Holiday in La Gomera - February 2004

Tuesday 24th

The first day was an adventure as we had to set off at 7am to avoid the Manchester rush hour. The journey was to include a flight, 2 taxis and a ferry.

In the airport shop the assistant complained how busy it had been with football fans. The Manchester Utd. football team was due to pass through the airport while we were there, but we didn't see them. Well, we may have seen them without recognising them.

The flight to Tenerife was uneventful. There was no argument about our prepaid seats. Seems to work 50% of the time. We sat next to a man who didn't look like a tourist, too scruffy. Turned out he was planning to spend 3 months in Tenerife, looking for a part time job after a couple of weeks. He didn't need to work full time because he has enough money not to need to. Well you never can tell.

Met by the rep. Susan at the airport and put in taxi to Los Christianos ferry port. Martin tried out his Spanish on the taxi driver and they discussed the merits of his Volvo taxi all the way.

Taxi driver took us straight to the lock-up luggage lockers but had to change a 5 Euro note for us as we needed one Euro to release the key. Martin knew exactly where our loose change was and, as soon as we got home, he gave it to me to put somewhere safe for the next holiday.

We sat in the sun eating sandwiches and having our first taste of freshly squeezed orange juice for an hour until the ferry arrived. It was HUGE! Because it is a catamaran the width is much greater than expected for its height. Inside were many different seating areas with and without tables, a small shop (without maps) and two cafes, though why anyone used them I don't know as the crossing was only 40 minutes. The pilot on the plane had warned us the weather in Tenerife was cloudy with winds of 23 knots. Yes, it was choppy, but not that bad I'm sure.

 

At San Sebastian de la Gomera we retrieved our luggage without any problem and tried to make sense of the town plan we had been given. I didn't hold out much hope, as our experiences from previous holidays were not encouraging. This route involved only two right-angled turns. The first part was easy, we turned left when we got to the cliff. Next we had to turn right when we reached the square. The square was disguised by a fair of some sort so we walked too far, but on turning to get our bearings I saw the name of our apartments "Quintera" on the top of a tall building so we were saved.

The apartment seemed quite large, with bedroom, bathroom and kitchen leading off a corridor which opened out at the front into a wide living room. This was set at an angle so the balcony was angled towards the sea. Wonderful.

A quick stop to unpack and a chance to get our breath after the travelling and we set off in search of dinner. As luck would have it we chanced upon a lovely restaurant which must have been one of the best in San Sebastian. Martin had tuna steak and I had Spanish omelet. We returned to that restaurant on alternate nights during our week long stay. Another English couple liked it so much they reserved a table and were there every night we were. Our neighbours in the apartments were not so lucky, they only discovered that restaurant on the last night of their fortnight on the island.

 

The sort-of-fair turned out to be the town's annual carnival. We got caught up in the parade on the way to the restaurant. The costumes were fabulous and a lot of work had gone into the floats. Each one of which was playing a different tune. An outdoor stage was set up with a forest of microphones when we passed on our outward trip. After dinner large groups of youngsters (choirs) in extravagant costumes were singing.

Tiny children fronted these choirs and either joined in with the bits they knew or sat down and waved to their families. The music was traditional, moving and not too professional.

We needed an early night after all that travelling and even though the music continued for a while the bedroom was peaceful enough being at the back of the building.

 

Flower Power

Wed 24th

I woke early to the sound of torrential rain!! It had stopped by the time we ventured out to buy breakfast, but there were deep puddles everywhere.

After reading the info from the holiday rep over breakfast, we set out to find how it was possible to book the excursions as the rep's next scheduled visit was the day after the trip we wanted to take. Lo, and behold! she was in the lobby, taking money. Also in the lobby were Marion and Don who were in the apartment next door to ours. Their friends had been in our apartment the week before, but had gone home.

Rainbow over San Sebastian

Marion told us about the torrential rain on the previous Thursday which had lasted all day. Because of the rain some of the walks had to be cancelled. They also said the carnival had begun with an all night party. We picked up a programme so we knew what to expect. It didn't really help. Martin spent hours poring over his dictionary to discover the next event, on the Friday, was "The Sardine's Funeral". Apart from one wreath lying in a doorway with Los Sardinos on its ribbon we couldn't make out anything to do with either fish or funerals. Although there was another parade and another all night concert that night.

Anyway, back to Wednesday. We booked one trip for the Saturday. The one I really wanted to do required walking boots, which we didn't have. I was put off the idea because I didn't really want to work that hard on this holiday. It was supposed to be a quiet, chilling holiday, not a hard slog.

Marion had pointed out the Tourist Information Centre where we could get information about the buses. They have been on strike for 4 months but run one bus each morning and evening. We got a timetable. With so few buses it was really easy to understand!

