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  • La Gomera 2

    The full moon glittered silver on the water as we gazed out to sea from the Santiago shore. Waves crashed in on the shingle, tumbling white foam and surging towards us. The Atlantic pulled back, sucking the water fast down shore, drawing back the rolling shingle, sending it racing downwards to the sea. Way above the horizon and out beyond the rough red cliffs we thought we could still make out snow on the peak of Mount Teide, across the sea on Tenerife. The wind that at sunset had torn at the date palms was gone and the scent of orange blossom floated in the warm night air.


    Here on Gomera in the Canaries we have walked in easy companionship together. Once to the Guro waterfall, reached along a narrow gorge where a cat twitched its tail on a ledge high on the far gorge wall.

    On a 6-hour trek we climbed 900m from the sea at Hermigua up the Cedro stream and past a reservoir with golden carp that tempted me to swim. Some islanders had lugged a cultivator up there to turn over the dusty soil. Even the remotest spot is turned to productive earth by the building of narrow terraces, irrigated from tanks of carefully stored water.

    At the head of the valley, arum lilies grew along the stream banks. Tame goats gently butted us and a man emerging from his tent waved as we walked through the camp site for tea and ice cream.


    We visited the island's only dragon tree, the blood red sap of which was collected because when hardened it could be used to make jewellery.

    We picked our way through prickly pears once grown for cochineal beetles, and took shelter from the sun under Canary palms tapped for their syrupy sap. We walked in a sub-tropical rain forest of wax myrtle hung with moss. Agave, artemisia, asphodel, spurge, tree heather, cystus, small copper and brimstone: we learnt a new flora and fauna and began to appreciate the changing scents of the landscape. La Gomera, named after a grandson of Noah and visited by Columbus, claims more of its own species for each of its 378 sq km than anywhere else in Europe.

    The Guanche were the island's indigenous people. Having long-forgotten the ways of the sea, they were powerless to stop the Spanish when they invaded. It is thought they retreated to the heights of Mount Garajonay. Close to the summit a few rocks remain of a religious site that faced out to the peak of Mount Teide on Tenerife, floating like some mystic, unattainable realm above cloud, far away across the sea.

    We heard not a note of silbo, the Gomerans' unique whistling language that apparently allows them to communicate over kilometres. Under UN sponsorship it has been revived in the schools.

    At dusk I swam in a man-made cold sea pool below great, grey cliffs at Hermigua. A man came took the trouble to walk down to warn me of high waves that would overtop the pool walls at any moment and risked carrying away my things.

    We picnicked on Palma ham and quince jam sandwiches and in the evenings made meals for each other to Ella Fitzgerald at the cool, dark house we hired 1000m up on the edge of the national park. By the sea in Valle Grand Rey we ate out on fresh tuna, and at Lago Grande in Garajonay I devoured wild rabbit with red and green mojo sauce: one spicy, the other cooling. We covered ourselves in factor 60 because even in the breezes the sun still burnt.

    On a barranco high above Vallehermoso we talked to an English couple that dreamed of making a tropical garden. They harvested cancer-beating berries from scrubby bushes in their garden and wondered if they had made the right decision leaving behind a farm in Sussex.

    At the end of our holiday, late in the afternoon at the Playa del Ingles on the edge of Valle Grand Rey, we sat apart from each other for a while. A fierce wind blew as we watched 40 foot high waves breaking time after time against the sharp black basalt rocks.

    On our last evening I picked an orange from the garden and Dona Efigenia gave us Gomeran bananas and bread for the journey home. At the airport on Tenerife a tall man in a cream suit lay dying on the terminal floor. His head lolled uselessly towards me as a paramedic pushed at his chest again and again and again.

    Perhaps because of his death we missed the connection in Madrid. At dusk there I opened the triple-glazed window of the airport hotel and in the warm night air there was birdsong.

  • La Gomera 1

    Happy I certainly am here on La Gomera, one of the smallest and greenest of the Canary islands. William, Marc, David and I have hired a traditional Gomeran house 1000m up from the sea called Cañada del Hoyito.
    It really is a lovely place. Dona Efigenia, who let it to us, decribed it with good reason as 'muy preciosa' : wood and stone, high ceilings and simple furniture with terraces growing orange trees and sweet almonds in blossom. In the evening the scents are lovely and the stars dot the gaps between the densely growing circle of old palm trees just before the house. Tree frogs make up a chorus with the rattle of goats bells, the goats' bleating cries and the sound of distant dogs.

    Efigenia herself is something of a phenomenon, specialising in parting tourists from their cash for peasant food at upmarket prices, where the poor punters pay through the nose for three hours of something one guide book euphemistically calls 'restaurant theatre'.
    Yesterday was our first and we walked a great arc around this village, down steeply terraced green valleys [barrancos] heavy with the scent of white broom. After the rainiest winter for years Gomera is truly in bloom. We climbed up to the Garajonay national park which is divided between different parishes and is at the heart of the island. It's sub-tropical forest where mist billows suddenly into sunlit glades and the myrtle trees hang heavy with thick lichen fronds.

    I swam afterwards at Valle Gran Rey after leaving my things next to a dark-eyed and ringletted Spaniard and his elfin girlfriend. Great breakers were running in on the main beach (we watched as the sun went down). From a restaurant in the port I saw a handsome curly haired man in nautical uniform put his arm around a friend's neck in an easy sensual gesture the intimacy of which seemed at odds with his excited talk.

    Today has been a far longer walk from Chipude where we watched effigies of St Veronica and the Virgin being prepared for their tour of the village on Good Friday. We scrambled up La Fortaleza, a sheer wall of jagged rock and the second highest peak on La Gomera. On the flat top asphodel bloomed, elegant stems of flower among the scrub. A mysterious great spiral of low stones led to a circular cairn and beyond other delicately balanced rock piles made me think of Brancusi.

    Climbing the last barranco to the highest village on the island we saw a woman on the opposite side of the valley. She carried a tall stick and with whistles and coaxing cries was herding goats home. Later this cocoa brown Miriam Margoyles offered directions and filled our bottle with crystal clear, goaty tasting water.

    We missed the very peak of Garajonay, over 1400m, and walked back to a meal of cuttlefish and spicy sausages in the village café. Tomorrow should include a walk to a waterfall and more swimming.