El Trio Zapatistas walk la Palma

Have you ever  looked at the official island website on walking on La Palma.  It is a fantastic source of information on the walking routes on the islands (Red de Senderos La Palma, network of paths) and include not just the GR130 but also the GR131, the volcano route, Marcos y Cordera and many more.  It doesn't actually give you a point by point route description but does give distances and profiles.
However it is especially worthwhile looking at right now because our very own wonderful La Palma band (of singing bandoleros variety), El Trio Zapatistas, have got a U-Tube video link on the main page.
Just click here and you too will become an instant fan of El Trio Zapatistas.  Guaranteed!  And what's more you can join in with them as they walk the fantastic hiking trails of La Palma.  Singing along is optional.


Accept your destiny - running the GR131, La Palma

If you are into endurance, then how about the 3rd Transvulcania Ultramarathon on La Palma in the Canary Islands, probably the toughest run in Spain?   It's certainly not for the faint-hearted at 83.3 km for the Ultramarathon and 26.8km for the half.   And of course I should probably mention that La Palma is said to be the most mountainous island in the world for its size.
The run starts in the extreme south of the island at sea level from the Fuencaliente lighthouse and follows the trail of the GR131 up the volcano route ....
The volcano route
 ... right over the top of the island, the Roque de Muchachos at 2426m above sea level ...

and then continues down the GR131 trail to Los Llanos de Aridane in the west.  Ouch! 
 That is an accumulated ascent of 4,415 metres and acumulated descent of 2,910.  It normally takes three or four days to walk but - hey - what's the point of hanging around, you might as well get it all over in one go!   If you think it all sounds a bit tough, give a thought to the military who will be competing in the full Ultramarathon - with 26 kg on board.  The half marathon is of course slightly kinder but let's face it, it's still going to hurt.
 The exciting thing for us is that La Palma is really getting into gear not just bringing the amazing walking opportunities that the island has to offer up to scratch but now the running opportunities with fell or hill running (mountain running) and extreme endurance running too.   In the first Transvulcania in 2009 there were 387 runners and in 2010 there were 647 so it is growing in popularity.  This year, the maximum has been set at 800 runners, that's 450 in the Ultramarathon and 350 in the half marathon.
Plenty for the rest of the family and kids too with a range of distances right down to a minithon of 500 metres for the under 7's. 
That's the bad news.  The good news is that you've got a week to get your application in and, well, ages to train.  Four weeks anyway.
I have decided however that I shall not be entering.  It has of course been a very difficult decision but I feel that my talents lay more in the cheering department, giving encouragement to others.  And, after all that running, for anybody who has a mind to explore the GR130 along the dramatic north coast, don't forget our bed and breakfast accommodation or even self-catering cottage for a few days of R & R.  I think you'll have earned it.
Sponsored by Salomon Nature Trails, the date for this years La Palma Transvulcania is Saturday 7th May, commencing at 06.00 hrs. Come and accept your destiny.  click here for more details
You can see more photos of the first section of the GR131, the volcano route here


The GR131 - Roque de Muchachos to Mirador de los Andenes

It has been such a busy 3 months on La Palma since Christmas with both the self-catering cottage and bed and breakfast accommodation well booked up.  Not only that but add a few guided walks and working the land on the finca here in Franceses, it's been all go.  Now though, with a few little gaps in the calendar, it really was time to head off and do something quite different.  What could be better than to leap off to the top of the mountain, the Roque de Muchachos for a bit of a hike along the GR131 in the snow?   So Thursday this week saw us jumping into the Land Rover in search of a few hours of snowy spring madness - and a walk.
The drive up there was fairly uneventful.  It only takes 50 minutes from the finca gradually ascending from 500m to 2426m, although I will say that after leaving the main road, the secondary road up to the observatory is one of the most tiwsty on the island with tight hairpin bends seemingly stacked on top of each other!  All very scenic though as the road wends its way up through the graceful slopes covered in tall pine trees.
We started the walk where the GR131 coming up from Tazacorte joins the main road at a point 0.7km below Roque de Muchachos.  The reason for this was that we had already walked that section between Tazacorte and here and now wanted to make a start on the only part of the GR131 that we haven't done. 
The trail started off with a short section on the road and then it was up a snowy track to the Roque de Muchachos, the Rock of the Lads, which are actually a little group of vertical rocks.  The paper notice advises caution on the snowy paths.
But we were quickly on our way past this point and anyway, most of the snow had already either melted or been pushed into heaps at the side.  The air was fresh and clear, the visibility more than excellent and it was all very exciting!    
Every moment seemed to bring something new to look at and twenty mintues from leaving the Roques, we saw some old dwellings just off the path.  Not quite sure how you could get down to them but certainly could be useful if the weather turned poor - but that's not today. 
The path is a serious of small ascents and descents and is made up of gravel in some places and small stones in other, so it is not the easiest of going.  But it wasn't this that was holding us up but the views.  They were just not stop amazing as we walked along the ridge of the mighty Caldera to Taburients and looked out over the Parque Nacional, the Caldera itself which is a width of 9km and 1,500 metres deep.  That's some hole in the ground!  
On the other side of this we could see the Cumbrecita, the Pico de Bajanado and then the GR131 Volcano route going down to the extreme south of the island. 
Continuing along, another sight we have never seen before from up here - the bottom of the Caldera, the Barranco de Angustias, the Ravine of Fear.  Just to the right of the photo is one of several rocky outcrops which suddenly just pop up like a brick wall.  Or is it that everything else around just popped down?
The observatories are a continued presence seemingly springing up at all sorts of points.  The observatories I should just mention if you didn't already know are the third most important in the whole world, after Chile and Hawaii.  They compete with nature to make the most stunning contrast against the pure blue sky and despite the incongruity of being high-tec man-made objects in this awesome natural landscape, they still manage to look beautiful. 
In some places though it is not a good idea to walk whilst looking around as the trail can be quite narrow.  And as I've said, it's a long way to the bottom.  
And here is the most famous wall on the island.  It is called El Pared de Roberto, Robert's wall, is completely natural and you actually walk through a large gap in it.   You won't be surprised to hear that there is a folklore story all about it.  Watch out for it on the www.fincafranceses.blogspot.com in the next week.  
In the photo below, David is testing the depth of the snow with the snow pole, I mean walking pole, which turned out to be an impressive 3 feet.   Luckily the actual path wasn't covered to such a depth.
After two hours we arrived at the Mirador de los Andenes.  Although this is a hugely impressive viewpoint and one that we have been to many times, it didn't seem quite as impressive any more.  Brilliant and fantastic, yes, but just not quite as good as the many views we had seen on the way.  However, on the other side of the road facing north where the land drops giddily away from the road and down into the pine forests below, the thick covering of snow made it look like a megga-scarey ski run.  I'm not going down there and that's final.
This was a good point to turn around and make our way back and, now with less photos to take, it was a general amble.  Not always easy though and still necessary to watch where we were walking, it is what the Rother Walking Guide on La Palma would describe as not 'for the nervous of disposition.'
On our return journey, we enjoyed trying to remember which observatory is which.  You can read all about them - and more on the wonderful island of La Palma - here.