Walking the GR131 El Baston from El Pilar to Pico de la Nieve (and beyond)

It seems ridiculous to say that I've wanted to do a particular walk on La Palma for years, yes literally years, and still not done it. I mean, why wouldn't you just go and do a walk if you want to do it, especially when we live just a 50 minute drive away from one end of it. But the fact is that this isn't an ordinary walk - no, we're talking logistics here. And an overnight stay in a refuge hut.
GR131 walk 1 So finally having given up on waiting for the 'right time' to walk it, when it's not too hot, not too cold and we're not too busy or too unfit, it was a case of just doing it. I have to say that it was probably not the most perfect time, especially as we couldn't start the walk until late-afternoon but sometimes walkers can't be choosers. And so off we set with the small matter of 28km of fairly continuous ascents and descents most of which is at altitude, bed rolls and sleeping bags. Glee :) I love an adventure...
GR131 signs
The start of the walk was crazy-easy with the walking path crisscrossing over a forestry track. But nice to be able to walk over the pine needles on the ground with the tree heather lining the path. And within an hour, we are starting to get some tantalizing views. I don't know if it's what I had expected, we're used to outstanding views, but I hadn't seen this one.

GR131 walk 3

GR131 walk 5

And not too much further along the route, we came to the aerials we had seen not so long ago in the distance. This was something of a way-point and we were making pleasing headway. Plus some even better views over to the east as picked we out Los Cancajos and the airport in the distance. 
GR131 walk 4

GR131 Reventon Pass

GR131 walk 6
Perhaps a more significant waypoint was reaching the Reventon Pass, the intersection of the GR131 and LP1 walking route which crosses the centre of the island from Santa Cruz in the east, up and over to the Virgen del Pino at El Paso and eventually to Tazacorte in the west. It's 7km from El Pilar and another 7km to the Refuge hut - it's a good place to pause a while, top up with drinking water from the fountain and enjoy the view of both the east and the west.
GR131 walk 7
By the way, the red line on the map above shows the whole route of the GR131 - this is the one that the Transvulcania athletes run in day. I kid you not.
I think it was after this point that the route started to get a bit more serious with an amazing number of ascents and descents kicking in, especially considering that overall we were not gaining a huge amount of altitude. Oh well, así es la vida, full of ups and downs.
GR131 walk 8
With fabulous views continuing we didn't hang around long to take photos but it was more a case of taking in the view while still walking. After all, darkness falls quickly and we still had a long way to go. So speeding up as much as possible, we walked the last part in increasing gloom and when we finally reached the refugio, it was all but dark. Happily (if that's the word) we had armed ourselves with torches.
 GR131 walk 8Now, I've never been to the Refugio before although I've seen photos and heard reports about it, but I must say I was very pleasantly surprised. I had somehow imagined bare bunk beds with broken lats, a creaky door hanging off its hinges and a dusty soil floor. But in fact it's an absolutely brilliant little building with quite two quite big rooms, one with good, strong, clean sleeping platforms and the other with two large tables and benches. Oh and a heavy, self-closing front door immediately followed by a heavy self-closing interior door with zero change of blowing open in the night. There are a few basics to help walkers too - an excellent first aid kit and some sweeping brushes to keep the place clean and free of tasty morsels dropped on the floor. Outside there is a water tap, although water purifiers are recommended. The Refugio is completely free of charge, does not need a permit and is never locked. 
GR131 walk 16

GR131 walk 15I can't say that I've slept on a hard surface recently - not that I remember anyway (!) And at many points in the night, there didn't seem to be much sleeping happening but come 9 o'clock in the morning, I had to be cajoled out of my little nest. I'd already missed the sunrise I had so wanted to see but luckily David had taken plenty of photos. Early morning is such a beautiful time, bathed in the stillness of a day waiting to begin. And to know that we were right there on the trail in the wilderness was something that did not pass us by.

