La Gomera is in the same time zone as the UK. With it being somewhat closer to the tropics than Britain, its winter days are longer. But it’s mornings are dark; nearly 8 o’clock before the first slivers of daylight arrive. But when Sunday kicked in, it promised to be clear and bright. Breakfast was also full of promise with freshly squeezed orange juice and papaya on the table.
Our taxi arrived just before 9.30. Not only was it taking our luggage onto the next port of call, but it was transporting us to the start of the day’s walk. The taxi climbed steeply away from the main village, and Julia asked if this was still Vallehermoso. “Si, Vallehermoso alto!” came the driver’s reply. At the hamlet of Los Loros, at a hairpin in the narrow road, we were dispatched. We must have been 3-4 kilometres south of the centre of Vallehemoso, and a good deal higher! The footpath climbed south-west away from the hairpin bend. Within a few yards we had gone wrong! There was a simple bifurcation of paths: we took the one, as instructed, with a signpost to “Presa de Los Gallos“. However, within a few minutes, it was clear to us that we were walking along the valley floor, whereas we should have been “clinging to the right hand side of the barranco”. So back to the signpost, and we took the other route, which felt more in keeping with the day’s itinerary!
It was tough going! The first 3-4 kilometres from Los Loros took us west to the Carretera Dorsal, the main north-south road on La Gomera. From a relief map, Los Loros is about 500m above sea level, and the road (where we met it) is about 1,100m above sea level. So quite a steep climb; but very beautiful, the walk mainly in woodland with an occasional vista opening up between the trees.
On the west side of the road, the path descended gently to where the woodland opened out into a small meadow with wooden picnic tables – Las Creces – this seemed to be a popular destination for Sunday lunch. We continued towards Las Hayas, predominantly a downhill track through woodland. It was on this stretch that we met a German couple making for Las Creces. The lady admiringly asked me, “Where did you get that map?” I had my rainproof map cover dangling from my neck. This gives the impression that I know where I’m going; secondly, it hides the sweat-soaked part of my tee-shirt! The map was published by Discovery Walking Guides Ltd. It does look good as it is a proper contour map; I can see why the lady was impressed; unfortunately, I had to disappoint her and tell her that I wasn’t sure that it was available on La Gomera – she’d have to take her chances with Amazon.
Las Hayas is a tiny, well-scrubbed village. We emerged from the woods at its little chapel, which has a plaza with a covered picnic area. As it was Sunday, we had asked the proprietor at Hotel Tamahuche to prepare sandwiches (as it happened the two eateries in Las Hayas both looked open). These were delicious with ham, cheese, tomato, and avocado. Bananas, oranges and almonds supplemented our picnic.
Our afternoon looked like a gentle stroll – Las Hayas to El Cercado and then on to Chipude – the three villages in a line running south with barely four kilometres in total. But if I’d studied my relief map with a little more wit, I would have noted that the barranco separating Las Hayas from El Cercado was more like a chasm! My knees these days don’t like descents. They don’t get painful but they feel insecure, wobbly. I feel reluctant to use poles in case they encourage the loss of what inherent courage and strength my legs still possess. But on this occasion, I could hear my knees complain, “stop this lunacy, idiot!” The poles definitely reduced the insecurity, reduced the wobbly feeling, and stopped my knees from berating me. The moral to all this? Listen to those sensible little position receptors in your joints; if you feel uncomfortable, get your poles out!
At the base of the barranco, was a babbling brook and a young English couple sitting on a rock basking in the sun. The descent was followed inevitably by the ascent: less uncomfortable but more calorie-sapping. On reaching the road, the first building we encountered in El Cercado, was Bar Maria! It was the Sunday before lent, and in the barroom sat Maria and her extended family enjoying a feast. This did not detract from their hospitality; indeed when it came to postres, we were kindly included. Whilst we sat sipping Dorada, and eating our orange cake, hikers of various hues and tongues came to Maria for rehydration. Some could have done with a map cover to hide their sweat. Despite the altitude, it was a hot, sunny February afternoon.
Thankfully, the valley between El Cercado and Chipude was much shallower: a meadow with goats, whose bells repeatedly made me think that my mobile ‘phone was ringing. But having reached Chipude Bajo, we had to climb up to the main square and Bar Sonia, our place of rest for the night.
I had presumed that Sonia’s, being a bar, would be a watering hole with a couple of rooms above a noisy, smoky saloon. Not a bit of it; it is a substantial building – not only a bar, but also a restaurant and 19 rooms. Our room had a great view of La Forteleza, an imposing plateaued mountain which lies to the south of the village. Chipude is apparently the highest parish on the island, and one of its oldest settlements. Indeed, until the early nineteenth century, it was the largest habitation on La Gomera. We wandered into the local church – La Iglesia de la Virgen de la Candelaria, and had a beer at the bar before supper. We were served by the effervescent Sonia, who runs the business with her mother-in-law, Angela, and her husband, Victor. Or is it with her mother, Angela, and her brother, Victor? Either way, the matriarch ran the kitchen, and Sonia welcomed guests, made sure that everyone at the bar had their needs addressed, and waited on in the restaurant. Watching her made me feel exhausted! Supper itself was rabbit stew; the rabbit was tender; the stew was quite spicy. We retired early, as we were exhausted; it wasn’t just watching Sonia; our upper respiratory tract infections were still wearing us down. We had a potentially long hike in store for the morrow.