The GR130 through Puntagorda

As anybody who follows this blog will realise, I am pretty much smitten with the amazing long-distance GR130 Camino Real trekking route around La Palma. Well, after all we do live a stone's throw away from it and overlook some of the  most magnificent stretches of the route as it winds its way between us and El Tablado.  In fact, having walked the entire route ourselves over a period of time, I like to compare it to life; full of ups and downs! Yes, it's the walk of life.
For those think of walking the route, I am happy to report that more than 90% of it is well sign-posted but strangely enough, the biggest mystery is through the towns. Los Llanos, Los Sauces, Santa Cruz, you name it and you'll struggle to spot a white over red blaze, let alone a signpost.
How lovely then that we had the opportunity this week to walk the Camino Real route through Puntagorda once again. I remember the first time we tried to find the route through this small but stretched out village/town. It certainly took some finding and we ended up in people's gardens or wood sheds more than a few times!
Of course it all starts well and good but after leaving the eco-campsite of La Rosa Centro de Naturaleza heading in a southerly direction, that's when you'll see your last good tip for a while - Puntagorda 1km.
So having crossed the main road and walked down the path through the nursery, it might be some while before you see a sign again, that is if you see one again at all because if you go off piste, so to speak, there are no signs to direct you back to where you should be.  That's fair enough, otherwise the place would be littered with signs.
However, if you have armed yourself with the Freytag & Berndt map, there is a clue there because you'll see that the route appears to follow the road. In fact, you may think the route is on the road. But no, it is as near the road as it can be - so keep walking parallel to the road as much as possible. And whilst that sounds as if you are close to traffic really it feels like you are deep in the country.
Along the way of course the route tries to fool you in a few places. For example, when you come to crossroads, the natural inclination is to carry straight on. But no, who would have guessed it, you go uphill. And then having settled into the new course and stoutly walking uphill, the route dodges off to the right. Ah, those signs facing away from you that disguise themselves as a garden post, you didn't think we'd fall for that one did you?
 But now the route settles itself into a very nice pattern of 'meet road, cross road' and keep going. Oh yes, we can all understand that one, especially with great big signs to tell us that we should just cross the road and continue along our merry way.
But of course nothing lasts forever, so when you try and apply your new-found logic to the next junction, this time without any signs whatsoever, it's only natural that you cross the road onto the path opposite which is a beautiful cobbled path. A GR130 path if ever I saw one. But no, it is of course nothing more than a cunning decoy which invites you to a runner bean teepee in a back garden.
In fact the route goes uphill to the left and by simply bearing left again at the Y-junction then you will arrive at the main road. Here, you can apply the 'meet road, cross road' mantra and if you look carefully enough you will in fact see the Camino Real signed to Tijarafe on the path opposite. Yay, you've done it!
However, in one way none of this really matters if you are pausing in your quest to conquer the Camino Real and staying at the Pension Mar y Monte in Puntagorda because all roads tend to lead there, or pretty much anyway. You see, Puntagorda is arranged in such a way that it is a series of houses and streets over several mini-barrancos which are linked by one long street which runs parallel to the main road. If you head down one of the lanes at 90 degrees to the main road you will hit the village street at some point along its length.
With shops and bars dotted about in various places in Puntagorda and a decent mid-sized supermarket at each end, it tends to be around the clock tower at the southerly end that most of the amenities are located. Around it, along with the Town Hall, you'll find the bank, post office, pharmacy, supermark and the Pension Mar y Monte located close by too.Simples!
And if you are thinking of one of our luggage-transported walking holidays, then full notes are of course provided.


