GR130 - El Tablado to Santo Domingo 13.3 km

  For a change, we decided that we would not walk from the house to El Tablado on the GR130 - that would be too obvious.  No, we would start our walk at Roque Faro, go down the LP 9.1, thereby joining the GR130 at El Tablado.
  An early start was needed to give us at least some time without the sun and at 6.50 a.m. the only signs of  life in Roque Faro apart from us was the bread man and the moon.  Actually, it was still laughably dark (and I did laugh) and it was only with the help of the moon that we were able to pick our way down the path.  As we wound our way down from Roque Faro at 1,000 metres above sea level towards El Tablado at around 360 metres the light gently grew and it was a brilliant experience to walk through the wooded paths with the growing dawn. 
  Arriving in El Tablado via an old stone path that runs down by the side of the restaurant El Moral, the few residents were beginning to start the day, watering the little plots of vegetables being the norm.  It was great to be among all the little houses that we can see from our own house, just 1.34 km away as the crow flies! 
 Passing by the church, the path conveniently deposited us right at the signpost for the GR 130 - unfortunately not one of the newer ones with the distances but none-the-less, a clear indication as to where to go.  And so off we set on the 'walk proper' - now we were on the GR130 and our main quest for the day. Walking along a pretty little cobbled path, we were soon leaving the picturesque El Tablado behind us.
We passed the much-photographed ancient drago tree (see website) and were now truly in the open, overlooking the impressive north coast with its roller-coaster of ravines.  From here, we could see the walking path undulating its way across the north but our final destination was some distance beyond the final hill, out of sight.  There was a long way to go!
We began the zig-zag trek down the Barranco Fagundo which lies between El Tablado and Don Pedro which, according to the Rother Walking Guide, is the finest on the island.  There were certainly more than a few spectacular sights along the way such as looking back over the old port village of La Fajana and spectacular coastline you would never normally see.  And the curious overhangs and fascinating strata made me wish that I knew more about geology so that I could appreciate it even more!  
After an hour of fairly careful walking due to the nature of the dry path, we came to the rock-strewn bottom of the barranco where we left the GR130 route for a detour to the beach.  You can read about it on our finca franceses blog but on reflection, we would have preferred to do it (if at all) as a stand alone exercise rather than as part of a longish walk. 
Continuing up the other side of the barranco, the path was good but steep enough in places and it was a case of a steady climb in the growing heat.  
  Along the way, we were rewarding with a mirador as we got higher and higher and then another with table and bench seating plus an interesting (and intact) information board. Oh, and still another 1.5 kilometres to Don Pedro - how did that happen!
The final path into Don Pedro was pretty, filled with greenery and nothing more than a slope which we attacked with gusto.  Aren't way points great for that boost of energy!  Not of course that we would find anything in Don Pedro apart from the potential of a herd of goats being shepherded through, a couple of resident dogs and a few elderly Santanas which will probably never move again.  So, without pausing, we carried on to the next stage, a length of 8.8 km.  Santo Domingo - here we come!
  At first the going was easy with a few interesting houses to pass by and, in between the bushes, glimpses of the super-barren land of Juan Adalid in the distance - being August, this rather desolate area of La Palma was the colour of a desert rather than lush green of winter.  However, our path took us down into woodland with some short, quite steep parts and a few oddities such as a cave with its own GR130 blaze on the door -  I think the paint person was having some fun!  Perhaps that's what brought on our song of the day, 'The Cherokees are after me .... there's a hidden cave ... two wheels on my wagon ...'  (You had to be there.)
But of course, going down means only one thing and we were soon heading upwards again, this time to the highest part of the whole of the GR130 across the north at nearly 600m. 
After some easier walking, we were pleased to see the wind turbines appear in the distant and then, quite suddenly, the head of one appeared over the bushes.  Five minutes later we were walking right by them. 
  Our next sign revealed that it was 5.8km to go to Santo Domingo and the open trails stretched out in front of us.  A generous sprinkling of GR130 signs kept us informed how we were doing and the occasional house in a supremely remote location kept us puzzled.  Low cloud started to form which looked quite ethereal but more usefully helped keep some of the heat at bay.  
  Unfortunately, it was just after this photo that the camera decided not to work any more.  Oh no!  Because we had just come to 'the best' cave we have ever seen, where you could easily house 50 people.  And then old stone washing basins and a spring where we refilled our water bottles, having already drunk 1.5 litres each.  Ow, ow ... no camera and the phone camera decided not to work either.  It was a conspiracy!   Oh well, a good excuse to come back in winter and do it all again when everything is greener.  (And it transpired I had taken 130 photos already.)
  At one point after this, we realised we had lost the trail as we saw the burgundy/gold sign in a parallel place where we weren't.  We knew where we must have gone wrong but the thought of having to retrace our steps did not fill us with glee.  Luckily however, we managed to find a link to get us back on route - phew!  
  A rough track now took us further and further over the hills with a surprise scattering of houses cunningly located in the middle of nowhere.  But eventually, we were coming back to civilization along a concrete road.  Now we just had that one last little barranco to traverse before arriving in Santo Domingo.  And whilst it is something of an unwanted surprise if you are not expecting it at the end of a long walk, it really is quite small and the goats in their little caves always make it something of a treat.  It really is like going back in time.

