Outdoor and Walking Festival on La Palma

In the next few days, I'll be posting about the walk we did on Thursday, 29th July, along the GR130 from San Nicholas in the west to Los Canarios in the extreme south.  It has been many years since we last walked it and it was a good opportunity to refresh our memories.  Plus, since we did the walk, that area has suffered from some extreme conditions which resulted in the road falling away in several places.  We had not been down there since it happened and so were interested to know if it would affect walking the GR130 route.  The answer was - no - the GR130 route is still very much in tact so our report will not include any swinging from ropes over ravines.  Shame!
However, for your walking calendar, next weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 6,7 & 8th August), brings the Outdoor and Walking Festival on La Palma.  The programme includes:-
Guided walks - for example, the GR130 from Gallegos to El Tablado (billed as the Great Northern Cliffs), the GR130 from Las Tricias to Lomada Grande, the Caldera, adapted walks along the GR131 volcano route, the Laurisilva forest of Los Tilos and a night walk from El Pilar to observe the skies.
A talk by the winner of the 2010 Trans Vulcania (extreme fell running at altitude over a distance of 83 km and an accumulated height difference of 8,500 km)
GPS workshops
Route planning
Stalls with walking type products, etc

It sounds like there is something for everyone including a 'multi-park' for children in the square.  So if you are interested, then sign up for a walk, talk or course or just head along to the Plaza de  España in Santa Cruz next weekend. 
Further details can be found on the website www.senderosdelapalma.com


Group walk - Mazo to Santo Cruz

Anyone wishing to walk a section of the GR130 as part of a guided group can do so this Sunday.

Meeting up at 08.30 hrs at the bus stop near the main post office on the harbour side in Santa Cruz, the group will go by coach to Mazo and make the 4 to 5 hour walk back along the GR130.  It is graded in difficulty as 'low' so suitable for most people and led by the organisation Caminantes de las Breñas.  Ideally, you should ring 609 850 336 before 13.30 hrs today, Friday, and ask for Esther.   If not, just turn up and if there is space on the coach, I am sure they will take you.  There is a small cost which covers the coach journey and sports insurance - or just get a taxi and tack onto the back of the group.
Alternatively, if you can't make this walk, keep on eye on their blog - www.caminantesdelasbrenas.com - for future walks.  They are a brilliant crowd and we have done quite a few walks with them, including the GR130 from El Tablado to Santo Domingo and San Nicholas to the Faro below Fuencaliente.  On one walk, when the group was told to stop for a first break, we were surprised when a lady came along and offered apples from a sack to everyone.  It transpired that she had walked with the sack over her back for the last hour.  Not bad for a pensioner!
On the other walk, as we took the coach with the group to begin the walk, an elderly gentleman asked that we stop at a little shop en route.  We assumed he hadn't managed to organise a picnic for himself.  As he came out of the shop, there was a ripple of laughter when he came out clutching a bread roll, a small bottle of red wine and several fat cigars.  I commented quietly to David that if we did guided walks, I didn't think the drinking of alcohol was a practice to be encouraged. 
This man, an octogenarian, turned out to be the leader of the walk and the only complaint was that he went too fast for everybody ... of course, much of the time, with a cigar clamped in the corner of his mouth!


GR 130 - Barlovento to Gallegos 2.5 hrs 5.5km

The GR130 route to Gallegos from Barlovento is very well signposted, provided you are on the route to start with. Ah, t'was ever thus. (If you are not already on the route then you need to head upwards, out of town to a crossroads, where you can't help but notice a dizzying collection of signs – seven in total - to such places as Franceses, Gallegos, and the GR130 to Santo Domingo. Only the new GR 130 distance sign for Gallegos is missing, but you will get the idea.)

Taking this direction, we followed the road until a very clear sign (0.75 km to Barlovento) indicates that we should head off down a concrete track. Oh, this is too easy but certainly fits into my criteria of a gentle introduction to a walk. There will be time yet for heroic barranco bashing.
So we follow the little concrete path downhill passing a selection of houses and a pretty little cross named the Cruz de la Catalanes. Within a very short length of time we find ourselves in the mystical land of drago trees around the hamlet of La Tosca.  
From here, there is also a fantastic view right across the north coast, although it was a little misty the day we did the walk.  After 1.6km of still very easy walking, we come to a laundrette. Well, actually it is a natural spring with a series of stone washing sinks and a bit of a plunge pool. You see these at various points around the island and it is easy to imagine how the women would come here in the old days to do their dirty washing in public. A sign declares that the water is not chlorinated and there is a handy tap for anyone wishing to fill up a water bottle. 
After here, we come to a narrower track and the brezo (a hardy bush which grows naturally and is often coppiced and used as goat food) forms a tunnel of dappled sunlight over the old stone path. Nice! And then we burst into the open again with young brezo in verdant green.
Passing a simple wooden cross adorned with flowers we notice a rambling selection of caves over to the right. There is certainly no hint of order and neat rows here and we continue along the path, through a wooden make-shift gate after which we have a chance to admire the fascinating strata of a rock face.