LP20 Trek across La Palma

The LP20 trekking route from Las Briestas to Barlovento is a new route on La Palma which was only cleared and restored in the last couple of years.  In fact, many maps apart from the most recently published do not show it.
However, it was once the major route across the north of the island along with El Camino Real, the major difference between the two being that the LP20 is more inland and therefore higher and is what has got to be the most Isolated (note the capital 'I') walking route on the whole island, whilst El Camino Real follows the coast, linking the small villages and hamlets.
The other difference is that up to this week, we had never walked the LP20, well apart from a small section so this one was definitely up for grabs as far as walking exploits go!
The whole route of the LP20 runs from Las Briestas in the north west all the way to Barlovento in the north east and is a distance of 36km. The Senderos de La Palma website, fondly suggests that it takes 7hrs 45mins to walk and intimates that it is 'as good as level.'   This was enough encouragement for us to view it as nothing more than a 'bit of a long walk,' even given the accumulated ascents of 650m and descents of 1250m.  And as we were splitting the route into two, this walk would surely be a breeze. Wouldn't it?
With a later start than planned, we were ready for the off at 09.30 hrs having left the car in Roque Faro to where we would return later in the day by bus. At the start, we followed the sign for Los Andenes and Roque de Muchachos at the side of the church. It was an easy ascent walking first of all past a few houses (the last houses we would see until the end of the walk at Barlovento) and then a goat farm until we reached the pine forests.
Here the signs deserted us despite a few tempting options to the left and right. We stuck with our instincts though, bearing left which was our general direction and opting for what appeared to be the major route and 20 minutes from the start we were rewarded with a confirming white over yellow blaze. After which of course we came upon several signs indicating very clearly which way to go along with how many kilometres. This was certainly useful as we had at this point to leave the LP9.1 and continue on the LP20 to La Laguna de Barlovento. Yes, that's right, just 19km away.
The walking was quick and easy though and soon the kilometers started to disappear as we forged on along the forest track. I don't mind this type of walking even though there are no real wow factors; in fact I view it as a pleasant gift on a long walk with some tougher stuff coming up.
Even so, it was just over an hour later before we reached the old road across the north, Las Mimberes, 3.6km from the start, this being the road which superseded the LP20. In my opinion it is the most scenic road on the whole of La Palma with hardly any cars on it all as it is purely scenic rather than any form of shortcut. Despite this, we saw three vehicles - one being the bus which we didn't know had a route along there and another was our French guests.
The point at which we arrived on the road is the end of the municipality of Franceses and is also the viewpoint of the Barranco de Los Poleos. From here the view over Franceses and Gallegos is breath-taking along with the sight far below us of the newer main road (LP1) across the north as it twists and turns its way along every bend and curve thrown at it. The uplifting breeze was very refreshing and I wouldn't have minded staying there a little longer but there was a considerable distance yet to go. 
The route then followed the old road for 0.6km before we swung a right uphill to take us above the road. With 14.7km to go, we had now left civilization and would not pass any roads or houses until our final destination. At this point, I suggest that walkers should take a reality check and make sure that they really do want to continue because should you need help or assistance, you are in tiring terrain and a long, long way from reaching any point of safety on foot.
We were keen to press on though and we soon came across our first rewarding, or should I say interesting, sight in the form of a pine tree which had suffered from burning in a previous forest fire. Whilst we have seen many trees charred black from fires this is the first one we have seen with resin formed in long droplets, much like dripping candle wax.
Along the way, the path was covered in pine needles forming a soft although slippery bed. It was a bit like walking in sand going uphill and slippery ice going down and we were pleased of our walking poles.
After a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes of walking, we reached the Refugio de Gallegos which is at a significant fire break above Gallegos. We were really pleased to see it because, as the bird flies, it is relatively close to where we live and yet we had never been before. And as luck would have it, it did not fail to disappoint as along with almost every refugio we have been to on the island, it was firmly locked and without the slightest possibility of obtaining water. The only slight saving grace was the two concrete benches in the 'roomy' front porch at the of the refugio which might give shelter against wind or rain, although that is dubious as they face north.
 Some other wooden benches and a picnic table all with a lovely view though!
After the refugio, I would say that the walking became significantly more arduous with constant ascents and descents making the progress fairly slow.  After another hour and half of walking after the refugio, it seemed inconceivable that we still had 7km to go!
But the route was certainly pretty and with the sunlight filtering through the bushes and trees, we had intermittent shade as we zigged and zagged our way along. Finally, we crossed the Barranco de Gallegos which runs way, way inland and not only was this something of a milestone along the walk, but it was a good time to reflect on the still beauty of this peaceful place.
From now, we felt that we had left the pine forests behind and were walking out of the woods. The tall pine trees were replaced by tall brezo and huge ferns.  And then we came to our final descent where we lost 400m of height in 4km. But at least that would put us more or less at our final altitude of 700m above sea level.
Now and again, flat sections were thrown at us which led us to optimistically think, 'this is it' and that we must be on the alluded to easier, flatter part of the walk. Well, to a large extent we were but with still some distance to go. But it made me smile to see all the old signs pointing the way to various pistas (tracks). Can you imagine when this was the main road and you were bouncing along in your charabanc i.e. Santana jeep or probably better still, on horseback. 
But of course you would be pleased of the well-made tracks which carried muleteers with their wares and pastors (shepherds) taking their goats to a market on the opposite side of the island. For this was the route they would have taken which would eventually bring them to their first staging post - Roque del Faro, literally Rock of the Light, and how welcome that light would be having traveled on this oh so isolated route.
Still with 3km to go along a winding and gradually descending track, we got our first glimpse of the Laguna de Barlovento in the distance. As we neared our destination, we passed a few workers in the fields. Ah yes, civilization La Palma style. 