The rest of Wednesday was spent exploring the town. We sat for a while on the wall at the end of the promenade, where, strangely it was more sheltered from the wind than were the cafe tables on the square. The marina was quite busy with a constant stream of craft in and out all day. Nearly every time I looked out to sea there was a boat of some kind to be seen. Even at night it was often possible to see liners passing far out at sea, visible only as a string of lights.

Thursday 26th

We decided to catch the local bus (guagua, pronounced 'wahwah') to the north side of the island today. We had no idea how long the trip would take, but we would have till 4pm to explore before the bus back to San Sebastian. We could catch the bus at 10 at the harbour, or go to the bus station for 10.10. Both options would involve setting off at the same time. We went to the harbour. There was more to see there, as the bus departure was timed to collect passengers disembarking from the ferry from Los Christianos.

Good job we were on holiday, the bus was in no hurry to leave, even when it was obvious that there were no more ferry passengers to board. The bus reluctantly pulled away at about quarter past ten. The journey to Vallehermoso ("beautiful valley") was 40Km (24 miles) according to the road sign. It must be noted here that La Gomera is only 23Km from north to south, yet because of the terrain the road is much longer. The journey took two hours.

The first 30Km took an hour and the remaining 10 took the other hour. There were long delays at roadworks all along that stretch. The bus driver was obviously used to the delay, he just got out his clipboard and started filling out his stats. At the second delay he got his newspaper out and began a discussion, with the man in the seat behind him, about the bus strike. The scenery on the entire route was amazing. No one really minded the delays, it just gave us more time to take in the views.

 

Once in Vallehermoso the bus parked and the driver disappeared until he was due to drive the return journey. After lunch in a very friendly bar, we decided to walk the 2.5Km to the beach. The walk was along a quiet road and a little dog who had adopted Martin at the café accompanied us. He kept pace with us all the way to the sea but had vanished by the time we set off back to the village. The breakers in the bay were huge, and would have been ideal for surfing if there had been anything for the surfers to land on except rocks. Vallehermoso had been the capital of La Gomera until the need for links with the outside world necessitated the move to San Sebastian where it was possible to build a harbour.

We photographed a couple of oddities on the walk back to the village. One was a cart arranged on a cable as if to transport something from the fields in the valley up to the road. The other was a strange fruit about 5 inches long. The fruit was green, oval and grew in clusters at the top of the stem or trunk of a tall plant.

Strange Fruit

Suggestions on a postcard please. We looked in the local shops, but didn't see anything that looked similar.

Saturday 28th Feb

We had to get up early in order to catch a bus at 8am. In fact we were up before the carnival had finished from the night before. (Remember the Sardine's Funeral?) Marion and Don were supposed to go on the bus trip too, but Don was full of cold and they sent their apologies.

The morning was bright and sunny. For the first time during our stay Mount Teide on Tenerife was without snow. While we waited for the bus, another dog adopted Martin and seemed really upset when it was refused entry on to the bus. The first bus picked up 8 tourists from San Sebastian and took us to a hotel in Playa Santiago where we boarded a larger coach with a lot of posh people.

 

All bus rides on La Gomera are wonderful because of the amazing scenery. On this occasion we had a guide to point out all the plants and names of the various peaks. Paula, the guide was a German who had married a man from Gomera 14 years ago. She spoke perfect Spanish, but we were her first English tour. Her commentary was lilting at first, but became tedious as the intonation was the same on each sentence. Pulling out of the first valley we got a glimpse of Teide, it had been snowing up there while we sat in the sun by the hotel. It soon began to rain on us, indeed we had to put our waterproof coats on when we got off the bus to begin our walk up to the top of Garajonay, the highest peak on La Gomera at 1500 metres.

To be fair the bus dropped us quite a long way up the mountain, we didn't climb the full 1500m. It took about an hour to reach the top and half an hour to get down to where we met up with the bus again. As we walked through the rain we could admire the enormous heather trees and dandelions, but little of the scenery beyond the path. In fact as soon as we got up to the peak, Paula suggested we go straight back down as there was nothing to see.

On a clear day it is supposed to be possible to see every Canary Island except Fuertaventura from up there. I don't know if that is ever possible or if it is a con to get people to walk to the top. The guidebook says the peak is "covered by an all year round fog blanket, …..its vegetation works like a huge sponge absorbing the fog humidity and storing it in the subsoil." So, no fog, no rain forest, no tourists.

Giant dandelions

Back on the bus we headed for the Visitor Centre of the National Park, which, oddly is not in the National Park itself, but just to the north of it. We were only given 40 minutes to see everything and after the toilet I decided our priorities were the information centre, with maps and geology, then the artisan shops and gardens. We had to miss out the museum altogether. The shops were disappointing with no-one working or explaining the crafts. The garden was nice, with the plants labeled and well displayed. 40 minutes wasn't nearly long enough. At least an hour and a half should have been allowed.

