CANARIES GR131

TENERIFE 28th JAN

Whoever said “no pain no gain”?
I gained a lot of pleasure today from a 20km hike with just 400 mt ascent with no pack to weigh me down.
I left Vilaflor, the highest village on Tenerife, and initially climbed for awhile into the pine woods I would spend the morning traversing.
The blue of the sky merged with the blue of the sea and I looked down on a bank of cloud somewhere between.

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All of these woods had been burnt at some stage recently but were now sprouting new growth from the dormant buds buried deep beneath the thick bark.

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There was no wind and it was still and silent apart from the sound of my boots crunching on the red pumice path which had been badly eroded in places by, I guessed, mountain bikers. That may have been a false accusation though because later on the peace was shattered by the raucous sputtering of trails bikes.
The heady aroma of resinous pine kept washing over me on the rising heat waves.
Prosperous haciendas appeared now and again amongst the high terraces with fields of grey pumice in which they grow the potato the area is renowned for.

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It also supplies a lot of water both for irrigation and bottling and there are complex webs of pipes running everywhere.

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But there were also numerous abandoned terraces and fincas and some era’s, the round flat areas for threshing grain, seemingly miles from any ground capable of growing any.

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At one point deep in the forest I came upon a chain of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

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I came out of the forest and onto a road at Ifonche where there was a bar and crossroads of trails. There were a lot of hikers coming and going and the tap tap of walking poles was like some kind of morse code I wasn’t in on.
The landscape changed and became more open, treeless and dramatic.

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It’s been a recurring or ongoing fantasy of mine over my years rambling in the outer regions and coming across many remote but beautiful abandoned old houses in fantastic settings to put together a portfolio of Eco renovated off grid properties to rent cheaply to people seeking the tranquillity such places provide.
This place is one of them.

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When I got down to it I discovered it had a lot of little cave rooms dotted around the place( for guest accommodation) and a well crafted stone cap over a large and deep cistern.

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A whole mountainside of old terraces, now growing wild flowers and cactus reminded me of Machu Pitchu.

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And the , just before I finished in Arona one last old era with a view.

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TENERIFE 27th JAN

I must be getting weary. I’ve been making mistakes. My mind is not in the moment and it’s not so much a case of .. Be here now… As ..Be where when?
First I leave my wallet on the bus. That should have got me to sharpen up but the very next night I walk away from the charging battery pack for my phone at the ferry port, realising just as we cast off.
And then, groggy from lack of sleep, when I hear the ship docking I hurriedly pack up and disembark, wondering why nobody else seems keen to be on their way.
There’s a lot of people on the dock waiting to board… Something’s not right… I look at my phone… It’s only 6.30 and we don’t arrive till 8.
I hadn’t realised we stopped at La Gomera on the way to Tenerife. I could very easily in my current sloppy state of mind have wandered off into town and watched the ship sail away !
When I did arrive at my destination I had already realised that I didn’t have enough time to walk the 8 hours from the bus at Arona to Vilaflor before dark so developed a cunning plan.
Take the bus past Arona to Vilaflor where I had my room at Almazen hostel.. Leave my increasingly heavy (must be the wearyness) pack there and hike DOWNHILL 20km on a 1400mt descent rather than the other way round with a full load on.
Then I reaLized I wouldn’t be able – starting at midday, to get down in time for the last bus back.
An even more cunning plan developed. Bus to Almazen. Chill out all day. Hike down in morning. Last bus back. Another €10 night.
I further advances this cunning strategy into a master plan. I would do as described above and then, the next day,with a stroke of genius , instead of hiking from Vilaflor to the Parador at the top of the trail involving another 1000mt climb… I would take the bus up and walk DOWN to Almazen for another €10 night. Then take the bus back up to the Parador the following morning to continue for another 3 days of level and downish hiking. Not only did this superior tactical thinking avoid me carrying a heavy pack against the wishes of gravity, it also avoided me camping out , illegally, in the Natioal Park at well over 2000mt.
The fact that I was excited about these effort avoiding strategies must mean I’ve hit a bit of a wall but what the hell, they’ve given me enthusiasm to hit the trail where a little bit of reluctance was creeping in.
I don’t have to go in one direction from beginning to end- I’m a free man- I’ll go up or down as i choose.
And as I ease up on one kind of rambling I let loose with the other.
When I got to Almazen I knew my plan was the right one.
A 400yr old rambling building, abandoned for 25yrs, with a terrace and extensive fruit and veg gardens and plenty of spring water rights. Views across the towns rooftops and surrounding mountains, nice people setting up a place for music and craftwork and healing and a cheap hostel to bring in the euros. They’ve been working hard to get it together since they moved in last November.
I strolled around the town taking pictures

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Bought the makings of a big fresh salad and eased into my surroundings.