Outdoor and Walking Festival

La Palma is often described as a paradise for the walking enthusiast and it can hardly be denied with over 1000km of marked walking routes. In fact the whole island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
However, as you might imagine, it hasn't always been like this in that routes which were once well-used donkey tracks and paths criss-crossing the island had become overgrown and all but hidden. The past few years though have seen a tremendous amount of work on the walking trails of La Palma and there is now even an Outdoor and Walking Festival which is held annually in August.
Now in its fourth year, the event is really hotting up with more walks on offer and other attractions too. This year, the event is held on the 10th, 11th and 12th August and as before the central action will be in the Plaza de EspaƱa in Santa Cruz de La Palma (temporarily named the Plaza del Senderista).
There you will find stalls selling walking related products (maps of La Palma, the GR131 and GR130 walking guide, Senderos de La Palma walking T-shirts, walking clothing and accessories, etc.). The walking clubs on the island will also be represented plus there will be La Palma wine and local cheese on offer and a children's section with rope slides.  At 9pm on the Saturday, there will be a concert with live music so all in all, it will be a fun event and definitely worth going along to.
If you would like to join in on any of the guided walks though, then you will need to put your name down in advance which can be done online via the website below.
There are eight long routes which include the North of the Island, the Volcano Route, the Caldera de Taburiente, the Rum Route (mmm, that's a new one which sounds rather interesting) and the Route of the Stars.
Then there are also eight short routes which include the Laurisilva Route, the Observatories and then in the evening, Walking under the Stars - simply a must for anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy and a great opportunity to enjoy the clear skies of La Palma.
 There are also two routes for those who are less mobile - the Laurisilva Route and the Llano de Las Brujas route.
And then finally a walking excursion between 'Lava and Wine.' I told you La Palma was fun!
You can check out the website here: http://www.walkingfestivallapalma.es/
If you are interested in trail running for the 2013 Transvulcania (ultramarathon at 83km or the half marathon at 26.8km), you can enrol here: http://transvulcania13.com/index.php/en/
And don't forget, for more La Palma news, you can sign up to our newsletter here: http://www.holiday-lapalma.com/newslettersignup.html


Pedal power

I have to confess that this blog post is not about walking the GR130 or even walking in fact. But it is to do with leaving the car at home and getting out and about on La Palma - but on a bike.
Ah, cycling on La Palma. Not always the most obvious thing to do on what many regard as being the most mountainous island in the world for its size. And in fact, in the past we have looked upon cyclists with some degree of pity as they huff and puff their way up some steep incline or another.
But each to their own and we have been very pleased (and hugely impressed) when people have actually cycled to us here in the north all the way from capital of Santa Cruz de La Palma 48km away and, even more bizarely, seemed to have enjoyed it!
What possessed us to get our Trek touring bikes intended for guest use out from the safe confines of the garage, I shall never know. But emerge they did. At first, it was a tentative cycle to the sports ground just half a kilometre away (downhill), a good few laps around it (flat) and then a cycle back (uphill). (Very uphill).

