The writing was probably on the wall when we read our day’s instructions exhorting us to be on our way by 9 o’clock. We were not really in a fit state for a 8-10 hour hike, and we were irritable and cantankerous – or at least I was. This is despite an agreeable breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice, and being waited upon by Victor, who was sloth-like compared to his sister/wife, but very calm and obliging. He proudly presented us with a packed lunch, for which we really needed to hire a donkey for the day. We visited what was probably the highest supermarket on La Gomera; they were totally out of donkeys, but had paper tissues! Our noses were still flowing more vigorously than most of the barrancos on the island.
The morning was clear but cool as we headed east away from Chipude’s main square, climbing up a steep cobbled road, the higher houses in the village on either side. In retrospect, this was the only toughish climb of the day.
When we ran out of street lights, the road flattened off, meandering around the hamlet of Los Manantiales. It was here that we should have left the narrow Tarmac ribbon, to climb up onto the ridge above. But a car was parked such that it hid the path leaving the road. A couple of hundred metres on, there were concrete steps climbing up from the side of the road, but they only lead to terraces of shrubs and grasses. During a second attempt at convincing myself that I could discern a purposeful path, a local from Los Manantiales, kindly shouted and gesticulated to set us right. Once on the path, it was a gentle 2-3 kilometre walk to La Gomera’s highest point, Garajonay.
We were still heading east; we were above the clouds; it was sunny and warm. We were walking through forest which had been badly damaged by fire in 2012; the well manicured stone and concrete path was deserted except for us two sniffling Brits. It was all rather eerie. By contrast, the summit, at 1,487m higher than anywhere in the UK, was heaving! Where had all these folk come from? A large group were solemnly being lectured to in Spanish. One had to jostle to find camera space!
The answer to the Garajonay hoards became apparent as we descended on the opposite side to our ascent. We continued east, and then south-east. And little more than a kilometre from the summit, there was a huge car park (but no toilets nor ice cream van). The day continued sunny, and progressively warmer. Our path took us south- west on a rough track which followed the contours below Garajonay. We were a little tetchy; full of a cold, and aware that after over three hours of walking, we were only a little over two kilometres from Chipude! We had walked three quarters of a circle – OK, we had taken in the pinnacle of Garajonay – but we felt that we had worked hard but for little progress!! At a road, we headed south for a kilometre or so; when the road veered right, we continued south past what looked like small farmsteads. Suddenly, the gentle romp through pasture ended as we found ourselves at the head of a precipitous barranco. Far below we could see what we took to be be the village of Imada.
This seemed to be a good place to have a break, to divest ourselves of Victor’s packed lunch.
The views were breathtaking. The subsequent descent was arduous and slow. Again we needed our poles. We both slipped, but thankfully backwards onto our bottoms and not forwards….and into the abyss! It was 2.50p.m. by the time we reached Imada. Playa Santiago was still 10 kilometres south, and it was difficult to cover 2 kilometres per hour on these rough, steep descents. We knew that the walk south from Imada through the Barranco de Guarimar was reputedly beautiful, but we were a spent force. As if to force our hand, we were approaching what looked like a ‘bus shelter on our left. It was indeed a ‘bus stop! Now, I posses a book, “Walk! La Gomera” by Charles Davis, and in its Appendix B, it gives a ‘bus timetable for line 3 which is the Alajeró to San Sebastián route (Alajeró being a kilometre or two, and a stiff climb, away from Imada). But on closer inspection, line 3 does go as far as Imada. It wasn’t just a ‘bus stop, it was a terminus! The next ‘bus was scheduled for 3.30 – just a beer away!
As fortune seemed to be on our side, on the opposite side of the road to the shelter, was the Bar/Cafeteria Arcilia. We sat in the shade of its terrasse and fell into conversation with Jackie and Bill, who hailed from Harlech but were spending most of the winter in Playa Santiago, and indeed were staying in the same apartment block that we were heading to for the evening. Sure enough, the diminutive green ‘bus performed a grand three-point turn, took our fares, and hurtled south. The young lady driver accelerated into the hairpins in classic style. After three hairpins in quick succession, we were really letting it rip up to Alajeró! Julia whispered that it would have been a shame to have missed such a nail biting experience.
The journey to Playa Santiago passed but quickly. The lady driver further impressed me by the way she gently explained to potential customers in the middle of nowhere, that the ‘bus was full, that she could not possibly allow them on board and that the next ‘bus was in a mere two and a quarter hours! Jackie and Bill kindly shepherded us to Appartamentos Bellavista. We were assigned to room 101, but it was not the worst thing in the world. It was spacious and clean, with access to a roof terrace of its own!
The apartments belong to John (the man on the ground for Sherpa Expeditions); he popped around after six o’clock with advice about places to eat in Santiago, and to discuss plans for the morrow. His secretary kindly booked us a table at La Cuevita, at the western end of Playa Santiago, by the harbour.
The resort was quiet and sleepy. La Cuevita, a tiny restaurant shoe-horned into a cave and spilling out onto the street, on the otherhand, was busy. The service was slow; our waiter was arrogant. I ordered the day’s fish; I got langoustines. The food however was delicious. We waddled back towards room 101. We were too tired to contemplate a night of torture.