GR131 walk 9
GR131 walk 18

GR131 Refugio Punta de la roques

GR131 refugio punta de los roques

GR131 refugio punta de los roques la palma

The walking trail led us behind the Refugio and almost straight away, we were descending on a path slippery with pine needles. And there's one thing we were sure of - that going down was not the overall plan. But after I had a quick and unplanned meeting with the ground, we were on our way back up again. With breathtaking scenery virtually every step of the way and just 2.5 hours later, we reached Pico de la Nieve. 
GR131 walk 22

GR131 walk Pico de la Cruz
GR131 walk 20GR131 walk 21
 GR131 walk b GR131 walk c
 For those of you who might be interested in the logistics, we chose to walk in a northerly direction starting at El Pilar (1455m) with an overnight stop at the Refugio Punta Los Roques (2075m) and ending at Pico de la Cruz (2351m). To get to the start, we took a taxi from the capital of Santa Cruz up to El Pilar which is where the Volcano Route ends and the next section of the GR131 begins.
The Refugio is a fabulous resource which sleeps up to 20 people - more information on the official La Palma walking site here: Senderos de La Palma. You can also see the profile and distances on that site too.


Walking the GR131/GR130 El Time to Los Llanos

Just for a bit of fun, we decided that we would walk a short stretch of the GR130 long-distance trekking route. After all, the last time we walked this particular section, we managed to loose the route, stopped way too long at the bottom of the ravine where we paddled in the water, got boiling hot on the ascent and got lost again at the end. So we rather hoped for better with a re-run!
Paddling in the Barranco de Angustias 2010
Last Friday was the designated day then, a day when we could interpolate a walk with getting the MOT for the car (called ITV in Spain), visit the Banana Museum in Tazacorte and try to find some new sun loungers for the Casita. That little list is where the fun element comes in.
Actually though, there was a semi-serious side to it. In November we have a small walking group from Sweden coming over to walk the GR130 as part of a luggage transported walking holiday (otherwise known as accommodation to accommodation) and whilst the normal itinerary for this walking holiday has the walkers finish at Tazacorte, this group will finish in Los Llanos at the Hotel Valle Aridane. Ah yes, the penny drops ... and that's why I was keen to walk this last section - to get it right his time! <BLOG_BREAK>
GR131 at Mirador El Time
We started at the Mirador El Time which is on the GR131 route, the same route that the Transvulcania athletes run. Of course there was to be no running for us. So up the GR131 we trudged and 20 minutes later arrived at the GR130 Camino Real. The sign there reads 'Los Llanos 5.6km.' Bring it on! (So say some.) But one thing that is indisputable is the view, it's awesome no matter how many times you see it. It's also a pretty good view from the Mirador El Time by the way so that even if you don't want to walk, you can still take in the view. 

View from GR130 over Los Llanos de Aridane

From the our starting point on the GR130, we headed down the northern flank of the Barranco de Las Angustias - the Ravine of Anxiety - whose waters flow out at Tazacorte. (If you want to find out more about the history of Tazacorte, you can check out our webpage here: http://www.holiday-lapalma.com/abouttazacorte.html)
 It's slow going as it's steep and you need to walk with care but just under one and a half hours later we were crossing the footbridge to the other side. This time, we had found the exact route and managed not to get way-laid by clean and cool mountain water babbling its way along the ravine bed. Helped by the fact that there wasn't any water running at this time of year.
After a brief stop in the shade for a drink some fruit it was onward and upward. This time we were lucky because the clouds moved in and we had some natural cover from the sun. Along the way, we stopped off several times to take photos and admire the view from the other side - this time of Tazacorte, the little beach village. 

Walking Los Llanos to Hotel Aridane La Palma

Although we were pleased to have found the correct route down the barranco (the up part is easy!), walking through Los Llanos requires some concentration. The strange thing about the GR130 route is that as soon as you get to a village, town or city, the signs stop - or at least seem to thin out so that it does become a treasure hunt for those white over red blazes. But with David acting as chief spotter while I took photos of bizarre things such as chemist opening hours, location of phone boxes and the like we honed straight in to the Hotel Valle Aridane and still on the trail.
Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a walk except as part of the GR130 experience but certainly some amazing views, a sense of achievement and, yes, fun!


