4th February ~ Passage to La Gomera
After the well documented problems we encountered on our return to Las Palmas in January which are now resolved we needed to be moving on!
We left Gran Canaria at midday and made an overnight passage to San Sebastián de La Gomera! We encountered the same horrible seas outside the entrance to Las Palmas as we had on our way in, all those weeks ago and so we assumed that it must be ‘par’ for the course’ in that particular area!
Our route took us round the northern tip of Gran Canaria before turning south west, a much more comfortable ride now, leaving Tenerife to our starboard side (to the right!)
5th ~ 9th February, San Sebastian De La Gomera!
The flag of La Gomera!
We arrived at 08.30 am having enjoyed a fairly speedy passage of 97nm and after seeking and being granted permission from the harbour control to enter the port we motored in and were allocated a berth in this bijou marina just beyond the busy port. San Sebastián is the main point of entry into and out of La Gomera with ferries and cruise ships coming and going all the time – not that this activity affected the marina at all, well perhaps only the ships horns as they prepare to leave!!!
What a treat was in store for us on this beautiful little island! The marina was small, quiet and intimate with very friendly and helpful staff, we knew that we were going to enjoy our stay here!
By the time we had sorted ourselves out and been for a shower we walked the short distance into the ferry port to organise car hire for two days. The lady in the office was extremely helpful and pointed out the best places to see while we had the car and so we went back to Musetta and made a plan!
La Gomera is the second smallest of the main islands in the Canaries whose capital is San Sebastián de La Gomera. A small town by mainland standards with a pretty square, narrow streets and a lovely park which is beautifully manicured and in which stands the ‘El Conde’ tower, the only remaining military fortification still standing in the Canary Islands!
Christopher Columbus ~ We’ve caught up with him again! He stopped here first in 1492 en route to the Americas during his famous ‘Voyage of Discovery’ to America with three of his ships! He only intended staying for a few days to re provision his fleet but stayed a month!! He visited San Sebastián on two more occasions, lastly in 1498! The story of this famous exploration of the Americas via the trade winds route is deeply etched in Spanish Maritime history and ours too, indeed we ourselves are following his route via the trade winds to the Caribbean and the US!
The island is characterised by it’s very dramatic volcanic mountains which have created deep ravines and valleys and which are criss-crossed with numerous hiking trails. A veritable treasure for the hiking enthusiast and it seemed that it was a major activity for visitors to the island! It would have been great to have had the time to take in one of the trails at least, alas no time?!
The Roque de Agando is a prominent rock formation on the island. It is one of La Gomera’s most striking features and is frequently used as a symbol for the island. It is in the centre of the island and is found in the Garajonay National Park.
The Garajonay National Park
The Garajonay National Park is probably the main feature of the island where, high up in the mountains a micro climate is created by dense forests of ferns and moss/lichen covered trees grow. The energy created by all this lush foliage is converted into a mist which irrigates the land and in turn keeps everything very green and vibrant.
The 2012 Fire in the Garajonay National Park
All this was very nearly destroyed in 2012 when the forest was devastated by fire which started at the beginning of august and lasted for 10 weeks! Miraculously there was no loss of life but a lot of damage as the fire spread over 18% of the forest. It is gradually recovering as new growth is taking over from the skeletons of the burnt trees.
The legend of “Gara and Jonay” is the story of how the National Park came to be named…. According to the legend…….One young Prince Jonay of Tenerife met the young Princess Gara of La Gomera at a harvest festival celebration on Gomera and they fell in love. It is said that Prince Jonay swam across the sea from Tenerife to be with his Princess but this did not please the people of both islands. Indeed the young couple were chased to a mountain top where rather than be separated they threw themselves on a briar stake which killed them both! This place has been known ever since as Garajonay!
A popular image depicting Princess Gara and Prince Jonay fleeing their pursuers!
We came across two park rangers who laughingly confirmed that it was indeed the legend but we got the feeling that the weren’t totally in line with the story in terms of it’s veracity but of course it was a great tale for tourists like us!!
6th and 7th February ~ Tour of the island.
The island is quite small, less than 400 square kilometres and so it was possible to see everything that had been recommended to us during our two days. We soon discovered that La Gomera is one of prettiest in the Canary Island Archipelago
The driving, if somewhat hairy at times couldn’t have been easier! Despite the hairpin bends and perilous drops straight off the side of the road, there was very little traffic and were were numerous miradors to stop and admire the views.
