GR130 - Franceses to El Tablado then LP 9.1 to Roque Faro

Ah - our old friend the GR130 and more specifically, the part of the GR130 that we look at, day in day out, right from our finca.  I remember when I once found a guest looking at the path as it zig-zags between El Tablado and the ravine of Los Hombres below it.  He turned to me and simply said, 'Know your enemy.'  Indeed.  But I do like to think of the GR130 as a friend rather than foe, even though it can undoubtedly be testing at times.
Looking over the GR130 and El Tablado from the finca
Perhaps that is where the love affair with it started, this hypnotic path carved into the landscape that has carried people on its back for centuries. It almost speaks for itself about the harshness of life for those who used this gruelling track which not only punished but also rewarded with a vital link to the old port of La Fajana.
Of course, it's easy to romanticize about it as we didn't have to walk it with a load on our shoulders such as a sack of grain and then make several more trips, one after the other.  Just ask Rosa at the shop in El Tablado.  Some days this witty and enigmatic lady in her 70's can hardly straighten her back and walks with such a stoop, she has to turn her head to see you.
Anyway, enough of that!  Our mission this week was to walk from home in Franceses which is 500m above sea level down to La Fajana using the new path, or rather old path now restored, that has become the GR130, rather nicely moving us to within 50 metres of the route.  The official GR130 posts are not in place yet, but the blazes are there and so are quite easily to follow.  Then from almost sea level at La Fajana up to El Tablado and then Roque Faro at 1000m Yikes!  
Not only is it great that the route passes just by us but it also cuts out around 1km of walking on the road - and there is a spectacular view right from the edge of the barranco. (It is in the blog 30 Sept, 2010 - An old path gets a new look.)
After a short section on the road, we join the zig-zag track as it descends down the side of the barranco. 
It now joins the road again, but only for 20 metres before you absail off the side onto another new section of the GR130.  This completely cuts out the long almost level track to the immediate west of La Fajana.  This is not marked at all yet and is fine coming up but tricky going down.

Zig zag path between Franceses and La Fajana
Now we have arrived on the track which runs alongside the barranco.  It is easy to go wrong here thinking that we must cross the barranco straight away and there are no signs to help, but we know from past experience that we must keep on the track to the left and only cross the barranco when this track runs out. 
Heading up the path to El Tablado is a bit of a plod but also a pleasure - no running!  And when you are just over half-way up, there are these great caves to look into. 
Wierdest caves ever, check these out. 
After a couple more bends, we come to the mirador which is a good place to rest or just read the information board.  We stop and wave to our house!  And just after this we explore the caves which are located just to left of the mirador.   A 'proper' photographer or geologist would get very stuck here! 

Two hours from leaving home, we arrive in El Tablado.  It is a wondeful village, full of fascinating history, a story in itself.

Arriving in El Tablado
But today, we don't plan to linger as we have a lot of ascending still to do and we leave the GR130 route here.
We  leave the GR130 route and head up towards Roque Faro on the LP 9.1
We head up the old path by the side of the church and the restaurant El Moral.  Looking back, we get a dizzying view over El Tablado.
Great view of El Tablado from above
The path crosses the road in several places and then takes us into the woods - with just a few flat sections - to Roque Faro. 
 A couple of light showers have us reaching into the backpack for rain jackets.  And because it has been so wet, the steep hard-packed path is extremely slippery and we cannot imagine how you could walk down.  
The whole walk takes four and a half hours and we reward ourselves with a snack at the bar Los Reyes in Roque Faro.  And, as luck would have it, a bus is just about due to that goes almost by our door - just 20 minutes ride away.  
Back home again - the maiden statue in our garden overlooking El Tablado


