Category Archives: Canary Islands.

GR131 LA PALMA – A BALMY BIVY.

Refugio Punta de los Roques – El Pilar.

We had heard there maybe a food van at El Pilar where we planned to bivy tonight so set off with high hopes. Today was much easier walking with well graded paths and not so much ascent. Steep zigzags below the refuge brought us back onto the caldera rim, though there were still no decent views into it. A late breakfast was taken sat on a branch of one of those magnificent Canary Pines.

A gun shot scared us, today is Saturday and one is allowed to hunt the introduced Barbary Sheep, a large horned goat, Arruis. All along the rim were hunters, presumably waiting for the prey to be driven up the hillside. Later we saw them driving away in their jeeps – I don’t think it was a successful day.

At Reventon there was a tap and a wall to sit on for lunch, we are slowly eating our way through the heavy load. We spent time watching a group of La Palma chaffinches coming to the font for water.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Fringilla_coelebs_-La_Palma%2C_Canary_Islands%2C_Spain-8.jpg

There was a sign announcing the incorporation in 2008 of the GR131 into the European walking route E7.

From here on a dirt track ran all the way along the ridge to El Pilar but the 131 has been diverted off it through the Laurisilva woods. We walked a bit of both as it was so humid and hot on the undulating ridge.

We were glad to arrive in the recreation area, El Pilar, and enjoyed a coffee from the van. There were lots of families enjoying the day barbecuing on wood fires, free wood seems to be provided. We approached the warden about bivying somewhere later and before we knew it had an official camping permit. Well we didn’t actually have it but we had signed a bit of paper. Supper of veggieburgers from the van was taken on one of the picnic tables, washed down by an unexpected bottle of wine, from the van! We even had time for coffee before he drove off. There were free toilets and showers on site. I had to explain to JD that this did not classify as a real bivi. Once the noise of revelers died down we slept fitfully as the night was so warm, no need for a sleeping bag at1500m.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done—
‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said,
‘To come and spoil the fun!’


GR131 LA PALMA – ROUND THE CALDERA RIM.

 

Roque de los Muchachos – Refugio Punta de los Roques.

The taxi deposited us at Roque de los Muchachos, 2426m, the highest point on the Island overlooking the vast Caldera de Taburiente. I felt rather sick from the twisting ascent. There is a car park, a little information hut and a water tap. The road is maintained to serve the numerous Observatories scattered near the summit. At this height clear skies and lack of light pollution provide astronomers with perfect conditions. The trail, with its usual red and white marks starts along the rocky rim in close proximity to the eerie saucers and spheres.

We were expecting cool conditions up here but in fact the temperature was into the 20’s. Heavily laden with 4 litres of water, food and  bivy gear we stood out from the tourists exploring the area, exaggerated further when within minutes we passed a bikini clad lass. The views into the caldera were a little obscured by cloud and sightings of other Islands likewise. That would be disappointing to the coach trippers but we were staying high for days so expected better to come.

Volcanoes have rough surfaces to walk on so a feature of the GR131 is that it is bordered by stones defining the way, over time the track itself becomes smoother to use. Along here to avoid the road we were led up little garden paths which seemed unnecessarily rough and steep, after a couple of hours we had hardly covered three kilometres.  By the time Pico de la Cruz was reached we were ready for some lunch, the first of our tuna with crisps for me, oatcakes for JD. Whenever we stopped Ravens would appear looking for scraps.

 

‘A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,
‘Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed—
Now if you are ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed!

En route JD was learning by heart Lewis Carroll’s  The Walrus and the Carpenter so from time to time I may put in an appropriate quotation.

The path undulated along the crest with surprising amounts of descent and ascent until Pico de la Nieve was reached, we climbed up to its cross but again views down to the caldera were disappointing, however all around were fantastic volcanic rock features in all colours. People were climbing this top from somewhere on the road below.