After another cross, this time covered in shocking-pink silk, we head down into a small barranco which brings us back up the other side to a red dust path with a fantastic view over Gallegos and the rest of the north coast. The sign tells us that we are now 4.2km from Barlovento – but so far, it won't reveal the onward distance. It is slightly frustrating not to know, just for information purposes, but also slightly amusing as I have to wonder what befell the distance measurer on this stretch.
Anyway, we now have to traverse the biggest barranco on this walk but it isn't as tough as many. I have noticed that my attitude to barrancos is changing. Sometimes, it is practically a case of - bring it on.  Providing of course it isn't at the start of a walk ... or that it isn't too hot ... or at the end of a walk ... or ...  
As we reach the bottom of the barranco, I am fascinated by the brightest grey rocks I have ever seen, and a little stone lined path leads us across to the other side of the barranco where we begin our long ascent back up, helped by a sturdy wooden rail at the upper, more slippery part.
But it isn't Gallegos that it brings us to at the top but the little hamlet of La Crucita. Here the route crosses the road and a sign tells us that we have walked 5 km from Barlovento and it is 3.8km to Franceses. It seems a shame to miss the little huddle of houses at the end of the promitory which make up La Crucita but not long now before Gallegos where we can enjoy seeing old houses to our heart's content. But we've got just one more little barranco to traverse first.
Down in this last barranco, we find a wonderful spectacle of yet another cave colony – around thirteen in all and since we pass right by the entrance of the 'ground floor' ones, we take the opportunity to peek inside. Mmm, cosy. 

The path leads us up to Gallegos where it arrives, seemingly from nowhere, right opposite what was the old village shop and a notice announcing the phone number for a taxi.
From here the GR130 route heads straight down the hill and past the village shop and bar, but this is where we finish walking for today. It was all pleasure.


GR 130 - Santa Cruz to Puntallana ... and beyond 15 km

From walking along the beautiful cobbled streets of La Palma, lined by impressive mansions, we crossed the road into an area, well, less beautiful. Mercifully, it is a very short road and since we weren't looking for building supplies or broken down buses we were pleased to discover that a left turn at the end took us into a surprisingly pretty little barranco. I don't know how La Palma does it – you can guarantee that on any given walk you will come across something you didn't expect to be there.
We had noticed before, when walking on the road above the barranco, that there is something of a little aloe vera farm down there, hidden behind protective sheeting. An old boy I accosted, well got into conversation with, had given us a potted history of the plant, its culinary uses and medicinal properties. He concluded with a 'it's very good for the stomach.' Palmerans always say that about almost anything – gofio, brandy for breakfast .... it's all good for the estómago.
The path took us onwards and upwards to a very nice cross near the top of stone steps where it meets the road.
From here, we followed the road just around the corner, crossing at the pretty floral roundabout  and headed up the little steep concrete road on the other side into a small urbanisation. I must say, the one or two people around looked rather surprised to see a couple of hikers wearing shorts and boots, carrying long poles and examining the kerbs of their street. But this we discovered is where some of the GR130 route symbols were lurking.
Passing the Bar Viveres, we found the next sign on a telegraph pole on a concrete path just beyond it and this led to another little selection of houses. Ooh – never been up here before!! This we discovered took us to the old road – which led to the main road.  Ah, the dreaded section of walking along the LP1.  However, I have to say that the 1.7km went quite quickly walking on a path at the side of the road, protected from the traffic.  And it did provide a good view of the clear sea below us and Santa Cruz a good distance away.

Now for the next bit ... this was a treat we could have done without ... around 300m straight up the side of a 'hill.' There is a lot of the GR130 that might get you puffing and panting a bit but we haven't encountered anything quite like this before in terms of difficulty. The first part wasn't too bad and there were a couple of interesting caves along the way. But then the narrow 'path' got really quite bad and steeper. Some climbing over large boulders or negotiating loose stones was required, often edging by cactus or other bushes at the same time and all at an angle designed to tip us off the side of the hill.  Walking down this section would be out of the question, it would be a case of reversing down on hands and knees in many places!
At the top, we found there were some houses with road access from the other side (it felt a bit like climbing Everest only to find that somebody drove up there).
We followed the route down some metal steps to a mirador with an excellent view over Santa Cruz and Los Cancajos. At least now the going was extremely easy, along small tarmac roads and grass-covered paths. Walking along a brief section of the old road (the route doesn't go through the tunnel), we crossed the LP1 again before ascending up some well-made steps taking us high above the road again.

 Here we arrived at an 'unfinished project' of a hotel and the pretty little church of Santa Lucia.

 After some more easy walking and passing several more crosses and old houses, a country path brought us to a small group of colourful new houses and into the village of Puntallana.
Our plan was to walk on past Puntallana and see how far we could comfortably get. We had only been walking three and a quarter hours so we felt ready to 'crack on.' So we followed the route down by the side of church and on increasingly smaller roads, then tracks, then paths. We amused ourselves by trying to spot houses we had seen for sale eight years ago when we were originally house hunting. Well, they were still there but sold or not was another question!
The route crossed the road down to Playa Nogales a couple of times and then, in the middle of nowhere we came to a pretty stone-built path with stone wall at the side and handrail. We could have done with that earlier!  Then we were in banana country.