GR130 - Puntallana to Los Sauces

Timeline - Wednesday, 15th December and we were sitting in Bar Halley in Puntallana with backpacks and walking poles at the ready, sipping a short, strong coffee.  We had already left the car in Los Sauces and taken the 20-minute bus journey to Puntallana - all we had to do now was to walk back on a trail which would take us through some, let's say, challenging terrain over a distance of 15.2km and most likely take more than five hours.
In fact, we have already walked this section before but last time we walked north/south and so we were keen to walk it in the opposite direction  Now the ups would become the downs and vice versa - and it's easy to miss what were obvious signs before or quickly spot signs that we struggled to see when walked in the opposite direction.  And with our coffee finished, we would soon be bouncing over those barrancos.
The first part of our walk was an easy route starting at the side of the church and then exiting stage right down a little cobbled street, passing a selection of old and quaint houses and then passing by farmland.
 Briefly hitting the tarmac road which leads to Playa Nogales, we headed off into the open countryside along a natural path.  Up a stone path with a new, well-built handrail, we headed upwards and soon discovered that we had walked 3km already.  Off along another path stepping over the vines of the creeping chayota plant and practically stumbling over the fruits which are  pear-shaped and about the size of a tennis ball.  However, the cactus growing at the side of the path did not look at all enticing. 
Now we were high enough to get a lovely view over Playa Nogales, a beautiful black sand beach.  Apparently, turtles used to come ashore here to lay their eggs but from where we were looking, there were not many applicants for either egg-laying or indeed any form of laying on the beach at all.
Continuing along the path, we ignored the sign to El Granel which we have taken twice before.  It is a Very Long Way up to the main road - once we walked it and the second time we hitched a lift in the back of an old Santana Land Rover. Neither was comfortable.
Gleeful to be carrying on, we were rewarded with some wonderful views looking inland.
Now things were becoming a little tougher as we came to the Barranco de Nogales, just before La Galga.  We had previously viewed this as something of a task, but for some reason it now felt like an easier friend.  But I don't want you to think it was that easy!
As we progressed upwards, there was a junction of paths where we could choose to go to La Galga 1.8km away.  No thanks, we had enough with our own path.  Eventually popping up on the other side of the barranco, we came to an impressive sight looking towards Los Sauces. This was our half-way point.
After a few ooh's and aah's and half a dozen photos, we wondered on down the track and soon became immersed in growing country.  A field of carrots, skinny trees with papayas dangling above us and oranges scattered over the path - this was infinitely better than driving over lemons.  Then another barranco, owww, which takes us down towards the sea but in the end it's a fairly straight-forward affair which doesn't even make us whimper. 
Amongst a myriad of plantation roads we now come to a concrete shed with the number 7 on it.  This is where we know we can 'escape' up to the main road at the church of San Juan only a few minutes away.  But we are fine and carry on.  'Bout time we had another barranco ...
Yep, here we go, back down the side of the ravine on what begins as an exceptionally pretty path.  Soon, we are surrounded by ñame, a root vegetable with enormous, tear-drop shaped leaves.  This plant loves water and it has plenty dripping from the rocks.
Unfortunately, that also means mud and we gloop our way downwards with an occasional slide along the way.  Our eventual destination, rather surprisingly, is the sea.  Yep, the GR130 route actually takes us right down on the rocky beach where the white over red blaze is painted on a large(ish) rock.  Hope nobody moves it or things could get exceptionally wet.
Back up the other side again, we eventually emerge at the crematorium of San Andres.  Still 3.1km to go so not far now and pretty cobbled streets lined with bananas lead us into the village.  But San Andres really does not take long to walk through, unless you stop off to admire the church and its bars.

Before we know it, we are leaving the village heading towards the sea again before our final ascent to Los Sauces.  This is the first time we have used the new footbridge and we are quite impressed with the attractive build of it along with some rather wonderful paved paths.
Just the other side of the bridge, we see a GR130 sign for Los Llanos which tells us that it is now only a further 1.5km.  Yes, but it's all uphill!!!  This is surely the hardest part - or maybe it is just because it's the last part - but we get there, arriving in the plaza with its magnificent church.
The walk took us around 5 hours of actual walking time.  Fairly tough going in some places but we were lucky because it was not a particularly hot day.  We took almost 100 photos and have added a selected 47 of those to our GR130 slide show (please ask for details if you are interested).
We have two more planned walks before the New Year so had better not put those boots too far away.