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Today I would relax and not hurry down the trail gathering kms. Today I would…Be here now.

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LA PALMA 26th JAN

LA Palma, Isla Bonita the beautiful island they call it and over the last few days ” Mine eyes have seen the glories”
With 35% of the island a protected area and having just been voted 3rd most beautiful in the world, I’d say it has justification for the name.
I haven’t seen half of it but what I have has been impressive.
They have a fertile abundance and seem connected to the natural and cultural world around them.
They offer up their riches with pride to the visitors with lots of artisan producers selling their honey, from the wealth of wild flowers, jewellery made from the various stones,straw and leather and textile crafts, cigars, and all manner of sauces and pickles, fruit and veg and the world renown wine and liqueurs.
It’s the worlds steepest, as I well know, with its summits seemingly hidden in a shroud of most and cloud a lot of the time. I felt better about not being able to complete my circuit of the highest peaks after talking to an English hiker and ultra marathon runner when he told me he had attempted it 4 times in the last 10 days and given up every time. Mind you I didn’t feel so good when he pointed out the chef in the bar we were in, a man I’m guessing was around my age, had completed the LA Palma ultra which consists of my proposed 3 day route in 7 HOURS! !
The people have been very friendly and helpful especially when I left my wallet on the bus last night and it was organised to be returned to me on a returning bus a couple of hours later. Praise the people.
My Spanish is too bad to have conversations with those who don’t hablar ingles but I’ve met a good few travellers from Holland Germany France and England who all think there is something special about the place and the people I thought I’d come across on Gomera looking for the “good life ” seem to be here.
There were no ferries today so I spent the day in the capital, Santa Cruz, soaking up the culture and buildings.

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I went to a fine old town house Casa Salazar” that was housing an exhibition about the “disappeared” and mass graves of the Franco era and civil war on the island with artwork and text I struggled to understand.

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I discovered that Fyffes had allowed their huge packing and processing complex to be turned into a concentration camp in existence for a decade.
Then more back street wanderings.

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Next up was the museo insular another fine old colonial building containing natural history, ethnographical museum and art gallery. It was also displaying an exhibition of astophotography from the island.

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The natural history collection had a room stuffed full of marvellous taxidermy including some oddities.

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The ethnographical section had all the usual collection of stuff the rural population used through the ages and I discovered that El Paso, where I had been a couple of days ago is the last place in Spain still doing silk production.
Back to the streets to admire the old buildings.

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Finally ending up on Av Maritima where the balcones, much admired by travellers over the centuries, still had,in some cases, boarded up ends that used to contain toilets that dropped their load onto the ground below to be washed out to sea.

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So not much walking today but my mind has been worked hard, particularly because I’ve had more hi tec malfunctions ( no wifi connectivity and a host of other problems brought on by me trying to fix it )
My ferry for Tenerife leaves at the convenient time of 4 am so I’m off to the ferry port to make myself at home.

LA PALMA 25th JAN

I awoke to the sound of a cock crowing somewhere in the distance. I found out later from Juan, a nice guy from the info centre at the campground, that there was a finca unbelievably out there on the mountain slopes. Everything in and out by mule. Talk about off grid.
The view into the caldera was spectacular and inviting.

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I left my pack at the camp and made my way, almost floating without my usual load, down into the river bed for a walk about. What a location the campground is in. You could really get back to nature after a few days out here.

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I wandered around for awhile to dumbstruck by the beauty of it all to take many pictures or actually manage any mental process then headed back to the campground before I went wandering off into the wilderness never to be seen again.
The info centre had another model, this one of just the caldera.

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I was smack in the middle of it. Juan showed me around. It had been built from river stone and local trees but also involved helicopter drops.

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One thing they had on display were the 10ft steel tipped poles the sheperds used for vaulting around the crags and I’d been past by a swarthy looking character brandishing one on the way up yesterday.
Then time to go back down the valley and marvel again at some of the effort gone into path making.