Next we set off for lunch. I was relieved to see we were taking a different route back from the one stated on the itinerary, which would have involved waiting at all those roadworks again. The restaurant was in a village called El Cercado, famous for its pottery shops and the fact that the school closes for 3 months in summer! Lunch was very good, mostly. It was a tapas style meal, where you can pick the bits you like and ignore the rest. There was some really smelly cheese with garlic and salsa, it tasted OK if you could avoid putting it near your nose.

There were cubes of goats' cheese with caramel dip; salsa and herb dips and bread. As we were all a bit chilly and damp we were pleased when a tureen of watercress soup appeared. I hadn't tried it before, but was willing to eat a lot to get warm. Next came chicken, salty potatoes, green salad and potato omelet, followed by flan ('crème caramel' to us). There were bottles of red and cloudy wine on the table. I tried the cloudy as everyone else seemed to be going for the red. It tasted OK, but a bit strong, so I only had two glasses, and a small amount of the red.

 

The café was even able to provide decaffeinated coffee for Martin and a cup of tea for me as well as the local strong black coffee for the brave members of our party, all for a total of 10 Euros each. It was sunny when we finished our meal so we used our 15 free minutes to visit the pottery shops and buy gifts for the boys. I was particularly pleased with Kim's, a strange tear-shaped musical instrument. You blow in to it and play tunes by covering two rows of holes with your fingers. Kim liked it except for the fact that the pottery is so porous that his lips stick to the mouthpiece of the pipe.

 

On the drive back to Playa Santiago, Paula announced that the passengers for San Sebastian would be dropped off at a roadside restaurant to wait 40 minutes for a bus to take us back to town, while the bus we were already on would take the posh people back to their posh hotel. Talk about being in the cheap seats! Anyway, the weather was warm, the view was lovely and a bus picked us up after only 20 or so minutes!

What stamina those Gomeran people have! After finishing their concert at 7.30 this morning, they began another party at dusk. This one seemed to be more of a disco, although there were few international records played, so it still had a local flavour. It was very loud and made the windows of our apartment rattle. It too went on until 7 the next morning! The very irritating fairground ride stopped at 3am. The ride was a bucking bull. I am not sure if the idea was to stay on or to see how many times you could be thrown off for your money.

That which made it irritating was that it only played ONE TUNE! For hours at a time! Sometimes the singing drowned it out, but it was audible in the gaps. A really cool fairground attraction was bungee trampolining. The idea seemed to be to tie a small child to elastic straps dangling from a frame high above the trampolines. Then the child bounces on the trampoline and is sent high into the air to perform all kinds of aerobatics. I couldn't get a photo of it in action because it was only open at night. I took this one during the day, with the trampolines raised above the ground, out of the way.

Plaza

Sunday 29th

We got up late and went out for breakfast. A lot of shops and restaurants were closed, but there were a lot of people about. As with our other free days we spent Sunday exploring San Sebastian or watching the boats coming in and out of the marina. One group of young Germans spent an hour trying to berth their yacht. It made me wonder how they managed out on the open sea.

Old roofs

 

We did the touristy things and explored the Torre del Conde, which is great and full of maps of the island through the ages! The display at the Tourist Information Centre is probably good too, but as it is only in Spanish we could only look at the pictures. Martin spent a long time trying to make out the script by one of the displays, only to tell me something I had worked out from the picture.

There is also a Visitor Centre in San Sebastian. We never saw it open, and believe me, we tried. We even asked a local man, who said it would open at 1 or 2 p.m, but unfortunately did not mention which month that would be. There are no brash tourist shops in the town. There are only 2 or 3 of what they call Artisan shops, like craft shops. No one presses you to buy things, making it very comfortable to browse in them.

Tuesday 2nd March

Time to go home. We trundled our cases round to the ferry port for the 10.00 am boat. Arrival at Los Christianos at 11.20am. meant a long wait at Tenerife Airport for our 4.20pm flight. We chose to sit outside in a quiet, garden area to while away the time. The garden was already occupied by a group of plane spotters - two from Newcastle upon Tyne. One wore a knotted handkerchief on his head and spoke exactly like Jimmy Nail. I decided they must be the ideal holiday companions. Imagine, girls, they go off each morning and amuse themselves until dark, then come back and take you out for a meal! Leaving you free to do whatever you please in peace.

Watching planes is quite restful, I found. I was upset when I got home to find I had managed to get sunburnt at the airport, even though I had put sun cream on. I seemed to have missed my neck and had to go to work next morning with a glowing, red throat. Martin also burned the left side of his face and the skin peeled off his ear, like rice paper, a week later.

Our plane was on time. This time our travelling companion was a woman who looked very ill. I didn't say much to her in case she either burst into tears or threw up over me. She didn't want her meal, and offered it to me, but I declined because it was horrible. Martin liked it and ate our three raspberry puddings. Back on the diet tomorrow.

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