I am still under the spell of this magic island of La Gomera. To say that it has surprised and enchanted me would be an understatement. Perhaps it was my luck in finding my way to this precise spot in which I’m living, because I can see that had I landed up in other parts of the island, although I would have enjoyed my time here, it wouldn’t have been as overwhelmingly captivating as Hermigua is for me.
It’s true to say that the ambience has had its affect. I’ve slowed down. I probably needed to, and before long I will need to speed up again. I haven’t, for instance, done the walking I intended to do, it’s been confined to rambles rather than serious walking, exploring paths, curiously.
Before Christmas I did….. an afternoon stroll really…….. but an absolutely delightful one, with my friend, Colleen, who was visiting from Tenerife. It’s a walk my friends Michael and Marlys from Easyhiker would love…..guys, you really need to get yourselves over here!
It’s road most of the way, with a gentle gradient, so if you don’t do steep inclines, no problems…..and (here’s the happy part for some) there are a couple of bars en route.
We’d driven the route on a previous visit, so we knew just where we wanted to begin. It was a perfect walking day, if not a perfect day for landscape photography; overcast, and warm but not hot. So, not sweaty, but no blue skies in the background either – life’s a constant trade off, as we know.
Hermigua straggles around the inclines of a valley. Returning home for the first time at night I’d been shocked to realize how much light pollution there is. Though the heart of the pueblo lies on the valley floor, roads, dwellings, fincas and the odd bar dot the hillsides, making for a pretty display of lights as you wind your way steeply down. It was one of these roads we were walking.
The main road, which winds through the village, and then around the island, is dotted with roundabouts all the way along its path through the village. We turned upwards, and right as we left the village center behind, and then bent right again, and left the car at the first convenient spot. We encountered hardly any traffic along our route the entire afternoon, but clearly it’s prudent and polite to leave a vehicle where it doesn’t inconvenience others.
One of the delights of walking in Tenerife was discovering the island’s history along the byways of the island. This route we’d chosen in La Gomera was no different, although, until the end there are no plaques to record events. More, it is a reminder of how very deeply Gomerans are anchored to the earth.
Rounding the first major bend the road dipped into an area of fertile allotments, green with bananas, potatoes, cabbage and other unidentified stuff, as well, sadly, as still abandoned plots. I’ve learned in my weeks here that old-fashioned bartering, or at least exchanging and sharing produce, is still a way of life. Your neighbor who grows mangoes will bring you a basket, and when your tomatoes ripen, you’ll share them around too. This, actually, explains the disappointing standard of the stuff in shops here. I’d expected a thriving farmers’ market, but I guess that tradition in a place this small doesn’t make one viable.
This is no “get lost in the wilds” walk, there is no point where you can’t spot a dwelling nearby, but it is a window into a lifestyle that is a now curious combination of historical agricultural practices and modern life. It’s fairly easy to find wifi in this village.
The road runs parallel with the main arterial road, so that most of the way you look down on the nucleus of the village, picking out landmarks like the parish church, the old barrio of El Convento, where I am living, and favorite bars. You have to admire the spirit of folk who live on mountainsides, especially the elderly, who never fail to greet you with a polite “Buenos Días,” and who negotiate the steepness naturally. The fortitude of the islands’ farmers always amazes me. Most of the islands are covered in part by these terraces. Right now, it goes without saying, after a winter so far noted for its bad weather, water isn’t a problem, but imagine the problems in summer and autumn, or in those years when the rains don’t come.
A stop for a cold beer in a bar overlooking the greenness; bougainvillea and plumbago trailing from gardens to our left, where the landscape rose up the hillsides; mists fingering around the highest peaks; the occasional bleat of a goat or barking of dogs as we passed; window boxes and planters of geraniums, roses and lilies marking the roadsides; maize strung out to dry on a rooftop; this was a ramble into the tranquillity of an almost forgotten way of life.
Palm trees all along the way, above us and below us, bore the scars of the extraction of palm honey. This name is something of a misnomer. Palm honey has nothing to do with bees, but is a sap extracted from the palm trunks in much the same way that maple syrup is harvested in Canada. A tree can only be harvested at intervals of five years, and the process can only be undertaken at night, since sunlight is detrimental to the syrup. After extraction the production is simple, the sap is heated until it reaches the appropriate, sticky consistency, and it’s bottled and ready to pour over just about anything you like, ice cream, flan and even savory dishes. The taste is something like molasses, and quite heavenly.
Our destination was the small chapel known as the Ermita de San Juan, which sits on a hilltop with breathtaking views over the valley, the ocean and the island of Tenerife, with ever-imposing Mt Teide hogging the limelight. There is a small recreation area at the base of the chapel. It’s not quite finished, it will be a delightful place to spend a lazy Sunday before too long.
Colleen continued up a trail on the opposite hill to take some super snaps of the Ermita, and I, seduced by the silence and the warmth, attempted to meditate. It seemed like the perfectly appropriate place, devoid of human sounds, only birds squabbling in bushes, or the odd scuffle as a lizard came to investigate our intrusion on its territory. I’ve always been easily distracted when trying to release my mind from the preoccupations of daily trivia, but even here it happened…. I was attacked by a myriad insects – and bore the scars for several days afterwards! I gave up meditation in favor of work!
Instead of turning directly back, we descended by a steep-ish trail next to the recreation area, it wound us back to the road, weaving our narrow way past storybook cottages and allotments, the pathway so narrow we brushed against the walls, and I swear I could hear Peter Rabbit’s mother calling him home.
As we set off back along the road, raindrops fell intermittently, a forerunner of the rains to come, but nothing to spoil our enjoyment of this very pleasant walk. In fact, finding the bar still open, we stopped for another beer before beginning the last steps home.