Now the route crossed concrete banana plantation roads a couple of times and at one junction, I tested my new theory on an old boy that was sitting on a wall, that you have to ask for the 'Camino Real' rather than the GR130. 'San Andres,'' he said pointing the way. Oh well, just ask for the town then. Not that we were going as far as San Andres but certainly that way.
Not long after the 'Los Sauces 10.4km' signpost, we briefly lost the route but luckily spotted it down the hill to the right. After that and back on route, we had a great view over Playa Nogales far below us.

After walking two hours onwards from Puntallana, where a sign told us we had covered 5.3km, we had to make a decision whether to carry on or try to get back to the main road in time to catch the bus. Well, we had in fact already walked from Los Sauces to here before and seemed to recall that the next barranco was fairly tough. And it was hot now - enough to swing calling it a day, especially since we were a bit short on sleep after watching the rock group Manifold the previous night, or should I say, that morning. So we set off up the steep road in the direction of El Granel hoping it wasn't as far to the main road as we remembered.
In fact, it was much further - but at least we could enjoy the view from the back of an old Santana Land Rover.  We enjoyed the ride but much better to carry on across the barranco to La Galga.  Next time!


GR 130 - Los Sauces to Barlovento 5.7 km

Ridiculous to say that neither of us knew exactly where the GR130 begins in Los Sauces despite the fact that we are fairly regular visitors to this busy little town. Luckily though, our hunch was right and after heading up by the higher plaza and hanging a right just after the Farmacia into Calle Carretera Gonzalez, we spotted the red and white stripe of the GR130. Turning right at the T-junction at the end, we eventually found ourselves at a rather new looking plaza which we had never seen before - and which was an apparent dead end.
A lady passing by enquired as to whether we were trying to get to Barlovento. Our request for the GR130 was met with the usual blank look and it is only now that I realise we might have better success by asking for the Camino Real! Anyway, we agreed it was Barlovento that we wanted to go to and she indicated a set of steps we should go down. Hopefully, we were now on our way!

I was looking forward to this walk with some slight trepidation because there were obviously going to be some rather steep bits, not least the barranco as you leave Los Sauces. We have driven past this many, many times and seen something of the path as it descends down to the banana warehouse and into the barranco, crosses the road and then disappears back up the other side. Our usual comment is something along the lines of, 'I don't know how you get up there!'

Then of course there is Las Cabezadas to negotiate, between Barlovento and Los Sauces. Viewing it from the main road, it is characterised by a cascade of terraces spilling down the hillside and if this was any other island, you would pay to go and see them and then some more as locals danced in traditional costume. Vamos a ver ...

Having ambled our way along the small side streets of Los Sauces, we reached the end of the road and could overlook the barranco we were about to traverse. It didn't look too bad after all. Did it?

Going down was no problem (nice cave to your right just at the start) and before very long we were on the other side, high above the road. 'Nice patch of greenery of there,' says David ... and the next thing we found ourselves in was a jungle of ňame (a water-loving root vegetable with huge leaves). Obviously there was a spring nearby as we battled our way through the over-friendly trifids, slurping through the mud.

Doing our best to avoid brambles which tried to trip us up, catch us from the sides and even dangle in front of us, we burst through onto a far easier path and agricultural land only to spot a cave city over to our right. They looked a bit like terraced houses!

Ah, but now we came to civilisation and head to head with the steep road of Las Cabezadas. And when I say steep, I mean ridiculously steep – and for some reason this seemed to amuse me rather than anything else. I mean, it was actually funny! I I kept trying to get a photo that would capture it but of course you don't see it all at once – and that's probably a good thing. After a while of course, it became less amusing and the hot sun started to make the skin on my arms prickle. I began to seek out patches of shade where I could pause and maybe find a bucket of cold water to put my head in while the other half of the party was calling out, 'Come on! Let's crack on!' I think I met myself more than once on that road.
But eventually it stopped being silly steep and was just steep. And we had lots to keep us interested with houses lining the road, a few plums to eat that had fallen to the ground and plants that we can't get to grow, a riot of colour jostling for roadside positions.

And then we were away from the country road again, first of all with a stunning view back over Los Llanos, now impressively far away from us, and then walking along pretty paths hidden from the world by a mass of greenery. The glee at getting wet from dripping ferns when you have just been at gas mark regulo 8 only a short time ago is immeasurable.

Arriving at a t-junction of paths, this was an obvious time for a treasure hunt for GR130 signs and with some hearty fern bashing by David, we found what we were looking for painted on a water pipe running along the ground. Ah yes, up and to the left. At the next junction, where the forest joined a concrete road we were faced with a choice of 3 different direction. Here, we weren't quite so lucky and made an abortive attempt in the wrong direction but at least could admire a natural spring with a selection of biblical figures around it. It transpired that the correct path was the concrete one at an impressive angle downhill. Of course, only to cross a little road and go back up a path on the other side.
But it was all easy going now as we eventually emerged from our hidden path into the backwaters of Barlovento. A billy goat looked a bit surprised to see us. 'You walked from Los Llanos?' he said. Yeah, it was nothing, man.