Saturday, January 26, 2013

El Hierro!

  After our first week of vacation, we jumped on the Benchijigua Express and ferried over the El Hierro, the smallest and furthest west of the Canary Islands.

  Here's the car line before the ferry arrived and before we could drive on.

 We're on our way!  We've actually taken this ferry before, back in 2007 over to La Gomera.  That's a trip for lightweights, it only takes about 30 minutes from Tenerife to La Gomera.  It takes 2 hours to get to El Hierro.  And not many people make the trip:  the boat was pretty full on the first leg of the journey to La Gomera, but cleared right out when we got there.  We had a relatively quiet and relaxed trip over.
 There you can see La Gomera and Tenerife behind the boat.  The water was really calm and the air was super clear, I think this view is unusual.

Puerto de la Estaca, El Hierro.  on the right side you can see the Fred Olsen Express on which we came.

El Hierro is much smaller than Tenerife, which you certainly can feel after you've gotten used to following maps in Tenerife.  At first I often expected a relatively short drive to take at least twice as long, despite knowing the scale of the map.  My first impressions of El Hierro were that it's very quiet:  there are very few tourists. Also, it seemed to be more "original", meaning that in Tenerife you can find a lot of British and German products in the supermarkets, and in La Palma and La Gomera we came across lots of products made by German expatriates (bread, sweets, tofu products), whereas we didn't spot any of this in El Hierro, just lots of Spanish stuff!  This isn't to say that it's not there, we just didn't notice any.  I really liked that, because it really felt like I was away.  When I go on vacation, I don't want things from home, I want to try different things, and this was a great place to do it. Herreno cheese, Herreno cheesecake, lots of delicious fruits and vegetables, yum, yum, yum...

Another very pleasing aspect of this island is the small population:  about 10,800 people live there!  On the whole island!  That's about 40 people per square kilometer.  It was quiet, the nature areas weren't overrun, even the "tourist towns" were very civilized.  I instantly fell in love with this little island, even though it doesn't have any of the heavy hitting major attractions like Tenerife with El Teide, La Palma with the Caldera and Cumbre, etc.  In a way, it's almost like a mini format of the other islands without the extremes.  Even with the small population, however, I found the capital city to be pretty hip, with lots of interesting shops and cafes.  El Hierro definitely has its own flair, and if you want to go off the beaten path, I'd say that this is a great place to do it.

 We stayed in Casa Elvira in the town of Isora, which was relatively centrally located.  It wasn't too long of a drive to get anywhere.  The only trouble was that the house is about 700 meters above sea level, which we didn't expect to be so questionable, but it was.  The first couple of days were gorgeous...
 ...the orange tree was blooming and smelled fantastic...
 ...from Casa Elvira we could even see La Gomera and Tenerife.  We read in our travel guides that you can't usually see the other islands, and thought this was a joke to keep the tourists away, but it seems like we were very lucky on our first 2 days and our last day.  In between there was an awful windstorm and it was gray and cloudy.  It wasn't possible to sit outside and it was even relatively cold inside because the house was pretty drafty.  The real downside:  the fireplace didn't work, it just smoked up the whole house, and when we turned on the electric radiators, we kept blowing fuses.  That was unfortunate, but I think these problems can be avoided if you don't stay at such a high elevation, at least in the winter.  On the coast it was always at least 7 degrees warmer, even if it was windy.
 Here's a view from La Restinga, on the southern tip of El Hierro, to the ocean.  La Restinga is one of the tourist towns on the island, and it was just my style of tourist town:  not at all overrun, pretty calm and civilized.  This town also seems like the one to be in to avoid the windstorms...maybe we'll stay there next time!
 As usual, we did some creature watching, and even found a crocodile this time!
We got to witness quite a sunset in La Restinga.

Tenerife: Igueste

We returned to one of our favorite small towns, Igueste, where we remembered being chased down by Esther two years ago (  This time around, we got her phone number, because not only does she peddle mangos from her garden, she has a couple of vacation houses in town that we'd love to stay in next time. 