We shall return!


La Mata to Roque Faro

After spending far too long at the computer, we were ready for out - some time to  expand the horizons and go walking!  For some reason, we had a desire to re-visit the LP9 between La Mata and Roque Faro - could it really be as nice as we remembered it?
We took the 10.00 o'clock bus - the 'micro' as the locals call it, since it is a diminutive 19 seater - and twenty minutes later we were getting off at La Mata (co-incidentally the subject of our other blog).
It's not a bad start to any walk, I have to admit, to be surrounded by chocolate-box scenery of pine trees, blue skies and the north face of the Caldera.
The little sign indicated that we should head off down a track and immediately we were hidden from the main road.  The track itself was sheer luxury - flat, wide and easy going with majestical views at every bend.  Splendid pine trees stood guard at one side of the track and at the other side, open country revealed beautiful views.
However, it wasn't too long before we were tempted off-piste and we dived down a little, leaf covered path into woodland.  Someone before us had kindly made steps which were moss-covered to one side and shining in dappled sunlight on the other.  This was a little bit of magic!
After wending our way down the path deeper into the woodland, we came to the wonderful sight of a spring which was almost hiding in the crook of a bend.  I can't say we have ever seen a prettier spring - there are large, industrial type springs and small, cute springs - but this was quite large and cute at the same time.
The water inside was about 40 cm deep and through the opening, we could see that it had a diameter of about a metre.  If you could have squeezed through the opening, there would have been enough water for a bath in crystal clear water!  Just nearby was a log, hewn out in the middle.  This is what the people of La Palma used to use as a vessel in which to wash their clothes, according to our old neighbour, Pedro.  
Sorry to tear ourselves away from this lovely place, we followed the little path further along and soon came to the rocky bottom of the barranco.  Stepping over the stones, this brought us to a sudden drop-off - a cubo.  This is where the winter rains force a bucket shape, in other words a waterfall.  The drop off was a fairly impressive 4 metres deep and we did consider getting out our rope, tying it to a tree and shinnying down.  Common sense however prevailed.  And what about those funky gibbon faces etched into the rocks? 
Since we couldn't go any further, we headed up the path again and onto the track.  Now we were in and out of the pine forests, surrounded by bright green brezo.  Underfoot was a thick layer of pine needles and the smell was thick with fresh pine.  Oh and still easy, easy walking!
After an hour, we crossed the road which runs down to El Tablado and here was a gentleman wearing a French beret.  It's not often you see that outside of our village of Franceses.  Just on the other side of the road a sign offered that we could walk all the way to Roque de Los Muchachos.  Mmm, not today thank you.  
Just along from here, we were treated to the sight of hens with baby chicks and a little further along a couple of pigs and then goats criss-crossing out path.  And somehow, the path seemed to keep changing underfoot but always easy and with constantly impressive views.  All the way we were accompanied by the white over yellow blaze to mark the route.  And how about this for a marker? 
We arrived in Roque Faro after two hours of enjoying a walk even better than we had remembered.  And yet only one kilometre by road from where we had started!   


Report on Walking Festival

Just a quick post here to say that the Walking Festival was truly excellent - well done the organisers!  We went along on the Saturday morning and were really surprised to see the number of stands and amount of interest generated.

Some were not linked to walking admittedly and were rather more of the handicraft nature, including cheeses and wines from La Palma, but the majority were walking-based offering boots, clothing, maps and a few natty gismos.   And of course, being La Palma, it was a general party atmosphere.
Also, there were rope slides for the younger ones and in the evening more entertainment, not that we stayed around for that.
Anyway, apart from buying a few goodies at the stalls and getting a free straw hat in bright green (thanks Binter), I was really interested to make contact with one of the walking groups - http://www.caminanteselatajo.es  Whilst chatting to the two people manning the stall, I noticed a booklet entitled 'Vuelta a la Isla por el Camino Real de la Costa' ie the GR130 route, along with an accompanying DVD for a joint price of 10 euros.   Ooh exciting, so I had to have that especially as I didn't know such a thing existed.
The booklet is beautifully presented and in full colour and I was rather 'tickled' with their neat idea of walking the GR130. What they did, in October 2008, was to split the route up into 10 sections and in one day, different groups each walked a section of their choice.  The co-coordinator of the whole thing drove round the island, catching up with the groups as they went, taking a photo with them.  Where possible, he walked a little of the route with them.  Apparently, one of the walkers was in a bit of a rush as he was playing in a game of football later in the day.  And then there was our old friend Tabares, of cigar fame - I didn't mention the wine bit in an earlier post - but I read that a small bottle of wine was still an integral part of his walking practice!  Each group also took a group photo at precisely 11 am.  In total there were 121 walkers which shows great support for the idea.
The DVD was a well presented slideshow of photos taken by the groups as they walked around the island.  I'm not sure how many photos there were - a lot!  But it was good fun to watch and took around an hour to see the whole thing.  An hour to walk the GR130 - not bad .. and very entertaining see how other people got on.  
Anyone wanting a copy of the booklet and DVD can contact me directly or the club themselves.  