SL VG 51 - A bit of a ramble

Yesterday we decided that we would avoid getting monitor-shaped eyes and go for a short walk - this was not going to be one of our more serious treks.  And with that in mind, David winkled out a path we had never walked before, despite it starting just a 20 minute drive away at Llano Negro (Black Plains).
We left the car at the Red Cross building car park and crossed the road, easily picking up the white over green blazes.
Straight away we were on the up - heading upwards on the track that is.  In fact, we could expect to be walking up all the way as our destination was Hoya Grande (Big Hole or rather more nicely translated, Large Hollow).  With a slight calf strain that is taking ages to go away, I made sure not to dash up the track which is probably what caused it in the first place!  But actually, the going couldn't be fast even if we had wanted it to be as there was some deep gouges in the track following some recent heavy rain.
After the first rise and at a small junction of other tracks, we stopped to take a photo of Llano Negro nestling at the base of the mound named Llanas which has a height of 947 metres. 
Now we had joined a small concrete path and that made the walking easier if less interesting, although there were a couple of farms alongside it which were in full swing.  Apart from the obvious presence of goats - ever popular on La Palma - there was also quite a lot of growing of crops going on.  Red peppers hung very Christmas  like on little bushes, potatoes of course and it looked like a bumper crop of pumpkins.  If the owners don't eat all of them, then the pig will be pleased to help out.
After this, we crossed the road and carried straight on with the next section of path and we would in fact be doing this several more times before the walk was up.  Interesting though because we have driven along this road at least a hundred times (I think!) and most of the paths we hadn't even noticed.  It obviously wasn't a very well walked route and one section had quite long, wet grass but also filled with Flor de Mayo which will be an amazing display of purple flowers in April (it can't wait for Mayo).  I shall blog it, don't worry!
Not that you would realise this was a path from the photo - it looks more like a field but, honest, we weren't trespassing.
As we crossed the road - which in essence dithers about all over the place as if in a daydream - we came to our next section and I couldn't believe how each one could be so different.  This was tree-lined, dry and covered with liberal helpings of pine needles. And in places it was practically dark and I was rather hoping for a hobbit-sighting.  But no, just a few chestnuts on the ground.  The hobbit theory dismissed, we moved onto a healthy debate about the difference between conkers and chestnuts.
After just over an hour of walking we arrived at Hoya Grande which should really be called Sleepy Hollow because it certainly it.  Here we made a little detour to see the nativity scene which the Palmerans really go to town on, making a huge display.  The one here that we have been to see before even had running water in a tiny stream, lights on in houses and so on.  It really was brilliant but instead this year we found a new plaza had been built and no nativity scene.  Shame but we congratulated them on the plaza and made do with the cross.
Well, that was our walk completed one way and we decided that we would walk back along the road the short distance to El Bailedro bar and restaurant.  We had decided on a nice balanced meal that we would share between us of chips and salad.  Chips are a bit of a treat in our book so we were really getting into our stride.  We did of course discuss the possibility of it being closed even though Monday is its closing day and this was a Sunday.  It is wise to realise that nothing is ever guaranteed on La Palma!  And yes, it was closed, with a note stuck to the door stating that holidays was the reason - although they were actually working at the back.
So we continued on the road a little more and it was a good opportunity to wonder at the lichen hanging from a tree.  Well, after all, we were at about 1000 metres.
We didn't stay on the road all the way down though and picked some of our favourite sections of track to repeat in reverse direction.  It was certainly a gorgeous day to be out and wonderful to see La Palma up to its usual trick of make crazy shapes with its clouds.
A good walk then and I would be happy to walk it again any time.  I can't say it is exactly in our 'A' list though with vastly impressive things to see, and of course no chips to be had, but worth a bit of a ramble.