This was deemed to be a success in that we actually managed to return and, what's more, with and on the bike.
Next up was a trip into to Los Machines which can loosely be called the village of Franceses.
Los Machines, Franceses
Almost a kilometre away (downhill) this had the added benefit in raising a few smiles of the even fewer villagers - definitely of the bemused variety.  Well, it's nice to make people smile. And one old gentleman commented that he couldn't remember having seen bicyles in the village bfore - come on, let's hear it for Britain!!
The return journey (uphill) went off without a hitch although admittedly with something of an increase in blood pressure and at times in the lowest gear possible.
We were now ready for the next challenge (?). Unfortunately, the next logical step would be to set off in the opposite direction and make a complete circuit of Franceses, cycling up to the main road 1.5km away (uphill), along the main road 2 km and into Franceses by the old entrance with the wooden sign (downhill), through Los Castros to Los Machinos (almost flat) and then back to our starting point in Las Tierras (uphill).
Main road

Entrance road to village
In Los Machines, Franceses
I can't say I'm a hugely confident or experienced biker on anything other than more or less flat terrain and like most normal people, I don't exactly love very steep inclines or even very steep declines and so I didn't particularly expect to make the whole circuit actually using pedal power as opposed to pushing power, but I did.
Oh well, it can't have been that hard then after all.  Ah, how the memory fades ..
The farmyard goat was pleased to see me back anyway.  And, OK then, I was pretty pleased to see her too.


Walking Cuba de la Galga

To quote from information provided by Cubo de La Galga information point:
'This trail goes through one of the most fragile and valuable nature sites on La Palma.  It is a route that enables you to admire one of the best examples of laurel forest in the Canary Islands.'
It's a very long time since we walked the Cubo de La Galga, in fact, when the guide at the information cabin at the start of the walk asked if we had walked it before, we realised it was so long ago that he should consider us to be newbies.  Anyway, the information hut certainly wasn't there in those days and it's not usually a good idea to turn your nose up at free suggestions and advice when it comes to walking routes.
So, in addition to an interesting display in the cabin of what types of flora and fauna we could expect to see, the warden brought up a map on the computer and showed us the route.
Our choice then was whether to walk directly from the information hut that sits by the LP1 main road, drive in on the asphalt lane one kilometer or even drive a second kilometre on a rough track after the asphalt as we had the Land Rover. We opted for setting off on foot right from the start - after all, we had come to walk. Heroes, if only for a day (and it is only an 8km walk, although admittedly with a good bit of ascending and descending).
As it turned out, the asphalt lane was a very pretty start to the walk, although already starting to slope up fairly quickly. Being a hot day, we were grateful of the intermittent shade.
Walking further into El Cubo and following the now dry river bed, great cascades of creepers flowed down the sheer-sided canyon walls. Along the way, we noticed a cave or two up in the craggy wall - could it be this one where Jonathan Ross spent the night with Bear Grylls .. or that one just by a handy path .. we shall never know.
Whilst still on the asphalt track, we passed under the latest aquaduct, built in the 1960's when 2350m of gallery was dug to increase the water flow needed for increased levels of agriculture. This was done on an 'as needs' basis rather than as a commercial enterprise and the aquifer (underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock) was not damaged. In the 19th century, there were seven springs and even today, El Cubo provides La Galga with drinking water. Info courtesy of  information sheet at the cabin!
Where the rough track ended, I had thought the serious ascent would probably start, the warden having told us that there was as an ascent of 400m. However, the good news was that the ascent was quite gradual and with well-made steps along the way, we seemed to gain height without the usual associated pain. Amazing how that can happen when you keep walking in an upward direction!
Along the way we had the treat of mahogany trees (once called Canary Island ebony), Ironbark tree and the ebony. Plus of course, giant ferns.
As the path zigged and zagged us through the leafy forest, we came to a second aquaduct, this one much more attractive than the first being made of old stone. Passing through the archway was very much like walking into the secret garden. This was, to my mind, one of the loveliest and most tranquil parts of the whole walk and a great place to pause and take in the calm.
Just after this viaduct, we came to a T-junction in the path - either right for the Somada Alta viewpoint or left for La Galga. We chose the Somada Alta which was signposted as 1.9km away - and probably upward since it is a viewpoint at 800m above sea level.
However, the going wasn't tough and the path was well-made and with some impressive views into the gorge below.
The walk up to the view point took us 50 minutes, not walking too fast and pausing for quite a few photos. After an easier start with some steps and short, attractive slopes, the longish stretch (1km) of uphill forest trail took a bit of energy! However, once at the top the view was excellent over Puntallana, San Bartolo and even Tenerife and La Gomera in the distance.
I would say however, that it may not be the best place for a picnic on a hot day as there is no shade, unless you are willing to sit on the ground under a little wooden tunnel! Oh, and no seats anywhere either apart from some pretty hot paving slabs on the top of walls.
The walk down from the viewpoint took us along a little narrow path which soon came out into open farmland and rows of potatoes growing. Fifteen minutes later, we had to choose whether to head on down to La Galga or rejoin the Cubo. Without thinking about it too much, we followed the signpost to the Cubo, which would complete a circle and bring us back onto the rough track 2km from the visitor's centre where we had originally started. One thing we hadn't banked on was it being uphill again!
And another thing that we also hadn't completely realised is that anybody taking their car in for the first part of walk, might be disappointed to find that if they chose the route to La Galga rather than the Cubo de La Galga, they would have a 1km walk at the end of it to get their car!
All in all, a great walk and even better to finish off with a swim at the sea pools of La Fajana de Barlovento (28km marker from the main road). Having listened to so many birds as we walked through the woods, now we were swimming with multi-coloured fish. Oh well, all in a day's work I suppose. 
Degree of difficulty: Not a complete walk in the park. Bit of hiking involved.
Approx time: 4 hours
For more information on walking and trekking on La Palma, check out Walking on La Palma
Short You Tube video with bird song: http://youtu.be/NAe62Gnco2k