 In Igueste.
 The fruit and vegetable gardens in the barranco, right in the middle of the town.
 The coast by Esther's house.
 Creature watching.
 More creature watching. 
 We continued our very relaxed day with a trip to some beaches.  Our first stop was Playa de las Gaviotas, which was actually closed.  There was a sign from the main street stating that it was closed, and when we drove in we reached a large metal gate which completely closed off the street.  This did not bother the beachgoers, however, some of the bars on the gate had been simply cut out, so you could still walk through, around a few more curves in the street and to the quiet black, sandy beach.  Above you can see the remains of Casa Charly, which appears to have been a snack stand on this beach.  It must have been a nice and well-frequented public beach, there was a relatively large abandoned parking area, too.
 Judging by the graffiti around the gate and around the beach, it seems that this property has been sold and is now private.  So in a few years, there'll probably be a big, fancy-shmancy hotel development on this lovely, quiet bit of coast that is otherwise far away from the tourists.

Our second stop was Playa de las Teresitas, probably one of the more famous beaches of the island, which we'd never visited on our previous trips.  It's a really big beach with white sand shipped in from the Sahara.  We were pleasantly surprised:  it was well-frequented but not too crowded, pretty quiet, and the kids had a great time.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tenerife: Chinobre Hike in the Anaga Mountains

When we were in La Gomera in 2007 I became infatuated with Laurel forests, and whenever one is within reach, we try to get in at least one hike.  The trees are kind of spooky, twisted and strange, like no other forest I've ever been in. 

 Often there are big clumps of moss clinging to the trees' trunks. 

The green of these forests is just magical, it's a really cool feeling to be in there.  We had a sunny day for this hike, but the atmosphere is even more interesting when it's foggy, which is often the case.  This vegetation needs a lot of moisture.  You almost expect the Gruffalo or Rumpelstilzchen to come hobbling out when it's foggy!

But not only did we see those fascinating trees on this hike, we were often distracted by some breathtaking views of the coast...
 ...of El Teide...
 ...of the Anaga Mountains...
 ...and the towns lying below us!
We had a lunch break at Roque de Anambro, a holy rock for the native Tinerfenos, the Guanches.
There were a couple of lovely natural treats along the way, too.  We saw tons of Canarina canariensis on this walk, this lovely native flower is plentiful in the Anaga Mountains.

I also spotted this little guy, who was quite pretty.  I think it's a kind of finch, but can't really find an exact match for him online: 
I was hoping he was an elusive Laurel Pigeon, but alas, he was not. I have yet to spot one of those...  The elusive Laurel Pigeon has become a running joke of ours, we've read of this rare bird found only in the Laurel forests in travel guides, but have never found one.  There are loads of regular pigeons everywhere, just no Laurel pigeons!  Maybe on the next trip...

Tenerife: From Chamorga to Roque Bermejo

The day after our encounter with the Trail of Tears, we decided to tackle another hike.  This is one that we've always wanted to do, but never completed because we always got too late of a start and didn't want to get caught in the dark--when dusk comes around 6 or 7, night quickly follows at this time of year.  This trip was the three-kilometer walk from the village of Chamorga to Roque Bermejo, right at the northern tip of Tenerife.  The hike is kind of strenuous only due to the difference in elevation that you have to deal with, but the trail is really good and not scary at all.  The kids did great on this one.

 Some giant boulders in the valley!

I really love the rocks, vegetation and peaks you see in this valley.   We'd actually only accomplished a very small portion of this trail on our earlier attempts, and on this day we made it the whole way to the coast.  After a while, the rocks change to orange and red, and the view opens up to the ocean.  It's really fantastic.

After a long time of seeing no people or houses, just lizards, we came upon a couple of goats.  You can see in the background that we were approaching the ocean, nearby there were some houses, gardens and banana plantations in this area.  Remember:  this area is not accessible by car!  You can either walk the 3 km from Chamorga or get to Roque Bermejo by boat!

Right on the edge of the town there's this really old little church on a tiny town square.  The pictures on the altar seem to be in memory of deceased people, I found it quite sad that a lot of rather young adults were pictured.
 Finally, we reached Roque Bermejo.  There is certainly not much going on in this tiny town, but it was just what we were looking for.  Fortunately we'd packed enough sandwiches and drinks, the supermarket/snack stand is only open on the weekend!   We had a really humorous encounter when we entered town:  a little dog came running out, barking loudly.  Friedrich, who is only 3 and not such a fan of dogs, was certainly not happy to see him and let out such a shrill scream that the dog took off and didn't come anywhere near us again!  The owner of the dog then came out and had a look around, greeted us nicely and returned to his abode after seeing that nothing had happened.  