Walking the GR130 Camino Real - north east section

28 July, 2014
Walking the GR130 Camino Real - north east section
Many people that come on holiday to La Palma are walkers - although not by any means everybody! So please don't feel that you need to walk just to please people. But out of those that want to do some walking, not everybody is into the trekking and hiking type of walk, the no pain no gain ethos!
So what about a walk that is not too challenging but still embraces the very essence of a stunning coastal walk? I give you the 'GR130 Barlovento to Gallegos' walk! (Although I have to admit that there are a few ascents and descents thrown in). From scenery to surprises and user-friendly logistics, this section has it all.
The scenery really is stunning starting early on in the walk with the abundance of ancient dragon trees and finishing with multi-storey caves. 
Dragon trees of La Tosca
Caves near Gallegos
 Surprises include the old washing station,  a cliff top hamlet, wooded paths, flower-covered crosses, goats and, and, well, what else could anybody wish for on a walk?
So talking of logistics, where and how to begin and end.
Happily, the walk begins and ends on the bus route which is always a bonus and it doesn't matter too much which end you start at. Having said that, the half nearest to Gallegos is the harder part but it also has the most wow factor and I always think it's nice to keep that towards the end. Plus if you walk from Barlovento to Gallegos, the sun is on your back and not in your eyes. Something to consider!
Little village of Gallegos
But to get a flavour of what it's really like (apart from walking it) do please take a look at a great video of the walk, courtesy of past guests and masters of time-lapse videos on La Palma, Randy and Brenda - http://vimeo.com/7373983. Sit back and enjoy!


Walking Los Lobos GR131, Fuerteventura

If you love the whole thing about walking routes - not just the act of walking or trekking - then you'll probably realise that the GR131 is not just on La Palma but it also meanders off to El Hierro, Tenerife, Fuerteventura and even the small island of Los Lobos just off Fuerteventura. That's 651kkm of walking trail and surely enough for even the most enthusiastic walker. So rather fittingly, although I was disappointed to miss the Transvulcania Ultramarathon on the La Palma GR131 this weekend, at least we were walking the GR131 albeit on the island of Los Lobos.
On the ferry from Fuerteventura to Los Lobos
The island of Los Lobos is a tiny scrap of land with a coastline of 13.7km and a 15-minute ferry ride away from Fuerteventura. From the sea, it looks potentially boring with a long flat bit, a big lump on one end and lots of pimples scattered all over it. In fact, it's a nature reserve with beaches to swoon over, a lighthouse and a peak of 127m, the Montaña la Caldera - in my opinion, it's a 'must do' if you find yourself on holiday in Fuerteventura.
Our aim was to climb the Montaña and have a swim, so nothing too energetic. Right by the jetty, the GR131 sign enticed us towards the first beach of La Calera. 
GR131 sign
But no, the swim was to be the reward after climbing the Montaña which we could see in the distance. Surely it's higher than 127m - it certain looks it! But with a good flatish path, it was fun to stride out especially as most of the walks on La Palma involve some sort of incline or decline.
Striding out on the GR131 Los Lobos
Actually, the path was ascending but only gradually so we hardly noticed and just 30 minutes from the start, we were at the foothills of the Montaña where a sign asked us to maintain silence due to the nesting season of the birds - Shearwaters, Petrels Ospreys and Gulls. Nobody had told the birds to be quiet of course so there was plenty of screeching going on!
Be aware of birds nesting on Los Lobos between February and July
The 'up' part treated us very gently at the start and in fact the whole way. In less than an hour from the start of the walk we were at the top where there is a trig point and then a short walk along the ridge - it's a case of views and more views. 
From the top of the Montaña la Caldera
After a good old photo shoot, we were on our way back down again and at the bottom 20 minutes later. That part I know, the part I'm not sure of is when we decided to walk around the whole island. OK, so we decided we would head off in the general direction of the Faro, the lighthouse, which is at the far end of the island and because we were having well, FUN, we just kept going!
Lighthouse on Los Lobos
We did decide that we wouldn't fully investigate the lighthouse because we had to catch the last ferry at 16.00hrs and we still had our swim to go. So at the junction, we swung a right and headed down the west side of the island. This side was rather more sandy than the rockier east but still fascinating. I must admit though we could have done with an extra sign or two to help us choose the way!
But we did eventually get to the 'Lagunas,' a natural area of marshland which is not something you expect on such an arid island. It's a great habitat for the birds and a place where you might want to spend sometime bird-watching. Just not swimming. 
The surprise though is perhaps in the heather which had just finished being in blossom. Apparently if you go in March/April, it's a really beautiful sight.
Heather on Los Lobos and Las Lagunas in the distance
But when we did get to the beach which is in fact called El Puertito, I don't think we could quite believe it - it's straight out of the Bahamas! This is also where the restaurant is, a few houses and small boats tied up to moorings in the clear, azure waters.
El Puertito
But this is not the beach we were heading to although in fact it is just 7 minutes to El Muelle, the harbour, where we had docked earlier in the day. Instead we carried on walking in the direction of the harbour and onto Playa la Concha, just six minutes the other side of the port. 
When it comes to beaches, Fuerteventura and of course Lanzarote have any number of fabulous beaches. This is just one of them! 
Playa la Concha, Los Lobos
So where next on the GR131? Having arrived back on Fuerteventura on the ferry, we didn't really have far to look before bumping into the GR131 trail. I'm not 100% sure I'll be signing up for those walks though as they look very hot and exposed. And after all, we've still got to the finish the La Palma GR131 between El Pilar and Mirador Los Andenes. 
One day, one day. 
For more information on Fuerteventura, you might like to check out www.relocatecanaries.com