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This time on Juans advice I kept to the river bed which made for interesting walking at times.

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And right now my bus is going , so must I.

LA PALMA 24th JAN

So after about 25km, about 1200 mt descent and 800mt ascent I didn’t end up where expected.
When I got up it was still windy wet and cold.

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I knew I had to get out off the cloud but didn’t know wether to go up or down. Down would mean abandoning mission.Up would mean hopefully above the cloud but into wind. And then the thought of the cold last night at 1450mt and thinking about the freezing cold at 2400mt and with the words of P. Dillon going through my thoughts” there’s nowhere to hide up there in bad weather”, I reluctantly turned my back on the GR 131 and embraced the PR LP14. It was a wet embrace but it was leading me down to where I knew the sun shone.
We went through dripping forest

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and trees hung with yards of lichen?

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We descended through a different kind of lava field to the others I’d seen. These were obviously in the ” wet zone” as they too were sprouting green primitive life.

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But after an hour or so the cloud went up as I went down and I felt heat upon my skin again. Hallelujah
Looking back from the valley towards the ridge of the Cumbre Nueve that I should have been on I saw the thick cloud still swooping and swirling in what looked a malevolent fashion. Glad I’m not up there I thought.
I decided that as I wasn’t going to walk around the rim of the Taburiente crater as planned I would walk instead into the very heart of it and camp the night at a site deep and high surrounded by the peaks.
So I first visited the Centro de Visitantes of the National Park which involved following a trail across lumpy rugged lava.

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When I got there it wasn’t, as the trail had made me wonder, sculpted out of a lava tube or in some knarley cave but a big modern concrete building on a main road. Inside were impressive displays and info panels and helpful staff handing out details of the park and hiking routes.
They also had weather charts…( wind moderate!! Not where I’ve come from mate!) and a model. This is the bit i climbed.

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I had to get a bus from the centre to Los Llanos and start to walk into the caldera from there on the PR LP13, one of La Palmas “top walks”. It didn’t take long to see why after I’d left the town and its suburbs behind.
After a long climb (another) a bend in the road revealed the deep valley reaching in towards the high rim of mountains now in glorious sunshine. Wish I was up there I thought.
On the other side of the valley were fincas with land climbing up from the riverbed.

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The trail to the camp ground led up the riverbed with many sections clambering over stretches of mountainside. There were notices warning that with rain the track becomes dangerous and impassible and you could see why.

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A fine example of pillow lava I’m sure you’ll agree.

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It was beautiful but longer than I thought 13km was supposed to be and steeper than a 600mt climb ought to be. We past miles of painstakingly made acequias or water channels cut through the mountain and carried high over the riverbed on concrete viaducts.

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And a long way in was this what I imagine was an old hydro plant complex.

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The climb went on higher and higher as the sun sank lower and lower till only the peaks were illuminated.

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At last, with not a lot left in me, I passed through this prickly pear to the camp site that had miraculously solar lit service block and soft pine needle pitches.

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LA PALMA 23rd JAN

The weather looked set fair first thing so I headed off up a couple of km of the steepest road I’ve ever encountered. Just to get me to the start. I couldn’t work out how they got the tar to stick without it running off down the hill.
So already sweating I was encouraged by the hiker statue.

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And so began a very long ascent up through a pine forest to reach the bare ash slopes of the “volcano route” and hopeful 25 steep kms later the Refugio del Pilar recreation zone where I hoped they wouldn’t turf me out.

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As I climbed higher little wisps of mist and cloud would float by every so often but in general I seemed to be getting above the cloud that was massing to the south.
The sky was blue the ash black the trees green.

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A good few hikers past me going the other way DOWNHILL.
I was working my way around and over a chain of volcanos that stretched North to South up the spine of the island.
The wind had picked up and I was looking over the clouds to the sea far far below.

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Then the mist descended the cloud came down and the rain came in sideways on the strong and now cold wind. The nice thing was that rainbows kept getting formed in front of me.

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The area obviously was used to a soaking with more vegetation and greenery. I started to descend but not enough to get out of the cloud and rain.

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About 5 o’clock I arrived at the campsite and the thick cloud made it fairly dark already.

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So after a good look around for the most sheltered spot and some dried fruit and nuts for dinner I retired to my bed.
With all my clothes on including my down jacket, in my silk liner, in my sleeping bag, in my bivvy bag I was just about warm enough to, fitfully, sleep.