This was just a perfect stony beach to spend an afternoon on, watch the waves and the crabs and enjoy the quiet.

Tenerife: Afur and the Trail of Tears

On the third day of our vacation, we wanted to do a hike of low to medium difficulty, and chose the trail leading from Afur to the coast.  It seemed to be doable, but as we got farther and farther in, it turned into the Trail of Tears. 

 We had a strong start on a good trail in the mountains with cool rocks all around.
We passed what I dubbed "The Garden of Eden"--a private garden right on a bend in a little stream, complete silence among the mountains.  This place is perfect!

 We met a nice mountain goat on the way.

We really should have started questioning the ease of this hike after the first set of steep steps carved into the side of the mountain, as you can see above.  But no, we forged ahead. 

More steps, even steeper paths, we basically scaled some cliffs.  Our concentration and that of the kids was waning.  We stopped for lunch, and debated what to do.  It was one of those hikes where you have the feeling that you'll reach your goal just around the next bend, it can't be much further, we must have the worst behind us.  Finally, after debating back and forth, I put a veto on continuing this particular trip.  It was just too strenuous, our energy was gone, and there was just no end in sight.

Our Trail of Tears ended here at the River of Tears.  The kids got to throw some stones into the shimmering water and then we turned around and were off.
I would have loved to have continued and walked all the way to the ocean, but we just weren't able to on this day.  It was a scenic tour, but probably better done without kids due to some pretty steep drop offs right next to the trail, lots of steps with shaky hand rails, and steep paths with very loose stones.  Maybe next time.

Tenerife: Pista La Porquera, Roque Negro

I'm still recovering from our return to cold, gray Dresden after 3 weeks of sun in the beautiful Canary Islands.  We spent Christmas and New Year far away from the snow and cold in Tenerife and El Hierro.  Let me tell you a little about our trip...

We arrived in Tenerife on December 15, and rented Casa Roja on Pista La Porquera in Roque Negro in the Anaga Mountains for the first week.  Above you can see Casa Roja, a tiny house about the size of our garden cottage in just gorgeous surroundings.  It was the second to last house in the village. 
 Here's a view from our terrace.
 Here's another view toward the ocean.
This is Pista La Porquera, the street on which Casa Roja is located.  For whatever reason, I was a bit apprehensive about organizing everything ourselves on this trip, and being so far away from "civilization".  I don't really know why I felt this way; we've been to the Canary Islands five times, know the lay of the land a little bit, and have always had great experiences with the lovely people and my broken Spanish there.  Well, the moment we arrived, all of my concerns disappeared.  It was so quiet here, in the morning all you heard were chickens, and in the evening dogs.  The dogs were not scary, but tiny, friendly, enthusiastic little guys.  And the people, oh the people!  I adore Canarians.  On our first evening we went out for a little stroll, and met the people who lived in the next house.  Zacharias and his wife gave us some of their homemade wine and some of their homegrown sweet potatoes, talked to the kids and let them play with their puppies.  On other walks around Roque Negro, we were greeted by a very old lady who came out and gave the kids flowers and kisses, and various other very friendly, welcoming people.  They didn't want to sell us anything or get anything from us, they are just warm, open people.  That's how life should be lived!
The first days we walked around Roque Negro to get a feel for the lay of the land there.  You can see the first path we took if you look closely at the picture above.

The landscape is quite steep, and it's really impressive to watch the people walk to their terraced gardens, they are so nimble and quick!
We walked those 270 meters on the sign above from La Porquera, the only thing they don't mention is that the 270 meters seem to be vertical!!

It's such a nice change to depart from winter and arrive in lush, green permasummer.  My enthusiasm for this vacation prior to leaving was right around 0, since so many things had happened this fall.  I almost would have liked to have stayed home and just done nothing, but that would have been a terrible idea.  The first days of vacation proved that it was just what we needed!