Walking the Transvulcania

Did you know that the La Palma Transvulcania is not just about Sky running an ultra marathon, (how did the word 'just' creep in ... ) but for most of us who are not quite up to running 83km and much of it at altitude, you can still join in.
You see, the great thing is that the Transvulcania is an event with many facets.
First and foremost for the elite athletes there is the aforementioned Ultra marathon. There is also a marathon, a half marathon and a junior marathon.
Plus several fun runs. And new for 2014, the Vertical Kilometre which is a race over a distance of 6.6km but with a gain in height of 1km - i.e. it's steep. Oh dear, what will they think of next.
But walkers - or senderistas as they are called here - are not forgotten.
Last year the route took the walkers from the Refugio El Pilar down to San Nicolas and Las Manchas and then along the GR130 Camino Real route into Los Llanos. At little more than 15km and much of it downhill, it really is within the grasp of the average walker.  And the great thing is that the senderistas get to cross the Transvulcania finishing line. It's got to be worth it for that alone!
You can read more about the Transvulcania here - http://www.holiday-lapalma.com/transvulcania.html


Walking Los Tilos, Marcos y Cordero

Funny how you find things out. For years and years there has been a system for those who want to walk the Marcos y Cordero route through the tunnels. It was simple enough in that the people transporter 4 x 4 taxis wait by the plaza in Los Sauces and when there are a few people ready to go up, off they set.
That way at least, walkers get to share the cost of the taxi which otherwise would charge around 60€ for the trip up to Casa del Monte, which is the start of the walk.
The only downside is that it's still quite a long walk back to Los Sauces after you have arrived at Los Tilos at the end of the walk.
However, now this system has been greatly improved you'll be pleased to hear. And I only heard about it thanks to Anne and Giles ;) who walked it just this week.
What happens now is that you take your car to the point just before the Visitor's Centre at Los Tilos and take the taxi there.
The first taxi leaves at 09.00 hrs or when it's full, or nearly full. (I've got to thank Diana and Marta for this bit of information as they walked it today along with Teresa and Alan :). The next taxi leaves around 10.00 hrs or when it's full. The last taxi leaves no later than 11.00 hrs after which it's rather too late to start the walk anyway.
The cost is 15.00€ per person with a minimum number of 4 people, or 60€. When the taxi is full, it's still 15€ per person - but well worth the money!
So now you can enjoy the walk through the tunnels that lead to the source of the spring water - La Fuente of Marcos y Cordero and walk back knowing that your car will be right there at the end of the walk.