GR131 - The Volcano Route

Ever fancied treking over a whole route of volcanoes?  Well, La Palma's your place!  Although it doesn't always seem like 'proper' volcanoes, I mean, where's the gushing black smoke, leaping flames and molten lava?  Mm, probably just as well there were not too many erruptions on the day of our walk.  But there is still penty to see along the way.
The Volcano Route is in fact one of the most famous walking routes on La Palma.  It forms around one third of the GR131 and runs between El Pilar (south of the centre of the island) and Los Canarios in the far south.  The great thing about the walk is that, given a clear day, you can get amazing views of both the east and west sides of the island with just a turn of the head. 
However ... there is some planning required with the logistics as it is a linear route.  We chose to start from El Pilar which sits at 1,500m above sea level thus walking more or less down hill.   And because we wanted an early start, we decided to camp the previous night.  Ouch, it was a little chilly at that height, but fresh and exhilerating and it is nothing that a camp fire at one of the purpose-built bbq cabins can't fix.  And of course I am crazy for camping! 
The next morning, after a breakfast in the gentle sun, we were off.
At the start, we were surrounded by pine trees and it was hard not to scramble to the edge of the route for some early peeks at the view.  Unfortunately, scudding clouds were blocking what would have been a stunning spectacle.  Darn!  Looks like we shall be doing this walk again - so that got me smiling.
Not long after, we felt we were on the way proper as we followed the ridge which is so symbolic of the route and of course we were still hoping for a better view.  At least though there was no wind which is an important consideration as it is extremely high and exposed here. 
Ah, and not a zig or a zag in sight - not at all like the squiggling ascents and descents of the barrancos typical of the north.
As we walked onwards over what is quite frankly a bizarre terrain, the skies started to clear and when we looked back we realised there really was a great view over Los Llanos. 
And now we were facing forward and looking over the south west with its acres of pine trees.  La Palma looked rather a large island from this perspective!
Gradually though we were entering into a landscape that was bereft of the towering pine trees.  These trees were a bright green and young looking.   And yes, it did feel as if we were on the moon - the silence, the lack of birds, trudging through the lunar landscape.
And oh dear, I knew it would happen, it was only a matter of time.  David breaks into song, 'On the trail of the Lonesome Pine ...  '
Just above Los Canarios, the GR130 Camino Real crosses the GR131. The GR130 is an 8-day walk along the coastal path of the island. Perhaps we won't do that today (Editor's note: we walked the GR130 in its entirety in 2010 and many sections again since then).

Walking down into the small town of Los Canarios, we headed to a bar for a coffe.  Perfect timing to get the bus up to Los Llanos, then a bus to El Paso and finally a taxi back up to El Pilar and the waiting tent and Landy.  Yey!  Another night of camping!
We shall definitely be walking this route again!


A bit of a run

If running is your game rather than walking - and I am talking here about the rather specialist sport of mountain trail running - then you could hardly pick a better place to do it on than La Palma.
Over the past few years there has been an increased interest in running on the island which has resulted in events such as the Transvulcania (85km) and the Puntallana Goat Trail (32km).  However, these distances can easily make you break into a sweat just at the thought.  Hence the idea of the shorter Aduares Run of 11km which will allow more people to participate especially as it is (apparently) of a low difficulty.
Scheduled for the 19th December, you can register at this site www.sportlapalma.com

Other dates for your diary are -

I Duothon - Brena Alta - 19 February 2011
II Duothon - Puntallana - 16 April 2011
III Transvulcania - 7 May 2011 (be very afraid) or Half Marathon at 26k (only slightly less afraid)
XII Triathlon - Fuencaliente - 25 June 2011 (swim 0.75k, cycle 20k, run 5k)
I Aquathon - Bajamar - 16 July 2011 (run, swim, run)
I Aquathon - Los Cancajos - 13 August (run, swim, run)
X Triathlon - La Palma - 20 August 2011

You have been warned.  Now get out there training!  I shall be watching you ...


Down to the Puerto de Garafia

We don't often find ourselves in the small town of Santo Domingo in the north west of La Palma, despite it being the capital of our municipality.  Usually, we are heading in the opposite direction.  But yesterday, in the small window between the 1st October and the middle of December, we made our annual pilgrimage to the Town Hall to pay homage and taxes like the good Garafianos that we are.  And while we were about it, took the opportunity of a little walk down to the old port, known as the Puerto de Garafia.   To the uninitiated, a port at Garafia sounds rather, well, grand.  To those that know the rocky coastline, it sounds rather, erm, ambitious.

