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!