One notable mirador we found as we descended to Valle Gran Rey and which was so familiar to us now was the Mirador del Palmerejo…. and couldn’t have been designed by anyone other than Lanzarote’s César Manrique. The mirador is both beautiful and sympathetically blends into the surrounding area as though it was meant to be!
Agulo is quite tiny but is characterised by it’s network of narrow cobbled streets. From the mirador of Agulo out of town are the best views of Mount Teide on the neighbouring island of Tenerife!
There is a very interesting information centre here on the island’s geographical development and a botanical garden too.
Hermigua is nestled in a green and very fertile valley which leads down to the Playa de Santa Catalina! It was very picturesque and having reached the beach we then drove along the coast to see what remained of the old Davits.
The Hermigua Davits
As beautiful as the island is it was also very difficult in bygone days for the islanders to benefit from the production of bananas and tomatoes by trading with other nations due to the hostile terrain both on land and on the coast. Unless something was done the rocky coast and strong seas would prove perilous for trading ships.
However, by the end of the 19th century the islanders had ingeniously designed a davit to enable ships to come close to shore for loading and unloading their cargo.
The photo shows the hostile nature of the sea close into land and how this was overcome with the davits and thus La Gomera became a competitive trading nation! Now of course with the development of proper quayside
facilities and much larger cargo ships the davits were no longer required, they have sadly fallen into disrepair! The remains of the davits here at Hermigua remind us of how difficult life was back then?!
The remains of the Davits of Hermigua
Playa Santiago, Alejeró has a typical fishing harbour and is quite obviously a holiday resort with a typical black sand beach and a golf course and complex. The island’s airport is close by.
There is also a palm grove here in Alajeró which we didn’t actually visit but it was very interesting to note how the indigenous Canary Island Date Palm tree is incredibly versatile, there is a use for every part of the tree!….
The fruits and leaves were used to feed the animals although much of the larger livestock farming has disappeared there are still sheep and goats. The palm leaves are used to make hats, baskets and mats and the trunks used to make beehives! Despite the disappearance of the livestock the traditions are continued in workshops around the island ensuring that the skills needed are preserved!
The palm also has a precious sap which is collected, much like the resin from trees in a rubber tree plantation! This sap is called Guarapo. It is boiled and known as ‘palm honey’! It is then made into wine, honey, vinegar and sugar. Very versatile!
Valle Gran Rey
Here we did see lots of palm groves within the steep and lush ravines running down to the coast.
We drove down to the little fishing port. The beach is unsurprisingly black sand but the water is crystal clear too! We thought it a rather up-market holiday place with individual shops and very nice looking apartments!
Apart from fishing there are other water based entertainments, including whale watching and a glass bottom boat for visitors to view the underwater world! We liked this community of Valle Gran Rey very much!
What a superb couple of days! La Gomera was everything we hoped it would be. It certainly didn’t disappoint! We had a lovely drive back to San Sebastián and then returned to Musetta via an excellent supermarket to stock up for the approximately 2,650 nautical mile passage to the Caribbean!!
Time now to turn our thoughts to our departure on Saturday and preparing Musetta for her longest ocean passage yet!
We had decided that with all the various delays we had encountered that we would not now visit the Cape Verde Islands, we would sail straight to the Caribbean, making landfall at Barbados – the arrival island would be subject to change if necessary just because of the winds, but we intended to set off with the aim of getting to Barbados!
9th February ~ departure day!
Just enough time to go into to the square in town for one final look! A cruise ship had arrived into the port overnight and all the passengers were disgorged into the town! They descended into the square where there was entertainment laid on in the form of an El Silbo “The Whistle” demonstration! Obviously prearranged for the tourists but what a discovery for me!
Silbo Gomero is in fact a language, it is a transposition of the Spanish language to whistling!
It was used to communicate news, invitations etc. usually for public information across the narrow valleys and deep ravines which radiate throughout the island and can be heard up to five kilometres away! In 2009 Silbo Gomero was declared by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the Oral and intangible heritage of humanity!
12pm ~ We slip our lines!
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement we motored out of the marina under beautiful azure blue skies and warm sunshine to set off to cross the Atlantic Ocean, a journey of around 2,650 nautical miles!!
Goodbye to the Canary Islands! We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to all the islands in the archipelago! Despite their similar volcanic origin each island has it’s own unique character! We enjoyed discovering the differences that made them so unique!
…..The Caribbean next!!