GR 130 - San Nicolas to Los Canarios 14.7 km

Secretly, I was very pleased to be walking this stretch of the GR130 again as, apart from wanting to find out if the route was still in tact after damage to the road in the south west, it is  many years since we last walked it, 2002 in fact.   My only recollection was of lava fields, a forest trail and emptying my boots of sand - as it transpired, I wasn't too far wrong.
San Nicolas was quietly bathing in early morning sunlight when we began our walk, setting off from the GR130 sign on the main road.  This indicated that Los Llanos is 10.5 km to the north and that we southbound people should head down a quiet lane, lined by bright green vines.
I know some people don't like walking on the road but at least it is a chance to stride out, make good time - and sing loud!  Yes, I probably haven't mentioned that we get through a good few tunes on our walks. Well, maybe not good but certainly a few.  And so, to a dodgy rendition of the Bohemian Rhapsody, we very quickly walked 1.3 km to the next sign where we noticed that a dog that was momentarily considering following us, thought better of it.
Along the way, a couple of side roads tested us to see if we were still watching out for GR 130 markings which luckily, we were.  But it wasn't until we stopped to look around that we noticed what a good view it was back to Los Llanos in the distance and the northern rim of the Caldera. 
Before long, we came back to the main road again and into Jedey strung out along the road with its couple of shops and pizzeria. Here the sign told us that we could take a left and head up the LP15 to join the Ruta de Volcanes 12.5 km away. No thank you.
At the end of Jedey, the route took us right and off the main road, with 2.3 km already walked from San Nicolas. Now we were on a nice little side track, still with easy, fast walking. 
An interesting smell alerted us to the fact that there was a goat farm nearby and sure enough, a couple of minutes, later we were right by the farm resplendent with the customary pallets to keep the goats in. Now the track more or less petered out and before we realised it, we were in lava flow country.
It certainly was very interesting, crossing where the lava had spilled down from the volcanoes above. The path was quite easy at first but as time went on, it became rougher and our speed had slowed considerably to almost picking our way over the loose stones.  But at least the path was obvious, albeit ever changing, sometimes cobbled stones or sand and sometimes smooth lava.

The story is that the lava flowed down the slopes and stopped just short of a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Yes, a miracle!  They had to move the statue three times, but the lava definitely stopped eventually.  They say there is good in everything and the good thing here is that vines love the rich volcanic earth and the warm climate creates the perfect growing environment.  Look out for Teneguia wine in the shops!      
Along the way, we enjoyed some lovely views looking back to La Bombilla near Puerto Naos, the lighthouse and a green sea of banana plantations. 

After around an hour from leaving San Nicolas, the scenery was greener and we were just crossing strips of lava flow. A few 'markers' intrigued us in the form of concrete blocks with the letters carved 'LL' for Los Llanos or 'F' for Fuencaliente and also 'P' (answers on a postcard).  Now the scattering of pine trees increased in number and we exchanged the lava for a pine forest and we started to ascend quite steeply with bend after tantalising bend making us think we were about to reach the road any second.  Oh no you don't! 
A little before reaching the road, the sign told us we had walked almost 7 km.  Phew - 11 o'clock and it was hot, even with dappled sunlight, and on reaching the road we took a moment to drink and eat some fruit.  
As chance would have it, any queries we had about the road works were answered straight away in the form of a sign announcing the times of road closures.  Obviously, this is a temporary state of affairs and certainly doesn't affect the walking route.  But it is also at this point that there is an 'albergue' at the roadside which was  built in order to accommodate road workers years ago and has now been renovated and turned into a hostel.   I believe it may just be for school groups etc.  
We crossed the road now and headed upwards to begin the second part of the walk. At first, it was a track of soft soil which eventually gave way to sand.  Much of the time we had a good view back to Los Llanos and down to the sea below us.
As we progressed, we saw at various stages where mini-barrancos had been made due to sudden, heavy rain in the past and, further along, we were looking down at the Hotel Princess with its twelve swimming pools.
There was also evidence of last year's fires with the lovely pine trees charred black.  It would break your heart to look at them until you realise how very resilient they are, springing back into life only four months after the fire.

But of course, all good walks come to an end as did ours, or the GR130 part of it at least, at this pine tree with its curious religious figures held within its trunk.  A further 20 minutes took us down the GR131 into a buzzing little Los Canarios.  When we re-start the walk to go up towards Mazo, we shall have to retrace our steps back up the GR131 to the GR130.  I must say, I'm looking forward to it, especially as Los Canarios to Santa Cruz is the only part we have not walked so far.