LA PALMA 22nd JAN

The day started well with me finding a tapaterria ( sewing machine maestro) in the back streets of Santa Cruz de la Palma to mend my broken rucksack shoulder strap.
He fixed me up in minutes for the princely sum of 1€( I tipped).

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I got some important information from the tourist office who assured me there was water available at three places on my route for the next few days so hopefully I won’t have to carry too much.
Then to a bus to carry me to the southern end of the island( the Canary Island buses are very cheap and seem to serve pretty isolated communities).
I had decided to treat myself in readiness for the hardships to come by getting a room and this one was a room with a view. Of the sea and the surrounding volcanic landscape.

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I arranged to leave whatever I can do without for the next few days there to lighten the load as I have to carry food for 3 or 4 days.
The bus ride revealed another beautiful island, different again from the others. Looking prosperous, productive and fertile with tidy towns and houses painted a variety of pastel and muted shades.
Acres of banana plantations and gardens bursting with fruit and veg of all kinds.
The highest ground was hidden in the clouds but I was hopeful that id be climbing above that layer into clear skies.
To make my life easier tomorrow I tackled the first 6 or 7km of the route by hiking down to the faro below Fuencaliente, passing through an amazing volcanic landscape.

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One of these volcanos, Teneguia, went up in 1971. It’s twisted and contorted lava was tinged with many colours and was “hot” until recently.

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The old lighthouse has been converted into an Eco interpretive centre for the marine reserve that surrounds it and is full of shocking statistics about the despoliation of the seas by man and uplifting visuals of the natural splendours within it. And wise sayings about an individual’s power to do something. I liked this one.

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The lighthouse was between an old fishing village and the salt pans built along the same lines as the ones I’d visited on Lobos island , Fuerteventura.

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The shop in the salinas sold a variety of flavoured salts and also great supplies for my trek into the mountains. Dried bananas and mangos, almonds , fig cake and Bollos de Centeno, some kind of serious eye cake. All local bush tucker.
Finally on my way back I stopped at the local bodega ( wine cellar) and bought a bottle of Negramoll, grown right outside my door organically in the 2 my deep lapilli or volcanic ash.

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So it’s uphill all the way for the next 2 days followed by a day around the top followed by a day coming down.
I don’t know about communication ability up there so I might not be able to post anything. We will see.
Hasta pronto

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LA GOMERA 21st JAN

Now that was a day’s walk. 25 km of rough tough mountain hiking with 800 mt of ascent and nearly 2000mt of descent. I thought that the last third of the route, the downhill stretch would be quick but the paths were what Paddy Dillon described as very rugged so you can be sure they were.
Knee jarring, ankle twisting, shin spraining bolder paved paths. I prefer it when I get to a section that Paddy describes as gentle walking.
Still, the gods were kind to me today with cloud lifting for most of the morning and late afternoon with just a shortish stretch of the highest ground blanketed in the mist. The wind also got too strong at one dodgy route forcing me to take the road for awhile to save myself from being blown off the mountain.
I started out from Chipude under the dramatic bulk of La Fortaleza a sacred mountain to the natives of Gomera who practised divination and sacrifice up there.

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I had set off in my waterproofs as it was raining to start with but I must have made the right sacrifice because the sun came out and the glories were revealed at every turn.
The day’s section took me an hour or so longer than it should because I stopped so often to take pictures.

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This part of Gomera and the national park had been badly damaged by fire a few years ago but it is recovering very well and even some of the pines seem to be sprouting new growth.

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There were impressive views down the ravines and canyons.

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Then I turned and climbed to higher ground and entered the cloud again.

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They were clearing some of the dead wood and replanting. The tracks became closed in with vegetation as I returned to the laurel forests that depend on lots of “horizontal rain”

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Unfortunately the cloud hid the huge Roque de Agando from me but after that I descended into more sunlit vistas.

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I was signed down a steep and rocky path for quite a way before being signed back up again behind massive cliffs. A long drop and climb but very little distance covered. They seem to be keen to keep you off the roads. Then began the rugged downhill terrain. The rough rock and Boulder paving meant you had to watch your step and not the scenery but there were more easy going stretches to soak up the surroundings on.