Better tracks continued down into the Canarian Pines with their burnt and twisted trunks. Zigzags led into a gap, Degollada del Rio, from where a small trail climbed across a rock face to emerge once more on the ridge. By now we were reduced to a snail’s pace and were glad to come round a bend and find the stone Refuge Punta de los Roques, 2040m, next to the path. Before I could appreciate the surroundings I collapsed onto a bunk for half an hour, glad to get the weight off my shoulders. The refuge turned out to be perfect, A kitchen area with tables, sleeping platforms with a few blankets, solar powered lighting and water [needed purifying] in the tank from the roof. Across the caldera rim we had walked could be seen the observatories at Roque de los Muchachos. Way below us in the haze was the town of El Paso which lit up after dark. The night was very warm, probably 15 degrees, but we were too tired to come out for star gazing. We never saw the resident mouse.

 

 

 

GR131 LA PALMA – LOGISTICS.

Continuing my saga of walking the GR131 through the Canary Islands the next venue was to be the volcanic island of La Palma…

For a start flights from Manchester only go on Thursdays so a week would have to suffice.  The route is some 65k long and climbs to 2425m with no real opportunities for restocking or accommodation. I’m not sure I want to carry 4 to 5 days food, plus the necessary water up to those heights.  So JD and I came up with a simple plan, have a taxi to take us up to the top, Roque de los Muchachos, and walk down in three and a half days via Refuge de la Roques, El Pilar, Fuencaliente to the Faro [lighthouse]. Then taxi back to the top and walk down to Puerto de Tazacorte  on the west coast. Even that idea involved bivouac gear and a substantial weight of food and water.

The first day would end at an unmanned refuge, Roques, at 2000m with no suitable water. The second day at El Pilar, 1500m, with water but no accommodation. We would have a pension on the third night in a village, Fuencaliente 780m. A bus would transport us from the lighthouse back to the east coast ready for the next trip to the summit ready for the shorter second leg.    Is that cheating?

Amazingly this is basically the route of an annual 73.3K Transvulcania mountain race with the present record of 6.52.39!

We were booked out of Manchester Airport  just as reports of fresh volcanic activity under the Island were being reported, rather dramatically by some of the red tops – panic on La Palma.      It last erupted in 1971.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FUERTEVENTURIA – Puerto del Rosario.

How to pass a day away.

I had a day to spare but was unable easily to get back up into the mountains so I decided on a leisurely day in town. Puerto del Rosario is the working capital of the Island and is based on its busy port. First impressions are of a self contained town with the locals going about there business away from the general tourist traffic. My hotel  http://www.hoteltamasite.com/ was a typical Spanish town centre option – basic and practical. Centrally situated, Spanish speaking staff, small room, noisy evenings, as a plus this hotel had a sun roof with views over the harbour. There are always bars around for breakfast and supper.

Hotel Tamasite – the blue one!

From my window I looked down onto a courtyard that had been blocked off – including an old ‘dormobile’ left in situ.

Spot the wreck.

After a wander down to the small TI office on the harbour in the morning I was armed with a street map of a sculpture trail. There are more than 50 installations created in the last decade or so as part of an International Sculpture Symposium held every year.  So off I went, on the sea front the sculptures had a marine theme – shells and fishermen, in the streets above local characters, abstract objects and goats. The number of goat statues was puzzling until I read that the town was formally called Puerto de Cabras [goats] until it was thought in 1957 the new name [rosary] was more attractive. Several of the installations were on roundabouts making photography dangerous.  I called in at the museum based on the house where philosopher Miguel de Unamuno lived while in exile in 1924, I’d seen his statue in the hills yesterday. Next door was the simple Señora del Rosario church and that was it for tourism here. I regret not seeing the massive barracks of the Foreign Lesion which was moved here in 1975 and apparently are still used on a smaller scale.

I only had my phone for the poor quality pictures.

Unamuno outside his house.

Senora del Rosario Church.

According to a well known review site two of the better restaurants on the Island are within a short distance of my hotel so I chose one for lunch. La Jaira de Demain lies up a side street above the harbour and is simply decorated with an outside terrace. I went for the menu – octopus and squid vinaigrette starter and than hake with mojo sauce for the main. Plus a sweet and wine 12euros.  Beautifully presented and delicious.