At least though there is a road from Santo Domingo, past the football ground and cemetery, which takes you most of the way.  It used to be a rough, single track and only suitable for 4 x 4's and certainly not hire cars which are not insured off-road.  That said, we did once manage to suspend the Land Rover on 3 wheels over a deep hole.  (Don't remind me!)  Recently though, the road has been asphalted and widened slightly which makes the 3km drive a pleasant trip.
We also found that the car park at the end of the road has been re-surfaced and made to look as attractive as possible, when using asphalt and white lines.  Although the old drinks shack has disappeared, at least the water basin complete with operational water tap has been left - a good place to fill up water bottles or just rinse your hands!   However, we were the only car there yesterday so not exactly a crush of people, although a couple of walkers were striding out having come down the path from Santo Domingo.
If we were in any doubt at where to look for a good view, a sign drew us to the mirador (viewpoint) which faces north east.
Our main plan was to have a picnic down by the sea and with a good measure of luck, also swim.  I say luck because the west and north of the island were on alert for bad weather and high waves.  However, from the car park, it was hot and still but we know from our diving days in the UK that the sea from above can look very different when close up.  So, just to cover all options, we packed some bread, a tin of sardines, fruit, drinks and swimming gear into the rucksack.  Well, actually I forgot the sardines, but sometimes that's no bad thing.
As we wound our way down the old cobbled path, the view was just fantastic although admittedly, you would need to be fond of heights to enjoy standing at the edge.  And the sea started to look rather tantalizing.  Maybe we would swim after all!  And if we did, this is the little bay where we would plunge into the cool, chrystal clear waters.
As we approached the bottom there were more and more 'temporary residences' - wooden shacks and converted caves.  Even one place that was particularly well built and maybe a bar but with nobody else about, we didn't really expect it to be open.  Although at weekends in the summer, I can imagine it would be a fun place to chat with the locals. 
Nearing the bottom, we passed the old port buildings although sadly, they have all but fallen down now and only a few walls remain.   But small boats are still winched in and out of the water here.  A bit of a hands-on experience I imagine. 
By now, we realised that we wouldn't be swimming, we would just enjoy the 20 minute walk down, picnic and return.  We have swum and snorkelled here on two occasions before and absolutely loved it but the exit is not always easy.  During the summer, there is a ladder when it is low water - although it is only fixed at the top of it and so tends to sway with the waves.  At high water, you can use steps set into the rocks which is much easier.  
Once down almost to sea level, we had a little explore peeking in at the cave dwellings where boats were housed in some and in others, cooking facilities, a toilet and washbasin and even a baby's playpen.  On La Palma, it's a family affair and of course bbq's, being mandatory to any family gathering, are greatly in evidence.  
No bbq's today though, just the burning sun and we sought some shade of not so much a cave as an overhang and were extremely pleased of the comparative coolness.  From here, we could watch the waves crashing on the corner of the bay, although slightly too close for comfort on occasions.   
If the mighty Atlantic was doing its best to join us, all was apparently calm further out to sea and we could enjoy the tranquil view into the distance. 
Time to go and a steady walk back up the path to the car.  Now we had a lovely view inland and of the coastal-loving vegetation that doesn't seem to care what the weather does.  
What must it have been like in the old days when locals carried sacks of grain and supplies up from the port on their weary backs?  Or maybe it was a string of loaded mules picking their way up the path.  Doubtless, when they got to the top, they had to turn around and go back down for the next load.   I like to think that maybe they got to swim now and again.  Not the mules of course. 