Luggage-transported walking holidays on La Palma

El Camino Real, La Ruta de la Costa, the GR130 or whichever name you like to give it, is the new way to go.  Yes, I can really see that his amazing and unforgettable, 8-day walk around La Palma will one day be the Mecca for any walker wanting a challenge and to immerse themselves in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable.
Great then that all the work that was done in 2010 to clear the paths, put up new signs and generally give the whole route a massive make-over, has not been in vain.
Apart from the diehards who carry their huge rucksacks on their backs, a new trend is the luggage-transported holiday.  For anybody who doesn't know what this is, the idea is that your luggage is transported for you between accommodations and 'all' you have to do is the walking. When you arrive at your accommodation, your luggage is waiting for you.  The great thing is that you can pack all your creature comforts to have at hand after a long day's walk and you don't have to go the minimal route.
It has been said to me on a number of occasions however, that this is not really possible in La Palma due to the lack of suitable accommodation along the route.
Well, it might not always be easy to find but I am pleased to say that, in part also to a fabulous taxi company, our luggage-transported holidays are stepping out in style!


Exploring the Peaks of the GR131

This week, we were lucky enough to take a trip up to Roque de Muchachos and the observatories.  Although it is only 50 minutes away from the house by car, we still continue to be amazed by it!
The past week or so, we have had absolutely fabulous weather and the view up at the top of the island did not disappoint. Even Rocky the Raven was in fine form, doing his best to gain attention - and bread.

After a walk to the mirador which gives an impressive view down into the Caldera, walking back up to the Roque de Muchachos was also brilliant!
Path up the Roque de Muchachos
However, we were on a bit of a mission on this occasion, walking and exploring along the ridge and so set off in the Land Rover first of all passing the Mirador de los Andenes and then on past Pico de la Cruz and then towards Pico de la Nieve. Here we left the road and followed the forest track up towards the GR131.  After bumping along the track for a good ten minutes (not that good), we arrived at a flat area which serves as a car park.  Here we were at LP3 walking route which goes up to the GR131 and all the way down to Santa Cruz.
We decided to save the walk to the GR131 for another time and it's one to look forward to, up through the pine forests to emerge right at the Pico de la Nieve, Peak of the Snow.  Exciting or what!
Returning back to the road and towards the Pico de la Cruz we were struck by just how many walking trails there are that cascade down from the GR131. It is quite incredible and I don't think you could ever be stuck for an amazing walk on La Palma!
Near the Pico de la Cruz, we did stretch our legs a little more and walked up to the GR131.  It's a very short walk at just 0.5km and well worth doing.  In fact, there are a couple of viewing points and this is also where the LP7.8 goes down towards Los Tilos where we made our last walk and on to La Laguna and Barlovento.
On reaching the GR131, we had a fabulous view not just down into the Caldera but looking straight into the heart of the ravine as it goes towards Tazacorte and the sea. This is where rain water collects and begins its journey to the sea and is aptly named 'Fuente del Diablo' the Spring of the Devil.
Honestly - it's scary stuff!
Back at the Mirador de los Andenes where the GR131 touches the main road for just five metres, we were just in time to see walkers coming through Roberto's Wall. What a legend and what a wall - you can read about the legend here.
Yes, just another amazing day on La Palma.