Needed a lie down on Playa Chico, the town’s beach, before my afternoon swim.

Later in the evening popped round the corner to El Bounty del Muella another small restaurant. Run by Italians the menu is Mediterranean/Canarian and is a little bit over the top presentation wise, I don’t like slate slabs to dine off. I chose ‘catch of the day’  grilled vieja [parrot fish] which was exceptionally tasty, an expensive end to my short stay on Fuerteventura.

FUERTEVENTURA GR 131. Tefia – Betancuria.

Our conversation at breakfast was a strange mixture of Italian/French/English/Spanish, seemed to work. The resident hens provided superb fresh scrambled eggs for breakfast and the ginger kitten wanted to come with me. A detour around an observatory had me back on route. The Canary Islands are famous for their star gazing opportunities and observatories, it would have been good to spend time in this one. A prominent windmill was my next point, this one having originally six sails where  most have four. An information board here told of las parcelas – plots of land given to settlers last century and now mostly abandoned. The photo from yesterday showed the modern version of ‘parcelas’ distribution. Full circle.

The next stage was desolate barren land, I could see why a trail shelter I passed would be useful. The rolling hills to the north looked beautiful though and little rural houses reminded me of Tunisia which I used to visit often, how times have changed there! Further on, approaching a town identical unimaginative modern properties built on parcels of land lining the road. Each had its own barking dog tethered to a kennel, there must be a good business in prefabricated kennels. The village of Llanos de la Concepcion had nothing to offer apart from an 18th century chapel so I pushed on to Valle de Sante Ines where there was a very welcoming roadside shop/bar run by a delightful lady who provided lunch on the terrace watching the world go by.  The world consisted of the occasional local popping into the shop for a minor item and on the road a steady stream of cycling clubs powering through. When I arrived the music was Spanish but subtlety changed to a Rod Stewart rock album whilst I dined – nice touch señora, hasta luego.

Trail signage to the extreme.

Never identified this common ground succulent.

 

African atmosphere.

Modern ‘parcelas’

Convoluted lanes eventually led me out of town into a fertile valley heading to the hills where yesterday’s storms had been raging. Height was gained on roads then suddenly the GR went off at right angles onto  a paved path straight into the hills. A fairly direct ascent took me towards Coral de Guize at 588m, human statues on the pass seemed to be belittling  my slow upward progress. On arrival at the windy pass I fell into conversation with a German cyclist with tales of yesterday’s floods and the wonderful winter training opportunities. We collaborated with photos emphasing the scale of the statues, indigenous Guanche chieftains from the Island’s past.

An ancient path led down into Betancuria whilst the road wound its modern way down on the other side of the valley. Betancuria was at one time capital of the Island and is dominated by its church. Little lanes run everywhere, Little cafes serve coffee. I had been unable to find accommodation here prior to leaving UK and was due to catch the last bus out at 4.30 to Puerto del Rosario. This gave me time to inquire about Tomas who has rooms in town. The first cafe I went into knew him, phoned him  and arranged for me to meet him. His apartments were not easy to find but having done so I obtained contact details for a subsequent visit, all very useful. On the bus out were two ladies who had forsaken their all inclusive holiday in Fuste to experience inland villages off the tourist trail – good on them and I hope they made it back for happy hour. I was happy with my simple hotel at the heart of Puerto del Rosario overlooking the harbour.

A hazy Betancuria down valley.

 

FUERTEVENTURA GR 131. La Oliva – Tefia.

The number 8 guagua dropped me off at 9.30am with nothing much stirring in the village. The only sign of life were a few fancy dress stragglers on the bus returning home after a night’s carnivalling on the coast. A track left the village past a strange modern building and then a small chapel and monastery heading for the fine peak of Mt. Tindaya. This mountain was considered sacred by the indigenous people, looking at the picture taken from the chapel there are some ominous black clouds ahead. The ground is barren to say the least and again there is virtually nothing for the odd homestead to survive on. A board offers ‘parcelas’ of land for sale an echo of the schemes in the 40’s to try and attract farmers onto nearby land, each family was given a house, 2hectares and 56 pesetas towards equipment. Few remain.