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I came to a lovely flatish piece of land with glorious views that had white painted rocks around it, the sign that it is for sale. That got the imagination going. It even had a donkey.

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Some simple houses were grouped together in the shelter of a rock face overlooking the sea.

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The final leg down to San Sebastián was the real ankle hazard and it would have been too easy, in a hurry to finish for the day, to put paid to any more exploring of the Canaries GR 131.
But I made it down intact and after admiring this house

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I found a bar for a pint and tapas and made my way to the ferry port for the boat to La Palma.
I’m going to give myself tomorrow to sort some things out ( my packs shoulder strap has come away and needs sewing) and make my way down to Fuencaliente where the serious stuff will begin.

LA GOMERA 20th JAN

A cosy night in the outhouse listening to more howling wind outside was followed by a morning climbing. First on tarred road then dirt track followed by sandy trails and earthern paths and wooden steps to reach a road at over 1000mt.

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The town had an imposing lump of rock hanging over it and fantastic flowers clung to the walls above the road into the mountains.

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When the tar ran out the tracks weaved their way steeply back and forth past more and more isolated terraces and fincas. Eventually the farms ran out too and the narrow path plunged into dense vegetation to emerge every so often to ever higher viewpoints.

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The cloud was on the mountain tops but they were still a fair bit higher and I was grateful for the shade they provided as I walked the varied ways.

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I entered the Parque Nacional de Garajonay, the protected area taking up most of the highlands and containing the largest juniper forest in the Canaries.
But I was in the giant laurisilver cloud forest where the common mists dressed the trees in garlands of dripping lichen.

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Once I had reached the high road I had to share the nice gently flat trails with many other hikers, and there were many other trails signed to left and right.

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As on El Hierro I had entered the cloud around 1000mt and it was wet and cold enough for waterproofs and gloves. The sun was tantalisingly shining brightly behind the thin veil of misty drizzle which would wear out every so often to let the light shine through.
At Las Hayas it was bright and warm momentarily

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And then as the scenery became increasingly dramatic it became increasingly hidden.

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A narrow stone paved path led down a cliff edge and across a pretty stream bed through terraces overlooking the gorge of Valle Gran Rey.

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With the rain and mist still swirling around and after another 1500 mt climb it was with relief that I walked into Chipude, past the communal washing area.

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I was glad, with the cloudy and damp conditions to have a bed awaiting me in the hikers favorite Hotel Sonia but the cod and wet couldn’t take away the beauty of this isand and in the sun I imagine it could look like Shangri La.

LA GOMERA 19th JAN

Last night the resort of Los Christianos on Tenerife was a throbbing mass of humanity on holiday, mostly elderly, out to have a good time. The streets were busy with mobility scooters and lined with outlets for intoxicants.
Sucked into the vortex of the unholy alliance between cheap drink and holiday Bon homme I hung out for awhile in a dispiriting English karaoke bar where a slick suited and haired master of ceremonies tried to whip up some enthusiasm. I liked the sign announcing that due to local “noise pollution” laws, the doors would have to shut at 12!
I retired upstairs to the Irish bar where the fun was warm and open and I enjoyed a Jameson’s and a Guinness.

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After all the excitement I had a good nights sleep in a dorm with six others at a sea front dive centre, and after a few errands in the morning ( I found a great replacement for my lost long sleeve top in a charity shop) I was back on a ferry.

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Just over an hour later we dock at San Sebastián on Gomera with just enough time to get the bus to Vallehermoso where the route starts at the beach.

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The bus journey took me through a big chunk of the island and my first impressions were of wild green lushness. High topped with deep canyons and jagged peaks. Palms and cactus and cloud over red tiled roofs.

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Signs for hiking routes that snaked away through the mountains, orange trees gone feral and vertigo inducing switchback roads.
Steps of neat and fertile, stone walled terraces stacked one above the other in the water fed ravines and across the mountain slopes.

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The seafront was windy with crashing waves, certainly no call for the thatched sunshades or loungers.
The cliff bottom road to the strange Castillo del Mar had been completely destroyed by both the sea and the crumbling cliff. Originally built to process, store and load bananas onto boats it had become a private property and is now a cut off folly.

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Certainly no sheltered spots down on the coast so I started to walk up the valley and found myself a little abandoned finca to call home for the night.

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It’s another 1500mt climb tomorrow so I shall let the croaking of the frogs in the barranco serenade me to sleep.