s and 80s many hippies decided to settle down. It still has a hippie feel to it, with places selling organic fruit or vegan ice cream.

We enjoyed a quiet day by first visiting the tropical fruit garden in Argaga. Here, we toured through the large plantation and tasted various 12 different fruits: kumquat, black sapote, carob, mulberries, white and pink guavas, Canary bananas, Indian Jujube, avocado, naranjilla, tamarillo, pomegranate and sweet and sour tamarind. It was interesting to learn that of the more than 400 varieties of avocados, some have more healthy fats than others. Also that avocados have to be picked when unripe so that they ripe properly. If they aren’t picked at the correct time, hard spots will remain in the fruit which will never ripen. To make sure avocados can be eaten right when they are bought, they are often treated to heat before being sold. Fresh and untreated avocados need approximately one week to ripen at room temperature.

The afternoon was spent on the beach in Vueltas swimming in the cool water, warming up on the hot, black sand and enjoying ice cream from El Sueno de Yanini. If you like unusual flavors you’ll have a hard time trying to decide between white chocolate with cherries, triple chocolate, cinnamon or peanut butter to name a few, but there are also the usual suspects with coconut or mango.

The following day we were back on the trails and this time we started hiking in thick fog and wild wind. We had hoped to have views of the famous Roques around the Roque de Ojila, but we didn’t get to see them in all their glory until later during the hike when the fog had burned off. Although we got off to a rough start, it turned out to be a lovely hike.

At the end of the hike we walked back through the laurel forest and although the thick fog had left, it was easy to see all the green moss on the trees. A forest where you’d expect fairies to flit between the branches.

Before we headed back to our little house in the hills, we slipped down to the beach in Vallehermoso for a few pictures and from where we were finally able to see the island of Tenerife.

Whenever we come back from hiking trips we are always asked which was your favorite hike. It’s much easier to say which one didn’t care for as much! But on La Gomera I don’t think we even had one we didn’t like. Each was spectacular in it’s own way, but maybe the one through the barrancos Imada and Guarimiar was a little bit more spectacular. Again, we started out in the fog, but it quickly disappeared. There were cacti, basalt pillars, flowering almond trees, goats and palm trees. We also were able to see El Hierro towards the end of the hike.

It wasn’t that late in the afternoon when we finished the hike so we decided to head down to the capital, San Sebastiàn. We were expecting a pretty town with overflowing flower boxes like Santa Cruz in La Palma, but we were disappointed.

One of the last long hikes we took was in the wilder and more isolated northeastern part of the island near Taguluche. I finished this hike with mixed feelings because while the landscape was stunning and reminded me a bit of the Grand Canyon the trail itself was harrowing. More often than not there was no trail, which wasn’t the actual problem. Rather the fact that the rocks were loose and I really didn’t feel like falling into cacti or into the barranco bothered me.

On our last day we walked around the area near our house in Vallehermoso and then headed over to Hermigua for a little walk along the coast to the Punta San Lorenzo. The sea was rough and we were able to watch huge waves crash against the coast. If anyone had doubts that swimming in winter is unsafe, they were sure to think again when they saw these waves.

The other question we were asked as soon as we got back was: which island did you like best? This question isn’t answerable. We enjoyed both islands and would recommend both. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself!

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