Mt. Tindaya.

Arriving suddenly into the outskirts of the village of Tindaya a coffee was enjoyed in a little cafe bar, Los Podomorfos. Further in a shop provided some food and drink for an al fresco lunch and I didn’t visit the noisy bar. Sat outside the shop on a wall I was amazed at the number of cars that pulled up for a quick small purchase, the village seemed to be more roads than houses but a lot of people must live in the environs. Enclosures on the outskirts were full of untended Prickly Pears. These were originally introduced as an impenetrable spiny plot boundary and for there edible fruits. In the 19th century they became a source of income derived from the Cochineal beetle living on them and producing a red dye, now superseded by synthetic dyes  – hence the number of abandoned plots in this area. Human ingenuity always astounds me. Hoopoes were skipping about in the fields.

Ahead was a vast empty plain with a range of volcanoes to the SE, worryingly the sky had turned even blacker and rumblings were coming from those hills. On my right above was a statue of Don Miguel de Unamuno a Spanish philosopher exiled because of his political views to Fuerteventura in 1924 – there is a museum in his house in Puerto Rosario which I hope to visit. I don’t know why this statue is here of all places. Moving on the storm worsened, I was on the very edge of it with the occasional dollop of rain as the thunder and lightening raged on. A garden centre appeared with an unusual planter.

I was hoping to get to Tefia before being soaked and I did but the bar was permanently closed so a bus shelter was my refuge for half an hour. The village was deserted, a familiar statement, as I continued past an hermitage and made for an eco-museum on the outskirts. I had booked a remote villa for the night and they had asked me to phone from the museum where they would pick me up. That is always a worrying scenario for backpackers – you are losing control. There was no shelter at the museum, which consisted of an interesting group of buildings representing rural life in the last century, but the storm stayed in the mountains. My hosts eventually arrived with tales of severe flooding in other areas of the island. Their small villa was indeed remote, two Italian guys who had bought a ruin and were in the process of trying to  build a tourist business. First they need to sort out their location info as nobody would find them at present. Great boutique rooms and lovely food in an idyllic setting, if you like remoteness, made for an enjoyable stay and it turned out the GR131 was only a few 100m away.                  [ Villa Cecilio. ]

Hermitage San Augustin, Tefia.

Little shelter.

Museum…

… my accommodation, little difference.

The house kitten.

FUERTEVENTURA GR 131. Lajares – La Oliva.

Across the road from the bus stop was a surfing shop highlighting the need to clean up our beaches, complete with a striking installation being made up of beach detritus. Lajares despite being well inland seems to have become a surfing centre with lots of related shops and schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picking up the GR markings I followed a tarmac lane out of town passing housing, this became a dirt track passing more scattered modern properties with cactus gardens, then became a narrower path running between walls reminiscent of The Dales. Abandoned fields still had the occasional fig tree growing inside its own protective wall. There were clumps of wheat scattered in the rocky ground, no doubt seeding itself over the years since last grown here. One certainly had the feeling of walking through an abandoned subsistence landscape.

Walled lanes and fields under M. Arena.

I was slowly gaining height on the slopes of the prominent Mt. Arena with views back to scattered Lajares and yesterday’s volcano walk. At the pass I came across my first trail shelter built to provide the GR walker with wind and sun protection in this harsh landscape. Up here the lava has a green lichenous covering which in the past was collected for dye production.

Back to Lajares and volcanoes.

From here La Oliva was spotted down in the valley whilst more volcanic ranges stretched out to the south.  A Chiffchaff caught my attention high in an Agave plant. On a hill ahead were two prominent windmills used previously for grinding grain. As I descended the usual collection of put together buildings with associated yapping dogs were passed, there only purpose seemingly a few goats or hens. La Oliva itself has a smart central square with its church and muscular tower.

La Olivia with M Muda behind and the shapely Tindaya to the right.

There are shops and bars and importantly a bus back to Corralejo for a late lunch and a swim. These short days are suiting me.

The locals’ beach, Corralejo.