GR131 group walk

If anyone is interested (and up to it), there is a group walk of one section of the GR131 this Sunday, 7th November.  It is from the Roque de Muchachos to El Time and then carrying on down to the beach at Tazacorte, literally from the top of the island to sea level.
It will take around 8 hours as there will be a stop for breakfast and lunch (bring your own picnic - there are no shops on the way!).  It is fairly tough (medium high) and although there are a few short uphill stretches, most of it is down hill so if you have knee problems it might not be the best walk for you.

What to bring? You will need a whole range of weather gear with you from cold weather, wet weather, hot sun and even your bathers in case there is time for a dip at Tazacorte.  When we did this walk a few years back with the group, it really was pretty cold and most people, including us, were wearing a woolly hat and gloves, though of course these were peeled off as we descended.

The meeting point is the Plaza Bujaz, San Pedro at 7 am from where a coach will take you to the top, then later collect you at Tazacorte and then bring you back to the start point.  There is a charge for this to cover costs.
You will need to enrol by Friday at 2pm and can do this by ringing Pedro on 609 850 336.  You might also want to check out the walking club link

If you don't want to go to San Pedro, the walk is planned to start at 9am at the top (probably at a lay by below the Roque where the GR131 finally leaves the road) so if you have a way to retrieve your car, then you might want to meet there, but you will need to let Pedro know.
If you do make it - don't forget to send us the pictures and let us know how it went.  All the best!


This month, I feel we have been a little thwarted with our walks, not for want of ideas and enthusiasm.  Oh well, it can happen!
We had hoped to walk the middle section of the GR131 from Roque de Muchachos to El Pilar, this being the only section we hadn't done.  It's a biggie in that we planned to split it in two, spending overnight at the refuge hut at Punta de Los Roques and we quite shocked ourselves one evening by contemplating doing it the next day.
We started to dig out the sleeping bags, bed rolls, etc. and consider what food we should take ... and could we get water at the refuge hut ...?  We contacted our good friends at http://www.lapalma-oceaanzicht.nl who have stayed there a couple of times and decided to be safe that we would take water.  And since the walk is quite exposed along the rim of the Caldera and the refuge hut where we would spend the night is just over 2000 meters above sea level, we would need to take some warm clothing and waterproofs.
Refugio Punta de Los Roques
The more we realised how much we would need to carry the more our hopes diminished and reality kicked in.  All we have at the moment are two day rucksacks and fitting in and suspending all the gear we would need was starting to look unrealistic.  So we decided two things 1. we need at least one bigger rucksack and 2. we need a practice walk with all our gear. And when we suddenly remembered that we still didn't have the camera back from the shop since it stopped working, that was definitely it.  Phew - that was a close one!

However, the next day by way of compensation we set off partly loaded to see how we did.  The other kind of good things is that the weather was a little rainy - and we had never walked in rain before, we have spent all summer trying out different clothing with a view to keeping cool.  Up at the top, we might expect any type of weather conditions so this would be good preparation.
We started out at the Bailadero bar/restaurant by Hoya Grande on the LP10 in a westerly direction and after a little over an hour arrived at the bar/restaurant Kioso Briesta.  Mm, bit of a theme going on here.  By now any drops of rain had long gone and we had taken off the wet-weather ponchos that usefully cover the rucksacks and remove quite a degree of sensory perception while they are at it.  An ice cream was the reward.
Our return journey took us along the forest trails of the LP20 and, when we reached the road up to the observatory, we left the route and walked down the road to the waiting car.  Well, OK, since the car was parked at the Bailadero, it would be rude not to partake of nourishment there, especially as they do a very good salad and tapas.
The next week, our hope was to walk with our family who were staying with us from Roque de Muchachas for an hour along the ridge and then back.  Unfortunately, the cloud had come in by the time we got to the top and we decided to abort that in favour of the walk from La Mata to the spring of El Capitan which was as interesting as we had remembered it.  And then on the way back home, we decided to burn off some energy by walking through the village back to the house - just 3.2 km but walking quickly, it was fun.

Our last walk of October, again with family, was from La Crucita down into the barranco with the amazing three tiers of caves, the cobbled path back up the other side, a wander around Gallegos village and back again.  Short but I really adore it!

Mm, guess I'll blog that after all.